Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Karzai---Administration Is Keeping Ally at Arm's Length

Washington Post Staff
Afghan President Hamid Karzai began talking as soon as his luncheon guests had taken their seats in his wood-paneled dining room at the presidential palace in Kabul, across a long table covered with platters of lamb and rice, baskets of flatbread, and glasses of pomegranate juice.

Security was improving, he declared, according to two people in the room. The cultivation of opium-producing poppies had been eliminated in many areas. The economy was on the upswing. He looked across the table at the most important of his visitors and pledged to work closely with a new U.S. administration.

"I'm at your disposal, Senator Obama."

The Democratic presidential candidate listened intently but revealed few of his own views about Afghanistan over the two-hour lunch last July. It was not until later that day, as a U.S. government jet flew him to Kuwait, that Barack Obama confided in his two traveling companions, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and then-Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

Obama voiced concern that the situation was worse than Karzai had acknowledged, Hagel recalled. He "was not taken in," Hagel said, "by all of the happy talk."

Today, as the two leaders meet in the White House, that skepticism drives the administration's evolving policy toward Afghanistan and the battle against Taliban insurgents, a conflict whose outcome will in part define Obama's presidency.

In assessing the nearly eight-year struggle from Washington, senior members of Obama's national security team say Karzai has not done enough to address the grave challenges facing his nation. They deem him to be a mercurial and vacillating chieftain who has tolerated corruption and failed to project his authority beyond the gates of Kabul.

"On all fronts," said a senior U.S. official, "Hamid Karzai has plateaued as a leader."

At the same time, the consensus view among State Department, Pentagon and CIA officials is that Karzai almost certainly will win reelection to another five-year term this August. Vexed by the challenge of stabilizing Afghanistan with a partner they regard as less than reliable, Obama's advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader.

Obama intends to maintain an arm's-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funneling more money to local governors.

'It's Going to Be Different'
For Karzai, an elegant and engaging politician renowned for his ability to forge compromises between warring factions, the new American coolness is unlikely to be a surprise. Ten days before Obama's inauguration, Karzai told Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. during a private meeting in Kabul that he looked forward to building with Obama the same sort of chummy relationship he had with Bush, which included frequent videoconferences and personal visits.

"Well, it's going to be different," Biden replied, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation. "You'll probably talk to him or see him a couple of times a year. You're not going to be talking to him every week."

Obama advisers believe the relationship that Bush developed with Karzai masked the Afghan leader's flaws and made it difficult to demand accountability. Obama has not held a videoconference with Karzai, and the two have spoken by phone just twice. The administration rebuffed Karzai's request for a bilateral visit to Washington this spring, telling him he could come only as part of this week's tripartite summit with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, according to U.S. government officials. Karzai's meeting with Obama today is scheduled for 20 minutes, as is Zardari's.

The classified version of the recent White House review of Afghanistan strategy, according to two officials who have read it, criticizes Karzai. "It takes him to task for not meeting even the most basic Afghan expectations," one of the officials said. "The implication is clear: Karzai is not our man in this upcoming election." Like many of the two dozen current and former officials interviewed for this story, these sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the leaders candidly.

In a discussion at the Brookings Institution yesterday, Karzai acknowledged "bumps and ups and downs" in his relationship with the United States, but he insisted that "the fundamentals are strong and steady."

Karzai's aides contend that he alone is not to blame for Afghanistan's ills -- and Obama administration officials readily agree. Advisers to both leaders, as well as many diplomats who have served in Kabul, maintain that the U.S. approach to dealing with Afghanistan since 2001 -- a lack of troops and reconstruction dollars, periods of intense diplomatic engagement followed by stretches of inattention, and constantly shifting priorities -- whipsawed and weakened Karzai.

His defenders also point to decisions by the Bush administration not to send more forces to Afghanistan. As Taliban activity has increased in recent years, overwhelmed soldiers have increasingly resorted to calling in airstrikes, resulting in numerous civilian casualties. When complaints in private failed to diminish the use of air attacks, Karzai started to denounce the U.S. military in his speeches, prompting consternation in Washington.

"The Karzai that gives Washington such a headache today is, in large part, a product of how we dealt with him," said Robert Finn, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan during the first two years of Karzai's presidency. "We didn't give him the resources he needed -- be it money or troops."

Traits Now Seen as Flaws
The traits that made Karzai so appealing to the Bush administration are what the Obama administration now regards as his chief weaknesses.

Born in Afghanistan and educated in India, Karzai spent much of the 1980s living in exile in Pakistan. After the Soviets withdrew and their proxy government was toppled, he returned to serve as a deputy foreign minister, but he fled back to Pakistan after being falsely accused of plotting with the then-president's political rivals.

Once the Taliban came to power, he sought support from the United States and other nations to organize an anti-Taliban movement among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns, who make up about 40 percent of the country's population and who are heavily represented among the Taliban. Although he did not get the political and financial commitments he wanted, he did establish a reputation -- from Tehran to Moscow to Washington -- as a moderate Pashtun interested in the reconciliation of his diverse nation.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. After the Taliban was overthrown and Afghan leaders assembled in Bonn, Germany, to form an interim administration, the person who had the most support -- among not only Afghans but the international community -- was Karzai.

Karzai, who did not have a militia of his own, reached out to powerful warlords, pledging to include their representatives in his government. He sought to unite, not to hold them accountable for the violence of the rough-and-tumble years after the Soviets left.

"What are now considered his flaws are the obverse of what had been considered his assets," said James Dobbins, the Bush's administration first special envoy for Afghanistan. "We were drawn to him, in part, because . . . he was not the sort of person who would force issues or take positions that would antagonize factions."

When Karzai did seek to project his authority, he often faced opposition from the Bush administration -- not because it always wanted him to be a peacemaker, but because it didn't want to deploy the resources, particularly troops, to support him in the early years of his presidency.

The most significant U.S. act that weakened Karzai early on, according to his allies and diplomats, was the decision to funnel almost all of the U.S. reconstruction assistance to for-profit development contractors, nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations -- not through the Afghan government, which U.S. officials regarded as insufficiently capable of administering the aid. The result was that Karzai's government was starved of resources to pay its workers or provide services.

