Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kerry: Administration lacks 'real strategy' for handling Pakistan

WASHINGTON — Just back from a visit to Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry says the Obama administration's plan for that volatile country, rolled out last month with great fanfare, "is not a real strategy."
"Pakistan is in a moment of peril," Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a session with USA TODAY reporters and editors. "And I believe there is not in place yet an adequate policy or plan to deal with it."

In an interview after the session, Kerry advised the Obama administration to stop using the term "Af-Pak," to describe a unified strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, because "I think it does a disservice to both countries and to the policy. The two governments, he said, are "very sensitive to it" and "don't see the linkage."

Kerry's spokesman, Frederick Jones, said that the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan are scheduled to embark on a rare joint visit to the U.S. for meetings in May, and Kerry plans to host them for lunch May 7.

Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the United States must have a unified strategy for both countries, which share a mountainous border region that is a hotbed of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity.

Kerry's comments amounted to one of the sharpest appraisals by a Democrat of one of Obama's signature foreign policies. They marked a change from his initial reaction to Obama's announcement of his plan for the region in a speech March 27, when Kerry issued a statement calling it "realistic and bold."

"Obviously the president disagrees with the chairman on this, and the issues he raised are being aggressively worked in the president's new strategy," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail.

As an example of how he believes counterinsurgency strategy is lacking, Kerry cited the example of a recent Pakistan army operation in Peshawar.

"The army went in, they expended a lot of energy for us, some lives, and you know, nothing came in underneath it — absolutely nothing. So you're going to wind up with a bunch of folks who are going to hate you.

"If the army's going to take the risk of going in there, for God's sake you have the civil component coming in, so you win something for it," Kerry said.

The Massachusetts senator has sponsored a bill that would steer $1.5 billion a year in aid to Pakistan. He said he opposes language in a companion bill in the House requiring the president to certify that Pakistan does not support terrorists. Pakistanis consider that "insulting," he said.

Later Tuesday evening, Kerry called a reporter to clarify his comments, saying he did not mean to criticize Obama. "I was not blasting the president," he said. "What I'm saying is that the details have not been fleshed out. We're working hand in hand on it."

Kerry praised Obama's stepped-up attacks against insurgents in Pakistan by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft, saying they had driven "bad guys" into Yemen.

"I think it has had a dramatic impact, and I think that is one of the reasons why people are screaming about it," he said, adding that he did not think there has been inordinate civilian casualties.

In other comments, Kerry said:

• He did not recommend Caroline Kennedy to be U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Kerry believes an abortion-rights supporter should not be in that post, to avoid offending the Holy See.

"I made no such recommendation," he said, refuting Italian news media reports. "I think that if you're going to have an ambassador who has access to His Holiness … it is best not to make things difficult from the outset."

• The decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's president had worsened the humanitarian situation in the Darfur region and complicated efforts to resolve the situation.

"The people are worse off since the indictment than before," he said. "So it complicates things."

Paris to extend warm invitation to President Hu

Paris plans to invite President Hu Jintao to France, a move that will further mend relations with Beijing.
National Assembly of France President Bernard Accoyer is in China and will officially invite Hu to visit France by the end of the year, an official with French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in Paris on Monday.
Relations between Beijing and Paris hit a low after Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama in December, during France's tenure of the European Union presidency, despite China's repeated protests. China and France then went through one of the coldest winters in their 45-year-old diplomatic relations.
After rounds of negotiations, China and France on April 1 issued a statement that said France fully recognizes "the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet issue" and that France refuses to support any form of "Tibet independence". Hu and Sarkozy met the same day on the sidelines of the G20 summit in London.
Since then, Paris has sent a number of high-ranking officials to Beijing, including Accoyer and former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, with more big profiles to appear in Beijing in the coming weeks, including former president Jacques Chirac.
Earlier this month, France started building a new embassy in Beijing that had been delayed for months due to the diplomatic quarrel. When finished in 2010, it will become one of the largest French embassies around the world.
Beijing's attitude toward Paris is also warming. The Ministry of Commerce said it is considering sending a business delegation to purchase goods in France, widely seen as a counterbalance to China's $15 billion in deals signed with other European countries by a Chinese business delegation to Europe that skirted around France in February.
"The invitation is good news," said Pang Zhongying, a professor with Renmin University of China.
"If Hu visits, it will surely further consolidate recovering relations," Pang said.
Wu Baiyi, an expert on European studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Paris' intensive diplomatic efforts have had an effect and the invitation to Hu aims to formally affirm the mended relations.
The lingering global financial crisis and the lesson Paris learned have contributed to the nation's current candid attitude toward Beijing, Wu said.
"Personally speaking, it's highly possible that Hu will accept Sarkozy's invitation, especially given the fact that Premier Wen Jiabao's European trip earlier this year excluded the country," he said.
"I believe the Chinese leadership has a broad mind and political wisdom."

