Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Terror threats continue to scare Peshawarites

PESHAWAR: The provincial capital was literally sealed due to terror threats on Wednesday, with the authorities checking every vehicle entering the urban areas and low flights of military helicopters in the city limits further scaring Peshawarites.

A mysterious loud explosion was heard in the morning in Phandu Road area after which the entire city police and rescuers rushed to the spot. However, nobody could confirm any blast.
With announcing closure of all the government and private educational institutions in Peshawar and neighbouring towns last month to avoid terror incidents, the University of Peshawar, NWFP Engineering University, Khyber Medical University and NWFP Agriculture University have also been closed for summer vacation well before schedule for security reasons.

Offices and shops in the Deans Plaza, the gigantic building hosting several hundred outlets, were closed after bombing threat on Tuesday and also remained closed on Wednesday. People avoided bringing cars on roads and preferred to take a cab after nobody was allowed to park car at the roadside in Saddar.

NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour Wednesday visited Qissa Khwani and other adjoining areas to boost morale of the public struck by the wave of violence in the recent past. “I am here in public to boost up their morale. I strongly believe that the day I am supposed to be in grave, I cannot spend at home,” opined the ANP leader, who escaped two suicide attacks.

Once known as the city of flowers, Peshawar is being considered “the line of fire” after initiation of military operation in Swat, tribal areas and settled districts of the NWFP. The prevailing situation reminds of the song of popular Pashto singer Gulzar Alam: ‘Ma darta tol umar da guloono khar wayalay day.... Kala mi perzo shey pa bamoono Pekhawara’ (I have always called you the city of flowers, how can I see you being bombed now).

Not only Geo Television frequently telecast the song but it could also be heard while travelling in public transport as well as in private cars and at public spots. Another song, ‘Pa Pekhawar ke parhar ma jorawa’, is also gaining popularity, which also signifies love for the capital city. So many other national songs are also getting popular with people.

Though Peshawar has been facing violence since long, the situation is alarming since May 11. Terrorists have struck for seven times in the city since the military operation was launched in Swat, resulting in the killing of around 50 people and injuring over 300 others.

The security arrangements, especially the unnecessary imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC, have multiplying sufferings of the motorists and other people. Nevertheless, the government and its law-enforcement agencies are struggling against the powerful gangs of kidnappers, as the menace became order of the day, licensed pistols are not being allowed to the public for their personal security.

“I have never carried a pistol and I will never do so if the government promises me that I will not be kidnapped,” remarked Javed Khan, who suffered for long at the barricade in front of PIA building for having a licensed pistol. He added that the Section 144 should prohibit brandishing of weapons but the policemen even pulled out his pistol from the dashboard of the car.

Obama starts Mideast tour in Saudi Arabia, 'where Islam began'

From the Los Angeles Times
The president is set to address Muslims in a Cairo speech Thursday. Meanwhile, an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden assails the president over Pakistan fighting.
By Christi Parsons and Mark Silva
Reporting from Washington and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — President Obama landed today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which he saluted as "the place where Islam began," for the start of a long-planned trip intended to improve the tattered U.S. relationship with the Muslim world.

The centerpiece of the president's trip will be a speech Thursday in Cairo, billed as an address to Muslims, in which, advisors say, Obama will transmit a message based on shared roots, common experience and mutual respect.

Yet, even as he landed, the Arab-language Al Jazeera satellite television station was airing an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden accusing President Obama of inflaming hatred with stepped-up U.S. and Pakistani assaults against militants inside Pakistan.

The president was holding private meetings today with King Abdullah on Mideast peace negotiations, regional security and energy issues, with a planned overnight stay at the king's ranch outside Riyadh.

"I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek his majesty's counsel and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East," Obama said before a private meeting with the king. "I am confident that working together the United States and Saudi Arabia can make progress on a whole host of issues and mutual interests."

Abdullah, speaking through a translator, said: "The historic and strategic ties between our two countries . . . go back to the time of the meeting between the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the late King Abdul-Aziz." He voiced goodwill toward "the friendly American people who are represented by a distinguished man who deserves to be in this position."

