Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pakistan cuts off Nato supply route

Pakistan has blocked a vital supply route for international forces in Afghanistan in apparent retaliation for an alleged cross-border helicopter raid by Nato troops that killed three Pakistani frontier soldiers.

Over the weekend, Nato helicopters fired on targets in Pakistan at least two times, killing several suspected fighters they allegedly pursued over the border from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's government protested against the attacks, which came in a month during which there have been an unprecedented number of drone missile attacks in the country's northwest.

Pakistan also threatened to stop providing protection to Nato convoys if the military alliance's helicopters attacked targeted inside Pakistan again.

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, said that there are reports of 100 Nato supply lorries already being held up at the Torkham border post in retaliation for the earlier cross-border Nato raids.

"A Nato convoy had been moving through Khyber Pass, but the trucks were turned back from entering the Khyber region," he said. "We are also told that the CIA chief [Leon Panetta] in Islamabad has been addressing this issue."

Our correspondent also said that the Pakistani government is making quite a big noise about it. Pakistan said that Isaf [the Nato-led force] and Nato must respect the mandate under which they are operating. They are expressing deep concerns that, despite the fact that [Isaf] knew where these positions were, they still went ahead."Khyber is on the main Nato supply route through Pakistan into Afghanistan, where more than 152,000 US international troops are fighting the Taliban.

This supply route is critical for non-military supplies for Isaf: it is reported that up to 250 vehicles a day cross the Pakistan border into Afghanistan as part of the Nato supply chain. Pakistan's relations with Nato are already strained over the intensifying drone attacks in the border regions.

Rehman Malik, the Pakistani interior minister, said of the border incident: "We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies."

A permanent stoppage of supply vehicles would place massive strains on Nato and hurt the Afghan war effort.

Speaking from Kabul, Sue Turton, Al Jazeera's correspondent, said on Thursday that Nato had launched an investigation into the reports.

"Initial reports said that [the Isaf helicopters] didn't encroach on Pakistani air space. Nato claims it carried out the attack on the Afghan side of the border. If they do want to cross the border, which coalition forces say they often do in self-defence, they usually get in touch with their Pakistani
counterparts beforehand, if not during the operation," she said.

Nato has said previously that it has the right to self-defence. The multinational force has on at least one other occasion acknowledged mistakenly killing Pakistani security forces stationed close to
the border.

The surge in suspected Taliban activity inside Afghanistan and apparent increased willingness by Nato to attack targets on the border, or just inside Pakistan, could be a sign the international forces are losing patience with Pakistan.

The country has long been accused of harbouring Afghan Taliban fighters in its lawless tribal regions.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

President Obama urges crowd at UW-Madison to remain fired up, vote

President Barack Obama urged students to focus on this fall's elections Tuesday in his fourth visit to Wisconsin in three months as he tries to keep the governor's office and a U.S. Senate seat in Democratic hands.

Addressing an overflow crowd that police estimated to be 26,500, Obama recalled his victories in Wisconsin in the presidential primary and general election in 2008. Then he prodded Democrats to vote in the fall, saying the "stakes could not be higher."

"I need you fired up, Badgers. We need you to stay fired up. Because there's an election on Nov. 2 that's going to say a lot about the future," Obama said on Library Mall in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Before the event, Obama made a surprise visit to Madison's LaFollette High School, where he told football players the Green Bay Packers lost Monday to his hometown Chicago Bears because of mental mistakes and turnovers. He also visited with the girls' tennis and volleyball teams.

Democrats said the large and vocal turnout at the rally showed there is no enthusiasm gap between them and Republicans. But state Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said Democrats this year are sluggish while Republicans are "bursting at the seams with volunteers."

"Our energy is coming from the ground up, and they're trying to manufacture energy from the top down, with Obama," Priebus told reporters on a conference call.

Obama entreated the crowd not to let Republican predictions about Democratic apathy come true. "We can't sit this one out," he said.

His visit marked the first time a sitting president had come to the UW-Madison campus since 1950, when President Harry S. Truman spoke at the Field House.

Obama - as a candidate - was last on campus in February 2008, when he rallied voters at the Kohl Center just before winning the state's Democratic primary.

