Monday, March 29, 2010

Nothing less than Pakhtoonkhwa acceptable

PESHAWAR: Awami National Party (ANP) has stated that the NWFP renaming issue would be resolved till March 31.Talking to a private news channel on Sunday, ANP leader Senator Haji Adeel said that PML-N has sought time on the renaming of NWFP, adding that the issue would be resolved till March 31.Adeel said that no other name for the province would be accepted except Pakhtoonkhwa.He said that the Pakistan Muslim League-N had rejected the name of Afghania on the basis that Afghanistan has been claiming its ownership of the area spreading from Durand Line to Jhelum.
He said that the names like Abaseen and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa can be accepted but no name without the word Pakhtoonkhwa would be accepted.
Adeel said Mian Nawaz Sharif had suggested Pakhtoonkhwa Khyber earlier but he is not firm on his stance.The ANP leader said that the name of Pakhtoonkhwa is being demanded by 12 of the 14 parliamentary parties and the entire nation.Meanwhile, PML-N leader Siddiqul Farooq has rejected ANP's claim that PML-N has sought time on renaming of NWFP.He was of view that the issue would be resolved in a meeting between leadership of both parties within few days.PML-N leader Pir Sabir Shah talking to ARY News on Saturday said that ANP had proposed three names for the province ie Pakhtoonkhwa, Pakhtoonistan and Afghania.Sabir Shah said his party has shown flexibility in its stance on the issue and accepted Afghania adding that now the ball is in Awami National Party's court.Meanwhile PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has proposed the name of "Pukhtoon Abaseen" for NWFP.According to Dunya News, Chaudhry Shujaat, Senator Waseem Sajjad and Khalid Ranjha met to discuss the issue of a new name for NWFP.Shujaat has also convened a meeting of provincial leadership for today to discuss the issue.Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Iqbal Zafar Jhagra has said that his party does not consider the renaming of NWFP as an issue of its ego.

ANP Chief rules out meeting with Nawaz Sharif

The Awami National Party Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan on Monday ruled out meeting with PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif for settling the controversy over renaming the NWFP and said that the matter would be decided by the Constitutional Reform Committee.

Talking to the media outside the parliament house, Wali said that it was previously a bilateral matter between ANP and PML-N but now since the matter had been taken up by the Constitutional Reform Committee it was no longer their issue to resolve.

The committee is the best forum for deciding the new name for the NWFP, he stated.

Wali said that they had waited for 63 years to rename the NWFP and that there was no harm in waiting for another two or three weeks.

He hoped that this issue would be resolved through the CRC forum. He said with the exception of PML-N and Q all political parties including the Baloch nationalists, were supporting them on deciding upon 'Pakhtoonkhwa' as the name for the NWFP.

Peshawar Explosion

At least five people have been injured in an explosion at Bilal market in Hayatabad area of Peshawar, police sources confirmed SAMAA on Sunday.The explosion hit a CD shop in Hayatabad’s Bilal market.The police and other law enforcement agencies have cordoned off the area. The rescue work has been initiated. The injured have been taken to Hayatabad Medical Complex. The police have asked the Bomb Disposal Squad to reach the site of the incident to investigate the nature of the explosion.AGENCIES ADD: A bomb attack Sunday wounded five people and destroyed a music shop in northwestern Pakistan, police said.A bomb planted near the shop exploded in a bazaar in the neighbourhood of Hayatabad in Peshawar, the troubled capital of Northwest Frontier Province which has seen several attacks blamed on Pakistani Taliban."The bomb was planted near the CD shop, at least five people were injured," Sher Akbar, a senior police official told AFP.The shop was destroyed while two nearby grocery shops were slightly damaged, he added.There was no claim of responsibility, but local police officials blamed the incident on 'miscreants', a term often used for Taliban militants.Attacks by Islamist extremists in Pakistan have killed more than 3,100 people since July 2007. Most of the violence is blamed on the Pakistani Taliban.Insurgents have also bombed dozens of entertainment shops in the northwest of the country in recent years, saying that music and images are against the teachings of Islam.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Obama makes surprise trip to Afghanistan

New York Times
President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday, his first visit as commander in chief to the site of the war he inherited and has stamped as his own.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

While there, Mr. Obama pressed President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan for a crackdown on corruption while strengthening the judicial system and promoting good governance, The Associated Press reported.

After a brief meeting with Mr. Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Obama also praised steps in the military campaign against insurgents, but said Afghans needed to see conditions on the ground get better, The A.P. reported.

“Progress will continue to be made, but we also want to make progress on the civilian front,” Mr. Obama was quoted as saying, referring to anti-corruption efforts, good governance and adherence to the rule of law.

“All of these things end up resulting in an Afghanistan that is more prosperous and more secure,” Mr. Obama said, according to The A.P. He invited Karzai to visit Washington on May 12, the White House said.

For his part, Mr. Karzai promised that his country “would move forward into the future” to eventually take over its own security, and he thanked Mr. Obama for the American intervention in his country.

The president landed in Afghanistain, at Bagram Air Base, after a 13-hour nonstop flight for a visit shrouded in secrecy for security reasons and quickly boarded a helicopter for the presidential palace in Kabul. There, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai walked and chatted along a red carpet as they made their way to an Afghan color guard, where the national anthems of both countries were played, in a welcoming ceremony that lasted 10 minutes.

White House officials disclosed no information about the trip until Mr. Obama’s plane had landed in Afghanistan, and had even gone so far as to inform reporters that the president would be spending the weekend at Camp David with his family. In fact, Mr. Obama’s trip is occurring during the Afghan night, and he is expected to be on his way back to Washington before most Afghans wake up Monday morning.

Mr. Obama will also meet with some of the tens of thousands of American troops who have been sent to Afghanistan since he took office. His visit with the troops is particularly significant because it comes at the same time that military officials report that the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010, compared to the same period last year.

The number of soldiers wounded in combat has also spiked dramatically. Military officials have warned that casualties are likely to continue to rise sharply as the Pentagon completes the deployment of 30,000 additional soldiers, per Afghanistan strategy announced by Mr. Obama in November. The reason for the spike, military officials said, is because American forces are aggressively seeking out Taliban insurgents in the country’s population centers, and are planning a major operation in the Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, in the coming months.

Mr. Obama’s trip caps a high-profile week for the president in which he coupled a singular domestic policy victory — the signing of a health reform bill — with the foreign policy achievement: reaching an arms control agreement with Russia in which the two agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century.

Coming on top of that, the Palm Sunday visit to American combat troops by their commander in chief could project the image of a president keeping on top of a number of issues at once.

At the same time, though, Mr. Obama’s visit has been a long time coming. While he visited troops at Camp Victory, Iraq, three months after he was inaugurated, the White House has held off on a presidential visit to Afghanistan as Mr. Obama went through a rigorous months-long review of Afghanistan strategy, and as that country endured the twists and turns of a disputed election.

Even after Mr. Karzai was inaugurated and Mr. Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops, Mr. Obama put off a trip as he focused on domestic priorities, including a health care bill.

In some ways, the Afghanistan visit serves as a stark reminder that even with health care done, there remain major challenges ahead.

9,000 Afghans die of TB every year

KABUL: According to a recent report written by World Health Organizaytion (WHO), around 9000 Afghans die every year due to affliction with TB (Tuberculosis) in Afghanistan. At a ceremony of the World TB Day held at the auditorium of Kabul Medical University, Dr Suraya Dalil, Policy and Planning Deputy Minister and Acting Public Health Minister of Afghanistan said that number of TB cases in Afghanistan is still shocking despite aggressive combat against this disease. Based on the recent report obtained from WHO (2009) around 51000 new TB cases are being detected among which 9000 die every year. 33000 of these cases, recently reported are women. That is women make 64% of overall TB clients attending health facilities. Among the 22 countries located in Eastern Mediterranean Region, Afghanistan has had the highest rate of TB cases. Added Dr Dalil, the Acting Minister of Public Health. In addition, she pointed that totally 26358 TB cases were detected during year 2009 all of whom were covered by National TB Control Program. Dr Suraya Dalil then added National TB Control Program which was severely damaged by a long term civil war had been resumed not so later than the establishment of Afghanistan Transitional Government. In 2003 the very first strategic plan for TB Control Program was established in cooperation with WHO and some other MoPH partners. Honorable Guest of the ceremony, Marshal Mohammad Qaseem Fahim, the First Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan addressing the World TB Day also said that some chronic diseases such as TB are predisposed by poverty and social deprivation. And he requested the people to contribute to the fight back against Tuberculosis. He, afterwards, told that this disease usually affects individuals in various parts of the country, in particular, the remote areas; and the health workers are obliged to work for elimination of the disease. He highlighted the existence of Stop TB Partnership Board in Afghanistan as a positive action towards elimination of this disease. He pointed that the National TB Control Program of the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan has made astonishing achievements in combating Tuberculosis. Meanwhile, Prof. Obaidullah Obaid, chancellor of Kabul Medical University said that TB is a major problem in the world taking lives of thousands of people every year. He also indicated that The Stop TB Partnership Board has worked hard during the past two years so as to stop TB in Afghanistan as well as conducting public awareness programs for Stopping TB.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kandahar, a Battlefield Even Before U.S. Offensive


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — American forces have begun operations to push back Taliban insurgents in this most important southern province, the birthplace and spiritual home of the Taliban, and a full-scale offensive is expected in coming weeks.

