Monday, August 30, 2010

Pakistan Shocked, Outraged of Alleged Cricket Fraud

It was perhaps the last thing that Pakistan needed. After weeks of enduring the misery wrought by unprecedented floods, the country has been hit by allegations that its national cricket heroes deliberately performed poorly in exchange for money. In a country where passion for the sport arguably outstrips religious fervor, already depressed cricket fans have reacted with a mixture of shock and outrage, as fears build that global sympathy for its flood victims may now be hurt by yet another sour tale of corruption and intrigue.

For the first time in weeks, Pakistanis rose on Sunday to find television coverage of the floods displaced by arresting hidden-camera footage captured by a British tabloid. The slightly grainy images, filmed by an undercover reporter for the News of the World, purportedly revealed a supremely confident and embarrassingly indiscreet man boasting of his ability to manipulate a test match between Pakistan and England in exchange for large sums of money. (See pictures of Pakistan's floods.)

"Our heads have been bowed by shame," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters on Aug. 29. "I am going to ask the Ministry of Sports to order a full inquiry." President Asif Ali Zardari also said that he had taken notice of the news reports and had solicited a full report. Few of his countrymen, however, share his patience. Many devout cricket fans have made up their minds, with some going as far as to urge the team to think twice before returning home.

In the video, in exchange for $230,000, the man, named as Mazhar Majeed, offered eerily accurate details of three occasions in the same test match when Pakistan's bowlers would bowl "no-balls." (A no-ball is a pitch that is delivered from outside the regulation pitching zone; it doesn't count and the batting side is awarded a run. There is no exact baseball equivalent, but it's similar to a pitcher, in the act of throwing the ball, stepping outside the pitching mound.) Of the options available to benefit betting syndicates, Majeed said that no-balls are the "easiest" and the "clearest" to fix. Not only did Majeed's predictions come true, the bowlers stepped outside the zone by remarkable distances. "Oh, it's a big no-ball," the television commentator observed after the first instance.

That was just a taste of what Majeed was willing to offer, according to the newspaper. "I've been doing it with them, the Pakistani team, for about two and a half years. And we've made masses and masses of money," the newspaper quoted him as saying. There were millions to be made, he added. A senior government official tells TIME that Majeed had been seen hanging around with the team during their recent tour of Australia, where lackluster performances first aroused suspicions of cheating. (Watch a video about cricket in India.)

That run of illicit wealth appeared to come to an end on Saturday after the newspaper furnished its evidence to the police. Scotland Yard said that it had arrested a 35-year-old man on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers after receiving information from the News of the World. The man has now been released on bail. Three Pakistani players have had their phones confiscated by the police.

The test-match series against England held especial appeal for many Pakistani fans. When British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Pakistan of "looking both ways" on the export of terrorism in the region while on a visit to India last month, the nationalist-minded among them hoped that revenge would be exacted on the cricket field. And when news channels could relay only the misery of those whose lives had been swept away by the floods, cricket became an attractive distraction.

It may be a long time before the national team can excite passions at home again. "This comes at the worst time," says Mohammad Malick, editor of the News, an influential English-language daily in Pakistan. "We've been suffering terrorism. We are suffering floods. And now they've just made us look like a nation of callous crooks." Desperate to lure much-needed foreign aid to ease the country's recovery from the floods, many Pakistanis are now worried that their long-suffering image abroad will be further ruined. "Everybody is not a cheater in Pakistan," says Aitzaz Ahsan, the country's leading lawyer and a politician. "The overwhelming majority are honest and hardworking, believe in the values of the civilized world, are resisting terrorism and are against corruption. It's a minuscule minority - often celebrities - that brings shame to honorable Pakistanis."

Many Pakistanis hasten to point out that former English, Indian and South African captains have fallen foul of cricket's decorous traditions before. But the Pakistani side's fortunes have been sliding in recent years, with controversy on-and-off the pitch. Mohammad Asif, one of the bowlers suspected of deliberately hurling a no-ball, has tested positive for the use of illegal substances twice. In 2008, he was arrested by Dubai police for possession of drugs, but was released on the grounds of insufficient evidence. A prominent Pakistani actress later accused Asif of not repaying the money he had supposedly borrowed from her, sparking a media frenzy.

While the cricketers are naturally responsible for their actions, the allegations have also intensified criticism of the national cricket board. "These days, many of our cricketers come from economically deprived backgrounds," says Malick, the newspaper editor. "These kids were nobodies, then they played a few matches and suddenly became celebrities. It goes to their heads and that makes them prey for crooked bookmakers. It's the board's job to get them used to their newfound wealth and fame." The senior government official tells TIME that he has repeatedly spoken to Zardari about replacing Ijaz Butt, the board's chairman. Each time, the official says, his pleas were rebuffed as he was reminded that Butt was the Defense Minister's brother-in-law and had to stay. In Pakistan, the president also serves as the patron-in-chief of the cricket board, a controversial tradition. "The country's elite have been found [lacking] in their adherence to the best values and have shown their corrupt ways," says Ahsan, the lawyer. If the elite are seen to constantly evade accountability, Ahsan continues, "the effect is that it corrupts the value systems down below."

The match-fixing controversy now threatens Pakistan's love affair with its cricket team. Since March 2009, when the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by armed terrorists in the heart of Lahore, no international fixtures can be played at home. Now, suspicions of match fixing hang over seven of Pakistan's best players. If the allegations prove true, this country's millions of devotees could be left with no team worth cheering for.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pakistan Police horror

The Frontier Post

As a freak flash flooding is wreaking horror on our land and on our people, the police force is wreaking its own on them terribly. Two recent episodes alone should be sufficiently illustrative, both caught on camera. In one, the police let a lynching mob beat to death with sticks two young boys, both brothers, right under its eye and later string up their bodies on the pole in the square of the Sialkot village where this horrific killing occurred. Not that this is the first act of its kind. Incidents of vigilante justice have lately been surfacing increasingly, indicating worryingly that the polity is getting violent. But this is perhaps the first vigilante murder that took place under the police force’s very nose. Some media reports suggest that the lynching took place in the presence of a police posse and as many as 14 police cops are among the 17 persons booked for this murder. The footage put out by a private television channel shows at least one clearly-identifiable uniformed police official in the mob, moving about unconcernedly, if not indulgently, making no move at all to save the victims, and thus holding out the frightening spectre of law-enforcers’ collusive role. The other episode sends the creeps in the body all over chillingly, so shocking it is. It relates to the police savaging of a Bahawalpur medical college students, protesting against a whopping increase in their fee. A photograph, splashed by the national print media, shows a jovial danda-wielding police official, who seems holding a high rank, pouncing viciously on a female student while she is scurrying haplessly to shield herself from his stick assault. This could happen only in a wild, lawless polity where prevails the law of jungle, not a civilised society that at least we profess to be. The attacking cops are so bold in roughing up the protesting students that they are least pushed that their assault is being filmed. The photograph clearly shows a photographer taking snaps of their charge. It appears that they were rather happy being photographed as if they were performing some heroic deed by raining their danda strikes on students, unsparing even the female students, and that they would rather have their feat visually covered for record. The Supreme Court has, commendably, taken promptly the suo motu notice of the terrible lynching and has ordered a high-level investigation. Surely, the culprits will be held to account and will have to pay for their criminality. And there is every hope that the police roughing up of female students would not evade the judicial notice, either. It is the superior judiciary that indeed has been taking notice of official malevolence that often goes unnoticed by the executive branch whose job actually it is to deal sternly with official misconduct but it fails to do more often than not. In fact, over these times the police brutalisation of the hapless is coming to the public fore increasingly, thanks to modern communications technologies, indicating that there has been no change in police culture and in police psyche, notwithstanding all those assertions of the nation’s top echelons regarding having changed the force into a people-friendly apparatus. It may have become anything, but people-friendly it has become not. High-handedness, torture, savaging and extra-judicial methods still stay its preferred tools unrelentingly. Not once but many a time over these days footage showing cops leather-flogging the accused has made appearance to a horrified public. More terribly, police cops have been caught on camera beating even the flood-ravaged people, who need compassion not savaging. Starving, hungry and thirsty as they are, a certain amount of unruliness can naturally be expected from them while struggling to lay hand on some relief supply from a truck or a relief camp to mitigate their suffering. With sweet persuasion and mild reprimand, they can be brought to orderliness. But the police force, evidently, is not initiated in this art. It has been groomed only in employing the muscle power, although this force is often the first to lose all grit and make a hasty retreat with the tail between the legs if the challenge is severe and strong. The increasing waywardness and misconduct of the force telling tells that its internal mechanisms of vigilance and monitoring are very feeble. After all, how comes the top echelons of the force and their political bosses learn of a police savagery from media reports, not internally? It is only then that the top comes into action, and not infrequently after the superior judiciary has taken suo motu notice of it. The real snag, however, is the outside interference not only in the police working but even in its recruitments, postings, transfers and promotions. Unless merit in inducted decisively at every tier of the force and outside interference and patronage are outlawed completely from it, no good could be expected from it. Police cops would keep watching lynching and keep beating female students. That’s that.
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Dated: Sunday, August 22, 2010, Ramadan 11, 1431 A.H

Pakistan battles economic pain of floods

Pakistan is courting IMF help to alleviate the threat of economic ruin as enormous floods wipe out farmland and industry, triggering UN warnings that the restive country faces years of pain.

