Friday, April 24, 2009

McCain says 9/11 hijackers entered U.S. from Canada

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday said he believed some of the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States from Canada, triggering a new round of frustration and anger among Canadian government officials only days after a similar remark by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

McCain, an Arizona senator who has championed free trade ties with Canada, told Fox News Napolitano was accurate when she suggested the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington crossed into the U.S. across the Canadian border.

"Well, some of the 9/11 hijackers did come through Canada, as you know," McCain said when asked if he was worried Napolitano was misinformed.

The comment prompted the Canadian embassy in Washington to contact McCain's office to set the record straight — as it did with the homeland security secretary earlier in the week.

"We did ask the Senator to correct his comments at the earliest opportunity," said one embassy official.

When told of McCain's remark, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty expressed exasperation at the persistence of the 9/11 myth despite years of efforts by Canada to inform U.S. lawmakers it is not true.

"It is unfortunate that what is a statement that is not true is repeated from time to time. It's just factually wrong," said Flaherty, who was in Washington for meetings of the G7 and G20 finance ministers.

"The secretary (Napolitano) the other day made clear she was mistaken when she said the same thing. So I would hope people wouldn't want to make statements that are inaccurate so we don't hear much of that anymore."

Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, has faced calls for her resignation from some Republican lawmakers for a series of recent gaffes as the new head of Homeland Security.

On Friday, Napolitano apologized to the American legion — the nation's largest veterans group — for a departmental report earlier this month that warned veterans returning home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be recruited to right-wing extremist groups.

She was subject to a public rebuke on Wednesday by Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson for the 9/11 reference, but also for telling an interviewer: "To the extent that terrorists have come into our country, or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border."

She has also rankled Canadian officials by suggesting there be "parity" in security measures along America's northern and southern borders, despite vastly higher levels of illegal immigration from Mexico and the deadly drug war raging along the Mexico-U.S. border.

On that front, McCain rose to Canada's defence — saying the security conditions on the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. could not be compared.

"The difference, obviously, is, with all due respect to the Mexicans, there's not corruption on our northern border," McCain said. "And, unfortunately, there is significant corruption, great corruption and drug cartels on our southern border."

Ottawa has been forced repeatedly in the years since 9/11 to combat the belief at the most senior levels of the U.S. government that the terrorists had a Canadian connection — even though several investigations into the attacks showed all 19 hijackers were in the U.S. legally and had arrived at airports from other countries of origin.

That a senator who could have been U.S. president still thinks the 9/11attackers came from Canada startled embassy officials.

The belief stems largely from erroneous reports in several U.S. newspapers in the days immediately following the attacks.

Russia ready for projects to launch NKorean satellites

SEOUL, - Russia is ready to begin projects with North Korean on launching its satellites with the help of Russian boosters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his South Korean colleague Yu Myung-hwan.

"Russia is cooperating with many countries in aerospace, including launches of satellites by our boosters, including with South Korea. We ready for North Korea's developing similar projects," Lavrov said.

Pakistan rejects reports about Russian involvement in Balochistan

ISLAMABAD,- Pakistan on Friday dismissed reports about Russia’s involvement in Balochistan as misleading saying the country attaches great importance to its ties with the Federation. A clarification from the Foreign Office said that during a briefing to the Senate by Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior “reference to the Soviet Union was made in a historical context.”

“The media coverage on the subject was misleading,” a statement quoting the Foreign Office spokesman said and added that it has also been conveyed to the Russian Federation through diplomatic channels.

The Foreign Office Spokesman said Pakistan attaches great importance to its relations with the Russian Federation which was playing an important role for peace, security and stability at the international and regional planes.

The Spokesman said Pakistan and Russia were in the process of strengthening their multifaceted cooperation and in this context referred to Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s recent visit to Moscow to participate in a Special Conference under the SCO.

The two countries are engaged building a comprehensive partnership. These relations will continue to grow in the times to come, the spokesman said.

Government firm to enforce writ across the country

ISLAMABAD :The government on Friday reiterated its resolve to enforce writ of the government in all parts of the country. This commitment was made by top political and military leaderships of the country in a high-level meeting held at Aiwan-e-Sadr.

