Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Clinton urges action to end ME conflict

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carefully recalibrated the administration's statements on Israel in a major foreign policy address Wednesday, stressing the need for greater Palestinian and Arab action on the peace process.

She also toughened US rhetoric toward Iran, warning that the window for engagement "would not remain open indefinitely," and reiterating that Teheran's goal of a nuclear weapon was unacceptable. She referred to a changed situation on the ground that has "shifted" prospects for engagement despite America's continued adherence to that policy.

Clinton, in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke two days after US President Barack Obama assured Jewish leaders in a closed-door meeting that his administration would be taking steps to address the media-driven "misperception" that Israel was the party more at fault for a stalled peace process, primarily because it wasn't completely halting settlement activity.

In discussing the peace process Wednesday, Clinton did not once say that settlement activity needed to stop - a common refrain among senior administration officials in recent weeks - and stressed that the onus for peacemaking lay as much with Arabs and Palestinians as with Israel.

"We have been working with the Israelis to deal with the issue of settlements," she said. "The last few decades, American administrations have held consistent positions on the settlement issue. And while we expect action from Israel, we recognize that these decisions are politically challenging."

"We know that progress toward peace cannot be the responsibility of the United States - or Israel - alone. Ending the conflict requires action on all sides," she said.

Clinton called on the Palestinians to improve their security reform efforts and to act forcefully against incitement. And the Arab states, she said, "have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority with words and deeds, to take steps to improve relations with Israel, and to prepare their publics to embrace peace and accept Israel's place in the region."

Gestures toward Israel, "however modest," could make a difference, she said, and stressed, "We are asking those who embrace the proposals to take meaningful steps now."

She also reiterated US support for the Quartet principles of renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and respect for previous agreements before Hamas could be engaged.

On Syria, however, she said the US was interested in pursuing its engagement efforts in the hopes that "the Syrian conclusion about where they should be positioned with relation to Iran and support for terror activities will be changing." She also said Washington expected the effort "to be reciprocal."

During the hour-long speech and question-and-answer session, Clinton directed some of her harshest words at Iran. She spoke of watching "the energy of Iran's election with great admiration, only to be appalled by the manner in which the government used violence to quell the voices of the Iranian people."

She said the administration, which found those acts "deplorable and unacceptable," didn't harbor "any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic republic will guarantee success of any kind, and the prospects have certainly shifted in the weeks following the election."

But despite changing realities on the ground, as well as assessments about whether engagement could work in the new climate, the secretary of state stressed that America remained committed to the track, at the very least because it gives the US more information and shows the world the nature of the regime. She maintained that she had seen a "turn in attitude" already during her past six months in office.

"Iran does not have a right to nuclear military capacity, and we're determined to prevent that," she said. "But it does have a right to civil nuclear power if it reestablishes the confidence of the international community that it will use its programs exclusively for peaceful purposes.

"The choice is clear. We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely," Clinton warned. She would not elaborate on future steps, but did say that "we obviously have exits along the way depending upon the consequences of the discussions."

"We are hoping to still engage, but the process might be slower," a senior State Department official said following the speech, in addressing questions on the effect the fallout from the disputed Iranian elections had on America's policy of outreach toward Iran

Sikh IDPs offered Rs6m package for returning home

ATTOCK: The Punjab government has approved special relief package of about Rs6 million for the Sikh Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Swat, Malaknad and Buner to facilitate them in returning to their native areas.

The Sikh IDPs had been residing in Gurdawara Punja Sahib Hasanabdal for the last about four months.

The district coordination officer (DCO) Capt (Rtd) Saqib Zafar told Dawn on Wednesday that the chief minister Punjab Mian Shehbaz Shairf has approved the special relief package of about Rs6 million on the demand of Sikh IDPs.

Under this package, Rs10,000 will be given to each family along with a dinner set and traveling bags, he explained.

He said that total about 3,000 Sikh IDPs (450 families) had been shifted at Gurdawara Punja Sahib, out of them, 350 families were registered after proper verification.

He said that as per Punjab government approval, financial assistance of Rs 10,000 would be given only to registered Sikh families, whereas dinner set and traveling bags would be given to the all Sikh families.

Moreover, the Punjab government had also provided free wheat flour (Atta) to the Sikh IDPs besides provision of relief goods to them time to time by the district administration, he maintained.