But the Taliban have already turned this city into a battlefield as they prepare for the operation, which American officials hope will be decisive in breaking the insurgency’s grip on southern Afghanistan.

When American forces all arrive, they will encounter challenges larger than any other in Afghanistan. Taliban suicide bombings and assassinations have left this city virtually paralyzed by fear. The insurgents boldly walk the streets, visit shops and even press people into keeping guns and other supplies in their houses for them in preparation for urban warfare, residents say.

The government, corrupt and ineffective, lacks almost any popular support. Anyone connected to the government lives in fear of assassination. Its few officials sit barricaded behind high blast walls. Services are scant. Security, people say, is at its worst since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

“They are focusing on the city,” said Hajji Agha Lalai, a provincial councilor and former head of the peace and reconciliation commission in Kandahar, who has extensive contacts with the Taliban. “The Taliban want to show themselves to the world, to show, ‘We are here,’ ” he said.

The intensifying Taliban campaign is a measure of the importance the insurgency places on Kandahar, where the bulk of the 30,000 additional American forces arriving this year are being deployed. That is a sign of its value to the Americans, too.

The scale of the coming American offensive is expected to dwarf the recent operation in Marja, in neighboring Helmand Province, where 15,000 American, NATO and Afghan forces were deployed to secure an area much smaller than this provincial capital of 500,000 people.

American forces have been preparing for Kandahar since last year, building a presence around this city and along the border with Pakistan to try to secure the province. But as a result, in the most important urban center in southern Afghanistan, life has rapidly deteriorated, residents say.

On March 13, suicide bombers killed 35 people, and the Taliban have issued repeated warnings that they are in the city and planning more attacks.

“We do not feel safe in town, and even for the men it is dangerous to go out,” said a female human rights worker who asked not to be named for fear of being singled out by the insurgents.

In the week before the bombings, officials said, the Taliban conducted a series of attacks on the police and other officials in the city, killing one or two police officers every night for several days and seizing their weapons.

A government official, the well-liked head of the province’s Information and Culture Department, Abdul Majeed Babai, was gunned down on his way to work on Feb. 24. He had received threats from the Taliban, who wanted him to leave his position, relatives said.

“The Taliban can walk around, and government officials cannot,” Hajji Lalai said.

The man nominally in charge of Kandahar Province, Gov. Tooryalai Wesa, sat alone in his office reading papers on a recent afternoon. The spacious lawns and rooms of his palace, thronged by tribal elders and petitioners a few years ago, stood empty and silent.

Outside the city, it is worse. Government services barely exist. Only 5 of 17 districts in the province are accessible for government officials. Four districts are completely under the control of the insurgents, according to Nader Nadery, deputy head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Administrators and police chiefs are appointed to the districts, but they have so little backup and so few resources, they can do little. With 40 to 60 police officers in each district, they can barely guard the district center.

Health services and education are virtually absent outside the towns, and two-thirds of the province’s schools are closed, human rights officials say.

“If a single nurse or midwife is working in the districts, you can call me bad names,” a women’s activist, Shahida Hussain, said. “Even in the city, they don’t have enough equipment — forget the districts.”

Afghan officials in the district of Spinboldak on the Pakistan border said their area was more secure since American soldiers of the Stryker Brigade were deployed there last year to try to close down Taliban infiltration routes, or “rat lines,” as soldiers call them. The road to Spinboldak had grown safer, and a radio tower had been installed that would allow the government to reach Afghans throughout the border region, the governor, Mr. Wesa, said on a recent visit.

Yet the Taliban have repeatedly hit Stryker units in another strategic district, Arghandab, just to the north of Kandahar city with roadside bombs.

In Malahjat and Panjwai, agricultural districts to the west and southwest of Kandahar city, farmers say they are under constant threat from mines laid by the militants, as well as from American drones and helicopters combing the skies.

Villagers described at least three instances in recent weeks when drone strikes killed farmers digging ditches or bringing goods home from the market, as well as other cases when Taliban fighters were hit.

American helicopters swoop in on villagers who are on motorbikes or are working in the fields and hover over them until the men remove clothing and stand with their arms aloft to show they are not militants, said one man who frequently visits his village by motorbike from the city. He asked not to be named for fear of trouble from any side.

In addition to the dangers, residents say they are despairing about the political crisis gripping the province.

Real power rests with just two families who have prospered under the presence of American forces in the past eight years. One of them is the family of President Hamid Karzai, who is represented here by his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who heads the provincial council.

The other belongs to Gul Agha Shirzai, the former governor of Kandahar, and his brothers Bacha Shirzai and Razziq Shirzai, who have gotten lucrative security and construction deals with NATO forces.

Residents and elders accuse the families of persecuting rivals and excluding all other tribes from access to power. Their domination has undercut any popular backing for the government or the foreign forces supporting them.

“The first thing Afghans fear is the coming of more foreign troops, and the second thing they fear is the empowering of the current leadership and administration,” said Shahabuddin Akhunzada, a tribal elder from Kandahar city. His Eshaqzai tribe has complained of repeated arrests and political exclusion. The West’s acceptance of Mr. Karzai’s re-election despite widespread fraud was the last straw, he said.

US commander in Afghanistan bans burger and pizza bars at Kandahar base

If an army marches on its stomach, General Stanley McChrystal would prefer that it wasn't full of burgers and pizzas.

In an edict that will appal the units garrisoned at Kandahar airbase, but no doubt raise a smile from soldiers living off rations in forward operating bases, the famously sober US commanding general in Afghanistan has called for an end to the junk food culture that has taken root at the base.

With queues for Whoppers outside Burger King and troops ordering takeaways from Pizza Hut while others enjoy the occasional evening of line dancing, the square of shops and restaurants at the airfield could almost pass for smalltown America.

But the fact that these fast-food joints are just a few miles down the road from Kandahar, spiritual home of the Taliban and the focus of critical Nato operations this summer, has not impressed McChrystal.

Anxious that his men focus on the job at hand, McChrystal has ordered the closure of most of the all-American food outlets that have appeared over the years at Kandahar airfield.

As one of his top deputies put it in a written announcement: "This is a war zone – not an amusement park."

The closure of Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen and Military Car Sales, where soldiers can buy pickup trucks to be delivered their home address, will all help the alliance "accommodate the troop increase and get refocused on the mission at hand", Sergeant Major Michael Hall said.

Their departure will remove the essential elements that made the "boardwalk"area of Kandahar airfield one of the oddest in Afghanistan. Just a few hundred metres from an airstrip that sends so many fighter jets, unmanned drones and helicopters out on missions around Kandahar and Helmand that it is the world's busiest, soldiers can shop for perfumes, cigars and high end electronics as well as eat junk food.

Inside a restaurant such as TGI Friday's, the only reminder that this is the most surreal outpost of the US casual dining giant is when the camouflage-clad customers dive under tables at the sound of a rocket attack alarm – an occasional hazard in Kandahar. TGI's is not yet on the McChrystal hit list, but a warning that some contracts will not be renewed suggests it may not last long.

The news is likely to delight US troops who live off rations in tiny outposts where occasional showers are the closest they get to luxury. Such frontline soldiers routinely disparage their colleagues who spend their tours among the creature comforts of the large bases.

But some US military personnel in recent months have told the Guardian that McChrystal's puritanical streak, which has also seen a ban on activities such as salsa classes, is an unnecessary added burden on soldiers on lengthy 12-month tours.

The mega-bases of Kandahar and Bagram will be the most affected by the new policy, and it is not clear whether Camp Bastion, the UK's giant facility in the desert of Helmand will lose the sea container that houses a tiny Pizza Hut.

It is the only such franchise on a base which McChrystal would otherwise find admirably austere – British troops' shopping opportunities are restricted to the Hobnobs, toiletries and Nuts magazines sold at the Naafi store, an outlet dwarfed by the giant US equivalents.

