Thursday, April 16, 2009

Iranian scholar has advice for U.S. on Afghanistan

From the Los Angeles Times
Changiz Pahlavan offers insights into the Afghan culture and how Iran might help the West deal with its neighbor.
Iranian scholar Changiz Pahlavan has spent more than more than 30 years immersed in the minutiae of Afghanistan, as a researcher for UNESCO during the 1970s, a confidant of the country's various warlords during the 1980s and 1990s, and an expert on the huge Afghan refugee population in Iran.
In a recent interview with The Times, he said Iran could serve as a cultural bridge and more to Afghanistan, with which it shares a language and culture.
Other than a border, what connects Iran to Afghanistan?
For Iran, Afghanistan is a part of the same civilization. That is why when Afghan refugees are expelled from Iran, they shout at Iran, "They are inhumane!" Because it is their own home, their own culture.

What does Iran get about Afghanistan that Americans do not?

For America, Afghanistan is a battlefield to combat the terrorists.

But Americans do not understand the variety of cultures and the variety of ethnic elements in this country and the very important point of how all these differences could come together to be united in the form of one unified country.

Iran has the ability to understand the humanity, religion and psychology of Afghan people. The U.S. is not able to do the same thing and does not have the time to learn a lot about this very delicate and complicated culture.

What concrete steps can Iran take to help out in Afghanistan that it isn't taking already?

Iran could help to transfer nonmilitary goods to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people. This transfer of foodstuff can be expanded into many other nonmilitary supplies.

Iran should also help America in the field of exchanging intelligence. Iran has some influence in certain parts of Afghanistan, but it should not be overestimated. Iran also has some connection to the Taliban, like the CIA does.

What is your advice to America?

The people of Afghanistan should get some benefits from the presence of the foreign military. They should be enjoying a better life. After World War II, the American troops came to Europe and were liked, but they were not liked in Vietnam and Iraq, because [the people there] did not get anything good out of it.

A group of Afghans who immigrated to the U.S. until very recently were giving advice to American administrations to favor certain parts of Afghanistan dominated by Pashtun tribal people. These advisors are loyal to neither the U.S. nor Afghanistan. They think Afghanistan should be ruled by Pashtun elements, whether royalists, republicans, Communists or the Taliban.

Pashtunism . . . is one of the main elements causing problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan, aside from Pakistani extremists. If you rely on these elements and this ideology, you lose the support of the majority of the people, who are not either Pashtuns or Pashtunists.

What should the U.S. do about Pakistan?

When I spoke many years ago of [Pakistani intelligence] involvement in Afghanistan, nobody was ready to accept it, not even the Iranian government. I saw Pakistani officers who were involved and pursued a scorched-earth policy by burning and ruining everything. It is because of the very complicated border areas between the two countries that Pakistani intelligence is highly involved.

Since its independence, there has been no central government in Pakistan. The unity of this country was guaranteed by the military. The present approach to strengthen democracy is very good.

Pakistan should restructure its intelligence activities in terms of personnel and ideology. They should have a secular constitution that does not allow certain regions to follow Islamic law while ignoring the rest of the country.

What does the North Atlantic Treaty Organization need to do?

There is no NATO in Afghanistan, in my opinion. The NATO presence is an umbrella for the U.S. NATO is not the real decision-maker in Afghanistan from a military point of view. They are not ready to go to the more dangerous areas in Afghanistan. The Australians, Canadians, Germans and French are just helping in a very general sense, not in the real battlefield.

What do you think of the plan to reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban?

There are no moderate Taliban. There are only genuine Taliban in Afghanistan.

Former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who wrote a letter to President Obama asking for help, is he a moderate?

He was one who benefited from U.S. financial help against communist rule. He is ready to collaborate with everybody. He has no legitimacy to rule in Afghanistan. Why should you invest in somebody who has no real followers?

The present government of Afghanistan also represents nobody except a small part of the Afghan bureaucracy. It's not tribal or even Pashtun.

Afghanistan is in need of a new leadership with three characteristics: not to be the man of the United States, like President [Hamid] Karzai; not to be corrupt, by misusing international aid and dealing drugs; and to enjoy a nationwide support.

In the absence of such a personality, you should help Afghanistan be a united but decentralized country, a strong administration combined with tribes. It is a wrong approach of the U.S. to seek people who are loyal to Washington but who represent nobody.

What about Karzai?

His time is over, and has long been over. He is selling himself to the U.S. as someone unavoidable. But it's not true. He can leave office and nothing will happen.

CIA, ISI to fight terrorism jointly

NEW YORK: ISI Director General Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha has left Washington for Pakistan. Gen Pasha during his brief stay in the US met various leaders of the intelligence community, according to sources who were aware of Gen Pasha's meetings.

Gen Pasha met with Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair as well as CIA chief Leon Ponetta, who visited Pakistan just a few weeks back, sources said.

These meetings were held to repair the strained relationship between the two spy agencies that have often had a rough relationship, the sources said.

CIA head Leon Ponneta and ISI head Gen. Pasha during their meeting agreed to develop a working relationship between the CIA and the ISI. A couple of weeks back the ISI came under scathing criticism not only from the US media but none other that Petraus, who is now tasked with overseeing the operations in Afghanistan.

When Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen visited Pakistan last week, reports surfaced that ISI head Gen. Pasha refused to meet them as a result of the criticism.

In US, sources said, Pasha assured US officials that the ISI was doing all it can to combat terrorist and urged them to share intelligence it has with the ISI, instead of criticizing it.

Pakistan calls for equitable approach to accomplish nuclear disarmament: Underscoring the need for total elimination of nuclear weapons, Pakistan told a UN panel Wednesday that the objective should be achieved through an equitable approach and genuine empathy for the security concerns of all states.

"At the same time", Ambassador Farukh Amil said, "we have to avoid discriminatory application of non-proliferation norms and the resort to military and coercive means to counter proliferation".

Amil, the acting permanent representative, said the cherished goal of "equal security for all", as advocated by the 1978 landmark Special Session of the General Assembly, had been eclipsed by unilateralism, narrow geographical groupings and inadequate attention to developing country security concerns.

‘Islamabad is Taliban’s next target’

KARACHI: Nizam-e-Adl Regulation is not a peace agreement but a recipe for disaster for the country, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Coordination Committee convener and MNA Dr Farooq Sattar Thursday said.Addressing a press conference here, Dr Sattar said that his party opposed the "so-called" Nizam-e-Adl in the larger national interest, reported a private TV channel. Dr Sattar said that MQM informed the nation about what he called the serious consequences of implementation of Nizam-e-Adl. "We were Muslims yesterday and we are Muslims today and are well-aware of the teachings of our religion," he asserted. Islamabad is only a few kilometres from Buner and after Swat it was now the turn of Islamabad, he feared.He said making agreement with the elements who perpetrated the crime of public flogging of a young girl in Swat was tantamount to giving permission to carry out illegal activities openly. "If these people call themselves Muslims then all other Pakistanis should stop calling them so," he added. The MQM leader said by carrying out a suicide attack in Charsadda the Taliban celebrated victory of their violence-ridden campaign which has nothing to do with peace. "Their Sharia does not allow them laying down arms and those who support this deal have actually betrayed their voters," Dr Farooq Sattar maintained.MNA Haider Abbas Rizvi, on the occasion, said Chaudhry Nisar has violated the Parliamentary traditions by issuing a statement against MQM.He termed the statements against MQM Chief Altaf Hussain as regrettable. Dr Farroq Sattar said now we also reserve a right to issue statements against Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif.

