Monday, August 3, 2009

Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif cancelled his visit to Gojra

Strong reaction was seen on Monday afternoon at Gojra when news came that chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif who had to visit on Monday the houses those Christian who lost lives of their kins in Saturday's attack of a mob,had cancelled his visit.Hundreds of Christian community people who were waiting for CM in Cathlic church on Samundri road shoouted slogans against their Chrstian leaders and held them responsible for not giving importance to Gojra incident by CM.They also demanded immediate arrest of the alleged killers of the seven Christian persons of Gojra Christian colony who were burnt alive.Over this situation,Punjab minorities minister Kamran Michael,Punjab parliamentary secretary Khalil Tahir Sindhu and MPA Joel Amer Sahutra haned over their resignations from assembly membership to two Christian fathers Emanovel Yousaf and Sabir Shafiq Hidayat and allowed them to send their resignations to Punjab assembly speaker after August 11 in case CM did not come Gojra before said date,the alleged killers were not arrested and the compensation was not paid to the affected families whose houses were burnt.

Pope condemns Gojra incident, appeals for peace

VATICAN CITY :Pope Benedict XVI on Monday urged Pakistanis to turn their backs on violence after seven Christians were killed in bloody riots in the country.

"In the name of God, (the pope) calls on everyone to renounce the violence that has caused so much suffering and start working towards peace," said a telegramme from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in the name of Benedict.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church was "deeply saddened to learn of the senseless attack against the Christian community of Gojra," the remote village in Punjab province where the violence occurred, the message said.

He sent condolences to the families of the victims and urged Pakistani Christians to build a society where all communities displayed "mutual respect" towards each other.

Roadside bomb kills 12 in Afghanistan's west

HERAT, Afghanistan - A Taliban roadside bomb killed at least 12 people Monday in a key commercial city in western Afghanistan, officials said, amid worsening security before a presidential poll this month.

The remote-controlled device may have been aimed at a local police chief but killed mainly passers-by when it exploded during rush hour near a blood bank in Herat, a relatively peaceful city near the Iranian border.

Violence has escalated ahead of the August 20 presidential poll that is seen as a key test of Western-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Nine foreign soldiers, including six Americans, were killed in the south and east, where the Taliban is strongest, in the last three days.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who took over Saturday, said he wanted Afghanistan's own forces to play a greater role in providing security over the next four years.

"I believe that during my term as NATO secretary-general, Afghans must take over lead responsibility for security in most of their country," he told a news conference in Brussels.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met on Sunday at an air base in Belgium with Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Gates obtained an update on a review of the war being conducted by McChrystal. The unusual meeting, attended by other top U.S. defense officials, was not announced in advance.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the election and have called on Afghans to boycott the ballot, the second direct presidential poll since the Islamists were toppled in 2001.

In Ghazni province, a Taliban stronghold southeast of the capital, insurgents have posted notices in mosques and to walls, warning people to stay at home a day before the poll.

"In order that this illegitimate process faces failure, fighters will intensively attack polling centers, and warn voters to stay home one day before," one item posted overnight read.


Among those killed in Monday's blast in Herat were a woman, a 12-year-old girl and two policemen, said provincial security commander General Esmatullah Alizai.

A Reuters witness saw several women and children being carried out of ambulances into a military hospital in Herat.

Alizai said 12 people were killed and Khoja Issa, a district police chief, was seriously wounded. Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said Issa was the target of the attack.

In Kabul, the Interior Ministry put the death toll at 10 and said 29 were wounded. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the Herat bombing as "a terrorist attack."

Herat, one of Afghanistan's three largest cities, is usually a safe and prosperous center because of its strong trade links with nearby Iran and Turkmenistan.

July was the deadliest month for foreign forces in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, with at least 71 killed. August has so far followed that deadly trend.

A total of 41 U.S. troops were killed in July, compared to the previous monthly high of 26 in September 2008.

Britain has also suffered heavy battlefield casualties, with the 22 killed in July taking its toll in the eight-year-old war to 191, 12 more than were killed in Iraq.

Attacks across Afghanistan this year had already reached their worst level since 2001. They escalated further after thousands of U.S. Marines launched a major operation in southern Helmand province last month, long a Taliban stronghold and the source of most of the opium that helps fund the insurgency.

The U.S. operation, along with a similar British offensive, is the first under President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan.

The election is seen as a test for Obama's new strategy, as well as Kabul's ability to stage a legitimate and credible poll.

Civilians are also dying at record rates. The United Nations said last week 1,013 civilians had been killed between January and June this year, up from 818 in the same period last year.

The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 59 percent of those deaths, the United Nations said.

There have also been a series of election-related attacks, with one of Karzai's campaign convoys ambushed in southeastern Ghazni Saturday. A bodyguard was killed and a candidate for provincial elections was wounded.

Karzai is seen as a clear front-runner in a field of 35 challengers. While his main rivals, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, have been campaigning vigorously, Karzai has been quietly building coalitions among the large field of contenders.