Pukhtunkhwa-Now or never

Ghani Khan
Renaming of the North Western Frontier Province as Pakhtunkhwa has assumed importance in view of the fact that it is under active consideration of the Constitution Reforms Committee of the Parliament. The said committee is working under the Chairmanship of Senator Mian Raza Rabbani which has almost completed its task except certain important issues, which include the quantum of Provincial autonomy, the unification or merger of Pakhtun areas into one province and the renaming of North Western Frontier Province. The attitude of the Reforms Committee is friendly towards changing the name of the Frontier to "Pakhtunkhwa" as there is no harm, either covert or overt, in changing the name which is the demand of millions of inhabitants of the province. The demand for changing the name of the province has not emerged all of a sudden but in fact it is as old as the province. At the time when this province was formed in 1901, a Hindu scholar, Ram Chand belonging to Yar Hussain village in Swabi district had proposed in 1907-08 that this province be given a suitable (Pathan name) appropriate to the people inhabiting this province. This was the time when there was neither any movement for Pakistan nor any vision had come forth in this regard which only proves that the name Pakhtunkhwa is not against the integrity of Pakistan. After the creation of Pakistan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in his maiden speech in the constituent Assembly of Pakistan i.e. on 5th March, 1948 had demanded that now that Pakistan was an independent state, there was no need to keep Pakhtuns divided into so many different administrative units as that was the requirement of the British for their colonial needs. On this occasion he had proposed that such a united Pakhtun province be named as "Pakhtunistan", He had argued that this was essential to reflect the identity of the people of the province. But not only the reply of the then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to Bacha Khan's speech was un-accommodating but a member from Punjab and as well as a federal minister had gone so far as to say that " Pakhtunistan" was an un-Islamic name. To this Bacha Khan had replied that if Pakhtuns were Muslims, how their name was non-Muslim. Between that and this day an innocent demand was given political clolour. More than 40 years after the original demand was made by the great Pakhtun leader, Muhammad Afzal Khan popularly known as Khan Lala i.e. elder brother was the third person who in November,1990 touched this issue most forcefully on the floor of the National Assembly of Pakistan. This was as a result of his fight for the name in the Assembly single handedly that the issue never died thereafter. The Awami National Party's efforts for renaming of the province as Pakhtunkhwa cannot be qualified as forceful or much serious and this fact is evident from its reaction that when Muhammad Afzal Khan was fighting all alone on the floor of the Assembly facing the anger and annoyance of the Punjab, not a single member from ANP had supported him in order to keep its alliance with Mian Nawaz Sharif intact. Now the objective of renaming the province is being pursued in the Constitution Reforms Committee and there is no impediment as all other parties are supporting the renaming of the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa except the PML (N). Instead of Pakhtunkhwa, the PML (N) is suggesting a combination of two names i.e. Pakhtunkhwa-Abbasin or Pakhtunkhwa-Khyber or Pakhtunkhwa-Hazara. The PML (N) considers Hazara division to be a separate entity for the sake of securing its few seats in the provincial and National assemblies. To agree to their suggestion tantamounts to further disintegrating the province and this will be a price unbearable for its people. Some circles even now consider that this is not an opportune time to rename the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa as this is not just a change of name of a street or a road. They think that even the resolution of the provincial assembly in support of change of name is not worthy of respect as another assembly may suggest another name. So they think that there is no desirability of changing the name. To oppose certain suggestion is not unexpected or an unwelcome thing but to oppose an appropriate proposal on spurious grounds indeed becomes a matter of concern. It has always been striven to make the people of the province believe that in the name of Pakistan, the alphabet "ALIF" was indented by Ch. Rehmat Ali to stand for "Afghania" as a name for the province and the people of the province were expected to consider the concealed "ALIF" as a sufficient substitute for a proper name but ultimately when Afghania was demanded, it was also outrightly rejected. The committee representing the ANP and PML(N) is comprised of Pakhtuns from both sides. It is apparent that the Pakhtuns representing PML (N) were never in position to go beyond the instructions of Mian Nawaz Sharif and as such this was evident from day one that the committee will fail to arrive at consensus. Certain news stories suggest that the matter is almost settled and during their meeting for the purpose, the leaders of both the parties will take no time in reaching consensus and Pakhtunkhwa will be declared as the new name for the Frontier. It is believable because not only the ANP had almost surrendered itself to ML for nine long years in hope of getting the province renamed at the cost of its popularity and integrity and this was also the reason for the ANP members to leave Muhammad Afzal Khan high and dry when he badly needed their help. Mian Sahib ultimately opted to break the promise given to the ANP leadership. Once upon a time Mian Nawaz Sharif used to call the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa in his speeches on the floor of the National Assembly and therefore one is inclined to hope that he is not seriously opposed to the proposed change just to please a division which is 50 per cent Pakhto speaking, he might only be intending to gain some political importance through delaying tactics. But one cannot ignore the fact that Mian Sahib has always used negative politics as a means of popularizing himself in Punjab. If he persisted in his opposition to the change of name this will without doubt seriously damage the harmony which has always existed in the Frontier province but will also damage relations between the two provinces and the leaderships of both parties. It is advisable that to rename the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa may not be considered as an affront to the ideology of Pakistan or its stability as this is not a demand for a free and sovereign Pakhtunkhwa nor this is an issue like Kashmir or Palestine. It is worth mentioning that at present there is no opposition to rename the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa from Sindh and Balochistan. The Punjabis belonging to PPP from Punjab also seem to favour the change which is over due. It is hoped that Mian Sahib will not ignore the pleasure of millions of Pakhtuns for the sake of the so-called minorities which are existing in every province of the country and no country in the world is ever empty of minorities and therefore the yard stick which is applied to Pakhtunkhwa has no precedent at all in the entire world, if there was any they should bring it forward. Few words of advice for the leadership of ANP that the people and particularly intellectuals are afraid that ANP being habitually a party of compromise will eventually agree to two names in one i.e. Pakhtunkhwa-Abbasin or Pakhtunkhwa - Hazara. This will further complicate and compound the issue and in fact this will be even worse than NWFP. In Seventies; when the party had had the opportunity to declare Pakhto as the official language of the province, the party leadership succumbed to its compulsions and even today the party cannot defend itself on the issue. For renaming the Frontier province as Pakhtunkhwa, this is the most opportune time and if lost will be lost for ever so this is a matter of now or never and the party leadership must keep it in mind. The party should agree to 18th amendment only after Pakhtunkhwa is conceded and therefore the party has no option to retreat from its stand which is just, desirable and need of the hour not only in the interest of the Province but of the entire country.

Nawaz’s turnabout

The Frontier Post

Not even a nincompoop is wee bit surprised at this turnabout of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the PML (N) supremo. Shocked is only that bevy of palmed off media stars and fondling intellectual lights that had been projecting him disingenuously as a giant which he really is not. The street knows him for what he actually is: a pigmy and an imposter, given congenitally to opportunism and expediency, professing deceitfully commitment to principled politics with which he has no truck at all and which palpably is none of his forte. It is only the fawning crowd that had spuriously been painting him as a staunch lover of independent judiciary, but to the great amusement of the street which fretted sceptically how could he be, this erstwhile invader of the Supreme Court and the conqueror of the superior judiciary. Not the least bemused was the street by these equally deceitful cheerleaders’ chant that he was an unvarnished democrat committed to democracy and constitutionalism. It was too much of a joke that it could take. Not even the Atlantic’s entire waters can wash from the street’s searing memory that had he the required numbers in the Senate, this charlatan would have been sitting on this ill-starred nation’s neck today as its Ameerul Momineen for lifetime, a law unto himself and his word the law of the land, with the whole of the democracy and constitution shop rolled up and thrown into the junkyard for good. How could this cloned baby of the garrison hatcheries and the longtime loyal companion and toady of praetorian generals and dictators be taken as true in his tall assertions of civilian supremacy and subservience of the military to the civilian rule? That unsettling question has never left the street’s troubled mind. And not even a saintly sage could convince a starkly sceptical street that this compulsive neglector and irreverent of parliament in his glory times was now a devotee and fan of parliament’s supremacy. During his two prime ministerial stints, not just to the nation’s highest elected body he gave a short shrift in the making of state policies and decisions, he even kept his cabinets of ministers out of it. It was a select coterie of his kitchen cabinet that he would consult at best to run the country as autocratically as he runs his party despotically even today. Can anyone with a modicum of sense imagine for a moment that his party team on the parliamentary constitutional reforms committee was working on its own without any knowledge of him or any instructions from him? You must be kidding. How many times have you heard in these very recent times his party people saying on crucial issues that Mian Sahib would decide the party position or stance? And how many times have you heard them saying his word would be the last? So what is it that has prompted Mian Sahib to make this turnabout at the eleventh hour to put the almost entire finished work of the parliamentary committee in state of uncertainty and doldrums? What expediency is it that has motivated this grandee to this rash and reckless hatchet work? There must be a method to his madness, a shrewd operator as he is who like a seasoned businessman calculates carefully his costs and profits before embarking on a venture. He must have done this cost-benefit thing, carefully weighing what political gains are going to accrue to him, even though for the present it looks his seemingly idiotic move is likely to hurt him politically in the public eye. But for this, soothly, he is least bothered. With his enormous wealth, much of it slush, and with moneyed people and powerful feudal aristocrats holding pocket boroughs inhabited by enslaved electorates on his back he feels secure enough to romp home even amidst a miffed public. Still, if with his adventurous stroke his fawning cheerleaders in the media, in the intellectual nobility and in the civil society glitterati stand completely flummoxed, the street lies squarely prostrate. The street had hoped once the political elites are through with their constitutional game, they would find some time to think of the people’s multiplying miseries and travails. And they are indeed pathetically placed. They are being mowed down day in and day out by mounting problems of poverty and squalor, disease and aliments, joblessness and wants, price hikes and power and gas shortages, and official corruption and malfeasance. On top of it, criminality, lawlessness and terrorism have driven them to an utter sense of insecurity and sleepless nights. With his recklessness, Mian Sahib has dashed their hopes to the ground to become dust. What a love and affection for an unfortunate people!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nawaz Sharif betrays democracy

Daily Times
ISLAMABAD: A day before the proposed 18th Amendment package was all set to be tabled before the parliament for approval, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took a U-turn that created a virtual deadlock in the country’s politics.

