Sunday, April 12, 2009

Balochistan outrage

Dawn Editorial
THE charges are grave and must be answered immediately. The abduction and murder of three nationalist leaders has sparked riots across Balochistan amidst accusations that the state’s security apparatus was behind the killings. Official denials or attempts to shift the blame to nameless ‘anti-state elements’ will not soothe tempers in Balochistan.

Gen Musharraf’s army operation, the killing of Nawab Bugti and the forced disappearance of hundreds of civilians are still fresh in the minds of the Baloch people. Nor can they shake off the sense of alienation engendered by decades of neglect, exploitation and outright brutality by the centre.

As such it is understandable why federal agencies are quick to be accused of any new atrocity in Balochistan. This time round too the blame has been laid at the door of the intelligence agencies. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, ‘The facts strongly suggest that members of state security picked up the three victims, [and] tortured and killed them before dumping their bodies.’ Quoting ‘credible sources’, the HRCP said the three men were taken away in cars that were closely followed by Frontier Corps vehicles. Meanwhile, a lawyer in Turbat has claimed that the three were kidnapped from his chambers on April 3 by a number of men in civilian dress.

That said, judgment cannot be passed until the facts are known. Inquiries have been ordered and the Balochistan High Court has taken notice of the gruesome incident. It is now up to the authorities to get to the bottom of things and unmask the guilty parties. This is critical in many respects. First and foremost, justice must be served. Second, the security apparatus will remain guilty in the eyes of the Baloch people until its innocence is proved beyond doubt. This can only be done by tracking down the killers and building an ironclad case against them. While this may not be standard procedure – a person is, after all, innocent until proven guilty – the agencies need to provide solid evidence that they had no hand in the triple murder. For that to happen, the killers will have to be produced.

Balochistan’s troubles had been dying down since the 2008 elections, the PPP’s public apology for ‘atrocities and injustices’ committed against the people of the province, and the exit of arch-nemesis Gen Pervez Musharraf. More recently, the president travelled to Quetta in an attempt to bring dissidents on board and give reconciliation efforts a boost. Kick-starting much-needed development activities in Balochistan was also on the agenda. Progress may have been slow but at least the process had begun. In the light of what has transpired this week, the authorities must act swiftly and decisively because one tragic incident must not be allowed to derail the journey towards reconciliation.

Projecting soft image of Pukhtunkhwa

PESHAWAR: The three-day Frontier Food Festival concluded on Sunday on the bank of Indus River near Indus Bridge on motorway with participation of an impressive number of visitors. The cultural-cum-tourism event attracted a large number of visitors from the nearby localities besides guests from Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi districts of NWFP and Kamra, Attock, Islamabad and Lahore in the Punjab. The event was aimed at promoting domestic tourism through introducing Frontier’s cuisine to wider public as well as presenting the soft image of the province to counter the negative propaganda of extremism and terrorism against it.It was really a joyful moment when Indus turned into twinkles with firework by Artifissimo Pvt Ltd late Saturday, the second night of the festival, which continued for about 10 minutes. The festival site was decorated with different stalls right from traditional food cuisines, garments, footwear, handicrafts, jewellery items and kids fun area. Boating and camel riding were also part of the activity. A reception chalet with big turban model on the top was much attractive that was surrounded by illumination on trees and plants. High-sound music and Khattak, Bethani, Chitrali, etc dances were enough to entertain the visitors and relieve them of tension of fear of terrorism and polluted environment of congested cities.The SMEDA, PCSIR, PC, Enhancer, Euro Sausages, Haleemghar, Khyber Charsi Tikka, Bakshipul Chapal Kabab, Shah Mansoor Special Foodstuff were among the prominent stalls erected at the festival site, where Alexander the Great had crossed the Indus in 326 BC.The turnout was encouraging beyond expectations, said Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, general manager, Sarhad Tourism Corporation (STC). The official said not only people from different parts of the country visited the festival but foreign nationals like French, German and Japanese also enjoyed the festival, arranged by the STC.Arranging the festival was aimed at promoting tourism and breaking with the atmosphere vitiated by terrorism, he added. He said “tourism, not terrorism” was the slogan of STC and the corporation was working on promotion of peace and harmony through healthy activities like tourism keeping in view the Islamic injunctions. “You see how the visitors, including men, women and children were enjoying different activities with exemplary discipline in the open without any tension or fear,” he said while pointing towards Chitrali dance show.The food festival revived the memories of Jashn-e-Khyber that could not be held for almost two decades, he added.