Tuesday's visit, organized by the Democratic National Committee, was part of his effort to protect Democrats who face tough odds across the country. He plans at least three more major rallies around the country before the elections, in Philadelphia, Ohio and Las Vegas.

Before Tuesday's rally, he held a DNC fund-raiser at a downtown Madison hotel that was expected to raise $250,000 for the party, according to the DNC.

At the rally, Obama said if Republicans return to power, they will pursue the same policies that sent the U.S. into the worst recession since the Great Depression. He said he's fought recalcitrant Republicans to pass health care reform, rein in Wall Street excesses and make other changes that he argued help ordinary Americans.

"I refuse to go back to the days when insurance companies could drop you or deny you coverage just because you're sick," he said. "I refuse to go back to the days when credit card companies can jack up your rates without reason."

Both Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat running for governor, and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold appeared with Obama. Feingold skipped Obama's Labor Day stop in Milwaukee and was expected to miss Tuesday's event because the Senate was in session earlier in the day.

Obama has shown his interest in those Wisconsin races with his frequent visits to the state. He held a fund-raiser for Barrett last month, and Vice President Joe Biden is hosting an Oct. 7 fund-raiser for Barrett in Madison. In addition, first lady Michelle Obama will help raise money for Feingold Oct. 13 in Milwaukee.

According to UW-Madison police, Obama drew 26,500 people - 17,200 at the event, and the remainder in overflow areas. Police said they determined the crowd size because they know the capacity of Library Mall and the surrounding area. The line to get into the event was over a mile long at one point, police said.
Dems seen in trouble

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the Republican running against Barrett, has said Obama's visits to the state are a sign Democrats are worried about keeping the governor's office. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle decided last year not to seek a third term. Doyle did not appear with Obama Tuesday because he is in China to promote Wisconsin businesses.

Walker, who campaigned on campus Saturday, used Obama's visit to repeat his opposition to a high-speed train line from Milwaukee to Madison. Obama's administration this year awarded Wisconsin $810 million for the project.

Walker has promised to stop it because he says the state can't afford the $8 million a year to operate it. Barrett argues that would mean Wisconsin would have to give up the grant and pay back any money spent on the line, while Walker says he would lobby Congress to let Wisconsin keep the money for its roads and bridges.

"The people of Wisconsin can't afford President Obama's train or his choice for governor," Walker said in a statement. "After eight years of Jim Doyle, we've had enough of the high taxes, job losses and out-of-control spending."

Walker has led Barrett in recent polls, just as Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson has shown an advantage over Feingold.

A Fox News poll released Tuesday showed Walker with 49% and Barrett with 45%. That was within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Saturday.

The poll showed a tighter race than ones last week, such as a CNN/Time poll that showed Walker with a 53%-42% advantage.

Tuesday's Fox News poll showed Johnson leading Feingold 52% to 44%, in line with the CNN-Time poll. Obama had a 41% approval rating in the Fox News poll, consistent with recent national polls.

Obama dismissed his sagging approval ratings.

"You didn't elect me to look at the polls. You elected me to do what was right," he said.

The day was sunny as thousands of students and others lined up to see Obama and the opening musical acts, singer-songwriter Ben Harper and The National. As students filled Library Mall - and others sought higher seats on Bascom Hill - the sky turned cloudy and the weather became chilly before Obama went on stage at 6 p.m.

Nineteen-year-old Edie Bjerstedt of Hudson said she came to hear the president speak ahead of the first election in which she'll vote. Bjerstedt said she hadn't tuned in to the Wisconsin races yet and hadn't thrown her support behind a single party but was open to hearing the president's take on the election.

"I would say definitely what he has to say will influence my decision," she said.

Josh Havelka, 20, of Waukesha said he voted for Obama in 2008 but had cooled toward the president since then, particularly because of the health care reform law.

"I voted for him in 2008, but I don't think I'll vote for him again," Havelka said of Obama, but added he is considering voting for Feingold.

Kim’s son moves closer to power in N Korea

North Korea has given official roles in the ruling Workers’ Party to the third son of Kim Jong-il, the country’s ailing dictator, effectively guaranteeing his position as heir apparent.