Knowing that the Parliamentary Reforms Committee has included its proposals regarding the appointment of judges and admitting that renaming of the NWFP was not a major issue, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif backtracked at the 11th hour in his press conference on Thursday, demanding that a “consensus” be made before presenting the package in parliament.

When some key members of his own party went on record in admitting that everything was settled and there was no hurdle in placing the package for approval, the sudden change in the stance of the PML-N created confusion in the political circles.

Some observers believe that this turn was at the behest of some quarters and the PML-N chief adhered to “some phone calls” he received just before his press conference.

Inside circles within the PML-N confided to Daily Times that this sudden move took many within the party by surprise since all issues apart from the renaming of the NWFP had been settled by the committee amicably.

Postponed: Minutes after Nawaz’s press conference, representatives of the government announced the postponement of the proposed joint session of parliament where President Asif Ali Zardari was supposed to deliver his 3rd address on the start of the new parliamentary year.

In his press conference, Nawaz denied that any agreement had been reached on the issue of the judges in the committee, and said his party had reservations over the proposed package.

Judges’ appointment: He said the issue of the judges’ appointment and the renaming of the NWFP had not yet been settled with the government, adding that judges should not be appointed on the basis of favouritism but through a transparent mechanism which ensures protection of the judiciary, and input from the government, the opposition and parliament.

A consultative meeting of the PML-N, chaired by Nawaz, was held at the Punjab House to discuss the proposed 18th Amendment bill and the issue of renaming of the NWFP before the press conference.

The PML-N chief demanded the government come up with complete consensus before tabling the amendment package in parliament.

He was of the view that President Zardari should address the joint session of parliament after a complete consensus on amendment package is developed and the differences are removed.

When asked whether his press conference was meant to create hurdles in the scheduled presidential address, Nawaz said his party wanted the president to fulfil his constitutional obligation, but only after getting a complete consensus on the 18th Amendment package

NWFP schools’ closure

The shortage of teachers has forced the closure of 367 government-run primary schools for girls and boys across the NWFP, more than 30 of them in Peshawar alone. As a result, over 36,700 students are now out of school, most of them in remote areas where there is no option of taking admission in another school.

The problem lies not in the shortage of teachers per se, but in the fact that the teachers in most of the now-closed schools, which were located in far-flung areas, managed to obtain transfers to other schools of their choice — mainly located in urban areas. The director of the Education Reforms Unit told this newspaper that security concerns and transport problems discourage teachers from working in remote areas. Furthermore, teachers in urban areas receive more attractive allowances.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs. The number of educational institutions, primary schools in particular, in the NWFP has always been far from adequate. The situation plummeted in recent years when the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militant outfits put schools, particularly those for girls, in their crosshairs. With this threat having been reduced to some extent, it is now essential that schools stay open and, indeed, try to increase the numbers of admissions.
That people want their children to have access to education is evident from the fact that the schools now closed remained functional for many years after their establishment, and were staffed by teachers appointed by the Elementary and Secondary Education department — teachers who have now abandoned their positions and left thousands of students in the lurch. The matter merits urgent attention by the authorities: education is not just a constitutional right but also plays a critical role in lifting people out of poverty and darkness. Proper education is also crucial to ensuring that anarchic elements never, in future, find the province conducive to their activities.

Blast on Bara Road in Peshawar kills four

PESHAWAR: Four people were killed and 25 injured when a powerful bomb exploded near the Bara Qadeem checkpost close to a market on the Bara Road on Thursday. Eight of the injured were children playing near the site of the blast.
Peshawar Cantonment Circle SP Tauseef Haider told this correspondent that the explosion took place just after an FC convoy had passed through the area.
Local people said it was a suicide attack. One of them named Rehman told reporters he had seen three people coming from the Bara side of the Khyber Agency. Two of them returned and the third was near the market when the blast took place.
But a bomb disposal official said the blast was caused by a time-bomb which appeared to have been placed on a table near a music centre in the market.

Karzai brother a concern in Kandahar campaign

WASHINGTON- Pentagon war planners see the controversial leadership role of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's half-brother in Kandahar as a challenge to their campaign to win over the city, officials said on Friday.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar's provincial council and one of the most powerful men in the south, has long been under scrutiny because of reports linking him to Afghanistan's entrenched heroin and opium trade and the CIA. He denies the charges and the U.S. spy agency would neither confirm nor deny any ties.
At a congressional hearing in December, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the United States had problems with the president's half-brother but his dominant presence has taken on added importance for Washington now that efforts to win "hearts and minds" in Kandahar are beginning.
The campaign to gradually retake full control of Afghanistan's second-largest city will test U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy for reversing Taliban momentum after more than eight years of war."He's a challenge they're trying to work through over there," a senior U.S. military official said of the role played by Ahmad Wali Karzai.Another U.S. defence official said the United States has been pressing Karzai to limit his half-brother's role in Kandahar, asserting that the controversy further undercut efforts to establish his government's credibility in the city, known as the birthplace of the Taliban."Karzai's protecting him," the defence official said of the president's half-brother. "It has been a giant thorn in our side and terrible for the credibility of the government."


President Karzai has long been dogged by accusations that members of his family are involved in drugs, undermining Western support, but he says he has seen no evidence of wrongdoing by his brother.General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said earlier this week that he envisions a gradual campaign in Kandahar aimed at delivering security and governance, as opposed to one big military assault.McChrystal has not given a timeline for the operation but told reporters last week in Kabul that troops would be at full force for Kandahar operations by the early summer.
The senior U.S. military official said preliminary talks with tribal leaders from Kandahar have begun, laying the groundwork for a larger number of troops later.
"You've got to work the population hard," the official said, referring to McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy, which puts an emphasis on securing population centers over killing Taliban fighters.The official said each phase of the campaign would take a "considerable amount of time."
U.S. military and civilian leaders have stepped up pressure on Karzai in recent weeks to do more to combat corruption, suggesting Washington is increasingly concerned that Kabul's inaction undercut the campaign against the Taliban."There have been some actions taken to remove corrupt individuals and there's no question that there need to be more," U.S. General David Petraeus, whose Central Command oversees wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, told a Senate hearing this week without identifying anyone by name.Kandahar served as the spiritual seat of power for reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar before the militants were ousted from Afghanistan by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.Militants have since made substantial gains in the area.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

China says it agrees with Afghanistan on politics

0 BEIJING – A top Chinese official reassured visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday that Beijing won't take a position when it comes to Afghan politics.
The remarks by top lawmaker Wu Bangguo reflect China's policy of ignoring the politics of neighboring states as long as they don't infringe on Chinese interests.
"I don't see any differences between us on political issues," Wu, the Communist Party's second-highest ranking official, told Karzai at the start of a meeting at the Great Hall of the People."We have made good progress in our practical cooperation. I'm sure your visit will give a great boost to the bilateral relationship," Wu said.Karzai faces criticism at home and among some in the West over corruption, cronyism, and electoral fraud that are blamed for stymieing development, fueling crime and driving some Afghans into the arms of the Taliban insurgency.Wu's comments seemed to ensure that such issues won't be raised in his talks with Chinese leaders, who oversee a one-party communist state that brooks no internal dissent or outside criticism.While China has no troops in Afghanistan — where Karzai relies on U.S. and NATO forces to prop up his weak government against the Taliban — its proximity and booming economy make it a valuable partner for the war-battered country.China is already a major source of consumer goods for the country and while two-way trade totaled just $155 million in 2008, according to Chinese figures, it appears to be growing quickly.A Chinese company has also pledged $3 billion to tap one of the world's largest unexploited copper reserves at Aynak in Afghanistan, and is favored to win the rights to iron deposits at Hajigak when bids are considered this year.
Karzai, traveling with a delegation of Cabinet officials and business figures, on Wednesday oversaw the signing of three agreements boosting economic ties.
The trip to Beijing also allows Karzai to further establish himself as a regional political figure with stature and independence.Karzai has participated as an observer in summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a grouping of Central Asian nations dominated by China and Russia that aims to challenge U.S. dominance. He has also cemented ties with India to balance the influence of neighboring Pakistan, with which Afghanistan has an acrimonious relationship.
And earlier this month, Karzai hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who used his brief visit to lob insults at the United States and argue that international forces in Afghanistan would only lead to more civilian deaths.
Karzai called Iran — with which Afghanistan shares a long land border — "our brother nation" with whom it had excellent relations.

