Friday, October 30, 2009

Bilour asks govt to declare NWFP war-hit area

PESHAWAR: Condemning the bombing at Meena Bazaar, Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour on Friday urged the government to declare NWFP, particularly its metropolis, as a war-hit area and exempt it from taxes.

Addressing a news conference, he expressed sympathy with the families of the victims. He was accompanied by his younger brother and NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour. The federal minister said no religion allowed killing of innocent people. “It is unfortunate that Muslims are killing their own brethren in the name of jihad. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the blood of Pakhtuns is being shed on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. The Taliban are Pakhtuns, who are killing their Pakhtun brothers in the terrorist incidents,” he said.

The federal minister said that though the NWFP government was taking measures for protection of citizens against terrorism, the people including him were not satisfied with the security arrangements. He urged the government to further strengthen the security system. He also asked the federal and provincial governments to provide optimum compensation to the blast victims.

The government should also compensate the material losses of the shopkeepers and common people so that they could reconstruct their houses and shops and restart their business, he added.

Bilour said the provincial government was unable to cope with the situation in its limited resources, and that he would take up the matter in the federal cabinet. He lauded the services of medical staff and volunteer work by public.

About the timeframe for the military operation against the militants, he remarked time limit is not given while fighting a war. About disaster management, he said the government was trying its best to provide the latest equipment to the civic bodies. The Civil Defence Department has been activated and Rescue 1122 Department is being set up to overcome disasters, he added.

Ignorant Taliban destroyed 473 schools in FATA, Malakand: Malik

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday said the Taliban torched 409 educational institutions in Malakand Division, and 64 in FATA. Calling the Taliban “professional killers and liars”, the minister said they were enemies of Islam and Pakistan and had nefarious designs to destabilise the country. Malik reiterated the government’s firm stance of uprooting the menace of extremism and terrorism from the country.

Afghan election talks break down
Kabul, Afghanistan -- Talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his election opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, have broken down, a Western source close to the Afghan leadership told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Friday.
According to the source, Abdullah will likely announce this weekend that he will boycott the runoff presidential election slated for November 7, a runoff that had been scheduled after intense diplomatic arm twisting by the United States.
In a Thursday interview with Amanpour, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad had predicted that the country would soon be governed under a power-sharing deal.
"I think there will be power-sharing," Khalilzad said. "Both want power-sharing. The difference is that Karzai wanted to be first declared the winner or win the election and then offer something from a position of strength, while Abdullah Abdullah wanted to go to a second round but have a power-sharing agreement without the vote."
But Khalilzad also said Abdullah "may not stay in the race."
"First, he doesn't have much money left," he said. "Second, I think that he thinks that, given the situation, he's likely to lose, and maybe he'll get less votes than he did in the first round, so that would be embarrassing."
In the United States, President Obama is considering whether to send more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency there, as requested by the commander of troops there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, or adopt some other strategy in the troubled nation.
Khalilzad said the outcome of the Afghan election negotiations is crucial to whatever decision the U.S. president takes.
"There are very few very capable Afghans, and they need to come together in a power-sharing arrangement," he said, "because whatever the decision is here in the United States, this will be one last chance to push for success in Afghanistan. And that cannot happen without the Afghan leaders doing their part."

Army stands with nation against terrorism: COAS

RAWALPINDI : The Chief Of Army Staff(COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has condemned the heinous attack in Meena Bazar Peshawar and has regretted the loss of precious lives.The COAS expressed his heartfelt condolences to the families of all innocent victims of Peshawar blast. He said that Army stands with the Nation in its resolve to defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism.

Clinton Ends Visit as the Focus of Pakistani Barbs


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up a three-day visit here, she faced yet another round of skepticism and sharpened questions as Pakistani audiences vented their anger over American policies in the region.

An interview with several women who are prominent Pakistani television anchors, broadcast live, turned into a pointed, sometimes raucous back-and-forth, as her questioners cut each other off and shouted to be heard as they parried with Mrs. Clinton. They criticized American drone strikes in Pakistan, said the military presence was stirring unrest and expressed their doubts about whether the United States had a long-term commitment to Pakistan.

One of the women said that Pakistanis were experiencing “daily 9/11’s,” and an audience member asked Mrs. Clinton whether the drone strikes amounted to acts of terrorism.

Mrs. Clinton was also challenged in a meeting with Pakistani tribal residents who live near the border with Afghanistan, a focal point of the fight with Taliban insurgents.

“Your presence in the region is not good for peace,” one of the men in attendance told Mrs. Clinton, according to The Associated Press, “because it gives rise to frustration and irritation among the people of this region.”

