Monday, April 6, 2009

Outrage over Taliban flogging of Pakistani girl could threaten peace deal

The public flogging of a 17-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley sparked a wave of protests across the country this weekend, but local residents fear the backlash may jeopardize a precarious peace deal between the Pakistani government and militants in the troubled region.

A grainy video depicting a girl being pinned down by three men and lashed 34 times – Islamic law punishment for allegedly being seen with a man who was not her husband – was released on private Pakistani television channels on Friday night prompting a chorus of condemnations led by President Asif Ali Zardari, who has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

"[We] have a responsibility to stand for our people if they are being subjected to atrocities by elements that are not recognized by the state as legitimate actors. Ignoring such acts of violence amounts to sanctioning impunity," says Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who was information Minister at the time the Swat Valley peace deal allowing Islamic law was signed in February. She adds that the government may be forced to review its position with regard to the peace deal in the face of growing condemnation.

In Swat's main town of Mingora, however, anger is overridden by a practical desire to maintain good relations with the Taliban whom residents say are in de- facto control of the region. The consensus is that the video, which was shot with a cellphone camera, took place in January – before the peace accord – and that the Taliban has done nothing as controversial since that time.

"There are no words strong enough to condemn the incident," says Ahmad Shah, principal of a local private school. "But the question is why now? Where was the outcry from [nongovernmental organizations] and the media when hundreds of people were being executed before the peace deal? Where were the countrywide strikes then? The situation is now on the right track. Let's give an opportunity to the peace process."

The government lacks the ability to arrest Taliban militants, even if it wished to, he adds.

"Killers are no longer roaming the streets, there are no longer public hangings," adds Sardar Ali, a clothing shop owner. "During the fighting there was chaos, now things are much better."


On Feb. 16, a cease-fire was declared between the Pakistan Army and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by Maulana Fazlullah. It came after three years of sporadic fighting that left 1,200 people killed, at least 250,000 displaced, and saw the destruction of more than 200 (mainly girls') schools. As part of the deal, the government agreed to allow the region to be governed by Islamic law, or "Nizam-i-adl," which was a key demand voiced by Mr. Fazlullah's father-in-law, Sufi Mohammed, who leads the movement's political wing.

Almost two months later, the streets and bazaars of Mingora have returned to some semblance of normalcy. Shopkeepers say business is back up again, gaggles of school girls covered from head-to-toe in black burqas can be seen making their way through town, and a few dozen police constables direct traffic in the former tourist hot spot. Taliban fighters are instantly recognizable, too, by the Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders and their fresh white sneakers with socks tucked over their baggy pants.

The district coordination officer, Khushal Khan, points to a relatively low crime-rate – "one-odd murder here, one abduction there" in the district since peace was restored – as evidence of a return to order. He adds that the government has now undertaken a number of steps to restore public confidence.

Debris from schools is being collected while makeshift tent schools have been erected for children from 13 of the more than 200 schools that were destroyed by militants before the peace deal. Hospitals have been reopened, and applicants are being invited to take part in a crash course to become police constables. Nearly all the local police had quit the force in the face of killings and threats over the past three years.


Mr. Khan, who was kidnapped by Taliban fighters on his entrance to Mingora prior to his first day of work in the district, now terms the incident a "misunderstanding." He says that, in the absence of adequate state machinery, he has to work under the permission of certain "good Taliban" in order to get things accomplished.

Though mid-level Taliban commanders routinely attempt to "out-Islam" each other by forbidding, for example, female high school students from taking their exams, or prohibiting an eye doctor from carrying out his work, appeals to the Taliban leadership are usually able to resolve the issues, he says.

The much-vaunted Islamic courts are partly operational, hearing mainly financial or land disputes that are settled through a quick verdict by Qazis (religious scholars, who were already in place and working as magistrates before the peace-deal). Opposing parties describe their disputes, which could center around a bounced check or a defaulted loan, to the Qazi who in turn makes a swift decision and orders the families to come together and shake hands. There are few documents involved and no lawyers. One hundred and fifteen new cases have been heard since the peace deal, of which 50 have been resolved. "People seem to prefer it this way," says court clerk Zafar Ali. "Things are done a lot sooner."