Syrian envoy to U.S. says he prefers Lieberman over Livni

The Syrian ambassador to Washington told CNN on Sunday that the election of Barack Obama gave him reason to be optimistic that Israel and Syria could clinch a peace deal, and that he was not deterred by the prospects of working with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman."Personally I believe it is better to deal with someone like Lieberman than it is to do deal with someone like [former foreign minister Tzipi] Livni," Imad Moustapha told CNN on Sunday. "At least Lieberman is candid. He exactly says what he believes in. Tzipi Livni and her colleagues were talking all the time about their desire to make peace while committing the atrocity in Gaza or doing other similar things in the Palestinian territories." Moustapha said the U.S. has "a moral obligation to sponsor peace talks between the Arabs and the Israelis [because it is] U.S. support for Israel that has enabled [Jerusalem] to sustain policies of occupation" and that Washington must apply pressure on its ally to change course.
"Israel will be very careful not to say no to the U.S. administration and the U.S. president," Moustapha said. "This is a historical moment. Here is a president that has said in a vigorous way that the U.S. is making peace in the region."Moustapha also praised Obama's envoy in the region, former senator George Mitchell, as "a person known for his integrity, fairness, and his capability to deliver.""We are a little bit more on the optimistic side right now, but we need to be careful and realistic," the Syrian ambassador said.Moustapha warned that Mitchell will be more limited in peacemaking efforts between Arabs and Israelis than he was in brokering the Good Friday accords in Northern Ireland due to the "omnipotent power of the pro-Israel interest groups in Washington."

Pakistan is in danger of collapse within months

PAKISTAN could collapse within months, one of the more influential counter-insurgency voices in Washington says.The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan."We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now," said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House."You just can't say that you're not going to worry about al-Qaeda taking control of Pakistan and its nukes," he said.As the US implements a new strategy in Central Asia so comprehensive that some analysts now dub the cross-border conflict "Obama's war", Dr Kilcullen said time was running out for international efforts to pull both countries back from the brink.When he unveiled his new "Afpak" policy in Washington last month, the US President, Barack Obama, warned that while al-Qaeda would fill the vacuum if Afghanistan collapsed, the terrorist group was already rooted in Pakistan, plotting more attacks on the US."The safety of people round the world is at stake," he said.Laying out the scale of the challenges facing the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dr Kilcullen put the two countries invaded by US-led forces after the September 11 attacks on the US on a par - each had a population of more than 30 million."But Pakistan has 173 million people and 100 nuclear weapons, an army which is bigger than the American army, and the headquarters of al-Qaeda sitting in two-thirds of the country which the Government does not control," he told the Herald .
Added to that, the Pakistani security establishment ignored direction from the elected Government in Islamabad as waves of extremist violence spread across the whole country - not only in the tribal wilds of the Afghan border region.Cautioning against an excessive focus by Western governments on Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistan, Dr Kilcullen said that "the Kabul tail was wagging the dog". Comparing the challenges in the two, he said Afghanistan was a campaign to defend a reconstruction program. "It's not really about al-Qaeda. Afghanistan doesn't worry me. Pakistan does."But he was hesitant about the level of resources for, and the likely impact of, Washington's new drive to emulate an Iraq-style "surge" by sending an extra 21,000 troops to Afghanistan."In Iraq, five brigades went into the centre of Baghdad in five months. In Afghanistan, it will be two combat brigades [across the country] in 12 months. That will have much less of a punch effect than we had in Iraq."We can muddle through in Afghanistan. It is problematic and difficult but we know what to do. What we don't know is if we have the time or if we can afford the cost of what needs to be done."Dr Kilcullen said a fault line had developed in the West's grasp of circumstances on each side of the Durand Line, the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan."In Afghanistan, it's easy to understand, difficult to execute. But in Pakistan, it is very difficult to understand and it's extremely difficult for us to generate any leverage, because Pakistan does not want our help.
"In a sense there is no Pakistan - no single set of opinion. Pakistan has a military and intelligence establishment that refuses to follow the directions of its civilian leadership. They have a tradition of using regional extremist groups as unconventional counterweights against India's regional influence."In the absence of a regional diplomatic initiative to build economic and trade confidences before tackling the security issue, the implication, Dr Kilcullen said, was that India alone could not give Pakistan the security guarantees required by Islamabad.The special US envoy Richard Holbrooke has been charged with brokering a regional compact by reaching out to Iran, Russia and China, and Dr Kilcullen said: "This is exactly what he's good at and it could work."But will it? It requires regional architecture to give the Pakistani security establishment a sense of security which might make them stop supporting the Taliban," he said."The best-case scenario is that the US can deal with Afghanistan, with President Obama giving leadership while the extra American troops succeed on the ground - at the same time as Mr Holbrooke seeks a regional security deal," he said. The worst case was that Washington would fail to stabilise Afghanistan, Pakistan would collapse and al-Qaeda would end up running what he called 'Talibanistan.'"This is not acceptable. You can't have al-Qaeda in control of Pakistan's missiles," he said."It's too early to tell which way it will go. We'll start to know about July. That's the peak fighting season … and a month from the Afghan presidential election."

