Sunday, August 2, 2009

Britain's drug fighting role in Afghanistan a 'poisoned chalice', say MPs
In a damning report, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee concludes that the conflict has delivered "much less than promised" and that the effort of British troops is being "significantly diluted" by lack of coherent vision and strategy.
"The UK deployment to Helmand was been undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and crucially, a failure to provide the military with clear direction," the report concludes. It demands that the Government urgently issue a statement setting out what lessons have been learned from "the mistakes made by the international community over the last seven years".
The report from the Labour dominated committee will intensify the row about the future of Britain's role in Afghanistan, which has concentrated so far on concerns over lack of equipment, but which now shifts to a much wider set of concerns.
MPs blamed "mission creep" for considerably expanding the UK's role in the conflict to include the task of being the lead force on counter-narcotics operations. In accepting this role, the committee said, "the UK has taken on a poisoned chalice".
Since the first British troops were deployed there in 2001, the UK has moved from its initial goal of supporting the US in countering international terrorism, into the realms of counter-insurgency, protection of human rights and state building.
"During our visit we were struck by the sheer magnitude of the task confronting the UK," MPs on the committee said. "We conclude that there has been significant 'mission creep' in the British deployment to Afghanistan, and that this has resulted in the British government being now committed to a wide range of objectives."
The report disputes ministers' claims that the operation to stop heroin production in Afghanistan has benefits for Britain by restricting the flow of drugs to the West. "The Government's assessment that the drugs trade in Afghanistan is a strategic threat to the UK which, in part, merits the UK's continued military presence in Afghanistan, is debatable."
Moreover, it says there is "little evidence" that recent reductions in poppy cultivation are the result of policies adopted by the UK. It calls on the Government to relinquish the role of lead partner nation on counter-narcotics to the UN and refocus its efforts on driving forward diplomatic efforts.
Other failures of the Coalition singled out by the report include a failure to create an "effective formal justice system". It says there has been "virtually no progress" in tackling the endemic problem of corruption in Afghanistan and that "in many cases the problem has actually become worse. " The recent attempt by the Afghan government to impose a Shia law which would have legalised rape within marriage highlighted how fragile human rights were in the country eight years after the end of Taliban rule.
The future of Nato had also been called into doubt by the conflict as some allies had shirked their share of the burden. "Without a more equitable distribution of responsibility and risk, Nato's effort will be further inhibited and its reputation as a military alliance... seriously damaged," it said.
In a scathing set of conclusions which will intensify debate about the future of Britain's deployment, MPs said: "We conclude that the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001 has delivered much less than it promised and that its impact has been significantly diluted by the absence of a unified vision and strategy, grounded in the realities of Afghanistan's history, culture and politics.
"Avoidable mistakes, including knee-jerk responses now make the task of stabilising the country considerably more difficult." It urges the Government to make a statement redefining its aims and says that a negotiated Afghan-led political settlement with broad popular support represented "the only realistic option for long term security and stability". However while the security situation remained unstable, MPs accepted the current increased deployment was a "necessary prerequisite to any long term political settlement".

Negligence of officials blamed for Gojra riots

TOBA TEK SINGH: As the death toll in violence against the Christian community rose to seven, relatives of the victims blocked the Multan-Faisalabad section of the railway track for over six hours on Sunday by placing on the track the coffins of the people killed in Gojra on Saturday.

They protested against attacks on their houses and burning alive of seven members of their community by a mob.

Rangers patrolled the area as shops and businesses remained closed.

Violence had broken out in a Gojra village on Thursday after an alleged incident of desecration of the Holy Quran during a wedding ceremony.

The incident triggered two days of violence in which a mob torched a large number of houses, burning seven people alive.

On Sunday, talks were held between representatives of the protesters and Federal Textile Minister Rana Muhammad Farooq, Minorities’ Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and provincial ministers Kamran Michael, Haji Muhammad Ishaq, Raja Riaz Ahmad and Dost Muhammad Khosa to persuade leaders of the Christian community to end their protest.

During the talks, local leaders of the community said they would end their protest only after names of the DPO and DCO were included in the FIR of the case.

Addressing the protesters, Pakistan Minorities Democratic Alliance president Atif Jamil Pagaan accused some of their leaders of betraying the community. A group of youths jeered at Faisalabad’s Bishop Joseph Coute when he was addressing the protesters at the railway track.

The provincial in-charge of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Mahboob Ahmad Khan, Labour Party leader Tariq Mahmood and dozens of rights activists from Lahore, including Nadeem Anthony, Waliur Rehman, Munawar Shahid, Iftikhar Butt and Atif Nadeem, were present during the protest.

The protesters ended the blockade of the track only when provincial minister Kamran Michael showed them a copy of an FIR naming the DCO and DPO (for negligence), 15 other people and 800 unidentified people for being involved in the killing of their men and damaging their property.

Later, final rites of the seven deceased were performed in a church on Samundri Road and the bodies were laid to rest in a local cemetery.

Meanwhile, Gojra city police have arrested more than 65 people for their alleged involvement in the violence.

The arrested men include Qari Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a leader of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.

Police also raided the house of Sipah-i-Sahaba activist Abid Farooqi but he escaped and police took his father and two brothers into custody.

Agencies add: Local administration chief Tahir Hussain told reporters that Rangers had been deployed in the violence-hit areas who had arrested 12 suspects.

Three of the arrested people were from a banned sectarian group, he said.

Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who visited the violence-hit town on Sunday, promised to pay compensation to the affected families.

‘We have identified those who attacked. They are terrorists, these people want to destabilise our country,’ he told reporters.

‘We will give compensation to the victims, we will pay them for all the losses they suffered,’ Mr Sanaullah said.

Local people and officials said the situation on Sunday morning was tense, but there was no unrest.

‘There is too much fear among the Christians,’ said provincial Minister for Minority Affairs Kamran Michael.

‘The situation is tense in the city, but security has been enhanced to keep the situation under control.’

Sohail Iqbal, a cellphone shop owner in the city’s main market, told The Associated Press by phone that there was a heavy police presence in the area.

‘We have opened our shop and others too, but the atmosphere is grim and tense,’ he said.

Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti said 40 Christian homes had been torched on Saturday by the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba group, which is accused of attacking security forces and of staging bombings at public places in recent years. He said there was no truth to allegations that the Holy Quran had been defiled and accused the police of ignoring his appeal to provide protection to Christians under threat.

In a statement released on Sunday, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini denounced the violence against Christians as ‘a very grave and unjustifiable attack against human rights and in particular against the inalienable right to religious freedom’.

Punjab's Village of Gojra.... Fear and dread

No member of any religious or ethnic minority anywhere in the country will be feeling safe and secure today. Members of the Christian minority will be feeling particularly threatened as the details of the events at Gojra on Friday and Saturday last emerge. Seven people, possibly more, have been burned alive in their houses. As of Sunday afternoon the number of injured has risen to over 70. Almost a hundred houses have been damaged in the Christian colony. TV channels showed live pictures of wanton destruction and of a police force that beyond lobbing a few tear-gas shells at nobody in particular, was interested only in containing and not quelling the riot. The disturbances broke out after several religious parties held a public meeting to protest against an alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. Local Christians were said to be the desecrators and as has now become the norm their property was attacked, their churches desecrated, their lives and livelihoods destroyed. Unusually, the Christians fought back, and there was an exchange of fire between the attackers and their intended victims; perhaps an indication that a community which is generally peaceable and unarmed is arming itself for protection. The attack was led by masked men said to be members of a banned religious organisation who had reportedly entered the town from nearby Jhang. The violence had subsided by Sunday morning and an uneasy calm prevailed with Rangers holding the perimeter.

Ours is an intolerant society, and we are particularly intolerant of those whose faith is not Muslim. Intolerance is not only interfaith, as within the Muslim majority there are deeply-ingrained intolerances that manifest themselves as sectarian violence. There are those who are well aware of the fragility of the relationship between the faith-groups; and will do all they can to exploit it in the hope of furthering their own aims of destabilising the state and challenging its writ. Today it is the turn of the Christians to see their community laid waste and terrorised all for the sake of trumped-up allegations of blasphemy. This was proven by a statement of the Punjab law minister who said on Sunday that a preliminary investigation had shown that no incident of blasphemy had taken place. While a few weeks ago it was the turn of the Sikhs who fled the Taliban in Orakzai — some families who remained were held hostage by the Taliban while a couple of the male members were told to arrange for payment of the ‘jiziya’ that the local Taliban had levied on them. The Kalash, the tiniest of our minorities, live under constant threat by those demanding their conversion. The substantial Hindu minority of south Punjab go in fear of their lives as do those who live in Sindh where kidnapping of Hindus in recent months has intensified. Ministers and government officials and representatives of minority organisations have all converged on Gojra, promises of compensation have been made, and attempts to cool things down are in full swing. Sadly, this will be largely for naught. The only way to change this tendency towards mindless persecution is to change the message that goes into the minds of those that perpetrate it. We need to be hearing words of conciliation and fraternity from our mosques. It is our religious leaders who are our primary influence, and it is to them that we must look to douse the fires of intolerance and hatred. Would they? Do they have that within them? Or is inclusivity and tolerance beyond those who lead our prayers?