Kim Jong-eun’s appointments in the party on Wednesday come the day after he was made a four-star general in the military..The Kim family runs North Korea by divide and rule, playing the military off against the party, so it was important that the younger Kim received roles in both camps.

Pashto recommended to be taught as compulsory subject

Pashto recommended to be taught as compulsory subject
A cabinet committee on Tuesday finalised its recommendations under which Pashto would be introduced as compulsory subject in 17 districts. The recommendations would be placed before the provincial assembly for legislation after approval by the provincial cabinet.
“As per recommendations of the committee, Pashto will be included as compulsory subject in 17 districts from Class-I to XII, while in the remaining seven districts mother tongue will be included as compulsory subject in the curriculum,” said a communiquÈ issued after the meeting.
Besides Minister for Information and Public Relations Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the meeting was also attended by Secretary Administration Hifzur Rahman and officials of the Primary and Elementary and Higher Education and Textbook Board Peshawar.
It was decided that Pashto as compulsory subject would be introduced in 17 districts including Swat, Swabi, Buner, Dir Upper, Dir Lower, Mardan, Charsadda, Shangla, Malakand, Nowshera, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Bannu, Tank, Kohat and Battagram. It was also decided that mother tongues would be introduced in the remaining seven districts in class 6 from the next academic year 2011-12.
Pashto and other mother tongues will be included as compulsory subject in class 7 from 2012-13, in class 8 from 2013-14, in class 9 2014-15, in class 10 from 2015-16, in 1st year from 2016-17 and in 2 year 2017-18.
Besides nine districts i.e. Swat, Swabi, Buner, Dir Upper and Lower, Mardan, Charsadda, Shangla and Malakand of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Pashto is already being taught as compulsory subject since 1984 in classes one to five, it will also be introduced as compulsory subject in another eight districts including Nowshera, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Bannu, Tank, Kohat and Battagram from the next academic year 2011-12. The other mother tongues will be included as compulsory subject in the remaining seven districts from the next academic year 2011-12 in classes one to five.
The meeting also decided to look into the bifurcation of Peshawar district into urban and rural areas. In urban areas, the relevant mother tongue and in rural areas Pashto will be introduced as compulsory subject.
The chairman of the committee, Mian Iftikahr Hussain, directed the authorities of the Education Department and Textbook Board Peshawar to focus on the early preparation of curricula of Pashto as well as the other mother tongues and finalise timelines for preparation of curriculum, contents and script so that the students don’t face difficulties in this connection. He added that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will follow the Education Policy 2009 in letter and spirit and curricula of mathematics and science subjects will be in English.

Pashto recommended to be taught as compulsory subject

A cabinet committee on Tuesday finalised its recommendations under which Pashto would be introduced as compulsory subject in 17 districts. The recommendations would be placed before the provincial assembly for legislation after approval by the provincial cabinet.
“As per recommendations of the committee, Pashto will be included as compulsory subject in 17 districts from Class-I to XII, while in the remaining seven districts mother tongue will be included as compulsory subject in the curriculum,” said a communiquÈ issued after the meeting.
Besides Minister for Information and Public Relations Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the meeting was also attended by Secretary Administration Hifzur Rahman and officials of the Primary and Elementary and Higher Education and Textbook Board Peshawar.
It was decided that Pashto as compulsory subject would be introduced in 17 districts including Swat, Swabi, Buner, Dir Upper, Dir Lower, Mardan, Charsadda, Shangla, Malakand, Nowshera, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Bannu, Tank, Kohat and Battagram. It was also decided that mother tongues would be introduced in the remaining seven districts in class 6 from the next academic year 2011-12.
Pashto and other mother tongues will be included as compulsory subject in class 7 from 2012-13, in class 8 from 2013-14, in class 9 2014-15, in class 10 from 2015-16, in 1st year from 2016-17 and in 2 year 2017-18.
Besides nine districts i.e. Swat, Swabi, Buner, Dir Upper and Lower, Mardan, Charsadda, Shangla and Malakand of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Pashto is already being taught as compulsory subject since 1984 in classes one to five, it will also be introduced as compulsory subject in another eight districts including Nowshera, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Bannu, Tank, Kohat and Battagram from the next academic year 2011-12. The other mother tongues will be included as compulsory subject in the remaining seven districts from the next academic year 2011-12 in classes one to five.
The meeting also decided to look into the bifurcation of Peshawar district into urban and rural areas. In urban areas, the relevant mother tongue and in rural areas Pashto will be introduced as compulsory subject.
The chairman of the committee, Mian Iftikahr Hussain, directed the authorities of the Education Department and Textbook Board Peshawar to focus on the early preparation of curricula of Pashto as well as the other mother tongues and finalise timelines for preparation of curriculum, contents and script so that the students don’t face difficulties in this connection. He added that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will follow the Education Policy 2009 in letter and spirit and curricula of mathematics and science subjects will be in English.