Even Aftab Alam, who, as the district bar association president is the elected leader of the more than 300 lawyers who have remained out of work since regular courts stopped working, sees working with Taliban as the only way forward.

"The restoration of regular courts can only follow a permanent peace," he says, adding that the government must make good on his promise to officially sign the Islamic regulations so their jurisdiction is formalized and criminal cases can be heard. Last week, cleric Sufi Mohammed threatened to step away from the peace deal if the document was not signed by Pakistan's secular government.

"If President Zardari fails to sign the draft of the sharia [Islamic law] regulation 2009, it shows he is willing to hand over the region to hands of extremists," says Mr. Alam. "What has been shown or [broadcast] is the tip of the iceberg. A lot more criminal acts have been done but no one was there to help us."

Though trained as a secular lawyer, Alam says that implementing Islamic law regulations "to the letter and spirit" may prevent the worst forms of punishments carried out by Taliban during what effectively was a period of war.

"It is not ideal but we are making it work," adds Mr. Shah, the school principal.

For now, however, national momentum appears to moving in the opposite direction.

Pakistan's popular Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhry on Friday scheduled a hearing into the flogging incident and ordered the victim to be produced before the court on Monday, while thousands of rights activists took to the streets of Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, and Karachi on Saturday to protest.

A slew of high-profile religious scholars branded the flogging of a woman in public as "unIslamic," while women's rights activists in Lahore vowed to continue to voice their anger over the next three days.

"The government has gone too far in issuing concessions to religious extremists but has gotten nothing in return. This incident is an indication of the type of society [the Taliban] have in mind for the rest of the country," says Dr. Mehdi Hassan, a Lahore-based senior member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan who took part in a street demonstration on Saturday.

Pakistan military refusing to deal with Taliban, Govt. just a bystander

Islamabad: Pakistan’s armed forces appear to have thrown in the towel in so far as dealing with the Taliban in the country’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and particularly in the Swat Valley is concerned, while the government seems to be in limbo and a bystander to what is going on there.“I know that the federal and provincial governments are innocent victims and bystanders. The military has handed over the ownership and refuses to fight,” claims human rights activist Samar Minallah.Expressing her outrage over a video showing a female teenager being flogged 34 times by a Taliban commander, Minallah says she distributed the video to local news outlets after someone from Swat sent it to her three days ago.The video shows the teen screaming, pleading for a reprieve and writhing in pain. Paying no heed, the Taliban commander orders those holding her to tighten their grip and continues the public flogging.A large group of men quietly stands and watches in a circle around her.The woman in the video is a 17-year-old resident of Kabal, in the restive Swat region. The images, which have been broadcast repeatedly by private television news networks in Pakistan, have caused outrage here and set off bitter condemnation by rights activists and politicians.They have also raised questions once again about the government’s decision to enter into a peace deal in February that effectively ceded Swat to the Taliban and allowed them to impose Islamic law.The two-minute video is the first known case of a public flogging of a woman in Swat. It demonstrates vividly how the Taliban have used public displays of punishment to terrify and control the local population.It was not clear what the young woman was accused of.One account said she had stepped out of her house without being escorted by a male family member, the New York Times quotes Minallah, as saying.Another account said a local Taliban commander had falsely accused the teenager of violating Islamic law after she refused to accept his marriage proposal.A Taliban spokesman defended the punishment to the Geo Television Network but said it should not have been done in public.Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of North-West Frontier Province, where Swat is located, also tried to play down the flogging by claiming that the video was recorded in January, before the peace agreement. He called it an attempt to sabotage the peace agreement.Not many seemed willing to countenance the argument.“This is absurd,” Athar Minallah, a lawyer who campaigned for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, said in a telephone interview.“No one can give justification for such an act. These handful of people have taken the population hostage, and the government is trying to patronize them. If the state surrenders, what will happen next?”Asma Jahangir, one of the country’s leading rights activists, condemned the flogging as “intolerable.”“This is an eye-opener,” she said in a televised news briefing in Lahore.“Terrorism has seeped into every corner of the country. It is time that every patriotic Pakistani should raise a voice against such atrocities,” she said, adding that she would join other rights activists and citizens in a rally against terrorism on Saturday in Lahore, where militants stormed a police academy this week.Jugnu Mohsin, a peace activist and publisher of Friday Times, the country’s most popular weekly newspaper, blamed the military for allowing the Taliban to gain strength and giving the militants a free hand to commit such atrocities.Mohsin said she had received threats from Islamic extremists.Taking notice of the video, Chief Justice Chaudhry has formed an eight-judge panel in the Supreme Court to examine the case, a news release by the Pakistani court said.The justice ordered the interior secretary to bring the young woman before the court on Monday.Former information minister Sherry Rehman demanded immediate action by the government.