President Asif Ali Zardari chaired the meeting which was attended by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvaiz Kayani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Awami National Party Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan.

The meeting reviewed the security situation in NWFP in the wake of threat posed by militants in Swat and adjoining areas. The meeting refused to accept any parallel system of governance saying that if anyone tried to impose his agenda by use of force, he will be taken to task.

Top leadership of the country in the meeting discussed the progress towards peace and normalcy in Swat after promulgation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation and ongoing military operation against militants in various areas of NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), well-informed sources said.

The meeting also discussed recent comments made by many top-ranking functionaries of the United States administration, voicing concern over Pakistan's internal affairs, sources said. The government will not close its options of peaceful settlement of issues. Any misadventure by non-state actors will be overturned by the government, sources added.

Speakers suggest ‘peace movement’ to tackle unrest

PESHAWAR: Speakers at a dialogue urged all segments of the society to start a peace movement that should focus all its attention on restoration of peace in the region.

The participants of the dialogue announced formation of a peace committee and convened its first meeting on April 30 wherein the prevailing law and order situation in the province would be discussed.

“We shall not hesitate from launching a long march for restoration of durable peace. If long march can be carried out for restoration of 16 judges, why not for peace,” said Abdul Latif Afridi, former president of Peshawar High Court Bar Association and a leader of Awami National Party.

Jointly organized Khyber Union of Journalists, Peshawar Press Club and Citizen Rights and Sustainable Development (CRSD) here on Friday, the dialogue was attended by representatives of various political, civil society, academicians, traders and other associations.

Noted among those spoke on the occasion included Abdul Latif Afridi of Awami National Party, Mukhtar Yousafzai of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Mukhtar Bacha of National Awami Party, Sharafat Ali Mubarak, president, Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Mohammad Zubair of Peshawar University Teachers Association, Rukhshanda Naz of Aurat Foundation and others.

Latif Afridi said peace was the foremost need of the people of the Pakhtun-dominated areas. “We have lost most of our land to militants. Only Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera and Peshawar out of the 24 districts are safe so far. We must have an effective line of action to save the region,” Afridi said.

The ANP leader said if the government was not sincere in restoration of peace, the people of the Frontier province should block road at Attock. Protest demonstrations should be staged in front of the offices of the security forces, he suggested.

Latif suggested that media should be the center of assembly for all the stakeholders. All the political forces should be invited to the forum. “We should demonstrate immense tolerance as the issue is faced by all,” he said.

The ANP leader said that 2.3 million people had been killed in Afghanistan, 0.8 million maimed, 0.5 million women became widows and millions of children became orphans during the prolonged Afghan war in the last three decades. “Now the same situation has been made here in NWFP and adjacent tribal areas. The Internally Displaced Persons of Swat and Bajaur at Jalozai and Katcha Garhi are presenting the same situation like Afghan refugees,” he remarked.

Said Alam Mahsud opposed the peace agreements. He said that nine agreements had been inked with the militants so far and all of them provided an opportunity to the militants to expand horizontally and vertically.

Clinton admits US liable for Pak tensions

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the United States too had a share in creating the problem that plagues Pakistan today.

In an appearance before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Hillary Clinton explained how the militancy in Pakistan was linked to the US-backed proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

‘We can point fingers at the Pakistanis. I did some yesterday frankly. And it’s merited because we are wondering why they just don’t go out there and deal with these people,’ said Clinton while referring to an earlier hearing in which she said that Pakistan posed a ‘mortal threat’ to the world.

‘But the problems we face now to some extent we have to take responsibility for, having contributed to it. We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan,’ she said.

‘Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.’

‘They invaded Afghanistan… and we did not want to see them control Central Asia and we went to work… and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea… let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let’s go recruit these mujahideen.’

‘And great, let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union.’

‘And guess what … they (Soviets) retreated … they lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.’

‘So there is a very strong argument which is… it wasn’t a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest.’

‘So we then left Pakistan … We said okay fine you deal with the Stingers that we left all over your country… you deal with the mines that are along the border and… by the way we don’t want to have anything to do with you… in fact we’re sanctioning you… So we stopped dealing with the Pakistani military and with ISI and we now are making up for a lot of lost time.’