Balochistan shut down for third straight day

QUETTA: The third consecutive day of wheel-jam and shutter down strike paralyzed normal life in vast areas of Balochistan on Sunday.

The protest was observed on the call of Balochistan National Party (Mengal), Baloch National Front and Baloch Students Organization to condemn the Turbat incident in which three Baloch political leaders were found dead.

The people and transporters responded to the strike call as all private vehicles, buses, coaches and rickshaws remained off the roads and business activities remained suspended for third straight day in the city.

The protestors blocked the national highways between Quetta-Sibi-Jacobabad, Quetta-Nushki-Taftan and Quetta-Khuzdar-Karachi at Mach, Mungochar, Hub Bridge and Nushki respectively.

The wheel-jam and shutter down strike was observed in Nushki, Dalbandin, Taftan, Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Awaran, Kharan, Waushak, Panjgur, Pasni, Turbat, Hub, Lasbela, Mach, Dhadar, Sibi, Bhag, Dera Murad Jamali and Dera Allahyar.

BNP-M, BNF and BSO thanked the people for extending support to the strike that was observed for three consecutive days to condemn the barbaric killing of Ghulam Muhammad Baloch chief of Baloch National Movement, Lal Munir executive committee member of the party and Sher Muhammad Baloch leader of Baloch Republican Party.

The provincial government education department in the province and Balochistan University administration has extended closure of the educational institutions for another three days and now the these institutions would reopen on Thursday. The examinations of board of intermediate and secondary education and Balochistan University were also put off and the new schedule for the tests would be made public later on.

Meanwhile Senator Dr. Malik Baloch, chief of National Party, has demanded the probing of the Turbat incident by the United Nations to bring facts before the people.

The NP president, accompanied by Mir Hasil Bizenjo senior vice president, Tahir Bizenjo secretary general and Kachkol Ali Baloch senior leader of the party, addressed a press conference after offering fateha of Lal Munir with the bereaved family in Panjgur on Sunday.

Dr. Malik alleged that the plot for the killing of three Baloch political leaders was hatched in Islamabad and asserted that the intelligence agencies had arrested Ghulam Muhammad, Lal Munir and Sher Muhammad and then murdered them.

He said those elements that had assassinated Nawab Akbar Bugti were also behind the Turbat incident and dubbing it as state terrorism. He was also critical of President Asif Zardari assertion that intelligence agencies were not part of the conspiracy.

The NP leader said that if President Zardari could investigate the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto by United Nations then why couldn’t the Turbat incident also be probed by the same international organization.

Girls education in Swat to be restored.