Hamid Karzai's emotional speech

Generals in Pakistan Push for Shake-Up of Government

New York Times

The Pakistani military, angered by the inept handling of the country’s devastating floods and alarmed by a collapse of the economy, is pushing for a shake-up of the elected government, and in the longer term, even the removal of President Asif Ali Zardari and his top lieutenants.

The military, preoccupied by a war against militants and reluctant to assume direct responsibility for the economic crisis, has made clear it is not eager to take over the government, as it has many times before, military officials and politicians said.

But the government’s performance since the floods, which have left 20 million people homeless and the nation dependent on handouts from skeptical foreign donors, has laid bare the deep underlying tensions between military and civilian leaders.

American officials, too, say it has left them increasingly disillusioned with Mr. Zardari, a deeply unpopular president who was elected two and a half years ago on a wave of sympathy after the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In a meeting on Monday that was played on the front page of Pakistan’s newspapers, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, confronted the president and his prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, over incompetence and corruption in the government.

According to the press and Pakistani officials familiar with the conversation, the general demanded that they dismiss at least some ministers in the oversized 60-member cabinet, many of whom face corruption charges.

The civilian government has so far resisted the general’s demand. But the meeting was widely interpreted by the Pakistani news media, which has grown increasingly hostile to the president, as a rebuke to the civilian politicians and as having pushed the government to the brink.

After the meeting, the president’s office issued a statement, approved by all the men, saying they had agreed “to protect the democratic process and to resolve all issues in accordance with the constitution.”

A Pakistani official close to the president who was familiar with the conversation but did not want to be identified, said, “The president made it clear that he would not leave, come what may.”

“Sanity had prevailed,” the official added.

Since the floods, the government has defended its handling of the crisis, arguing that any government would have been overwhelmed by its scale.

Still, it is clear that General Kayani, head of the country’s most powerful institution, and the one that has taken the lead in the flood crisis, has ratcheted up the pressure on the government.

Having secured an exceptional three-year extension in his post from Mr. Zardari in July, General Kayani appears determined to prevent the economy from bankruptcy. Military officers in the main cities have been talking openly and expansively about their contempt for the Zardari government and what they term the economic calamity, an unusual candor, reporters and politicians said.

“The gross economic mismanagement by the government is at the heart of it,” said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University and a confidant of the military. “And there is the rising public disaffection with the Pakistani Peoples Party under Zardari and Gilani.”

As the military demands the overhaul, the Supreme Court is also pushing the government on the issue of corruption by threatening to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution, a move that would expose him to charges of corruption in an old money-laundering case in Switzerland.

The government has defied the court’s demand to write a letter to the Swiss government requesting a reopening of the case against Mr. Zardari, who served 11 years in prison in Pakistan on unproved corruption charges. On Monday, the court granted an extension of two weeks for the government to reconsider its position.

Much of the rising disdain for the government has to do with the perception among the media and the public of the callous and inept handling of the floods by the nation’s wealthy ruling class.

Mr. Gilani drew public ire for appearing at an ersatz camp for flood victims set up just for television cameras. It also did not help that newspapers reported that scores of cartons from the London luxury store Harrods had arrived at his residence in Lahore at the height of the flooding.