Throughout the three days of her visit here, Mrs. Clinton would not comment on the drone attacks — a classified C.I.A. program — but said that the United States hoped to act as a partner with Pakistan on military and domestic issues.

Mrs. Clinton’s parade of meetings with television, radio and print journalists was an effort to improve public portrayals of the United States in Pakistan’s vibrant, influential, but sometimes rumor-driven press.

But a car bomb struck a market in the border city of Peshawar within hours of her arrival, killing more than 100 people; a United Nations guest house was attacked in Kabul, leaving 11 dead; and Mrs. Clinton has met with unremitting skepticism. All of that has underscored the precarious security situation and highlighted the diplomatic struggles facing the United States as it tries to rout terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and support democracies in both.

A gathering on Thursday at Government College University in Lahore was particularly hostile. Rarely in her travels as secretary of state has Mrs. Clinton encountered an audience so uniformly suspicious and immune to her star power as the polite, but unsmiling, university students who challenged her there.

One after another, they lined up to grill Mrs. Clinton about what they see as the dysfunctional relationship between Pakistan and the United States. They described a litany of slights, betrayals and misunderstandings that add up to a national narrative of grievance, against which she did her best to push back.

Why did the United States abandon Pakistan after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, they asked. Why did the Bush administration support the previous military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf? What about reports in the Pakistani news media that American contractors illegally carried weapons in Islamabad? Even her fans have come armed with spears. A young woman, a medical student, thanked Mrs. Clinton for being an inspiration to women, then asked how the United States could justify ordering Predator strikes on targets in Pakistan without sharing intelligence with its military.

Mrs. Clinton said only, “The war that your government and your military are waging right now is an important one for the country.”

Women Mourn the Women Who are Targets

Arshad Arbab/European Pressphoto Agency Women leave the site of the devastating blast in Peshawar, in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), that killed more than 100 people on Wednesday.
Sarah Hassan, 22, changed her Facebook status to “Why is this happening to us??” hours after the massive car bombing that ripped through a crowded market frequented by female shoppers in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday.

Ms. Hassan is one of many Pakistanis asking that question, and the latest spasm of violence in Pakistan cities has prompted new concerns that militants have begun to specifically target women in their terror campaign.

Ms. Hassan, who works at an immigration consulting firm in the eastern city of Lahore, said she is hearing more and more stories of loss. A friend lost her sister and father in a terrorist attack in Peshawar on Oct. 16, she said. “I could not even call her. I could not get myself to console with her.”

“I am depressed and think about all these innocent people who are losing their lives almost every day,” she said. Another girl she knew became disabled after suffering injuries in the suicide attack that targeted a university in Islamabad.

Shabbir Hussein/European Pressphoto Agency Students of International Islamic University left their campus after twin suicide bomb attacks, in Islamabad on Oct. 20 that left six people dead. Many educational institutions across Pakistan were temporarily closed following the bombings.
But Ms. Hassan did not think that the attacks of late were specifically targeting women. “They are just randomly killing innocent people,” she said, referring to the militants.

The threat of terrorism now loomed large in the cities, having crept from the northwestern edges of the country.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit served to feed fears in Lahore on Thursday, Ms. Hassan said. “The whole day we feared hearing about a terrorist attack here. This is no life. Our lives are getting affected and why,” she asked.

“This cannot go on. It has to stop. We want to progress. We want to have careers, but it all seems impossible now,” she said referring to herself and her group of friends.

“Earlier, we used to discuss boys or movies and now we can’t socialize or go out. We cannot go out for shopping. Parents tell us to stay inside our homes. What if terrorists start attacking residential areas now?” she wondered.

And in recent weeks, she said she has noticed a big influx of people applying for immigration through the consultation firm. “People just want to get out as soon as they can,” she said.

Maria Wasti, a popular television actress based in the southern port city of Karachi, agreed that the feeling of insecurity cut across gender lines. “I am going to the airport a little later. It can be bombed and then some can say that passengers were targeted,” Ms. Wasti said Thursday evening. “We as a nation, as people, are being targeted.”

But she added that women were also often reprimanded in the society for not conforming to the conservative views of the religious right. “If you wear sleeves or wear jeans, some cleric can come forward and tell you are not following Islam properly.”

She felt there was a lot of confusion among the people on the issue of terrorism. “We do not know who our enemies are.”

The militants who are condemned now were not too long ago dubbed as “good” by the governments of the United States and Pakistan, she said.

Arshad Arbab/European Pressphoto AgencyWomen at the site of the Peshawar market bombing.
“Our government is fighting them because America is asking us to do so. It all has a very scripted feel. Just like the way we write dramas and then act knowing what will happen next,” she said. “It is like a circle.”