Taliban preys on Pakistani fears

The Taliban's extreme version of Islam is the logical conclusion of the region's violent past and feeds on insecurity.
Mustafa Qadri,
Pakistanis have been offered a frightening glimpse into the true character of the Taliban over the past weeks. Last Monday, 30 March, a group of heavily armed men in police uniforms stormed a police academy killing 11 and injuring close to another 100. Those traumatised police cadets that survived painted a grisly picture of bloodstained walls and body parts. The leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella network of pro-Taliban groups in the country, Baitullah Masud claimed responsibility for the attack.

That admission corroborates with similar claims from Pakistan authorities, in contrast to Masud's boast that he was behind a recent shooting spree in New York that American authorities quickly proved incorrect.

But such is the mentality of the Taliban in Pakistan – the fear they seek to capitalise on feeds off the everyday insecurities most Pakistanis, mired in poverty, face.

Later last week, video footage emerged of a young woman being whipped by members of the Taliban because she was alleged to have been with a man who was not a relative.

The Taliban's response to the footage was revealing. At first, a spokesperson for the Taliban in the Swat valley, where the flogging took place, condemned the media for airing the video. He later claimed that the video was a fake, even though Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in the region, routinely makes similar threats against women during his now infamous broadcasts over a clandestine radio station.

It should be pointed out that this is not a new tactic. Although Fazlullah has railed against women seeking an education in Swat with threats of violence, a Taliban commander I spoke to in the valley last year said that "someone else" had destroyed over 200 girls' schools, now left burnt or bombed out, to malign the jihadi insurgents.

On Friday, members of the Taliban raided the offices of a federal agency telling bureaucrats to stop working because men and women were not segregated.

Around the same time, a suicide attack in a plush neighbourhood of Islamabad killed another eight policemen. It was the first suicide attack on the nation's capital since the devastating attack on the Marriott Hotel last September.

As shocking as these latest events are, in truth, they represent the logical conclusion of Taliban rule. A supposedly "Islamic" movement born out of the violence and dislocation that followed the Afghan civil war. That conflict was exacerbated by the United States, the former Soviet Union and their regional allies.

The Taliban are a product of that chaos. Theirs is a different world to that which most ordinary Pakistanis, or people of the world, are familiar with. But with a country gripped in poverty and inept governance, the Taliban's tenacity has proved the one key ingredient in their continued survival.

There is nevertheless much to learn from the Taliban. Apparently the Lahore attack was "retaliation for the continued drone strikes by the US in collaboration with Pakistan on our people." Seven people were killed and another 24 injured as Taliban fighters and Pakistan soldiers engaged in a fire fight in the North Waziristan town of Miramshah. The Taliban were believed to have attacked the soldiers in response to an earlier United States missile strike on one of the camps in the same region.

If the Taliban were born out of violence, it is likely that violence alone is unlikely to dissuade them. Indeed, if they suffer greater casualties – "they" being the young men recruited from the country's Pashtun and, increasingly, Punjabi villages – attacks in the most populated and urbanised parts of Pakistan will likely drastically increase.