Mr. Zardari, meanwhile, was vilified for visiting his chateau in France as torrents of water wiped out millions of villagers in his home province, Sindh.

In his most recent visit to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, the American special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the international community could not be expected to provide all the billions of dollars needed to repair the flood damage, a warning interpreted here as a rebuke of the civilian government and its mismanagement.

But Washington, not unlike Pakistan’s military, is caught, American officials say, because there is no appetite for a return of military rule. Nor is there desire to see the opposition politician and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, resume power.

Mr. Sharif, who has also faced corruption charges during his career, is considered by Washington to be too close to some of Pakistan’s militant groups, whose members vote in Punjab, the Sharif electoral base.

As the head of the of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, Mr. Sharif is not ready to come to the fore in any case, his aides say, because he does not want to be associated with the paralysis of the current government.

Of mounting concern to the Obama administration is the potential for serious unrest if the economy unspools further: inflation by some predictions will reach 25 percent in the coming period. The price of sugar has tripled, and the cost of flour has doubled since the Zardari government came to power.

In particular, Washington wants the government to raise taxes on the wealthy landed and commercial class, a shortcoming that has become especially galling as Pakistan’s dependence on foreign donors rises.

Pakistan’s revenues from taxes are among the lowest in the world: only 2 million Pakistanis of a population of 170 million pay income tax, according to estimates by the United States.

A report in a leading newspaper, The News, said Monday that Mr. Gilani and 25 of his ministers, including the finance minister, Hafiz Shaikh, did not pay income taxes at all, according to sworn affidavits by the ministers to the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The alarm about the economy was first sounded by Mr. Shaikh, a former officer of the World Bank, who told a meeting of political and military leaders last month that the government had enough money to pay only two months’ salaries. The economy was “teetering on the brink” before the floods but was now heading for the “abyss,” Mr. Shaikh was quoted as saying.

The military officers who attended were astounded, Mr. Hussain and others informed of the meeting said, and have pressed the government for changes, politicians and diplomats said.

As the military maneuvers for change, it is not immune from criticism. Defense spending is budgeted at 13.6 percent of total expenditures in 2011, in line with past yearly expenditures even as the civilian population suffers.

The defense budget remains beyond public scrutiny, a fact that increasingly irks the public.

“Do we even know how much it costs taxpayers each year to make possible the office, the home, the car fleets, attendants, guest houses and other amenities that are enjoyed by the army chief or even a corps commander?” asked Babar Sattar, a lawyer who often writes about corruption.

The secret war in Pakistan


Lyndon Johnson's "secret war in Laos" long has been a touchstone for liberal indignation over America's history of covert conflicts. Leftist critics, however, have been remarkably silent over the growing secret war in Pakistan. This war should escalate.

Between 2001 and 2008, U.S. operations in Pakistan were limited, owing mostly to Bush administration deference to then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who warned that stirring up the tribal areas would do more harm than good. This changed in the late summer of 2008, when Mr. Musharraf lost power and Asif Ali Zardari was elected president. The Bush administration expanded the frequency and intensity of drone attacks inside Pakistan, a policy the Obama administration has continued. In the last three weeks, 100 suspected militants have been killed in western Pakistan by American drone strikes.

The Obama administration also has continued to use the 3,000-man paramilitary Counterterrorist Pursuit Team, an elite force established in 2002 made up of Afghans but trained by the CIA in the United States. The paramilitaries reportedly conduct operations on both sides of the border. There have been limited International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) conventional operations inside Pakistan as well. Last weekend, NATO helicopter gunships crossed over the border into Pakistan in two separate raids, killing more than 70 insurgents. Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the attacks, calling them "a clear violation and breach of the U.N. mandate, under which ISAF operates." Islamabad threatened, "in the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options."

Pakistan's umbrage is mostly bluff. There is no love lost for the insurgents who operate along the border with Afghanistan, and many of the terrorists being taken out by U.S. drones are more active inside Pakistan than outside. The August 2009 drone strike that killed Pakistan Taliban leader and al Qaeda supporter Beitullah Mehsud may have been ordered in part because Mehsud was widely suspected to be behind the assassination of President Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto, in December 2007. Some of the CIA-operated drones wreaking havoc in the frontier areas are based inside Pakistan. This was reported in the U.S. press in 2008 and inadvertently confirmed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, during a public hearing in February 2009.