In February 2003, as the U.S. military was preparing to invade Iraq, Karzai took the unusual step of testifying before a Senate committee. He was asked if he had any advice for the United States. "Whatever you do in Iraq should not reduce your attention on Afghanistan," he said. By then, however, many U.S. military assets that had been in Afghanistan had been sent to Iraq.

Power Behind the President
In November 2003, as the U.S. engagement in Iraq was becoming more violent, the Bush administration dispatched Zalmay Khalilzad, its foremost expert on Afghanistan, as ambassador to Kabul. An animated former professor who speaks Dari and Pashto, the country's two principal languages, Khalilzad was far more than an ambassador. U.S. diplomats described his role as the country's chief executive -- with Karzai as the figurehead chairman -- for the 19 months of his ambassadorship.

By his own account, Khalilzad ate dinner six nights a week at the presidential palace, where he met with Karzai and his advisers into the evening. No significant decision was made by Karzai in that time without Khalilzad's involvement, and sometimes his cajoling and prodding, the diplomats said.

A vivid demonstration of Khalilzad's influence occurred in 2004, after a paroxysm of factional fighting in western Afghanistan involving Ismail Khan, a warlord who was the governor of Herat province. It was clear to Khalilzad that Khan needed to go, but Karzai was hesitant. So Khalilzad flew to Herat for discussions with Khan and announced that Khan would be moving to Kabul to become a cabinet minister. A few days later, Karzai issued an edict to that effect.

"Karzai was being his usual indecisive self, so Zal drove the steel rod up his spine," said a U.S. official.

That tactic, applied repeatedly, earned Khalilzad some detractors. "Khalilzad's approach fundamentally weakened Karzai," said a veteran Western diplomat. "Karzai was seen by many Afghans as a puppet of the Americans. It delegitimized him."

In June 2005, Khalilzad was made the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. He was replaced in Kabul by Ronald Neumann, a discreet, soft-spoken veteran diplomat assigned to normalize the relationship between Washington and Kabul. That meant no dinners at the palace every night or involvement in the minutiae of government.

The result, in the view of several diplomats and Afghan politicians who were there at the time, was that Karzai slid off the rails. He refused to remove incompetent subordinates, and he fired officials whom the U.S. Embassy regarded as effective. He named as his anti-corruption chief an Afghan American who was imprisoned in Nevada on drug charges for nearly four years.

Karzai's advisers said his U.S. critics did not fully understand his decisions, which were designed to avoid tribal and ethnic strife.

At times Karzai was prescient, such as when he publicly faulted the Pakistani government for not stemming the cross-border infiltration of Taliban fighters. But when he first articulated that complaint in 2005, he was told by the United States "basically to shut up," according to one U.S. official, because the Bush administration did not want to upset Pakistan's leader at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Mentoring an Ally
By late 2006, as concern grew in the White House over Karzai's leadership, Bush initiated biweekly videoconferences with Karzai, just as he was doing with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"It was a conversation. It was a dialogue. It was a lot of 'How are you doing? How is your son?' " according to a senior U.S. government official who attended some of the sessions. Karzai sometimes placed his infant son on his lap during the conversations. "President Bush felt very strongly that these two emerging leaders were so central to U.S. interests that he saw their coaching, their mentoring, as one of his central tasks," the official said.

But the familiarity came at a cost. In late 2007, Bush's National Security Council authorized aerial spraying of poppy fields because of concern that drug profits were financing the Taliban, according to that official and another senior Bush administration official. Bush was passionate about spraying. "I'm a spray man myself," he declared, according to one of the officials.

The plan, according to the officials, was to force the Karzai government to accede to spraying, and then use that acquiescence to overcome opposition from the U.S. military and the British government, whose troops were deployed in the areas of greatest poppy cultivation.

But when Karzai objected during a videoconference, saying the sight of spray planes would "look like chemical warfare" to the Afghan people, Bush backed down.

"He had come to the point where he related so closely to Karzai that he yielded to his instincts," the official said. "When it becomes personal, and it becomes more like partnership edging toward friendship, the personal dynamics are such that it's harder to put the heat on."

Obama's national security team learned of the frequency and content of Bush's videoconferences during the presidential transition.

"The president of the United States had become the case officer for Afghanistan," said a senior Obama foreign policy adviser. "It was a profound misjudgment of how to handle the situation."

A Tense Dinner Meeting
For Karzai, a dinner in February 2008 with Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and two other committee members -- Hagel and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- was a portent of what a Democratic administration would bring.

"Mr. President, how are you attempting to control the corruption in your government?" Hagel recalled asking Karzai.

"Who is corrupt?" Karzai responded, according to Hagel. "Show me. Give me the names."

Hagel mentioned that U.S. and Afghan officials had accused one of Karzai's brothers, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the provincial council in Kandahar, of links to narcotics trafficking. But Hagel couldn't cite specifics, and Karzai refused to budge.

When the conversation moved to poppy cultivation, Karzai insisted that his government was making good progress.

"Mr. President, you're not doing very well," Biden responded, according to Hagel. "Your poppy production is at record levels."

On other subjects, according to Hagel and two others in the room, the discussion seesawed in the same way, with Biden disputing Karzai's claims of progress.

The back-and-forth circled back to corruption, and when Karzai again refused to acknowledge any problem, Biden stood up and threw his napkin on the table.

"This dinner is over," he said, according to Hagel and the others in the room.

Although senior Obama administration officials believe that Karzai needs to remove his brother from his post in Kandahar, they have been unable force his hand. Last year, then-national security adviser Stephen Hadley asked then-CIA Director Michael V. Hayden to find evidence of Ahmed Wali Karzai's alleged corruption, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Hayden eventually told Hadley, according to the official, "There are allegations all over the place, but in terms of hard evidence, we don't have it."

When Obama saw President Karzai last summer, however, the Afghan leader had eased his line on corruption.

"He didn't deny it," said Hagel, who was at the meeting. "He acknowledged they had a problem and that it was serious."

By then Obama was already hedging his bets. A few days earlier, he told an interviewer that "the Karzai government has not has not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan and its government -- the judiciary, police forces -- in ways that would give people confidence."

Challengers Sought
Although the administration says it will make no endorsement in the elections, Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, has made little secret in diplomatic circles of his desire to see candidates challenge the incumbent.