Obama returns from Fifth Summit of the Americas

U.S. President Barack Obama bumps fists with five-year-old Ethan Gibbs, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's son, on the south lawn of the white house in Washington, April 19, 2009, as he returns from the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Barack Obama invites Middle East leaders to Washington

Barack Obama has called on Israel and the Palestinians to “step back from the abyss” and renewed his support for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Deepening his direct role in reviving stalled Middle East peace efforts, Mr Obama met King Abdullah on Tuesday and invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for separate talks by early June.
The US president reassured King Abdullah of his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite reluctance by Mr Netanyahu’s new right-leaning government to support the idea of eventual Palestinian statehood.
In contrast to the more hands-off policy of George W Bush, Mr Obama reasserted his pledge to “deeply engage” in Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy.
“What we have to do is step back from the abyss,” he told reporters after meeting the Jordanian king at the White House.
He said a “sense of urgency” was needed to resuscitate the peace process and said he expected “gestures of good faith” to be made in coming months.
“I agree that we can’t talk forever, that at some point steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground. And that will be something that we will expect to take place in the coming months,” Mr Obama said.
He said he was a “strong supporter of a two-state solution”, adding: “I have articulated that publicly, and I will articulate that privately. And I think that there are a lot of Israelis who also believe in a two-state solution.”

Taliban stepped up activities in Bunair

بونیر، طالبان کا سکولوں پر قبضہ، مسلح گشت

بونیر میں طالبان کی مسلح سر گرمیاں تیز ہوگئی ہیں۔ ذرائع کے مطابق مسلح طالبان نے مورچے بنا لئے ہیں اور پوزیشنیں سنبھال لی ہیں۔ بونیر کے ضلع ہیڈکوارٹرتحصیل ڈگر میں عسکریت پسند مسلح افراد کا گشت جاری ہے۔ عوام میں خوف و ہراس پایا جاتا ہے اور نقل مکانی کا سلسلہ جاری ہے۔مقامی ذرائع کے مطابق عسکریت پسندوں نے اسکولوں پر بھی قبضہ کرلیاہے ۔ بونیر کے علاقے میں پولیس تھانوں تک محدود ہوگئی ہے۔سوات میں امن معاہدے کے بعد بونیر تک طالبان کی آمد سے امن معاہدے کو نقصان پہنچنے کا خدشہ ہے۔ ----------------------------

PESHAWAR:Taliban militants have stepped up their activities in Bunair and the armed militants have taken positions at various points in the region, Aaj TV reported on Tuesday.

According to the channel, militants have boosted their presence and patrolling in tehsil Daggar, the district headquarters of Bunair. The population intimidated by the presence of Taliban has started migration from the district.

The militants have also occupied the school buildings, local sources said.

Police have been restricted to the police stations and the arrival of Taliban in Bunair has further strengthened apprehensions about the peace deal in Swat, TV said.

U.N.'s World Digital Library Goes Online

PARIS-- A globe-spanning U.N. digital library seeking to display and explain the relics of all human cultures has gone into operation on the Internet for the first time, serving up mankind's accumulated knowledge in seven languages for students around the world.

U.S. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who launched the project four years ago, said the ambition was to make available on an easy-to-navigate site, free for scholars and other curious people anywhere, a collection of primary documents on all subjects and authoritative explanations from the planet's leading libraries.

The site (www.wdl.org) has put up the Japanese work that is considered the first novel in history, for instance, along with the Aztecs' first mention of the Christ child in the New World and the works of ancient Arab scholars piercing the mysteries of algebra, each entry flanked by learned commentary. "There are many one-of-a-kind documents," Billington said in an interview.

The World Digital Library, which will be officially inaugurated Tuesday at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has started small, with about 1,200 documents and their explanations from scholars in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. But it is designed to accommodate an unlimited number of such texts, charts and illustrations from as many countries and libraries as want to contribute.

"There is no limit," Billington said. "Everybody is welcome."

The main target is children, he added, building on the success among young people of the U.S. National Digital Library Program that has been in operation at the Library of Congress since the mid-1990s. That program, at its American Memory site, has made available 15 million U.S. historical records, including recorded interviews with former slaves, the first moving pictures and the Declaration of Independence. Billington predicted that children around the world, like their U.S. counterparts, will turn naturally to the Internet for answers to questions, provided they have access to computers and high-speed connections.

"This is designed to use the newest technology to reach the youngest people," he added. "Every kid can get something out of this."

The site was developed by a team at the Library of Congress in Washington with technical assistance from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. The new library's main server is also in Washington, but officials said plans are underway for regional servers around the world.