Taliban Exploit Class Rifts to Gain Ground in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week, and it carries broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan, particularly the militants’ main goal, the populous heartland of Punjab Province.In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan.”The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.Unlike India after independence in 1947, Pakistan maintained a narrow landed upper class that kept its vast holdings while its workers remained subservient, the officials and analysts said. Successive Pakistani governments have since failed to provide land reform and even the most basic forms of education and health care. Avenues to advancement for the vast majority of rural poor do not exist.
Analysts and other government officials warn that the strategy executed in Swat is easily transferable to Punjab, saying that the province, where militant groups are already showing strength, is ripe for the same social upheavals that have convulsed Swat and the tribal areas.Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”Sunni militancy is taking advantage of deep class divisions that have long festered in Pakistan, he said. “The militants, for their part, are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government and economic redistribution.”
The Taliban strategy in Swat, an area of 1.3 million people with fertile orchards, vast plots of timber and valuable emerald mines, unfolded in stages over five years, analysts said.The momentum of the insurgency built in the past two years, when the Taliban, reinforced by seasoned fighters from the tribal areas with links to Al Qaeda, fought the Pakistani Army to a standstill, said a Pakistani intelligence agent who works in the Swat region.The insurgents struck at any competing point of power: landlords and elected leaders — who were usually the same people — and an underpaid and unmotivated police force, said Khadim Hussain, a linguistics and communications professor at Bahria University in Islamabad, the capital.At the same time, the Taliban exploited the resentments of the landless tenants, particularly the fact that they had many unresolved cases against their bosses in a slow-moving and corrupt justice system, Mr. Hussain and residents who fled the area said.Their grievances were stoked by a young militant, Maulana Fazlullah, who set up an FM radio station in 2004 to appeal to the disenfranchised. The broadcasts featured easy-to-understand examples using goats, cows, milk and grass. By 2006, Mr. Fazlullah had formed a ragtag force of landless peasants armed by the Taliban, said Mr. Hussain and former residents of Swat.At first, the pressure on the landlords was subtle. One landowner was pressed to take his son out of an English-speaking school offensive to the Taliban. Others were forced to make donations to the Taliban.Then, in late 2007, Shujaat Ali Khan, the richest of the landowners, his brothers and his son, Jamal Nasir, the mayor of Swat, became targets.After Shujaat Ali Khan, a senior politician in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, narrowly missed being killed by a roadside bomb, he fled to London. A brother, Fateh Ali Mohammed, a former senator, left, too, and now lives in Islamabad. Mr. Nasir also fled.Later, the Taliban published a “most wanted” list of 43 prominent names, said Muhammad Sher Khan, a landlord who is a politician with the Pakistan Peoples Party, and whose name was on the list. All those named were ordered to present themselves to the Taliban courts or risk being killed, he said. “When you know that they will hang and kill you, how will you dare go back there?” Mr. Khan, hiding in Punjab, said in a telephone interview. “Being on the list meant ‘Don’t come back to Swat.’ ”One of the main enforcers of the new order was Ibn-e-Amin, a Taliban commander from the same area as the landowners, called Matta. The fact that Mr. Amin came from Matta, and knew who was who there, put even more pressure on the landowners, Mr. Hussain said.According to Pakistani news reports, Mr. Amin was arrested in August 2004 on suspicion of having links to Al Qaeda and was released in November 2006. Another Pakistani intelligence agent said Mr. Amin often visited a madrasa in North Waziristan, the stronghold of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, where he apparently received guidance.Each time the landlords fled, their tenants were rewarded. They were encouraged to cut down the orchard trees and sell the wood for their own profit, the former residents said. Or they were told to pay the rent to the Taliban instead of their now absentee bosses.Two dormant emerald mines have reopened under Taliban control. The militants have announced that they will receive one-third of the revenues.Since the Taliban fought the military to a truce in Swat in February, the militants have deepened their approach and made clear who is in charge.When provincial bureaucrats visit Mingora, Swat’s capital, they must now follow the Taliban’s orders and sit on the floor, surrounded by Taliban bearing weapons, and in some cases wearing suicide bomber vests, the senior provincial official said.In many areas of Swat the Taliban have demanded that each family give up one son for training as a Taliban fighter, said Mohammad Amad, executive director of a nongovernmental group, the Initiative for Development and Empowerment Axis.
A landlord who fled with his family last year said he received a chilling message last week. His tenants called him in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, to tell him his huge house was being demolished, he said in an interview here.The most crushing news was about his finances. He had sold his fruit crop in advance, though at a quarter of last year’s price. But even that smaller yield would not be his, his tenants said, relaying the Taliban message. The buyer had been ordered to give the money to the Taliban instead.

Afghan nomads warn to boycott presidential polls

Afghan Kuchis or nomads have warned to boycott the upcoming presidential elections in the post-Taliban country if the government continues to overlook their rights, a local newspaper reported Thursday."Over 40,000 Kuchis living in the southern Ghazni province would boycott the coming presidential elections and would not attend the voting process if the government does not consider their civil and social rights," Daily Outlook quoted a Kuchi elder Mohammad Gul Kuchi as saying.Gul Kuchi, the newspaper added, had accused powerful people of occupying their pastures.A minority without particular lands, the Kuchis with their herds of cattle often travel across the country. Kuchis or nomads in the neighboring Wardak province clashed with locals in Behsood district over land dispute last year which had left several dead.Afghanistan's presidential elections set for August 20 this year is going to be held amid tight security as several NATO member states and U.S. have announced to send additional troops ahead of elections in the war-torn nation.

Statistics show alarming situation of education

PESHAWAR: The picture of illiteracy in Pakistan is grim. Although successive governments have announced various programmes to promote literacy, especially among women, they have been unable to translate their words into action because of various political, social and cultural obstacles. Official statistics released by the Federal Education Ministry of Pakistan give a desperate picture of Education For All, espcially for girls. The overall literacy rate is 46 per cent, while only 26 per cent of girls are literate. Independent sources and educational experts, however, are skeptical. They place the overall literacy rate at 26 per cent and the rate for girls and women at 12 per cent, contending that the higher figures include people who can handle little more than a signature. There are 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which merely 40,000 cater to girls. Of these, 15,000 are in Punjab Province, 13,000 in Sind, 8,000 in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and 4,000 in Baluchistan. Similarly, out of a total 14,000 lower secondary schools and 10,000 higher secondary schools, 5,000 and 3,000 respectively are for girls, in the same decreasing proportions as above in the four provinces. There are around 250 girls colleges, and two medical colleges for women in the public sector of 125 districts. Some 7 million girls under 10 go to primary schools, 5.4 million between 10 and 14 attend lower secondary school, and 3 million go to higher secondary schools. About 1.5 million and 0.5 million girls respectively go to higher secondary schools/colleges and universities. The situation is especially alarming in rural areas due to social and cultural obstacles. One of the most deplorable aspects is that in some places, particularly northern tribal areas, the education of girls is strictly prohibited on religious grounds. This is a gross misinterpretation of Islam, the dominant religion in Pakistan (96 per cent of the population), which like all religions urges men and women to acquire education. The situation is the most critical in NWFP and Baluchistan, where the female literacy rate stands between 3 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. Some government organizations and non-governmental organizations have tried to open formal and informal schools in these areas, but the local landlords, even when they have little or nothing to do with religion or religious parties, oppose such measures, apparently out of fear that people who become literate will cease to follow them with blind faith. Unfortunately, the government has not so far taken any steps to promote literacy or girls education in these areas. It is even reluctant to help NGOs or other small political or religious parties do the job, because in order to maintain control, it needs the support of these landlords and chieftains who, as members of the two major political parties, are regularly elected to the national assembly. Poverty is also a big hurdle in girls' education. According to UNICEF, 17.6 per cent of Pakistani children are working and supporting their families. Indeed, children working as domestic help are a common phenomenon in Pakistan, and this sector employs more girls than boys. In big cities and towns, people are joining together to send their daughters to school. In any case, because of better facilities, girls' literacy is higher in big. Even though there is a lack of concern on the part of government to promote girls' education, some religious groups, political parties and NGOs are working actively to do so despite all barriers. Although the media have played an effective role in convincing people to send their daughters to schools, the situation remains dramatic in the villages and small towns where almost 70 per cent of the country's population resides.