Chief among them is former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who has a doctorate from Columbia University and has worked at the World Bank. But Ghani and others do not appear to have the support needed to trump Karzai, who has installed governors and sub-governors who can help his get-out-the-vote efforts. There have been reports that former ambassador Khalilzad, who remains active in Afghan politics, is pondering a run for the presidency, but he has denied any such intention.

Given the likelihood of a Karzai victory, the administration is seeking to increase its engagement with local and tribal leaders -- not to persuade them to forsake Karzai but to get them to be more effective administrators. Administration officials hope that improvements in local government, coupled with improvements in security, will persuade Afghans to stop supporting the Taliban.

But cultivating disparate local leaders could be just as challenging as dealing with Karzai.

"Because we've been so enamored with Kabul, we don't really to this day understand the tribal structure well enough to use it as a base of our strategy," said a senior administration official. "The chances of our engaging tribes clumsily and dysfunctionally, rewarding the power tribe that oppresses all the other tribes, and forcing the peripheral tribes into the hands of the Taliban -- that's the kind of stuff we're probably doing right now and we don't even know it.

"But we don't have a choice," the official said. "We have to build a bottom-up dynamic to counterbalance Karzai. And that's a whole lot harder than working with one guy at the top."

U.S. Stresses Support For Pakistan's Zardari

Washington Post
The Obama administration "unambiguously" supports Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, even as it puts "the most heavy possible pressure" on his government to fight extremists in the country, Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, told Congress yesterday.

"We do not think Pakistan is a failed state," Holbrooke testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee. But, he added, "we think it's a state under extreme test from the enemies who are also our enemies."

Holbrooke spoke as Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed publicly and privately yesterday for increased U.S. aid and understanding. The two leaders are in Washington this week for a two-day summit, during which they will meet separately and together with President Obama.

When the three sit down today, Obama will tell Zardari and Karzai that they "have to work together, despite their issues and their history. That's just what has to be done," said one of two senior administration officials who briefed reporters at the White House about the visits on the condition of anonymity.

The administration is anxious for Pakistan and Afghanistan, often less than friendly neighbors, to cooperate more on preventing extremists from crossing their joint border. But it has serious, separate issues with each government.

In Pakistan, Zardari and the Pakistani military have balked at undertaking an all-out offensive against Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries along the country's mountainous western border, from which attacks are launched on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani troops and aircraft have attacked Taliban fighters occupying territory within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital, in recent days [Story, A6], but U.S. officials have worried that the military will ultimately be unable or unwilling to hold recaptured areas and establish government control.

On CNN yesterday, Zardari dismissed the seriousness of the threat to his government. "My government is not going to fall because this one mountain is taken by one group or the other," he said.

Holbrooke and other officials were at pains yesterday to voice strong support for Zardari as the administration sought to strike a balance between shoring up his government and pressuring it. The administration wants Zardari to stop bickering with his domestic political opponents, to pay more attention to governance and to display more counterinsurgency zeal.

"We are working very hard to help the Pakistani government in its moment of need," the senior administration official said. "We are not abandoning it, nor are we distancing ourself from Asif Ali Zardari."

The administration has asked Congress to quickly approve hundreds of millions of dollars for economic and military assistance for Pakistan this year.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command that oversees operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke at length Sunday with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, urging him to continue the anti-Taliban offensive in the areas northwest of Islamabad.

"Their expectation is to consolidate [their gains] in the next 48 hours or so," a second administration official said of the Pakistan military. Beyond that, the official said, "we will watch intently in the weeks ahead and months ahead" to see whether the government is able to move into extremist-held areas.

Zardari and his government have grown irritated with U.S. criticism, and have questioned the slowness of U.S. assistance. Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether he was concerned about the level of U.S. support, Zardari said, "I am thankful for the support that I got and thankful to the people of America to give their tax dollars to us. But I need more support."

Officials offered less enthusiastic backing for Karzai in Afghanistan and have left the door open for a competitor in elections scheduled there for August. But they acknowledge that the emergence of new political leadership is unlikely.

Biden prods Israel on settlements

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden prodded Israel on Tuesday to halt the expansion of its settlements on the West Bank, a move he called a necessary step toward ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Biden told the annual conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has "important ideas" about the peace process. But he said, "This is a show-me deal, not based on faith."

Biden said, "Israel has to work toward a two-state solution. You're not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement."

Biden's call came as President Obama prepared for a private meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu has supported expanding Israeli settlements and has so far avoided any public endorsement of a Palestinian state. His comments have cast doubt on the future of the stalled Israel-Palestinian peace process.

But Peres, whose post is largely ceremonial, told CNN on Monday that Netanyahu has agreed to follow the commitments of previous governments and suggested he was avoiding the reference to avoid friction with partners in his conservative coalition.

"He has to keep them together. He must, like many politicians, do what [ex-U.S. Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger used to call constructive ambiguity," Peres said.

Netanyahu told AIPAC at a Monday evening appearance via satellite that Israel would resume negotiations "without any delay and without any preconditions."

He said Israel would work with friendly Arab governments to improve the Palestinian Authority's capability to crack down on factions that launch attacks on Israelis and help boost economic development in the Palestinian territories that Israel has controlled since the 1967 Mideast war.

"I believe that this triple track toward peace is a realistic path to peace," he said.

But Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, said Netanyahu must explicitly endorse the goal of a Palestinian state to demonstrate "that the Palestinians have a partner for peace."

"Without a political settlement, meaning an end to Israel's occupation and the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state, talk of economic peace will be seen for what it is, namely an attempt to normalize and better manage the occupation," Erakat said in response to Netanyahu's speech.

James Rubin, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration, said that Netanyahu's reluctance appeared to be a bargaining tactic.

"He's trying to come over to the United States, meet with President Obama and get something for saying the obvious, what everybody agrees to -- that there needs to be a two-state solution," Rubin said. "He's seeing if he can get something out of America for doing that."

