Sunday, June 28, 2009

Peshawarites yearn for peace

PESHAWAR: Residents of the provincial capital are uncertain whether normalcy will return to their town after having faced the brunt of militancy in the entire Pakhtun belt.

“Will peace return to our land? When will this situation end? Who is really behind the current state of affairs?” are some of the questions asked in every hujra, mosque, office and other places.

People of the Frontier and Fata have suffered a lot over the last fours. Thousands of families lost their loved ones, innumerable got handicapped and property worth billions of rupees was destroyed.

Extraordinary security measures have been taken in the wake of 18 terrorist attacks in Peshawar since May 8, for-cing residents to avoid public places. One can see a number of vehicles waiting for long to be cleared at the almost 20 entry-points to the city. Road barricades, search of vehicles and the ban on carrying even licensed arms for self-defence has added to the miseries of the already scared public.

The entire police force was kept on its toes during the recent NWFP budget session. This was necessary because terrorists were keen to hit high-value targets. The authorities had to close Peshawar International Airport following threats to commercial flights by Darra Adamkhel-based militants. It led to cancellation of flights for over 24 hours. The death and injuries to PIA crew staying at the Pearl-Continental Hotel, Peshawar in the suicide bombing also scared the management and the pilots from flying to the city.

There were reports of firing shots at a PIA plane soon after it took off from the Peshawar Airport. However, the SSP Coordination Peshawar, Qazi Jamilur Rahman, denied any such incident.The closure of the only international airport in the NWFP evoked criticism.

Many Peshawarites believed the diversion of flights from the city to the federal capital had tarnished Peshawar’s image. “Better security measures should have been taken instead of closing the airport,” said Haji Rahmat, a resident of Peshawar.

There was the fear that Taliban would attack more sensitive buildings, which led to an hour-long firing outside the residence of the corps commander Peshawar and the residence of commandant FC, so far occupied by the IG, Frontier Police. The firing started after some suspicious movement was seen there. Insecurity, coupled with uncertainty, reigned Peshawar and most of the towns of Fata and Frontier.

Power crisis makes people’s lives miserable

PESHAWAR: The power crisis still looms large on the national horizons, as the prolonged periods of power outages have afflicted people with no saviour in sight. People of Peshawar are facing long hours of unannounced loadshedding apart from time to time power breakdowns. Even after the announcement by PESCO that there would not be more than three hours of loadshedding, most areas of the city are facing eight to ten hours of loadshedding. In Peshawar as well, the load shedding durations in civic areas are eight to ten hours and in rural areas ten to 12 hours, worsening the water issue in the city. The power outages are causing the domestic electric gadgets to go out of order. In some areas due to the over-load the power breakdown at regular intervals is being witnessed on daily basis. People especially children and elderly are the being badly affected due to the situation as the mercury level is increasing with each passing day. There were reports of protests in different parts of the city against PESCO authorities but it seems as there is no effect of these protests as people are witnessing sleepless nights. Similarly, the business has been badly affected by the power outage. The ongoing electricity crisis has worsened across the country as the power shortfall has crossed 3500 megawatt.

52 arrested in major search operation

PESHAWAR :The City Police on Sunday apprehended 52 suspects and dozens others outlaws involved in drugs trafficking during a massive search operation in Peshawar city and Cantonment areas, police said. On the special directives of the Additional IGP Siffat Ghayoor, the a special team of the City Police headed by SSP Operation Abdul Ghafoor Afridi carried out a massive search operation against the outlaws across Peshawar city and cantonment areas. During the search operation, which initiated early morning, continued till late night in which heavy contingents of the police took part and raids were made at various places. The police during the grand operation, arrested 52 suspects and dozens of other offenders involved in drug smuggling. The police also recovered 13 pistols, hundreds of bullets, 8 Kg charas, 1 Kg opium and 10 bottles of liquor from the detainees.

Americans Want Sotomayor on Court
A sizable majority of Americans want the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and most call her "about right" ideologically, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Senate hearings on Sotomayor, President Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter, begin in two weeks, and 62 percent of those polled support her elevation to the court. Sotomayor, 55, is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York.