Monday, he announced Abdul Majeed Sameem, a minor candidate from Jawzjan province in the north, had become the latest to pull out in favor of Karzai.

Poor security appears to be one of the few threats to the man who has ruled since 2001 and won the first direct vote in 2004.

Low voter turn-out in the ethnic Pashtun south, Karzai's power base, could raise the possibility of a second run-off vote if no one gets more than 50 percent in the first round.

Pukhtunkhwa Minorities flay Gojra incident

PESHAWAR.. Minority communities of NWFP Monday strongly condemned Gojra incident. Addressing a joint press conference here at Peshawar Press Club under the banner of Pakistan Council of World Religions, Bishop Humfery Sarfaraz Peter said under a planned conspiracy the minority community is being targeted to defame the country. The press conference was also addressed by representatives of various communities. "The Christian community accords high regard and reverence to `Holy Quran' and cannot even think of desecrating it," remarked Bishop Sarfaraz. Bishop Humfery demanded compensation for the affectees of the incident. He also demanded measures for curbing this conspiracy and bringing culprits behind this henious crime to task. Our country, he added, is passing through a very difficult phase and happening of such incidents can prove very In response to a question, Bishop Humfery Sarfaraz, who is also General Secretary of All Pakistan Christian Community blamed that local people tried to save the minority community, but some outsiders reportedly exploited the Gojra incident. He was of the vview that timely action by law enforcers could help control the situation, and save loss of precious lives and property. PPI adds: Faith Friends of Pakistan, while strongly condemning the Gujra incident, demanded of the government to arrest the real culprits responsible for the incident and termed the registration of FIR against 800 people unjustified. Speaking during a news conference at Peshawar Press Club here on Monday, All Pakistan Church Association general secretary Hamfrey Sarfaraz Peter said that the Christian community even could not think to burn Quran Majeed. On the occasion, Priest SP Asghar, Charan Jeeth Singh, Allama Fakhrul Qararwi and Mukhtiyar Baacha were also flanked by Sarfaraz Peter. It is to be said here that few days ago, more than 40 houses of Christians were burnt, their houses luggage were thrown on roads, broken and then burnt. In the incident 7 people were also burnt alive. Hamfrey Sarfaraz further said that Pakistan had already passing through very crtical situation in the present law and order situation and such incident would make the country even weaker, adding that the results of such conspiracies come out very dangerous, therefore, the government should take serious measures to arrest the real culprits. He said that the minorities had always been targeted on the name of Islam, Quran and religion but neither Islam nor Quran allow anyone to torture minority, saying that the Christians live their lives very peacefully and loved Pakistan very much and never want the country’s situation disturbed. But, till today no charge had been proved behind these incidents but only the innocent minorities are being killed or tortured.

7 Afghan rebels killed as PAF hits Dogh Dara Ghulam Ghaus

DIR UPPER: Seven militants were killed as PAF jet aircraft bombed the hideouts of the Afghan militants in Dogh Union Council of Dir Upper on Monday. Sources of the local Lashkar told The Frontier Post that the jet fighters have targeted the habitats of the militants in Ghazigay area of Dhog Dara. “Seven militants were killed and several injured as bombers targeted Ghazigay, Bagano Manzai and Mirsha,” sources said. “Three missiles were fired on the miscreants in Dogh Dara destroying thier three hideouts,” he added. Meanwhile, the Local Lashkar has been fighting the militants for the last two months but they have only succeeded in restricting the militants to Dogh Union Council. An update issued by the ISPR here Monday said 3 terrorists voluntarily surrendered themselves to security forces at Shangla. Six terrorist suspects were apprehended during operation at Puronai, Kukarai. In search operation in Gokdara near Mingora security forces recovered a small machine gun (SMG) along with 3 magazines, 2 pistols and a computer. The press release said security forces carried out search operation in Salampur during which four terrorists were apprehended and recovered 4 rifles and 30 rounds of pistol One terrorist was arrested from Panrsat near Chuprial and an IED on track Panrsat-Pankarai was defused. During search operation by Security forces at Ashara near Bar Durshkhel and Shakardarra, 2 terrorists were apprehended and 3 houses of terrorist were demolished. One terrorist was arrested from Dargai Killay, in Kalakand during the operation. Two terrorists were apprehended from Katkalla village of Buner and a grenade was recovered from their custody. APP adds : The security forces during a raid on a Madrassa of a militant commander recovered huge quantity of explosive materials, missiles, rocket launchers, mortar shells etc and bulldozed the building of the religious seminary and the adjacent house in Charbagh. The official sources informed that the security forces raided the Madrassa of militant commander Faizur Rehman alias Khat Mulla. The armed seized included ten missiles, ten shells of rocket launchers, 1200 rounds of anti aircraft gun, 36000 cartridges of different bores, scores of remote control bombs, other heavy weapons and thousands kilograms of explosives. The Madrassa and the adjacent house of the militant commander were dynamited by the security forces with the seized explosives. The official sources also confirmed the arrest of four suspects in Islam Pur, a suburban area of Saidu Sharif while in other activities the law enforcers seized arms and computers. Simiarly the return of the IDPs is continuing unabated in the district as on Monday 7000 more families returned to different parts of the district. Since July 13, 2009, till date, a total of 570000 affectees have reached their hometowns. There was relaxation in curfew for thirteen hours in Mingora city on Monday and majority of the markets, bazaars and other offices were opened. For Tuesday (August 04), Swat Media Centre has announced relaxation in curfew from 6 am to 7 pm for Mingora City, Fizza Ghat, Charbagh while for District Shangla, Khwazakhela, Matta, Madyan, Baidara and Durushkhela it would be from 7 am to 6 pm.