Pakistan faces tough task rejuvenating battered Swat
Nearly a year after a Pakistani army offensive cleared the Taliban from Swat, government efforts to stabilize the region through economic rehabilitation have yielded limited results.

While small businesses are recovering from two years of fighting, massive state funding is needed to create jobs and industries in the former tourist hub where militants blew up hotels, houses and girls' schools and beheaded tribal elders.

Only that, officials say, will prevent the Taliban from returning to recruit residents disillusioned with a government widely perceived as corrupt and inefficient.

"This is by far the most important drive to keep the Taliban away," chief regional minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti told Reuters recently.

The first phase will require $1 billion, he said. It's a daunting task for the government, which will be hard-pressed to extract money from a sluggish economy battered by the steep cost of fighting Taliban insurgents.

The drive to win over the population by providing better economic opportunities and basic services is moving at a slow pace, as evidenced by grim living conditions, joblessness and lack of industries.

Unemployment has eased a little after thousands joined a newly created community police force, which pays $112 a month.

Swat's most advanced medical facility, Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital, lacks basic equipment. Cardiac arrest victims rushed to the emergency room have no access to defibrillators.

A young boy with a fractured skull lay disoriented in a bed waiting for results from a battered X-ray machine. A bloody bandage lay on the floor. Flies hovered nearby.

A poster of wanted would-be suicide bombers with code names remind patients of lingering security threats in Swat, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

A suicide bomber recently killed 14 people and wounded 50 at a police checkpoint in Swat's main town, Mingora.


Progress has been made, aid groups say. Reconstruction has partially started. More than 200 school demolished by the Taliban were repaired. Tent schools have gone up and issues like supplies of electricity, furniture and latrines are being tackled.

Some small shops are back in business. During the Taliban's reign of terror, which began with rebel incursions in 2007, militants destroyed pop music cassettes sold in Akthar Muneer's store and forced him to sell music calling for holy war.

Despite thousands of dollars in losses, he now draws enough customers to make a decent living because there is less fear on the streets of Matta, once a major Taliban bastion in Swat.

"People are comfortable listening to music again," he said.

But major economic development is needed to ensure the region doesn't return to the bloodshed that kept tourists away from the stunning valley, officials and residents say.

Two men who said they were beaten and forced to join the Taliban sat near a house that was flattened by the group, comparing those chaotic days to a more stable life now. They are happier but the future is uncertain.

"We expect a lot from the government," said one of the men, who looked far older than his 47 years, perhaps from the stress of fighting and the ruins it left behind. "We have no jobs now."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pakistan seeks energy, economic help in US talks

WASHINGTON — Top diplomats from the United States and Pakistan said Wednesday they want much broader ties between the two countries after years of cooperation limited mostly to the joint effort to hunt and contain terrorists.

Launching a two-day, high-level strategic dialogue here, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi vowed to improve ties by expanding the current security focus to include energy, development, education and agriculture. All must be addressed to combat extremists, they said.

A healthy U.S.-Pakistan relationship is considered essential to winning the war on terrorism, but the United States won't promise a deal for nuclear energy assistance to match one that it has signed with Pakistan's archrival India.

Dealings between Washington and Islamabad have been frayed by ups and downs for decades, but relations deteriorated noticeably after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as Pakistan came to believe America was bullying it on security matters, and Washington began to question Islamabad's commitment to defeating the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was a confidant of former U.S. President George W. Bush and was considered a strong ally against terrorism. But his close ties to the United States helped sink his political career at home. The number of Pakistanis who hold negative views of the United States are among the highest in the world, and suspicion about America's motives and its improving relationship with India run through every strata of Pakistani society.

Clinton acknowledged that "misperceptions and mistrust" have grown between the two countries, and said that overcoming the mutual suspicion requires sustained work across several areas of government.

"This is a new day," she said.

As they opened the discussions, neither Clinton nor Qureshi outlined specific programs. But Pakistan has put energy, including civilian nuclear power, at the top of its list of priorities.

Despite their pledges to help, U.S. officials have been noncommittal about how they will respond to Pakistan's desire to be recognized as a nuclear weapons power and forge an atomic energy deal.

U.S. officials have concerns about Pakistan's record in transferring nuclear technology to states such as Libya and North Korea. And neither Clinton nor special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke would offer any promises ahead of the talks.

Pakistan would like to have a civil nuclear cooperation pact with the United States similar to the one its nuclear rival India has. Such a deal likely would require at least tacit acknowledgment that Pakistan, which detonated its first nuclear bomb in 1998, is a legitimate nuclear armed power, something the United States has refused to do.

It also would require approval from Congress, which only reluctantly agreed to the civil nuclear deal with India despite far fewer proliferation concerns. But that has not dampened Pakistan's eagerness for an agreement, which it believes is critical to dealing with its energy shortages.

The Pentagon's top leaders credit Pakistan's ongoing military campaign against Taliban insurgents with helping to improve ties with the United States. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen praised Pakistan's determination in a campaign that some U.S. officials had worried would sputter.

The Pentagon leaders told Congress they think Pakistan now understands that the Taliban presents an acute threat to its own government.

The praise marks a change from last year, when top U.S. officials regularly complained that Pakistan could have done more to fight militants along its Afghan border.

Opening the wider talks with Clinton, Qureshi said Pakistan remains committed to fighting extremism as "a strategic and moral imperative." He noted that thousands of Pakistanis — civilians and soldiers — had been killed battling extremists and that Pakistan's concerns must be respected.

"You are fighting a war whose outcome is critical first and foremost, of course, for the people of Pakistan," Clinton told the foreign minister. "But it will also have regional and global repercussions, and so strengthening and advancing your security remains a key priority of our relationship."

At the same time, she stressed that that cooperation must be more than military assistance and must include methods to improve the lives of the Pakistani people so they will not be attracted to extremist ideologies. Among those are projects to ease Pakistan's crippling energy shortages, shore up its battered economy and improve development aid.

Clinton and Qureshi are heading their respective delegations, which also include top military, finance, agriculture and development officials.

Afghan Cops Aren't Ready to Serve
Mohammad Moqim watches in despair as his men struggle with their AK-47 automatic rifles, doing their best to hit man-size targets 50 meters away. A few of the police trainees lying prone in the mud are decent shots, but the rest shoot clumsily, and fumble as they try to reload their weapons. The Afghan National Police (ANP) captain sighs as he dismisses one group of trainees and orders 25 more to take their places on the firing line. "We are still at zero," says Captain Moqim, 35, an eight-year veteran of the force. "They don't listen, are undisciplined, and will never be real policemen."

Poor marksmanship is the least of it. Worse, crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban, according to Saleh Mohammed, an insurgent commander in Helmand province. The bullets and rocket-propelled grenades sold by the cops are cheaper and of better quality than the ammo at local markets, he says. It's easy for local cops to concoct credible excuses for using so much ammunition, especially because their supervisors try to avoid areas where the Taliban are active. Mohammed says local police sometimes even stage fake firefights so that if higher-ups question their outsize orders for ammo, villagers will say they've heard fighting.

America has spent more than $6 billion since 2002 in an effort to create an effective Afghan police force, buying weapons, building police academies, and hiring defense contractors to train the recruits—but the program has been a disaster. More than $322 million worth of invoices for police training were approved even though the funds were poorly accounted for, according to a government audit, and fewer than 12 percent of the country's police units are capable of operating on their own. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the State Department's top representative in the region, has publicly called the Afghan police "an inadequate organization, riddled with corruption." During the Obama administration's review of Afghanistan policy last year, "this issue received more attention than any other except for the question of U.S. troop levels," Holbrooke later told NEWSWEEK. "We drilled down deep into this."

The worst of it is that the police are central to Washington's plans for getting out of Afghanistan. The U.S.-backed government in Kabul will never have popular support if it can't keep people safe in their own homes and streets. Yet in a United Nations poll last fall, more than half the Afghan respondents said the police are corrupt. Police commanders have been implicated in drug trafficking, and when U.S. Marines moved into the town of Aynak last summer, villagers accused the local police force of extortion, assault, and rape.

