Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Millers carry the day, allowed to sell sugar at Rs55

ISLAMABAD: Acceding to pressure of powerful sugar millers, the government allowed on Tuesday the sale of sugar at over Rs55 a kg in the open market and suspended a crackdown on millers and traders.

Although the government fixed the ex-mill price of sugar at Rs48 per kg in Sindh and Rs49.75 in Punjab and the NWFP, the retail price will be Rs55.68 in Sindh and Rs57.71 in Punjab and the NWFP after levying 16 per cent general sales tax (GST).

The price for consumers will further increase to about Rs60 after inclusion of the wholesale profit margin and transportation cost.

The decisions were taken at a six-hour meeting of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) with the ministry of industries.

The price of sugar two months ago was Rs36 a kg. Industries Minister Manzoor Wattoo told a press conference that provinces had been asked to stop action against millers and hoarders which, according to him, disrupted the supply chain.

He said the provinces had been asked to help millers restore supply of sugar in the

He said imported sugar would cost Rs65 a kg. The minister did not mention the ex-mill price for Balochistan.

Under an agreement, millers would provide 10,000 tons of sugar to the Punjab government at Rs40 a kg, he said.

He said the federal government would appreciate similar arrangements by other provinces with millers.

It was agreed that millers would offload 200,000 tons of sugar in the open market in Ramazan.

Mr Wattoo said the Tandlianwala and other mills had started supplying sugar to the Trading Corporation.

Presiding over a meeting on hoarding of essential commodities earlier, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered the industries ministry to ensure availability of sugar in the market.

He called for stern action against hoarders and profiteers of essential items, including sugar.

The prime minister suspended the 25 per cent regulatory duty on import of potatoes.

It was decided that 300,000 tons of raw sugar would be imported to meet the shortfall in the next season.

The meeting was told that all provincial governments had appointed special price magistrates.

The prime minister ordered monitoring of prices on a weekly basis during Ramazan.

The economic coordination committee (ECC) had approved the waiver of the duty on import of potatoes on the directives of the prime minister.

At a meeting presided over by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, the committee also waived the condition of presentation of national identity card for purchasing items from utility stores.

It approved an increase in the Utility Stores Corporation’s quota of essential commodities.

It was decided that the USC would sell 100,000 tons of sugar at Rs38 per kg during Ramazan instead of the normal 40,000 tons per month. It will be equivalent to one-third of the national consumption.

The additional sugar will be released from imported stocks. As part of the Ramazan package, the quantity of flour to be sold at a discount of Rs2 was increased from 100,000 tons to 150,000 tons. Sale of ghee and oil at Rs91 per kg — a discount of Rs20 — will be increased from 30,000 tons to 50,000 tons.

It was decided that a third-party inspection team would conduct random checks at utility stores for prices, availability and quality.

Services of the National Logistics Cell will be acquired for transporting the commodities.

The meeting was informed that the price of sugar in India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran was Rs50, Rs57, Rs52 and Rs56, respectively.

It decided that the federal and provincial governments would evolve a joint mechanism for stabilising prices and keeping a check on hoarding.

The federal and provincial governments will hold Sunday, Friday and Ramazan bazaars and the USC will set up mobile outlets there.

The ECC also approved the implementation of a combined cycle project at Guddu by Genco-II under the management of the Pakistan Electric Power Company at the engineering, procurement and construction cost of $602 million.