Two woman killed in Mardan

MARDAN: A former women councillor and a woman employee of an NGO were killed in separate incidents here on Thursday.According to sources, an explosion caused by a home-made bomb planted in the office of the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) in the Hattian village killed Mumtaz Begum.The NGO’s office was located in building belonging to a former MPA of the Awami National Party.Local Taliban leader Habibur Rehman claimed responsibility for the attack. He accused NGOs of propagating obscenity and vulgarity and threatened further attacks.In the other incident, armed men gunned down Shaheen Bibi, a former councillor of the Union Council Gujjar Garhi.
A number of terrorist attacks have taken place in Hattian, Shergarh, Lund Khwar and Takhtbai areas of Mardan in recent days and a number of girl schools, police stations, security posts, music centres and cellphone towers have been targeted.
Meanwhile, three employees of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) were kidnapped in Kohat.Police said that armed men intercepted an OGDCL vehicle near a camp set up by the company for soil testing and whisked the three away to the nearby mountains.The kidnappers left behind their van and drove away in the company vehicle which was later found abandoned near the Nakband village. Those kidnapped were identified as Mohammad Arif, Qamar Hasnain Naqvi and their driver Mohammad Khan.
Police mounted a search but by that time the kidnappers had reportedly crossed over into the tribal areas.

Obama to Push to Ratify Treaty on Gun Trafficking

MEXICO CITY — President Obama, seeking to send a strong signal that he is committed to stopping the rising tide of cross-border drug violence, will announce on Thursday that he is pressing the Senate to ratify a decade-old arms treaty intended to curb the flow of guns and ammunition to drug cartels, a senior administration official said.

Mr. Obama, on his first trip to Latin America as president, landed in Mexico City on Thursday afternoon. His agenda will include the economy, immigration and a trade-related dispute between the two countries over whether Mexican trucks can travel American roads, but the dominating issue is drug violence.

The treaty was negotiated by the Organization of American States and signed by former President Bill Clinton, but was never ratified by the Congress. In announcing his support for it, Mr. Obama is seeking to strengthen the efforts of Mexico President Felipe Calderón, who has made fighting drug cartels a centerpiece of his domestic policy. “The president felt it was important to push now for the ratification of the treaty because the question of illegal arms trafficking is of great concern,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because Mr. Obama had not yet made the announcement. “The president believes that taking the necessary steps to ratify conveys our commitment to addressing this challenge.”

The treaty, which went into effect in 1998 after two dozen other nations ratified it, seeks to crack down on illicit firearms by, among other things, establishing a system for the import, export and transfer of firearms, and by fostering cooperation between law enforcement agencies investigating illegal trafficking. The official said Mr. Obama would announce his backing of the treaty after meeting with Mr. Calderón. News of the pending announcement first appeared on The Washington Post Web site.

It remained unclear what type of reception the treaty would now receive in Washington, analysts said. Previously, the treaty did not face any enormous opposition in the Senate — where a two-thirds vote is required for ratification — but rather seemed to languish, according to Peter DeShazo, a former senior State Department official. At the time, relations with Mexico revolved more around the issue of immigration, whereas the drug war has now taken center stage.

“It makes good policy sense,” Mr. DeShazo said. “It’s very hard for the United States to call on other countries to cooperate on controlling the flow of illegal arms if we haven’t ratified a major inter-American convention.”

But one senior Democratic official said that despite the president’s urging, it would be difficult to move forward on the long-stalled treaty given the Senate’s already crowded agenda, as well as a continuing Democratic reluctance to engage in a politically charged debate over guns.

Since taking office, Mr. Obama and his aides have been working assiduously to carve out a Mexico policy that talks of “shared responsibility” in combating the drug problem. On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced stiff financial sanctions against members of three more Mexican drug cartels, designating them “kingpins” under a law that allows the American government to seize their assets.

The president is likely to use his visit here to acknowledge that illicit drug consumption by Americans plays a role — an admission that experts predict will go a long way toward building goodwill on this side of the border.

In words that resounded on both sides of the border, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Mexico City last month that America’s “insatiable demand” for illegal drugs fueled the trade and that America “inability” to stop weapons from being smuggled south fed the violence. It is a marked shift in tone from previous administrations.

“For the last 30 years the United States has come down with the big sticks of eradication and helicopters, and the elephant in the room of our own consumption, and the tough proliferation of arms, were just never addressed,” said Julia E. Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think just beginning to talk about those things is going to buy him a lot of space down there.”

The drug violence is so intense here that in December, a Pentagon report warned that Mexico could be on the verge of becoming a failed state. Mr. Calderón dismissed that assertion in an interview with the ABC News program “Nightline” on Wednesday in which he also put some of the blame for Mexico’s problem on gun sales in the United States and demand for drugs there.

Mr. Obama comes here fresh from a much-publicized swing through Europe that put him squarely on the world stage. The Latin America trip, which will include a visit to Trinidad and Tobago, may not be as high profile; for one thing, First Lady Michelle Obama, who added a touch of pizzazz to the Europe trip, stayed back in Washington. But the president has made repairing relations with world leaders a signature of his foreign policy, and the visit is designed to give him a chance to do that in a region with which he is less familiar.

Mr. Obama will spend the night in Mexico before leaving for Port of Spain, Trinidad, to attend a gathering of leaders of Western Hemisphere nations.

Cuba is likely to be high on the agenda there. The White House announced earlier this week that Mr. Obama is lifting longstanding restrictions on travel and remittances to the island, but some Latin American leaders want him to do more.

In Mexico, Mr. Obama hopes to spotlight the historically close ties between the two nations. His visit comes at a difficult time for Mexico; in addition to being racked by drug violence, the nation is reeling from the effects of the worldwide economic downtown. Mexico is a major trading partner of the United States, especially since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and is feeling powerful ripples from the American recession.

The trip comes on the heels of a string of high-profile visits by administration officials. Along with Mrs. Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have all been to Mexico since Mr. Obama took office. Ms. Napolitano, who is with the president, announced that the administration would move hundreds of federal agents to the 2,000-mile border, and pledged to focus more efforts on stopping the flow of money and weapons from the United States into Mexico.

The president’s visit, though, takes the effort to a new level. That Mr. Obama is visiting the capital is particularly significant, said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a policy organization in Washington. Other leaders have visited Mexican resort communities, but Mr. Selee said Mr. Obama “really wanted to be seen going to the heart of the country, where the people are.”

This will not be Mr. Obama’s first meeting with Mr. Calderón; the two met in Washington shortly before Mr. Obama’s inauguration. Thursday’s visit will no doubt include a discussion of a sore point between their two nations: the refusal by the United States to allow Mexican trucks to travel inside the United States. That kind of truck traffic is supposed to be permitted under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but Congress has long objected, contending Mexican trucks pose a safety hazard — a contention that critics say stems from pressure by the Teamsters’ Union.

A pilot project allowing some Mexican trucks to make cross-border deliveries was recently suspended by Congress. An international arbitrator has ruled in Mexico’s favor, and Mr. Obama has acknowledged that the United States is in violation of its NAFTA obligations.

But whether the issue will be resolved while Mr. Obama is here remains unclear. “I’m not promising an agreement, I’m not suggesting there won’t be an agreement,” Denis McDonough, senior director for strategic communications on the National Security Council, told reporters Tuesday evening, while the president was still in Washington He added: “We’re aggressively working it and when we get an agreement we’ll announce it.”