The public's distrust of the cops is palpable in the former insurgent stronghold of Marja. Village elders welcomed the U.S. Marines who recently drove out the Taliban, but told the Americans flatly they don't want the ANP to return. "The people of Marja will tell you that one of their greatest fears was the police coming back," says Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who took over in November as chief of the U.S. program to expand and improve Afghanistan's security forces. "You constantly hear these stories about who was worse: the Afghan police that were there or the Taliban." The success of America's counterinsurgency strategy depends on the cops, who have greater contact with local communities than the Army does. "This is not about seizing land or holding terrain; it's about the people," says Caldwell. "You have to have a police force that the people accept, believe in, and trust."

More than a year after Barack Obama took office, the president is still discovering how bad things are. At a March 12 briefing on Afghanistan with his senior advisers, he asked whether the police will be ready when America's scheduled drawdown begins in July 2011, according to a senior official who was in the room. "It's inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren't training the police," replied Caldwell, taking part in the meeting via video link from Afghanistan. "We just never trained them before. All we did was give them a uniform." The president looked stunned. "Eight years," he said. "And we didn't train police? It's mind-boggling." The room was silent.

Efforts to build a post-Taliban police force have been plagued from the start by unrealistic goals, poor oversight, and slapdash hiring. Patrolmen were recruited locally, issued weapons, and placed on the beat with little or no formal training. Most of their techniques have been picked up on the job—including plenty of ugly habits. Even now, Caldwell says, barely a quarter of the 98,000-member force has received any formal instruction. The people who oversaw much of the training that did take place were contractors—many of them former American cops or sheriffs. They themselves had little proper direction, and the government officials overseeing their activities did not bother to examine most expenses under $3,000, leaving room for abuse. Amazingly, no single agency or individual ever had control of the training program for long, so lines of accountability were blurred.

Coalition efforts to build an Afghan police force were painfully slow at first. By 2003 the U.S. State Department decided to speed things up by deploying the Virginia-based defense contractor DynCorp International, which had held previous contracts to train police officers in Kosovo and Haiti. The company began setting up a string of training centers across the country. After the Defense Department took a role in overseeing that work in 2005, it squabbled constantly with State over whether the training should emphasize police work or counterinsurgency.

Neither the State Department nor DynCorp was prepared for the job they faced. Most of the recruits are rural villagers who have never been inside a classroom. Roughly 15 percent test positive for drugs, primarily hashish. Few know how to use a toothbrush or drive, and nearly 90 percent are illiterate. In 2005 DynCorp opened a new police academy on the outskirts of Jalalabad, and within a few months the academy's drains backed up. Maintenance workers discovered that the septic tanks were full of smooth stones—a toilet-paper substitute used by many rural Afghans. DynCorp had to bring in backhoes to repair the problem, and the company had to add two days of classes in basic hygiene.

The ANP still takes just about anyone who applies. "Our recruits are unemployed youth with no education and no prospects," says Police Col. Mohammad Hashim Babakarkhil, deputy commander of Kabul's central police-training center. Since January 2007, upwards of 2,000 police have been killed in action—more than twice the figure for Afghan Army soldiers. U.S. officers say as many as half the police casualties were a result of firearms accidents and traffic collisions.

It's practically impossible to produce competent police officers in a program of only eight weeks, says a former senior DynCorp executive, requesting anonymity because he continues to work in the industry. But that was the time frame State and Defense set for the course. "They were not going to be trained police officers. We knew that. They knew that," the former executive says. "It was a numbers game." In fact, the course has now been cut from eight weeks to six in order to squeeze in more trainees. ("We believe the training is appropriate under the circumstances," says Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson. DynCorp spokesman Douglas Ebner says the basic-training course is part of a more extensive 40-week program, and is supported by further "field monitoring, mentoring, and advising." Training hours have been extended to make up for the lost weeks, he says. DynCorp does "not make the policies, recruit the police candidates, or design the program," he adds, saying the company has "fully met" its objective of providing highly qualified police trainers.)

Whether or not recruits have mastered their subjects, almost everyone graduates. Even if they fail the firearms test, they're issued a weapon and put on the street. Only the Interior Ministry can flunk a candidate, and that rarely happens. "There were a lot of Afghans who seemed to have some patriotism and wanted to make their country better," recalls Tracy Jeansonne, a former deputy sheriff from Louisiana who worked for DynCorp from May 2006 to June 2008. "But a lot of the police officers wanted to be able to extort money from locals. If we caught them, we'd suggest they be removed. But we couldn't fire anybody. We could only make suggestions."

A former midlevel DynCorp official calls the program "dysfunctional." Requesting anonymity because he doesn't want problems with his former employer, he displays dozens of weekly reports sent to State and military officials; almost all include some mention of an Afghan police officer or commander as "corrupt." Yet of the 170,000 or so Afghans trained under the program since its inception, only about 30,000 remain on the force, according to State and Defense officials. "In terms of retention and attrition, we can say there's a problem," says Steve Kraft, who oversees the program for the State Department. The cops' base salary and hazardous-duty pay were recently raised to match Afghan Army levels, but no one knows if those changes are really helping. "Once they leave the training center, we currently don't know whether they stay with the force or quit," Kraft says. "The bottom line is, we just don't know."

And what has become of all the billions of dollars this program has cost America? Government investigators aren't entirely sure. Fundamental questions are raised in an audit of the Afghan police-training program released in February by the State and Defense departments' inspectors general. When State finally sent an "invoice-reconciliation team" to review expense receipts submitted under one particular contract, it discovered that $322 million in invoices had been "approved even though they were not allowable, allocable, or reasonable." What's more, the auditors said, half those invoices included errors.

The lapses don't stop there. The audit says State Department officials "did not conduct adequate surveillance for two task orders in excess of $1 billion." According to the auditors, State's contract supervisors didn't adequately oversee the use of government-owned property, failed to maintain contract files properly, and sometimes neglected to "match goods to receiving reports"—meaning, evidently, that they didn't verify that the U.S. government had actually received the goods it had paid for. (DynCorp's Ebner responds: "We are fully engaged with the Department of State to ensure complete and thorough reconciliation of all invoices, and recognize and welcome the emphasis on sufficient oversight personnel to complete this process.")

Those failures should have been no surprise. The audit also found that State routinely short-staffed its contract-monitoring office in Afghanistan. At one point, only three contract officers were on the ground overseeing DynCorp's $1.7 billion training contract. A former DynCorp official who worked in Afghanistan, asking not to be named because he remains in the government contracting business, says he asked the State Department repeatedly for concrete goals for the police contract but never got firm answers. "I'd ask them: 'Please explain to me what a successful training program was. What are the standards you want us to apply?' There was no vision for the future." (Assistant Secretary Johnson says, "From the start, our training program was based on a clear, professionally developed curriculum ... A simple head count of the number of individuals on the ground ignores the substantial back-office support our contract oversight personnel had from Washington.")

A new set of difficulties arose last summer. Caldwell's predecessor, Gen. Richard Formica, decided that Defense should take direct control of the training contract. To avoid a lengthy bidding competition, he suggested folding the police-training mission into an existing anti-drug and counterterrorism program overseen by the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command. Bids were limited to companies already under contract to the missile command, effectively shutting out DynCorp. In the end, only two firms wound up bidding: Northrop Grumman and Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater.

DynCorp fought back. In December the company filed a formal protest to block the Defense Department from seizing control of the contract. Last week the Government Accountability Office upheld DynCorp's complaint and suggested that the competition be open to all comers, including DynCorp as well as Xe and Northrop. DynCorp's CEO, William Ballhaus, recently told investors that the company's contract had been extended until July in any case; now it seems the new bidding process will take much longer.

At Kabul's police training center, a team of 35 Italian carabinieri recently arrived to supplement DynCorp's efforts. Before the Italians showed up at the end of January for a one-year tour, the recruits were posting miserable scores on the firing range. But the Italians soon discovered that poor marksmanship wasn't the only reason: the sights of the AK-47 and M-16 rifles the recruits were using were badly out of line. "We zeroed all their weapons," says Lt. Rolando Tommasini. "It's a very important thing, but no one had done this in the past. I don't know why."

The Italians also had a different way of teaching the recruits to shoot. DynCorp's instructors started their firearms training with 20-round clips at 50 meters; the recruits couldn't be sure at first if they were even hitting the target. Instead the carabinieri started them off with just three bullets each and a target only seven meters away. The recruits would shoot, check the target, and be issued three more rounds. When they began gaining confidence, the distance was gradually increased to 15, then 30, and then 50 meters. On a recent day on the firing range only one of 73 recruits failed the shooting test. The Italians say that's a huge improvement. (DynCorp says its civilian police advisers are "highly qualified"; the average trainer has more than a decade of law-enforcement experience.)

Caldwell also says it's just easier to work with paramilitary police units, such as the Italians and the French gendarmerie, than with contractors. Active-duty police units have a coherent and disciplined chain of command, Caldwell says. "When I bring in a contractor unit I'm getting a different group of folks," he says. "It may be someone who was a state patrolman, a local sheriff, or a policeman from New York City, each operating under different standards and with different backgrounds." Everything has to be negotiated. "If I say to my contractor that I want to make a change, he may say, 'Well, I'm not sure if that's really the best way,' " says Caldwell. "But if I can bring in a gendarmerie force, they're ready to go ... and take instructions well."