Thousands flee Pakistan valley as truce crumbles

MINGORA, Pakistan – Black-turbaned Taliban militants seized government buildings, laid mines and fought security forces Tuesday in the Swat Valley, as fear of a major operation led thousands to pack their belongings on their heads and backs, cram aboard buses and flee the northwestern region.
The collapse of a 3-month-old truce with the Taliban means Pakistan will now have to fight to regain control of the Swat Valley, testing the ability of its stretched military and the resolve of civilian leaders who until recently were insisting the insurgents could be partners in peace. The government feared the refugee exodus could reach 500,000.
The developments brought Islamabad's faltering campaign against militancy into sharp focus as President Asif Ali Zardari was preparing for talks Wednesday in Washington with President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on how best to counter an increasingly overlapping spectrum of extremist groups behind surging violence in the neighboring countries.
The Obama administration hopes to build a strong and lasting regional alliance, linking success in Afghanistan with security in Pakistan. Toward that end, the administration is encouraging Pakistan to confront — not make peace with — the Taliban and other militants.
"These violent extremists need to be confronted head on," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "We will be supportive."
Fearing that war could consume the region, thousands fled the main Swat town of Mingora on Tuesday, witnesses said. Refugees clambered onto the roofs of buses after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried belongings on their heads and backs.
"I do not have any destination. I only have an aim — to escape from here," said Afzal Khan, 65, who was waiting for a bus with his wife and nine children. "It is like doomsday here. It is like hell."
Shafi Ullah, a student, said the whole town was fleeing.
"Can you hear the explosions? Can you hear the gunshots?" he said, pointing to a part of town where fighting was continuing.
It is far from certain that the Pakistani public has the stomach for a long battle in Swat. Given that the militants have had time to rest and reinforce their positions in the three months since the truce took effect, any operation would involve fierce fighting in an urban setting and almost certainly cause significant civilian casualties and damage to property.
In recent days, however, there have been signs of a turn in mood against the Taliban. Many commentators now say the movement's true nature was exposed by its refusal to go along with the peace deal despite the government's best efforts.
Pakistan agreed to a truce in the valley and surrounding districts in February after two years of fighting with militants who had beheaded political opponents and burned scores of girls schools in their campaign to implement a harsh brand of Islam modeled on their counterparts in Afghanistan.
As part of the agreement, the government imposed Islamic law last month in the hope that insurgents would lay down their arms — something they did not do.
Last week, the Taliban moved from their stronghold in the valley into Buner, a district just 60 miles from the capital. That caused alarm at home and abroad.
The army responded with an offensive it says has killed more than 100 militants and was "progressing smoothly" Tuesday, according to a brief statement.
Fighting, which had been rising in Swat in recent days, escalated Tuesday in Mingora and the neighboring town of Saidu Sharif, according to Associated Press reporters in the towns and an army statement. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Militants wearing turbans were deployed on most streets and on high buildings in Mingora, and security forces were barricaded in their bases. Khushal Khan, the top administrator in Swat, said insurgents were laying mines in the town to hinder any army advance.
Late Tuesday, several dozen militants surrounded a police residential compound and an adjoining station in Saidu Sharif after occupying the offices of the police chief and the civil administration, said an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
"The limited forces inside the police building cannot survive for long unless the militants are engaged from outside," he said from inside the station. "We are in war conditions and need reinforcements and supplies."
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North West Frontier Province, said up to 500,000 people were expected to flee the valley. Swat is already struggling to house half a million people driven there by fighting from other northwestern regions over the last year.
Hussain said authorities were releasing emergency funds and preparing six new refugee camps to house them.
Neither the military nor the central government was available to comment Tuesday on whether a fully fledged offensive was planned in the valley.
Before the peace deal, the militants were estimated to have about 4,000 well trained and heavily armed fighters in the valley. It is unclear how many security forces are already stationed there. Under the terms of the truce, the army was not required to pull out of the region.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said the militants were in control of "90 percent" of the valley. He said they were merely responding to what he called army violations of the deal — attacking insurgents and adding troops. He accused the government of caving to U.S. pressure in moving into Buner to counter the Taliban.
"Everything will be OK once our rulers stop bowing before America," Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman, told AP by cell phone, adding that the peace deal had "been dead" since the operation in Buner.
The United States and other Western nations have opposed the peace deal with the Swat Taliban, warning that other deals had broken down and given the militants time to regroup.
Pakistan has waged several offensives in the border region against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in recent years. Most have ended inconclusively or with peace deals amid public anger over civilian casualties and distaste for taking on fellow Muslims. The army has long focused on the threat posed by longtime rival India and is not used to the demands of guerrilla warfare.

UN accuses Israel of Gaza 'negligence or recklessness'

A United Nations inquiry today accused the Israeli military of "negligence or recklessness" in its conduct of the January war in Gaza and said the organisation should press claims for reparations for deaths and damage.

The first investigation into the three-week war by anyone other than human rights researchers and journalists held the Israeli government responsible in seven separate cases in which UN property was damaged and UN staff and other civilians were hurt or killed.

However, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, rejected the report's call for a full and impartial investigation into the war, and refused to publish the complete 184-page report. Only Ban's own summary of the report (pdf) has been released.

Israel rejected the inquiry's findings, even before the summary was released, as "tendentious" and "patently biased".

The board of inquiry, led by Ian Martin, a Briton who is a former head of Amnesty International and a former UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal, had limited scope, looking only at cases of death, injury or damage involving UN property and staff. But its conclusions amount to a major challenge to Israel.

It found the Israeli military's actions "involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness", and that the military took "inadequate" precautions towards UN premises. It said the deaths of civilians should be investigated under the rules of international humanitarian law.

The UN should take action "to seek accountability and pursue claims to secure reparation or reimbursement" for UN expenses and payments over deaths or injury to UN staff and damage to UN property where the responsibility lay with Israel, Hamas or any other party, the report added. In total, more than $11m worth of damage was caused to UN premises.

The inquiry looked in detail at nine incidents, in which several Palestinians died. It found the Israeli military responsible in seven cases where it had "breached the inviolability" of the UN. In one other case, Palestinian militants, probably from Hamas, were held responsible; in a final case, responsibility was unclear.

The report summary will now go to the UN security council. In a later press conference , Ban confirmed that he would be seeking no further official inquiry into the Gaza events. But he did say he would be looking for reparations from Israel on a "case-by-case" basis.

The secretary general was asked whether his decision not to publish the full report amounted to a watering down of the inquiry's findings. He categorically denied the suggestion: the inquiry was independent, and he was powerless to edit its conclusions.

Israel's foreign ministry said the Israeli military had already investigated its own conduct during the war and "proved beyond doubt" that it had not fired intentionally at UN buildings. It dismissed the UN inquiry.