Fear and shame of Gojra

After a week of simmering Muslim-Christian dispute over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in tehsil Gojra in Toba Tek Singh district in Punjab, violence has broken out simply because the local administration ignored orders from Lahore to control the situation. The Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, has suspended the persons responsible for letting this very familiar type of incident get out of hand. Seven Christians have been burnt alive and their houses torched. There may be more casualties.

As usual a “banned organisation” — Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti says it was Sipah Sahaba — came in from outside the town and took over and used acid and petrol bombs to destroy property and kill Christian women and children, while the local government and police simply did nothing. The federal government has taken serious note by sending in the Rangers and the Punjab government has ordered an inquiry into what really transpired. Compensation for the destroyed property has already been announced.

There is a pattern of violence against Christians in Punjab that cannot be ignored. First of all, let us ask why it happens mainly in Punjab? Some facts are illustrative. The Christians of Pakistan are the largest religious minority in Pakistan. The total number of Christians in Pakistan was at least 2 million in 2008, or 1.1 percent of the population. An examination of birth records yields a total number of Christians at 2.8 million. More than 90 percent of the country’s Christians reside in Punjab, making them the largest religious minority in the province. And 60 percent of them live in the villages, and in most cases are more indigenous to their areas than the Muslims.

Charges of blasphemy and desecration of the Quran are “used” against them, but the latter is used against them collectively, followed by organised dispossession and destruction of property. In 1997, the twin villages of Shantinagar-Tibba Colony 12 kilometres east of Khanewal, Multan Division, were looted and burnt by 20,000 Muslim citizens and 500 policemen acting together after an incident of alleged desecration of the Quran was reported. The police first evacuated the Christian population of 15,000, then helped the raiders use battle-field explosives to blow up their houses and property. Sipah Sahaba was also blamed by the Christians for that holocaust.

In 2005, the Christian community of Sangla Hill in Nankana district in Punjab experienced a most hair-raising day of violence and vandalism. After allegations of desecration of the Quran, a mob of 3,000 led by the local elected politician and police burnt down three churches, a missionary-run school, two hostels and several houses belonging to the Christian community. Lahore’s archbishop stated that the attackers had been brought there by buses from outside. The Punjab government once again acted quickly to compensate for the neglect and complicity of the local administration, but was prevented from proceeding fairly by a renowned Sunni cleric of Lahore who took his own lashkar of youths to “defend” the Muslims in Sangla Hill. Ironically, he has since fallen to a suicide-bomber of the Taliban.

These were big incidents that not only shook Pakistan but the world too. The Archbishop of Canterbury, already expressing sympathy with Pakistan after the earthquake in Azad Kashmir, was forced to say after Sangla that Pakistan was in the process of redefining who could be its citizens. Smaller incidents of persecution of the Christians have never stopped, but Gojra tells us that holocausts can repeat themselves as civic virtue declines in Pakistan under the influence of extremism.

We don’t know whom the laws of blasphemy and desecration were supposed to target, but their intent was to stop the crime mentioned in them. Tragically, blasphemy cases have proliferated after the promulgation of the blasphemy law, and action taken against the accused is not by the state but by the vigilantes the state cannot control. Section 295-B Defiling of copy of the holy Quran says: “Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or an extract therefrom, or uses it in a derogatory manner or any unlawful purpose, shall be punishable with imprisonment for life”. But the punishment has been inflicted without trial on people who had nothing to do with it.

These are signals of doom. And the crime is being committed by the non-state actors that were once considered “assets” of the military-state. Their dominance in Punjab is well established and their control over local population to the detriment of local administration is also well known. The laws mean nothing under these circumstances.

Israel Evicts Palestinians From Homes

JERUSALEM — Israeli security forces evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem early Sunday after the families lost a long legal battle to remain in the contested properties, furthering a plan for Jewish settlement in the predominantly Arab area. The move, days after senior American officials visited Jerusalem to press for a settlement freeze, prompted sharp international criticism.

Later Sunday, the Israeli police said they had evidence to support indicting Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on charges including taking bribes, laundering money and committing fraud.

Mr. Lieberman, who denied wrongdoing, has been the subject of various police investigations for 13 years. The police said they had passed their conclusions to the attorney general, who will decide whether to press charges. If Mr. Lieberman is indicted, he would be forced to resign.

Mr. Lieberman has become increasingly powerful in recent years as the leader of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, an important partner in the governing coalition. He has gained some notoriety at home and abroad, particularly for the contentious positions he has taken on Israel’s Arab citizens.

Responding to the police announcement, Mr. Lieberman said he was the victim of police persecution. “As much as my political strength and the strength of Yisrael Beiteinu rise,” he said in a statement, so the police campaign “intensifies.”

In East Jerusalem, the evictions stemmed from a drawn-out legal dispute over the ownership of a site in the wealthy Sheik Jarrah neighborhood, near the Old City. But the sensitive location of the neighborhood and competing Israeli and Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem make nearly every move on the ground politically charged. As soon as the Palestinians had been forcibly removed from the houses, Jewish nationalists moved in, witnesses said.

Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, but the Palestinians now demand that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future state for them. Continued Jewish settlement, especially in the heart of Arab neighborhoods, is seen by the Palestinians and many countries and international groups as anticipating a result of negotiations over the future status of the city and strengthening Israel’s hold on it.

Police cordoned off the road leading to the disputed houses, stopping journalists from reaching them. Orthodox Jews were allowed through to visit a nearby site believed by Jews to be the ancient tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, or Simeon the Just, a Jewish high priest.

Nasser Ghawi, one of the evicted Palestinians, said his family had been living in its house for 53 years before the Israelis broke down the doors. Maher Hanoun, the head of the other evicted family, was out on the street like Mr. Ghawi.

“I do not need a tent or rice,” Mr. Hanoun said. “What I need is to return to my house where I and my children were born.”

Thirty-eight members of the Ghawi family were removed from six apartments that made up one of the houses. There are 17 people in the Hanoun family.

The houses were built in the 1950s by a United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees when the area was under Jordanian control. Jordan gave the families ownership of the houses but had not formally registered the buildings in their names by the time the 1967 war broke out, according to the families’ attorney, Hosni Abu Hussein.

In the early 1970s, a Jewish association claimed ownership of the land around the tomb based on property deeds from Ottoman times. At first the Palestinian families agreed to pay rent to the association to continue living there as protected tenants. Mr. Abu Hussein said they stopped paying when he discovered that the Jewish property deeds had been forged.

Eviction orders were issued, though the authenticity of the property deeds is still debated in Israeli courts.

Robert H. Serry, the United Nations special Middle East coordinator, who visited the Hanoun home in the spring, said in a statement that he deplored the evictions, which he described as “totally unacceptable actions by Israel.”

The British Consulate, in Sheik Jarrah, said in a statement that its officials were “appalled” by the evictions.

In a visit in March, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned against threatened evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem.

Countering criticism of another Jewish building project planned for Sheik Jarrah, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said recently that Jerusalem residents had the right to live anywhere in the city and that Israel’s sovereignty over the capital “cannot be challenged.”

Separately, in Tel Aviv, the police continued hunting for a gunman who fled a gay community center after killing 2 Israelis and wounding at least 10 others on Saturday night. The shock over the attack was felt far beyond the gay community, jolting a society that largely values tolerance and has hardly been exposed to the specter of hate crimes.

Both Mr. Netanyahu and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, strongly condemned the attack.

Tensions grow in Afghanistan as villagers get rid of opium, fall into poverty
SHAHRAN, Afghanistan— For as long as anyone can remember, there was no need for paper money in this remote corner of the Hindu Kush. The common currency was what grew in everyone's backyard — opium.

When children felt like buying candy, they ran into their father's fields and returned with a few grams of opium folded inside a leaf. Their mothers collected it in plastic bags, trading 18 grams for a meter of fabric or two liters of cooking oil. Even a visit to the barbershop could be settled in opium.

But the economy of this village sputtered to a halt last year when the government began aggressively enforcing a ban on opium production. Villagers were not allowed to plant their only cash crop. Now shops are empty and farmers are in debt, as entire communities spiral into poverty.

Opium is one of the biggest problems facing this troubled country, because it is deeply woven into the fabric of daily life as well as into the economics of insurgency. Afghanistan supplies 93 percent of the world's opium, and it is one of the main sources of funding for the growing Taliban movement.

Yet the government ban on opium is working at best unevenly. In areas of the country under Taliban control, opium production is going strong. In government-held areas such as Shahran, it has gone down drastically, but at the cost of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people. Their anger is imperiling government support in one of the few areas of the country that has resisted the Taliban's advance.

"Now we don't even have 10 Afghanis ($0.25) to give our children to buy bubble gum," says opium farmer Abdul Hay. "Before they would go into the field and collect the money themselves."