Flash floods in Pakistan kill at least 27, U.N. says

- At least 27 people have died in northwestern Pakistan and nine are missing in flash floods since the weekend that have also destroyed houses, crops and livestock, the United Nations said Tuesday."The final toll could be higher," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), told a news conference in Geneva.Much of the maize, rice, sugarcane and tobacco crops in the Swabi and Mardan districts of North West Frontier Province have been submerged by heavy rainfall which has affected some 80,000 people in Swabi alone since Sunday, she said.Food insecurity is expected in coming months as most farmers store six months of wheat or dry rations in their mud homes, an estimated 400-450 of which have been swept away, Byrs said.Medicine, shelter material and drinking water was needed, OCHA said. U.N. agencies are sending items including tents.The Pakistan military went on the offensive in the Swat valley northwest of the capital in late April to drive out Taliban militants.The offensive forced nearly 2 million people from their homes but many have been returning in recent weeks since the army said most militants had been cleared from the valley.OCHA said Swabi and Mardan are the districts with the largest number of people displaced due to military operations in Malakand Division, an area of North West Frontier Province that includes the Swat valley. Swabi hosted displaced persons from Buner district, while Mardan took in those from Swat."Unfortunately this bad weather is seriously complicating aid operations, notably for the displaced population coming back to Buner district in Malakand," said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Afghanistan Imposes News Censorship on Election Day

KABUL, Afghanistan — Unnerved by another wave of deadly pre-election attacks by Taliban insurgents including a rocket assault aimed at the presidential palace, the Afghan government on Tuesday ordered unusual restrictions on all news organizations, banning them from reporting suicide bombings and other violence during the Thursday vote.

At least eight people were killed in one of the attacks, a suicide car bombing, including a soldier of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, and two Afghans working for the United Nations mission, and 53 people were wounded, officials said. Of the rockets that hit Kabul early Tuesday morning, one landed on the grounds of the presidential palace and another hit a police station. No one was hurt by the rockets, officials said, but the audacity of the attacks in the heart of the capital demonstrated the power of the insurgents to disrupt and intimidate.

Even as the government, and United States and NATO forces have worked hard to secure polling centers in violence-prone southern Afghanistan, they find themselves increasingly locked in a propaganda battle with the Taliban, as it wages a campaign of fear to deter voters.

The Taliban has issued repeated warnings in statements to the press — the most recent emailed to reporters by a spokesman Monday — and carried out two massive suicide car bombings and rocket attacks on the capital in two days, to create a sense of fear to keep voters at home.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing when contacted by telephone.

In another attack on Tuesday morning, in the southern province of Oruzgan, a suicide bomber walked up to an Afghan National Army checkpoint and detonated his explosive vest, killing three soldiers and two civilians, according to the provincial police chief, Juma Gul Himat.

The government meanwhile has urged people not to be deterred and to come out and vote on Thursday in presidential and provincial council elections. No one was hurt in the rocket attacks and President Hamid Karzai had started work half an hour before the rocket hit at 7 A.m., presidential spokesman Homayoun Hamidzada said.

“Such kind of attacks shows that the enemies want to disrupt the election process, but we ask people to exercise their right of participation in the elections with strong will,” he said at a news briefing.

“They will try to attack polling stations and intimidate people, but we are working hard in close coordination with ISAF and other international security forces, as well as with the Independent Electoral Commission to maintain security,” he said.

Later the Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a statement asking all domestic and international news agencies to refrain from broadcasting any incidence of violence between 6 A.M. and 8 P.M. on election day. The National Security Council had made the decision “in view of the need to ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people in up-coming presidential and provincial council elections, and prevent any election-related terrorist violence,” the statement said.

The government is concerned that a show of force by the Taliban and low turnout will undermine the credibility of the elections. Low turnout, especially in the war-torn south, would affect Mr Karzai’s results in the election, since the ethnic Pashtuns who populate the south are the base of his support.

Yet the Taliban has been stepping up its campaign against the elections. In an emailed statement Tuesday, sent by spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed, the movement denied that any agreements had been made with the government to allow elections to take place. It described talk of peace deals as a “cunning trick” by the enemy.

“The Islamic Emirates now makes clear to the people that the result of this election will never be acceptable,” the statement said. “The world community and our fellow countrymen must not see this process as flourishing and as an Afghan process,” it said.

The propaganda seems to be working. Local television stations were reporting Tuesday that shop owners were already closing their shops in Kabul, and in the eastern city of Khost, in fear of attacks or other violence over the elections.

The toll from the suicide bombing in Kabul, the second in two days, was also high. One eye-witness said he saw a white saloon car race after a British military logistics convoy and explode as it slammed into it.

