Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Arabs hail Obama overture

Article from: Agence France-Presse
US President Barack Obama's efforts in Turkey to repair the relationship between Washington and Muslims won praise in the Arab world overnight, more than seven years after the 9/11 attacks.

"This is a first important step towards lessening tensions that have existed in recent years between the Muslim world on the one side and the United States and the West on the other," Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said.

He said Mr Obama's initiative had put the two sides "on the path towards rebuilding bridges of trust between the US and the world's more than one billion Muslims".

In a speech to the Turkish parliament yesterday, Mr Obama said the United States "is not and never will be at war with Islam".

He also warned "you cannot put out fire with flames", arguing that brute force alone could not defeat extremism, in implicit criticism of his predecessor George W. Bush who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Obama said US ties with the Muslim world could not be simply defined by opposition to terrorism, decades into a US struggle with extremism that was sharpened by the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"We appreciate the new more advanced position of the US towards the Muslim world," Abul Gheit said in Cairo, while urging action to also advance the Middle East peace process.

"The Arab-Israeli conflict and the continuation of Israel's occupation of Arab lands constitutes a main cause of tension in the world which feeds extremist and terrorist forces," he said.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel yesterday both welcomed Mr Obama's renewed support for the stalled roadmap plan based on a two-state solution, although with less enthusiasm on the Israeli side.

What Mr Obama said in Ankara was "important. What remains to be seen is what will be the nature of the Israeli-US relationship to implement this solution", Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper.

Rajeh Khoury wrote in An-Nahar, another Beirut newspaper, that the summit between Mr Obama and Turkish President Abdullah Gul had aimed to draw up "a road map for relations between the West and Islam".

The US leader's visit to Turkey was "very important because it seeks to define the future of relations with Muslims".

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in a speech broadcast on state radio, compared Mr Obama to "a beacon of light in the obscurity of imperialism".

"So far his political discourse has been reasonable, breaking with the arrogance that was prevalent in statements by former US presidents," he said.

Pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat said "the American president was seeking during his first trip to a Muslim country to reconstruct his relationship with Muslims".

Yussuf al-Kuwailit, a senior editor of the Saudi Al-Riyadh newspaper, paid tribute to Mr Obama as "the modest leader".

Mr "Obama is a new American phenomenon, who reflects the true picture of America, trying to settle its differences with the world through participation and cooperation, without arrogance and talk of power," he wrote.

Mr Kuwailit said Mr Obama's bowing to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah at the G20 summit last week "showed extreme modesty ... without undermining his position as the president of the biggest world power".

Pakistan fighting for survival, says President Zardari

President Asif Ali Zardari told Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, that the country needed unwavering foreign support in the battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban."Pakistan needs unconditional support by the international community in the fields of education, health, training and provision of equipment for fighting terrorism," he said. "Pakistan is fighting a battle of its own survival.Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, said US drone attacks were damaging trust between the two allies. "We can only work together if we respect each other. There is no other way," he said.Mr Holbrooke met senior ministers and military chiefs in Islamabad to flesh out details of deeper US involvement in counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan. It was his first visit since Mr Obama unveiled his strategy to peel away "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban from hard-core leaders.The new approach couples large increases in aid – $1 billion over the next five years – with strict conditions on Pakistan's armed forces who will be expected to demonstrate a commitment to fighting the insurgents.US officials hinted that cross-border drone attacks had intensified. Another 13 militants were killed in a strike in Taliban-dominated North Waziristan on Saturday. The apparent increase brought a furious response from Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader. He said he would carry out two attacks per week until the drone strikes stopped.
Meanwhile, Col David Kilcullen, a leading architect of the "surge" that revitalised the American campaign in Iraq, told the New York Times that Pakistan was just six months from a descent into chaos.He has criticised the use of unmanned drones in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. "The current approach is having a severely destabilising effect on Pakistan and risks spreading the conflict further, or even prompting the collapse of the Pakistani state," he told a US Congressional hearing.
Mr Holbrooke conceded there was a "gap" between the US and Pakistan over the use of drones. "Let me be very frank," he said. "There is a gap between us and them, and I want to bridge that gap, and we'll continue to talk about it."

Public flogging of woman 'unacceptable': UN

UNITED NATIONS :UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday slammed as "unacceptable" the public flogging of a veiled woman in North West Frontier Province.