"The state of Israel rejects the criticism in the committee's summary report and determines that in both spirit and language the report is tendentious, patently biased and ignores the facts presented to the committee," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the inquiry had "preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world".

The most serious incident investigated took place on 6 January, near a UN boys' preparatory school in Jabaliya that was being used as a shelter for hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes to escape the fighting. The Israeli military had fired several 120mm mortar rounds in the "immediate vicinity" of the school, killing between 30 and 40 Palestinians, the inquiry found.

Although Israel at the time said Hamas had fired mortars from within the school, the inquiry found this as not true: there had been no firing from within the compound and there were no explosives in the school.

It held Israel responsible for the attack and said the deaths of civilians should be "assessed in accordance with ... international humanitarian law." It also called for a formal acknowledgement from Israel that its allegations about Palestinian militants being present in the school were untrue.

The other incidents investigated were:

29 December The headquarters of the UN political mission in Gaza was damaged when Israeli air strikes hit the presidential compound next door. Staff were on site, but were protected in a bunker and not injured. The inquiry held the Israeli government responsible for the damage.

5 January An Israeli air strike hit the UN Asma elementary school in Gaza City, where hundreds more Palestinians were sheltering. The missile killed three young men who had been walking to the bathroom in the school compound. The inquiry found no weapons or ammunition were being stored in the school, and that the men had been going to the toilet and not taking part in military activity. The attack was "an egregious breach of the inviolability of the United Nations premises", the inquiry said, again holding Israel responsible for the deaths and damage.

6 January An Israeli air strike damaged the UN Bureij health centre, injuring nine people. The inquiry said the air strike had targeted and destroyed an apartment opposite the centre. It held Israel responsible for the damage to the health centre, and noted that the UN had been given no advance warning of the attack.

8 January Israeli soldiers fired at a UN convoy, damaging one of the vehicles in Ezbet Abed Rabou. The marked convoy, flying a UN flag, had been cleared by the Israeli military to travel out to pick up the dead body of a UN staff member.

15 January The UN's main headquarters in Gaza was badly damaged when it was hit by several Israeli artillery shells, including some containing white phosphorus. The shelling continued despite warnings from the UN to the Israeli military, and fires caused serious damage to the UN warehouse. Three people were injured. The inquiry held Israel responsible and said the Israeli military had a "particularly high degree of responsibility" to ensure the safety of the UN headquarters.

17 January Israeli 155mm artillery loaded with white phosphorus exploded early in the morning above the UN Beit Lahiya elementary school, where nearly 2,000 Palestinians were sheltering from the fighting. Two children, aged five and seven, were killed inside a classroom and their mother and cousin were seriously injured by shards of shell casings. Eleven others were also hurt. The inquiry held Israel responsible for the deaths, injuries and damage.

In one other case, damage worth around $29,000 was caused to a World Food Programme warehouse by a Palestinian militant group, probably Hamas. In the last case, a UN guard outside the gate of a UN girls' preparatory school in Khan Younis was killed on 29 December by shrapnel. The inquiry was unable to determine who was responsible.

President Zardari dismisses militants’ threats to Pakistan

WASHINGTON: President Asif Ali Zardari has said the Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are in safe hands and ruled out threats posed by the militants to the nukes of Pakistan as long as the military’s existence.President Zardari said this during an interview with a US television channel here on Wednesday.State’s supremo denied the reports over the existence of supporters of Al-Qaeda and Taliban among the ranks of Pakistan army and added, “My life could possibly be under the threats of Taliban but the government of Pakistan is safe and sound.”“The people of Pakistan have spoken through election opting our democratic government while, at the same time, they have simply rejected Talibanization”, Asif Ali Zardari made clear and maintained; “We have completely uprooted Taliban from Buner and Swat”.President asked for more US aid to win terror war and excused US offer of sending its troops in Pakistan to curb militancy.Zardari hinted at formation of peaceful and strengthened ties with new Indian government to be setup after country’s general elections.Our democratically elected government has left Musharraf’s eight-year long era way behind in terms of reforms, President Asif Ali Zardari added.

Gates Asks Saudis for Help in Pakistan

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As the Obama administration prepares for talks this week with senior leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates flew to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to seek help in pushing back Taliban advances in Pakistan that, he said, threaten the very existence of the government in Islamabad.

Mr. Gates said Saudi Arabia “clearly has a lot of influence throughout the region,” and he cited its “long-standing and close relationship with Pakistan.”

The defense secretary called on Pakistan’s allies across the region to assist in countering insurgent successes that represent a growing danger to Pakistan, and Mr. Gates said a goal of this week’s meetings with Afghan and Pakistani leaders in Washington would be to reach consensus on the nature of the threat.

In the past, the Pakistani government and its military have been far more focused on their traditional adversary, India, than on the domestic insurgency.

As Mr. Gates concluded talks in Egypt earlier Tuesday, the shadow of Iran’s regional ambitions prompted the defense secretary to declare that efforts by the Obama administration to seek better ties with Tehran would not jeopardize its relations with allies in the region.

He stressed that historic American partners in the Middle East would be kept fully informed of Washington’s diplomatic efforts toward Iran. The Obama administration was undertaking that effort to reach out to Iran “with its eyes wide open,” he said.

“If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly,” Mr. Gates said. “Concerns out here of some kind of a ‘grand bargain’ developed in secret are completely unrealistic and, I would say, are not going to happen.”