It was question from Congressman Adam Shciff, a California Democrat that spurred Secretary Clinton to delve into history and come out with an answer that other US politicians have avoided in the past.

The congressman noted that while the US had provided ‘a phenomenal amount of military support for Pakistan,’ they had not changed the paradigm.

‘And more pernicious, there are elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI that may be working at cross-purposes with us.’

‘How we can possibly be funding the Pakistani military if elements of the military or intelligence services are actually working against us and having the effect of killing our troops next door?’ he asked.

Disarray on Pakistan Taleban threat

The Pakistani government and army seem incapable or unwilling to tackle the Taleban threat in the north-west, argues guest columnist Ahmed Rashid.

Unprecedented political and military disarray in Pakistan and a growing public feeling of helplessness is helping fuel the rapid expansion of the Taleban across northern Pakistan, bringing them closer to paralysing state institutions in their bid to seize total power.

Even though most Pakistanis agree that the Pakistani Taleban and their extremist allies now pose the biggest threat to the Pakistani state since its creation, both the army and the government appear to be in denial of reality and the facts.

Within weeks of concluding a deal with the government on the imposition of Islamic law in the strategically located Swat valley, the Taleban have already broken the agreement by refusing to disarm, taken control of the region's administration, police and education while spilling out into adjacent valleys.

'No need to worry'

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani persuaded parliament to pass the Sharia agreement into law, insisting the Taleban pose no threat to the state. Threats by the Taleban to abrogate the agreement forced President Asif Ali Zardari to hurriedly sign the bill, even though he had tried delaying tactics.

Only parliamentarians from the Sindh-based Muttahida Quami Movement courageously voted against the bill.

“ The refusal of either the government or the army to respond to its greatest threat since the country split apart with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 reflects a chronic failure of leadership ”
Even though the agreement ignores the constitution by setting up a new legal system in the valley, which is not genuine Islamic law but the Taleban's brutal interpretation of it, Mr Gilani reiterated on 18 April that ''whatever we have done is in accordance with the constitution and there is no need to worry".

In fact the majority of Pakistanis are desperately worried, asking how the state could concede so quickly.

The Swat Taleban added fuel to the fire by inviting Osama Bin Laden to settle in Swat, indicating their complete control of the valley.

On 20 April, Sufi Muhammad, a radical leader who the government and the army have termed as ''a moderate" and whose son in law Fazlullah is the leader of the Swat Taleban, said that democracy, the legal system of the country and civil society should be disbanded as they were all ''systems of infidels".

The Taleban have now infiltrated western and southern Punjab province with the help of Punjabi extremist groups, the second largest city of Lahore and the southern port city of Karachi.

Even more surprising has been the attitude of the army, which has declined all international and local pressure to curb the spread of the Taleban.

The army's only military response was when it bombed the tribal areas after 25 of its soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack near Hangu in North West Frontier Province on 18 April.

That dismayed many Pakistanis because it showed the army was willing to only attack the Taleban when its own soldiers had suffered.

Groups of militias who have resisted the Taleban in Swat and other places were left to fight on their own without the military's support for weeks on end.

With the Taleban taking control of Buner district - although they have now said they will withdraw - and Dir as well as moving north to take over the Karakoram Highway that links Pakistan to China, there is the fear that Pakistan will soon reach a tipping point.

With the Taleban having opened so many fronts, it will soon be impossible for the army to respond to the multiple threats it faces.

US and Nato

The army's rationale for doing nothing appears deeply irrational to many Pakistanis.

The army still insists that India remains the major threat, so 80% of its forces are still aligned on the Indian border instead of defending the country against Taleban expansion.

The army has also refused to respond to US and Nato demands to oust the Afghan Taleban leadership living on its soil.

And despite US President Barack Obama's plan to deepen the commitment to stabilise Afghanistan, the army insists that the Americans will soon leave Afghanistan and that Pakistan must be ready with a response to help install a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul.

That rationale is also motivated by India's friendship with the present Afghan government.

Meanwhile two of Pakistan's closest allies, China and Saudi Arabia, have strongly indicated to the government that its continuing tolerance of the Taleban and al-Qaeda on its soil is endangering the national security of these two countries.