State Department weighs in on Iran spy trial

WASHINGTON -- The State Department voiced concern Thursday about the secret trial in Iran of an American journalist on espionage charges, calling it "baseless" and saying her release could aid U.S.-Iranian relations.

Acting department spokesman Robert Wood confirmed Iranian reports that Roxana Saberi went on trial in Iran earlier this week on charges of spying. According to the reports, Iranian authorities said she has confessed.

"We've been very concerned about the transparency of this judicial process," Wood said. "And we call on the Iranians to provide as much information as they can to us about Roxana Saberi."

Saberi's trial began Monday and her lawyer has completed his defense, a spokesman for the judiciary, Ali Reza Jamshidi, told reporters. According to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency, Jamshidi said the verdict should be delivered within a few weeks.

Senior State Department officials said the trial was conducted in secret. Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of formal ties between the two countries, was not allowed to send a representative and it was unclear whether Saberi was allowed to have a lawyer present.

Saberi's lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, could not be reached for comment.

Authorities said Saberi spied inside the country by posing as a journalist.

Saberi's father, Reza Saberi, said in March that his daughter called him on February 10 and said she'd been arrested 10 days earlier.

He said his daughter initially thought she was detained for buying wine.

"She said she bought a bottle of wine last year and kept it to take to a friend for her birthday," he said. "She said authorities told her the person who sold her the wine turned her in." Alcohol is banned in Iran.

But a report last week by Iran's Press TV said Saberi was arrested in January for working illegally as a journalist after her press card was revoked in 2006.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hassan Qashqavi, also said in March that Saberi had been working in Iran without a permit.

"Her press card was revoked," Qashqavi said. "Without a permit, she should not have been engaged in news and information gathering in Iran."

Qashqavi did not provide details as to why her press card had been revoked.

Saberi's father said she has freelanced for National Public Radio and other news organizations and was writing a book about Iranian culture. She was almost finished, he said, and planned to return to the United States this month.

Wood said the United States has been in regular contact with Swiss authorities, but couldn't say more about the case without express permission from Saberi or her family.

Saberi's case comes as the United States weighs greater engagement with Iran. Earlier this month, at a conference on Afghanistan in the Netherlands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a letter to the Iranian delegation asking for any information on and the safe release of Saberi and Esha Momeni, an Iranian-American student arrested in Iran in October, as well as Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in March 2007.

Calling such detentions of Americans "unhelpful," to U.S.-Iranian relations, Wood said, "We think responding in a positive way to the Saberi case would be helpful, in terms of winning good will on the part of the United States and the American people."

He added, "We don't want to see more of these cases."

Security forces 'thwart assassination plot' against Morales

Bolivian President Evo Morales said three foreigners were killed in a half-hour shootout in a Santa Cruz hotel Thursday, as security services thwarted an assassination plot against him and his top officials.
AFP - Bolivia's President Evo Morales said police in his country on Thursday broke up a plot by foreign mercenaries to kill him, suggesting that right-wing opponents were behind it.

In La Paz, Bolivian police said that three people were shot to death and two detained in the eastern city of Santa Cruz when police raided a downtown hotel in search of a "terrorist group."

Morales, who was visiting here on his way to a summit in Trinidad and Tobago, said the raid set off a 30-minute firefight.

They were "plotting against the life of the vice president and of Evo Morales," he said, referring to himself in the third person.

"They are foreign mercenaries -- they are Irish, Hungarians and of course there are no Bolivians," he said.

Police in La Paz, however, said some Bolivians were involved, and Vice President Alvaro Garcia said at a news conference that the foreigners involved were Croats and Irish.

Officials said the government had documents showing that the opposition governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, also was a target of the plot along with Morales and Garcia.

"What must be done is to find out who financed this group of terrorist mercenaries," Garcia said.

Morales suggested that the alleged plot was linked to right-wing opponents of a new election law that is enabling him to run for a second five-year term in December, and which grants broad new rights to the country's indigenous communities.

Santa Cruz, a city of some 1.5 million people in eastern Bolivia, has been the center of opposition to Morales and his populist reforms.

Morales said the plotters sought to divert attention of authorities with an attack on Wednesday at the residence of Bolivia's Cardinal Julio Terrazas.

"I had information that an attempt was being prepared and I left instructions to launch an operation to detain the mercenaries," he said.

"This morning I was informed that there was a half-hour shootout at a hotel in Santa Cruz where three people fell," Morales said.

An elite police unit went into the hotel at 5:30 am (0930 GMT) on the basis of information that a "terrorist group composed of foreigners and some Bolivians" was inside, Bolivia's police chief said in La Paz.

"In this confrontation, lamentably three people were killed and two have been detained," General Victor Hugo Escobar said.

Escobar said a large quantity of explosives and high powered weapons were recovered.

"We have established that it was a terrorist group by their modus operandi and by the quantity of explosives and weapons found," he said.

The police commander made no mention of plans to assassinate the president or vice president, but said the group "had targets to continue attacking many personalities in the city of Santa Cruz and some personalities in La Paz."

Latin America tells Chavez not to confront Obama

Latin American leaders have told Venezuela's Hugo Chavez not to confront Barack Obama at a major summit marking the US President's first encounter with the region.There is concern the volatile leader is planning to grab the headlines at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, which starts on Friday, with a grandstanding attack on the US embargo on Cuba, or a personal insult towards Mr Obama at what will be their first meeting.
The self-styled champion of anti-Americanism has made some conciliatory noises towards the new White House occupant, but alarm bells started ringing when Mr Chavez recently called Mr Obama an "ignoramus" for accusing Venezuela of supporting Farc, the Columbian rebel group listed as a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.
According to diplomatic sources in Washington, Brazil and even Cuba – Venezuela's closest regional ally – have sent messages to Caracas that Mr Chavez should avoid the sort of disruptive behaviour shown at previous international gatherings.
In 2006, Mr Chavez called Mr Bush a "devil" before the United Nations general assembly, while in late 2007 an outburst against Spanish politicians prompted King Juan Carlos to tell Mr Chavez to "shut up". After eight years of fractious relations with George W Bush, most regional powers are keen to re-establish solid friendship with Washington.
A diplomatic source said: "Obama is the centrepiece of the event, and governments want to hear what he has to say. It won't do go down well if Chavez disrupts the meeting.
"He has been asked by the Cubans to tone it down. They would prefer a serious discussion on Cuba. If things get out of hand the summit will just be remembered for invective and argument."
Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, said that "Chavez is off balance because he has lost his great bête noire in Bush".
"He is upsetting people in the region", he added, by supporting Colombian Farc rebels.
Regional leaders were relieved that Mr Chavez held his own mini summit earlier this week, when he received Left-wing leaders from Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in Caracas. At the previous Summit of the Americas in 2005, the Venezuelan staged an alternative, antitrade meeting simultaneously to the main event.
The Trinidadians are also said to be wary of giving Mr Chavez too big a profile at the three-day meeting of 34 states in Port of Spain. He is not among the five speakers at the inaugural session tonight, which will be opened by Mr Obama.
Mr Chavez is taking a delegation of 200 to Trinidad, among the largest after the 1,000-strong US contingent. Thousands of guests are being housed on two cruise liners because of a shortage of hotel beds.
Though he will be well received, Mr Obama will not be given an easy ride. The economic crisis will top the official agenda, with Latin powerhouses such as Brazil and Argentina hoping for clear signs about how Washington will help the region.
The drug trade and "public security" will also feature. Mr Obama spent Thursday in Mexico City in a gesture of solidarity with President Felipe Calderon's dramatic military operation against drug cartels.
Latin leaders will also tell the US president that he needs to do more to build bridges with Cuba, despite his announcement of relaxed restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans earlier this week.
Mr Chavez, who has championed himself as the regional heir to ailing Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, is sure to press the American to drop the 47-year embargo that has contributed to the Caribbean island's long impoverishment. He will also demand that Cuba, the only country excluded from the summit because it is not a democracy, is admitted to the Organisation of the Americas.
Administration officials said Mr Obama would not have a face-to-face meeting with Mr Chavez but would have ample opportunity to meet him informally at banquets and plenary sessions. Though the US president will greet Mr Chavez cordially, he is not expected to extend the olive-branch that was so well used on his recent visit to Europe and Turkey.
"The President is going to Trinidad with the desire and the interest to talk to all of his colleagues," said Jeffrey Davidow, a former US ambassador to Mexico who has advised the White House on the summit.
He added that persuading Venezuela and Bolivia to accept US ambassadors again after expelling them last year was not "a principal point for the president". "We need to have more communication," he said.
The Obama administration has prepared the ground carefully for the summit, courting centre-Left countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile while politely ignoring those under Mr Chavez's socialist umbrella.
David Rothkopf, a former Clinton official, said the White House could exploit the fact that Mr Chavez is not universally liked by his counterparts.
"There is a lot of tension between the Cubans and Chavez because Chavez has arrogated to himself the lead role in dissent and anti-Americanism in the hemisphere," he said.
Steve Clemons, director of strategy at the New America Foundation think tank, said: "The Cubans want the door open and are trying to demonstrate openness to the new administration