New NATO chief outlines policy priorities

BRUSSELS, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- On his first day at work as NATO chief, new NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday outlined his priorities, vowing to build a "true strategic partnership" with Russia, to reaffirm commitments to Afghanistan, reduce NATO-led troops in Kosovo and to work on NATO's new strategic concept.I believe that during my term as NATO secretary general, we should develop a true strategic partnership with Russia. We should extend practical cooperation in areas where we share security interests," Rasmussen told reporters.He said NATO and Russia can work together on terrorism, Afghanistan, piracy and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.Rasmussen said differences between NATO and Russia should not poison the whole relationship."I am not a dreamer. It is obvious that there will be fundamental issues on which we disagree... But we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship," said the new NATO chief."My message to the Russian leadership and people is clear: let us build trust on cooperation and base our cooperation on shared interests," said Rasmussen, who replaced Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO chief."NATO is really not an enemy of Russia, NATO is not directed against Russia," said Rasmussen.On Afghanistan, Rasmussen said the international community must prevent the Asian country from being again "the grand central station of international terrorism.""It will not be easy and the past month has made that bitterly clear. But it can be done and we will do it. Let there be no doubt about that," he said.NATO's immediate goal is to make the Aug. 20 presidential and provincial council elections credible, first and foremost in the eyes of the Afghan population, he added.The long-term goal for NATO, he said, is to help the Afghans take over lead security responsibility.During my term as NATO secretary general, Afghans must take over lead responsibility for security in most of their country... NATO must and will be there in support," he said.But he quickly added that the transfer of lead responsibility does not mean premature NATO departure, saying "Let no Taliban propagandist try to sell my message as a run for the exit. It is not. We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes."Rasmussen emphasized the need to show the Afghan people and non-NATO troop contributors to the NATO-led international force "more light at the end of the tunnel."He said NATO needs help from other actors to succeed in Afghanistan.We can't do it alone. This has to be an international team effort -- military and civilian -- with more efforts from the Afghans themselves as well," he said.On Kosovo, Rasmussen said the NATO-led troops there (KFOR) could be significantly reduced or even completely withdrawn by the end of his four-year term.It is the first time that the alliance has indicated a timeline for the complete withdrawal of KFOR, which has been in Kosovo since 1999 after NATO airstrikes drove out Serbian forces from the region. "On Kosovo, my aim is clear: by the end of my term, I want to see KFOR reduced to just a small reaction force, or out altogether," said Rasmussen, adding "We should not stumble so close to the finish line. But I believe that conditions will in the foreseeable future be right to retire KFOR with success."NATO defense ministers decided in June to significantly scale down KFOR. Currently, the first phase of reduction is in process as each phase must be decided by the decision-making North Atlantic Council based on military advices.The target to reduce KFOR to 10,000 by January 2010 from about 14,000 at present is still within reach, NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters last Wednesday.Russmussen's predecessor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had repeatedly refused to give a deadline for the complete withdrawal of KFOR, saying the troops would be there as long as necessary. NATO defense ministers envisaged a three-phase reduction within a time frame of two years starting from the activation of the first reduction. The final number they were looking at was around 2,200 troops, according to NATO officials.Meanwhile, Rasmussen refused to be drawn into a controversy that put his country in crisis with the Muslim world back in 2005 with the publication of 12 editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the Prophet Muhammad. Rasmussen said he considered the incident as a matter of the past. But he emphasized the need to enhance cooperation with NATO's Middle East partners, the so-called Mediterranean Dialogue countries.He said he will arrange individual meetings with each and every ambassador from the seven countries, namely Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.Rasmussen's hardline attitude toward the cartoons controversy sparked criticisms from the Muslim world and became an obstacle to his appointment as NATO chief. Turkey, a mainly Muslim country, finally dropped its opposition after it was assured of senior posts in the alliance. Rasmussen said Monday that he would do his utmost to deliver the promises. Turkey and Greece will be the two countries where he will pay his maiden visits in his capacity as NATO secretary general. Most importantly, his first practical move as NATO chief was the appointment of a 12-member expert group to work on NATO's new strategic concept, a guideline document for all activities of the organization. The experts, which will be chaired by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, will submit their conclusions to Rasmussen before consulting widely both within and outside NATO. Rasmussen will then lead negotiations with all NATO member countries. An agreed text will be adopted at NATO's next summit, which is expected to be held in late 2010 in Lisbon.NATO's current strategic concept was adopted in 1999. At their summit in April 2009, leaders of NATO countries deemed it necessary to rewrite the document as the alliance faces new security threats.