If confirmed, Sotomayor would become only the third female justice and the second on the current nine-member court. But there is no gender gap in support for her, with men and women about equally likely to be on her side.

Partisan differences, however, abound. Nearly eight in 10 Democrats and about two-thirds of independents said they want the Senate to confirm Sotomayor, but that drops to 36 percent of Republicans. Overall, most Republicans deem the judge a "more liberal" nominee than they would have liked.

But Obama's nominee also divides Republicans: While conservative Republicans are broadly opposed, most Republicans who describe themselves as moderate or liberal support her. More than seven in 10 conservative Republicans said she is too liberal, which is more than double the proportion of centrist or left-leaning Republicans who say so.

Some opposition to her, however, comes from the other side, as about one in five of those who want the Senate to reject her see her as insufficiently liberal.

Overall, 55 percent of Americans said Sotomayor is about right on a liberal-to-conservative scale. About a quarter said she is a more liberal nominee than they would have liked, about the same proportion who called Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. too conservative when President George W. Bush nominated them.

This year, abortion politics again represent a deep dividing line in public attitudes, with about three-quarters of those who are pro-choice in all or most cases behind Sotomayor, compared with less than half of those who favor greater restrictions.

The majority of Americans who want the court to retain the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade has remained remarkably steady over the years, and currently six in 10 Americans would want the new justice to vote to uphold it.

This issue also exposes fissures in the GOP: Most Republican men would want Sotomayor to vote to overturn Roe, while Republican women split about evenly on the question.

Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic justice, and her speeches about how her life experiences and her close-knit Puerto Rican family in the Bronx have shaped her view of the judiciary have become somewhat controversial. Critics have seized on a passage in a 2001 speech she gave on separating personal views from an objective reading of the law: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

But most Americans do not think her life experiences influence the way she decides cases: Fifty-nine percent said the fact that she is a women does not factor in, and 52 percent said the same about her racial and ethnic background.

Among the 33 percent who said her gender plays a role, more than twice as many say that is a good thing than a bad thing. The groups most apt to call her gender a factor are those with a postgraduate education and liberal Democrats, and they overwhelmingly approve. Here, too, is no gender gap in attitudes.

On race and ethnicity, however, some groups tip the other way: Half of Republican men and 59 percent of conservative Republicans said these play a role in her decision making, with most of those who do saying that that is a bad thing.

The telephone poll was conducted June 18 to 21, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

War on terror in last phase: PM

LAHORE: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani Sunday said the whole nation has come to a consensus conclusion that this is time for the final decision, not for the negotiations with the extremists, adding the rule of constitution would be established in the country.

Addressing the media outside Jamia Naeemia after offering condolences to the bereaved family of Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, Prime Minister Gilani said on Sunday all anti-Pakistan elements are terrorists and they have no religion, belief and geographic boundaries.

Earlier, he offered Fateha at the grave of Dr Sarfaraz Naeemi Shaheed in Jamia Naeemia here. The PM said “In my view, those elements, who are against Pakistan, are terrorists,”

The Prime Minister said people of NWFP and FATA are patriots and our brethren, who not only played important role in Pakistan Movement by supporting Quaid‑e‑Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but are now striving hard for the integrity of the country.

To a question about Maulana Fazl‑ur‑Rehman’s statement on dialogue with Taliban, he said that Maulana is coalition partner of the government, but it can be his personal views. However, entire nation wanted peace by eliminating terrorists once and forever, he added.

He said, Pakistan Army is taking decisive action against terrorists in FATA and other tense areas, as this is not the time for dialogue with terrorists and extremists.

The army operation is not a conventional war but a guerrilla fight, he said and added “Our army is fighting very efficiently against the coward people, who strike through ambushes and these anti‑social and anti‑Pakistan elements work on foreign agendas”.

The Prime Minister also paid rich homage to Army Jawans, civilians and children martyred during the military offensive against the extremists.