Authorities Sunday were evacuating people from a town and flood-hit villages in the south from encroaching floodwaters, which nationwide have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million, according to official tallies.

Pakistan's weak civilian government has faced an outpouring of public fury over sluggish relief efforts, while officials warn the country faces economic losses of up to 43 billion dollars.

The International Monetary Fund said it would meet Pakistani officials in Washington this week to discuss the impact of floods that have devastated the country's southern agricultural breadbasket and its textiles industry.

Pakistan may reportedly ask the IMF to ease the terms of a 10-billion-dollar loan, which since 2008 has helped to prop up the enfeebled economy.

Millions of flood survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water meanwhile require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

On Saturday, six flood victims, including three women and two children, were killed and 25 others injured after being electrocuted in the Kashmore district of the southern province of Sindh, officials said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has praised the global community as emergency donations for Pakistan neared 500 million dollars, but warned the flood-stricken nation faces "years of need".

The United States, which has made the nuclear-armed nation a cornerstone ally in the fight against Islamic extremism, has given the most, followed by Saudi Arabia and Britain.

On Friday Ban welcomed the donations, but warned: "We must keep it up. Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need."

"It is very likely that the need for donations will strongly increase because... the number of people in need of immediate humanitarian aid has risen from six to eight million," Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Islamabad, told AFP.

The UN has increased its estimate of the number of people without shelter from two million to six million, he added.

"We have more than doubled the rate at which we are delivering relief but, since August 11, the number of people who need emergency help has undoubtedly more than tripled. We are in a race against time."

The UN World Food Programme said it urgently needed helicopters to get food to millions of flood victims who remain cut off by the high waters, although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off.

The WFP warned that the floods have killed or are threatening millions of livestock, and launched an urgent appeal for animal feed.

Flood survivors camping out in miserable conditions have staged angry, if isolated, protests against the government, shutting main highways and forcing police to mobilise.

Food prices are soaring. Pakistan has suffered an electricity crisis for years, but now the flood waters have forced power stations to close, exacerbating energy cuts and leaving entire communities without power.

"Alienation towards the government has increased and in the long run it can create internal instability. The opposition can cash in on that and in the long term, Islamist militants can benefit," analyst Hasan Askari warned.

Clinton Invokes Climate Change Debate to Explain Pakistan Floods

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials are pointing to the devastating floods in Pakistan and other extreme weather events as signs that climate change is getting worse.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials are pointing to the devastating floods in Pakistan and other extreme weather events as signs that climate change is getting worse.

Clinton, in an interview with Pakistan's Dawn TV, said "there is a linkage" between the recent spate of deadly natural disasters and climate change.

"You can't point to any particular disaster and say, 'it was caused by,' but we are changing the climate of the world," she said.

Clinton said that on top of the Pakistan floods, which have forced millions out of their homes, the forest fires in Russia stand as another example. She said there's no "direct link" between the disasters in Pakistan and Russia but that "when you have the changes in climate that affect weather that we're now seeing, I think the predictions of more natural disasters are unfortunately being played out."

Climate change skeptics say the planet is going through natural phases -- the kind it's gone through for eons. Pakistan, in particular, is prone to flooding and is routinely drenched by the monsoon rains. Some officials have partially blamed deforestation and inferior levee systems for the historic flooding which has affected one-fifth of the country's landmass and triggered nearly a half-billion dollars in international aid commitments.

Scientists who study climate change tend to offer more nuance in their explanations of the possible link to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. They generally say that no one natural disaster can be chalked up to man-caused climate change, but that it can contribute to those disasters happening more frequently and more intensely.

Both the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization reiterated that point in light of the Pakistan floods. WMO climate data chief Omar Baddour was quoted saying it's "too early to point to a human fingerprint" behind the recent disasters but climate change may be "exacerbating the intensity" of them.

But some government officials have shown little equivocation in directly linking the Pakistan disaster with climate change.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, said Thursday that his country's flooding "reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Israel and Palestinians agree to direct peace talks

Israel and the Palestinians accepted on Friday an invitation by the United States and other powers to restart direct talks on September 2 in a modest step toward forging a deal within 12 months to create a Palestinian state and peacefully end one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with President Barack Obama on September 1, before formally resuming direct negotiations the following day at the State Department in Washington.

"There have been difficulties in the past, there will be difficulties ahead," Clinton said in a statement.

Clinton added that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah also were invited to the talks, which will mark the first direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 20 months.

"I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region," Clinton said.

Clinton's announcement was echoed by the Quartet of Mideast peace mediators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- which issued its own invitation to the talks and underscored that a deal could be reached within a year.

Netanyahu quickly accepted the U.S. invitation and said reaching a deal would be possible but difficult.

"We are coming to the talks with a genuine desire to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples that will protect Israel's national security interests, foremost of which is security," a statement from his office said.

After a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership announced its acceptance of the invitation for face-to-face peace talks with Israel.


But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, warned that the Palestinians would pull out of the new talks if the Israelis allow a return to settlement building on lands that the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Israel's 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank is due to end on September 26.

The invitation to the talks "contains the elements needed to provide for a peace agreement," Palestinian leaders said.

"It can be done in less than a year," Erekat said. "The most important thing now is to see to it that the Israeli government refrains from settlement activities, incursions, fait accomplis policies."

The two sides are coming together for talks after decades of hostility, mutual suspicion and a string of failed peace efforts.

The Quartet statement was aimed at the Palestinians, who believe that the group's repeated calls for Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and accept a Palestinian state within the borders of land occupied since the 1967 Middle East war are a guarantee of the parameters for the talks.

Clinton's invitation was aimed at Netanyahu, agreeing with his demand that the talks should take place "without preconditions" and giving little sense of any terms that the Israeli leader fears could box him in.

The Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to renounce violence against Israel, said the proposed peace talks would do nothing to help the Palestinian cause. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell said Hamas would have no role in the peace talks.

Middle East analysts say the peace process, which began in the early 1990s, established the basic outlines of a deal acceptable to both sides and identified crunch issues remaining to be resolved -- though most say the task is daunting.

Clinton said the talks should include the "final status" issues such as the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. She urged both sides to refrain from provocative acts.

"As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it," Clinton said.

Mitchell, who spent months working to persuade both sides to restart direct talks, said the onus was now on them to produce results. He said the United States could offer "bridging proposals" if necessary.


The Washington talks also signal a deeper personal involvement by Obama, who has repeatedly said that resolving the impasse between Palestinians and Israel is one of his chief diplomatic priorities.

"He is putting his political future into the process," said Middle East analyst Stephen Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development.

"He has entered a process that is supposed to reach its conclusion just at the time when he is going to be running heavily for president again, so he will have a lot riding on this," Cohen said.

Others have just as much riding on the talks. In one year, the Palestinian Authority government plans to have established all the attributes of statehood, raising speculation that it might declare independence should talks fail to make progress on a "final status" treaty.

Abbas, whose Fatah party rules the West Bank, broke off talks with the previous Israeli prime minister in 2008. Contacts were frozen after Israel's massive offensive in the Gaza Strip in that same year against Hamas.

Mitchell, speaking after Clinton's announcement, said the climate of mistrust would have to be overcome.

"We don't expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately," Mitchell said, adding that a final peace deal was in everyone's interest.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington said the real test would be how soon and how thoroughly the root causes of the conflict are addressed.

"If they simply have a set of episodic meetings, you know you haven't made progress ... but if they are followed by continuing talks at the working level, you know that something serious is going on," Cordesman said. "It is dangerous to assume that we are going to be able to rush forward."

Babies suffer in Pakistan flood disaster camps


They are so small that at first you may miss them. Their newborn cries are impossibly soft, asking for their mother's nourishment.

Seven-day-old Rida and Nida, twin girls, are among the youngest of the 900 refugees at a school-turned-refugee camp in Sukkur, Pakistan.

Born after the floods hit Pakistan, they may not be thriving, but they are surviving.

Their mother, Maryum, is grateful her daughters are still alive amid the chaos of Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years, but she does not feel the joy of new motherhood.

"I'm worried about them," said Maryum. "We don't have anything. No clothes, no home, nothing."

Maryum dipped her fingers into a bowl of water and touched Nida's lips. Nida, who is smaller and weaker than Rida, lapped up the water with her small mouth.

"This is the cleanest water we have," Maryum said.

Cleanest does not mean clean. The water at this refugee camp is still untreated, but the children are drinking it in the sweltering heat and humidity.