Pakistan to send list of Afghan terror camps to Kabul

ISLAMABAD: Highly placed Interior Ministry sources told DawnNews that action has been taken by Islamabad following a statement by the Afghan Interior Minister that the Afghan President did not admit that there existed militant training camps in Afghanistan.

The source said lists of suspected camps have been prepared and would be handed over to Kabul within twenty four hours.

The lists also contain information about Indian involvement in such activities on Afghan soil against Pakistan.

Talking to DawnNews, Interior Minister Rehman Malik strongly refuted the statement of his Afghan counter-part. Rehman Malik said that during his meeting with Hamid Karzai two weeks ago, he did discuss terrorist camps, and the Afghan President assured him that action would be taken.

Pakistan has prapared lists of terrorist training camp being operated from Afghan soil for carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan.

Marines fighting Taliban strive to win Afghan locals' trust

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Somewhere nearby he hears a Marine cry out: "Casualties! Casualties!" Garrett arrives at the outer wall of a housing compound and finds some of his men sprawled on the ground. Others stumble around, shell-shocked from the blast, temporarily unable to hear their own voices.

No one is badly hurt, but Garrett recognizes that Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines is in for a long, hot day. "Hopefully, everybody gets out of here alive today," he mutters.

A few miles away, but seemingly a world apart, sits another walled cluster of homes. Here, the Marines arrive the next day to a reception that may not be warm, but isn't lethal. Afghans talk with Marines; children beg them for sweets. A villager notices Marines hoisting themselves over a wall, gets their attention, and points out a shortcut.

The contrast between the two housing compounds in Afghanistan's Helmand River valley, a longtime stronghold of the Taliban militant group, illustrates the challenges facing Marines as they implement a new strategy that emphasizes winning the trust of the local population.

Using some of the 21,000 extra troops that President Obama has ordered to Afghanistan this year, the Marines are setting up small patrol bases in far-flung areas that largely had been neglected during the first seven years of the war.

By providing security, rather than just focusing on killing insurgents, the Marines hope to convince locals to turn on the Taliban and eventually hand control over to the Afghan army and police — mirroring the tactics that helped turn the war in Iraq a few years ago.

"We win when the people really believe that the government is here to help them," says Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, the battalion commander. "We can't kill our way out of an insurgency. All security does is create a vacuum. It takes the Taliban out. We'll show them that our brand of security is a lot nicer than the Taliban's."

Yet, some areas of Afghanistan have been so lawless for so long that it's extremely difficult for the Marines to establish that first critical point of contact. They're encountering armed resistance in some cases, and an equally formidable foe — fear — in others.

Hours after Garrett's unit came under attack, an Afghan man in the same troubled compound sought Garrett's help filing a claim for damages that a bomb had caused to his home. It was exactly the sort of conversation that can help forge a longer-term relationship, but it took place deep inside the man's courtyard — because the man fears the Taliban would behead him if they knew he was talking to Americans, Garrett says.

Trouble spots can be especially hard for the Marines to identify because they often co-exist with relatively peaceful areas — as happened with the two unnamed compounds that Garrett's unit encountered near the village of Hassan Abad, about 400 miles southwest of Kabul.

In an insurgency, "every village has its own microclimate," says John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

Nagl says control of a particular area — "even (a) neighborhood or street," he says — can hinge on a variety of factors including how long Afghan security forces have been there, whether there are any insurgent bases nearby, and even what tribe the local population belongs to.

At the safer housing compound, locals seem to understand why the Americans are there. Many even feel safe enough to approach them and ask for medical help.

"This is God's will that they come here for our security," says Abdul Ali, 50. "We don't like the Taliban. Whoever can bring us peace is who we want."

Down the road at the troubled compound, the Marines believe the Taliban have been active for a longer period of time, says Capt. Junwei Sun, 31, Fox Company commander.

The Marines are racing to learn more — taking photos, iris scans, fingerprints, and names of the compound's residents to compile a database of suspected insurgents, just as was done in troubled areas of Iraq.

Ultimately, though, the best intelligence likely will come from whatever Garrett and his men are able to glean while headquartered at their new patrol base nearby.

Almost 'paradise'

The "Jugroom" base is a fortress made up of fabric and steel-mesh cylinders of packed soil and rock called Hescos. The floor is gravel. Temperatures routinely soar above 120 degrees, drawing Marines in their downtime to cool off in the irrigation ditch that runs through their outpost.

There's no TV, no Internet, and they line up to make brief calls home by satellite phone. There's one hot meal a day, the remainder are packaged Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

It's not an easy life, and the Marines seem to revel in it.