But for residents of Peshawar, the car bombing Wednesday was yet another grim reminder of how ordinary lives had become so vulnerable to so many new threats.

“Our hearts are bleeding,” said Shazia Aurangzeb, a member of the provincial parliament in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), representing the opposition political party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Unlike Ms. Hassan and Ms. Wasti, she sensed that there was a significant connection between the recent blasts and women. “In our Pashtun culture, women are highly respected, but now they are being targeted.”

Ms. Aurangzeb’s feelings of grief were followed by anger.

And like many Pakistanis, her anger is directed at the United States as she blamed America for the woes that were afflicting the common people of her province.

“We are fighting an American war and killing our own people,” she said.

“9/11 was a security lapse of America itself. Why is America now punishing others?”

She would not be drawn into commenting on who she thought may have carried out the attacks in Peshawar and other parts of NWFP, but some Pakistanis have suggested that “We do not know who are the genuine stakeholders,” she said.

Pakistani officials have blamed Taliban for the Peshawar car bombing. Curiously, a Taliban spokesperson denied responsibility for the attack.

Ms. Aurangzeb said she was convinced that Pakistan was fighting an unnecessary war and consequently the situation in her native province was getting worse. “Only Muslims are getting killed every day.”

Peshawar Mourns Its Dead

Markets and businesses in Peshawar were closed on Friday the 30th as a sign of mourning. A car bomb ripped through a crowded market killing more than 106 people on Wednesday the 28th.Eyewitnesses said the scene on Wednesday was "like Doomsday"… as fire engulfed buildings and a mosque after the massive blast. Several buildings collapsed. Doctors say many of the wounded are still in critical condition and the death toll is likely to rise.Distraught relatives are also still looking for scores of missing people who were either shopping or working in the city at the time of the blast. Many more are mourning their dead.
"Three funerals took place at my house. The children who are orphaned, the women who have been widowed have no one to provide for them. We appeal to the government to help these poor people." The bomb went off in the busy Peepal Mandi market street.
Although nobody claimed responsibility, many believe Taliban militants are to blame… who are the target of an army offensive.
"We just cannot understand who is doing all this. The actions the government is taking are correct, so who are the people who are doing this? It can only be the work of an enemy country."
The attack came as security forces pressed ahead with their offensive to wrest control of the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan on the Afghan border.

As a car-bomb attack in Peshawar tragically demonstrates, Pakistanis and the U.S. have a common enemy in Islamist extremists.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set out for Pakistan this week on a charm offensive, hoping to curtail anti-Americanism by speaking directly with students and journalists not simply about fighting terrorism but about economic development and other issues of common interest. Then a car bomb tore though a crowded market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, slaughtering more than 100 men, women and children, instantly drawing attention back to the conflict.

More than anything Clinton can say, a series of assaults that have taken the lives of more than 500 civilians this year should serve to convince typical Pakistanis that this is not just a U.S. war. The United States and Pakistan have a common enemy in Islamist extremists, and the Pakistani state is fighting for its survival.

Militants around the world have cynically targeted marketplaces to weaken support for governments that fail to protect their people, even though killing innocents rarely wins over public opinion in the long run. That's a point the Obama administration also should note. More than 500 civilians have died in U.S. missile strikes against the Taliban by unmanned drone aircraft, Pakistani officials say, which may partly explain why polls show that a majority of Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy.

The Peshawar bomb appears to be the work of the Pakistani Taliban, which is fighting not for its brethren in Afghanistan but to destabilize the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Officials regard the bombing as retaliation for a 30,000-troop Pakistani military offensive in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Despite his many shortcomings, Zardari sounds as if he understands that he has no choice but to fight back. We hope that the often-ambivalent Pakistani army is convinced it must continue the offensive and ultimately defeat the Pakistani Taliban. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif also should speak out against the bombing and help unify the country against radicals who want to control it.

The United States is aiding Pakistan's military with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons, helicopters and surveillance equipment, and U.S. Special Forces soldiers are training Pakistani counterinsurgency troops. All of this is done under the radar, so to speak, to avoid a backlash against the United States. But while it's true that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is shoring up the nuclear-armed Pakistani government to protect U.S. interests and those of its allies, it's also time for Pakistanis to acknowledge that it's in their interest as well to keep extremists at bay. This is Pakistan's conflict too.