Two years ago, opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, grew on nearly half a million acres in Afghanistan. The harvest was worth about $4 billion, or equal to nearly half the country's GDP in 2007. As much as a tenth — almost half a billion dollars — went to local strongmen, including the Taliban, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Under intense international pressure, the government redoubled its effort to crack down on opium farmers. By last year, the number of acres planted with poppy had dropped by a fifth, yet the Taliban's finances remained largely untouched. Ninety-eight percent of Afghanistan's opium is now grown in just seven of the country's 34 provinces — all areas under partial or total Taliban control.

Opium was so entrenched in Badakshan province, where Shahran is located, that it is said Marco Polo sampled it when he passed through in the 13th century. Until recently, the sloping mountain faces were awash with pink, purple and magenta poppies, nodding in the wind. But in the past year, poppy production has gone down 95 percent.

The villagers here held a meeting and decided two years ago not to plant opium, after government radio messages warned that poppy fields would be destroyed and opium growers jailed. Posters distributed throughout the area showed a man with his hands bound by the stem of the opium poppy.

The villagers say they did as the government told them, and planted their fields with wheat, barley, mustard and melons. But these crops need more care than the tough opium poppy, which will bloom with little water or fertilizer.

Most of the wheat fields yielded little because the farmers couldn't afford to fertilize the land. Even where yields were decent, farmers say they could have earned between two and 10 times more by planting the same land with opium.

"See this mustard? It can take care of my family for one month," says 25-year-old farmer Abdul Saboor, pulling up a shoot of the green plant and snapping it open with his teeth. "When we planted opium in this same plot, it took care of all our expenses for an entire year."

The hole in the economy is swallowing up the community, from the farmer to the turbaned shopkeepers whose scales used for weighing opium now sit idle.

Every month, shopkeeper Abdul Ahmed used to bring $20,000 worth of goods to sell in the bazaar. It's been four months since his last truckload, and he has only sold $1,000. Ahmed is one of 40 traders left; there used to be 400.

"We open in the morning and go back at night. No money comes in. No one buys anything," says Ahmed. "There is no money left in this village. Opium is the only income we had."

Villagers say desperation is pushing hundreds to immigrate to neighboring Iran, where they work as day laborers. Farmers throughout the region are also sinking deeply into debt. They borrow money to buy staples such as rice and oil, which they used to buy with opium. They also take loans to buy seeds and fertilizer and to rent donkeys to take the wheat to market — an expense opium did not bring because all the local shops accepted it as legal tender.

On a hill flanking the highway in Argu District, a four-hour drive southeast of here, a thin farmer is bent over cutting wheat with a hand-held sickle. Abdul Mahin says he is several hundred dollars in debt to the man who sold him fertilizer.

"If we plant two bags of wheat, then we'll have just enough money to buy the seeds to plant another two bags of wheat," says the gray-bearded farmer. "We're going backwards. Of course we're angry at the government."

A small number of farmers in other towns are planting opium despite the ban. Most are seeing their fields destroyed, as government agents intensify patrols.

Farmer Abdulhamid, 55, says he has only rain-fed land, and none of it is irrigated. So he can't grow wheat and barley with much success. Unless the government helps, he says, he will have to plant opium again.

"We are getting poorer day by day," says Abdulhamid, in the village of Pengani. "What should I do? Kill my children so that I don't have to feed them?"

When farmers were asked to stop planting, they were promised help from the government. Badakshan is set to receive $1,000 for each hectare (roughly 2½ acres) of land freed of poppies — some $10 million this year. It's being used to build three clinics and three schools, pave a major road and rebuild six fallen bridges.

Farmers say a distant clinic or bridge is not going to feed their children. But counternarcotics experts and government officials respond that the opium ban is necessary.

"These poor farmers are going to get stepped on and get hurt in this effort," says former Drug Enforcement Agency official Doug Wankel, who organized the U.S. counternarcotics effort here in 2003. "But it's a pain that has to be endured for the good of the masses."

"In the U.S. and the U.K., when people do an illegal activity, the police stops them, right? This is an illegal act, so we need to stop it in order to enforce the rule of law," says Zalmai Afzali, a spokesman for the Ministry of Counternarcotics. He also notes the link to the insurgency: "I try to explain to the farmer that cultivates poppy that he is buying a coffin for his child."

Yet the poverty created by getting rid of opium may be stoking terrorism. Nangahar — which became poppy free last year and is held up as an example of government control — has seen a rapid increase in extremism, according to a field study by David Mansfield, counternarcotics consultant for the U.N. and the World Bank.

By April last year, the province rescinded agreements to limit the movement of anti-government groups on its border with Pakistan. By July, these groups were believed to have set up bases in four districts next to Pakistan. By September, they were attacking government buildings. And by October, there were Taliban checkpoints.

Also, the crackdown in the country's far north is unlikely to stop the flow of opium and money to the Taliban in the south. In Zabul — the home province of Taliban spiritual chief Mullah Omar — poppy production grew by 45 percent last year.

Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, grew so much opium last year that if it was a separate country, it would rank as the world's top opium producer, according to Gretchen Peters, author of "Seeds of Terror," on how the Taliban is bankrolling itself through drug smuggling. Peters says the Taliban's video messages now talk about securing smuggling routes and protecting poppy plantations.

Poppy fields in Taliban areas are so dangerous that eradication teams comb them for bombs before trying to destroy them. Last year 78 government agents were killed trying to destroy fields in the south. By contrast, the worst they faced in Badakshan was crying farmers.

Zainuddin, the head security officer for Darayim district in Badakshan, says he feels awful every time he uproots a poppy field.

"Sometimes I cry as I am hitting the poppies," says Zainuddin, who like many Afghans goes by a single name. "Because I know these are poor people and I am taking away the only thing they have."

Over the past month, dozens of fields have been destroyed in the mountains of Badakshan. Nasrullah, a 35-year-old farmer, planted three small plots of white-and-violet poppies inside a hill of wheat, hoping the taller crop would hide the illegal blossoms.

He stood in silence on a recent morning as nine police officers crossed a small gulch and climbed the hill. They assaulted his crop, hitting the flowers with long sticks until they fell to the ground. He put his face in his hands.

"I didn't plant this for my own pleasure," he says. "I planted this so that my family could eat. All the rest of this is worth nothing," he says, waving at the wheat. "The choice I have to make now is either kill myself. Or leave the country."

Saudi Arabia Throws Cold Water on Obama’s Peace Plan

Saudi Arabia has thoroughly rejected appeals by U.S. President Barack Obama that the Arab world make modest gestures to Israel to show it is interested in advancing a regional peace that would include the establishment of a Palestinian Authority state within Israel’s current borders.

"The question is not what the Arab world will offer," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. "The question really is: What will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive offer?"

The Saudi rebuff, which also ignored an appeal by more than 200 members of Congress for “gestures” towards Israel, leaves President Obama with little room for maneuvering after his two-month-old demand that Israel freeze all building for Jews in eastern Jerusalem as well as in Judea and Samaria fell on deaf ears in Israel. American media and the Jewish community increasingly have criticized President Obama for going too far in trying to pressure Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and a close ally of the United States.

Prince Saud sidestepped a question from a reporter who asked what Saudi Arabia would do if Israel were to agree to a freeze on building, as the U.S. has demanded. He charged that Israel is "trying to distract attention from the core issue" of creating a new PA state.

“This is not the way to peace," he said, warning that Israel may face a future of more “instability and violence."

He reiterated demands for a “comprehensive approach.” which would include full acceptance of the Saudi Arabia 2002 initiative. It calls for Israel to surrender all of the land restored to the Jewish state in the Six-Day War in 1967, including the Old City in Jerusalem and several residential neighborhoods in the capital that are home to approximately 300,000 Jews. The plan also demands that Israel allow the immigration of five million foreign Arabs who claim to have ancestry in Israel.

Israel for the past several years has continually granted concessions to the PA while allowing the U.S. to change its Roadmap peace plan and skip over steps for an interim PA state, pending moves to halt violent and incitement.

Reporters covering the State Department have noted that the U.S. in effect has been a proxy negotiator for the PA over a future state. In an attempt to change the focus from Israel to the PA, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said at the Friday news briefing in Washington that the PA has a “responsibility to promote the peace process and return to negotiation.”

Following recent comments by American officials that indicated a more moderate tone towards Israel, Crowley added, “There’s this perception that we’re leaning in one direction and not others. We’re leaning in all directions.” One reporter drew laughter from colleagues when he responded, “Is that physically possible?”

Obama officials eye more jobless aid, weigh taxes

WASHINGTON - Top U.S. officials said on Sunday it may be necessary to extend jobless benefits to firm up an economic recovery unlikely to create jobs until next year and declined to rule out future tax increases to tame massive budget deficits.

Although output in the U.S. economy will begin to turn positive in the second half of this year, job growth will take longer, U.S. President Barack Obama's top economic officials told Sunday morning talk shows.

"Historically, increased hiring typically lags increases in output, so it's going to take time before you see it ... in the employment statistics," White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers told NBC's "Meet the Press."

The New York Times reported on Sunday that up to 1.5 million Americans will exhaust their unemployment benefits in coming months, pushing more into home foreclosures and destitution.