In contrast to such violence, there is the approach taken by the Supreme Court under the newly reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. One of the reasons given, ironically, for supporting Taliban-like rule in the Swat valley was that there was no rule of law or justice. By offering to investigate the whipping of the girl in Swat, the Supreme Court is taking the first concrete step in offering to "develop" those regions which the Taliban thrives in because they are close to becoming completely ungovernable.

These events, and particularly the flogging of the young woman, have led to an unprecedented groundswell of popular condemnation of extremism in Pakistan. Just as a full spectrum of the population took to the streets to demand the reinstatement of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as the nation's senior most judge two weeks ago, so too have a wide array of people and groups condemned the extremism.

All, from the secular NGOs to the religious leaders, have chanted the same, positive slogan – such extremism is against the principles of Islam. Yet even here, unfortunately, there is an important potential disclaimer.

To some, especially the secular-minded, like Pakistan's liberal elite, the Taliban are synonymous with extremism. To others, like the nation's mainstream religious groups, extremism is not always associated with the Taliban. Rather, the term is used as a euphemism for violence committed by groups supported by foreign actors – the most popular of which are India and Israel – who are stoking mischief in an attempt to destabilise the world's only nuclear-armed Muslim country.

The idea that some of Pakistan's religious seminaries have been tainted with the Taliban's violent creed is still beyond the pale because large mainstream political groups helped taint them – with keen support from the army and Saudi Arabian money.

That is one of the psychological tools used to avoid scrutiny of the intolerant, chauvinist Islam that has developed in thousands of madrassas across Pakistan.

The Pakistan government has also condemned extremism, but that did not prevent three more members of the Taliban being freed from prison on Saturday under the recent Swat valley peace deal.

Condemning an abstract notion like extremism without an institutional response – like revitalising Pakistan's crumbling public education system or prosecuting those believed to have committed atrocities – leaves the window open for continued Taliban intransigence.

Taleban-style law for women in Afghanistan is dropped after outcry

A controversial law condoning marital rape and reintroducing Taleban-era rules for Afghan women has been shelved after an outcry in the West.The Afghan Foreign Ministry said that the law had not been enacted, while Justice Ministry officials said that its contents might be reconsidered. The legislation was put on hold pending a review.
“The Justice Ministry is reviewing the law to make sure it is in line with the Afghan Government’s commitment to human rights and women rights conventions,” Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the ministry in Kabul, said.The British Government expressed alarm at the law, which applies to the 15 per cent of the Afghan population that is Shia Muslim. President Obama called the law “abhorrent” at the Nato summit in Strasbourg last week.The Afghan Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.Human rights activists cited a large number of provisions in the law that appeared to disregard those commitments in a draft leaked to The Times.One of the most controversial articles stipulates that the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires”.Later the law explicitly sanctions marital rape. “As long as the husband is not travelling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night,” Article 132 says. “Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”Article 133 reintroduces the Taleban restrictions on women’s movements outside their homes, stating: “A wife cannot leave the house without the permission of the husband” unless in a medical or other emergency.Article 27 endorses child marriage with girls legally able to marry once they begin to menstruate.The law also withholds from the woman the right to inherit her husband’s wealth.Some opposition figures accused President Karzai of attempting to curry favour with conservative Shia party leaders before presidential elections in August. The Shia community has represented one of the best-organised voting blocs since 2001 and is being courted by several candidates.His Government said on Saturday that criticism of the law was misplaced. “We understand the concerns of our allies in the international community,” President Karzai said during a televised press conference in Kabul.“Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it.”Some Afghan MPs suggested that the leaked draft of the law did not contain important amendments that were added to the final version. The law was passed by parliament last month and several women MPs whom The Times contacted said that it did so without debate after conservative religious leaders claimed that this was unnecessary.Reaction to the law among Shia women was largely supportive, Ruqiya Nayel, a Shia woman MP from Ghor province, said.“This law clearly violates our rights,” she told The Times. “Unfortunately most of the women I represent welcome this law because 98 per cent of women are uneducated and do not know their rights. A very few educated women are very sad about it.”