US not losing Afghan war, but Taliban has 'momentum': Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that the United States was not losing the war in Afghanistan, but acknowledged 'the Taliban has momentum' in the eight-year-old conflict.Clinton's comments on the Taliban in an interview with ABC television repeated earlier statements from war commander General Stanley McChrystal and other top US officials.Her comments came hours ahead of President Barack Obama's talks with his top military chiefs, the latest in a string of strategy sessions at the White House as he weighs whether to send tens of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan."It's not going to be a repeat of the same, old approach. We're trying different things," Clinton said."When the president makes his decision, I think that will be evident."Obama has spent weeks deliberating over a request for 40,000 more troops by McChrystal, who warned in a dire assessment that the war could be lost without more boots on the ground."This is not an open-ended, never-ending commitment," Clinton warned on NBC television.Afghan President Hamid Karzai, once a darling of the West, has fallen out of favor with Washington since Obama took office. His legitimacy and credibility have also been at stake following a first round of elections in August riddled with fraud."There might have been too much emphasis on the central government and the idea that there could be some kind of nation-building that would transform Afghanistan overnight," Clinton told CNN. "Well, we don't accept that. We don't think that's going to happen. But what we do believe is that we have to work with the president and the cabinet and officials in Kabul and the officials at the local level, and that's going to be our approach."

Clinton leaves Pakistan with pointed question on al Qaeda

ISLAMABAD - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wound up a bridge-building visit to Pakistan on Friday leaving a pointed question ringing in her hosts' ears: Where are the al Qaeda leaders operating in your country?

While no Pakistani officials were immediately prepared to answer, ordinary citizens told Washington's top diplomat the country was living on a daily basis with the consequences of the September 11, 2001 attacks engineered by the militant Islamist group.

At a televised women's forum on Friday, Clinton was pressed on U.S. attitudes toward Pakistan, questioned about the use of robot drones to attack suspected militants, and reminded of the costs the country faces as it battles its own insurgency.

"We are fighting a war that was imposed on us. It is not our war, it is your war," television journalist Asma Shirazi told Clinton on the last day of her three-day visit to Pakistan.

"You had a 9-11. We are having daily 9-11s in Pakistan."

Pakistan's army is in the middle of a massive offensive against Taliban militants strongholds in South Waziristan that has prompted a spate of bloody revenge attacks on urban targets.

On Wednesday, when Clinton arrived, a car bomb in a market in the northwest city of Peshawar killed more than 100 people, mostly women and children, and wounded nearly 200.

The rough and rugged tribal territory separating Pakistan and Afghanistan is a stronghold for Taliban insurgents from both countries as well as a haven for al Qaeda operatives.

While most Pakistanis are against the extremists, many also believe they are fueled by Islamabad's links with Washington.

On Thursday Clinton expressed disbelief no-one in authority knew where al Qaeda leaders were hiding out -- a remark that may fuel much reaction once she leaves the country.

"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," she told a group of newspaper editors during a meeting in Lahore.

Clinton's pointed remark was the first public gripe on a trip aimed at turning around a U.S.-Pakistan relationship under serious strain, but bound in the struggle against religious extremism.

Clinton's main message in Pakistan -- that the forces binding Pakistanis and Americans together are far stronger than those dividing them -- was constant, and she urged audiences to stand guard against extreme religious doctrine that seeks to impose its will on the population.


Many participating in Clinton's numerous public appearances in Pakistan have expressed appreciation for U.S. backing for the country and for Clinton's personal outreach.

But more frequently Clinton's "people to people" diplomacy -- with journalists, students and common people -- has been characterized by sharp disagreements and deep distrust.

That is a potentially worrying sign for officials in Washington hoping to reverse a steep rise in anti-U.S. sentiment in the increasingly fragile nuclear armed country.

Through it all, Clinton has proved unflappable, acknowledging the "trust deficit" created by past U.S. mistakes while firmly responding to charges the United States does not have Pakistan's best interests at heart.

Clinton, who professes deep personal affection for Pakistan and its people, was cautiously optimistic her visit may have changed a few hearts and minds among fearful Pakistanis although she said much more needed to be done to illustrate how the United States is helping the country.

"I'm going to try as hard as I can. But ultimately, we have to have actions between the two of us. Words are not enough," she said at the women's gathering.

As the Pakistan offensive in South Waziristan continued, officials in the port city of Karachi said they had arrested nearly 200 foreign nationals, mostly Afghans, in the past week in a security sweep.

"Most of these people have been arrested on charges of staying illegally in the country, but the main reason for this crackdown is to try and hunt militants hiding among these illegal refugees," said a senior police official, requesting anonymity.

Police have also arrested several members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangavi group in recent days, recovering hundreds of kilograms of explosives, suicide jackets and other weapons.

Officials said security forces have arrested 18 suspected militants, including foreigners, in the northern town of Chitral as well.