With the entire international community now pointing out that the Taleban threat to Pakistan is dire, Islamabad finds itself diplomatically isolated as it continues to fail to respond.

For the Americans and Nato the situation is quickly reaching a crisis point.

With Washington sending 21,000 additional troops to southern Afghanistan, Nato sending another 5,000 to secure the Afghan elections in August and large numbers of Western civilian experts due to arrive to help rebuild the country, neither the US nor Nato can for long tolerate the stream of supplies and recruits that continue to pour into Afghanistan from Pakistan to support the Afghan Taleban offensive against Western forces.

The Pakistani Taleban, even while continuing their penetration of central Pakistan, are also mobilising fresh recruits from all over the country to go help their Afghan Taleban brothers resist the newly arriving Western troops.

For Pakistanis and the international community the refusal of either the government or the army to respond to its greatest threat since the country split apart with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 reflects a chronic failure of leadership, will and commitment to the people of Pakistan.

Living in wonderland

EDITORIAL:Frontier Post
Is the prime minister living in the real world or in some wonderland, a world of his own make-believe? He says neither the government would permit state within state or parallel courts in the country. Goodness, can you beat it? Is he too ignorant to know or are the hideous ground realities too bitter for him to admit? Leave aside North and South Waziristan and a big chunk of the tribal areas? Leave aside whose writ runs there, the militants’ or the state’s? Hasn’t the ANP-led Frontier government with the Centre’s consent ceded state authority to Sultan Sufi Mohammad’s Malakand caliphate in these very days? Hasn’t it acquiesced to a parallel judicial system’s establishment in Malakand under that spiritual imposter and an unvarnished obscurant’s superintendence? Isn’t that charlatan braying loudly that it is he who alone will appoint Qazi courts’ judges and it is who will vet their judgements? And isn’t it that Swat is now under the rule of his son-in-law Fazlullah’s gun? And haven’t the state functionaries, including security personnel, to abide by the rules of movement laid out by that Swati thug or have to face the consequences, as indeed they have in many an instance? So who is the prime minister kidding and is dishing out such a churlish braggadocio with such a straight face without any inhibition or compunction and without batting even an eyelid? Dos he think our people are so nincompoops and dimwits that they would chew his boast, with no questions asked and with no eyebrow raised, that the government’s writ would be ensured at all costs? Aren’t they seeing with their own eyes the state’s writ shrinking and the militants’ expanding? After establishing their rule in Swat, the Swati thug’s gunmen have conquered Buner and entered into Shangla to bring it too under their sway. And yet the prime minister would have it believed that his government would not let its authority to be tampered with. What a laughable brag is this! There indeed is a terrible hiatus with the present lot of rulers, both at the centre and in the provinces. The non-issues they remain engrossed in; the real issues they just shrug off or give a short shrift to. And none seems to be really any alive at all to the enormity of the existential threat to this country being posed viciously by extremists, militants and terrorists at the behest of their foreign paymasters and masterminds. What needs to be dealt with by a very hard-boiled thinking, incisively farsighted policies, and exceptionally tough decisions and actions is being sought to be tackled playfully with empty sloganeering and foolish populism. On a platter, the ANP has handed over Swat to a spiritual swindler and his wicked son-in-law, and is now watching helplessly as his brigands are fanning out to the neighbouring districts from where, make no mistake about it, they will advance to other territories. And, appallingly, the inexplicably-vain prime minister’s government has as yet not even a strategy to withstand the onslaught of these advancing hordes of vile Fazlullah, nor has it a policy to counter extremism and terrorism, visibly ascendant all over the country. It is not just the tribal areas that are in the militancy’s tight grip; the Frontier province is in flames for the most part. Punjab, too, is coming under its vicious clouds. Karachi is precariously living in its shadows. And Balochistan is in a state of insurgency. Yet, the prime minister is behaving as if it is all hunky-dory throughout the country; and if at all there is a problem, it is mere pinpricks and minor irritants that could be dealt with routinely. He doesn’t give sense if at all he has any measure of the immensity of the existential threat staring the nation in the face. The people are aghast. They are despondent. Their sense of insecurity is spiralling sky-high. And they are feeling utterly hapless and helpless. And they have lost all hope, even in the military to protect them from the wicked terrorists’ and militants’ thuggery. Can you imagine citizens in a functional state asking the military not to intervene and let them to live under the militants’ thumbs, as are the residents of Buner and Shangla, fearing the army would fail to subdue the wild gunmen as it had in Swat, leaving them to face horrific consequences like their Swati cousins at the thugs’ vengeful hands? And yet the prime minister has the gumption to brag his government would come down heavy on the Swati thugs if they violate the ANP-pioneered accord with the devious Sufi. But when? Visibly, not only have they actually trashed that stupid accord in every manner, they are now making its use to spread out near and afar, too. The prime minister must understand critical gigantic issues like the existential threat the nation is presently confronted with cannot by unraveled by mumbling pious vows of “resolves” and “determinations”. They need powerful actions which can come about only by combining up the state’s civil and military powers under a no-nonsense policy and strategy. That should happen right now. Tomorrow will be too late. He must leave aside his pet Punjab project, for the time being. Instead, he must attend to the Pakistan project, in all earnestness.
Saved from:
Dated: Saturday, April 25, 2009, Rabi-us-Sani 28, 1430 A.H.