Altaf blames NWFP govt for Charsadda attack

KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain on Wednesday held the Awami National Party-led NWFP government and all those MNAs who had favoured the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation responsible for the suicide attack on a police check post in Charsadda.

In a statement issued from London, he said the attack proved that the so-called peace agreement between the ANP government and ‘barbaric’ Taliban was not for peace and security but for terrorism, murder and mayhem.

Mr Hussain appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and judges of the superior judiciary to take a suo motu notice of the attack and order registration of an FIR against the provincial government and all those parliamentarians who had supported the ‘murder and mayhem agreement’.

He said that despite being in the government, his party had strongly condemned the signing of the murder and mayhem agreement and appealed to moderates to raise their voice against the agreement. He expressed sorrow and grief over the loss of lives in the attack.

Afghan Mission At a Tougher Stage: Mullen

A US top Military official, Adm. Mike Mullen expects growing violence in Afghanistan.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told an American TV Channel, ABC, that with reinforcement of troops, the level of insurgency will also go up this summer.Afghan Defense Ministry confirms that the Taliban-led insurgency will mount this year but speaks of preparations to prevent the violence.The US official, Mullen says deploying additional troops is effective in Afghan mission but he concentrates on training and bolstering Afghan forces to stablise the war-torn country.The US President Barack Obama approved this February to send extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and later on, he tasked another 4,000 US military personnel to train and enlarge Afghan security force.According to the new unveiled US strategy for Afghanistan, an army of 134,000 and a police 80,000 are to be built within the next five years for Afghanistan.Mullen said the new US troops will focus on southern Afghanistan where the Taliban influence expands over the past four years.I look forward to a very active year, Mullen told ABC television, adding, I want to be clear that my expectations are as we add more troops, the violence level in Afghanistan is going to go up.Mullen says there is more need for training of Afghan police and Army, so in long run, they take the leadership of operations in Afghanistan.Afghan MoD Spokesman, Maj. General Zahir Azimi said they will face a year with full of challenges and he urges further preparations than the last year.“Last year, 30 thousands of Afghan National Army, ANA, troops were fighting the insurgents in the frontlines and the other 30,000 were providing logistical support,” said Spokesman Azimi.According to him, more than 25 thousands personnel have been recruited in the Afghan Army over the last year.South and eastern regions of Afghanistan have turned to a stronghold for the Taliban over the past few years and they are battling to expand their control to the central parts of the country, where they have been able to conduct many fatal operations.

Pak-Taliban Peace Deal – ‘Horrible Impacts’ on Afghanistan

Afghan government terms the peace pact with the Pakistani Taliban reinforcement to the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan

Afghan President’s Spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, told a news conference in Kabul that the peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban harms the security of the region.

President Asef Ali Zardari of Pakistan endorsed a peace deal with the tribal-based Taliban to stop clashes with the Pakistani security forces, but to enforce Sharia law in the militant-controlled outskirt of the territory.

Pakistani president signed the peace bill approved by the Parliament, endorsing Sharia law in Swat Valley in Northwestern Pakistan.

President Zardari asked the state governor to implement the rule.

Based on that agreement, the Pakistani Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud would stop fighting Pakistani forces.

Afghan officials said they will share the concerns with the Pakistani government to make sure it will not negatively affect situation in Afghanistan.

It [the peace deal] is the concern of Afghanistan and the international community,” said Humayun Hamidzada.

Some US officials said peace deal will strengthen the safe havens in the border area where it threatens the security of the region.

US President Barack Obama while unveiling his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan termed the border region ‘the most dangerous place in the world.”

White House reacted to the deal on Tuesday saying the agreement is against the human rights and democracy.

An Afghan MP, Sayed Daud Hashimi, said the peace pact has political reasons behind it, but it will also harm Pakistan itself.

The treaty was made two months ago between the Taliban and the state government of NWFP.

Swat is the former ski resort in the crown of Pakistani tourism, before Taliban launched a campaign to enforce Taliban-style Sharia.

Pakistani Taliban in Swat refuse to give up arms

The militants had struck a deal to relinquish their weapons in return for Islamic law in the region.Militants in the Swat valley of northwestern Pakistan are refusing to abandon their weapons, despite having won concessions from Pakistan's president, including the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law. The announcement deepens worries that the agreement with the militants will not bring peace to the region.While militants aligned with the Pakistani Taliban struck a peace deal with authorities in Swat in February, the accords were not implemented until this week, when President Asif Ali Zardari signed the agreement. Though the terms of the agreement were not revealed, government officials had said that the militants would have to relinquish their arms. But Reuters reports that Taliban militants said they would not abide by that deal.A Pakistani Taliban spokesman in the scenic valley, a one-time tourist destination 125 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, said they would be keeping their guns."Sharia doesn't permit us to lay down arms," Muslim Khan said by telephone. "If a government, either in Pakistan or Afghanistan, continues anti-Muslim policies, it's out of the question that Taliban lay down their arms."However, the spokesman for the Swat Taliban faction also said that the guerrillas would abstain from displaying weapons in public, according to the Asian Tribune.Militants ... put [a] ban on the display of any kind of weapon by anyone including their own activists in the public places including markets.Talking to the media persons in Mingora (Swat) on Tuesday, spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Muslim Khan, said there will be no display of arms by the Taliban members in Malakand division [which encompasses Swat].He said they had taken up arms only for implementation of sharia and now when the government had signed the bill for its implementation militants have no desire for use of weapons.Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the former leader of the Swat-based insurgent group who has since worked as an intermediary between the government and the Taliban, called on the fighters abandon their weapons after the implementation of the accord, reports Bloomberg."People will be told to give up weapons and in the region live in peace," Sufi Muhammad, chief of a pro-Taliban group, said at a televised news conference in Swat today, announcing the April 19 rally [for peace].However, it is unclear how much influence he has over the movement in Swat, of which he has not officially been a member for some years.
The News International, a Pakistani daily, describes the process by which the sharia regulations (known as the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation) will be implemented. The local government will appoint judges trained in Islamic law, who will oversee local disputes.The chief minister ruled out fears of some quarters that the new law would prove a parallel judicial system. He said no clause or article was in contravention of the Constitution and there was nothing to worry about for the rights organisations.[North West Frontier Province Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti] said the system would provide speedy justice and cases would be decided in four to six months. He said concerns of all the sects had been addressed. Responding to a question, the chief minister said the Taliban had already abandoned armed patrolling and there was no justification for the militants to display arms after the promulgation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation.While some locals welcome the implementation and hope that it will bring an end to the fighting, others worry that the deal will create safe havens from which guerrillas can attack Afghanistan and the West. According to a report from Deutsche Presse Agentur, insurgents in the Swat valley are divided between those interested in local causes and Al Qaeda-aligned elements, who want to strike against the West.On one side, there are Islamist insurgents with local interests. They are led by ... Maulana Fazlullah, who launched an armed campaign against the government in October 2007 for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in Swat....The [other] faction consists of foreign fighters and local militants trained by al-Qaeda operatives, who operated in the Afghan region of Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden dodged US forces in early 2002 before going underground.Led by hardline chief commander Ibn Amin, and six other commanders, the group follows al-Qaeda's 'global jihad' philosophy and has little interest in peace in Swat.'They know if the peace agreement is fully implemented, al-Qaeda fighters will have to leave the region. This is something they cannot accept,' said [a] lawmaker.This concerns officials in Washington and Afghanistan. The online Afghan news website Quqnoos reports that the Swat deal will have "horrible impacts" on Afghanistan.Afghan President's Spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, told a news conference in Kabul that the peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban harms the security of the region.Afghan officials said they will share the concerns with the Pakistani government to make sure it will not negatively affect situation in Afghanistan.