IDPs ‘being forced’ to pay bribe

PESHAWAR: The United Nations has refuted a government claim regarding the return of internally displaced persons to the Bajaur Agency, saying the people are still waiting to get registered in the camps set up by the government, sources said.Elders of camps, set up for internally displaced people, also alleged that they are being forced to pay Rs1,500 as bribe to get registered at the registration point in the Bajaur Agency.The provincial relief commissioner and the UN’s representatives have expressed concern over the allegation and requested the Fata Secretariat to probe it, they said.According to them, this emerged during a meeting of the Provincial Coordination Committee tasked to look after the internally displaced people, held at the Afghan Refugees Commissionerate under Provincial Relief Commissioner Jameel Amjad on Monday.Officials of the Fata Secretariat told the meeting that 2,000 families from the 11 IDPs camps had left for the Bajaur Agency and had been registered by the registration point there.The UN representatives on the occasion refuted the claim, saying the IDPs had not left the camps and displaced families from the troubled areas were still trying to get registered.‘The government is discouraging registration of new IDPs in its bid to force repatriation of IDPs, which is incorrect,’ sources, who were part of the meeting.The UN representatives told the meeting that they had no existence in Bajaur to verify the government claim regarding the return of the IDPs.
They said ground realities showed that the populations of the camps were still increasing and there was no documented proof that suggested that the IDPs had left for Bajaur.The district revenue officer of Swat told the meeting that 11,000 families from the violence-wracked areas, who had taken refuge with relatives in the Mingora city, had returned to the respective areas soon after the peace deal between the government and the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Sharia-i-Muhammadi.Camp elders on the occasion asked the meeting to register them in the camps and give them a package at the time of their return, the sources said. The UN, they added, also supported the elders’ plea that they should be registered so that they could get the relief package.The meeting was also attended by the authorities concerned of the federal and provincial governments, representatives of national and international donor organisations, besides officials of the National Disaster Management Authority.It discussed and reviewed the ongoing relief activities with particular reference to food, shelter, healthcare, education, drinking water and other related facilities being provided in the camps and outside camps to the IDPs in different districts of the province. The participants updated the meeting regarding ongoing initiatives and relief activities being carried out for the wellbeing of the IDPs by donor agencies in the camps and vowed to continue the same. The UN representatives proposed that the names of the displaced families opting for their respective areas should be removed from the lists in the camps, so that confusion was avoided at the time of distribution of relief materials when the repatriation got starts.Earlier, the administrator of IDP camps updated the meeting about the current population, saying 14,111 families had been registered in the camps and another 86,869 families were living with friends and relatives.

Three female education workers killed in Mansehra

MANSEHRA: Three female workers and a driver of a USAID-funded Project Rise International were killed by unidentified gunmen here at Kund Bangla area on Monday.
Local people suspect the involvement of militants in the occurrence which took place in the jurisdiction of Shinkiari police station. The incident took place at around 4.30 p.m near a deserted spot.The deceased include a social mobilizer of the Rise International, Sadif Yar Mohammad of Shabkadar (Charsadda); an assistant education officer, Aujum Zab of Mansehra, who was attached with the NGO; another unidentified female worker and their driver Saifullah Khan, hailing from Pabbi (Nowshera).They were on their way back to Mansehra from a mountainous Kund Bangla area of the District when some unknown assailants killed all of them by spraying their bodies with the bullets.‘The team had gone there to mobilize the local community to send their children to schools,’ said Shahzad Ahmad, the project coordinator of Rise International which works in the field of education jointly with the education department in 18 union councils of Mansehra Tehsil.He said that the NGO had not received threats from any quarter. He added that they had set up the Parent Teacher Associations at the village level and their female staff works for the female students of the community.At the scene of occurrence the body of the driver was found at some distance from the vehicle in which the bodies of three female workers were laying in pool of blood.‘The scene was gruesome. The bodies were in bad shape as the assailants had sprayed them with bullets,’ said an eye witness who had seen the bodies.After getting information about the incident the Police reached there and shifted the bodies to Rural Health Centre, Shinkiari from where they were shifted to King Abdullah Teaching Hospital in Mansehra for autopsy. So far no one has claimed the responsibility for the occurrence.The Mansehra district police officer Akhtar Hayyat Khan said that he was not in a position to say any thing about the incident. He added that after the post mortem and preliminary investigation he would be in a position to give some information about the occurrence.On Feb 25, 2008, unidentified gunmen had attacked the office of another NGO, Plan International, and killed four of its staffers. Few days ago the police had defused an improvised explosive device aimed at targeting some CD centers here.