Thursday's address from Cairo University, which will be televised and distributed at websites in an attempt to reach the broadest possible international audience, marks a formal attempt by the president to reengage the United States with the leaders and people of Muslim nations, many alienated by the past administration's prosecution of the war in Iraq and its practices in the detainment, treatment and interrogation of suspected terrorists in the region and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the same time, the White House readily concedes that no single address can cause a sea change in U.S. relations with those living in Muslim nations and territories, where, polling shows, a majority hold a dim view of the American administration, particularly in the Palestinian territories.

"The president has always looked at this as a process, not as a single point in time," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said on the eve of the president's journey. "If you look at the efforts that the administration has undertaken thus far in terms of outreach -- whether it's in interviews, whether it's speeches, the speech in Turkey -- this is about resetting our relationship with the Muslim world. . . . I think you'll hear the president say we don't expect that everything will change after one speech. I think it will take a sustained effort, and that's what the president is in for."

But the aim of the president's previous tour of Turkey, the Cairo address and continuing diplomatic initiatives in the region is clear, the White House spokesman says:

"What is important is that we demonstrate that the United States wants to pursue a different relationship and ensure that Muslims around the world understand the message of the United States: That we share common hopes and dreams and that we can work together to fulfill those hopes and dreams . . . separating that from the extremism and extremists that wish to do us harm."

Following a red-carpeted arrival ceremony with the king at the royal airport terminal, Obama traveled by motorcade to the farm outside Riyadh where Abdullah keeps a stable of more than 100 stallions. He was scheduled to spend the night there.

Arriving at the king's ranch, Obama was greeted by Saudi guards astride horses. Inside a palatial meeting room, the king and president sat side by side in armchairs beneath a portrait of King Abdul Aziz al Saud. In chairs lining the walls, a long row of Saudi ministers in white robes sat opposite their American counterparts.

Saudi Arabia is a key part of Obama's plan for Mideast peace. The White House has been pressuring Israel to give ground on the volatile issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, planning to use that to coax concessions from moderate Arab states.

Progress on Mideast peace talks, in turn, is crucial to Obama's goal of improving U.S. standing among Muslims. The American image has been tarnished by the invasion of Iraq and U.S. detainee policies but also has suffered from perceptions that U.S. administrations unquestioningly back Israeli interests against Palestinians.

Obama has altered U.S. policy on Iraq and detention practices, and now wants to show progress on Mideast peace.

Obama last week called the speech in Cairo an opportunity to deliver a "broader message about how the United States can change for the better" its relationship with the Muslim world.

"That will require, I think, a recognition on both the part of the United States as well as many majority-Muslim countries about each other, a better sense of understanding and the possibilities of achieving common ground," he said.

Polls in Arab nations show that approval of the U.S. leadership, though still generally low, has risen in Egypt and seven other countries since Obama took office.

Obama's address at Cairo University will be jointly hosted by Al Azhar University, an ancient center of Islamic scholarship. He plans to recognize contributions of Middle Eastern scholars to science, mathematics and technology and cite the millions of Muslims who live and practice their faith in the U.S. He also will address the subject of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

From Cairo, Obama plans to travel to Europe for events and appearances commemorating Allied efforts in World War II. The president will visit the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, in Germany, and mark the 65th anniversary of the allied landing at Normandy, France.

U.S. nationals asked not to visit Pakistan's Peshawar

ISLAMABAD-- The United States embassy in Islamabad asked its nationals and officers in Pakistan not to visit the northwestern's Peshawar city in the next 24 hours due to security concerns, a U.S. embassy notification said on Tuesday. The U.S. nationals were also asked to avoid visiting public places and that they should not inform anyone about their routes, according to private Geo TV channel. The U.S. embassy asked its nationals to take steps for their security. They were also asked to keep their documents all the time. Security forces are fighting militants in the northwestern partof the country and Taliban earlier warned that they would carry out attacks in some major cities.

U.S. criticizes Pakistan for release of militant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday strongly criticized the release by a Pakistani court of the founder of a militant group accused of being behind the attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai last year.

On Tuesday, a Pakistani high court ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which angered India as well as the United States. At least 166 people were killed in the attacks on India's financial hub.

Washington is worried about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan, which faces a growing Taliban insurgency, and it wants action against such militants to help defeat al Qaeda and disrupt support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"In the aftermath of the November Mumbai attacks we made very clear that there is an international responsibility to cooperate and to bring the perpetrators to justice and that Pakistan has a special responsibility to do so, transparently, fully and urgently," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

"Pakistan has said it is committed to fighting terrorism, understood the urgency and had promised strong action against those responsible," he told Reuters.