Rehman Malik presents ‘proof of Indian hand in unrest’

ISLAMABAD: At a closed-door Senate session on Thursday, Interior Adviser Rehman Malik presented a bleak picture of the security situation in the country and showed what he called evidence of the involvement of India, Afghanistan and Russia in terrorist activities.

It is the first time Pakistan has blamed these countries and cited evidences which, it is believed, will be shared with the international community, particularly the United States, which has expressed concern over growing militancy in the country.

Following a harsh statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke telephoned President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday and conveyed a similar message.

During the Senate briefing, the adviser said that all major incidents of terrorism and suicide attacks were linked to India and Afghanistan, adding that terrorists were being trained by them in those countries and in North Waziristan and being sent to the settled areas.

Mr Malik said the government was pursuing a policy of ending the sufferings of the people of Balochistan and taking measures to bring them back to mainstream.

He told the house that some hostile agencies were involved in creating unrest in the province. The government, he said, had been working to address the grievances of the Baloch people.

He said all political prisoners in the province had been released and cases against Hyarbyar Marri had been withdrawn to create a congenial atmosphere. ‘All the 36 checkposts of FC have been removed and it has been directed to work under the provincial administration and in coordination with police,’ he said.

He said President Zardari had visited Quetta, assured the Baloch leadership that the problems would be solved and announced a development package of more than Rs46 billion for the province, particularly for health and education.

He said displaced persons would be rehabilitated. Mr Malik said the government was planning to prepare the NFC award taking backwardness of provinces into consideration.

After the briefing, some senators told Dawn that Mr Malik had shown some video clips and documentary evidences about involvement of India and Afghanistan in incidents of terrorism in Pakistan.

Conspiracies are being hatched to destabilise and isolate Pakistan. A militant organisation, the Balochistan Liberation Army, was formed which is being funded by Russia and backed by India. The organisation is headed by Brahamdagh Bugti who is stationed in the Afghan capital. About 1,000 students were trained in Russia and now they are back in Balochistan, a senator quoted Mr Malik as saying.

‘He first gave briefing on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Swat and then on the Balochistan situation,’ Senator Talha Mehmood said.

Talking to reporters outside the Parliament House, Mr Malik said the government would have no option but to take action against the Taliban if they violated the Swat peace deal and did not lay down their weapons as promised by chief of Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariati-i-Mohammadi Maulana Sufi Mohammad.

When it was pointed out that the Taliban had advanced to Buner and other districts of Malakand, the adviser said the situation was not serious because they had advanced only to some pockets in these areas and then returned to Swat.

If the Taliban continued such activities, the government would have no option but to take stern action against them, Mr Malik said.

Meanwhile, senators from Balochistan expressed dissatisfaction over the in-camera briefing. ‘It was an incomplete and ill-drafted briefing,’ said Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party. He agreed with the adviser that foreign hands were involved in sabotaging peace, but said: ‘If the government has evidence about the involvement of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in terrorism in Pakistan, then why has he not been questioned about it.’

Washington upset as Taliban spread influence

WASHINGTON: Anguish and concern grip Washington as the Obama administration gets impatient with Islamabad’s reluctance to take on the Taliban.