"We're a refrigerator away from paradise," Garrett says.

Well before dawn, Fox Company and a group of Afghan soldiers under Garrett's command rouse themselves for a march toward a group of homes near the village of Hassan Abad. Intercepted communication from the Taliban suggest they're waiting to attack, Garrett says.

The Marines are particularly exposed during such missions — the paths in this area appear too small for a Humvee, much less Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), the armored trucks designed to help troops withstand roadside bombs.

"At home, we trained up for 50% vehicle, 50% foot patrols," says Gunnery Sgt. Denis Desmarais, 29, an explosives expert. "Here, it's 90% on foot."

At 6:50 a.m., as Marines approach the compound, they hear the first blast from an improvised explosive device (IED).

Bursts of gunfire erupt. Some rounds are close enough for Garrett to order his men to take cover. A half-hour later, the bomb explodes that dazes his men.

In all that day, the Marines find five IEDs, made of fertilizer and fuel and triggered remotely by copper wires buried in hard-packed dirt. One of the bombs, evidently designed to kill Marines scrambling to rescue victims of the first, fails to detonate. It's uncovered by explosive ordnance technicians, hacking through the dirt with hunting knives.

"This place is just riddled with IEDs," says Sun, the Company commander. "Every time we come here we get shot at."

In other areas of Afghanistan — such as Jalalabad, where the U.S. military has made significant inroads and Afghan security forces are better established — locals often provide tips as to where IEDs are hidden.

Until that kind of trust takes root elsewhere in the country, though, the danger will remain high: At least 43 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, making it the deadliest month of the entire war. Three more U.S. troops died in a militant ambush in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, bringing the U.S. death toll for August to six, the Associated Press reported.

For Garrett's platoon, the attacks end by mid-morning, allowing Marines and Afghan soldiers to conduct house-to-house searches for bomb-making equipment. Many of the residents say they knew about the bombs, and where they were planted, but wouldn't tell Marines because they feared retaliation from the Taliban.

An elderly man trembles as he tells this to Garrett through an interpreter.

"Yeah, I know," Garrett tells his interpreter. "Nobody sees anything."

'We'll have to kill them'

Some militants will be easier to convince to lay down their weapons than others, Sun says. Some of them are paid by the Taliban to attack U.S. and Afghan troops, he says. In other cases, parents are compelled, through death threats, to have their sons join the fight. Those are the types who often will switch sides if security can be established, Sun says.

"There is a handful of extremists you can't flip," Sun says. "We'll have to kill them."

There are some potential glimpses of a brighter future. When Garrett's unit sets out on its mission to the calmer compound, the troops charged with looking for IEDs with handheld metal detectors are able to quickly find a clear path. There were times the day before that they couldn't take a step without hearing beeps indicating the buried metal of bombs' trigger wires.

The troops quickly cross fields of corn, flooded paddies of rice and gardens filled with ripening tomatoes, okra and melons. Children drive sheep and goats to pens and pull cows to pasture. A man tends a field with hundreds of chest-high marijuana plants. The Marines laugh and snap pictures. It's hardly the Welcome Wagon, but residents don't seem hostile.

"I like the Afghan soldiers," says Sardar Mohammed, 10. "I don't like the U.S. They fight, but there is no clear effect."

The boy's criticism amuses Garrett. He's pleased the child views the Afghan soldiers positively. "It's their country," Garrett says. "They'll have to take care of it."

Next door, Abdul Ali, the boy's neighbor, clasps Garrett's hand and thanks him.

Meanwhile, work is underway to buttress the improving relationships with economic aid. Cabaniss, the battalion commander, points to a project, funded with $20,000 from emergency funds, that allowed the local government to unplug a sluice gate and improve irrigation around the town of Garmsir.

More Afghan forces needed

Time may be running out for such efforts to take hold, says Arturo Munoz, a expert on Helmand province at the RAND Corp., a think tank.

"In southern Helmand today, the central government has one last chance to get it right and provide law and order to the citizens of this region," Munoz says. "If it fails in this mission, then the ultimate objectives of this (Marine) campaign in Helmand likely will not be met."

There are about 10,000 Marines in Helmand, 4,000 of whom are involved in the offensive. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, says the current U.S. strategy is sound but manpower is still short. "One element that is in short supply is Afghan soldiers," he says.

Cabaniss and Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the Marines in Helmand, acknowledge that there aren't enough Afghan security forces involved as of now. About 650 soldiers took part as Marines swept south into the province July 2, and reinforcements are promised.

The Afghan soldiers who are present often need training. Garrett's men were accompanied by an Afghan unit led by 1st Lt. Saifur Rahman, 22, as they searched houses. They appeared willing to fight, though Rahman complained during the first patrol that his men didn't have time to break for lunch. Rahman says he joined the Afghan army because he couldn't find another job.

On the second day, one Afghan soldier fired warning shots at what turned out to be a family heading to a wedding party. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, has put renewed emphasis eliminating civilian deaths, which he said eroded support for the government in years past.