It's why 18-month-old Zabair is ill with a water-borne disease. A yellow IV remained attached to his small left hand as volunteer doctors tried to treat him.

With enough clean water, many children can recover. The problem in Pakistan's growing humanitarian crisis is access to that clean water.
The U.N. says 3.5 million children are at risk of contracting water-borne illnesses in the wake of these floods. Pakistan's government estimates 500,000 pregnant women are also at risk of falling ill.

Across the country about 20 million people need shelter, food and emergency care.

The United Nations has appealed for $460 million over the next three months. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that although donors delivered more than half, the available resources are not sufficient to meet the needs on the ground.

Mehraan, who delivered a baby girl three days ago, was unable to get access to a doctor and her two-month premature daughter died.

She says fear of the floods took her daughter away. She then clutched her stomach, moaning, "I'm sick, I'm sick."

One of the biggest problems at this refugee camp is sanitation.

Human feces dot the ground, just meters away from where children sleep.

Dr. Ismael Mako is a volunteer doctor trying to help the refugees at the numerous camps in Sukkur.

"Antibiotics, IV's," said Mako, "we need this."

What he's seen among the children and pregnant women are in many cases preventable, easily treated illnesses.

But in this unfolding crisis in Pakistan, he predicts that without more aid soon there will be wave after wave of medical crises.

In Afghanistan Brutality Against Women Stirs Fear

The Taliban has denied that its militants tortured, hanged and shot a widow in Afghanistan's western Baghdis province for adultery.
It's not the principle the Taliban disagrees with — in a lengthy press release, a Taliban spokesman said that the woman should have been stoned to death instead.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the stoning in a separate case of a couple put to death in Kunduz province. But he has also been careful in public statements to avoid mentioning topics like women's rights.
Human-rights advocates say the U.S.-supported government of Afghanistan has not done enough and that the government's reaction raises questions about plans to reconcile with the Taliban.

Pregnant, Shot And Killed In Afghanistan

Earlier this month, two brutal incidents caught the world’s attention. An Afghan woman appeared on the cover of Time magazine, her nose cut off because she fled an abusive marriage. The other was the pregnant widow in Baghdis province accused of adultery. The local Taliban commander ordered 200 lashes and then shot the woman to death. A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility in both cases.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, said that genuine Taliban leaders would never mutilate a woman. As for the woman whipped and shot to death for adultery, Ahmadi said the proper sentence is death by stoning. Indeed, this week in the northern province of Kunduz, a Taliban judge ordered just that.
Across northern Afghanistan the resurgent Taliban has carried out several executions that raise questions about the radical movement's command and control over many loosely affiliated fighting groups.
According to another Taliban representative, Zaibullah Mujahid, a young couple eloped, but was then lured back to their village in Kunduz province where a Taliban judge pronounced them guilty of adultery. Taliban functionaries threw the first stones before a crowd of several hundred male villagers battered the couple to death.
'It's Revenge' And Not Justice
Sima Simar, head of the Afghan independent human-rights commission in Kabul, says that the Taliban encourages the worst in Afghan society when it sanctions honor killings and public executions.It's revenge. They're not going for justice; they're going to take revenge," Simar says.
She says the Taliban represents a current in Afghan society and thrives because the Karzai government isn't providing any justice at all.
The influential Afghan Council of Muslim Scholars released a statement last week appealing to Karzai to apply Islamic law instead of Afghanistan's legal code.
As Simar points out, the Afghan Constitution already says that all laws in the country must conform with Shariah, or Islamic law — just not such an extreme interpretation. The Afghan Constitution also guarantees the observance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other global human-rights conventions.
But Simar says the Afghan government is sending mixed signals. She fears that the government, in an effort to end the war, is trying to reconcile with Taliban insurgents at the moment, at the expense of human rights.

Hundreds of villages ravaged in Sindh

After devastating 500 villages of Sajawal, Junejo and Shahdadkot areas of upper Sindh, the flood wave is now heading to Kotri Barrage.

The cities including Shahdadkot, Qabu Saeed Khan, Mero Khan and Sajawal have been evacuated, as the surging floodwater has been diverted to Qabu Saeed Khan by making breaches on at least ten places in embankments.

The water level in Kotri Barrage has increased to 0.7 million cusecs. An emergency was declared and the army and Rangers personnel were deployed at the barrage.

The wave not only threatens nearby Hyderabad, it can also inundate low-lying areas of Sajawal, Shahdadkot and Thatta. According to the Flood Control Room, another flood wave is likely to pass through the Kotri Barrage on August 25.

However, water level in Sukkur and Guddu barrages has started to drop and water level on Friday was recorded at 945,000 and 955,000 cusecs respectively.

Twenty villages of Hyderabad district in katcha area have already been flooded. Several villages located in the outskirts of Jamshoro have been submerged in water, while katcha areas of Latifabad, Sehrishnagar, Qasimabad and Husainabad are also facing floods.

While in Thatta, three more villages were inundated by floodwater.

Water continues to seep through fissures in protective embankments near Nawabshah.

Balochistan: Meanwhile in Balochistan, hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge on rooftops after the flood wave entered Gandakah area of Jaffarabad district.

Army helicopters and boats on Friday continued the rescue operation. However, a large number of people were still stranded in floodwaters.

The floods have wreaked havoc in areas located on the Balochistan-Sindh border. Goth Ghulam Muhammad Jamali, Goth Faisal Fakeer Lashari, Goth Mir Doda Khan, Goth Choki Jamali, Goth Mir Feroze Khan Jamali, Goth Janan Jamali, Goth Dur Muhammad Jamali and Goth Ibrahim Zehri have been severely affected by the floods.

Earlier, the Pakistan Army and the district administration had warned the locals to immediately evacuate their houses and shift to safer places. However, people had ignored the warning.

It's 'Critical' To Understand Instability Risk In Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry Tells NPR

On the heels of a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, acknowledged that the flooding in Pakistan could lead to instability there.

"I think it's critical for all of us to understand that potential, and try to head it off, which means an adequate response to the flood demands," he told NPR's Robert Siegel, adding that "the government is doing everything in its power, but they're going to need help."
Traveling with President Asif Ali Zardari, Kerry said he saw many frustrated, angry people, displaced from their homes, stranded outside in hot temperatures, without adequate food and water.

"Obviously, that's ripe for exploitation," he said. "So, it's important for us to take a lot fo measures to preclude that from happening."

Kerry, who has sponsored a major aid bill in the Senate, providing aid to Pakistan, said it is important to acknowledge how much progress the country has made, fighting against corruption.

"There have been improvements, and I think it would be a tragedy upon a tragedy for us to lose a lot of that progress because of what's happened here," he said.

Kerry spent three days with President Hamid Karzai, talking about military strategy and the political situation in Afghanistan.

Today, The Washington Post reported Karzai expressed support for "the independent work of two anti-corruption law enforcement units that had come under political pressure from his office following the arrest of one of his aids last month."

Kerry said that, in a statement he and Karzai co-signed, the president "made it clear that he intends to press forward with that case, and that the major crimes unit will be able to function as an independent entity, free from political influence."

Who cares about Pakistan?

Dr Marie Lall, Pakistan expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and senior lecturer at the Institute of Education, says: "I think there is donor fatigue all around. The [2004] Indian Ocean tsunami, the Burmese Cyclone [Nargis, 2008], the [2005] Pakistan earthquake, and [this year's] Haiti earthquake. It is getting too much; we are in a recession and people are short of money."

Rebecca Wynn, Pakistan specialist for UK-based aid agency Oxfam, says: "Many donors have made substantial contributions in humanitarian assistance to Pakistan over the years, particularly in response to the conflict-related displacements over the last two years. Of course, the fact that the people of Pakistan have been hit time and again by disaster is even more reason to give."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution, a foreign policy think tank, says: "It should also be noted that the international humanitarian system isn't set up to deal with more than one major crisis a year. USAID, for example, committed one-third of its annual budget to the Haitian earthquake response. And among the general public there may be a feeling of, 'Well, I donated to the victims of the Haitian earthquake and Haiti is a far needier country than Pakistan.'"Yale University economics professor Dean Karlan, an expert on charitable giving, says: "Corruption concerns may explain why giving is lower to developing countries than many would like it to be, but it does not explain why there is less money pouring into Pakistan now than does to disaster relief causes in other developing countries with similar governance issues."

Dr Marie Lall says: "People in Pakistan are sceptical the government will be transparent. But they are giving to philanthropic organisations. In the UK, I think people are sceptical of [non-governmental organisations'] overheads and costs. They don't know which ones are transparent and reliable, even though local organisations such as TCF [The Citizens' Foundation] are doing an incredible job."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris says: "People are always sceptical about their money reaching flood victims, particularly in countries with reputations for corruption. But Haiti didn't have a very good reputation in this regard. [Pakistan] President [Asif Ali] Zardari trip to Europe [during the floods] was not a good move. For a few days, that was the 'story' of the Pakistani floods, which doesn't inspire people to be generous, particularly in this economic climate."
Dr Marie Lall says: "British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments in India [when he said Islamabad promoted the export of terror] did not help."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris says: "People are less likely to donate to any country seen as a haven for terrorism. And more generally, the fact that so much Western news coverage in recent years about Pakistan has been negative, stressing its links with the conflict in Afghanistan. I think this is the major reason for the slow public response - the image of Pakistan in our media. There may also be a feeling, particularly in the US, that Islamic governments and charities should be stepping up to the plate to donate."