At one stage on Thursday, the Americans seemed so upset that they even hinted at withdrawing their offer to invite Pakistan to a trilateral summit at the White House, a diplomatic source told Dawn.

‘The hint was later dropped and Pakistan was assured that the summit would go ahead as planned’ on May 6-7, the source said.

The panic began early Thursday, when Washington woke up to the news that the Taliban had taken over Buner and were now only 81 km from Islamabad.

Richard Holbrooke, America’s special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, told reporters that the Obama administration was recalibrating the schedule drawn up for the White House summit at among Mr Obama and the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The trilateral summit, Mr Holbrooke said, ‘was conceived in an atmosphere that has now changed significantly, and the focus is increasingly on Pakistan.’

Another administration official acknowledged some concern over Mr Zardari's planned week-long absence from home for his visit here, given Pakistan's history of military coups and government overthrows while the head of state was outside the country.

‘We inquired twice’ whether Mr Zardari was concerned about leaving Pakistan, the official told The Washington Post.

‘Both times we were told no.’ Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, will remain in Pakistan during Mr Zardari's trip, the official said.

Besides bringing behind the scene pressures, the Obama administration also warned the Pakistani government publicly ‘that failure to take action against the extremists could endanger its partnership with the United States.’

Also on Thursday, President Obama held a White House meeting on the subject with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ambassador Holbrooke. He also brought it up in a separate session with congressional leaders.

After the consultations, Ambassador Holbrooke spoke by telephone to President Asif Ali Zardari and with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

‘There have been contacts at other levels as well,’ said a diplomatic source but pointed out that Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s visit to Islamabad on Thursday was not linked to the situation in Swat or Buner.

‘It was another defence related matter not linked to Swat,’ the source said.

Contacts between the two countries continued on Friday as well, with the Americans insisting that they were frustrated with the overall situation, and not just Buner and Swat.

‘Making you take action against the Taliban is like pulling your teeth,’ a US diplomat told a senior Pakistani official. ‘It seems that while you say the Taliban are your enemy, you do not really consider them an enemy.’

The Americans insisted that they see a pattern in Pakistan’s reluctance. ‘There’s no real desire to defeat the Taliban. You see them as a problem but not as a threat to your country.’

At the State Department, spokesman Robert Wood indicated that the Americans had been trying to persuade Islamabad to take military action against the militants.

‘Was there anything that this Administration tried to do over the last 24 hours that made them see the light?’ Mr Wood was asked.

‘We have regular conversations at various levels, and I’m sure some conversations have taken place over the last day or so,’ the spokesman said.

The US media reported that the Americans were so worried at Pakistan's deterioration; they were considering switching allegiances from President Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party-dominated government to his rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

But the media also noted that there was little direct action the administration could take beyond exhorting the Pakistanis and redoubling efforts to quickly implement key elements of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama announced late last month.

U.S. worried about Taliban move on Islamabad: Mullen

WASHINGTON: The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen says he is “extremely concerned'' about indications the Taliban is moving ever closer to Islamabad.

Discussing the situation in an interview with US TV, Mullen said he believes “we're certainly moving closer to the tipping point'' where Pakistan could be overtaken by extremists.

Mullen said from Afghanistan he thinks that “events continue to move in the wrong direction'' in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. And he said he hopes the arrival soon of an additional 17,000 American combat troops will stabilize things.

Mullen said, “We're going as fast as we can go right now and we want to get it right.'' But he also said the Afghan people “have to take over security for their nation. That's the only way we're going to be successful."

Pakistani Taliban Pull Back to Swat

PESHAWAR, Pakistan-- Taliban extremist forces, facing threats of an army assault and a flurry of criticism from Pakistani officials, began withdrawing Friday from a district in northwest Pakistan they had occupied for the past week.

Regional officials announced shortly after noon that the militant forces would leave the Buner district by night, and television news channels showed dozens of masked, heavily armed Taliban fighters driving out of Buner's main town in trucks and vans.