Pakistani Army Poised for New Push into Swat

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Residents were flooding out of the Swat valley by the thousands on Tuesday as the government prepared to mount a new military operation against Taliban militants there after the collapse of a peace deal negotiated in February.
For weeks the Taliban have flaunted their disregard for the February peace accord, and two weeks ago they used the territory all but ceded to them under the deal to launch an offensive into another district, Buner, 60 miles from the capital.This week the Taliban reversed the only achievement of the deal, a ceasefire in the Swat district capital, Mingora, which they seized control of Sunday, when their turbaned fighters laid siege to several police stations, a local lawyer and resident of the town said.The Taliban’s armed return to Mingora on Sunday signaled the final breakdown in the government’s efforts to negotiate a peaceful solution to two years of fighting that has costs thousands of lives and damaged homes and livelihoods the length of the once-prosperous farming valley of Swat.The Pakistani military, which is fighting to clear militants from two other districts of the North West Frontier Province, Dir and Buner, now appears ready to push its operations into Swat once again.But the question remains whether the military has the will and capability to sustain its operations in three districts. The task in Swat remains hugely difficult, not least because the Taliban were digging in and mining the streets, according to residents, and the military had already failed to drive out the Taliban before it agreed to the February accord.But public opinion in Pakistan toward the Taliban has undergone an important shift since the deal, and has now apparently given the military more confidence to move with full force against the Taliban.A recent video showing the Taliban flogging a young woman as the militants clamped down their version of Islam law on Swat shocked the nation. The government has taken great pains to show its efforts to make the Swat peace deal work.Finally, the Taliban incursion into Buner two weeks ago solidified a growing consensus that the Taliban had gone too far and that the military needed to stand up to the insurgents, and it has provided the catalyst for the military to act.The media, politicians and even religious leaders are now speaking out against the extremist position of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the main negotiator on the Swat deal, and Mullah Fazlullah, his son-in-law, who has links to the Qaeda-backed Taliban movement based in Pakistan’s tribal areas.Leaders of the Awami National Party, which governs the North West Frontier Province where all of the districts are located, still stand by the deal, which it says has been critical in winning people away from the militants and over to the side of the government.The peace deal was popular among the people of Swat, who were desperate for peace and angered by the heavy-handed military campaign in the valley. But over the last three months of efforts to make the deal work, the Taliban have revealed that they have no intention of ending their insurgency. It has also become apparent that Maulana Muhammad is not able to control the militants, the politicians say.
There is no doubt that the military is fighting this campaign seriously, said Maulana Yousuf Shah, general secretary of the Jamiat-u-Ulama-i-Islam-S, a political party that is close to the Taliban and has helped negotiations between the two sides.
A Supreme Court lawyer Anees Jillani, who visited Swat recently, said the military remains divided and some have sympathy for the Islamists and are not willing to fight.“When you ask them why are you not defeating them, they ask: ‘Why should we?’ and you ask about Sufi Muhammad, they say: ‘What’s wrong with him?’” he said.
On the ground, however, there has been a significant change in the military and paramilitary forces ranged against the Taliban.
Under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, an energetic and determined commander, the Frontier Corps, the local Pashtun paramilitary force, has become better armed and equipped in recent months, with the help of the United States.
Supported by army units, it has proved itself better able to push back the Taliban, first in the tribal areas in Bajaur last year, and now in Buner, though at big cost to civilians caught up in the operations.Anti-terrorist police units have also been deployed in the operations in some outlying districts, in police actions that are better suited to counterinsurgency operations.Peshawar anti-terrorist police units have killed 88 suspected militants in the last four months, cracking down on the kidnapping and general lawlessness that were reaching right into the city, a senior police official said, asking not to be named because of the nature of his work.
“It is a manageable problem,” he said, when asked whether Pakistan can contain the militant threat. “It does not take much to dishevel them,” he said.American support has been critical in the improvement of the Frontier Corps and the police are hoping for the same help, he said. “If Uncle Sam shows the same generosity to our force, I don’t see why we cannot be a good supporting force,” he said.He said it was critical to have weapons and equipment that were better than those used by the militants.
“It’s a bad situation, but certainly not a lost situation,” he said. “It’s not false bravado, I have seen the small dent we have made in this area. That has made them more hesitant of operating in this area.”

Aitzaz Ahsan criticizes Darul Qaza

ISLAMABAD: Chairman National Coordination Council (NCC) Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan on Tuesday rejected the establishment of Darul Qaza in Malakand Division and said the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation was a system parallel and independent of the existing judicial hierarchy.

Talking to reporters here at the Supreme Court Aitzaz Ahsan feared the biggest problem with the Nizam-i-Adl regulation was that it could be replicated by militants active in other areas by citing it a precedence to sign an agreement with the government similar to the regulation through coercive means thus resulting in the loss of more territory to them.

‘It is not a well thought out document and even if the president, the parliament or the frontier government had to accept it, they should have ensured stringent conditions that rights guaranteed in the constitution would be honoured at all cost,’ Barrister Ahsan deplored.

Elaborating he said Article 247(4) of the Constitution ensured freedom of movement of women, equality of citizens, banning of any armed militia in any area of the country and the writ of the government and the courts established under the constitution to be honoured. But instead of respecting the constitutional guarantees, the Talibans are blowing up schools, destroying hospitals and usurping the fundamental rights of the people even right to life.

Condition in Swat suggest violation of all constitutional guarantees that has obviated the supervisory role of the superior judiciary, Barrister Ahsan feared adding both Fata and Pata were within Pakistan and people living in these areas were also blessed with all the fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution.

He alleged the judicial void created during the period when former Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar was sitting at the highest pedestal of justice disillusioned the people, thus encouraging the Talibans to expand their influence.

Barrister Ahsan was a bit disappointed with the role of the Parliament and said till now it had failed to come up with the expectations for which the people of Pakistan had elected the parliamentarians.

Though we pray for the strengthening of the institution as the present parliament comprised people of great intellect, we also expect that it would take practical steps through appropriate legislation to put things in the right direction.

He was confident that with the restoration of pre-emergency judiciary and the policies they have devised for the administration of justice confidence among the people on the judiciary would be strengthened that would result in creating conducive investment environment in the country.

‘As the third pillar (judiciary) is standing now with all its dynamism and vitality, the people will soon see marked improvements in the judicial system,’ he said.

He also announced May 12 as a black day but no rallies or boycott would be observed on that day.


The Taliban Tightens Hold In Pakistan's Swat Region

Washington Post Foreign

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 4 -- Taliban forces tightened their grip on Pakistan's Swat region Monday and continued resisting the military's efforts to dislodge them from neighboring Buner, bringing a fragile peace accord closer to collapse and the volatile northwest region nearer to full-fledged conflict.

Yet even as the Taliban continued its rampage and rejected the government's latest concession to its demands -- the appointment of Islamic-law judges in Swat -- Pakistan's military leaders clung to hopes for a nonviolent solution, saying that security forces were "still exercising restraint to honor the peace agreement."

Behind this strained hope for a peaceful solution lie an array of factors -- competing military priorities, reluctance to fight fellow Muslims, lack of strong executive leadership and some internal sympathy for the insurgents -- that analysts say have long prevented the Pakistani army from making a full-fledged assault on violent Islamist groups.