Rebecca Wynn says: "This disaster has come at a bad time, following the financial crisis and the Haiti earthquake. Many donors made huge commitments to Haiti, so may find it hard to fund another major disaster, particularly in the same year."

Dr Marie Lall says: "Timing may be a factor, but I think it's more to do with not realising the scale of the disaster, and the attitude by the British government; the UK should be leading the aid effort, given the Pakistani diaspora here and the fact that we need Pakistan for the war in Afghanistan."
'Wrong' disaster

Professor Dean Karlan says: "Sudden events seem to generate more funds. A flood (and droughts) happen gradually and build. There isn't any one single day in which news is huge. For the same reason, this pushes the story away from the media spotlight. But massive and sudden earthquakes or tsunamis draw our immediate attention and shock us."

Dr Elizabeth Ferris says: "It's important to note that in general people are likely to give more to emergencies occurring in countries geographically closer to them - although this didn't hold true for the tsunami. But when you trace contributions over time, you find that Americans and Canadians are more likely to respond to disasters in the Western hemisphere while Europeans tend to be more responsive to African countries (and their former colonies, in particular)."

Dr Marie Lall says: "This was not one cataclysmic event, but one which grew over three weeks. The fact that 25% of the country was or is under water is not understood. The low numbers of dead, relatively speaking, mask the disaster on the ground. The crisis has destroyed crops, dead livestock and damaged homes and infrastructure. Food prices are through the roof and there won't be a normal harvest. It will get worse. Farmers will starve."

Pakistan’s civilian rule tested

As Pakistan thanked the world Friday for opening its wallets, criticism of the already weak civilian government mounted. The growing discontent dealt a potential blow to U.S. and domestic hopes of fostering a strong Pakistani democracy after years of army rule.

Even before the crisis began nearly a month ago, the government faced discontent as power shortages, Islamist militant violence and economic mismanagement plagued the country.

As the dissatisfaction with the government grows, the image of the military has received a boost. A military coup is seen as unlikely, but the flooding is so large scale that some fear political instability in the nuclear-armed nation. Underscoring these fears are reports that the Pakistani Taliban have capitalized on the government’s ineptitude by providing aid to flood victims in an effort to boost their public image.

About 20 million people have been affected. And flood victims are far more likely to have seen a Pakistani soldier dropping off relief or picking them up than a member of the civilian government.

“The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis have always reposed confidence in the army as compared to elected governments,” said Mehdi Hasan, a Pakistani political analyst. “People feel the army can do better as it is well trained; it has time and the courage to handle any crisis. It gives an edge to the army over the civil administration.”

The civilians’ initial response appeared chaotic and confused as the flooding disaster unfolded. But symbolism seemed to matter more: President Asif Ali Zardari’s decision to visit France and England as people fled their water-filled homes infuriated many and tarnished the image of an out-of-touch political elite.

Making matters worse was the slow pace of international aid.

Wrapping up a hurriedly called two-day meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to spotlight the immediate need for aid — weeks after the flooding began July 28 — Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Abdullah Haroon, said the initial outpouring from some 70 countries was “indeed heartening” and “a good beginning,” though he stressed that the country will need much more help in the months and years to come.

At the start of the meeting on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said donors had given just half of the $460 million the U.N. asked for to provide food, shelter and clean water for up to 8 million flood victims over the next three months. He insisted all the money was needed now.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said at the end of Thursday’s session that he was assured the $460 million goal “is going to be easily met.”

But U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press after Friday’s session ended that the U.N. appeal wasn’t fully funded yet.

“At the moment, we’re about 70 percent funded, about $350 million,” he said. “The situation in the last few days has improved very significantly in terms of funding. … I think (the appeal) will be funded soon.”

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States, already the biggest donor, would contribute an additional $60 million, bringing its total to more than $150 million, with $92 million going to the U.N.

Among other donors, Pakistan has accepted an offer of $5 million of aid offered by archrival India, after several days of hesitation. Receiving assistance from India is politically delicate in Pakistan, and the government can expect criticism from some of the religious and nationalist parties.

But Pakistan is in no position to turn away assistance.

“This is not just Pakistan’s hour of need — Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need,” said Ban.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On Midterm Stump, Clinton Is Defender in Chief

New York Times

The last time Bill Clinton and Barack Obama spent so many hours on the campaign trail, dashing across the country to appear before adoring crowds, they were on different sides of the Democratic argument.

So that is exactly where Mr. Clinton began when he arrived here this week.

“It’s no secret that I tried hard to defeat President Obama in the primaries — and some of you helped,” Mr. Clinton said, drawing a laugh from an audience in Palm Beach County, a place that was slow to embrace Mr. Obama two years ago.

“But I want to tell you something,” he continued, waiting for the crowd to listen. “It is my professional opinion that he has done a much better job than he has gotten credit for so far. And all elections are about the future, so what is the alternative?”

A coast-to-coast campaign swing by Mr. Obama this week, his biggest plunge into the midterm election season to date, drew considerable attention as he raised money for Democrats in five states over three days. But in a series of less noticed trips to every corner of the country, it is Mr. Clinton who has stepped into the role of defending all Democrats — Mr. Obama included.

Few people may have more credibility paying a compliment to Mr. Obama than Mr. Clinton. Tense exchanges between the two men were an unforgettable element of the 2008 presidential race, which by all accounts Mr. Clinton took far longer to get over than Hillary Rodham Clinton did.

“If you’re a Democrat, you need to hold your head up,” Mr. Clinton said this week, delivering the pep talk of a coach who is disappointed with his team’s behavior. “I’m tired of reading about how we’re all belly-aching.”

The former president has become one of the party’s best salesmen. He has long been in demand to raise money for Democratic candidates, but now there is a more pressing need: raising the spirits of Democratic voters, dispensing wisdom as he works to put the party’s political challenges into a broader context.

A decade after he was banished from the campaign trail — seen at the time as a liability to Vice President Al Gore’s presidential ambitions — Mr. Clinton is now the most sought-after Democrat, logging 29 stops so far this year with more to come in the fall. He has been embraced by Democrats wherever he goes, even as several candidates have run the other way when Mr. Obama has arrived in their state.

In Nevada, Mr. Clinton campaigned for Senator Harry Reid in June. (“Why would you give away the Senate majority leader who has delivered time and time and time again?” Mr. Clinton asked a crowd in Las Vegas.)

In Pennsylvania, as he appeared this month for Representative Joe Sestak in his Senate race, he warned about what could happen if Republicans win control of Congress. (“Give us two more years, and if we’re wrong, send us packing,” he argued.)

And here in Florida, he made stops on Monday in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties on behalf of Representative Kendrick B. Meek, a longtime friend who faces an uphill Senate race. (“We haven’t built our way out of that hole as fast as anybody wanted, but it was a very deep hole,” Mr. Clinton told his audience.)

Mr. Clinton, who gives precedence to Democrats who endorsed Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid, makes use of the perspective and latitude afforded to former presidents.

This week, as both Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton passed through Florida, Democrats had the chance to see the distinct styles of the 42nd and 44th presidents side by side. Mr. Clinton is more cerebral, delivering a thorough recitation of the economic condition and discussing how the challenges of today are more severe than those of his time in office. Mr. Obama, after ticking through his policy achievements, edged closer to mockery of his rivals.

“Remember our campaign slogan, ‘Yes we can’?” Mr. Obama told a fund-raising audience Wednesday evening at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. “This year, their campaign slogan is, ‘No, we can’t.’ It’s pretty inspiring, huh? You know, you wake up in the morning and you hear ‘No!’ That just puts a little pep in your step.”

By the time Mr. Obama returned to the White House a few hours later, he had raised millions of dollars for the Democratic Party across the country, in Florida, California, Washington State, Wisconsin, Ohio. Along the way, he honed his fall message and spent nearly as much time criticizing Republicans as promoting his own achievements.

For Mr. Clinton’s part, the utterances of a past president are not scrutinized as closely as the words of a sitting one, so he speaks a bit more bluntly now than when he was in office. His words are passionate, yet not personal. He conceded that the economic condition of the country has not improved as much as people hoped it would after Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and the White House two years later.

“A year and a half just wasn’t enough time to get us out of the hole we were in,” Mr. Clinton said. “So I want you to stick with us. Give us two more years — two more years until another election. If we fail, you can throw us all out.”

There is one word, though, that Mr. Clinton does not say: Bush.