The withdrawal, if successfully completed, could salvage a crumbling peace deal that the government signed recently with the Islamist forces based in the conflicted Swat Valley, hoping to stave off a surge in suicide bombings and attacks across the country. Under the deal, officials agreed to allow strict Islamic law to be imposed in Swat and six surrounding districts, including Buner, in exchange for the Taliban fighters laying down their weapons.

There were reports Friday afternoon that some hardline Taliban were refusing to leave Buner, which lies just 60 miles from Islamabad. But regional officials said they assured Taliban leaders at a meeting that Islamic law will be brought quickly to Swat and the adjoining districts if they recalled their fighters back to Swat.

The apparent turnaround came after the Pakistani government and military, facing strong pressure from Washington and increasing domestic criticism of a potential Taliban advance toward the capital, warned that they would take forceful action if the militants refused to stop their armed expansion.

Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, told a meeting of senior army officials Friday morning that the army possessed both the will and the capability to defeat armed extremists, according to a statement released by the army. Kayani said the military "will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on civil society."

Prime Minister Yusuf Gillani, who until Thursday had played down the threat from the Taliban forces occupying Swat, also told journalists Friday that the government would not allow the militants to set up a parallel state. If the peace deal is violated, Gillani said, "other options" would be considered.

The Taliban sent mixed signals as their fighters advanced from Swat into the neighboring Buner and Shangla districts Thursday. They ambushed a convoy of frontier police sent to protect government buildings in Buner, but they also extended a deadline for all nonreligious judges to leave Swat and said they had entered the other areas "only to preach."

But Pakistani news media reported that the Taliban have forcibly overrun Buner in the previous several days, while many state judges and officials have abandoned their posts. The black-turbaned fighters have occupied a popular shrine and turned it into a radio station for extremist broadcasts. Public markets were reported to be deserted except for Taliban troops, shown on TV news channels wearing masks and wielding assault rifles.


"The Pakistani government is fiddling as the Northwest Frontier Province burns," Pakistani representatives of the human rights group Amnesty International said Thursday in a statement. The organization said that hundreds of thousands of Pakistani civilians are "now at the mercy of abusive and repressive Taliban groups" and that the government has given no indication of how it intends to protect them.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that President Asif Ali Zardari's government was "abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists." U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is meeting with Pakistani leaders this week, and special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke called Zardari on Thursday evening.

Regional officials in this northwestern city sponsored the peace deal in a desperate effort to bring peace to the Swat Valley after months of brutal intimidation and defended it strongly even as the militants moved into new areas and made new demands all week.

But they agreed at an emergency meeting Thursday that forceful action needed to be taken if they did not pull back, official sources said.

Several local officials suggested that if the agreement fails, it will provide the domestic political cover needed for army forces to take on the insurgents with no holds barred. Rumors have circulated this week of a planned army assault in the Swat area.

"I still believe it was the right decision," said Afrasiab Khattak, a leader of the Awami National Party, or ANP, a secular bloc that governs in the northwest and that sponsored the agreement. "If the militants do not lay down their arms now, there will be no more excuses. The common soldier will feel everything possible has been done to avoid war. The government will have the moral high ground, and the army can go in with a much bigger operation than before. This time it will be different."

Some analysts here say the Islamists, who control much of the tribal belt along the Afghan border, have succeeded in establishing Swat, which lies in Pakistani's interior, as a launching pad for their wider ambitions. They say the army, trained to fight a conventional war against India, still has no stomach to fight its Muslim countrymen, many of whom were once sponsored by Pakistan and the United States to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

There is widespread public disappointment in Pakistan's civilian leaders for so easily ceding ground to extremists who butchered and bullied their way to power in Swat. Parliament approved the deal allowing sharia after almost no debate, and Zardari signed it.

"We have a severe leadership crisis," said Athar Minallah, a lawyer who helped lead a successful, two-year protest movement to restore deposed senior judges. "The Parliament is deaf and dumb, and Zardari is living in bunkerized luxury. If the political elite think everything is so great in Swat, why don't they send their families to live there instead of abroad?"

Partisan rivalries have also tainted the decision about how to respond to the Islamist threat. When Sherry Rehman, a legislator from Zardari's party, spoke in Parliament against the Swat accord, saying she feared it would leave women and children at the mercy of harsh fanatics, she was immediately denounced as a party-splitter.