This is just unacceptable," he told a press conference in answer to a question about the case. "Respecting and upholding basic human rights is universally accepted."On Monday top judge ordered government officials to submit a detailed report within 15 days over the flogging case, an incident that incensed the volatile Asian nation.Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry gave the directive as eight judges opened a hearing into the case, apparently that of a 17-year-old girl who was caught on an amateur video being whipped face down on the ground.The date of the flogging, the location and the details of the woman's alleged crime have been confused but the footage showed two men pinning her down while a bearded man in a turban flogged her 34 times with a whip.

Afghan Taliban leadership hiding in Pakistan: US

ISLAMABAD: The top leadership of Afghan Taliban is hiding in Pakistan and controlling the covert war against US-led forces in Afghanistan, Washington’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said on Tuesday.

“The Taliban leadership is in Pakistan and the Taliban militants are fighting in Afghanistan,” said Holbrooke, accompanied by US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.

Talking to reporters, he said the US knew from various sources that the Taliban shura was hiding in Balochistan and that had serious implications for the new US strategy for the region. He said the issue had been discussed with the Pakistani leadership.

Direct threat: To a question, Admiral Mullen said Baitullah Mehsud was a direct threat to the US and his men were crossing into Afghanistan to fight against the NATO and ISAF forces.

Both Mullen and Holbrooke denied that the US was part of a campaign to malign Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI. Mullen insisted that the ISI, Pakistan Army and the US army should cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

Ambassador Holbrooke said majority of Pakistanis had realised after the recent acts of terrorism in Swat and Lahore that the war on terror was not simply an ‘American war’ but that terrorism posed a direct threat to them as well.

“There is a change in the perception of people in Pakistan about the war on terror, and it will push Pakistan and the US to work more closely in this fight,” the US special representative said.

He said Pakistan and Afghanistan should improve cooperation in intelligence sharing. “There is a legacy of distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan and we are trying to encourage them to increase cooperation,” he said.

Holbrooke said more than half of the men fighting in the Tribal Areas and Afghanistan were not ideologically motivated. He also acknowledged a lack of a systematic study about Taliban, saying most of the information was based on media reports.

Indo-Pak relations: To a question about Pakistan-India relations, Holbrooke said Washington “cannot negotiate between the two countries”, adding that the two countries should normalise mutual ties.

He termed last year’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai ‘strategic terrorism’ and said the terrorists tried to ignite a war between Pakistan and India but failed. He declined to respond to a question about Kashmir.

Admiral Mullen said Pakistan had majority of its forces on its eastern border and the Pakistan army chief had been relocating them to the western side, but the process had been stalled after the Mumbai attack.

Mullen said Pakistan Army was a traditional force that lacked specialised training to fight against terrorists. He said the US army was also a traditional force but it had learnt while fighting insurgents in Iraq. He offered to share the Iraq experience with Pakistan to make their fight effective.

Why the US didn't intervene in the Rwandan genocide

The Clinton administration and Congress watched the unfolding events in Rwanda in April 1994 in a kind of stupefied horror.The US had just pulled American troops out of a disastrous peacekeeping mission in Somalia – later made famous in the book "Black Hawk Down" – the year before. It had vowed never to return to a conflict it couldn't understand, between clans and tribes it didn't know, in a country where the US had no national interests.From embassies and hotels in Kigali, diplomats and humanitarian workers gave daily tolls of the dead, mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus who had called for tribal peace. The information came in real time, and many experts say that the US and the Western world in general failed to respond.


"During World War II, much of the full horror of the Holocaust was known after the fact. But in Rwanda, we knew before, during, and after," says Ted Dagne, a researcher at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, who has traveled to Rwanda on fact-finding missions. "We knew, but we didn't want to respond."

In an official letter written as late as June 19, 1994, the then-UN-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali showed exasperation at the numbers of peacekeepers that member nations were willing to provide.

"It is evident that, with the failure of member states to promptly provide the resources necessary for the implementation of its expanded mandate, UNAMIR (the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda) may not be in a position, for about three months, to fully undertake the tasks entrusted to it," Mr. Boutros-Ghali wrote. Within a month of the writing of this letter, the genocide ended, as Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front took full effective control of Rwanda.


Mr. Dagne, a Congressional aide at the time, says that if the Clinton administration had called for a rapid-action force to stop the killings in Rwanda, Congress would have supported him. Letters from bipartisan panels of Congress back this up.

"We are writing to express our strong support for an active United States role in helping to resolve the crisis in Rwanda," wrote Rep. Bob Torricelli (D) of New Jersey, in a letter of April 20, 1994, signed by Republicans and Democrats alike. "Given the fact that approximately 20,000 people have died thus far in the tragic conflict, it is important that the United States endeavor to end the bloodshed and to bring the parties to the negotiating table."