PESHAWAR: Women Awareness & Development Organization (WADO) working for the welfare of women and young girls in Swat completed a challenging project on restoration of girl’s education in the war torn district under the active supervision of its Executive Director Ms. Zakia Noreen while its fruitful results were also evident then. Though this was an uphill task and it was very difficult in the present scenario of the area to undertake such project, but it was made possible due to the assistance of local elite. The support extended y the locals in the existing situation was of course unprecedented. The organization imparted training to thirty one local religious leaders in the light of Quran & Sunnah highlighting the need for women education. Besides a set of literature, emphasizing the need for awareness regarding rights of women was also disseminated. The training covered almost all aspects including the rights of women especially the right of getting education. The trained religious leaders were expected to deliver speeches in the Friday congregations in mosques. They succeeded in explaining with examples the correct and true version of Islam regarding rights of women where women education as well as women mobility is not prohibited any where; rather women education in all walks of life is compulsory in Islamic society. Similarly a peace walk was also arranged to show concern over the ban imposed by the so-called Islamists on women education. A peace message was conveyed to the militants to show mercy on the already pathetic condition of women of the area, who have already suffered a lot and deserve to be given kind consideration. Media has also shown keen interest and was not left behind in highlighting the cause of women of the area in the headlines of their news. The organization specifically trained fifteen media persons for the purposes, who highlighted the importance of girl’s education through articles in newspapers. The terrified community leaders also contributed in offering their services to avail such training and to further mobilize the community on this point. Since the community and the common man is fed up with the situation, so they want to get rid of it and so they very eagerly contributed their part in furthering the cause of the organization in the public at large. It is estimated that a vast population, approximately four hundred thousand women and girls got benefit of the endeavors made so far by the organization. The credit goes to the organization as the militants recently announced to take back their already imposed ban on women education, which will result into the opening of hundreds of girl’s schools in the area once again and the women teachers and staff will be again able to perform their duties and earn their livelihood in a prestigious manner.

California's anti-tax crusaders talk revolt

LOS ANGELES- Taking inspiration from a landmark 1970s tax revolt, a determined group of activists say the moment is right for another voter uprising in California, where recession-battered residents have been hit with the highest income and sales tax rates in the nation.And like Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure that transformed the state's political landscape and ignited tax-reform movements nationwide, they see the next backlash coming not from either major political party, but from the people.
If the anti-tax crusaders can galvanize voter discontent, they hope to roll back the latest tax hikes, impose permanent, iron-clad spending caps on Sacramento lawmakers and make the issue central in the 2010 gubernatorial election."There's a lot of latent anger boiling to the surface out there," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a group named after the California anti-tax crusader who spearheaded Prop 13.An angry mob of thousands converged on an Orange County parking lot in southern California on a recent Saturday morning for an anti-tax protest, stunning even the organizers with the size of the turnout. It was just one in a series of public demonstrations that have cropped up around the state.Talk of a brewing tax revolt has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and many political analysts are skeptical, though they concede that the taxpayer mutiny that led to the landmark Prop 13 was similarly dismissed by political professionals.That referendum passed in a landslide despite furious opposition from the political establishment -- and highlighted the possibilities for grassroots campaigners to enact measures with ballot initiatives and bypass the legislature.It slashed property tax rates by 57 percent, capped future collections and required any new tax hikes to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature.
"There's no way to predict whether we're going to see a reprise of the revolt that led to Prop 13 or whether this is a false start," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a onetime adviser to presidential candidate Sen. John McCain."But the economic conditions are ripe for tax revolt, and advances in technology certainly make it easier to organize a coalition without access to huge amounts of money."Those conditions include a heavy tax burden that is growing heavier plus a worsening economy.California already had the highest income tax rates of any state in the country when the legislature raised them in February to help close a $42 billion deficit that also required deep spending cuts and additional borrowing.The state's top income tax rate is now 10.425 percent, which is 1.5 percentage points higher than second-place Rhode Island and rises to 10.55 percent if certain economic triggers are hit. Most U.S. states have a top rate of less than 7 percent, and seven collect no income tax at all.California lawmakers also boosted the state's sales tax to 8.25 percent, nearly doubled the vehicle license fee and sharply reduced the tax credit for dependents.Though Prop 13 has become sacrosanct in California politics, it has its critics, who blame it for forcing the state to rely too heavily on sales and income taxes and limiting a critical funding source for public schools.The state, which was hard hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, faces sharply declining revenues and an unemployment rate over 10 percent."I certainly don't want my taxes raised but one thing I do recognize is that we are in the middle of a financial meltdown," California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat, told Reuters in an interview."We have a constitutional obligation to balance the budget so we had no choice" but to raise taxes, Bass said. "Unfortunately when you fan the flames you can lead to things like a revolt but I'm certainly hoping it doesn't deteriorate to that."
Analysts also say the anti-tax revolutionaries would be met with fierce opposition from California's public employee unions, a powerful political force with considerably more money and unmatched influence over the Democrat-led legislature.
But the activists are undaunted by doubters within the establishment."Every chamber of commerce, every editorial board, every labor group, every tax-receiver group, everybody opposed Prop 13 except the voters," Coupal told Reuters. "That reflects a massive disconnect between the real people and the political elite, and that disconnect is right now as great as I've ever seen it."The first test of anti-tax crusaders' influence could come in a May 19 special election with voting on Proposition 1A, which is backed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders and would extend the tax increases in exchange for a new cap on spending.At the Orange County anti-tax rally, sponsored by two radio talk show hosts, voters' resentment erupted as they chanted slogans, waved placards and demanded action in the state capital Sacramento."There was a huge amount of anger," said John Kobylt, talk show host on KFI-AM 640. "It was visceral. You could feel it. You could almost touch it. It was almost frightening to be out there. It was a tremendous expression of hatred over what's going on."