To another question, he said that division of a province is a constitutional matter and those aspiring for it, can raise this issue through parliament or at the platform of their respective parties.

To a question, he said all provinces including Punjab would get their water share under Indus River System Authority (IRSA) in line the Water Apportionment Accord 1991.

About the issue of revocation of 17th Amendment, he said that it was Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed’s commitment which manifested in the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed by her and former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. While, in his address to the joint sitting of the parliament, the President Asif Ali Zardari had twice reaffirmed his resolve to implement the CoD, he added.

All the parliamentary parties have been given due representation in the house committee, constituted to settle this issue, he added.

Gilani said that PPP’s manifesto is to revive the 1973 Constitution, given by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

To a question, the Prime Minister said that he had already announced a Civil Award for Dr. Sarfaraz Naeemi, who sacrificed his life to end terrorism and extremism.

Earlier talking to Ulema at the Jamia, the Prime Minister termed Naeemi’s martyrdom a great tragedy for the nation.

He said the Ulema had played prominent role in Pakistan’s formation, and now they also have to come forward to brave the challenge of terrorism to save Pakistan. The terrorists have no link with the true message of Islam, which advocates love, harmony, tolerance, fraternity and peace.

Federal Social Welfare Minister Samina Khalid Ghurki, Punjab Senior Minister Raja Riaz Ahmed, Provincial IT Minister Farooq Yousaf Ghurki, Qasim Zia and Haji Azizur Rehman Chan were also present.

Several feared dead as Jets hit many houses, militant compounds in Wana

Pakistani aircraft bombed Taliban on Sunday in their bastion of South Waziristan on the Afghan border after the militants attacked two military camps, killing two soldiers, officials and residents said. The military, near the end of an offensive in the northwestern Swat Valley after two months of fighting, is preparing to launch a new drive in South Waziristan, where Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud is based. The decision to go on the attack against the militants came after Taliban gains raised fears of the militants gradually taking over more of the country and even posing a risk to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. The campaign has broad public support and has also won the praise of close ally the United States, which needs Pakistan to go after the militants as it tries to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan. Sunday's air strikes were on two villages in Laddah district, a Mehsud stronghold, and two militant compounds were destroyed, said a government official and residents. "It was a heavy bombing. Two militant compounds and several houses have been completely destroyed. We're trying to get casualty figures," said the government official in South Waziristan's main town of Wana. The official declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media about military operations. The air strikes came after militants attacked an army and a paramilitary camp, both east of Wana, on Saturday night, killing two soldiers and wounding four, said the official. The government has said Mehsud, who carries a $5 million U.S. reward on his head, and his force of thousands of followers must be defeated. Mehsud, who security analysts say has become increasingly close to al Qaeda, has been accused of a string of attacks in Pakistani towns and cities including the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud is allied with Afghan Taliban fighters but they tend to concentrate on attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to force them to leave and they are not the focus of the Pakistani offensive. South Waziristan resident Ahmadullah Mehsud said the home of a Taliban commander came under attack on Sunday but he did not know whether the commander was there at the time. Most civilians have fled the area in fear of the looming military assault. According to military estimates, 45,000 people have been displaced from South Waziristan. Nearly 2 million people have fled from fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest since late last year but aid workers are not expecting a huge exodus from South Waziristan as the population there is relatively small. Also, many people have winter homes on the low-land to the east and traditionally migrate to higher-altitude South Waziristan with their flocks for summer grazing. High civilian casualties in the fighting would raise the risk of an erosion of public support for the offensive.

Iran detains British embassy staff

Iranian authorities have detained eight employees of the British embassy in Tehran, accusing them of involvement in post-election unrest in the Islamic Republic, the semi-official Fars news agency has reported."Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody," Fars said on Sunday, without giving a source."This group played an active role in provoking recent unrest."Iran has accused Western powers - mainly Britain and the US - of inciting street protests and violence that rocked the country after its disputed June 12 presidential election.Britain has rejected the accusations.