Garrett barked at the Afghan soldiers: "No more shooting. No more."

Unlike the previous day's 10-hour marathon, this patrol ends before lunch. No shots were fired at U.S. or Afghan troops, and they don't find any IEDs. They return to their base. There, they'll have time to eat and check their gear.

"We'll send them back on patrol later," Garrett says. "No days off here."

Pakistan blames Islamists linked to al-Qaida for attack on Christians
The Pakistani government has blamed a Sunni militant group linked to al-Qaida for leading an attack on a Christian community at the weekend that killed eight people, including three women and a child.

Christian schools and colleges across Pakistan closed today for three days to protest against the killings in Gojra, a scruffy town in Punjab province, on Saturday. Community leaders appealed for calm as paramilitary rangers patrolled the streets.

Thousands of Muslims rampaged through a Christian neighbourhood after days of tension over reports that a Qur'an had been burned at a Christian wedding. Six people were burned alive in one house, while two others were shot dead.

More than 100 houses were torched by a mob that, according to some officials estimates, swelled to more than 20,000 people. The police intervened with teargas but failed to stop the violence.

Pakistan has an estimated 2.8 million Christians, mostly living in Punjab and employed in poorly-paid jobs. Sectarian violence led by Muslim extremists erupts periodically, usually triggered by blasphemy allegations. The federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, said the latest attack was led by militants from Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), a banned militant group notorious for violence against Shia Muslims during the 1990s.

In recent years, members of SSP and its more virulent offshoot, Lashkar I Jhangvi, have been linked to numerous Taliban and al-Qaida attacks. SSP's historical base is in Jhang, close to Gojra.

Under Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, defilement of Islam's holy book is punishable by life imprisonment. Human rights campaigners say the law is frequently abused to settle personal scores or exploit communal tensions.

Punjab's law minister, Rana Sanaullah, said initial investigations had debunked the Qur'an defilement theory and 12 people had been arrested.

"This is not the work of Muslims. A group of extremists have exploited the situation," he told a group of Christians after funeral prayers for one of the dead yesterday.

Media commentators and newspaper editorials condemned the attack as the latest sign of virulent Islamism threatening Pakistan, as the army fights the Taliban on its north-western borders. "Ours is an intolerant society, and we are particularly intolerant of those whose faith is not Muslim," said the News.

A spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari promised an inquiry into the incident.

Afghan challengers target Karzai

(CNN) -- In less than three weeks, Afghan voters -- still reeling from one of the most violent months since the war on terror started -- head to the polls for what some call the country's first-ever truly contested election. Two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, have emerged as the top contenders among the dozens hoping to unseat President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since shortly after the 2001 fall of the Taliban and is seeking re-election.

Abdullah and Ghani spoke to CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on Sunday, expressing disappointment with the current administration in Kabul and what they hope to accomplish if they win the August 20 election.

Karzai "turned out to be a very poor manager, in the sense that he could not deal with issues in a manner that would respond to the needs and aspirations of the people and create a sense of momentum," Ghani said. "The other side was his tolerance for corruption that grew into a massive disease, into a cancer that's eating through the society."

He noted that Afghanistan's government has been ranked by the Brookings Institute as the fifth most corrupt; the center of drug production; and "a place of disenchantment of the population with this government." He blamed what he called Karzai's "bad governance" for the return of the Taliban force -- not a military or ideological resurgence.

"I have talked to a lot of people in the south, where the heart of the insurgency is. And time and again, their story comes to one thing: an injustice that could no longer be tolerated and forced them to active resistance," Ghani said.

Earlier this year, Karzai said in an interview that if he wins another five-year term, he will put a special emphasis on building dams and bringing electricity to the Afghan people. A U.S. government assessment determined that less than 10 percent of Afghans have access to electric power.
Karzai emphasized also the importance in the coming years of what he described as the "peace process" with the Taliban. He characterized it as being at "the heart" of what his government hopes to achieve, and said he is "glad that the Obama administration is backing this."

Fifty-nine percent of this year's civilian casualties resulted from insurgent bombs. The U.N. report concluded that Taliban insurgents -- which have regrouped and gained momentum since 2004 -- are "basing themselves in civilian areas so as to deliberately blur the distinction between combatants and civilians, and as part of what appears to be an active policy aimed at drawing a military response to areas where there is a high likelihood that civilians will be killed."

"Because of the resentment of the people, dissatisfaction of the people towards the government, the current administration is losing the people, and it is strengthening the insurgency," presidential contender Abdullah told CNN Sunday. "That trend has to reverse before anything else could happen."

"There is no doubt there is a hardcore element in it," he added. "But there are thousands of people under the same brand, Taliban, which have joined the insurgency because of other reasons."

Abdullah, a former foreign minister of Afghanistan, was a key figure in the Northern Alliance, the opposition group that helped the United States topple the Taliban after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

He called Karzai's previous relationship with the Bush administration a "blind date," saying both sides ultimately realized the partnership was not sincere.