Summers and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Obama administration would work with Congress on ways to extend unemployment benefits later this year.

"We'll do what's necessary to make appropriate unemployment benefits available," said Summers, adding that this has helped maintain consumer spending.

They can likely count on some Republican support for the move. Sen Jim DeMint, a Republican from recession-wracked South Carolina, told "Fox News Sunday" he would "definitely support" extension of aid to the unemployed.


But overall, the administration's stimulus spending and health care reform plans have run into a chorus of criticism from Republicans, who charge the government is running up a national debt that could smother the economy in the next decade.

"We have put trillions of additional debt on future generations of Americans," said Republican Sen. John McCain.

"In the words of the Congressional Budget Office and others, it is 'unsustainable.'"

Geithner and Summers sought to blunt these concerns on Sunday, saying the government needed to show the will to slash deficits. They declined to rule out future tax increases to accomplish that.

"We have to bring them down to a level where the amount we're borrowing from the world is stable at a reasonable level," Geithner said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"And that's going to require some very hard choices. And we're going to have to do that in a way that does not add unfairly to the burdens that the average American already faces."

Geithner left unclear whether Obama would be willing to set aside his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 a year. "We can't make these judgments yet about exactly what it's going to take and how we're going to get there," he said.

Summers later said Geithner was not laying the groundwork for tax increases, and added that none of the White House proposals would burden the middle class.

"It's never a good idea to absolutely rule things out no matter what, but what the president has been completely clear on is this: That he is not going to pursue any of his priorities, not health care, not energy -- nothing -- in ways that are primarily burdening middle-class families," Summers told CBS' "Face the Nation."

The officials' emphasis on deficit reduction came a week after Chinese officials at economic talks in Washington stressed the need to pursue deficit reduction. China holds over $800 billion in U.S. Treasury debt and over $2 trillion in total U.S. securities.


The U.S. officials took a guarded view of U.S. recovery prospects, particularly on the job front. Christina Romer, who leads the White House Council of Economic Advisers, put it most starkly on CNN.

"I do absolutely think that we can probably see some positive GDP growth (by Christmas). It will be a while after that before we see employment actually going up."

Asked if the United States needed a second fiscal stimulus program, Summers said the Obama administration was focused on executing the $787 billion spending plan passed in February. But he said there could be adjustments to the program, such as extending the "cash for clunkers" car rebate offer.

"As you go into 2010, we can't just limp out of this thing," said Romer. "We need to be growing robustly to make sure that the unemployment rate comes down."

Russia pushes for CAsia energy projects

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday pushed for energy and transportation projects-in which Russia is likely to lead the way-to boost economic development in Afghanistan and surrounding countries.Meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, Medevdev called building energy infrastructure a vital prerequisite for prosperity."Energy projects are what really help governments that need to strengthen their economy," he said. "Assistance must not just be a one-off, it should be aimed toward the future."

9 NATO troops killed in weekend fighting

At least six NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan Saturday, and three more died on Sunday -- a bloody start to August after a record number of troops were killed in July.

Sunday's three dead were Americans killed in the eastern part of the nation by improvised explosives and small arms fire in battle, according to a spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.Two ISAF soldiers died in an explosion in Kandahar province Saturday, she added. Their nationalities have not yet been released, but next of kin have been informed, NATO said.Three Americans were killed by explosives in Kandahar province the same day, and a French soldier was killed in battle in Kapisa province."Yesterday was a very tough day for ISAF," said Brigadier-General Eric Tremblay, an ISAF spokesperson.At least 75 NATO troops died in Afghanistan in July, and the total number of British dead in Afghanistan topped the United Kingdom death toll in Iraq.

Pakistan's hands-on general

Lt. General Nadeem Ahmad, the man in charge of bring normal life back to areas of Pakistan.Gen. Nadeem Ahmad swirls the helicopter over Pakistan's ground zero. Below is the Swat Valley of North West Frontier Province. From the air, the valley in the foothills of the Hindu Kush looks undisturbed. Green fields amid clusters of drab houses.

A closer look at Swat reveals how well the Pakistani Army fared in its military campaign to wipe out the militants.

The cost of success: massive destruction that is sure to hamper the lives of already suffering residents just starting to trickle back to the homes they fled.

A few months ago, ferocious battles between Pakistan's Army and Taliban fighters erupted here -- in Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts. War's remnants serve as a constant reminder. A destroyed bridge. Pockmarked houses. Hotels that look like they've been abandoned for years.

Nadeem maneuvers the chopper to circle Mingora, the largest city in the Swat Valley. From the hilltop Army sentry posts that come into view, soldiers survey the ground below, hard won from Taliban fighters.

The militants, Nadeem says, have fled to nearby mountains.

On the ground, he shows off a cache of weapons seized in the fighting. The soldiers are keen to boast their victory.

Mingora remains on high alert. A curfew has been lifted for morning hours, although soldiers keep close watch on those who venture out.

The city's pain is plainly evident on its scarred, deserted streets. Many shops are shuttered or destroyed. Watch Stan Grant tour the shattered streets of Mingora »

The United Nations estimates that 375,000 Swat Valley residents fled their homes during the fighting. In all, 2.5 million Pakistanis were displaced in what was said to be one of the largest human migrations in recent history.
About 260,000 people have been living in 21 refugee camps in neighboring Mardan, Swabi, Nowshera, Peshawar and Charssada districts, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees say the "vast majority" of internally displaced Pakistanis have been staying with host families, rented houses or in schools.

The government plans to return people first from the camps and then focus on those living elsewhere.

But this week, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that as many as 1 million people could remain displaced until December because of the widespread destruction in their home towns, such as Mingora.

Relief agencies have reported dire humanitarian conditions in Mingora: hospitals without electricity that are inundated with patients, an erratic supply of water and natural gas. One resident, who identified himself only as Abdullah, told CNN that returning people are facing shortages in food, water and basic supplies for survival.

Some displaced families also expressed concerns about schooling for their children, reported the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the U.N. news agency focusing on humanitarian issues.

Louis-Georges Arsenault, emergency office director for UNICEF, said 1 million children were at risk of not starting school by September, mainly due to the Taliban's widespread destruction of schools and that 4,000 existing schools continue to shelter displaced people.

Businessman Muhammad Khan, 40, who recently returned to Mingora, voiced the despair of returning residents. He told IRIN that "everything is in ruins."

"Everything is in ruins," IRIN quoted Khan as saying. "It will take months for life to return to normality."

But that normality will no longer include the Taliban, Pakistani soldiers say. The fight was hard, but it was victorious, they say. They point to an area in the city where they say the Taliban displayed the bodies of their victims, some beheaded. It became known as "Slaughter Square."

Slaughter Square's name may be outdated for the time being, but residents like Abdullah say it will be a long time before life in Mingora returns to what it once was.

"I don't like army. I don't like Taliban," Abdullah says, standing among the ruins of what used to be a thriving market. "I only want peace."

Kabul rejects claims of anti-Pakistan camps

KABUL: Afghanistan firmly rejected Sunday reported claims by a Pakistani minister that President Hamid Karzai had admitted that ‘terrorist’ training camps in this country were operating against Pakistan.

‘This is absolutely not true. This is baseless,’ Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said at a press conference, also denying that Karzai had further told his ministry to take action against these training grounds.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik reportedly told Pakistan’s GEO TV station that Karzai had made the admission during a meeting in Kabul last month.

Malik was also quoted as saying: ‘Karzai directed his security adviser and interior minister to destroy and close down all training camps working against Pakistan.’

Rejecting this claim, Atmar said the president had rather pledged ‘firm action’ against threats to Pakistan from Afghanistan should he receive evidence.

Atmar also disagreed with the Pakistan minister’s reported claim that 90 per cent of militants arrested in Pakistan were of Afghan origin.

Kabul had ‘strong evidence’ that Afghan as well as Pakistani, Central Asian and Al-Qaeda-linked militants of various nationalities were operating from safe havens across the border, the minister said.

‘It doesn’t really matter which country is the origin of a terrorist,’ he added.

‘What really matters that we must stop the sanctuaries and destroy the training facilities, the financial support network and the system whereby the terrorists are provided with weapons and the (border) crossing points for the terrorists.’

The row threatens to open old wounds between the neighbours about extremist gains in both nations despite international consensus that a joint effort is needed to fight the growing threat.

Afghanistan’s nearly eight-year insurgency is at its deadliest and there are allegations that Pakistan has turned a blind eye to the Islamist militants behind the violence who take shelter across the border.

Islamists in Pakistan have meanwhile made gains over the past year, carrying out major attacks and capturing territory, forcing the government into action.

Police file multiple charges against Terror Czar Sufi Mohammad

ISLAMABAD: Police lodged criminal charges against TNSM chief Sufi Mohammad, a cleric who helped negotiate a peace deal with the Swat valley Taliban, accusing Sunday him of aiding terrorism, sedition and conspiring against the government, police said.

‘We have registered a case of treason, rebellion and terrorism against Sufi Mohammad,’ Swat police chief Sajid Khan Mohmand said by telephone.