Pakistan fighting terror for survival: Zardari

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday told top US officials his country was fighting terrorism for its own survival and would not succumb to pressure by militants, officials said.

'Pakistan is fighting a battle for its own survival,’ a statement issued by the presidency quoted Mr Zardari as telling Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, during a meeting on Monday night.

‘The president said the government would not succumb to any pressure by militants,’ it said.

However, Mr Zardari had called for dialogue with those who laid down their arms and respected state authority, it added.

They also discussed regional security issues, the Afghanistan strategy announced by President Barack Obama last month and a recent surge of militancy and extremism in the region, the statement said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quresh also attended the meeting.

Mr Zardari stressed the need for accelerating development of the impoverished tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and said his government was pursuing the ‘three Ds’ (dialogue, development, deterrence) strategy, the statement said.

ISI has contacts with extremists: Gates

WASHINGTON: The ISI’s contacts with the Hekmatyar, Haqqani and the Nazir groups are a real concern for the United States, says US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.In a recent interview to an Afghan television channel, Mr Gates also expressed concern over Pakistan’s agreement with the militants in Swat saying that such deals only allow the militants to reassemble and revive their strength.‘The ISI's contacts with some of these extremist groups —with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Haqqani network, Commander Nazir (sp) and others —are a real concern to us,’ said Mr Gates.‘We have made these concerns known directly to the Pakistanis. And we hope that they will take action to put an end to it.’‘Are US drones flying from Afghanistan to hit militant hideouts in the Pakistani territory?’ he was asked.‘I can't talk about our military operations, obviously. But the president (Obama) has made clear that we will go after al Qaeda and their planning cells and their training centres, wherever they are in the world.’The journalist reminded him that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had assured Pakistan he respects the country’s sovereignty. ‘So if the drones hitting targets inside Pakistan fly from Afghanistan, will not be disrespect to the sovereignty of another country?’ the journalist asked. ‘Well, all I can say, again, is that our priority is going after al Qaeda. And we will go after them wherever they are,’ Mr Gates replied.Talking about US concerns over the Swat peace deal, Secretary Gates said that similar agreements in 2005 and 2006 led to an increase in the number of violent extremists coming across the border into Afghanistan. The militants, he said, no longer had to worry about Pakistani troops because of the deals that were made under President Musharraf.Mr Gates said he believed the Pakistani government was coming to understand that the militancy in the NWFP was as great a danger to the government in Islamabad as it’s to Afghanistan.The Pakistani army, he said, was now fighting the militants and thousands of Pakistani soldiers had died while combating these extremists.‘One of our goals in this new strategy is to see how we can improve cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have a common interest in getting rid of these extremists.’Asked what the US could do to persuade Pakistan to adopt a more effective policy against the militants, Mr Gates said Pakistan was a sovereign country, and so the US could only encourage it to fight the militants as a partner in this war.‘What we are doing is making clear to them that we are prepared to be a long-term ally and partner of Pakistan; that we will help them deal with their security problems.’The United States, he said, was prepared to provide gear and training to enhance Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities.
‘We're also prepared to try and provide additional economic assistance to Pakistan because they face a number of challenges in that area as well.’