Talk of IDF attack on Iran is 'not true'

President Shimon Peres on Thursday dismissed speculations that Israel is planning to attack Iran over its contentious nuclear program.

Peres told visiting U.S. special Mideast envoy George Mitchell that the key to containing Iran's nuclear ambitions would not be found in a military realm.

"All the talk about a possible attack by Israel on Iran is not true," said Peres. "The solution in Iran is not military."

He said that progress with Iran depended on international cooperation and exploring whether dialogue presented a real opportunity or if Tehran was just stalling, according to a statement from Peres' office.

During their talks, Mitchell assured Peres that the U.S. is committed to Israel's security as well as a two-state solution. The U.S. envoy is plannning to meet later Thursday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president's remarks came days after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that an Israeli attack would not end Tehran's nuclear ambitions, in a report released by the U.S. Army Times.

Gates told U.S. Marine Corps students in Quantico, VA that the use of military action would only unify the divisive elements in Iran and enflame hatred toward Israel.

He said such a move might delay the nuclear program from one to three years, but would also "cement [Iran's] determination to have a nuclear program, and also build into the whole country an undying hatred of whoever hits them," according to the Army Times.

Gates added that Tehran's nuclear ambitions could only be stopped if "Iranians themselves decide it's too costly."

In his address to Marines students, Gates suggested that non-military measures should be increased to apply pressure to Iran to drop the program, saying the U.S. needs "to look at every way we can to increase the cost of that program to them, whether it's through economic sanctions or other things."

Gates also called on the international community to assist efforts to convince Iran that a nuclear weapon would negatively affect their security "particularly if it launches an arms race in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, the U.S. administration will seek to persuade Israel that progress in reaching a regional peace treaty will also have an impact on efforts to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Unfair Zardari bashing

There is a general tendency to blame President Asif Ali Zardari for every thing under the sun: he is responsible for the price hike, for non-revival of top judiciary, for non implementation of the 'Niazam-e-Adl in Swat, for the drone attacks and for the falling standards of education and for the downward trend in estate market and even the stock market.

I wonder how one man could be held answerable for so many things; he has to be a giant or super natural being. He is not. President Zardari is an ordinary person with extraordinary qualities. AAZ suffered because of this 'friendship' tag and I fail to figure out how long he will be made to suffer as it is not possible for him to abandon his 'friendship' route.

As Pakistan faces a make-or-break scenario all eyes are focused on him and he is doing his best.

He is in a precarious situation. If he strikes a deal with the militants in Swat, the US raises its eyebrows and if he doesn't he buys the anger of all those who favour a safe and peaceful Swat. Is it easy to clean up the mess created by Pervez Musharraf?

It was the responsibility of AAZ to steer this country out of Musharraf presidency and he played this inning admirably. Even Nawaz Sharif tends to agree it was no easy task to drive Musharraf out of the presidency. It was Asif Ali Zardari who raised the slogan 'Go Musharraf go' and within weeks, out he went disgraced and injured with his ego he primed the most.

In the post-Musharraf scenario it was not easy to pick up the pieces and build institutions. It is hard to disagree with the fact that Mr Zardari has proved himself to be the real son of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheed. Musharraf was a hard nut to crack but Mr Zardari dismantled him within no time and now he is lecturing on national security in India almost playing a 'Pakistani Gorbachev' in Armani suits. Musharraf was well dressed but was not well prepared for Zardari's onslaught that took him by surprise and forced his to surrender the presidency.

We must not to forget that President Zardari despite his weaknesses is a national leader. He can never sell one rupee roti in Larkana; Bhutto's home town and deprive others who buy it in five rupees. He has to take care of all even the poor miner in Baluchistan to a farmer in Multan to a school girl in Swat.

He cherishes national ethos of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. He once rightly declared: "I am Bhuttos's son in law, not of any 'natho khera'." Times and tides have proved that AAZ was so right. This man who is a father of two daughters and one son needs a break.

He deserves some mercy, some passion, and some consideration. He has hurt nobody, he is wounded and hurt, his children Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa are wounded and hurt. The country of Benazir Bhutto's children deserves mercy in a ruthless society.

Pakistan was near a military coup, then the US intervened

A month ago, Pakistan came close to a political breakdown that could have triggered a military coup. How that crisis developed - and how it was ultimately defused - illuminates the larger story of a country whose frontier region President Barack Obama recently described as "the most dangerous place in the world."A detailed account of the March political confrontation emerged last week during a visit to Islamabad by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen. As described by US and Pakistani officials, it's a story of political brinksmanship and, ultimately, of a settlement brokered by the Obama administration.At stake was the survival of Pakistani democracy. Allies of President Asif Ali Zardari had attempted to cripple his political rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The opposition leader took to the streets in response, joining a "long march" to Islamabad to demand reinstatement of Pakistan's deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry. The march threatened a violent street battle that could have forced General Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief of staff, to intervene.The confrontation demonstrated the fragility of Pakistani politics. But it also showed that after some initial mistakes, the three key players - Zardari, Sharif and Kiyani - were able to defuse the crisis. The lesson for nervous Pakistan-watchers is that however enfeebled the country's elite may be, it isn't suicidal."I think Pakistan's politicians are growing up. They are realizing that you have to meet the people's needs or you get kicked out," says Shuja Nawaz, the author of "Crossed Swords," a study of the Pakistani military. For the Obama administration, the Pakistani crisis posed the first big diplomatic test. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined by Holbrooke and Mullen, helped coax the Pakistani officials back from the brink. This intervention was deftly handled, but it deepened America's involvement in Pakistani politics - a process that is creating a dangerous anti-American backlash.The crisis began in late February when the Zardari-backed Supreme Court ruled that Sharif and his brother Shahbaz, the chief minister of Punjab, could not hold office. The governor of Punjab, also a Zardari loyalist, then seized control of that powerful province - in what Pakistani commentators saw as a putsch by the president against his chief rival.The lawyers' movement began its march on March 12, pledging to occupy Islamabad until the government restored Chaudhry to his post. Zardari sent a police force known as the Rangers into the streets of Lahore, apparently hoping to intimidate Sharif and the marchers. But Sharif evaded the police and joined the protestors as they headed north toward Islamabad.Kiyani now faced the moment of decision. According to US and Pakistani sources, Zardari asked the army chief to stop the march and protect Islamabad. Kiyani refused, after discussing the dilemma with his friend Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Kiyani called Sharif and told him to return home to Lahore, according to one source. And he called the leader of the lawyers' movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, and told him to halt in the city of Gujranwala and wait for a government announcement.Pressure on Zardari was also building within his People's Party. According to a US official, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the president on the night of March 15 that he would resign if Chaudhry wasn't reinstated. (Zardari's camp says it was only a rumor of resignation.) In any event, Gilani went on television at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to announce that the former chief justice would return. The crisis was over.Pressure for compromise came from Clinton and Holbrooke, in phone calls to Zardari and Sharif. According to Pakistani sources, the American officials signaled to Sharif that they wouldn't object to his becoming president or prime minister some day. Another key intermediary was David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, who urged dialogue with Sharif. Last week's visit by Holbrooke and Mullen reinforced the deal. They saw the key players and came away hoping that the three could form a united front against the Taliban insurgency in the Western frontier areas, rather than continue their political squabbling. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, praised Holbrooke's diplomacy. "He brings hope that complex problems will be resolved." On the political scorecard, Zardari came out a loser and Sharif and Gilani as winners. But the decisive actor was Kiyani, who managed to defuse the crisis without bringing the army into the streets.