He has been charged on the basis of a speech he delivered on April 19, declaring that he does not believe in democracy, the constitution of Pakistan or its judicial and parliamentary system, Mohmand said.

‘A case of waging war and conspiracy against the country has also been registered,’ he said.

Sajid Mohmand, the Swat police chief, said the case against Sufi Mohammad was lodged in a police station in the valley,

Information minister for North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Mian Iftikhar Hussain, earlier said the cleric had killed a lot of people and was planning violence again.

‘His actions so far indicate that he still has close ties to the Taliban of Swat,’ Hussain said last week.

Sajid Mohmand, the Swat police chief, said the case against Sufi Mohammad was lodged in a police station in the valley, where troops still skirmish with militants even though they are winding down an offensive launched three months ago.

Mohammad is to be formally charged by a court, a move expected in the coming days.

The peace deal the cleric helped negotiate imposed Islamic law in the valley, but the pact collapsed in mid-April after Taliban militants infiltrated a district south of Swat, and the military moved back in.

Mohammad, who is also the father-in-law of Swat’s notorious Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, was detained last Sunday near Peshawar.

The case against him could indicate Pakistan is moving away from its past willingness to negotiate with militants, but it also could be a way to pressure Mohammad to reveal any information he has about the location of the Swat Valley Taliban’s leaders, who have evaded capture despite the military offensive.

During an April speech the radical cleric had condemned democracy and elections and said Pakistan’s constitution was un-Islamic.

The speech sparked controversy in Pakistan and was considered to be an important factor in shifting public opinion against the Taliban.

The government had relied heavily on Mohammad’s contacts with the Taliban in the Swat area to try to achieve a peace agreement earlier this year.

Mohammad, himself, does not control the armed militants in Swat, and its unclear how much impact his detention will have on the insurgents fighting in the scenic valley.

But he mobilized thousands of volunteers to fight in Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in 2001. He was jailed in 2002 but was freed last year after renouncing violence.

The Swat Taliban’s ability to re-emerge will depend more on their leaders, including Fazlullah. The army says Fazlullah has been wounded, although the Taliban reportedly deny it. None of the commanders is definitively known to have been captured or killed.

Some two million people fled the region in the early weeks of the offensive, and although hundreds of thousands have returned in the past two weeks as the military operation winds down, sporadic fighting continues

Christian Houses burnt by Muslims in Gojra, Pakistan

Shame! Shame on all of us. There are no words to describe this. The government must immediately bring the perpetrators to justice and make a horrible example of them. What may we ask is the Chief Minister doing about this? Is he going to remain an idle spectator or is he going to show some backbone and take these fanatics who sully our already muddied name.

Karzai promises Afghan voters a brighter future

Kayan Village—President Hamid Karzai held his first campaign rally outside of the capital in a small village on Saturday, promising a welcoming crowd a brighter future if elected this month. The leading contender in the August 20 elections addressed the boisterous rally of several thousand people alongside the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Shia sect that dominates this area, who told his followers to choose Karzai. Villagers held up placards of the president and shouted slogans such as “Karzai will succeed” at the gathering six hours’ drive from Kabul, at the end of a rocky road in the relatively stable northern province of Baghlan.

The leader of Afghanistan since the extremist Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001 is campaigning to win a second term in office. In this first official rally outside of Kabul, he outlined his three-pronged platform of peace, development and solid ties with the foreign powers propping up the war-ruined country. “Terrorism is still bothering us, is still destroying the country....for us the first thing is peace and national unity,” he said, referring to a Taliban-led insurgency that has this year become its deadliest. He said his second priority was to improve Afghanistan’s relations with the international community.

The third is development. We have built the roads and schools, the next thing is agriculture. We have to make dams to bring the water to the land and our electricity should be our own,” he said. Construction of one of the least developed countries in the world has been hampered by the insurgency which has brought more than 100,000 international troops to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, gains have been made. Karzai said that since the fall of the Taliban, whose five-year rule followed a devastating and ethnically charged civil war, the country had come together. “The big achievement for us in the last seven years is Afghanistan. After 30 years of war and misfortune, we have become a real house, a place of Afghan people,” he told the rally.

We have a better future, a developed future,” he said, adding that in his vision: “Every house has to have a new vehicle and your children educated so you are satisfied and comfortable.” Men, women and children — all Ismailis — started arriving in Kayan on Friday, crowding into a field wearing badges and flimsy baseball caps emblazoned with Karzai’s face. Colourful posters of the waving president plastered the mud walls of adobe houses, and Afghan flags flew along the roadways. Most people, however, said it was Sayed Mansoor Naderi — the local spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect headed by the Aga Khan — that they had come to see.

Naderi, standing alongside the president, told his followers: “I request my national and political allies, my brothers and sisters and others ... to support Hamid Karzai.” It was a message that had already been enthusiastically received.

Four militants killed, 27 apprehended: ISPR

SWAT; Search and clearance operations continued by security forces in Swat and Malakand in which four terrorists were killed and 27 apprehended.

According to ISPR, 2 Terrorists were killed and 7 were apprehended during clearance operation in area Derai and Danda.

Security forces discovered 2 tunnels of 75 meters and 60 feet length, 4 fresh dug graves and 1 training camp with bunkers and a generator in Biha Valley.

Ten suspects including a local commander were arrested in search and clearance operations at Kamargai near Gulibagh.

One local terrorist Khair ur Rehman voluntarily surrendered to security forces alongwith his weapon at Shangla.

During search operation in Gorai, Kotlai and Daragai, 2 terrorists were killed and 2 suspected terrorists were apprehended alognwith their weapons.

Security forces carried out search operation in Shah Dheri and apprehended 8 suspected terrorists and recovered 4 rifles and 3 pistols.

During search operation, a cave was discovered in Amlukdara by the security forces. 3 prepared IEDs (including 1 water cooler IED), 80 Kgs explosives and 220 meters detonating cord was also discovered.

Eight Pakistani Christians burned to death

GOJRA, PAKISTAN - In a fresh incident of violence by hardline Muslims against Pakistani Christians at least eight Christians have been burned alive and many others injured as a Muslim mob estimated to be over 1500 in number set ablaze some fifty houses in a Christian colony in district Gojra of the province Punjab of Pakistan over blasphemy accusations on Saturday, August 1.

ANS has discovered that Muslims were protesting in Gojra city against blasphemy committed by Talib Masih and his son Imran Masih. Gojra is Tehsil (administrative division) of district Toba Tek Singh.

The Muslim agitation took an ugly turn when the Muslim mob which was armed with firearms and chemical explosives started marching towards the Christian colony in Gojra.

The Christian residents of the colony fled to safety and some took to the rooftops. As on the attack that took place on July 30 in Korian the Muslim mob set ablaze fifty houses in the Christian colony by using petrol and chemical bombs. The fire engulfed eight Christians including four women, a man, a child and two other persons whose identities could not be ascertained by ANS.

Hameed Masih, Safia Bibi, Hanifa Bibi and Asia are among the eight killed.

ANS has also discovered that Muslims and Christians traded aerial firing of rifles after Muslims launched the attack on Christians of Gojra. The Muslim mob plundered and ransacked over a hundred Christian houses before setting them on fire. The attack created a serious law and order situation in the area, prompting closure of petrol pumps and train services.

Television footage showed baton-wielding crowds running through the streets, blocking traffic and a railway line. Ransacked furniture lay outside blackened and burning homes, while a group of people rushed a man with burn injuries on a wooden hand-pulled cart through the streets.

Sources told ANS that the Inspector General of Police, Commissioner Faisalabad, Tahir Hussain Regional Police Officer, Ahmad Raza Tahir arrived at the scene of incident. The Inspector General of Police Punjab has suspended the Deputy Superintendent of the Police for failing to prevent this attack. Tehsil (administrative division) Municipal Officer, Rana Muhammad Nawaz suffered injuries during August 1 violence. Five Police officials also sustained injuries during the attack. A TV cameraman, Rasheed Anjum of AAJ TV was allegedly beaten by the police when he refused to stop covering the ghastly scenes of violence on August 1.

Talking to ANS by phone Pakistan Federal Minister for Minorities, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti has vehemently condemned the latest attack on Christians of Gojra. ” This is a sad and condemnable act of violence. We equally share the grief and sorrow with Christian community who have been targeted by extremists.

” The inquiry would be held at the top level to unmask perpetrators of Gojra and Korian village violence. The culprits would be arrested.

” This is yet another example of how the blasphemy laws are playing havoc with the lives of innocent Christians of Pakistan. Blasphemy laws are against the inter-faith harmony and national unity as they are being used by religious extremists to persecute and victimize religious minorities.

” This violence could have been averted if the local administration had taken stringent measures to protect the lives and properties of Christians.

” An inquiry would also be held against the administration’s negligence in this matter. Pakistani minorities should forge unity in their ranks. They should pursue justice while remaining peaceful,” said Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti.

Mr. Bhatti termed the latest incident of violence against Pakistani Christians as an attempt to hamper the peace-building efforts to promote inter-faith harmony and national unity.