In Turkey, Obama Says U.S. ‘Never’ at War With Islam

ANKARA, Turkey — President Obama formally began his outreach to the Muslim world on Monday when he spoke before Turkey’s Parliament, telling legislators that the United States “is not and never will be at war with Islam.”“America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not just be based on opposition to Al Qaeda,” he said. “We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.”Showing more self-confidence each day on his maiden overseas trip, Mr. Obama, in addressing a majority Muslim country for the first time, appeared to have prepared carefully for one particular line in his wide-ranging speech.“The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans,” he said. “Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country.“I know,” he said, “because I am one of them.”And then he paused. Throughout his speech, he had moved swiftly from passage to passage, but this time, he waited for the translator to catch up. After about five seconds, the applause came.The line was a bold one for Mr. Obama, who has been falsely accused of being a Muslim. The accusations persist on some right-wing Web sites, which may try to interpret his remarks as proof of that view.But Mr. Obama is calculating that the benefits of demonstrating to the Muslim world that Americans are not antagonistic toward it outweigh the potential political fallout back home. His calculus may also reflect an increased belief that he has enough political capital that he can spend some of it in pursuit of strengthening ties between Muslim nations and the West.Introduced as “Barack Hussein Obama,” the president told the assembly that he plans to push for a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, despite the view of many foreign policy experts that such a goal will be even more difficult to reach given the makeup of the new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not to mention the fractured state of internal Palestinian politics.In a direct rebuttal of comments made last week by Israel’s hawkish new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that agreements reached at an American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis in 2007 have “no validity,” Mr. Obama said: “Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”He added: “That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the roadmap and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president.”Turkey is crucial to American interests on many fronts. It borders Iraq and Iran, and has deep influence in Afghanistan. It is also helping to forge a possible peace deal between Israel and Syria.In choosing Turkey as an example of the type of relationship that can be struck between the United States and an Islamic population, Mr. Obama also seemed to be pushing for more acceptance of the separation between religion and the state. Turkey is a secular Muslim democracy that has recently seemed at war with itself over its own religious identity. The country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has roots in political Islam, a worry to secular Turks.On Monday morning, Mr. Obama went to pay his respects at the Ankara mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a secularist who established modern Turkey, and wrote at some length in a guestbook at Ataturk’s shrine.“It is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble,” Mr. Obama said during his speech, “His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong and secular democracy, and that is the work that this assembly carries on today.”
White House officials say they still plan for Mr. Obama to make a major speech to the Muslim world from an Islamic capital in the early months of his presidency, and were quick to say that Monday’s Ankara speech was not that. There will be another, they say, in which Mr. Obama will try to define, at length, his view on America and Islam.
Mr. Obama also threw his weight solidly behind Turkey’s accession to the European Union, an issue that has split Europe, with France and Germany lobbying against Turkey’s entry.“Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union,” he said. “We speak not as members of the EU, but as close friends of Turkey and Europe.”The president also waded into the fraught issue of Turkey’s relations with Armenia, and the genocide of more than a million Ottoman Armenians beginning in 1915. Turkey acknowledges the killings but says they did not amount to a systematic genocide, and has vehemently opposed the introduction of a bill in the United States Congress that would define it that way.Back when he was a senator, Mr. Obama said he supported that view, but during a press conference with President Abdullah Gul before the Parliament speech, he did not use the word genocide and said that Turkey and Armenia had made progress in talks.Armenian-Americans were quick to voice their ire. “In his remarks today in Ankara, President Obama missed a valuable opportunity to honor his public pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide,” Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement. Mr. Obama’s remarks, he said, fell “far short of the clear promise he made as a candidate that he would as president, full and unequivocally recognize this crime against humanity.”During the Parliament speech, Mr. Obama did speak of the Armenia issue, saying that “history unresolved can be a heavy weight.”“Our country,” he said, “still struggles with the legacy of our past treatment of Native Americans.”In another similarity between Washington and Ankara, Mr. Obama was mobbed by legislators angling for a handshake as he tried to leave the chamber at the end of his speech. In many ways, it resembled the scene in the United States Congress after a State of the Union speech.