"I am under fire from everyone now, but I just had to speak up," Rehman said shortly after Parliament approved the Swat deal. "Terrorism and militancy are spreading, people are afraid, and the state is in retreat. The problem is not about sharia, it's about who will enforce it. If you allow a rabble with guns to dictate things, it will create a culture of impunity and fear."

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari's leading rival, this week joined the chorus of concern about the Taliban advance, but he was widely assumed to be polishing his moderate credentials after years of close relations with religious parties and his own attempt, as Pakistan's leader in the 1990s, to impose sharia nationwide.

A third factor in the confused national reaction to the Swat agreement, and to the wider threat of Islamist violence, is the deep resentment many Pakistanis feel about the U.S. military role here. There is widespread belief that the problem of radical Islam in Pakistan stems from the unfinished war between the United States and the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed.

Even a rash of terrorist strikes in major interior cities, including a suicide bombing at a hotel in Islamabad and a commando attack on a police academy near Lahore, have not fully dispelled the popular notion that militancy can be confined to the northwest. Alarms about homegrown terrorism are being drowned out by nationalist anger over bombing raids by unpiloted U.S. aircraft on militant targets near the Afghan border.

Meanwhile, with Taliban fighters occupying more and more areas in the northwest and vowing to bring Islamic justice to the region, political and professional leaders have fled. Few officials from the ANP and Zardari's Pakistan People's Party dare visit the constituencies that voted for them in the February 2008 elections. Mohammed Khan, a lawyer from Swat who fled the region last month with his family, recounted how pressure from the insurgents prevented secular candidates from holding rallies or campaigning before the elections. But their two parties swept the polls, while religious ones fared poorly.

"One [Islamist] party used the symbol of a book, telling people it was the Koran, but Swatis voted for the lantern of the ANP," Khan said, referring to the symbols used on ballots to indicate a candidate's party. "Now the ANP has had to swallow the bitter pill of sharia rule, but how can anyone say the people wanted that? They have been pushed into a corner, and now no one is there to defend them."

PPP, ANP face opposition’s flak on Swat deal

ISLAMABAD: No one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the government and the policy of negotiations can be reviewed if peace is not restored in and around Malakand, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Friday.

The Prime Minister said the will and resolve of the government and people of Pakistan in combating extremism and militancy was unshakable.

There is a need to stand united in the fight against terror, the premier said, while stressing upon the need for a bipartisan policy on the issue.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) leader Wasim Sajjad said the government had no writ in Malakand and the situation was getting out of control.

Heated arguments ensued as opposition benches roared against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) on making peace with an enemy that has nefarious designs.

Ayaz Amir of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) had the most to say against Taliban gains in the northwest. He said that despite the Pakistan army being the sixth largest in the world, it could not stop the fragmented Taliban from overtaking several districts in the North West Frontier Province.

Army to defeat militancy, ensure safety of country: Kayani

RAWALPINDI:The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Friday has chaired an operational meeting at the General Headquarters, Rawalpindi.

According to ISPR press release, addressing the participants the COAS stated that he was aware of the doubts being voiced about the intent as well as the capability of the army to defeat the militancy in the country. He made it clear that Pakistan Army never has and never will hesitate to sacrifice, whatever it may take, to ensure safety and wellbeing of people of Pakistan and country’s territorial integrity.

The COAS stated that operational pause, meant to give the reconciliatory forces a chance, must not be taken for a concession to the militants. He declared that army’s rank and file has resolve to fight to eliminate the militants, who endanger the lives of peaceful citizens of the country and challenge the writ of the state.

He reassured the people of Pakistan that with their support, army is determined to root out the menace of terrorism from the society. It will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the Government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan.

Kayani condemned pronouncements by outside powers raising doubts on the future of the country. A country of 170 M resilient people under a democratic dispensation, strongly supported by the army, is capable of handling any crisis that it may confront. He stated that the victory against the terror and militancy will be achieved at all cost.

The COAS praised the rank and file for continuing to fight under challenging and arduous conditions. Praying for the souls of Shaheeds of Armed forces, Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies and civilians, the COAS assured the bereaved families and the Nation that the debt of their sacred blood will be paid back by the Army, and safety of the people and the Country ensured at all costs.