Three OGDC workers abducted in Kohat

KOHAT: Three workers of the Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDC) have been kidnapped by unknown assailants from Kohat on Thursday.According to police sources, OGDC officials said their workers, Qamar Hussnain Naqvi, Arif and Muhammad Khan, were on their way to the field when unknown gunmen intercepted their vehicles and abducted them.Meanwhile, police have started search operation.

IMF says Pakistan must focus on tax reform

TOKYO :Pakistan must focus on reforming its tax system and lowering inflation to restore its economy, but political instability is a key risk to growth, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday ahead of a donors conference.
Allies of cash-strapped Pakistan meet in Tokyo on Friday to pledge aid and seek assurances that it will implement economic reforms and take more urgent action against an increasingly formidable insurgency.While Pakistan's economic policies are on the right track, the global economy has worsened and the domestic political environment is a risk, said Adnan Mazarei, IMF assistant director for the Middle East and Central Asia department."I would be remiss if I did not mention that a key risk to Pakistan is political," Mazarei, mission chief for Pakistan, told Reuters in an interview."The private investors and the financial market players that we often ask, they point to political uncertainty as a key factor."The international community is worried an economic meltdown in Pakistan, which narrowly averted a balance of payments crisis last year with a $7.6 billion IMF loan, could fan popular support for al Qaeda and other militant groups.Pakistan hopes Friday's meeting of donors -- including Japan, the United States and the European Union -- will pledge $4 billion to fund efforts on poverty alleviation, education and health.Mazarei said Pakistan needed to focus on controlling its budget in the near-term, by starting tax reforms and making sure revenues are secured so authorities could then focus on longer-term issues such as reducing poverty."It is critical that this revenue problem is addressed, with two lines under the word 'critical'," he said."Otherwise, the social services that are needed will not be provided, the public investment that is needed will not be provided."He added that Pakistan's inflation, which has eased from a record high of 25.3 percent in August to 19.07 percent in March, was still stubbornly high, but added that its external reserve position had improved and its exchange rate had stabilised.In a gathering ahead of the donors meeting on Friday, Pakistan is expected to assure its allies of its commitment to tackling economic and security problems.Pakistan, in the Friends of Pakistan ministerial meeting, is also expected to present a prioritised wish-list of projects it has drawn up worth $30 billion, which it wants to see implemented over the next 10 years.
The projects include hydro-electric dams, roads, and projects aimed at improving security in its violence-plagued northwest on the Afghan border.A UN official hoped the talks on Friday would lead to a longer-term dialogue to support socio-economic development."The Friends of Pakistan will show, through their pledges, that they are ready to stand by Pakistan in its development process, that Pakistan is not alone in its struggle," Fikret Akcura, the Resident Representative for the United Nations Development Programme in Pakistan, told Reuters in an interview."And hopefully this commitment will continue, that it's not short-term effort."

Pakistan Rehearses Its Two-Step on Airstrikes

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — With two senior American officials at his side, the Pakistani foreign minister unleashed a strong rebuke last week, saying that American drone strikes against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas were eroding trust between the allies.

The Americans, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and the special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, defended their strategy for Pakistan. Later, Mr. Holbrooke dismissed the salvo by the foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, saying it was to be expected.

In fact, both sides have grown accustomed to an unusual diplomatic dance around the drones. For all their public protests, behind the scenes, Pakistani officials may countenance the drones more than Mr. Qureshi’s reprimand would suggest, Pakistan and American analysts and officials say.

Why else would Pakistani military officials be requesting that the United States give them the drones to operate, asked Prof. Riffat Hussain, of the defense studies department at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

His answer is that senior Pakistani officials consider the drones one of their only effective tools against the militants. Moreover, using the drones takes pressure off the Pakistani Army, which has proved reluctant to fight the militants, or incapable of doing so, in the rugged mountains along the Afghan border.

“If the government of Pakistan was not convinced of the efficacy of the drone attacks, why would they be asking for the technology?” asked Professor Hussain, who also lectures at the National Defense University, the main scholarly institution for the military.

Most of the aircraft, about the size of a Cessna, take off with Pakistani assent from a base inside Pakistan, American and Pakistani officials acknowledge. A small group of Pakistani intelligence operatives assigned to the tribal areas help choose targets, while the drones, armed with Hellfire missiles, are remotely piloted from the United States, they said.

Permission for the aircraft to strike in the tribal areas was negotiated by the Bush administration with the former president, Pervez Musharraf, and then with the current leader, Asif Ali Zardari. The Obama administration has renewed those understandings, American and Pakistani officials say.

The cooperation has been successful. Nine out of 20 senior operatives from Al Qaeda on a list compiled last year have been killed, according to American military commanders, a fact the Pakistanis do not dispute.

But as effective as the attacks have proved, the Pakistanis’ discomfort with the drones is real. The larger issue surrounding the drone strikes is the trade-off between decapitating the militant hierarchy and the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan — by undercutting the military and civilian government, by provoking retaliatory attacks from the militants, and by driving the Taliban and Al Qaeda deeper into Pakistan in search of new havens.

Then there is the matter of public perception, particularly over the civilian casualties caused by the drone strikes, which infuriate Pakistani politicians and the media.

The deaths make it difficult for any Pakistani leader to support the drones publicly. At the same time, the Pakistani disavowals only reinforce the popular notion that the war against the militants merely furthers America’s interests, not Pakistan’s own.

In public, President Zardari, who is portrayed in much of the Pakistani media as slavishly pro-American, chooses to deny Pakistani participation in the strikes. Despite having agreed to their use, he says the drones represent an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty that the government cannot tolerate.

About 500 civilians have been killed in the drone attacks, Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general, estimates. But, he said, the government fails to point out that many of those killed are most likely hosting Qaeda militants and cannot be deemed entirely innocent.

Last week, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, the two senior leaders of Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group, said the increasing tempo of drone attacks would drive them to respond with more serious terrorist attacks, even as many as two a week.

Another militant boss, Maulvi Nazir, threatened that the retaliation would include the capture of Islamabad, the capital. Last Thursday, in an interview with Al Sahab, the media arm of Al Qaeda, he said the drone attacks were the work of both the United States and the Pakistani Army.