U.S. Captain Held by Pirates Is Rescued

United States Navy personnel rescued the captain of an American cargo ship on Sunday by killing three Somali pirates who had been holding him hostage for four days, government officials said.Right before his rescue, Richard Phillips, the 53-year-old captain of the Maersk Alabama, was being held in a 18-foot lifeboat in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia. The pirates were armed with AK-47s and small-caliber pistols, said Vice Admiral William E. Gortney, who spoke from Bahrain to reporters in Washington.Just after dark on Sunday, snipers on the U.S.S. Bainbridge saw that one of the pirates was pointing an automatic rifle at Captain Phillips, and that the captors’ heads and shoulders were exposed from the capsule-like lifeboat.

President Obama had previously authorized the use of force if the commander on the scene believed the captain’s life was in danger, so they fired, Admiral Gortney said. The lifeboat was about 100 feet from the Bainbridge when the shots were fired, shortly after 7 p.m. Somalia time (seven hours ahead of Eastern time). Asked where Captain Phillips was at the time the shots were fired, Admiral Gortney said he was not sure but that he had to be less than 18 feet away, the length of the lifeboat.While it was not clear whether he had jumped into the water, Captain Phillips was pulled out of sea and transported to the Bainbridge, where sailors delivered him a note from his wife, Andrea.“Your family is saving a chocolate Easter egg for you,” she wrote, according to Vice Admiral Gortney. “Unless your son eats it first.”According to John Reinhart, the Maersk Line president and chief executive, Mr. Phillips told him by telephone: “I’m just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home.” A Navy photograph showed Mr. Phillips shaking hands with the commanding officer of the Bainbridge.American officials acknowledged that the deadly ending of this incident could lead to more confrontations with Somali pirates, who are currently holding more than 200 hostages.“This could escalate violence in this part of the world,” Vice Admiral Gortney said.Only three of the original four captors were in the lifeboat when Mr. Phillips was rescued.Admiral Gortney said that a small Navy vessel had made multiple trips back and forth between the Bainbridge and the lifeboat, carrying food and water to Captain Phillips and the pirates and delivering clean clothes to the captain.On Saturday night, the Navy fired warning shots at the lifeboat, followed by a brief exchange of fire, the official said. Hours afterward, the one pirate who was reportedly injured boarded the supply boat and surrendered to Navy personnel.Around the same time, the Navy managed to attach a line to the lifeboat and began towing it away from shore. Mr. Phillips was being held in a covered part at the back of the lifeboat, the official said, and one pirate typically stayed with him under cover. The lifeboat had gotten as close as 20 miles to shore, drifting after running out of fuel, off Gara’ad, Somalia.In Somalia, Abdirahman Muhammad Faroole, president of the Puntland region, where some of the pirates were thought to be from, said that on Sunday afternoon, American officials whom he’d been talking to throughout the crisis abruptly told him to stop pursuing negotiations with tribal elders affiliated with the pirates. Mr. Faroole was told the Americans “had another action,” and said it was no longer necessary for him to work with the elders, he said.The Justice Department will be reviewing evidence to decide whether charges will be brought against the surviving pirate.In Underhill, Vt., Captain Phillips’s hometown, Alison McColl, a Maersk official, was preparing to a statement from a family when a car pulled up to the house and three youngsters jumped out and ran into the house in jubilation.The pirates — allegedly demanding $2 million in ransom — seized Mr. Phillips on Wednesday and escaped the cargo ship in a motorized lifeboat.A standoff between the pirates and the United States Navy then ensued until Saturday when negotiations between American officials and the pirates broke down, according to Somali officials, after the Americans insisted that the pirates be arrested and a group of elders representing the pirates refused.The negotiations broke down hours after the pirates fired on a small United States Navy vessel that had tried to approach the lifeboat not long after sunrise Saturday in the Indian Ocean.The Maersk Alabama, a 17,000-ton cargo vessel, pulled into port at 8:30 Saturday evening in Mombasa, Kenya, with its 19 remaining American crew members.“The crew was really challenged with the order to leave Richard behind. But as a mariners they took the orders to preserve the ship,” said Mr. Reinhart, President of Maersk.When the crew members heard that their captain had been freed, they placed an American flag over the rail of the top of the ship. They whistled and pumped their fists in the air, The Associated Press reported.More than 250 hostages are being held by various Somalian pirate groups, including the 16 crew members of an Italian tugboat captured on Saturday.One pirate named Ali, in Galkaiyo, Somalia, said the American Navy rescue won’t discourage other Somali pirate groups at all.“As long as there is no just government in Somalia, we will still be the coast guard,” he said, adding: “If we get an American, we will take revenge.”