Some Democrats have started mentioning former President George W. Bush with such frequency that you might think he had been written into the party’s platform. But Mr. Clinton spoke of the opposition in generic terms, focusing on Republicans in Congress. (Not only has Mr. Clinton joined with Mr. Bush in raising money for rebuilding in Haiti, he also has become a close friend of Mr. Bush’s father.)

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, said the Democratic Party was showing its desperation by spending so much time focusing on his brother. “It’s a loser issue — they have a big L on their foreheads,” Mr. Bush said in an interview. “If that’s all they’ve got, it’s a pretty good indication of the problems that the Democrats face in 2010.”

And before Mr. Clinton took the stage here in Delray Beach — yes, he often still runs very late — a parade of local Democratic officials warmed up the crowd, with speakers offering sharp criticism of President Bush.

But when Mr. Clinton began speaking, he did not mention his successor in the White House at all, an omission that at least one woman in the crowd said she appreciated.

“I think that’s the politically correct thing to do. It’s also respectful,” said Fay Gallam, a social worker from West Palm Beach, who waited hours to see Mr. Clinton for the first time. As she walked away from the gymnasium, she beamed.

“He says just what we need to hear, and because he’s articulate, you can follow him and see the logic,” Ms. Gallam said. “He’s more at liberty now, and President Obama is really under the gun.”

Zardari, attempts damage control after European trip during disaster

Damage control for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is in full swing following his much-criticized trip to Europe.

In recent days, state broadcasts have shown Zardari embracing a Pakistani woman in tears at a relief camp in the flood-ravaged southern city of Sukkur, handing out relief packages to flood victims in Nowshera, then accompanying U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a helicopter ride to survey submerged farmland in southern Punjab province.

The itinerary, experts say, is meant to erase a different image for Pakistanis: one of a helicopter dropping off Zardari at the sumptuous 16th century chateau he owns in the French countryside, while back home floodwaters this month were upending millions of lives and plunging Pakistan into its worst crisis in its 63-year history.
The president's visit to Britain and France earlier this month during the country's hour of crisis — the disaster has killed more than 1,600 people, damaged or destroyed more than 895,000 houses and left many Pakistanis in need of shelter, drinking water and emergency healthcare — has mainly worsened the president's already suffering image at home, some experts say.

Although Zardari met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris and British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, the decision to go to Europe was "sheer arrogance," said political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais. "He has made many blunders, but I don't think there's a greater blunder than making this trip."

But experts also said Zardari, a leader the U.S. regards as one of its key allies in the fight against Islamic militancy, probably won't see any serious threat to his presidency. His term isn't up until 2013, and opposition parties do not have the votes in parliament to remove him. If Zardari harbors notions of staying in power after 2013, experts said, then those prospects have probably dimmed.

"It has damaged him politically, in the sense that it has refocused attention on his inadequacies," said Ayaz Amir, a Pakistani columnist and lawmaker from the opposition PML-N party. "There is renewed talk along the lines of, 'Look here, what kind of president do we have?' "

Zardari's approval ratings have fallen steadily since he became president in 2008. Many Pakistanis still call him "Mr. 10%," a reference to corruption allegations and the alleged demands for kickbacks that have dogged him since stints in previous decades as a Cabinet minister.

Zardari aides said that among other things, the trip allowed him to patch up ties with Cameron, who had said during a recent visit to India that Pakistan should not "look both ways" in dealing with the West and the Taliban, and seemingly suggested Pakistan was not doing enough to fight terrorism.

In France, Zardari made a two-hour stopover at a chateau in Normandy that his family has owned for 24 years. Zardari's 21-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, joined him during the visits to France and Britain, and was slated to make his political debut with a speech in Birmingham to followers of Pakistan's ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party. Zardari heads the party and his son is co-chairman. Bilawal Zardari later canceled the speech, saying such an event would not be proper while the nation was grappling with deadly floods.

Zardari's aides say the president knew his decision to make the trip would be unpopular but that the meetings with Sarkozy, aimed at obtaining additional flood relief, and Cameron were too important to shelve.

"Looking back, the president believes it was the right decision," said Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar. "Of course, from the point of view of getting political mileage, and to get good headlines in the next day's newspapers, it would have been good if he called off the visit. But he had to make a choice — whether he wants to have good, favorable headlines for [the] next three [or] four days, or whether he should keep in mind the long-term interests of Pakistan."

For many Pakistanis, Zardari is seen as an accidental leader who fell into the job after the death of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 as she was attempting a political comeback. Zardari became leader of the PPP, and in September 2008 he was elected by Pakistan's parliament and four provincial assemblies to a five-year term.

Since then, he has been criticized as not doing enough to put the country's moribund economy on the right track, and he has failed to tackle the daily power shutdowns that continue to beset the country.

With his approval ratings in a tailspin, Zardari yielded to widespread calls for a constitutional amendment that largely reduced the presidency to a figurehead role and shifted much of his powers to Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani.

Zardari's aides have said the president's new role does not entail hands-on stewardship of a crisis like the flood disaster — that the job belongs to Gilani. However, at a time when collective anger was welling up in Pakistan over what is perceived as the government's slow, disorganized response to the floods, Zardari's trip to Europe made things worse.

Amir called the Zardari administration's rationale for the trip "absurd."

"When a disaster like this hits, you don't have to go on a junket to get international support," Amir said. "The most effective thing to do is to remain at home and impress upon the world the magnitude of the disaster. Their explanation convinces no one. No one is buying it here in Pakistan."

'Three cups of tea' a byword for U.S. effort to win Afghan hearts and minds

So, did you have your three cups of tea?" a U.S. infantryman, bulky in body armor, asked another soldier as he emerged from the mud-brick home of an Afghan village elder.

In this case, it wasn't tea but slices of cool melon, served to the sweating troops who spent an hour crouched on a plastic tarp covering the dirt floor of the house in this hamlet in northern Afghanistan.

But the phrase "three cups of tea" has entered the American troop lexicon as shorthand for any leisurely, trust-building chat with locals. It is drawn, as legions of readers can attest, from the bestselling book of the same title by former mountaineer Greg Mortenson, who has devoted himself to establishing girls schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With its inspirational tone and idealistic worldview, "Three Cups of Tea" would seem an unlikely primer of military counterinsurgency.

Its message, however, has become entwined with U.S. strategic thinking in Afghanistan during the last year, roughly coinciding with the tenure of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who reached out to Mortenson and sought his advice on overcoming the mistrust of Afghan villagers.

Mortenson then helped broker a series of meetings between the general and tribal elders.

Befriending the locals in the service of ambitious goals in a strange land is hardly a new idea. But Mortenson's vivid, often poignant stories of his own early struggles to connect with standoffish or hostile elders in communities where he wanted to provide girls with schooling struck a chord with several senior military officers.

The book's rise in influence coincided with a growing belief that the war effort was faltering, in part because force alone was not working. Protecting civilians took center stage in the strategy McChrystal put together soon after arriving last summer.

Although the general was forced to relinquish his command over intemperate comments to a Rolling Stone reporter by him and senior aides, troops were already well steeped in the "Tea" phenomenon by the time of his departure this June.

Many deploying soldiers had the book pressed on them by wives or girlfriends. At bases around Afghanistan, tents and barracks often contain a dusty, dog-eared copy. Over the last year, Mortenson has made occasional appearances to talk to troops.

The new commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose own wife urged him to read the book, has reaffirmed McChrystal's counterinsurgency doctrine, which he had helped craft. This month, he issued guidelines instructing troops to mingle with locals whenever possible.

"Take off your sunglasses," was one of Petraeus' admonitions. Another: "Drink lots of tea."

The military's embrace, however, has created some complications for Mortenson, who recognizes that it might arouse suspicions among some of the villagers he deals with.

"It's risky; some people don't like it," he said of his informal advisory role. "But then, some other people don't like us talking to the Taliban either."

A self-described free thinker who once lived in his car during a bout of joblessness, Mortenson hated the book's original subtitle, which included the phrase "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism." (Armed with the clout of burgeoning sales, he got it changed in later editions.)

It is an open question, though, whether the tactics championed in the book — respect, cultural sensitivity and perseverance — can reap the same rewards in an utterly different context.

In Afghan villages, troops in full battle gear making their way through narrow lanes remain an incongruous sight. Sometimes they are trailed by children, laughing and unafraid, but they can also be the recipients of studied silence or hard-eyed stares. Even a courteous reception is often tinged with wariness.

Abdul Shah Qul, the ranking elder of Pul-e-Kheshti, heard out the American troops who visited him last month, nodding assent as they told him of their wish to keep his community safe and help with local development.

"If we see anything bad or strange, we will let you know," he told the newcomers.

But later, contacted by telephone, he expressed doubts that an occasional visit by the American forces could keep the insurgents at bay.

"Seventy percent of the people here," he said, "believe the Taliban will be back."

Israeli and Palestinian leaders to be invited to U.S. for peace talks

World leaders are planning to invite Israeli and Palestinian officials to Washington in September to begin direct Middle East peace talks, a U.S. official confirmed Thursday.