ANS has learned that the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, a leading umbrella representative organization of all religious minorities of Pakistan is going to stage protest demonstrations across the country to press the authorities to arrest perpetrators of Korian village and Gojra violence on July 31 and August 1 respectively. Protest demonstration against worst kind of attacks on innocent Pakistani Christians are going to be held in Pakistani cities of Lahore, Faisalabad and Sargodha on August 2 (Sunday). Sources in the APMA ranks confided in ANS that the protest demonstrations would continue until perpetrators of violence against Christians are arrested.

Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts along with some Catholic priests including Director of Faisalabad Diocese’s Commission for Interfaith Harmony, Fr. Aftab James Paul, Fr. Pascal Paulus and Fr. Nisar Barkat visited the affected Christians and expressed solidarity with them. Bishop Joseph Coutts condemned the incident and appealed to the government to bring the culprits to justice. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani have also condemned fresh incident of violence against Christians of Gojra.

Pakistan Provincial Law Minister of Province Punjab, Rana Sanaullah also joined the chorus of condemnation. Condemning back-to-back incidents of violence against Pakistani Christians the Minister reportedly said that the police did not play proactive role to avert the attacks which they were supposed to do. He further said in his statement that the attacks against Muslims were launched after rumours that Christians have committed blasphemy. According to media reports Chief Minister Punjab Mr. Shahbaz Sharif has said that those who have taken law into their own hands would be meted out strict punishment. Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has reportedly said that the Inquiry Commission would probe into the attacks against Christians.

ANS has discovered that the affected Christians are without food, water, electricity and shelter. The situation in the area is tense and the Christians are in a state of fear and uncertainty. Security of Churches across Province Punjab in General and in district Toba Tek Singh has been put on high alert to avert any further possible eventuality. Rangers have been called in to control the law and order situation.

Some 200 Christian families lived in the colony that came under fresh Muslim attack on August 1. Pakistan High Court has taken Suo Moto action in the wake of fresh attack on Christians.

Pashtun ethnic agenda at heart of Afghan war

KABUL — In a recent debate leading up to the presidential elections here, the first question was not about terrorism, or violence, or even opium. It was about how candidates viewed a jagged line casually drawn on a map 115 years ago by British colonial rulers.
For the West, this border separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, and it is a source of great frustration that neither country seems able or even willing to enforce it. But for many Pashtuns, the most powerful ethnic tribe here, the line runs through what they call "Pashtunistan" and is no more legitimate than the border that once divided East and West Germany.
The Pashtuns and their ethnic agenda are in many ways at the center of the upcoming elections and the armed conflicts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, many Pashtuns who have not taken up arms still share the dream of a united Pashtunistan. This dream grows stronger as the Pashtuns on both sides of the border get more disgruntled.
If the Pashtuns vote in large numbers in the Aug. 20 election, it will help current president Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun. If their turnout is low, possibly because of violence or Taliban threats, his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, stands a better chance. Although half-Pashtun, Abdullah is identified with the ethnic Tajiks, and some analysts are concerned that Pashtuns would not accept his victory.
"Pashtuns are critical to the Afghan election," says Hassan Abbas, research fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. "Pashtuns are at the heart of insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan because they have been used and abused in the last three decades by regional as well as international players. Their social fabric has been torn to smithereens and their tribal ethos has been under severe stress and strain due to the rise of fanatical religious elements. Pashtuns today are a victim of circumstances."
The Pashtuns number about 42 million people — 42 percent of the population of Afghanistan and 15 percent in Pakistan. They support and, indeed, largely make up the Taliban.
"Pashtuns on both sides of the border are feeling that all the world is against them," says Moabullah, a burly six-foot bearded Pashtun.
From a pocket inside his dark brown vest, Moabullah pulls out an election registration card. He laughs. It shows his picture and identifies his father, his district, his village, but it does not say that he is Taliban.
Moabullah got the registration card when he marked his ballot in Afghanistan's 2004 presidential elections. He won't be voting this time around. Instead, Moabullah uses the card to slip safely through government-run checkposts. "If I get stopped outside my area, on the highway, I show this card."
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Moabullah was a reluctant fighter, who says he often hid to avoid being sent to the northern front lines. In 2001, when the Taliban were routed, Moabullah returned to his home in Ghazni, south of the Afghan capital. He even sought international money to build some wells and irrigation ditches in his district.
He says he didn't get any. He says the victors __ mostly non-Pashtuns of the Northern Alliance, dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks ___ hounded him, demanding weapons and money, with threats to turn him over to their U.S. allies as a Taliban unless he capitulated.
Eventually he fled to Iran.
In 2007 he came home and returned to the Taliban.
"The people were suffering. Pashtuns were feeling their life was tough," he says. "Slowly, slowly Mullah Omar began organizing and we all went back...We are one tribe in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is no difference. We are the same culture, the same turban, the same language. Our people are coming and going. Pashtuns on both sides of the border have to help Taliban."
Moabullah's story reflects the resentment that many Pashtuns feel, which makes them all the more open to the Taliban.
In Pakistan's northwest, Pashtun tribesmen are still bristling at the Pakistani military's incursion into their tribal areas, starting in 2003. Since then they have killed 1,800 Pakistani soldiers. President Pervez Musharraf tried to make peace with them in 2006 but failed.
Under the banner of fighting for Shariat or Islamic law, the Taliban is sweeping through Pakistan's frontier, offering an alternative to a weak state that has been stingy with amenities. Electricity is sporadic, and the literacy rate is about 10 percent among men and less than two percent among women, say local politicians.
Hamid Gailani, deputy head of the Afghan Senate and a member of one of Afghanistan's revered religious families, says: "Taliban are advancing because of frustration with the situation."
The Taliban play to this sense of siege and also to a strong Pashtun pride.
In the early 18th century, Afghanistan was born as a Pashtun nation, with its borders stretching deep into what is present-day Pakistan and its capital in Southern Kandahar. Pashtuns on both sides of the border still long for those glory days.
It irks the Pashtuns that they, descendants of kings who have ruled from Iran to New Delhi, feel relegated to secondary citizen status by Tajiks and other tribes who led the resistance to the Taliban. They are eyed with suspicion by their non-Pashtun brethren and targeted by international forces.
The Taliban stoke the Pashtun dream. A few years ago, Mullah Mohammed Omar wrote a Pashtu-language letter to his senior military commander Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani, making it clear that the Taliban on both sides of the border were operating as one.
"The Pakistan Taliban are part of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and they should be under the command of Jalaluddin Haqqani," Omar said in the letter provided to the AP, referring to a powerful Taliban commander with an elaborate network of fighters and suicide bombers on both sides of the border.
This ill-defined border is called the Durand line, after colonial British representative Sir Mortimer Durand. Under a treaty, the line originally marked where British rule in India ended and that of Afghanistan began. The treaty expired in 1993 after 100 years.
Pakistan wants the border to be reinforced with a fence to stop unhindered crossings of militants and supplies. But many Pashtuns on both sides believe a new border should be established that would give Afghanistan all the Pashtun lands, including those in Pakistan. Even Afghanistan's pro-West government was not ready to accept the Durand Line, saying a grand council would have to be called to decide where a border could be established.
"Pashtun and Afghan mean the same thing really," says Lateef Afridi, a former Parliamentarian of the secular Awami National Party in Pakistan, who reviles the Taliban but shares their dreams of Pashtunistan.
The Taliban made the point in a colorful map of Afghanistan drawn at a school in Kandahar.
The word "Pashtunistan" runs the entire 2,430-kilometer (1,520-mile) border with Pakistan.

Muslim mob destroy 47 Christian Homes with chemical bombs

Gojra, Punjab: The black smoke was still rising from 47 destroyed homes which were flattened by fire when SLMP and CLAAS teams reached in village Korian
“The situation of fire which have burnt the bricks of homes reminds horrible picture of Shanti Nagar, where chemical bombs were used to destroy that Christian village in 1998.The homes of Christians in village Korian are presenting same scenes” SLMP Coordinator Sohail Johnson told Pakistan Christian Post.

Village Korian is at 7 miles distance from Gojra town, a sub-district of Faisalabad. There are about 75 Christian families living before independence of Pakistan in 1947, in this village named Korian.

The harmony among Muslim and Christians was exemplary till blasphemy law was legislated in Pakistan. The Muslim extremists used blasphemy laws on personal rivalries and grudges against Christians. The horrible incident of destruction of Christian homes in village Korian is also result of misuse of blasphemy law by Muslims.

According to SLMP, there was some argument between Muslim boys and Christian boys which was settled by village elders. The relatives of Muslim boys decided to teach lesson to Christian boys and issue of insulting pages of Holy Quran was blamed on July 25, 2009.

On night of July 30, Muslims made announcements from village mosque to unite and teach lesson to infidel Christian on committing blasphemy. The Muslims from nearby villages also gathered in mosque raising number to more than one thousand.

When Christian listened announcement from mosque, they fled from homes to hide in darken fields to safe their life. It was feared by other Christians in this district that Children, Women and Men were also burnt in fire because no one knew where Christians of Korian village have gone and same was reported in PCP.