Hariri designated as Lebanon PM

Saad Hariri has been asked to form a new Lebanese government after garnering the support of 86 members of the 128-seat body, officials say.
Michel Sleiman, the Lebanese president, issued a decree appointing Hariri prime minister-designate after meeting him at the presidential palace in Beirut on Saturday."According to the constitution and after the president consulted with the speaker of parliament and parliamentarians, he summoned Saad Hariri and tasked him with forming a new government," a presidential statement said.
Hariri entered politics in 2005 after the assassination of his father, Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister.
He led his Western-backed March 14 alliance to victory in parliamentary elections on June 7, winning 71 seats to keep control of the legislature from a rival bloc including Hezbollah, a political group backed by Iran and Syria, which enjoys strong support among Shia Muslims.
"We hope to have a harmonious government that will respresent the interests of all Lebanese people," Hariri said after meeting Sleiman.
He pledged to protect the interest of all Lebanese, including those who voted for the opposition alliance.

Courting support
Hariri, a Sunni, had courted support from both sides of Lebanon's political divide in recent days, supporting Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal, another party with a Shia Muslim base, for re-election as speaker and meeting Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader.However, only 15 of the opposition alliance's 57 MPs backed Hariri when asked by Sleiman.Members of this bloc are likely to be asked to join a national unity government, but Hezbollah has previously demanded a minority veto, which Hariri has repeatedly refused.
"We will begin consultations with all parliamentary blocs," Hariri said on Saturday.

Abbas Hashem, an MP from the Change and Reform opposition bloc of Michel Aoun, told Al Jazeera that they would not join the government if they "did not have the power to make decisions".

"We are not going to be in partnership without a certain kind of power," he said. "I am sure that Saad Hariri will be will be able to provide the opposition with the opportunity ... at least to be a partner in unity."

But Mohammed Qabbani, an MP from Hariri's Future bloc, told Al Jazeera that the new prime minister-designate would not accept any call for an opposition veto in the cabinet.

"What the new prime minister wants is a national unity government, but he also wants to stick to the constitution and will not accept conditions like vetos," he said.

"We have tried this formula in the present government and it was paralysed."

Political bargaining

Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, told al Jazeera that there was now likely to be a lot of bargaining while the rival political blocs resolve two major issues.

"One is the apportionment of seats in the cabinet between the various groups in the country, the government majority, the opposition minority and the independent group that would be headed by the president," he said.

"The challenges that face Lebanon are real and huge, but the chances that have been given to us are bigger than that"

"The other is the substantive issues that they have to agree on in the cabinet - internal issues, regional issues, international issues, political economic and military issues."

Khouri said that for the first time in many years Lebanon appeared to have a functioning political system that everyone seemed interested in seeing succeed.
"You have a legitimate prime minister with a majority that was elected ... you have a president that has credibility, support and is widely respected, and you have an opposition that is prepared to play the democratic game," he said.

Speaking on Saturday, Hariri said that Lebanon faced sizeable challenges in bringing togther the country's various groups and addressing the economic situation.

"The challenges that face Lebanon are real and huge, but the chances that have been given to us are bigger than that," he said.

Tensions between supporters of the two blocs threatened to boil over into a civil war last year as Hezbollah fighters and their allies routed their rivals in Beirut and the mountains to the east.

A Qatari-sponsored deal in May 2008 defused the crisis, but sectarian tensions rose again in the run-up to the election.

Competing influences

Hariri has twice passed on the chance of becoming prime minister, preferring to giving the post to his father's senior aide, Fouad Siniora, to avoid some of the political tension and direct challenge that Hezbollah posed at the time.

Hariri was raised in Saudi Arabia and is seen by some in Lebanon as a symbol of Riyadh's influence in the region, which is rivalled by Damascus.

"The designation of Hariri is not separate from the continued deliberations between Syria and Saudi Arabia over the future political power-sharing in Lebanon," Lamis Andoni, Al Jazeera's Middle East analyst, said.

"It is clear that Saudi Arabia has secured implicit Syrian support for Hariri's designation.

"This is an important message to Hezbollah and its allies who have to rely more on their local power than on the support of Damascus and Tehran."