India has charged 38 people -- most residents of Pakistan -- in connection with the three-day attack, in which police say gunmen landed in Mumbai by boat from Pakistan and then rampaged through several of the city's landmarks including the main train station, two luxury hotels and a Jewish center.

Wood said the United States did not yet know details of the court's decision and was seeking more information.

Saeed was put under house arrest in early December after a U.N. Security Council committee added him and the Islamist charity he heads to a list of people and organizations linked to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

"We continue to impress upon the government of Pakistan the importance of bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice," said Wood.

"We encourage the prosecution of those already in custody and further investigations to develop evidence to prosecute all those responsible for acts of terrorism," Wood added.


Pakistan expert Bruce Riedel, who oversaw the Obama administration's overhaul of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy earlier this year, said Saeed's release indicated a lack of commitment in fighting extremism by the close U.S. ally.

"There is no question that it (Lashkar-e-Taiba) planned, orchestrated -- down to the minute -- the mayhem and murder that happened in Mumbai," said Riedel, with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"Letting this guy go is a signal that the Pakistanis are not serious about the most important terrorist organization in their country," added Riedel, a former CIA analyst.

The Obama administration has said repeatedly Pakistan's government must do more to fight extremism that is spilling over into Afghanistan, linking U.S. assistance to fulfilling that commitment.

Riedel questioned whether the Pakistani military's offensive in the Swat valley against the Taliban was really a "sea change" or just what he described as a half-hearted attempt to stamp out militants.

"It all comes down to the (Pakistani) army and whether they are serious. The evidence there remains very mixed," he said.

Riedel said he expected U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, would deliver a tough message during his visit this week to Pakistan.

"I think that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will be one of tough love in which we are constantly pushing them to do more. There is no other alternative."

Obama to reach out to Muslim world with Mideast trip

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Obama will arrive in Saudi Arabia Wednesday, his first stop on a Middle East trip that will include a major speech intended to repair a damaged U.S. image.The president will deliver the widely-anticipated address in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday in hopes of reaching out to Muslims and begin a dialogue.
"I think what is important is that we demonstrate that the United States wants to pursue a different relationship and ensure that Muslims around the world understand the message of the United States," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday. "We have more in common than we have disagreement about, and I think that's what he wants to ensure that the vast majority of the Muslim world hears."

Mamoun Fandy, a Mideast expert, said Muslims want more than talk; they want action.
They want to hear "that he is very serious about solving the Israeli-Arabian problem, that he is very serious about engaging the Muslim world on the basis of recognizing the equality," Fandy said.The Arab-Israeli conflict is the most important, most intractable problem in the Muslim world. On Tuesday, Gibbs was quick to tamp down expectations of how much the president can accomplish with one speech.
"I think you'll hear the president say, we don't expect that everything will change after one speech," Gibbs said. " I think it will take a sustained effort and that's what the president is in for." iReport: Are you concerned about the way Muslims have been portrayed in recent years?In recent days, the president has been getting tough on Israel, pushing a two-state solution in meetings with a resistant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.The solution aims to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing an independent Palestinian state peacefully co-existing with Israel.
"Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that's part of a new dialogue that I'd like to see encouraged in the region."After Egypt, Obama will visit Germany and then France for a D-Day commemoration ceremony.

Security forces cleared Pir Baba area

PESHAWAR :Security forces have cleared the area of Pir Baba in Buner as a delegation of NWFP government visited Buner.

The delegation comprised of President Awami National Party (ANP) Afrasiyab Khatak, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak whereas IGP NWFP Malik Naveed, Interior Secretary Fayyaz Turo, MPA from NWFP Syed Raheem and MPA Qaiser Wali Khan were also accompanied the delegation.

The delegation visited Sawari Bazar in Buner and exchanged views with local residents. They also visited Pir Baba to pay homage and laid chadar.

ANP president on this occasion said government has designed an interim plan for the return of army after restoration of peace and police and FC would be deployed in place of army. He said peace will be restored in Swat within two weeks and in Malakand division soon.

Earlier, talking to media, Incharge Buner operation Brigadier Fayyaz said forces have completely cleared the Pir Baba area during which local residents extended their full support to security forces