These operations would be impossible without the Pakistani government's complicity. Thus, while Islamabad issues public statements condemning U.S. operations inside Pakistan to maintain plausible deniability, the only "response options" the government seems to contemplate are more angry press releases. It helps that there is nary a peep emerging from Mr. Obama's antiwar supporters over these clandestine, quasi-legal operations.

According to Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars," the United States has developed a "retribution" plan to bomb 150 terrorist sites inside Pakistan should America be hit by another Sept. 11-style terrorist attack involving Pakistan-based terrorists. It's a mistake to wait for an attack on our homeland. If the plan is in place and the targets selected, why not attack them now? There may be limits to the scale of attacks Islamabad could safely ignore, but if America suffers a major terrorist attack on President Obama's watch that could have been pre-empted, he won't be able to count on the national unity Mr. Bush enjoyed nine years ago. Before Sept. 11, 2001, we weren't at war with terrorists; now we are. Since the secret of the war inside Pakistan is out, America needs to finish the job.

Cancer of terrorism is in Pakistan, Obama tells Zardari through his NSA

US President Barack Obama has reportedly told President Asif Ali Zardari through his National Security Adviser, retired Marine General James L. Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta that the cancer of terrorism is in Pakistan and emanating from that country.

"We're living on borrowed time. We consider the Times Square attempt a successful plot because neither the American nor the Pakistani intelligence agencies could intercept or stop it," the Washington Post quoted retired Marine General Jones as telling President Zardari.

Jones is further said to have conveyed to Zardari that the Obama administration will no longer tolerate safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan.

"We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," Obama declared during an Oval Office meeting on November 25, 2009, near the end of the strategy review, and added that the reason to create a secure, self-governing Afghanistan was "so the cancer (from Pakistan) doesn't spread there."

Jones and Panetta were in Pakistan to tell Zardari that Obama wanted four things to help prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- full intelligence sharing, more reliable cooperation on counter-terrorism, faster approval of visas for U.S. personnel traveling to Pakistan and, despite past refusals, access to airline passenger data.

Jones is said to have told Zardari during their conversation that should a future attempt be successful, Obama would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like.

"No one will be able to stop the response and consequences. This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact," Jones is believed to have said.

Jones, however, did not give specifics about what he meant.

The Obama administration is believed to have a retribution plan, one of the most sensitive and secretive of all military contingencies.

According to the Washington Post, the plan calls for bombing about 150 identified terrorist camps in a brutal, punishing attack inside Pakistan.

According to the paper, Zardari is said to have responded by saying that the strategic partnership between Pakistan and United States should be drawing their governments closer rather than causing a division.

Zardari believes that he has already done a great deal to accommodate Washington at some political risk, even to the extent of allowing CIA drones to strike al-Qaeda and other terrorist camps in parts of Pakistan, prompting a public outcry about violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

Jones is believed to have responded by saying: "You can do something that costs you no money. It may be politically difficult, but it's the right thing to do if you really have the future of your country in mind. And, that is to reject all forms of terrorism as a viable instrument of national policy inside your borders."

Zardari said in his defense that Islamabad has rejected all forms of terrorism.

Jones and Panetta said that they had heard such declarations before, and added that whatever Pakistan was doing with the many terrorist groups operating inside its borders, it wasn't good or effective enough.

Panetta even went to the extent of pulling out a "link chart," developed from FBI interviews and other intelligence, that showed how the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had assisted the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.

This was a matter of solid intelligence, Panetta said, not speculation.

Jones and Panetta then turned to the disturbing intelligence about Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group behind the horrific 2008 Mumbai attacks that had killed 175, including six Americans.

Pakistani authorities are holding the commander of the Mumbai attacks, Jones said, but he is not being adequately interrogated and "he continues to direct LeT operations from his detention center." Intelligence shows that Lashkar-e-Taiba is threatening attacks in the United States and that the possibility "is rising each day."

Zardari didn't seem to get it.