Over the past two days, extremists in the northwest have attacked a military convoy, beheaded two soldiers, imposed a curfew and blown up a boys' high school and a police station. Troop reinforcements were sent into Buner on Monday after heavy fighting, and there were reports that the army would imminently launch an attack on Swat, an action that could coincide with a crucial aid-seeking visit to Washington this week by President Asif Ali Zardari, whose government has been criticized by U.S. officials for capitulating to the insurgents.

In the past five years, the army has made periodic moves against various militant strongholds but has frequently pulled back, often amid public anger over bombing raids. Insurgent leaders hold news conferences and spew religious hatred on FM radio stations with no interference.

Even now, despite a blitz of military operations during the past week and a raft of official statements about defending the writ of the state, analysts said it is doubtful the army has the stomach for a sustained fight against Taliban forces if the peace accord does collapse.

"The militants have resolve, determination, focus and ideology. On the other side, I don't see any of those," said Aftab Khan Sherpao, a former interior minister and a member of Parliament who comes from northwest Pakistan. "The army understands the threat from the militants, but they are more permanently worried about India. They are waiting for civilian leadership and direction, and there isn't any."

Over the next several days, Zardari and a delegation of aides will be in Washington, along with leaders from Afghanistan, to seek aid and antidotes to the rapidly growing regional threat from Islamist insurgents. The Obama administration is eager to help Pakistan -- with military training, equipment and massive quantities of assistance -- but is worried that Zardari's government is not taking the problem seriously enough.

Analysts said that in the past several weeks, the growing defiance and ambitions of the Taliban -- whose forces reached within 60 miles of this capital city when they seized Buner -- have frightened the country and begun to shake its leaders out of their complacency.

"The occupation of Buner did raise alarm bells, and a shift in thinking has started to take place. But I'm not sure it can be sustained," said Talat Masood, a retired general and defense analyst. "People are still confused about whether this is our war or America's war, and nobody in the government is getting out and explaining to them why we should fight it. Nobody has the guts to say that cutting off people's heads is un-Islamic. People don't seem to realize how dangerous Talibanization is for Pakistan. It would destroy us."

Despite the Taliban's record of rapaciousness, it is hard for the Pakistani military establishment, trained to view Hindu-dominated India as its mortal enemy and inculcated with an Islamist mind-set during the military dictatorship of the 1980s, to accept Muslim insurgents as adversaries. Soldiers home on leave have been taunted for fighting their own people; desertions are rising.

The military leadership, headed by Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, has another list of concerns: how to rebuild its reputation after a period of unpopularity under Gen. Pervez Musharraf; how to contain extremist fighters without leaving the Indian border underprotected; and how to handle the fallout from civilian casualties and massive human flight from conflict zones.

There is no doubt that the army, though lacking expertise in counterinsurgency tactics, is equipped to crush the insurgents. But now that Pakistan is under democratic rule, analysts said, the army has no desire to be seen as making policy and is determined to seek civilian cover for its actions.

"The government is trying its best to give time and space to the other side to allow the reconciliation process to reach its logical conclusion," Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the military's spokesman, told a Pakistani news channel. He said that the army's orders were limited to clearing the Taliban from Buner and that if reconciliation fails, "it will be the decision of the government whether to extend operations to Swat."

Abbas referred to the Taliban in noticeably respectful terms, even as he complained that it had killed prisoners whose hands had been tied. His language contrasted sharply with the mocking defiance of recent Taliban pronouncements. In the past two days, Taliban spokesmen have asserted that democracy is "infidel" and that the fighters will never lay down their weapons.

In Swat, meanwhile, Taliban forces were described Monday as preparing for sustained resistance against any attack, taking positions on rooftops in the district capital, hiding in a labyrinth of tunnels in local emerald mines and occupying homes and offices from which thousands of people have fled.

"It is very clear what they want: to turn Pakistan into an Islamic emirate," said Sherpao, the former minister. "They have taken the government for a ride while they are preaching on TV, training boys in camps, imposing curfews and spreading fear across the populace. This is our problem, and if we don't want American troops on our soil, we need to do something about it."

Altaf tells ANP leadership wear bangles, sit in house

LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Quaid, Altaf Hussain has suggested to the entire leaderships of the Awami National Party (ANP) to wear bangles and sit back in heir houses, as ANP failed to take any courageous stand against Sufi Muhammad’s statements and against the Taliban tearing Nizam-e-Adl accord into pieces.

In a statement issued from London, Altaf Hussain said he was telling it so that those upright Pkhtoons feeling deeply shocked and hurt on the cowardly and shameless policies of ANP could distance themselves from it, form a group of their own in a bid to uphold the Bacha Khan’s courageous policies.

The statement said that MQM would not only give all out support to those raising voice for the honour of Pakhtoon nationality, but if needed would give sacrifice of their lives.

Altaf Hussain said that by entering into Nizam-e-Adl agreement with Taliban, ANP leaders have left the Pakhtoon people of Swat, Buner and Dir as well as the oppressed people of the entire province on the mercy of the barbaric Taliban and they on their own enjoying life living in their palatial houses with their families.

Altaf Hussain appealed to the honourable Pakhtoons to form their own groups and raise the flag of ‘Jehad’ for safeguarding the courageous and brave Pakhtoon traditions, as he knows that that the Pakhtoons still today believed in the teachings of Khushhal Khan Khatak, Rahman Baba and Bacha Khan and would not hesitate from any sacrifices for upholding their ideals.

Obama to hold talks on Taliban as deal unravels

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani forces were continuing their assault on the Taliban on Tuesday as the country's leader flew to Washington to discuss strategy against the militant group with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Civilians were ordered to evacuate from areas of the Swat Valley, a signal that Pakistan was preparing to launch a fresh offensive against the Taliban.

For the last two weeks, Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in Buner and Lower Dir, two districts bordering Swat.

Army generals claim to have killed scores of militants. The United Nations estimates more then 50,000 civilians have fled the fighting in Buner, which lies about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the Pakistani capital.

Swat District Coordination Officer Khushal Khan told CNN that a curfew was being lifted on Tuesday in the district capital of Mingora to allow residents to leave the area, adding that "there will be no time after that.

The government has also announced a ban on the use of motorcycles in the area in northwest Pakistan. Taliban fighters often travel around the region on motorcycles.