But time and again in that spring and summer, President Clinton replied with more pleas for the government and the rebels to stop the violence themselves, and suggested that the underarmed, overstretched UN peacekeeping mission on the ground was the right group to lead the way.

"On April 22 ... the White House issued a strong public statement calling for the Rwandan Army and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to do everything in their power to end the violence immediately," President Clinton wrote on May 25, 1994, to Rep. Harry Johnston (D) of Florida. "This followed an earlier statement by me calling for a cease-fire and the cessation of the killings."

With Congress looking toward the president, and the White House looking toward the UN, nothing was done, and the genocide ran its course.

"At the end of an administration, they write a report, and Rwanda was at the top of the failures list for the Clinton administration, so this is something that they acknowledge themselves," says Dagne.

If there is a lesson learned from Rwanda, Dagne says, it is that the international community needs to avoid giving the impression that it is willing or capable of rescuing civilians in a conflict. "It's important to build the capacity of people to do the job themselves [of protecting themselves]," Dagne says. "We must not give the expectation that people will be saved."

Fidel Castro Meets 3 U.S. Lawmakers

HAVANA -- Signaling its willingness to discuss improved relations with the Obama administration, Cuba on Tuesday granted three visiting members of the Congressional Black Caucus the first meeting with Fidel Castro by American officials since he fell ill in 2006.The surprise meeting came a day after the full delegation of six representatives spent more than four hours talking privately with Cuban President Raul Castro, his first encounter with U.S. officials since formally replacing his brother as head of state nearly 14 months ago.The sessions occurred as Washington discusses whether to warm up long chilly relations with Cuba. President Barack Obama has ordered an assessment of U.S. policy toward the communist nation and some members of Congress are pushing to lift a ban on Americans visiting the island.Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., current head of the 42-member caucus, said at a news conference in Washington after the group's return that lawmakers met for nearly two hours with Fidel Castro and found him ''very healthy, very energetic, very clear thinking.''
She said they went to Fidel's home, where they were greeted by his wife.''We believe it is time to open dialogue and discussion with Cuba,'' Lee said, noting that the group would present its findings to White House officials, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., and State Department officials.''Cubans do want dialogue. They do want talks. They do want normal relations.''Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., who also met Fidel with Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said Castro ''looked directly into our eyes'' and asked how Cuba could help Obama in his efforts to change the course of U.S. foreign policy. Richardson said she had the impression that 82-year-old Fidel wants to see changes in U.S.-Cuba relations in his lifetime.Greg Adams, a spokesman at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which Washington keeps here instead of an embassy, said he expected the Cuban government to release details during the nightly newscast on state television, though it was not clear if photos or video of the encounter would be made public.Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and it was his first meeting in several years with American officials. Although he gave up his presidential duties after becoming ill, he remains an influential force in Cuba.Among the last U.S. officials to see him face-to-face were state governors visiting the island separately on farm trade missions in 2005: Dave Heineman of Nebraska and Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana.Lee's group was in Cuba five days on a trip meant to encourage dialogue between the United States and Cuba.
Jeffrey Davidow, the White House adviser for this month's Summit of the Americas, which Obama will attend, says the U.S. president has no plans to lift the 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. But he says Obama will soon ease travel and financial restrictions affecting the island as his administration reviews its Cuban policy.
Lee's delegation is sympathetic to Cuba, with most of its members openly praising the country's communist government while decrying U.S. policy.Before the meeting with Fidel Castro was revealed, Lee said her group's talks with Raul Castro left lawmakers ''convinced that President Castro sees normalization of relations and an end to the embargo as a benefit to both countries.''Raul Castro ''said everything was on the table,'' Lee added.In commentaries Monday in state news media, Fidel Castro said that Cuba is not afraid to talk directly to the United States and that the Cuban government does not thrive on confrontation as its detractors have long claimed. He also welcomed the visit by the U.S. lawmakers.Opponents of the Castro government have long argued that while Cuban officials publicly call for an end to the trade embargo, they strive to antagonize Washington so it will keep the sanctions in place. The critics say Cuban leaders want to be able to blame the country's problems -- from restricted public Internet access to chronic food shortages -- on trade sanctions.
A member of the visiting U.S. delegation, Rush of Illinois, said he found the 77-year-old Raul Castro ''to be just the opposite of what is being portrayed in the media.'''I think that what really surprised me, but also endeared me to him, was his keen sense of humor, his sense of history and his basic human qualities,'' Rush said, adding that they talked about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and promised to send Fidel a book on the late civil rights leader.''They want to have the kind of relationship they had prior to the blockade. They deserve that,'' Rush said of the Castros.The American lawmakers were ''in conversation with him as though we were old family members,'' said Rush, who was once a Black Panther.''I intend to do everything that I can when we get back to the States to make sure that normalization with our relationship with Cuba is given proper consideration both within the House of Representatives and the neighborhoods of America,'' Rush added.Bills in both houses of the U.S. Congress would effectively bar any president from prohibiting Americans from traveling to Cuba except in extreme cases such as war.Lee predicted the measures will be approved, but said that will not spell the end of the trade embargo.''This would be a wonderful step, allowing American citizens the right to travel to Cuba, but much would follow after that,'' she said in an interview.The lawmakers' meeting with Raul Castro touched on few specific issues, especially thorny ones like Cuba's checkered human rights record.''We did not come to negotiate, we came to associate and cultivate,'' said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.Lee said the legislators would use their visit to prepare a report for Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the situation in Cuba.''Our basic message back to our country would be, it's time to talk to Cuba,'' Lee said. ''The time is now.''Asked about the lawmakers' trip, before the session with Fidel Castro was reported, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said members of Congress are free to go where they want and to discuss issues with world leaders.''And I'm sure that the members of that delegation will be raising some of the concerns that the U.S. government has with Cuba in terms of allowing Cubans to have the same rights and freedoms as (citizens of) other countries in the hemisphere,'' Wood said.