An invitation from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations is expected to be announced as soon as Friday, nearly two years after the last round of talks broke off.

The world leaders are suggesting early September for the first session of negotiations.
Details were still being worked out late Thursday, and though acceptance by both sides was expected, officials warned that nothing had been confirmed.

U.S. and allied officials in recent days said they had persuaded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to join the talks. President Obama would be directly involved in the meetings, officials said.

The U.S. has spent months on shuttle diplomacy — special envoy George J. Mitchell has been meeting extensively with Israeli and Palestinian officials since May — in an attempt to start indirect talks, with little discernible result.

Key negotiators signaled a breakthrough in the effort to begin negotiations this week, when Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign policy official, announced in a letter to other EU officials that Abbas was on the brink of committing to talks.

Confirmation of such negotiations, first reported by the Reuters news agency Thursday, would be a relief for Obama, who has made Mideast peace talks a high foreign policy priority in his administration.

The resumption of face-to-face meetings would be a measure of political success for his administration, even if the two sides didn't agree to discuss core issues that could relieve long-term hostilities and move the region toward a two-state solution.

As in previous talks, major issues would include the borders of a Palestinian state, Israeli security, the claims of Palestinian refugees and competing claims over Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to make sacrifices for peace, but the hard-liners in his right-wing government have been reluctant to give ground to the Palestinians.

As for Abbas, it's not clear how decisive a commitment he could make on behalf of the Palestinians from his office in the West Bank. His rivals in the militant group Hamas control the Gaza Strip, home to about 1.5 million Palestinians.

Although pessimism may shadow the resumption of Mideast peace talks, a wild card in any new meetings is the role the U.S. may assume.

Obama has signaled that his government is willing to take a more active role than the previous administration, which was more reluctant to push the Israelis.

Such a prospect has stirred hope among Palestinians, who think Obama may have more sympathy for their cause, and anxiety among the Israelis, who worry the administration may press them for concessions that threaten their security.

Even such a small step toward peace is seen among American officials as a move toward building support in the Muslim world for the U.S. and its goals, including the military campaign in Afghanistan and the effort to halt Iran's nuclear program.

Pakistan Pledges Transparency To Ensure Flood Aid Arrives

Pakistan is seeking to reassure the international community that donations for the millions of people affected by devastating floods will reach their target.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the government is considering calling in independent auditors to show that the money is not being diverted to corrupt officials or Taliban insurgents.

Malik is hoping his assurance will speed the flow of aid to the 20 million Pakistanis who have been affected by the worst flooding ever recorded in their country. So far, international reaction has been muted, with less than half the required sum collected, though a UN spokesman, Maurizio Giuliano, said funding was now picking up as donors realized "the scale of the disaster," which has left 1,600 people dead.

One of those donors reacting is the European Union. The European Commission today announced it is providing immediately an additional $39 million in emergency relief to Pakistan. It said humanitarian aid commissioner Kristina Georgieva will visit the flood zone on August 23.
Conditions on the ground are reported to be getting worse, with the UN saying that so far, food rations and clean water have reached only 700,000 survivors.

One of the survivors in Punjab Province, Bibi Zainab, appealed for help.

"Our children are sick. The water even from the hand pump is dirty. You can see by yourself how dirty the area is," she said. "The elders and the children all are drinking this water, which is the cause of many diseases. Please, someone give us clean water. The government should help us."

Continued rain has led to a new, second wave of flood water making its way down the Indus River, adding to the problems of rescue teams. The sheer scale of the disaster is daunting, with the UN estimating the size of the flooded area to be as big as Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium combined.

"Something like 891,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed," Chris Lom, the International Organization for Migration's regional spokesman, told reporters today in Islamabad. "Now, this number is based on the assumption that nearly half of these homes are in Punjab. Now, this is very difficult to confirm at this stage because of the lack of access and because of changing flood levels.

"But if we accept this planning figure, if you like, it would mean that 446,000 households still face a shortfall in emergency shelter."

Even Islamic militants appear stunned by the disaster, insofar as there have been few clashes between insurgents and troops since the flooding.

But The Associated Press today reports that Islamic militants attacked police posts in Pakistan's northwest. Liaqat Ali Khan, Peshawar's police chief, said dozens of militants from the Khyber tribal region, which lies near Peshawar and along the Afghan border, attacked police posts in the Sarband area of Peshawar. The two sides exchanged fire for about an hour before the militants retreated to Khyber, Khan said.

Meanwhile, health authorities are worried about the spread of waterborne diseases.

Daniel Toole, UNICEF's regional director for South Asia, explained the situation on August 17 at a news conference in Islamabad, saying, "We have a country that has endemic watery diarrhea, endemic cholera, endemic upper respiratory infections, and we have the conditions for much, much expanded problems in all of those areas."

Toole said millions of society's more vulnerable members are especially at risk.

"We have women and children at risk, not in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions," Toole said. "Women and children are more vulnerable. They are susceptible to infections and they are living in dreadful conditions."

Adding to the misery is a warning from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that Pakistan could be facing famine conditions if farmers miss the sowing season, due to start next month.

Obama takes break, Oil spill and Iraq combat over

Finally, President Barack Obama can relax on vacation.

The Gulf oil leak is plugged. The last combat troops are out of Iraq. And Congress is on its own summer break.

Still, doubts remain about the strength of the U.S. economy, and Obama tried to tamp them down before his 10-day vacation on Martha's Vineyard. He called on lawmakers to pass a small business aid package when they return next month.

"A majority of senators are in favor of the bill and yet the obstruction continues," he said before departing the White House on Thursday. "It's obstruction that stands in the way of small business owners getting the loans and the tax cuts that they need to prosper. It's obstruction that defies common sense."

With that final jab at Republicans, he traded his suit coat and tie for an open collar, flew up to this island playground and settled into the 30-acre Blue Heron Farm, where the first family stayed last year.

First lady Michelle Obama traveled separately with daughters Sasha and Malia, after picking up 12-year-old Malia following two weeks at a summer camp. Family dog Bo also made the trip.

The White House said it was hoping for a news-free trip, but shortly after the president arrived, he announced a series of recess appointments. He filled four diplomatic and agency jobs under a temporary authority he gains while Congress is on recess, and he blamed Republicans for forcing him to bypass the normal confirmation process.

"At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent," the president said in a statement. "Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people."

Martha's Vineyard has previously played host not only to Obama, but also two other presidents, Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant. It has been a traditional gathering point for affluent African-Americans, and Obama visited even before he was elected the country's first black president in 2008.

"It's a beautiful part of the country. It has really nice beaches and the folks are really great. The food is terrific," deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One. "And it's someplace that the president went before he was president and likes to go back, because it's a comfortable place where he can rest and recharge the batteries a little bit."

The spokesman said he expected the president to indulge in golfing, beach time and a visit or two to the island's numerous ice cream stands.

Education in danger

Dawn Editorial

The state of education in Pakistan has never been very good. An even bleaker picture emerges when we factor in the effect of natural disasters and militancy on education.
The devastation caused by the ongoing floods has been commented on extensively. However, what may have escaped our attention is the fact that the floods have also left an already shaky educational system in tatters.Although the exercise of collecting data on the number of schools affected in the flood-hit areas has yet to begin, it is clear that the government faces an uphill task in rebuilding the educational infrastructure in these places. Man-made disasters have also taken their toll on Pakistan’s education system.Militancy, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has paralysed educational activities in several districts. Scores of schools have been bombed, with the extremists bearing particular animus towards girls’ education.
In fact, it has been reported that hundreds of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, even in areas not affected by militancy, have closed down because of a shortage of teachers as educators are not interested in serving in far-flung areas.
Enrolment in government schools is also low, while the dropout rate is high. The failure of the public school system has been cited as one of the reasons for growing extremism in society.Though it is repeatedly pointed out that the education sector suffers from resource constraints, the money that is available is not judiciously spent. A glaring example is of teachers who draw salaries but don’t actually bother to show up and teach. Setting things right in such a scenario will not be easy.
We must ask if the provinces are prepared to deal with the task of revamping the education sector made worse in many places by the floods. In the short term, while the government must provide food, shelter and medical care to flood-affected people it must also include educational needs in its rehabilitation plans.
Looking at the bigger picture, maladministration in schools and the leakage of funds meant for education must be strictly checked. The state must not lose sight of the importance of education in such times of crises.

China to send more humanitarian aid to Pakistan

China said on Friday it would send 1,000 tents and other emergency equipment to Pakistan to help with the nation's devastating floods.

The news comes as Richard Holbrooke, the US point man on Pakistan, called on China, which has already sent 60 million yuan (8.8 million dollars) in aid, to “step up to the plate” with regards to helping the flood-hit country.

The United States has pledged a total of 150 million dollars to Islamabad.

China’s defence ministry said that the aid, which includes 69 sets of machines such as generators, draining and water-purification devices, would be airlifted to Pakistan “in days,” according to a report on its website.