While Auqaf department with the coordination of NGOs, World Food Programme fulfilled their daily food requirement in proper way during their stay at the Gurdawara Punja Sahib, he maintained.

United Nation's probe team in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: An advance team of the UN commission to probe into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination arrived here on Wednesday.The members of the team — Boonrod Tanarak, Pitak Isan and R. Pothathong — were received at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport by senior officials of interior ministry and the Foreign Office.Senior members of the inquiry commission, Chile’s permanent representative to the UN Heraldo Munoz, Marzuki Darusman and Peter Fitzgerald, will arrive on Thursday. The members of the commission were expected to be in the country until July 19, a source said.

Afghan TV channel set to launch bureau in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: The provincial capital – as in the 1980s during Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan – continues to attract the Afghan media, with a second Kabul-based TV channel scheduled to launch a bureau in Peshawar, said sources on Wednesday.

“Lemar TV – a subsidiary of Kabul-based Tolo TV – is making arrangements to set up a bureau in Peshawar, and the management of the channel is negotiating with local journalists to hire their services,” the sources told Daily Times. Shamshad TV was the first Afghan TV channel to set up a bureau in Peshawar.

The ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001 allowed independent TV channels to begin operations in Kabul for the first time in the country’s history, and – according to Afghan journalists – 14 satellite-based TV channels are already operational. The sources said in light of the large number of Afghan refugees, the Afghan media was focussing on Pakistan to boost revenue and increase viewership.

“This is good news that another Afghan TV channel is launching operations in Peshawar,” said Janullah Hashimzada, who works for Shamshad TV at the Peshawar bureau.

“Bureaus of Afghan TV channels in Peshawar would also help strengthen bonds between media workers of the two countries … we hope Pakistani channels will also follow in our footsteps,” said Hashimzada. No Pakistani TV channel has yet opened a bureau in Kabul, nor hired a local Afghan journalist to cover events in neighbouring Afghanistan.

“Kabul is quite expensive these days, and a war story from Afghanistan is not as important now as it was in the 1908s … the same story is now emanating from within Pakistan,” said Jamshed Baghwan, bureau chief of Express News TV.

However, he did say that Pakistani channels should launch operations in Kabul to let viewers in Pakistan know about Kabul’s attitude towards their country.

Pakistani army operation goes on in Swat as IDPs return in full swing

ISLAMABAD-- Pakistan's security forces continued Wednesday the search and clearance operations in Swat and Malakand, while the pace of repatriation process of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country's northwest is getting momentum.

According to a press release, the security forces killed 28 terrorists, including a most wanted terrorist leader of Peochar Abu Laith, while conducting operations in Swat. A terrorist commander Ismail, resident of village Goal Sakhra, voluntarily surrendered himself to security forces through local nazim.

The security forces, the statement said, continued relief activities, as 150,969 cash cards have been distributed amongst the IDPs of Malakand.

At least 677 vehicles carried 2,296 families and 122 trucks moved to Malakand and as many as 30 civil trucks were provided by security forces to civil fruit vendors for transportation of fruits from Khawazakhela of Swat.

Meanwhile, 181 more displaced families comprising 869 individuals left for their hometowns in Buner and Swat from two relief camps in Swabi under the government's arrangement.

The IDPs of Malakand have lauded the efforts of the government and the whole nation for support during their displacement.

The government has made tough security arrangements for the families during their moving from camps to their hometowns.

However, the affected people in Kund park protested against nonprovision of relief goods to them by the government. This camp is housing 6,500 affectees of Swat, Dir, Buner and Malakand.

Peshawar city govt presents Rs8.33bn budget

PESHAWAR: The Peshawar City District Government on Tuesday presented over Rs8.339 billion budget for the year 2009-10, showing a surplus of over Rs20.65 million.

Total expenditure, including development and non-development, has been estimated at Rs8.312 billion while the district revenue was forecast at Rs8.339 billion. The budget document showed that Rs4.742 billion had been allocated for overall development schemes in the district compared to Rs3.82 billion in the previous year.

Acting City District Nazim Muhammad Omer Khan presented the fifth and final budget of the current district council at the District Council hall. The federal government had recently announced that district nazims would be replaced soon by administrators across the country. Some of important projects targeted in the budget included improvement of schools condition for which Rs50.58 million has been earmarked.