M Waqar
Today I congratulate everyone because Gen Zia’a dream has been fulfilled as a teenaged girl was flogged in Swat. Also let me congratulate, Imran Khan, the Jama’at-e-Islami leadership, Lt-Gen Hameed Gul, the ANP government in the NWFP, the majority of Urdu-language columnists, some English ones too as they support making deals with Taliban. Video of a young girl being flogged as ‘punishment’ by the Taliban in Swat has shocked everyone in the civilized World. It is shameful that religious parties appeared reluctant to openly condemn the case of lashing of a 17-year-old girl in Swat while not giving any clear statement regarding the unfortunate incident. What a shameful act these so-called Taliban did. I am also proud of those men who were watching this innocent helpless victim of atrocity, watching the spectacle mutely either in approval or dumbfounded and afraid of uttering a word against it lest it be termed as anti-Islam and they themselves were meted out the same treatment. Hearing that poor girl's cries grown up men stood and watched her being beaten just makes me sick to the stomach. What a message we are sending to the civilized World. Zardari "condemns" (words are cheap); PM "demands" punishment (OK, lets wait and see); CJ uses suo moto to demand girl be produced before court. (OK, lets wait and see). Jamaat-e-Islami says this is a "minor matter" and people should focus on drone attacks by the US (thus demonstrating their hypocrisy and savagery). This was one of the barbaric acts of Taliban, so far we knew that they hang dead bodies to tress but now we have learned that in the past women were punished like this inside rooms. The videotape shown on television and displayed on websites wasn't the only time that a woman was publicly canned by the Taliban. However, no videotape of the other incident, which took place on Oct 20, 2008, is available in which a woman and her father-in-law were flogged in Ser-Taligram village near Manglawar in Charbagh tehsil. It is also sad to read some people's comments on this forum who are living in denial. I was reading one letter on your web site, writer says , "I have a serious doubt as immediately after the whipping the "victim" got up and walked away without a limp." Any sane person would laugh at this nonsense if the situation weren’t so dire. If the video was fake, then why did the Taliban accept responsibility and claim they had done the right thing? Everything is a conspiracy to those who are in state of denial. They have lost ability to think, reason and to be logical. Speaking from psychological point of view that innocent girl must be so embarrassed that she did not want to be there, that’s why she got up fast. Those who are living in denial expect from this girl to say thanks to those Taliban and had offered them flowers, that’s what anyone who is denying this incident expects from that girl. That poor girl must have been in agony and I wonder what happened to her once they took her away. Those who are living in denial, those who think this incident was fake, remember Taliban would publicly whip your sisters, mothers, daughters and wives and when you will get out of your state of denial, it will be too late. It is also unfortunate that ANP leadership has abandoned its own people to the Taliban by making deals with them. 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? Those who are thinking that this video is fake should read writing on the wall. It was indeed like a lash on the faces of the chief minister of NWFP, the prime minister, the president, the legislators and most importantly, on the faces of every civilized Pakistani and Pukhtun as another writer mentioned on this forum. Its also true that the monster of terrorism is indeed on the prowl, unhindered and unchecked, targeting at will whatever and whoever it wants. It is obvious that the state has been unable and unwilling to address the threat posed by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. For the most part, the religious lot of the country has quietly and not so quietly supported the terrorists. The people of Pukhtunkhwa have been held hostage by Taliban, Pukhtuns' land is burning. What Taliban are doing is plain barbarism. When a religion is taken over by militants and zealots this is what you get.
Saved from: http://www.thefrontierpost.com/News.aspx?ncat=le&nid=21&ad=08-04-200
Dated: Wednesday, April 08, 2009, Rabi-us-Sani 11, 1430 A.H.