Sohail Johnson and Joseph Francis told PCP today “ No Christian was hurt by Muslims attack but 47 homes were destroyed and house holds were looted”

The thousands of Muslims damaged homes after looting valuables and cattle of Christians and set every belonging to fire with some chemical which brought walls down and burnt bricks.

The Muslims blocked road after burning Christian homes to stop police or fire engines to reach to village Korian.

According to PCP, Muslims have lodged FIR in Saddar Police Station Gojra under blasphemy charges against Amran Masih, Talib Masih and others.

The Christian Members of Punjab Assembly also reached to village Korian while Mr. Michael, a Minister in Punjab government run by PML(Nawaz) filed an application in Saddar Police against Muslims who burnet down Christian homes but police have not registered any FIR till this report.

When PCP contacted Sub-district police officer to enquire about FIR against Muslim culprits, he argued that Muslims are taking out procession to press for arrests of Amran Masih, Talib Masih and other accused of blasphemy and he is busy to control law and order situation.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, Chief of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC have condemned attack on Christian village Korian and expressed his grief on destruction of Christian homes.

“The Punjab government must adopt necessary measure to secure life and property of Christians because it is second attack on Christians in one month which have created concerns among millions of Christians in Punjab” said Nazir Bhatti

Rangers take control of Gojra; 50 detained

Rangers took control of Gojra after deadliest inter-faith violence gripped the city and claimed seven innocent lives, report said on Sunday. At least seven people, including four women and two children, were burnt to death and dozens others have received critical injuries when riots erupted in Gojra between Christian community and Muslims over alleged sacrilegious of Quran. On Sunday, heavy contingents of police and rangers took control of the city and started patrolling on the streets. Near 50 suspected rioters have been detained, while Senior Minister Punjab Raja Riaz and provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah have reached the city to monitor the situation on ground. The riots erupted two days before when the members of a banned sectarian outfit were staging a protest rally against the alleged incident of sacrilegious of Quran by Christians. When the rally reached near the Christian Colony, the agitated attendees start pelting stones at the Christians’ houses. Both the sides hurled stones against each other and also resorted to firing.

Cuba will stay communist

Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is willing to enter into dialogue with the United States but would not change the island nation's communist system to make peace with America.

In a speech to the Cuban National Assembly, Castro criticised US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for saying repeatedly that Washington expected Havana to make changes in exchange for better relations, although he acknowledged that Barack Obama's administration was less "aggressive" toward Cuba than those of Mr Obama's predecessors.

"I have to say, with all due respect to Mrs Clinton ... they didn't elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba, nor to hand over the revolution," said Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel Castro as president last year.

"I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not destroy it," he added, prompting a long standing ovation from assembly members, most of whom are members of the Communist Party.

"We are ready to talk about everything, but ... not to negotiate our political and social system," he said.

Mr Obama has said he wants to "recast" relations with Cuba and eased the 47-year-old US embargo by allowing Cuban-Americans to travel and send money freely to the island 90 miles (145 km) from Key West, Florida.

His administration has reopened immigration talks with the Cuban government that were suspended by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and recently turned off a news ticker on the US Interests Section in Havana that Cuba viewed as an affront.

But Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton have said further improvements depend on Cuba making progress on human rights and political prisoners.

"It's true there has been a diminution of the aggression and anti-Cuban rhetoric on the part of the administration," Castro said.

But he noted the embargo remained in effect and the ending of restrictions on Cuban-Americans had not yet been implemented.

Troops deployed as riots toll rises to eight: official

ISLAMABAD :Paramilitary soldiers were Sunday patrolling a remote town as the death toll from riots between two group rose to eight, officials said.

An angry mob attacked a residential area of the minority community on Saturday, torching 40 houses and a church in Gojra district, about 160 kilometres (99 miles) west of Lahore.

The violence broke out over the alleged desecration of a Quran.

Six people were killed in the rioting while the charred body of another Christian was found overnight, officials said.

"A total of seven Christians were killed and 14 injured," local administration chief Tahir Hussain told reporters.

Authorities deployed paramilitary rangers in the area and arrested 12 suspects, he said, adding that three were from a banned sectarian group.

Provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, who visited the violence-hit town Sunday, promised to pay compensation to the affected families.

"We have identified those who attacked, they are terrorists, these people want to destabilise our country," he told reporters.

"We will give compensation to the victims, we will pay them for all the losses they suffered," Sanaullah said.

Earlier, more than 1,000 Christians staged demonstrations in Gojra and demanded the arrest of those involved in the attack.

"People were very angry, they have said they will not bury their dead until the government assured the attackers would be arrested," Father Shabbir Masih said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered an inquiry into the alleged desecration of the Quran, officials said, adding that he has appealed to the residents of the area "to remain calm and demonstrate restraint till the inquiry is finalized."

Pukhtunkhwa wants money back from Pepco

PESHAWAR: The Frontier government has protested the ‘at source deduction’ of its receipts by Pakistan Electric Power Company to adjust outstanding arrears and asked the federal government to immediately intervene into the matter.

The Pepco has been violating the constitution, relevant laws and decisions of Inter-Provincial Coordination Committee by not paying to the province electricity duty, it collects in the monthly bills, says a dispatch sent to Inter-Provincial Coordination Division, Islamabad.

Electricity Duty, a levy, is collected by the power distribution companies such Peshawar Electric Supply Company in each power bill that is payable to the provinces after deducting three per cent service charges.

The receipts under this head are accumulated by the Pepco, which serves as an umbrella for the distribution companies, and then transferred to the provinces. However, Pepco has not been paying such recoveries to the Frontier government since long to adjust its arrears against the latter’s official electricity connections.

It had adjusted Rs750.685 million during last two years that attracted criticism from the Frontier government, an official told Dawn.

The provincial government had taken notice of the ‘illegal’ adjustment and asked the federal government to intervene into the matter and facilitate the early refund of the adjusted amount, he added.

Citing the letter sent to IPC Division, the official said that section 118 (2) of the 1973 Constitution and Electricity Duty Rules 1964, barred Pepco from at source deduction against the provincial government’s receipts.

Similarly, IPCC in a meeting held on October 23, 2007 had agreed that NWFP government may be given a credit of Rs700 million on account of excess, wrong and fictitious billings.

However, instead of giving the agreed credit, Pepco had adjusted Rs491. 149 million in June 2008 and Rs259.509 million in June this year just to regularise its excess billing in sheer violation of 1973 Constitution and Electricity Duty Rules 1964, the official said.

The official argued that as per West Pakistan Act 1964 a penalty equal to the amount of Electricity Duty adjusted was also levy able if payment was not made to the provincial government within the prescribed period of 60 days of the month of collection.

Apart from taking up the matter with the federal government, a letter of protest has also been sent to Pepco managing director, saying the adjustment of electricity duty by Pepco, as a matter of routine, against its baseless dues is against the constitutional provisions and Electricity Duty Rules.

‘The provincial government protests strongly against this illegal action and demands refund of Rs750.658 million adjusted against Pesco’s receivables and stop this practice in future,’ said the letter.