Taliban Shura hiding in Balochistan, says Admiral Mullen

ISLAMABAD: The top leadership of the Taliban is hiding in Balochistan province, Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said.Pakistan lies at the core of America’s strategic concerns, said Richard Holbrooke, the new US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen were talking informally to a select group of invitees to dinner at US Ambassador Anne Patterson’s house in the US embassy compound last night. The American delegation was accompanied by a small group of leading journalists from the top US newspapers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The delegation came to Pakistan from Kabul where it met with President Hamid Karzai and over two hundred other notables. Apparently, the Americans were told by Afghan officials that Afghanistan’s problems lay exclusively in Pakistan.Holbrooke talked of America’s long term commitment to Pakistan’s economy and military and referred to the Kerry-Lugar bill for $7.5 billion for Pakistan over five years. Asked if the US was winning or losing the war in Afghanistan, Admiral Mullen said that since the US was not winning, it could be said that it was losing it. But Holbrooke put it differently. He said neither the US nor the Al Qaeda-Taliban network was winning it.Baitullah: Admiral Mullen said that the US was targeting Baitullah Mehsud now because he had established strategic links with Al Qaeda in the past year or so and was facilitating Al Qaeda’s attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan. He praised Pakistani COAS General Ashfaq Kayani as a straight-talking general with whom he could work with mutual trust and benefit at the tactical and strategic level. However, the Americans left no doubt in anyone’s mind that the economic and military aid to Pakistan would be linked to Pakistan’s concrete support to the war against Al Qaeda. But they also insisted that America respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and there was no chance of American “boots on ground” in FATA. After dinner, Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen left to call on President Asif Zardari.

CJ Chaudhry demands report on Swat woman’s flogging

ISLAMABAD: The Chief Justice of Pakistan ordered governmentofficials on Monday to submit a detailed report within 15 days over thepublic flogging of a veiled woman, an incident that incensed the nation.Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry gave the directive as eight judgesopened a hearing into the case, apparently that of a 17-year-old girlwho was caught on an amateur video being whipped face down on theground.
Government and regional officials from North WestFrontier Province (NWFP) should ‘submit report on a fortnightly basisto the registrar of this court,’ the top judge said in his order,written in English.‘The matter requires a detailed probe tolocate place of incident, application of law for those involved and ifsentence of flogging was awarded lawfully or unlawfully,’ he added.Thedate of the flogging, the location and the details of the woman’salleged crime have been confused but the footage showed two men pinningher down while a bearded man in a turban flogged her 34 times with awhip.Government officials, whom Chaudhry ordered to bring thewoman before court Monday, instead submitted a written statement theysaid they recorded from her and her husband denying that they wereflogged.The woman, named in the statement as Chand Bibi, expressed unwillingness to appear before court in the presence of media.
Thedetails of her alleged crime were confused, but residents of KalaKilley village in the Swat valley said the woman was accused of illicitrelations with an electrician and forced to marry him.‘Possibilitycannot be ruled out that a fake TV material or a video had beenprepared with an ulterior motive to malign people of Swat,’ said Chaudhry.‘If there is any unlawful order, or provisions ofconstitution dealing with dignity of human beings are violated, actionis required to be taken,’ he said.The judges in court Monday strongly criticised government officials for dealing with ‘deteriorating’ law and order.‘We are not satisfied by your job of sitting in offices and making statements,’ the chief justice said.Localgovernment officials and residents told AFP last week the video wasfilmed on January 3, some weeks before the government signed acontroversial deal with a pro-Taliban cleric to allow sharia law in Swat.
ISLAMABAD: Proceedings into the Swat flogging case are underway at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, DawnNews reported.An eight-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was earlier constituted to investigate the incident.The Chief Justice had summoned top government officials and had ordered the police to produce the victim on Monday.He has also directed the federal interior secretary Kamal Shah in addition to the NWFP chief secretary and inspector general of police to personally appear before the court on Monday. The federal interior secretary is to produce the flogging victim before the court in compliance with the chief justice's order.The apex court reacted to the video which showed militants in Swat publicly flogging a 17-year-old girl after accusing her of adultery . However, the date and venue of the incident remain unclear.