Pakistan’s Chief Justice Assails Attorney General Over Taliban Flogging

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The newly restored chief justice of Pakistan displayed his reputation as a human rights advocate and a prod to the government on Monday, when he hauled the attorney general and other officials before the Supreme Court and rebuked them over the flogging of a 17-year-old woman in the Taliban-controlled area of Swat.

The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, assailed the officials for laziness and self-importance, and challenged them for not taking up the case until it became a national scandal in recent days, when a video showing the woman pinned to the ground and repeatedly whipped by a Taliban commander was broadcast on Pakistani television.

“Before the video became public, what were you doing, why couldn’t you find out what had happened?” Mr. Chaudhry asked the attorney general, Sardar Latif Khosa.

By choosing to highlight the terror in Swat, Mr. Chaudhry, who has been back on the bench about two weeks after two years of enforced limbo, immediately returned to his role of shaming an acquiescent government and military into acting in the face of wrongdoing.

Last week, Mr. Chaudhry and his seven fellow judges demanded that the officials bring the woman, known as Chand, before the court as part of an investigation into what had happened.

When the officials failed to produce her Monday, the hearing turned into a critical public airing of the government’s decision to enter a peace deal in February that effectively gave the Taliban control over Swat, just 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

The attorney general, Mr. Khosa, aware that the situation was embarrassing for the government, asked at the outset that the hearing be held behind closed doors, a request Mr. Chaudhry batted away.

From the volley of exchanges between the judges and the officials, and an impassioned account by a prominent lawyer before the court of the terror in Swat, it became clear that the Taliban ran the area with impunity.

Chand was singled out for the punishment after she declined a Taliban fighter’s proposal for marriage, the head of the Peshawar Bar Association, Abdul Latif Afridi, said after the hearing.

After her refusal to marry, an electrician visited the family home, and, according to Mr. Afridi’s account, the scorned Taliban suitor saw her leave the house with the workman. She was flogged on March 7, accused of consorting with the electrician as an unmarried woman, the lawyer said.

Since the video was first shown on Pakistani television stations last Thursday, it has set off an emotional national debate.

Some commentators and political leaders have defended the flogging as being within the bounds of Islamic law. The leader of the right-wing Islamist party Jamaat Islaami said the flogging was unimportant compared to the missile strikes against militants in the tribal areas by American drones.

Samar Minallah, a rights activist, distributed the video to news outlets after receiving it from a contact in Swat, where it is available in markets. Ms. Minallah said she wanted the nation to know what was going on in the area that federal and provincial officials had been too afraid to visit since the February peace deal.

The atmosphere of fear and the absence of law was most vividly described to the judges by Mr. Afridi, the Peshawar lawyer, who appeared separately from the government officials.

A seven-month operation by the Pakistani Army against the Taliban from last July until February had resulted “in a total surrender” and the killing of hundreds of people by Pakistani soldiers, he said.

Now, he said: “The most fundamental rights are violated every second of every day. People are being ejected from their houses, courts are closed, 300 schools have been demolished.”

More than 900 police officers had deserted the force of 1,600 in Swat, and now the Taliban were on the verge of taking over the neighboring area of Dir, Mr. Afridi said.

After listening to the grim assessment, Mr. Chaudhry asked the attorney general what he was doing about Swat.

A “high-powered committee” had been appointed, the nation’s senior lawyer replied. “We are trying to retrieve the writ of the government,” he said.

Mr. Chaudhry complained that the police, instead of filing a formal complaint on the flogging the same night the video had first been shown, had waited several days. Had the woman appeared before any court, he asked.

“If she has, it’s in front of a kangaroo court,” replied Malik Naveed Khan, the inspector general of police in the North-West Frontier Province.