Nearly 1,500 people have been killed by the devastating floods in Pakistan, whose Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Wednesday that 20 million people had also been affected.

China is itself battling with its worst floods in a decade, which have left thousands dead or missing.

Pakistan: Lack of terror convictions hurts fight

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD – Pakistani courts have yet to convict a single person in any of the country's biggest terrorist attacks of the past three years, a symptom of a dysfunctional legal system that's hurting the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida at a critical time.

Police without basic investigative skills such as the ability to lift fingerprints, and prosecutors who lack training to try terror cases, are some of the main reasons cited. Another daunting challenge: Judges and witnesses often are subject to intimidation that affects the ability to convict.

The legal system's failure to attack terrorism is critical because it robs Pakistan of a chance to enforce a sense of law and order, which militants have set out to destroy.

It has "caused a sense of terror and insecurity amongst the members of society," said one of the country's top judges, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif.

The legal failures also call into question the government's ability to fight terrorism in any way except by using the army in military offensives or — human rights groups alleged — through targeted extra-judicial killings.

The United States has said repeatedly that its success in Afghanistan and throughout the troubled region depends on strong help from Pakistan against militants.

Pakistani army offensives and U.S. missile strikes have killed some suspected terrorist suspects in recent years in the rugged northwest near the Afghan border, where militant leaders and senior operatives are based. The head of the Pakistani Taliban, the group blamed for many of the 20 biggest attacks, was killed in a drone strike last August, for example.

Indeed, human rights groups have accused security forces of carrying out hundreds of assassinations of suspected extremists or sympathizers in the Swat Valley, which the army reclaimed from the Taliban last year, rather than even trying to prosecute suspects in court.

Authorities deny the allegations, saying they do try to use the legal courts.

But their record is dismal.

An Associated Press review found no convictions in the 20 largest and most high-profile terror attacks of the last three years.

Many of the Pakistani court cases connected to those attacks — which have killed nearly 1,100 people_ have dragged on for years, or have yet to make it even past the investigation stage and into the courts.

The handful of cases that have been decided have all resulted in acquittals — though many of these defendants remain in custody while they are investigated in other cases, court officials said.

By contrast, 89 percent of terrorism cases in the United States have resulted in convictions since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, according to a report this year by the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law.

The recent acquittals of suspects in two of the most high-profile attacks — the 2008 truck bombing outside the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and last year's commando-style raid on a police academy in Lahore_ have highlighted the problems plaguing the system.

The verdict in the Lahore police academy attack seemed to defy explanation.

The only person captured during the eight-hour siege in March 2009 was caught on the academy grounds — in possession of a hand grenade — allegedly trying to blow up a helicopter. Other militants attacked the main building with automatic weapons and grenades, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.

But the man claimed he was an innocent garbage collector picking up trash, and was convicted in June only of weapons possession for carrying a hand grenade and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was acquitted of involvement in the attack for lack of sufficient evidence.

Lack of evidence was also the reason given for the acquittal in May of four men on trial in connection with the suicide truck bombing that killed 54 people at the Marriott Hotel in September 2008.

Pakistani lawyers and law enforcement officials said weak investigations conducted by poorly trained and resourced police officers made it very difficult for prosecutors and judges to convict.

"I think the man who really plays the most critical role is neither the judge nor the prosecutor, but it is the investigating officer who is in charge of the case who sits in the police station in a pretty shabby environment," said Ahmer Bilal Soofi, a Supreme Court lawyer and legal commentator.

"Everyone has ignored him consistently," Soofi said.

The U.S. has provided some training and equipment for police in Pakistan, mainly in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where security forces staged a massive offensive against Taliban militants last spring, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

But even when policemen receive training in skills like lifting fingerprints or gathering other forensic evidence, those skill are rarely used in practice, said Akbar Nasir Khan. He recently served as the police chief in the central Pakistani city of Mianwali and is now pursuing a master's degree in public policy at Harvard University.

"If there is no fingerprint provided to the court, no bloodstained clothing, no ballistics provided, no firearms or other things, how can the court convict?" Khan said. "The courts will always say there is no proper evidence collection by the police authorities that helps us convict, which is right."

The police also can by stymied by Pakistan's most powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, which often detains suspects and conducts parallel investigations without notifying the police or presenting evidence at court. That was the case after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, according to a U.N. report.

The lack of collected evidence forces prosecutors to rely heavily on witnesses, a problem in a country where there is no witness protection program. People who are asked to testify in terror trials are often threatened or killed by militants.

"This system relies on witnesses, and in the incidents that take place there are no witnesses normally or they don't want to come forward," Khan said.

"If people are not confident that state institutions can protect them, then why should they come forward?"

These threats often extend to others involved in terror cases, including policemen, prosecutors and judges, leaving them to decide whether to pursue convictions against suspected militants or protect themselves and their families.

In June, three men showed up at the house of antiterror judge Asim Imam in the northwestern city of Peshawar and threatened him and his family if he didn't "behave" during the coming trial of Sufi Mohammed, a hard-line cleric with close ties to the Taliban, said the judge's father-in-law, Javed Nawaz Gandapur. That trial has been delayed.

Prosecutors not only face similar threats, they lack the training needed to take on terror cases, are poorly paid and do not have the resources to carry out their jobs successfully, said Mohammad Jahangir, the chief prosecutor in Punjab province. That province has been hit by a rising number of attacks in the last two years.

"They do not have proper offices ... staff or transport facilities," Jahangir said.

Judges and prosecutors are also grappling with an antiterror court system that has become bloated with cases that often have nothing to do with terrorism. That is ironic because the courts were established in 1997 to expedite terrorism cases that could otherwise get stuck in the quagmire of Pakistan's traditional legal system.

The Lahore judge, Sharif, called the state of affairs "alarming."

"The accused have been acquitted by trial courts due to defective investigation, lack of sufficient evidence and, as such, failure of the prosecution to prove the cases against the culprits," he said.

U.S. sends warning to Afghanistan, and John Kerry delivers the message

The Obama administration on Tuesday delivered what might be its toughest warning yet to President Hamid Karzai over corruption in his government through a messenger who in the past has managed to forge a rapport with the mercurial Afghan leader in times of tension.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, flew in for a one-day visit to the Afghan capital that included two sessions with Karzai, whose relations with the United States have plunged to a low not seen since last summer's fraud-riddled presidential election.
Karzai and the West are in the midst of a confrontation over his efforts to assert control over two Afghan bodies set up with U.S. backing to combat high-level graft and fraud. The dispute burst into the open last month after a senior aide to Karzai was targeted in a bribery investigation.
Karzai has stopped short of trying to shut down or significantly restrict the activities of the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit. But he has hinted he may seek to do so, a prospect that has caused concern among his Western patrons that has only increased as the Karzai government has failed to live up to its frequent promises to curb corruption.
Before an evening meeting with the Afghan president, Kerry told reporters he would lay down specific benchmarks that Karzai would need to meet in order to demonstrate that he was making good-faith efforts on the issue.
Kerry also suggested that Karzai would receive a blunt message about congressional restiveness over the war, unease that is increasingly fueled by the corruption issue. A House panel is threatening to hold up $4 billion in aid to Afghanistan if the Obama administration can't provide proof that the money won't be lost to corruption and waste.
"I think President Karzai understands that this is an important moment," Kerry said. "It is going to be vital that the president lead, over these next months, a very public, tangible, accountable effort to be providing the best governance to the people."
However, Kerry also telegraphed willingness to listen to Karzai's grievances, which could help provide a face-saving way out of the impasse. He also made a point of framing the Afghan leader's objections to the work of the anti-corruption units in sympathetic terms.
Karzai has said the task forces' methods, which have included an early-morning raid on the home of the aide suspected of bribery, were a possible violation of human rights. Kerry said Karzai might have a point.
"I think in America, people would object to a 5 o'clock-in-the morning-gunpoint-arrest process," he said.
U.S. officials have been fretting over Karzai's complaints about the two anti-corruption agencies, and with elections coming in Afghanistan next month don't want a repeat of the vote fraud that rocked the presidential election a year ago.
A senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said American officials were watching to see how the Karzai government deals with the case of the aide. "If the case stalls, that would set off some alarm bells," the official said.
He said the administration has had "a number of conversations" with Karzai about the upcoming elections in an effort to avoid the problems that occurred last year.
Some senior officials are saying privately that they fear their reliance on the Karzai administration could be the weakest link of their strategy to stabilize the country. Government corruption is seen as one of the most important factors driving ordinary Afghans to support the Taliban."Even if we have success in rolling back the militants, if the Afghans don't trust the government, it all won't work," said a second U.S. official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the newly appointed head of the international forces in the country, has hired two experts known for their strong emphasis on fighting corruption, Frederick Kagan and Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Kerry was not acting as an envoy of the White House on the trip but had the "full backing of the administration," an aide to the senator said. Kerry met recently with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and discussed the trip at length with Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Massachusetts Democrat has had success moving the Afghan leader in the past. In October, Kerry managed to avert a crisis when Karzai balked at accepting the findings of a U.N.-backed panel that stripped him of one-third of his votes in the presidential election, depriving him of the majority he would have needed to win the balloting outright.
In marathon meetings that included long walks around the grounds of the presidential palace, Kerry talked the Afghan president into agreeing to a runoff with his nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
In the end, Abdullah dropped out of the race, but Kerry's intercession was crediting with staving off a rupture between the West and Karzai that could have precipitated a chaotic domestic power struggle.
Karzai has responded to the latest contretemps by seeking to deflect attention away from corruption. Over the weekend, he urged President Obama to conduct a strategic review of how the war is being conducted, citing rising civilian casualties. His office said he also raised the topic with Kerry.
On Monday, Karzai caught Western officials by surprise with an announcement by his spokesman that private security companies operating in Afghanistan would be shut down within four months.
The Afghan president on Tuesday issued a formal decree to that effect, though it granted an exemption for private security firms that work on the premises of international installations such as embassies and nongovernmental organizations.
The timetable, if enforced, could pose enormous problems for the Western military, which uses security contractors to help guard bases and escort supply convoys.