By the end of October, Caldwell hopes to build the force to 109,000 members, including an "elite unit" that so far has roughly 4,900 members. That outfit is called the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). It'll be used for particularly sensitive assignments like Marja. ANCOP members get 16 weeks of training, and they're required to have at least a third-grade proficiency in reading and writing. So far, reviews from Marja are mixed. "The new police are more organized, committed, responsible, and helpful than the previous police, who were more like a criminal gang," Assadullah, a school principal, tells Newsweek. (Like many Afghans, he uses only one name.) Local shopkeeper Hajji Noruddin Khan disagrees. "We are as disappointed with the new police as we were with the old police," he complains.

Quality matters. "In the rush to increase the number of trained police officers, we must remember that the end goal is a civilian police force capable of promoting good government, not a paramilitary adjunct for the counterinsurgency fight," warns Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the top U.S. Marine commander in southern Afghanistan, puts it more succinctly: "I'd rather have one well-trained cop than 10 untrained." Besides, the fact is that no one is quite sure how many Afghan police there really are. The Americans are only now in the process of trying to create a database that will positively identify and track recruits. Without such data, it's more than difficult to catch "ghost" troops who exist only as names on the payroll, not to mention possible Taliban infiltrators.

But the buildup continues, and so does the training. On the firing range just outside Kabul, one of the few decent marksmen is Khair Mohammad, an illiterate 24-year-old from northern Afghanistan. "I've already had a lot of practice shooting at the Taliban," he says. He's been a cop for two years, serving one year in Kandahar and another on checkpoints just outside Marja. "I lost a lot of friends in the fighting," he says. Now he's getting his first taste of formal training, and hoping to join ANCOP. He figures he'd earn about double the $180 a month (including combat pay) he's been getting. His trainers are doing their best to make him worth the extra salary. "One thing the police don't know is good relations with the people," says Carabinieri Lt. Col. Massimo Deiana. "We're trying to train them to respect and relate to people." If such a skill is teachable at all, it could be far more important in the long run than knowing how to shoot straight.



It is worth pausing to dwell on what happened in the White House on Tuesday: President Obama, just over a year into a tumultuous presidency in which he was sometimes wrong-footed and often adrift, signed the most momentous social legislation in many years.
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Editorial Series

* Health Care Reform

The health care reform law is an overdue and vital step in the construction of a social safety net, which began after the Great Depression and slowly moved forward — often in a bipartisan manner — until it was interrupted by the Republican Party’s radical antigovernment fervor in the late 20th century.

It was a triumph for Mr. Obama and for the Democratic leadership in Congress. If Mr. Obama draws no other lesson, it is that his early and forceful personal engagement on big issues is indispensable. He waited a perilously long time to exercise his leadership on health care, but when he did, it paid off.

It is important to keep that in mind because Mr. Obama’s victory celebration had barely ended before people were asking, “Now what?” There was speculation, in some quarters, that the energy had been drained out of Mr. Obama and his Congressional allies by the struggle against a Republican Party whose only objective seemed to be to thwart the president, no matter his objective.

But there is important business ahead — lots of it. And while Mr. Obama deserves a break, he must build on this success, not rest on it.

First and foremost is the economy, specifically the creation of jobs. Mr. Obama offered a budget plan in February that called for cuts in discretionary spending and should have brought major Congressional action on jobs in return. After the Easter break, Congress will likely extend unemployment insurance and offer some fiscal relief to states. That may be enough for the economy to squeak through 2010, but persistently high joblessness is a plague that Congress may not confront in a comprehensive way unless Mr. Obama forces the issue.

He will also have to take the lead in improving the financial regulatory bills moving through Congress. Neither chamber’s version is adequate to fix the problems that led to the financial meltdown, and the banking lobby is working hard to render them even less effective.

Beyond jobs and financial reform — near-term issues that will bulk large in the midterm elections — there are longer-term issues. President Obama has promised to reform the country’s education system, and to address climate change and oil dependency by transforming the way Americans produce and use energy. In his campaign, he talked about immigration reform and restoring the rule of law to terrorist detention policies.

These are lofty objectives, and Mr. Obama may not reach them all. But the health care victory shows that big goals can be achieved — with Mr. Obama’s personal intervention and sustained leadership.

With rare exceptions, the Republicans are not going to help. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider what Senator John McCain of Arizona said on Monday: “There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.”

As shocking as that is from a man who more than once presented himself as a candidate for president, it sums up the political reality that Mr. Obama faces. Still, he should be able to sell the public at the very least on creating jobs and restraining a rapacious financial industry. The nation’s well-being depends on it.

Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality

New York Times

For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.

Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.

Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would “mark a new season in America.” He added, “We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”

The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society — the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.

A big chunk of the money to pay for the bill comes from lifting payroll taxes on households making more than $250,000. On average, the annual tax bill for households making more than $1 million a year will rise by $46,000 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. Another major piece of financing would cut Medicare subsidies for private insurers, ultimately affecting their executives and shareholders.

The benefits, meanwhile, flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level — $88,200 for a family of four people. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. (Many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid.) Insurance costs are also likely to drop for higher-income workers at small companies.

Finally, the bill will also reduce a different kind of inequality. In the broadest sense, insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual’s misfortune — illness, death, fire, flood — across society. Since the late 1970s, though, the share of Americans with health insurance has shrunk. As a result, the gap between the economic well-being of the sick and the healthy has been growing, at virtually every level of the income distribution.

The health reform bill will reverse that trend. By 2019, 95 percent of people are projected to be covered, up from 85 percent today (and about 90 percent in the late 1970s). Even affluent families ineligible for subsidies will benefit if they lose their insurance, by being able to buy a plan that can no longer charge more for pre-existing conditions. In effect, healthy families will be picking up most of the bill — and their insurance will be somewhat more expensive than it otherwise would have been.

Much about health reform remains unknown. Maybe it will deliver Congress to the Republicans this fall, or maybe it will help the Democrats keep power. Maybe the bill’s attempts to hold down the recent growth of medical costs will prove a big success, or maybe the results will be modest and inadequate. But the ways in which the bill attacks the inequality of the Reagan era — whether you love them or hate them — will probably be around for a long time.

“Legislative majorities come and go,” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, lamented on Sunday. “This health care bill is forever.”

Since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign in 2007, he has had a complicated relationship with the Reagan legacy. He has been more willing than many other Democrats to praise President Reagan. “Reagan’s central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic,” Mr. Obama wrote in his second book, “contained a good deal of truth.” Most notably, he praised Mr. Reagan as a president who “changed the trajectory of America.”

But Mr. Obama also argued that the Reagan administration had gone too far, and that if elected, he would try to put the country on a new trajectory. “The project of the next president,” he said in an interview during the campaign, “is figuring out how you create bottom-up economic growth, as opposed to the trickle-down economic growth.”

Since 1980, median real household income has risen less than 15 percent. The only period of strong middle-class income growth during this time came in the mid- and late 1990s, which by coincidence was also the one time when taxes on the affluent were rising.

For most of the last three decades, tax rates for the wealthy have been falling, while their pretax pay has been rising rapidly. Real incomes at the 99.99th percentile have jumped more than 300 percent since 1980. At the 99th percentile — about $300,000 today — real pay has roughly doubled.

The laissez-faire revolution that Mr. Reagan started did not cause these trends. But its policies — tax cuts, light regulation, a patchwork safety net — have contributed to them.

Health reform hardly solves all of the American economy’s problems. Economic growth over the last decade was slower than in any decade since World War II. The tax cuts of the last 30 years, the two current wars, the Great Recession, the stimulus program and the looming retirement of the baby boomers have created huge deficits. Educational gains have slowed, and the planet is getting hotter.

Above all, the central question that both the Reagan and Obama administrations have tried to answer — what is the proper balance between the market and the government? — remains unresolved. But the bill signed on Tuesday certainly shifts our place on that spectrum.

Before he became Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers told me a story about helping his daughter study for her Advanced Placement exam in American history. While doing so, Mr. Summers realized that the federal government had not passed major social legislation in decades. There was the frenzy of the New Deal, followed by the G.I. Bill, the Interstate Highway System, civil rights and Medicare — and then nothing worth its own section in the history books.

Now there is.

US cooperating, not dictating Islamabad: Holbrooke

WASHINGTON : Pakistan’s anti-militancy actions have improved its image in the United States and the Obama administration is pursuing a cooperative relationship with the regional ally and not dictating Islamabad, US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday.

“We are out of the business of telling your country what you should do. Now we are listening to Pakistan,” Holbrooke remarked. He said the US-Pakistan relationship is getting “stronger and stronger.”