For provision of better health facilities and medicines, Rs20.14 million has been allocated. Last year, the sum allocated for health was Rs40.66 million, showing Rs20 million less allocation for this important sector in the current fiscal. For providing clean drinking water to villages of the district, Rs10.1 million has been allocated; construction of a bus terminal Rs10 million; solid waste unit Rs10 million; fire brigade, sports, civil defence and natural calamities Rs10 million; Special Development Programme (through district nazim fund) Rs20 million and establishment of a Crisis Management Centre Rs10.2 million.

In the previous year’s budget, Rs20.32 million had been earmarked for establishment of the same centre. City District Nazim Muhammad Omer Khan, in his budget speech, dilated upon the development schemes that have been completed or on the verge of completion. He regretted that for district Peshawar the amount allocated in last year’s federal budget had not been released, nor had the district received any special grant from the federal government in the last four years.

Last year, the predecessor of Omer Khan also complained about the non-provision of funds allocated for the district in the federal government budget.

He appealed to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to announce a grant for the scheme of clean drinking water from Warsak Dam to Peshawar. Former district nazim Ghulam Ali, in his last year’s budget speech, had also appealed for the same but the federal government did not pay any heed to his requests. He informed the house that the provincial government had deducted Rs30.72 million as Town-I arrears, while Rs20.34 million had been deducted for the rent of Peshawar Bus terminal.

Omer Khan said the city district government had made a record increase of 41 per cent in their revenue. He told the council that fruitful talks were held with donors regarding various mega projects in the city, including fly-over, underpasses and clean water supply scheme.

“If the district government gets the required funds, work will start on the projects,” he said. Though the district government has presented a surplus budget, the sweepers, tube-well operators and other employees of Town-I always protested against delay in payment of their salaries. Later, the convener, Razaullah Khan, adjourned the council till Thursday.

Violence in Pakistan's Swat as displaced head home

PESHAWAR, Pakistan— Pakistani troops killed six militants in the Swat valley, where the government has bussed home thousands of civilians displaced by a military offensive, officials said.
Pakistan says the pace of returns to the northwest district has quickened this week but fresh violence is likely to exacerbate fears about security after two months of fierce fighting between government forces and Taliban militants.
"Six militants were killed when troops retaliated and returned fire after a rebel attack on an army checkpost in Kabal town on Tuesday night," a military official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A senior police official in Swat confirmed the incident in the northern part of the valley, once dubbed the Switzerland of Pakistan for its pristine mountain resorts but since overrun by a Taliban insurgency.
On Tuesday, the military reported killings in Swat for the first time in days, announcing that nine militants were shot dead in the last 24 hours.
Last week, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said it was safe to start sending home nearly two million people displaced by the conflict and that the military had "eliminated" the extremists.
The army launched its offensive under heavy US pressure in late April in Buner and Lower Dir districts, before besieging militants in neighbouring Swat, where the Taliban focused its two-year rebellion to enforce sharia law.
Officials said about 2,300 displaced families have so far returned to Swat and Buner since the government-organised returns process began Monday.
"A total of 1,534 families returned to Swat while 757 families headed back to Buner since the repatriation of displaced persons started," a spokesman for the government aid effort, Lieutenant Colonel Waseem Shahid, told AFP.
Azam Khan, a government emergency relief official, confirmed the same statistics but said it was difficult to calculate a precise number of people who have returned to hometowns, largely in southern Swat.
"However, we can say there are approximately eight to 10 people in a single family, living in the camps," Khan told AFP.
Pakistan says more than 1,700 militants and around 160 security personnel were killed in operations to crush the Taliban in northwest districts since late April, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.
The government says it has worked hard to restore electricity and running water in main towns since the fighting but analysts warn that much needs to be done to sustain the returnees particularly with Taliban leaders still at large.
In a video posted on jihadi web forums, Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri purportedly urged Pakistanis to support insurgents in their battle against a US-led "crusade" which he said threatened the country's existence.
In an English-language video called "My Muslim Brothers and Sisters in Pakistan," he said US intervention in Pakistan's military and politics could break up the nuclear-armed nation, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
In Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, two policemen were killed and five wounded in a bomb blast in the town of Bannu on Wednesday, police said.
Islamist militants bitterly opposed to the government's alliance with the United States, whose troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan, carry out daily attacks on security forces in the northwest.