“Suddenly we heard a very loud bomb and a big cloud of dust rose from where the

attack happened,” said Ghulam Muhammad, 22, who saw the car from his vegetable store. “Six to seven people were wounded and we tried to help and take them to an ambulance but then the security forces stopped us,” he said. “The explosion was huge and I could see many people lying on the road,” he said.

Seven people were killed and 51 wounded, all civilians, the head of the police criminal investigation department, Sayed Abdul Ghaffar said at the scene. Eighteen cars were set on fire by the explosion and shops and stalls damaged, he said.

The attack occurred just off the main road leading east out of the capital to Jalalabad. A statement from ISAF said one foreign soldier was killed and two others wounded in the attack. A statement from Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said seven civilians were killed and 50 wounded.

The United Nations confirmed that two of its Afghan staff members were among those killed.

Shortly before the explosion NATO-led forces said they would suspend offensive operations on election day, only deploying coalition and Afghan troops to protect voters, election monitors and polling stations.

“In support of the Afghan National Security Forces who lead the security efforts during the electoral process, only those operations that are deemed necessary to protect the population will be conducted on that day,” they said in a statement.

Pakistan Captures Top Taliban Aide

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan has captured the chief spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban, security officials said Tuesday, dealing another blow to the militant network two weeks after its top commander was apparently killed in an American airstrike.

The spokesman, Maulvi Said Muhammad, who also goes by the name Maulvi Omar, was captured by local Pakistani tribesmen in Mohmand Agency, a Taliban stronghold in western Pakistan, and turned over to Pakistani forces, security officials said.

The officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the arrest publicly, said Mr. Omar confirmed the death of the top commander, Baitullah Mehsud, during an interrogation.

It was impossible to verify their accounts.

One security official said Mr. Omar, who was captured along with two bodyguards, had indicated there were “problems” within the movement over leadership.

“Omar was unnerved in the beginning but later broke up and started singing,” the official said.

Security officials said Mr. Omar told them that he wanted to go to the Orakzai tribal region for consultations over a successor to Mr. Mehsud, but that he was forced to try to return to his native Bajaur tribal region because of fighting between two militant factions along the route.

He was captured by pro-government tribesmen, turned over to the paramilitary Frontier Corps and then airlifted to Peshawar, the main city in western Pakistan.

Televised images showed a prisoner believed to be Mr. Omar being bundled into a helicopter. One senior military official said Mr. Omar had apparently been beaten by the tribesmen, though it was impossible to verify that account. “He is being treated for wounds,” the official said. “He seems grievously injured. We will subject him to interrogation when he recovers.”