In its Flood Response Plan, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) identified nearly $460,000,000 of funding needs for the humanitarian response. According to OneResponse, a humanitarian tracking website run by OCHA, 55 percent of those funding needs are still unmet.
How You Can Help
In the U.S. text SWAT to 50555 to make a $10 donation to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or donate online from international locations.

Aid Agencies Taking Donations

Save the Children
Islamic Relief USA
Relief International
American Red Cross
International Rescue Committee
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Google Person Finder
Report missing or found persons
Sahana Eden
Help enter data into Sahana's response coordination database
Pakistan Flood Incident Reporting
Contribute to a crowdsourced map tracking flood-related incidents.

Pakistan's government estimates some 15.4 million people have been affected by massive flooding this summer, making it the country's worst-ever natural disaster.

« Click to see a U.N. infographic on how the floods compare to other natural disasters in Pakistan (PDF)

In its Flood Response Plan, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) identified nearly $460,000,000 of funding needs for the humanitarian response. According to OneResponse, a humanitarian tracking website run by OCHA, 55 percent of those funding needs are still unmet.

How You Can Help
In the U.S. text SWAT to 50555 to make a $10 donation to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or donate online from international locations.

Aid Agencies Taking Donations

Save the Children
Islamic Relief USA
Relief International
American Red Cross
International Rescue Committee
Other Ways to Help

Google Person Finder
Report missing or found persons
Sahana Eden
Help enter data into Sahana's response coordination database
Pakistan Flood Incident Reporting

UN Estimates 4 Million Left Homeless by Pakistan Floods

The United Nations says more than 4 million people have been left homeless by devastating floods in Pakistan, double the previous U.N. estimate.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Thursday it would more than triple its emergency aid appeal for flood victims from $47 million to $141 million, because the number of people needing emergency aid has grown considerably.

UNICEF regional director Daniel Toole says relief workers urgently need cash donations to provide food, water, and health care -- and that such needs cannot be paid for through pledges.

The latest appeal comes as the U.N. General Assembly prepares to hold a special session Thursday to discuss the flood response. The U.N. last week issued an appeal for $460 million for relief efforts, with half the goal met so far.

U.S. officials say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce another increase in U.S. aid, with $90 million already committed.

U.S. Senator John Kerry visited flood-damaged areas in Pakistan on Thursday, and met with U.S. troops involved in relief operations.

Monsoon rains have triggered massive floods in Pakistan's Khyber-Paktunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces, killing an estimated 1,600 people and affecting up to 20 million.

During Thursday's session in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to brief the General Assembly about his visit to Pakistan last Sunday. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is also among those expected to address the assembly.

The Asian Development Bank has said it will give $3 million for emergency relief, and expects to contribute at least $2 billion to recovery efforts during the next two years.

Saudi Arabia announced Thursday it was increasing its aid to Pakistan by $80 million.

Japan says it will send helicopters to help in relief efforts. The country has already extended more than $14 million in assistance.

And Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday to express sympathy over the devastation

Obama's stump speech blends partisan rhetoric with populist themes

With the approach of congressional elections and the midpoint of what he hopes will be his first of two four-year terms, President Barack Obama is honing a humor-laced stump speech that is part pep talk, part populist ideology.

Obama delivered similar versions of the speech at six fundraising events this week, kicking into full campaign mode with calls to continue the progress made so far by his administration.

His poll numbers are shrinking, and Democrats are resigned to losing some congressional seats in November.

Amid unabated criticism from the political right and unyielding legislative opposition by Republicans, the White House wants to galvanize the liberal base and maintain support from independents vital to Obama's election but who polls show turning away.

The basic premise of the president's stump speech message is that his administration inherited a mess after eight years of Republican leadership and needs more time to fully fix it while also positioning America to prosper in coming generations.

Republicans complain Obama's repeated references to problems he inherited are intended to duck responsibility for what they call failures of his own policies that have allowed unemployment to remain high amid a sluggish recovery.

Obama, however, insists that full economic recovery from such a deep recession will take years, and that his administration has so far laid the basis for continued improvement while addressing longstanding problems

He cites what he calls his main achievements -- reversing the recession, getting health care reform and Wall Street reform bills passed -- and touts energy reform proposals intended to greatly increase clean energy alternatives to make the U.S. industry globally competitive in the 21st century.

Overall, though, the lingering message is that the GOP screwed up when in power, and now Democrats are making things right.

Partisan rhetoric and jokes abound. In almost every speech, Obama says Republicans are counting on voter amnesia about GOP policies that led to the Wall Street meltdown and economic recession.

He acknowledges some of his polices have been unpopular, particularly bailing out big banks and automakers.

"I actually have pollsters, so I know when things aren't popular," he said Tuesday at an event for Washington Sen. Patty Murray, repeating an oft-used line that always prompts laughter and applause. "I know when they don't poll well. But I was not sent to Washington just to do what was popular. I was sent to do what was right."

Noting his campaign rally cry of "Yes we can," he lampoons what he calls the obstructionism of congressional Republicans by dropping his voice into a kind of growl to mimic what he offers as their slogan: "No we can't."

"That's really inspiring," he deadpanned to laughter and applause at the Murray event.

"This vision they have for the future," Obama continued, pausing to add, "Gives you a little pep in your step when you hear it, don't you?" before adding a final "No, we can't."

When he's really revved up, Obama shifts to the car-in-a-ditch analogy.

Specific words change a little each time, but the message is unwavering: Republicans drove the American economy off the road through failed policies of tax cuts, deregulation and increased spending, and now his administration is getting it out of the ditch.

With Obama, it's all in the delivery.

"They spent almost a decade driving the economy into a ditch," he said Tuesday, pausing several times as laughter erupted. "And so me and Patty, and a bunch of others, we go down there and we put on our boots and we're pushing and shoving. And it's muddy and there are bugs and we're sweating and shoving, pushing hard."

The Republicans, meanwhile, are standing by "sipping Slurpees" and calling out "you're not pushing hard enough" and "that's not the right way to push," Obama continued, pretending to sip a Slurpee to laughter and applause.

"So finally, finally, Patty and I and everybody, we finally get the car up on level ground. We're about to go forward," Obama said. "And these guys come and tap us on the shoulder, and they say, 'We want the keys back.' "

He shouted over the roaring laughter to deliver his punch line: "You can't have the keys back! You don't know how to drive!"

In recent weeks, Obama included an additional jab based on motor vehicle transmission symbols.

"You notice, when you want to move forward in your car, what do you do?" he said Tuesday. "You put your car in 'D.' When you want to go backwards, you put it in 'R.' "

With the crowd applauding, he declared: "Back into the ditch. Keep that in mind in November. That's not a coincidence."

Along with the humor comes more stern rhetoric that depicts Republicans as the enemy of ordinary citizens.

On Tuesday, he described the basic GOP philosophy as cutting taxes for "millionaires and billionaires" who don't need it, cutting rules for special interests, gutting regulations that protect clean air and clean water "and things that most of us value," and then cutting "working folks loose to fend for themselves."

"So if you can't find a job or you can't afford college or don't have health insurance, tough luck -- you are on your own," Obama continued. "Now, if you're a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company like BP, come on in, help us write the regulations."

The American people tried those policies for eight years under the previous GOP administration, Obama said, adding: "And it didn't work."

"It gave us record deficits and ultimately led to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," he said.

"Now, I bring all this stuff up not because I want to re-litigate the past," Obama said as applause erupted. "I just don't want to relive the past."

Republicans, he said, are "counting on the fact that you don't remember; that you're going to forget what happened when they were in charge for eight years."

"So that's the choice in this election," Obama said. "Do we go back to the policies that got us into this mess, or do we keep moving forward? I believe we move forward. America always moves forward."