At a joint press briefing with Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, the American envoy said “Pakistan’s (anti-militant) actions last year have had a deep effect on American public opinion. I think, you will see it Mr Secretary if you talk to ordinary Americans, you go to the (Capitol) Hill today, I think you will see much more appreciation for Pakistan than in previous trips.”

Holbrooke cited several examples of how the Obama Administration has been receptive to Islamabad’s ideas and has accordingly changed the policies it inherited.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir on the occasion said both Pakistan and the United States are working hard towards a stronger relationship.

“We want to establish long-term full-spectrum relationship with the United States.”

The top Pakistani career diplomat said Pakistan-US engagement is very important but “it is not about numbers” in terms of economic assistance.

“It is the relationship which is important.”

At the same time, he said, “there is the reality of interdependence” between Pakistan and the United States.

“It is not a donor-recipient relationship we are looking for, but a long long-term engagement.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pukhtunkhwa(NWFP)virtually turned into cultural wasteland

PESHAWAR: The North-West Frontier Province with its rich cultural heritage has been turned into a cultural wasteland for the last few years.

The most trumpeted cultural directorate is yet to become functional at the historic Gor Gathri complex, while artistes and singers are still under threat and yet to restart their career. Private cultural and literary functions are being held at their own risk.

“The government has made tall claims to establish cultural directorate and work for the benefits of the poets and artistes but no such promise has been fulfilled. The state-run television station in Peshawar too has no plan to air quality cultural or literary programmes for the last many months. The artistes and writers are demoralized with the Philistine attitude of the government. On the contrary whatever the government says is no more than hollow slogans,” deplored Prof Abaseen Yousafzai, a Pashto poet and chairman of the Pashto Department at the Islamia College University.

Providing protection and security to the artistes is another important issue. A year ago many singers and performing artistes were threatened with dire consequences if they did not give up their profession while some were even kidnapped for ransom and released on the condition of quitting the profession. Some started reciting na’ats.

Kafayat Shah Bacha who was a popular folk singer began sporting a beard and started reciting religious hymns. Many artistes left NWFP and moved to other cities in the country or abroad to escape the wrath of the militants. Haroon Bacha, another noted singer, sought political asylum in 2009 in the US.

“If there is no cultural activity, how can the singers and artistes survive? It is now the question of the survival of the artistes themselves, let alone the arts and culture in the NWFP,” observed a young singer, Bakhtiar Khattak.

“There are eight audio recording studios in the city, a few amateur singers turn up for singing as there is no academy or government sponsorship. It is at their own risk that they invest in a music chart and take it to private TV channel for airing without caring for its quality,” he said.

Prof Dr Rajwali Shah Khattak, director Centre of Pashto Language and Literature, University of Peshawar, told The News that it was unfortunate that owing to recent wave of militancy, Frontier cultural heritage was affected in several ways.

He felt bombing mausoleum of great Sufi poet Rahman Baba was a tragic incident not only for Pashtuns but for all human beings. “In Peshawar’s Dabgari Bazaar there were 30 to 50 shops where musical instruments used to be hand-made and put on sale but now only two rabab making shops are left there which I believe is a great cultural loss. We must try to revive our rich cultural heritage by organizing cultural and literary events otherwise posterity will not forgive us,” Dr Rajwali Shah Khattak said.

UK expels Israeli diplomat over Dubai slaying case

Britain has expelled an Israeli diplomat over the alleged use of forged U.K. passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in a suspected Mossad hit.

Israel said it was disappointed but vowed to strengthen its relationship with Britain.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband told lawmakers on Tuesday that the Israeli diplomat, who has not been named, was removed from London following an investigation into the use of 12 fake U.K. passports in the Jan 20 slaying in Dubai.

He says a British investigation found “compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible” for the forged passports.

Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, said Israel was “disappointed by the decision of the British government” but affirmed his commitment to a relationship ``of mutual importance.''

Karzai holds peace talks with Hekmatyar group

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has met delegates from Afghanistan’s second-biggest militant group and is studying their peace proposals, his spokesman said on Monday.

Hezb-e-Islami is headed by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is black-listed as a terrorist by the United Nations and the United States. The latter accuses him of taking part in and supporting attacks by al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Karzai has been pursuing peace talks in the hope of ending the crippling insurgency led by the Taliban, while the United States implements a troop surge designed to weaken the militants.

Hezb-e-Islami had said it would only hold peace talks with Karzai’s government once all foreign forces had quit Afghan soil. The latest move could thus be seen as an early success in the president’s reconciliation efforts.

“I confirm that a meeting between the Hezb-e-Islami delegation and the president took place a couple of days back,” presidential spokesman Waheed Omar told AFP.

“They brought with them a peace plan, a proposal, and the president is studying it,” he said, confirming that the president had yet to respond to the plan.

The US State Department designated Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, as a terrorist in 2003, accusing him of taking part in and supporting al Qaeda and Taliban attacks.

Hezb-e-Islami’s spokesman Haroon Zarghon told AFP that the delegation of senior members handed Karzai a 15-point document they hoped would form the basis of peace talks.

Of the 15 points, “one of them is to set a clear timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces and another the formation of an interim administration”, Zarghon said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The delegation currently in Kabul is headed by Qutbuddin Helal, Hekmatyar’s deputy and also a former prime minister, Qaribul Rehman Sayeed, Ghairat Baheer and other prominent figures who formed Hezb-e-Islami, Zarghon said.

Talks: He said Hezb-e-Islami would “for Afghanistan’s well-being and prosperity” also encourage the Taliban to pursue peace negotiations. afp

Afghanistan Signs Understanding With UN to Fight Illegal Chemical Trade

Senior Afghanistan officials and the U.N. Environment Program have agreed to work together to fight the illegal trade in banned chemicals.

In a memorandum of understanding signed in Bangkok, the United Nations and Afghanistan took aim at chemicals that scientists say harm the ozone layer and contribute to climate change.

Afghanistan Ministry of Finance Deputy Minister For Customs And Revenue Sa'id Mubin Shah says the United Nations will help train Afghan customs officials to identify the dangerous chemicals.

"Especially in the current time in need of building our capacity for the customs officials; without capacity the official cannot do many things so that is why it is very important, and identification especially of the chemical which is destroying the ozone layer," he said.

The agreement sets up a framework for helping Afghan customs officers implement the Montreal Protocol.

The 1989 protocol calls for phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and hydro-chlorofluorocarbons, which scientists say damage the ozone layer. The ozone layer blocks harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Scientists also say that CFCs act as greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

UNEP Regional Director Young Woo Park says the agreement will help reduce illegal trade in the banned chemicals in South Asia. "The country, as the world knows, has the internal war, but they still show the importance of the environment and they willingly sign this MOU to make to deal with one of the environmental issues - ozone layer destruction; also at the same time how to deal with the illegal traffic of chemical substances," he said.

Park says the trade is difficult to curb as the chemicals are cheap and there is easy access to supplies outside Afghanistan. But he says the Afghan government has pledge to halt the trade within its borders despite the country's war.

The UNEP estimates that local and international crime syndicates earn up to $30 billion annually from the illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities such as ozone-depleting substances, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste and endangered species.

Pakistan Day celebrated with renewed commitment

In the face of manifold internal and external challenges, the nation celebrated Pakistan Day on Tuesday with a pledge to make the country a strong, progressive and prosperous Islamic welfare state in accordance with the vision of the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The day is celebrated every year in commemoration of 'The Pakistan Resolution' adopted on March 23, 1940.

The day was dawn with a 31-gun salute in the federal capital, and 21-gun salutes in provincial capitals. After Fajr prayers, special prayers were also offered for the country's progress, strength and solidarity.

Seminars and special functions were organised across the country to pay homage to the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Speakers highlighted sacrifices rendered by the people for the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims of India.

It may be noted that The All India Muslim League held its annual session at Minto Park, Lahore, from March 22 to 24, 1940. On March 23, 1940, "The Pakistan Resolution" was adopted through which the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent pledged to create an independent homeland, where they could live in accordance with their religious and cultural values.

On this occasion, President Asif Ali Zardari conferred awards on outstanding civil and military personalities in recognition of their meritorious services at an investiture ceremony at Aiwan-e-Sadar. Similar functions were held at Governor Houses in the provincial capitals ie Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.

Newspapers brought out supplements to highlight the importance of the day and the ideals of Quaid-i-Azam, under whose leadership Muslims passed Pakistan Resolution in Lahore on March 23, 1940, a momentous milestone in the history of Pakistan movement.

The public and private radio and TV channels also telecasted special programmes. Thanksgiving prayers were offered in places of worship.

Pakistan Rangers held a musical show to commemorate the Pakistan Day festivities at Wagha border on Tuesday. Singers flock at the Wagha border sang national songs to mark the occasion.