As proof of his claims, Mr. Nazir’s group distributed a video showing young Pakistani tribesmen confessing to having been hired by the Pakistani military to pick targets for the drones.

The video was distributed and apparently shot in Wana, the main city of South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold. As a finale, the video shows those who had confessed, including some from Mr. Nazir’s own group, executed for spying.

One intriguing aspect of the drone attacks is that people living in the tribal region under the militants’ grip may be more accepting of them than other Pakistanis, according to a recent but limited survey.

The survey, described as unscientific, was conducted in four urban centers in North and South Waziristan and Kurram, all in the tribal region, by a group of academics belonging to the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a small Pakistani research group.

Its organizer, Khadim Hussain, a professor of linguistics and communication at Bahria University in Islamabad, an institution backed by the Pakistani Navy, stressed that the survey was only “exploratory.”

Of 650 people approached for the survey, 550 answered, according to the institute, which is financed by 10 academics and human rights workers, most of whom come from the tribal areas.

The survey was conducted by 25 graduate students from Islamabad who visited the tribal areas from November to January, Professor Hussain said. The margin of error was three to five percentage points, he said.

Asked whether militant groups were hurt by the drone attacks, 60 percent of the respondents said yes, and 40 percent no.

Asked whether anti-Americanism in the area had increased because of the drone attacks, 58 percent said it had not; 42 percent said it had.

To the question of whether the drone attacks were accurate, 52 percent said they were; 48 percent said they were not.

The results first stirred debate last month when they were published in a daily newspaper, The News. They were publicized again last week by The Daily Times, a pro-government newspaper.

In an editorial in support of the survey, The Daily Times said local reporters from Orakzai, a tribal area recently hit by a drone strike, found that the people “would actually want the drone attacks to continue to lessen the severity of the Tehrik-e-Taliban control over them.”

One reason the drone attacks received support in the tribal region is that they mostly single out Qaeda leaders who are of Arab descent, Professor Hussain said.

The Arabs are widely disliked by the Pashtun tribes that dominate the area because they try to enforce their strict Wahhabi version of Islam, Professor Hussain said.

The missile strikes do feed the militants’ propaganda machine, he said. “But if the drone attacks stopped,” he added, “I wouldn’t be sure that they would refrain from the terror attacks they have been doing all along.”

Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight

KOHLUA, India — “It’s hard to believe that this is what’s melting the glaciers,” said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.

As women in ragged saris of a thousand hues bake bread and stew lentils in the early evening over fires fueled by twigs and dung, children cough from the dense smoke that fills their homes. Black grime coats the undersides of thatched roofs. At dawn, a brown cloud stretches over the landscape like a diaphanous dirty blanket.

In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot — also known as black carbon — from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.

While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming — especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

In fact, reducing black carbon is one of a number of relatively quick and simple climate fixes using existing technologies — often called “low hanging fruit” — that scientists say should be plucked immediately to avert the worst projected consequences of global warming. “It is clear to any person who cares about climate change that this will have a huge impact on the global environment,” said Dr. Ramanathan, a professor of climate science at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who is working with the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi on a project to help poor families acquire new stoves.

“In terms of climate change we’re driving fast toward a cliff, and this could buy us time,” said Dr. Ramanathan, who left India 40 years ago but returned to his native land for the project.

Better still, decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.

But the awareness of black carbon’s role in climate change has come so recently that it was not even mentioned as a warming agent in the 2007 summary report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that pronounced the evidence for global warming to be “unequivocal.” Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, said that the fact that black carbon was not included in international climate efforts was “bizarre,” but “partly reflects how new the idea is.” The United Nations is trying to figure out how to include black carbon in climate change programs, as is the federal government.

In Asia and Africa, cookstoves produce the bulk of black carbon, although it also emanates from diesel engines and coal plants there. In the United States and Europe, black carbon emissions have already been reduced significantly by filters and scrubbers.

Like tiny heat-absorbing black sweaters, soot particles warm the air and melt the ice by absorbing the sun’s heat when they settle on glaciers. One recent study estimated that black carbon might account for as much as half of Arctic warming. While the particles tend to settle over time and do not have the global reach of greenhouse gases, they do travel, scientists now realize. Soot from India has been found in the Maldive Islands and on the Tibetan Plateau; from the United States, it travels to the Arctic. The environmental and geopolitical implications of soot emissions are enormous. Himalayan glaciers are expected to lose 75 percent of their ice by 2020, according to Prof. Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glacier specialist from the Indian state of Sikkim.

These glaciers are the source of most of the major rivers in Asia. The short-term result of glacial melt is severe flooding in mountain communities. The number of floods from glacial lakes is already rising sharply, Professor Hasnain said. Once the glaciers shrink, Asia’s big rivers will run low or dry for part of the year, and desperate battles over water are certain to ensue in a region already rife with conflict.

Doctors have long railed against black carbon for its devastating health effects in poor countries. The combination of health and environmental benefits means that reducing soot provides a “very big bang for your buck,” said Erika Rosenthal, a senior lawyer at Earth Justice, a Washington organization. “Now it’s in everybody’s self-interest to deal with things like cookstoves — not just because hundreds of thousands of women and children far away are dying prematurely.”

In the United States, black carbon emissions are indirectly monitored and minimized through federal and state programs that limit small particulate emissions, a category of particles damaging to human health that includes black carbon. But in March, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to specifically regulate black carbon and direct aid to black carbon reduction projects abroad, including introducing cookstoves in 20 million homes. The new stoves cost about $20 and use solar power or are more efficient. Soot is reduced by more than 90 percent. The solar stoves do not use wood or dung. Other new stoves simply burn fuel more cleanly, generally by pulverizing the fuel first and adding a small fan that improves combustion.

That remote rural villages like Kohlua could play an integral role in tackling the warming crisis is hard to imagine. There are no cars — the village chief’s ancient white Jeep sits highly polished but unused in front of his house, a museum piece. There is no running water and only intermittent electricity, which powers a few light bulbs.

The 1,500 residents here grow wheat, mustard and potatoes and work as day laborers in Agra, home of the Taj Majal, about two hours away by bus.

They earn about $2 a day and, for the most part, have not heard about climate change. But they have noticed frequent droughts in recent years that scientists say may be linked to global warming. Crops ripen earlier and rot more frequently than they did 10 years ago. The villagers are aware, too, that black carbon can corrode. In Agra, cookstoves and diesel engines are forbidden in the area around the Taj Majal, because soot damages the precious facade.

Still, replacing hundreds of millions of cookstoves — the source of heat, food and sterile water — is not a simple matter. “I’m sure they’d look nice, but I’d have to see them, to try them,” said Chetram Jatrav, as she squatted by her cookstove making tea and a flatbread called roti. Her three children were coughing.

She would like a stove that “made less smoke and used less fuel” but cannot afford one, she said, pushing a dung cake bought for one rupee into the fire. She had just bought her first rolling pin so her flatbread could come out “nice and round,” as her children had seen in elementary school. Equally important, the open fires of cookstoves give some of the traditional foods their taste. Urging these villagers to make roti in a solar cooker meets the same mix of rational and irrational resistance as telling an Italian that risotto tastes just fine if cooked in the microwave.

In March, the cookstove project, called Surya, began “market testing” six alternative cookers in villages, in part to quantify their benefits. Already, the researchers fret that the new stoves look like scientific instruments and are fragile; one broke when a villager pushed twigs in too hard.

But if black carbon is ever to be addressed on a large scale, acceptance of the new stoves is crucial. “I’m not going to go to the villagers and say CO2 is rising, and in 50 years you might have floods,” said Dr. Ibrahim Rehman, Dr. Ramanathan’s collaborator at the Energy and Resources Institute. “I’ll tell her about the lungs and her kids and I know it will help with climate change as well.”