"I think in the United States is a new beginning and a new approach towards many issues, including Afghanistan," Abdullah said, referring to the Obama administration. "In Afghanistan there is a hope that, as a result of the elections, there will be another opportunity for working together in order to help Afghanistan stabilize ... "

The United States and Britain recently said they are committed to remaining in Afghanistan, despite increased military casualties and declining public support for the war effort. Last week, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters that boosting the training of Afghan forces would be a big focus after the country's August 20 election. When asked whether the election would be fair, Holbrooke, who just returned from the region, said he had heard complaints from all sides but was not "unduly upset."
Ghani told CNN that "an exit date" for international forces should be a long-term goal for his country. But the first issue at hand is establishing a cease-fire with insurgents."First we need to get a cease-fire -- this is not going to be an easy issue," he said. "But we need to try everything possible, so we can build a cease-fire. ... International forces in Afghanistan, in general, and those of the United States, in particular, are not here to colonize Afghanistan or to build an empire. They are here to create a stable Afghanistan that would be a source of stability to the region and the world at large."

About 200 arrested in violence against Christians in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- About 200 people have been arrested in a flare-up of anti-Christian violence in Gojra that left seven dead, a government minister said Monday.
Rana Sana Ullah, Punjab's provincial law minister, told CNN that the paramilitary Rangers force was helping police and maintaining law and order.

Seven people were killed and 20 injured Saturday when Muslim demonstrators set fire to houses in a Christian enclave and fighting broke out, authorities said. Police said the Muslims were protesting an alleged desecration of pages in the Quran, the Muslim sacred text, at a Christian wedding.

At a news conference in Islamabad carried on local TV, Shehbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, said an investigation determined there was no desecration of the Quran in village 95 Gill near Gojra City, and the allegations were baseless. He also said the government will rebuild all the burned houses.

Bhatti told CNN that four women, two men and a child, all Christians, were either shot to death or killed when their houses were burned. About 50 houses were burned down, and more than 100 were looted by the protesters, Bhatti said. The incident occurred in Gojra City, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Lahore.
Kamran Michael, Punjab provincial minister for human rights and minority affairs, who is a Christian, told CNN after meeting with Pakistan's Christian leaders in Gojra that a consensus had been reached to observe three days of mourning, from Monday to Wednesday, for the attack on the Christians.

On those three days, all schools, colleges, missions and educational institutions run by Christians will remain closed. Christian schools in Karachi, which were due to open for the new term Monday, remained closed. However, schools in most other areas of Pakistan are still on summer vacation.

Michael also criticized Pakistan's "law of offenses relating to religion," which has a penalty of life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran and even death for defiling the name of the prophet Mohammed. He called the law unjust and misused, and he strongly condemned it, demanding that it be amended because of its misuse against minorities.

Pakistan Valley Tries to Heal, and Fears Dark Battles Ahead

MINGORA, Pakistan — Schools have officially reopened. Soldiers stand guard at checkpoints and have established a semblance of order. Many thousands have returned here to a town that is mostly intact, if still under a military presence.

But Mingora, a battle-scarred city in the Swat Valley, remains tense. Pakistan’s efforts to restore normalcy — a vital test of the government’s resolve to stand up to the Taliban — waver between fear and hope, leaving an enduring victory over the militants a distant goal.

Beneath the surface of relative calm, there is the sense that a new and more insidious conflict may be afoot, one that could take many months to play out before the fate of this once-prosperous region is ultimately decided.

On Sunday morning, a body, hands bound with rope and shot in the back of the head, lay on the sidewalk of a main road. A note pinned to the shirt and written in Urdu gave the victim’s, Gul Khitab, and said he was from Matta, one of the remaining Taliban strongholds. “Enemy of Swat,” it read.

Rumors abound of other bodies being dumped in the last two weeks, a signal that the army may be prepared to use extrajudicial killings to settle scores. A government employee, Murad Ali, who peered at the body, said he had seen three bodies, shot in the head, lying in similar fashion in the past six days.

Asked about the identity of the man, an army commander who stopped to look, and then moved on, said with a grin, “Maybe a bad guy.” A military spokesman, Maj. Nasir Khan, said the army was unaware of the death and did not condone extrajudicial killing.

If no one knew precisely what to make of the body, it was a clear enough sign that the conflict in Swat was not over.

To the fear and frustration of those who suffered at their hands, the top Taliban leaders remain on the loose. Taliban fighters have melted away to the periphery of Swat or to neighboring areas, like Dir, leaving soldiers and civilians alike filled with dread of when — and how — the insurgents would return.

On Friday, warning shots could be heard, as jittery soldiers, worried about suicide bombers, patrolled on with hair triggers.

Three months after the Pakistani military began its offensive, many among the more than one million displaced have returned, expecting calm but still uncertain whether the military can guarantee it.