Allies Ponder How to Plan Elections in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Inside the office of the Afghan interior minister is a map showing that nearly half the country is a danger zone. Ten of Afghanistan’s 364 districts are colored black, meaning they are under Taliban control, and 156 are colored to indicate high risk.

The map raises a difficult question: How, in such an environment, can Afghanistan hold countrywide presidential elections in less than five months?

The election, plus votes for provincial council seats, has become a prime focus of discussion, according to Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited Kabul last Sunday.

For now, Afghan officials and their American and NATO allies say they are absolutely determined to go ahead with the elections, scheduled for Aug. 20. Canceling or postponing them not only would be a significant recognition of how badly the war is going, but also would throw the country into a political and constitutional crisis.

At the same time, there is increasing concern that, even if NATO and Afghan forces can establish enough security in enough places, the vote will be so badly compromised that its credibility will be called into question, and with it the legitimacy of the current and future Afghan governments.

Taliban insurgents have such a strong grip on such a broad area — in particular the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul — that even with the anticipated arrival of an additional 30,000 American troops this year, the elections will not take place in some areas, several Western and Afghan officials in Kabul said.

“There will certainly be some districts where it will be difficult to have elections, especially parts of Helmand Province,” said Christopher Alexander, a deputy head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

“But the vast majority of districts, all but 8 or 10, took part in voter registration and are expected to take part in elections,” he added.

In interviews, some Afghans were less sure. They predicted that people were so disaffected by the war and the insecurity and the lack of progress from the government that many would not vote.

Opposition candidates, meanwhile, are already expressing concern about fraud and are pointing to widespread irregularities in the voter registration.

The recently appointed interior minister, Hanif Atmar, readily acknowledges the herculean challenge of getting his underpaid, poorly trained police force in shape to provide security for the elections.

Additional NATO troops and the added American forces will be deployed with Afghan security forces to the high-risk areas, he said, meaning virtually everywhere south of the capital, Kabul, in a country of mountains and deserts. Afghan forces will handle the safer northern areas largely on their own, he said.

But beyond providing security for elections, the American, NATO and Afghan security forces also have a broader mission: to stem the insurgency, which has sharply escalated in scale and casualties every year since 2006.

Some Western officials in Afghanistan warn that the extra American and NATO forces are too little, too late to change the military stalemate that exists across southern Afghanistan, and that all the military effort will be spent in securing the elections.

Admiral Mullen said that would not be the case. “I am convinced that the additional military capability will certainly start to allow us to turn the tide” in the war, the admiral said during his visit.

While election officials say voter registration has been successful, people in the south say Afghans, including Taliban members, were motivated to register less by any real interest in voting than by the fact that voter cards would ease their travel through government checkpoints.