We will never forget help, support of China

PESHAWAR: The NWFP(PUKHTUNKHWA) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani has said, modern China has brought with it economic development, prosperity and peace in its neighbour, and in Pakistan, having historical bonds of relationship with it, we consider this development a great and valuable change. Talking during a reception arranged by NWFP Chapter of Pak – China Friendship Association; a volunteer organization, at Frontier House, the Governor said, “for us rising China as economic power has been a very pleasant phenomena, which, he remarked, is indeed an historical one”. Ambassador of China in Pakistan Lu Zhauhai accompanied by owners and senior officials of a number of Chinese companies working in Pakistan attended the ceremony, besides the office bearers of the association. Referring to the help and contribution of China in the economic development of Pakistan, the Governor especially referred to certain institutions including Heavy Mechanical Complex, Taxila, and said, “all these are the great gifts through which we have benefited a lot and through which we have made further industrialization and established a number cement and sugar factories and manufactured heavy construction machineries. The Governor also mentioned the recent wave of terrorism and extremism and said, despite facing many difficulties and critical problems, including the loss of precious lives, the Chinese engineers continued their services in different parts of the country and we really appreciate their sacrifices in this respect. He also pointed out, the situation in NWFP is improving and we have started focusing on other pressing issues of rehabilitation and socio economic development of the people. “We hope, things are developing positively and we would have more significant contribution of Chinese friends in economic development of our country, especially in this province”. On the diplomatic front, the Governor said, China has always stood with us in every hour of test and we will never forget the help and support our Chinese brothers. The Governor also appreciated the role and services of the Pak – China Friendship Association in developing people to people relationships between both the countries. The Chinese Ambassador Mr. Lu Zhauhai also spoke on this occasion and appreciated the efforts of the Association in developing better understanding at people to people level between both the countries and bringing them more closer to each other. Earlier Tasleem Advocate, President and Ali Nawaz Gilani, Secretary of the Association welcoming the guests highlighted the aims and objectives as well as achievements of the Association since its creation in 1971. “People of both the countries have great respect and regards for their friendship”, they said. Later the Governor formally cut a cake to mark the ceremony. Ambulances, medical equipment handed over to Fata Secretariat The NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani on Tuesday handed over ambulances and state of the art medical equipment worth Rs.500 million to the Additional Chief Secretary FATA at a simple ceremony held here at Governor’s House. These Ambulances and equipment would be supplied to different medical facilities in FATA including Frontier Regions. Earlier, the Governor inspected the huge lot of equipment including medical, electro-medical and surgical as well as stationery and electronic items and furniture and fixtures. Seven Ambulances fully loaded and equipped with state of the art machinery and facilities also comprised the lot. Director Health FATA Dr. Fawad Khan briefed the Governor about the importance and usage of different diagnostic and treatment equipments. The Governor expressed the hope that provision of these equipment to FATA hospitals would further improve and augment the Medicare facilities for the tribal people. He reiterated the govt.’s commitment to the provision of state of the art medical facilities to the tribal populace at their door steps and urged the medical staff posted in the Agencies and FRs to work honestly and devotedly to mitigate the sufferings of tribesmen particularly in the health sector. Secretary to Governor Arbab Mohammad Arif besides heads of health institutions in tribal Agencies and FRs and officials of Health department FATA attended the ceremony. Meanwhile, Peshawar based Principal Officer of US Consulate Ms. Lynne Tracy had a farewell call on NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani at Governor's House, here on Tuesday. She remained with Governor for some time and discussed matters of mutual interest. The Governor appreciated her role and services in fulfillment of her responsibilities and wished her success in future as well. He also presented a shield as memorandum of her visit to the Governor's House.

Richard Holbrooke and Nawaz Sharif

Holbrooke and Nawaz
M Waqar New York
Once again, Obama’s US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke met Nawaz sharif and made a statement that,’’ Distancing from Nawaz to hamper US interests”... I think it will be disastrous for Obama administration if, Washington thinks that Nawaz Sharif can be a reliable partner of Washington in fighting Taliban. Nawaz Sharif has sympathies with Osama bin laden, al-Quaeda and Taliban. According to a former ISI official, Nawaz Sharif met Osama bin Laden and received funds from him, he met Osama three times and desperately asked for financial assistance. Bin Laden, who had offered him money to topple the Pakistan People’s Party government of Benazir Bhutto in 1990. Al-Qaeda head wanted the “secular” PPP government overthrown to ensure that Pakistan continued supporting the Afghan “jihad” and Laden was against a woman ruling Pakistan. Nawaz met Osama thrice in Saudi Arabia, these meetings were arranged by former ISI official Khalid Khawaja. Nawaz Sharif was hoping for a grant of Rs 500 million. Although Bin Laden gave a smaller amount, Khawaja said that he arranged for Sharif to meet the Saudi royal family, which pledged political support for him and kept its word until he was dislodged by President Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Nawaz has been an ardent supporter of Taliban. I am afraid that his coming to power at this critical juncture will be bad news for Pakistan, because Pakistan is already facing Taliban mutiny. Sharif is on record stating he would prefer Pakistan to be run like the Taliban ran Afghanistan, and we all know how well that turned out. Sharif’s reckless embrace of religious extremism led him to try and impose Sharia (Islamic law) on Pakistan in 1998 and declare himself “Amirul Momineen” (Leader of the Faithful). Sharif’s desire for power is even greater than his respect for innocent life. Convicted for hijacking, he put the lives of 198 people on a plane in jeopardy by refusing to allow it to land. At the time of his removal from office, Nawaz Sharif had looted approximately $60 million from people of Pakistan, via personally owned companies.
Saved from: http://www.thefrontierpost.com/News.aspx?ncat=le&nid=864&ad=19-08-200
Dated: Wednesday, August 19, 2009, Sha'ban 27, 1430 A.H.