The failure to kill or capture Taliban leaders has left many here suspicious that the military is not serious about taking on the Taliban. To allay fears, the military has publicly presented four teenage boys who it says were captured by the Taliban and placed in a training camp with more than 100 other boys, all of them hostages.

The boys said they were lectured by a trainer on how the army was an “infidel” organization filled with “apostates.” The four boys said they escaped in less than two weeks.

For the moment, the military’s presence is tolerated. But the fact that soldiers are holed up in schools — the prestigious Sarosh Academy is being used as a prison for Taliban militants — does not make people happy, either.

The western part of the city remains barricaded. The many requirements to secure the peace — functioning courts and other government services — seem months away.

“One year — we’ll be lucky if we get this under control,” Atif ur-Rehman, the district coordinating officer who is one of the senior government officials in Swat, said in the garden of his residence on a hill above the town.

Mr. Rehman, the point man for foreign donors who are beginning to line up with plans for reconstructing Swat, said the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were assessing needs based on the damage to buildings, roads and bridges after two years of periodic fighting between the militants and the army, and the three-month offensive.

The United Nations planned to help restore health and education services. The United States Agency for International Development had also offered to help.

“Their mode of working is slower than the government of Pakistan,” Mr. Rehman said of his meeting with officials at the American agency.

Whether these foreign aid programs can be done fast enough to satisfy the people who are most vulnerable to the lure of the militants is a pressing concern.

At Takhtaband, an impoverished area on the edge of Mingora, Rahim Khan described two aerial strikes by the Pakistani military around 5 p.m. on May 15, at a playground where children were playing cricket.

The strikes killed 27 people, including his mother, father and eight children, Mr. Khan said. The second raid came as relatives picked up the wounded and the dead from the first attack, Mr. Khan said.

Nearby, as he spoke, a skull was lodged in a crevice among the broken bricks, and from the smell it seemed likely that bodies were still strewn beneath them.

The strike was apparently intended for an adjacent farm that was used by the Taliban, Mr. Khan said. The farm was untouched by the attack, though six or seven Taliban were also killed in the strikes, he said.

The most bitter experience, he said, was dragging 12 of the most seriously wounded on a harrowing two-day walk to a hospital in Malakand. Some were carried on the backs of men, and others were put in wheelbarrows, he said. Six of the 12 later died, he said.

The May 15 date described by Mr. Khan corresponds to official army reports, made May 18, that heavy fighting was under way in the Takhtaband area, and that two Taliban commanders had been killed.

For most of the 20th century, Swat was a place apart in Pakistan. It was run until 1969 by a hereditary ruler, and its natural beauty of cascading rivers, towering mountains and pristine forests drew wealthy Pakistanis.

The Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation hotel reopened two weeks ago. It still serves tea in pots covered by cozies and poured into flower-patterned china cups, one of the few genteel touches to survive the traumas of the last two years.

The owner of a copy shop, Jehangir Khan, said his customers now were mostly those applying for government compensation for damaged property. “Business is equal to nothing,” he said.

Would Swat ever be the same? “It’s difficult to see,” he said. “The government never takes care of its promises.”

Christian schools close after Pakistan killings

KARACHI — Christian schools and colleges went on strike in Pakistan Monday to protest against the killing of seven Christians in bloody riots that heightened fears of widening unrest, officials said.
"We are mourning the death of innocent people in Gojra and have closed our schools in Karachi for three days from today," said Saleem Michael, an official of the Catholic Board of Education in Pakistan's financial capital.
The board controls about 62 schools in Karachi where around 50,000 students are enrolled, Michael said.
"We believe in peace, so we are protesting against the Gojra tragedy in a peaceful manner," he said.
An angry mob of Muslims torched 40 houses and a church in the remote village of Gojra, 160 kilometres (99 miles) west of Lahore in Pakistan's heartland province of Punjab, on Saturday.
The violence broke out over the alleged desecration of the Koran. In all, seven Christians died, officials said.
Two children -- a brother and sister aged six and 13 -- their parents and 75-year-old grandfather were burnt to death after the mob locked them inside a room of their house, Father Shabbir told AFP by telephone from Gojra.
"Five members of one family burnt to death, including innocent children and their parents. How we can feel safe and secure in such a country?" he said.
Ayub Sajid, a Christian community leader in the central town of Multan, said 13 missionary schools due to re-open after the holidays in central Punjab, would remain closed for three days to mourn and protest the killings.
Christians have accused the local administration of siding with the Muslims and failing to protect Christians following an earlier attack late last month.
"The blasphemy law is always used against minorities... Now minorities all over Pakistan feel they aren't secure," said Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a Christian member of the Punjab provincial parliament.
Another Christian lawmaker in North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan in western Pakistan, also echoed the same fears.
"We have cancelled all functions in Peshawar and other districts. We will mourn the killing for three days," Prince Javed told AFP.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered an inquiry into the alleged desecration of the Koran and appealed to residents of the area to remain calm.
Desecrating the Koran is punishable by death under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, although no executions have ever been carried out.