The order was made the day before Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were due to meet Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a series of tri-lateral meetings aimed at coordinating strategy in the region.

Pakistan's assault began after Taliban militants seized territory in violation of a deal, criticized by the United States, that allowed the Taliban to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in exchange for an end to fighting.

The Pakistani government has been criticized for not cracking down on militants along its border with Afghanistan. The militant activity in the border region has led the U.S. military to carry out its own airstrikes against militant targets in Pakistan. However those strikes have rankled relations between the two countries.

Pakistan has asked the United States to supply its forces with helicopters, communication equipment and night-vision technology as part of a U.S. plan to beef up the country's counterterrorism efforts.

Obama told reporters last week that he was "gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan."

Speaking at a news conference capping his 100th day in office, Obama said the United States has "huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable" and doesn't end up a "nuclear-armed militant state."

Pentagon leaders have warned that the militants posed an "existential threat" to the Pakistani state while Clinton has described the situation as a "mortal danger" to global security. She also pressed the Pakistani military, which has received more than $10 billion in U.S. aid over the past decade, to do more against the Taliban.

"We're wondering why they don't just get out there and deal with these people," Clinton said. "If you lose soldiers trying to retake part of your own country, it seems to me, that's the army's mission."

On Monday U.S. senators introduced legislation tripling aid to the country, authorizing $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years to foster economic growth and development, and another $7.5 billion for the following five years.

Pakistan persists with nuclear as extremists circle

PAKISTAN is expanding its nuclear bomb-making facilities despite growing international concern that advancing Islamist extremists could overrun its atomic weapons plants or seize sufficient radioactive material to make a dirty bomb, US nuclear experts and former officials say.

David Albright, a former senior weapons inspector for the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency in Iraq, said commercial satellite photos showed two plutonium-producing reactors were nearing completion at Khushab, about 260 kilometres south-west of Islamabad.

"In the current climate, with Pakistan's leadership under duress from daily acts of violence by insurgent Taliban forces and organised political opposition, the security of any nuclear material produced in these reactors is in question," Mr Albright said in a report issued by the independent Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

"Current US policy, focused primarily on shoring up Pakistan's resources for fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, has had the unfortunate effect of turning the US into more of a concerned bystander of Pakistan's expansion of its ability to produce nuclear weapons," he said in the report, co-authored with Paul Brannan.

The Khushab reactors are situated on the border of Punjab and North-West Frontier province, the scene of heavy fighting between Taliban and government forces. Another allegedly vulnerable facility is the Gadwal uranium enrichment plant, less than 96 kilometres south of Buner district, where some of the fiercest clashes have taken place in recent days.

Uncertainty has long surrounded Pakistan's nuclear stockpile. The country is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or the comprehensive test ban treaty.

Nor has it submitted its nuclear facilities to international inspection since joining the nuclear club in 1998, when it detonated five nuclear devices. It is estimated to have about 200 atomic bombs.

US Administration officials would not say whether the issue of Pakistan's nuclear security would be raised during the first scheduled meeting between Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, and Barack Obama in Washington tomorrow.

Mr Zardari heads the country's National Command Authority, the mix of political, military and intelligence leaders responsible for its nuclear arsenal.

But his command and control over the weapons are considered tenuous at best; that power lies primarily in the hands of the army chief-of-staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former director of Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's intelligence agency.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, told Congress recently that Pakistan had dispersed its nuclear warheads across the country to improve security. But several US officials said they were worried that if the weapons were moved, an insider could tip off insurgents.

However, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, dismissed the warnings, saying: "The spectre of extremist Taliban taking over a nuclear-armed Pakistan is not only a gross exaggeration, it could also lead to misguided policy prescriptions from Pakistan's allies."

Swat residents asked to leave homes

MINGORA :Authorities has urged people on Tuesday in the Swat Valley's main town to leave their homes for safer places as security forces could soon launch an offensive against Taliban militants there.

A February peace pact aimed at ending Taliban violence in the Swat valley northwest of the capital has all but collapsed as the government comes under US pressure to get tough with the militants rather than appease them.

President Asif Ali Zardari is due to meet US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington on Wednesday for talks on the growing militant threat in the region.

Militants had infiltrated into five districts of Mingora, the main town in Swat, and begun attacking security forces and government installations, said the top government official in the valley, Khushal Khan Khattak.

"We have relaxed the curfew today and asked residents to leave their areas because security forces may engage militants and we want to avoid civilian casualties," Khattak told Reuters.

Increasing violence and the spread of the Taliban have raised alarm in the United States about the ability of the country, whose help is vital in efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, to stand up to the militants.

Residents of Mingora said militants had surrounded a paramilitary force base at a power station in the town and others had taken up positions on buildings and were patrolling streets.


Khattak declined to comment on the situation at the base but a senior military official in the region said an operation might be launched to rescue 46 paramilitary soldiers besieged there.

"We're acting with restraint because they're using civilians as a shield but we'll go after them if the situation gets worse," said the military official, who declined to be identified.

NWFP minister says TNSM only wants power

PESHAWAR: The NWFP minister Bashir Bilour has said that TNSM wants its own rule, not Sharia, in Malakand division, DawnNews reported.

Bilour while talking to media in Peshawar said that it is the Security forces which are responsible for the establishment of peace in the region.

He went on to say that Darul Qaza has been established in Malakand Division as per the requirements of Sharia and Nizam-e-Adl, and in accordance with the demands of the TNSM and the people.

According to the minister, it stood to reason that the people who have taken up arms do not want its practical implementation, and wish simply to seize power for themselves.

He says government has fully authorised the security forces to establish its writ in swat and other areas.

Peshawar suicide attack on military convoy kills five

PESHAWAR: At least five people have been killed in a suicide attack on a Frontier Corps convoy in Peshawar.

Twenty-five people including nine security men have also been wounded in the attack that occurred near Bara Qadim police checkpost on the border between Peshawar and the Khyber Agency.

According to police, the suicide attacker rammed his car into a vehicle of the security convoy near a police checkpost. The checkpost and two vehicles were destroyed in the blast.

Nine of the injured are security men, four from the Frontier Corps, three from the Frontier Constabulary and two are policemen.

The injured were taken to Lady Reading Hospital.

Police say about 200 kilograms of explosives was used in the blast that created a huge crater.