Development costs of more than $10 million were financed by private donors, including Google, Microsoft, the Qatar Foundation, King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. By comparison, the American Memory project cost about $60 million to get on line, suggesting more funds will have to be raised as the World Digital Library expands its store of documents and extends its reach into the poorest countries among UNESCO's 192 members.

In addition to UNESCO and the Library of Congress, 26 other libraries and institutions in 19 countries have contributed to the project. Their offerings include rubbings of oracle bones from the National Library of China, delicate drawings of court life from the National Diet Library of Japan and a 13th-century "Devil's Bible" from the National Library of Sweden. Each is accompanied by a brief explanation of its content and significance. The documents have been scanned onto the site directly, in their original languages, but the explanations appear in all seven of the site's official languages.

"All of this is dependable, authoritative commentary," Billington said.

Users can sort through the information in several ways. They can ask what was going on anywhere in the world in, say, science or literature during the 4th century B.C., for instance. They can look up the history of a certain topic over the centuries in China alone, or in China and North America. By cross-referencing, a user can thus see how one area of the world stood compared with another at any given time.

Billington acknowledged, however, that national sensitivities could generate problems as the store of documents expands to include episodes in more recent history that some governments might want to hide or distort. But deliberate omissions might prove difficult to maintain, he added, because the site is open to contributions from any direction, including both sides of a historical dispute.

The languages were chosen because Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian are official U.N. languages; Portuguese was added because institutions from Brazil, the world's largest Portuguese-speaking country, were involved from the beginning of the project, an announcement said. Other languages might be added, it said, but the first priority remains adding materials from around the world and helping poor countries improve computer access and acquire the technology to get their historical heritage online.

Buner falls to Swat Taliban

BUNER: Taliban militants from Swat took control of Buner on Tuesday and started patrolling bazaars, villages and towns in the district.

The militants, who had sneaked into Gokand valley of Buner on April 4, were reported to have been on a looting spree for the past five days.

They have robbed government and NGO offices of vehicles, computers, printers, generators, edible oil containers, and food and nutrition packets.

Sources said that leading political figures, businessmen, NGO officials and Khawaneen, who had played a role in setting up a Lashkar to stop the Taliban from entering Buner, had been forced to move to other areas.

The Taliban have extended their control to almost all tehsils of the district and law-enforcement personnel remained confined to police stations and camps.

The Taliban, equipped with advanced weapons, were reported to be advancing towards border areas of Swabi,
Malakand and Mardan, the hometown of NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti.

According to reports reaching here, the militants have set up checkposts and camp bases in Kangar Gali village, along the Malakand border; Naway Dhand village, along the Mardan border; and Tootalai village, along the Swabi border.

The sources said officials of the FC camp in Jorh had asked people to vacate their homes in view of threats of an attack.

The militants have started digging trenches and setting up bunkers on heights in strategic towns of Gadezi, Salarzai, Osherai and other tehsils.

After occupying the Buner district and setting up their headquarters in the bungalow of businessman Syed Ahmed Khan (alias Fateh Khan) in Sultanwas, the militants started patrolling the streets and roads with no signs of law-enforcement personnel.

Led by Fateh Mohammad, the militants were asking local people, particularly youngsters, to join them in their campaign to enforce Sharia.

They have established checkposts on roads and are searching all passing vehicles. They have virtually established their writ in Buner region, once a stronghold of the Awami National Party.

On Tuesday, armed groups entered the Rural Health Centre at Jure in Salarzai area and took away a Land-Cruiser being used by the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI), Buner.

On April 17, they raided a basic health unit in tehsil Chamla and looted 480 cans of edible oil. They took away from the house of a lady health visitor a large number of food and nutrition packets supplied by USAID and sewing machines from an Action Aid-sponsored vocational centre in the Korea village of tehsil Chamla.

On April 18, they looted a huge quantity of medicine from a health facility at the Afghan refugee camp in Koga in the same tehsil and 640 cans of edible oil from a godown of the World Food Programme in Nawagai.

On April 19, armed men took away a Suzuki Potohar Jeep from a rural health centre in Nagrai. A group of 20 militants took away a Suzuki Ravi car and 400 cans of edible oil from a basic health unit in Garga.

Another armed group snatched an ambulance, a pick-up provided by Gavi for EPI cell, a Suzuki Ravi from a health centre in Swari.

They also broke into the offices of Paiman (Save the Children) EPI, Jica offices and took away several computers, printers, two generators, fax machines, UPS and other appliances.

The armed men stopped near Ambela a double-cabin vehicle of Paiman going to Buner from Peshawar and took it along with the driver to a nearby camp. Later, they released the driver and escaped with the vehicle.

They have also occupied the main office of Rahbar in Swari.