In Pakistan tribal belt, female reporters get a voice

Radio Khyber's female journalists defy a Pashtun tenet barring women from being heard by strangers. Even so, the Taliban-wary trailblazers avoid issues such as women's rights and tribal politics.Radio Khyber airs in the heart of Pakistan's wild and volatile tribal areas, where women are bound by strict centuries-old codes of conduct handed down by generations of Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in northwestern Pakistan.The code's tenets are oppressive and nonnegotiable. Women should confine themselves to their homes and the sole task of raising children. When they go to markets and other public places, a male relative should accompany them. And their voices should never be heard by strangers.Asma Nawar, a 25-year-old Pashtun with wide brown eyes and a crisp, resonant voice, repeatedly breaks that last rule as a reporter for Radio Khyber."I feel good about that," she says, peering out from the maroon-and-yellow veil that covers the rest of her face. "I can't say that our cultural values are wrong, but I think women should come out and work, and get the jobs they want."Nawar and two other women hired in the last year as reporters for the radio station see themselves as trailblazers in a part of Pakistan that mires its women in old world thinking.The Taliban, which believes in keeping women away from college and work, still controls large swaths of Pakistan's tribal belt along the Afghan border. In the poverty-ravaged Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the dismal 3% literacy rate for women is far lower than the already low overall rate of 17% for the region.Additionally, the Taliban does not hesitate to demonstrate its views on education for women. This year, Taliban militants burned down scores of girls' schools throughout the Swat Valley.Nawar narrows her gaze when the subject of the Taliban comes up."We know they are listening to us," she says in a studio at the University of Peshawar, where she and Radio Khyber's other two female journalists prepare and edit their radio pieces. "Am I worried? No, because I'm doing the right job."Based in the village of Jamrud, 28 miles from the border with Afghanistan, Radio Khyber is able to employ women as journalists because its editors and producers know just how far to push the boundaries.They minimize the risks for the women by barring them from doing stories in the tribal areas. And they have Nawar and her female colleagues focus primarily on children, education and healthcare, considered here as women's issues. Subjects such as tribal politics and regional military operations are off-limits. Their editors ask them to not conduct interviews in the homes of women, a practice that Pashtun society frowns on.RadioKhyber director Taib Afridi also discourages his female journalists from delving into issues of women's rights. Stories interpreted by tribal elders as calls for women in the tribal areas to rise up could trigger a strong backlash against the station, Afridi says."The dilemma for women in [the tribal areas] is that they can go to the village water tank to get water, but to go to a hospital or a school, a wedding or a funeral, they need to be accompanied by a male," he says."These journalists must be very careful to not give advice that could be viewed as promoting women's rights or empowerment," he says. In the tribal areas, "if you give voice to the voiceless, this could be dangerous."
Pashtun women outside the tribal areas enjoy a bit more freedom. Nawar, who grew up in the town of Nowshera just outside Peshawar, took the job at the FM radio station eight months ago after graduating from the University of Peshawar with a journalism degree. Her parents supported the idea, though her younger sister, Sumaira, told Nawar that a recent spate of suicide bombings in Peshawar had made working in the city too dangerous."She said, 'One day there could be a bomb blast, and we'd be searching for you at the local hospital.' I told her, 'Everybody has to die.' "
Nawar says she sought out work at Radio Khyber because she thinks the constraints Pashtun society puts on women are outdated."It's wrong that Pashtun women are held back like this," she says, taking a break from editing a piece on children's healthcare. "It's unfair, and that's what inspired me to work here."
Her pieces have focused on a wide range of topics, from the availability of wheelchairs in the tribal areas to a segment about curfew restrictions placed on tribespeople fleeing violence in their area. Because it's too dangerous for her to report in the tribal areas, she interviews the region's residents in neighboring Peshawar and gets much of her information from Peshawar-based organizations that work in the tribal areas.Much of the feedback on the segments produced by the women has been positive, Afridi says. No one from the tribal areas has called in to decry the sound of women's voices on the air, and so far the Taliban hasn't issued any threats.
"Even the militants have women in their families, and the problems of those women are being covered by our reporters," Afridi says. "So maybe the Taliban appreciates what we're doing."