“People cannot even travel to their homes,” said Abdul Rahim, 32, a landowner from Oruzgan Province, who moved his family to the provincial capital, Tirin Kot, to escape the fighting. “It’s beyond imagination that they will take part in the election.”

Whether the Taliban will try to sabotage the vote is not yet clear. In their statements, Taliban spokesmen say they oppose the presidential elections as a system imposed by foreigners.

But in previous years the Taliban have held back from large-scale disruption of elections, partly because of pressure from their mentors in Pakistan, and partly, analysts say, so as not to alienate the people, who are their base of support.

Nevertheless, the Taliban will be determined to respond to any influx of new American forces. Recent attacks by insurgents and Al Qaeda have indicated a growing sophistication and ambition, including spectacular bombings and wave attacks by multiple gunmen on government buildings. Those are likely to continue, Afghan officials said.

The strength of the insurgency and the distrust of the Afghan government is rapidly causing a collapse of authority in the many regions, warned a former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah, who is expected to be named as the candidate for the main opposition movement, the National Front, which represents a broad bloc of largely northern tribes.

Dr. Abdullah, who uses one name, said the situation would continue to deteriorate under President Hamid Karzai, leaving an even more difficult task for the next president.

Mr. Karzai’s administration has grown increasingly unpopular and is seen as corrupt and ineffective as the war has engulfed half the country. There is a growing yearning among Afghans for a change.

But diplomats say Mr. Karzai remains the strongest contender, not least because the opposition is divided and may split any vote against him. Also, the most likely contenders may not be an improvement, some warn.

“Beware what you wish for,” said one diplomat, who requested anonymity to avoid the impression of interfering in Afghanistan’s election politics.

The National Front continues to question Mr. Karzai’s legitimacy after a Supreme Court decision that allowed him to extend his term past its constitutional end on May 21 because the presidential election was delayed. The court will let him stay in office until a new president is sworn in, and in a close race, that could include a second round of voting in October.

Almost all the known candidates complain of fears that Mr. Karzai will use government resources to his advantage in the campaign.

“We can say straight off that 600,000 to 800,000 votes will be stolen,” said Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and a prospective candidate. Mr. Ghani called for a commission to monitor the election commission and one to monitor the president’s use of government resources and institutions.

But Mr. Karzai’s opponents say the groundswell of dissatisfaction among the public and the desire for change may be enough to dislodge him, if the election is fair.

“Everybody is complaining, everybody is concerned, and everybody is unhappy with the situation,” said Nasrullah Baryalai Arsalai, who is from a prominent family in eastern Afghanistan and recently announced his candidacy. “But a free vote makes me think it is possible.”

Troops patrol streets in southwest Pakistan

QUETTA, Pakistan — Paramilitary troops patrolled the streets Sunday to deter any violence as the Pakistani city of Quetta came to a standstill for a strike in protest at the slaying of three local leaders.
An AFP correspondent said business activity came to a halt and public and private transport remained off the road in the southwest city in response to the strike call by the Baluchistan National Party (BNP).
Riots broke out Thursday in Baluchistan province after the bodies of three dissident Baluch politicians were dumped on the outskirts of Turbat, a town near the Iranian border.
Paramilitary Frontier Corps troops patrolled major roads in Quetta, capital of the oil- and gas-rich province.
"Our troops are on high alert, patrolling the main boulevards to prevent incidents of violence," senior police official Rasool Bakhsh Rind told AFP.
Gunmen shot dead eight people Saturday in separate incidents in Quetta and other southwestern towns amid protests over the killings.
The slain politicians were identified as BNP chief Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, his deputy Lala Munir Baloch, and Sher Mohammad, deputy secretary general of the Baluchistan Republican Party.
The late BNP chief had played an important role in securing the release of American UN official John Solecki a week ago, two months after he was abducted in Quetta, a party official said.
Rind, the police official, said a mob Sunday torched two vehicles and two tractors at a local government facility, while another group tried to set fire to a bank.
Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, is rife with militant and sectarian violence.
Hundreds of people have died in the region since late 2004 when rebels rose up to demand political autonomy and a bigger share of profits from its natural resources.
The province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has also suffered attacks blamed on Taliban militants.