Whip me if you dare' says Lubna Hussein, Sudan's defiant trouser woman
As the morality police crowded around her table in a Khartoum restaurant, leering at her to see what she was wearing, Lubna Hussein had no idea she was about to become the best-known woman in Sudan.
She had arrived at the Kawkab Elsharq Hall on a Friday night to book a cousin's wedding party, and while she waited she watched an Egyptian singer and sipped a coke.
She left less than an hour later under arrest as a "trouser girl" - humiliated in front of hundreds of people, then beaten around the head in a police van before being hauled before a court to face a likely sentence of 40 lashes for the "sin" of not wearing traditional Islamic dress.
The officials who tried to humiliate her expected her to beg for mercy, as most of their victims do.
Instead she turned the tables on them – and in court on Tuesday Mrs Hussein will dare judges to have her flogged, as she makes a brave stand for women's rights in one of Africa's most conservative nations.
She has become an overnight heroine for thousands of women in Africa and the Middle East, who are flooding her inbox with supportive emails. To the men who feel threatened by her she is an enemy of public morals, to be denounced in the letters pages of newspapers and in mosques.
As she recounted her ordeal in Khartoum yesterday Mrs Hussein, a widow in her late thirties who works as a journalist and United Nations' press officer, managed cheerfully to crack jokes - despite the real prospect that in a couple of days she will be flogged with a camel-hair whip in a public courtyard where anyone who chooses may watch the spectacle.
Her interview with The Sunday Telegraph was her first with a Western newspaper.
"Flogging is a terrible thing – very painful and a humiliation for the victim," she said. "But I am not afraid of being flogged. I will not back down.
"I want to stand up for the rights of women, and now the eyes of the world are on this case I have a chance to draw attention to the plight of women in Sudan."
She could easily have escaped punishment by simply claiming immunity as a UN worker, as she is entitled to under Sudanese law. Instead, she is resigning from the UN – to the confusion of judges who last Wednesday adjourned the case because they did not know what to do with her.
"When I was in court I felt like a revolutionary standing before the judges," she said, her eyes blazing with pride. "I felt as if I was representing all the women of Sudan."
Like many other women in the capital, Mrs Hussein fell foul of Sudan's Public Order Police, hated groups of young puritans employed by the government to crack down on illegal drinkers of alcohol and women who, in their view, are insufficiently demure.
Despite their claims of moral superiority, they have a reputation for dishonesty and for demanding sexual favours from women they arrest.
Mrs Hussein was one of 14 women arrested at the Kawkab Elsharq Hall, a popular meeting place for the capital's intellectuals and journalists, who bring their families. Most of them were detained for wearing trousers. The police had difficulty seeing what Mrs Hussein was wearing under her loose, flowing Sudanese clothes. She was wearing green trousers, not the jeans that she said she sometimes wears, and wore a headscarf, as usual.
"They were very rude," she said. "A girl at a table near mine was told to stand up and told to take a few steps and then turn around, in a very humiliating way. She was let off when they 'discovered' she was not wearing trousers."
After her arrest, on the way to a police station, she tried to calm the younger girls.
"All the girls were forced to crouch on the floor of the pick-up with all the policemen sitting on the sides," she said. "They were all very terrified and crying hysterically, except me as I had been arrested before during university days by the security services.
"So I began to try to calm the girls, telling them this wasn't very serious. The response of the policeman was to snatch my mobile phone, and he hit me hard on the head with his open hand.
"On the way I felt so humiliated and downtrodden. In my mind was the thought that we were only treated like this because we were females."
Christian women visiting from the south of Sudan were among the 10 women who admitted their error and were summarily flogged with 10 lashes each. But Mrs Hussein declined to admit her guilt and insisted on her right to go before a judge.
While waiting for her first court appearance, she said she was surprised to find herself held in a single cramped detention cell with other prisoners of both sexes. "How Islamic is that?" she asked. "This should not happen under Sharia."
Mrs Hussein is a long-standing critic of Sudan's government, headed by President Omar al-Bashir, the first head of state to face an international arrest warrant for war crimes. Sudan has been accused of committing atrocities in the Darfur region.
Before her arrest she had written several articles criticising the regime, although she believes she was picked at random by the morality police.
The regime has often caused international revulsion for religious extremism. In 2007 British teacher Gillian Gibbons was briefly imprisoned for calling the classroom teddy bear Mohammed.
The government is dominated by Islamists, although only the northern part of the nation is Muslim. Young women are frequently harassed and arrested by the regime's morality police.
Mrs Hussein said: "The acts of this regime have no connection with the real Islam, which would not allow the hitting of women for the clothes they are wearing and in fact would punish anyone who slanders a woman.
"These laws were made by this current regime which uses it to humiliate the people and especially women. These tyrants are here to distort the real image of Islam."
She was released from custody after her first court appearance last week, since when she has appeared on Sudanese television and radio to argue her case - which has made headlines around the world.
She is not only in trouble with police and judges. A day after her court appearance she was threatened by a motorcyclist, who did not remove his helmet. He told her that she would end up like an Egyptian woman who was murdered in a notorious recent case.
Since then she has not slept at home, moving between the houses of relatives. She believes her mobile telephone has been listened to by the security services using scanners.
But she has pledged to keep up her fight. "I hope the situation of women improves in Sudan. Whatever happens I will continue to fight for women's rights."

Fires of hate in Gojra

Gojra is a mess. There was widespread communal violence in the town on Saturday and initial reports said masked men were on the rampage and a rally had been fired upon, leaving many injured. The administration was struggling to control the situation as local businesses were shut down. Trains were blocked and a number of arson attacks took place. This fresh wave of violence was related to the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran by three Christian men in a village on the outskirts of Gojra.

A day earlier, on Friday, a mob had set some 70 houses belonging to the Christian community in the village on fire. It was an administrative failure and even though ‘notice’ of the acts of arson ‘was taken’ by the chief minister, the prime minister, the president and the administration looked totally helpless in the face of the repeat of violence, this time in Gojra city on Saturday.

A federal minister and a provincial minister dispatched to the area on Friday could do little to defuse the situation. On Saturday, Dost Muhammad Khosa, Punjab minister for local government, tried desperately to pacify the enraged crowd. Few were prepared to listen to Mr Khosa’s pleas and the police were left with no option but to resort to tear-gas shelling in an effort to restore order. The injured included policemen and at least one senior administration official.

This is a typical blasphemy case in its various details. What is unfortunately changing is the scale and intensity of the reaction as well as its frequency. Only a few weeks ago, rows upon rows of houses belonging to Christians were set on fire in Kasur.

Compensation was promised to the affected but while the government might have felt satisfied over the ‘final settlement’ of the issue, observers were shocked by the ferocity and freedom with which the act of violence was carried out. Gojra reconfirms the fear that the state is finding it harder with the passage of time to protect citizens under attack by vengeful, organised and well-armed groups. It is one of the grimmest examples of the tattered nature of our social fabric. It will take contributions from everyone to sort this out.

A major problem is that the very people who are central to establishing peace between communities and sects are the biggest political beneficiaries of violence perpetrated in the name of faith. Missing from our line of defence against intolerance is the local cleric and the leader of the religious party who is prone to resorting to blackmail to get what he wants. He must move before he is also consumed by the raging fires. Meanwhile, the state can at least be unbiased.

Karzai Campaigns in Remote Afghan Valley

New York Times

DAR-E-KAYAN, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai flew into this remote valley in Afghanistan’s central highlands Saturday to seek the vote from the Ismaili community, on his second campaign rally outside the capital ahead of the election this month.

The rally, more of a tribal gathering for the Ismailis, a sect of minority Shiite Muslims, was indicative of how Mr. Karzai has maintained political support during his nearly eight years in power, and how he is running his campaign for re-election. In the age-old tradition of Afghan politics, Mr. Karzai has sought out the support of influential tribal and religious leaders, as well as the wartime faction leaders who have merged as power brokers more recently, who can command the support of their followers and communities.

Several thousand Ismaili men, women and children gathered from four northern provinces on Friday to meet their spiritual leader, Sayed Mansoor Nadiri, in the Kayan Valley before Mr. Karzai’s appearance. Many came over the mountain passes on foot and stayed overnight sleeping under trees, in gardens and in nearby villages to receive Mr. Karzai on Saturday.

Mr. Nadiri declared that the Ismailis had decided to give their support to Mr. Karzai for the Aug. 20 presidential election, and the people agreed without demur.

“We have been ordered by our leader to vote for Hamid Karzai,” said Khaliq Dad, 40, who drove with his wife and four children on dozens of miles of rugged dirt roads to attend the rally. “His choice is our choice,” he said of Mr. Nadiri.

Once broadly popular among the people of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai’s approval ratings have dived over the last three years. Now he is widely criticized for corruption in his administration, for his continued alliances with warlords and power brokers, and for the strengthening Taliban insurgency.

Yet the Ismailis, an impoverished, remote community that suffered intensely under Taliban rule, will almost certainly follow their spiritual leaders’ direction.

“We, the Ismaili community, through our council and our political allies have chosen Hamid Karzai as our candidate and consider him better than the other candidates,” Mr. Nadiri said at a news briefing for journalists in Kayan. He praised Mr. Karzai as having brought democracy to Afghanistan and making his cabinet reflect many ethnicities. In tribal fashion, Mr. Nadiri hosted the gathering, feeding several thousand of his people for two days as they gathered to see Mr. Karzai.

Abdul Nazar, 50, a poor resident of the Kayan Valley, was one of several hundred men who enthusiastically pressed forward to greet their leader. He complained about the lack of water and food in his village and criticized Mr. Karzai’s government as having neglected the valley, but nevertheless he said he would vote again for Mr. Karzai.

“We received no help from the government, but we will support Karzai as our leader,” he said.

Mr. Karzai flew in with a fleet of three helicopters, and was greeted by villagers who had been waiting for hours in the intense sun. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers with the National Army, presidential bodyguards, police and intelligence officers were deployed the day before in the valley to guarantee security.

Mr. Karzai thanked the people and Mr. Nadiri for their support and spoke of his achievements in government, like the increased number of students in universities and increased money in Afghanistan’s treasury.

“We have made a long trip, a long trip with much happiness. But our happiness has been mixed with sorrows as we do not have overall security in the country,” he told the crowd. “Still terrorism exists, and still it is killing our people.”

He emphasized his three-point development plan for Afghanistan, an internationally financed program that has also become his campaign mantra.

“If I win I will have three specific programs: first to enhance peace, second to keep good relations and friendship with the world, the U.S. and Islamic world, and third to continue development, including education and building roads,” he said.

He also promised to focus on agriculture and water. “With agriculture we can stand on our own feet and feed not only ourselves but other countries. And with water we can make dams and produce electricity,” he said. “We are going forward with strong steps.”

3 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Blasts

Three American soldiers were killed in two blasts in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, an American military spokesman said.

Thousands of American and British troops are conducting anti-Taliban operations in the region ahead of this month’s presidential elections.

Separately, a French soldier was killed and two others were wounded during a clash with insurgents north of Kabul, the French military said in a statement.