Pakistan must stop appeasing jihadism

It is hard to overstate the political and social disaster wrapped up in the deal Pakistan’s government has struck with jihadi extremists, ceding them control of the Swat valley.For all that Yusuf Raza Gilani, prime minister, and Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, dress this up as a “home-grown strategy” to fight insurgency, this is capitulation. Until this week it was a deal struck by a regional government. Now it is the policy of the government. It could hardly be otherwise, since it was the policy of the army, Pakistan’s overmighty subject.Pakistan’s rulers have a point when they complain that US and western policy in the now conjoined Pakistani-Afghan arena has: driven al-Qaeda and its allies into Pakistan’s frontier badlands; alienated the population by indiscriminate bombing; backed the barely disguised military rule of General Pervez Musharraf while the army and military intelligence alternated between attacking jihadis one week and dallying with them the next.This double game, hunting with the hounds while running with the hares, continues. No wonder army commanders see Swat as a model. Yet, it still amazes by its disregard for the security and ultimate survival of Pakistan. Leaving aside the affront to human and women’s rights implied by jihadi rule, those who think Swat is a good idea have delusions about their ability to contain revolution. The Taliban triumph in Swat relied on: anti-Americanism; a local thirst for the justice and order Islamabad has ceased to provide in much of Pakistan; and shrewdly exploited class animus against feudal local landlords.This formula could easily translate to the rest of the Punjab, the last, half well-governed province of a federation fraying at the edges.There is no way forward without rebuilding Pakistan’s institutions, in particular a policing and justice system under the rule of law.It is, of course, vital to separate jihadi extremists from mainstream Islamists. The Swat capitulation does exactly the opposite. Jihadis are being allowed to establish separate legal jurisdictions and political fiefs – against the wishes of hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who have fled as refugees. Pakistan’s federal government is yielding up territory to rival powers, creating safe havens in the heart of the country. Why would its citizens believe it has the will to win?Pakistan uses jihadi proxies because it is obsessed with arch-enemy India. Western policy needs to engineer a situation where India recedes as a threat. But Pakistan needs to understand that jihadism is the real threat to its survival.

US wants broader Pakistan military ties - official

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration wants to pursue broader military ties with Pakistan to help Islamabad combat a growing threat from militant groups including the Taliban, a Pentagon official said on Tuesday.

Michele Flournoy, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, said Washington wants to provide the Pakistani army with training and advice on counterinsurgency tactics developed in Iraq and Afghanistan and support ongoing operations with intelligence and other assistance.

"We need to substantially increase our military assistance and broaden the form," she said at a forum hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"If we could get beyond a transactional sort of equipping, support, reimbursement relationship to a strategic relationship where we are also training, advising, working together on the ground ... we would be much more effective and get a lot farther down the road of achieving our common objectives."

U.S. officials have long been eager to provide counterinsurgency training for the Pakistani army but have been largely rebuffed by army leaders reluctant to shift away from a conventional military posture aimed at countering any threat from arch rival India.

Pakistani leaders are also wary of close, high-profile cooperation with the U.S. military, fearing it could fuel anti-American sentiment in the country.

The Pentagon instead has begun a training program for Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a smaller paramilitary force operating in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Flournoy's comments come as the Obama administration moves to implement a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that stresses military action against insurgents combined with economic and social development initiatives in areas where militants hold sway.

The new U.S. plan effectively seeks a new "strategic partnership" between Washington and Islamabad, she said. "We need a fundamental shift in this relationship for things to work."

U.S. officials want Pakistan to step up military operations to eradicate safe havens for militant groups like al Qaeda that serve as bases for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Afghan and U.S. officials have recently expressed concern over a decision by Pakistan to accept Taliban demands and impose Islamic law on the Swat valley, where militants have gained ground.

"Ultimately, these groups will take advantage (of the Swat deal)," Flournoy said. "They are not reconcilables for the most part. I think they need to be dealt with in a consistent and concerted way."

Altaf Hussain asks why are champions of judicial supremacy mum on Sufi’s statement?

LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Quaid, Altaf Hussain deeply hurt over TNSM leader, Sufi Muhammad openly threatening national, provincial assemblies and senate, besides declaring the entire democratic, judicial system, Supreme Court, High Courts, unanimously accepted 1973 constitution ‘Ghair Sharai’ and ‘Kufr’, enquired from all those political and religious parties, civil society and the lawyers community, who until the other day were even ready to sacrifice their lives for the supremacy of judiciary as to how come all of them maintaining criminal silence on such profane remarks against the revered institutions of the society.

MQM Quaid in a statement issued from London addressing all patriotic people, who wanted the safety and security of Pakistan, asked as to why they themselves not questioning these political and religious parties, civil society and other associations on their immoral silence and making them accountable?

He said that the world media today writing volumes on Pakistan’s stability and integrity saying that Pakistan was on the brink of fracturing into fiefdoms and in such a situation only the army, other law enforcing agencies, police and MQM alone could not save the country, unless the people themselves practically get involved in the process of salvaging and saving the country.