Then Mr. Chaudhry turned his attention to the senior official in the Interior Ministry, Kemal Shah, who reached retirement age two years ago but was given an indefinite extension by Pervez Musharraf, the president at the time, to serve as secretary of the Interior Ministry.

Why had the secretary not been to Swat, the chief justice asked, a question that was a clear challenge to the government’s impotence in an area where even the military fears to operate.

Faced with silence, the judge ordered: “You go to Swat yourself. You must be very bright. You go yourself. We command you do it and report to us what is happening.”

After the hearing, a journalist from Swat, Ehsan Haqqani, who reports for The Associated Press of Pakistan, said he was pleased that the Supreme Court had brought attention to a situation most others had ignored.

“We were the forgotten people,” said Mr. Haqqani, who has edited a collection of essays, “The Plea of Swat,” published by Shoaib Sons Publishers in Mingora, Swat. “The government was only a silent spectator. Now the Supreme Court is forcing the government to take notice. That is encouraging for us.”

Pakistan, U.S. stress trust, disagree on drones

ISLAMABAD, April 7 - Pakistan and the United States must build trust as they confront Islamist militant violence, said senior officials on Tuesday who failed to resolve disagreement on U.S. drone aircraft strikes in Pakistan.

Special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, held talks with Pakistani political and military leaders after arriving from Kabul late on Monday.

Holbrooke is making his first visit to the region since U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan last month, focusing on a regional approach to ending the war.

Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency has intensified over recent years despite a rising number of U.S. and other foreign soldiers there.

Holbrooke and Mullen are due in India later on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to engage with the United States with mutual interest and respect and he had flagged in talks with the Americans Pakistani "red lines" that the United States should not cross.

"The bottom line is (the) question of trust," Qureshi told a news conference with Holbrooke and Mullen. "We can only work together if we respect each other and trust each other."

U.S. commanders say tackling militant enclaves in ungoverned ethnic Pashtun tribal lands in northwest Pakistan, from where the Taliban launch attacks into Afghanistan and al Qaeda plots violence around the world, is vital to success in Afghanistan.

At the same time, attacks by militants across Pakistan are reviving Western concerns about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally.

Pakistan for years used Islamists to further foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan and the Kashmir region, which both Pakistan and India claim.

Some U.S. officials say they suspect Pakistani security agents still maintain contacts with militant groups while Afghanistan says Pakistani agents support the Taliban.

Pakistan denies that.


Obama has said Pakistan would get "no blank cheques" and the release of more U.S. aid would depend on how it tackled terrorism.

In response, Qureshi said: "It works both ways. We'll neither accept one nor will we give one".

Alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, the United States has since last year stepped up strikes by pilotless drone aircraft against al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan.

Pakistan calls the strikes violations of its sovereignty and says the civilian casualties they often cause inflame anti-U.S. sentiment, complicating its effort to fight militancy.

"We did talk about drones and let me be very frank, there is a gap," Qureshi said.

"We agreed to disagree on this," he said, adding the issue would be taken up again in three-way talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States in Washington on May 6-7.

Taliban commanders say recent violence in Pakistan has been in retaliation for the U.S. drone attacks.

Mullen said the United States had a long-term commitment to Pakistan which he hoped would generate trust that he said was "absolutely vital".

Holbrooke said Pakistani and U.S. interests ran in parallel.

"The United States and Pakistan face a common strategic threat, a common enemy and a common challenge and therefore a common task," he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari told the visiting Americans late on Monday Pakistan was battling militants for its survival.

Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and a year-old coalition government are also struggling to revive an economy propped up by a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan.

Holbrooke said the United States would be making a "substantial pledge" at a donors' conference in Tokyo on April 17, adding he hoped other countries would too. (For more stories on Pakistan and Afghanistan click on

Taliban blow up music shop in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: Suspected Taliban militants planted a remote-controlled bomb that blew up a music shop and neighbouring stalls in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), police said on Tuesday.

‘A CD and music centre, as well as three other shops were destroyed when a locally made bomb went off in front of a bus stand in the Faqir Abad area of Peshawar,’ local police official Anwar Khan told AFP.

No loss of life was reported as the shops were closed overnight when the bomb exploded, police said. ‘It was a huge explosion,’ Khan said.

Another Pakistani security official confirmed the attack.

Militants have bombed scores of entertainment shops across the country’s northwest in recent years, charging that music and films are contrary to the teachings of Islam.