Traffic pollutants may fuel adult asthma

PESHAWAR- A new study provides more evidence that breathing in traffic-related pollutants is unhealthy -- for kids and adults. The study, report in the journal Thorax, suggests a link between asthma that develops in adulthood and increased exposure to traffic-related pollutants. Previous research linked childhood-onset asthma with traffic pollutants. In the current study, researchers looked at associations between traffic-related air pollution and "new-onset" asthma among 2725 Swiss adults. None of them had ever smoked. Over 11 years of follow up, 41 of the adults developed asthma. The results showed that adults most impacted by traffic-related particles had "50 to 100 percent higher risks" of developing asthma, compared to those living at residences with low levels of traffic-related pollutants, study investigator Dr. Nino Kuenzli noted. The association remained when the investigators allowed for other factors linked with the development of asthma such as workplace air pollutant exposures, passive smoking, family history of asthma or allergies, and whether or not participants had changed residence. These findings suggest "toxic pollutants originating from traffic play a role in the development of adult asthma," added Kuenzli, of the University of Basel in Switzerland. The current findings are in line with an increasing body of evidence indicating traffic-related pollutants are a serious health problem. Therefore, Kuenzli suggests, "strong clear air policies are a must to protect public health."

Senior Taleban officials captured in Pakistan

Pakistani security forces have captured a senior Taleban commander and a close associate of the slain militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, dealing another blow to the Islamist militant group.

Maulvi Omar, who worked as a spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan, was arrested on Monday night when driving with two associates in the Mohmand tribal region bordering Afghanistan, according to Pakistani intelligence sources. He was believed to be on his way to a secret meeting of top Taleban commanders.

Mr Omar was one of the most high profile Taleban officials, who frequently called journalists claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

He had been keeping a low profile in recent months as Pakistani security forces launched offensives in the Mohamand region where he lived. Local officials said the arrest was made possible by the help of local anti-Taleban militia.

On Monday police arrested another close associate of Mr Mehsud as he arrived in Islamabad for medical treatment.

Qari Saifullah, who was allegedly involved in several terrorist attacks in Pakistan, had been injured during a US drone strike in South Waziristan, police said. It was unclear whether it was the same US missile strike that killed Mr Mehsud on August 5.

Analysts said that the capture of such high-profile officials would further weaken the militant organisation, which was already in disarray following the death of Mr Mehsud.

Senior Taleban commanders have been engaged in a fierce power struggle following their commander's death. There have been reports of violent clashes between the supporters of the two main contenders to succeed him, Wali Ur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud. The Taleban shura (council) has yet to choose between the two.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan yearn to vote

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Qutub-ud-din, an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, is keen to vote in this week's presidential election in his country, but cannot.

"Why not?" the 50-year-old Afghan refugee, selling vegetables in a dusty neighborhood in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, said when asked whether he wanted to cast his ballot.

Unlike the previous presidential election in 2004, Afghan election authorities have not made arrangements for about 2.5 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran to take part in Thursday's polls. Most are too poor to make the trip home just to vote.

"I am earning a meager living for my five children by selling these onions and potatoes. If I go to Afghanistan to vote, who will feed my family?" said Qutub-ud-din.

Of an estimated 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, about 45 percent would be eligible voters, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Afghanistan is facing its worst violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the militants have threatened to disrupt the vote, raising the fear that security will have a major impact on turnout and perhaps the outcome.

Polls show President Hamid Karzai is likely to win but not with the outright majority required to avoid a second round.

Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, as are most Afghans in Pakistan. He is facing a tough challenge from former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is believed to have little support among the refugees.

Most Afghans in Pakistan asked this week said they would have voted for Karzai, so in the event of a very close first round, refugees' support could have been crucial for the incumbent.

But with Karzai widely seen as winning a second round, if one is held, refugees' votes would have been unlikely to have had a bearing on the final result.

Nevertheless, the exclusion of refugees could add to questions about the legitimacy of the vote if turnout is low.


Abdul Hadi Fazali, an Afghan who runs an English-language school in Peshawar, said it was unfair that he and his countrymen in Pakistan had been excluded.

"They're very unhappy as they are Afghans too. They think the organizers didn't give them their basic right," he said.

Zekria Barakzai, deputy of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, said a lack of funds was the major reason for barring the refugees.

It would have cost about $50 million to make polling arrangements in Pakistan and Iran, Barakzai told Reuters.

"We asked the international community for funding but it was not accepted," he said.

Worries about security in Pakistan, where militants allied with the Afghan Taliban have stepped up attacks, was another major reason for not giving refugees the vote, he said.

Unlike the previous time, when candidates ran lively campaigns in Pakistan, there is nothing in Pakistani refugee camps and neighborhoods inhabited by Afghans to give any hint of the vote.

Nor was there any sign of efforts by candidates to encourage refugees to go home to take part.

"I saw on television that elections are taking place but I don't know who is running," said Maria, a 20-year-old student wearing a black scarf and a long gown at a school in a poor Afghan neighborhood in Peshawar. "If they are not interested in my vote then why should I bother about them?"

Several refugees said they were not interested because whoever won would not be able to end decades of violence.

"We want peace but those running cannot bring peace. Security in Afghanistan is worse than it was four years back," said Sher Ali, a laborer from the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

"They can't provide security in Afghanistan so how can they give us security if we go to vote. That's why I am not going."

Two schools torched in Lower Dir

TIMERGARA: Militants set fire to two government schools in Lower Dir’s Maidan area, while security forces blew up two houses of a militant commander in Maidan’s Gogarkoto area.The militants escaped from the scene after setting fire to schools in Maidan early Tuesday, local officials told DawnNews.Security forces cordoned off the area and started a search operation.More than 50 government schools have been torched by militants in the area since the operation began in April, 2009.

Pakistan needs ‘months’ for Waziristan push, says army

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani troops will need months to prepare for a ground offensive against the Taliban in their South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border, an army commander said on Tuesday, citing equipment shortages.

Visiting US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has said that the United States is scrambling to get the equipment the Pakistani army needs and that the timing of any ground operation was up to the army and government.

‘It's going to take months,’ Lieutenant-General Nadeem Ahmed told a small group of reporters after briefing Holbrooke, when asked how long it would take the army to move into South Waziristan.

Pakistani forces have bottled up Taliban fighters in their tribal lands in South Waziristan, a rugged region on the border with Afghanistan. Pakistani warplanes have attacked Taliban positions and US drone aircraft have launched several missile strikes like the one that apparently killed militant leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Ahmed said the Pakistani military was now trying to create the right conditions for launching a future ground offensive by imposing a ‘tight’ blockade around the area.
He said attack planes, helicopters and artillery were being used to hit militant targets.

‘Once you feel that the conditions are right and you have been able to substantially dent their infrastructure and their fighting capacity, then you go in for a ground offensive,’ Ahmed said. ‘That may happen in winter, or even beyond, probably.’

Ahmed said the army was currently short of ‘the right kind of equipment’ to mount a large-scale ground operation, and urged Holbrooke to help Pakistan obtain Cobra attack helicopters and other equipment.

Ahmed said many of the military's helicopters were still being used in an offensive against militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, and that they needed maintenance before being sent into Waziristan.

A US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon was ‘very aware of the counter-insurgency needs of the Pakistani military’.

‘We know they have shortfalls and we're working hard to get them the equipment as soon as possible,’ the official said.