"Mr. President," said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was also at the meeting, "This is what they are saying. . . . They're saying that if, in fact, there is a successful attack in the United States, they will take steps to deal with that here, and that we have a responsibility to now cooperate with the United States."

"If something like that happens," Zardari said defensively, "it doesn't mean that somehow we're suddenly bad people or something. We're still partners."

No, both Jones and Panetta said. There might be no way to save the strategic partnership. Underscoring Jones's point, Panetta said, "If that happens, all bets are off."

Afterward, the Americans met privately with Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who is said to be the most powerful figure in the country.

Jones told Kayani that the clock was starting now on Obama's four requests. Obama wanted a progress report in 30 days, he added.

General Kayani said he had other concerns and said that he would be the first to admit that he was and continues to be India-centric in his plans and strategy.

Panetta laid out a series of additional requests for CIA operations.

"We need to have that box. We need to be able to conduct our operations," Panetta said.ones and Panetta left the meetings with their Pakistan interlocutors feeling as though they had taken only baby steps.

Realizing that the war against terrorism is a "crazy kind of war," Panetta in a veiled threat said: "We can't do this without some boots on the ground. They could be Pakistani boots or they can be our boots, but we got to have some boots on the ground."

National Games start from Dec 25 in Peshawar

Provincial Minister for Sports Syed Aqil Shah has said that 31st National Games are scheduled to begin from December 25.
Despite recent destructions due to heavy floods in the province, the Provincial Government was ready to hold the 31st National Games in Peshawar, commence from December 25-31, he said while addressing a press conference.
Syed Aqil Shah, who also holds the portfolio of the President of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Olympic Association, said that the National Games were postponed twice due to the bad security situation in the province, but this time all was set to organise this major sports gala at all cost.
He said that as compared to previous months, today the security situation was much improved and they were hopeful that it would get better further. He questioned that could they give the security guarantee in other parts of the country, who wanted to shift the games from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said that Chief Minister would monitor the security of national games.
We were busy in finalising all the arrangements for the event, as the provincial government was keen to hold the games in befitting manner, he remarked saying there was no financial constraints as enough funds were sanctioned for holding this event.
Prior to this sports event, the National Games officials of Pakistan Olympic Association would be formally invited to visit Peshawar and assess the security arrangements, he informed. Regarding the meeting of the Olympic Association that was held before the press conference, he said that the Association awarded affiliation to boxing, basel ball, kabadi and weightlifting associations of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while the hockey association would soon get the same status.
For the distribution of annual grants among various associations, a committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Secretary Informationb Azmat Hanif Orakzai, saying the committee, by October 1.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Athletes pull out as India faces 'national shame'

NEW DELHI (AFP) – The Commonwealth Games plunged deeper into crisis Wednesday with England warning the event was on a "knife edge" over complaints of filthy housing and worsening structural and security concerns.

Officials said Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell was flying in for a meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the problems overwhelming the October 3-14 event.

The latest high-profile withdrawals include the English Olympic 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu and world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu, with Australia warning more of its competitors might follow.

Their decisions come after complaints by some teams about the state of the athletes' village, safety fears due to the collapse of a footbridge near one of the venues and question marks over security after a gun attack on tourists.

"I think we're at an absolutely vital time (regarding) whether the major teams go," warned Commonwealth Games England chairman Andrew Foster, who said the next 24-48 hours would be critical.

"It's a situation that hangs on a knife-edge," Foster said, with athletes due to begin arriving this week for an event that was meant to showcase the modern India.

Adding to the organisers' woes, a section of false ceiling fell down on Wednesday at the weightlifting venue, although there were no injuries, the government said.

Scotland -- the next hosts of the games in 2014 -- announced it was delaying the departure of its athletes by a few days, while Channel Island teams Jersey and Guernsey made direct threats to pull out if conditions did not improve.

England's Idowu wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter Tuesday: "Sorry people, but I have children to think about. My safety is more important to them than a medal."

Indian media on Wednesday described the complaints about "filthy" and "uninhabitable" conditions at the showpiece athlete's village as a national embarrassment, calling for those responsible to be held accountable.

"India has been shamed globally," the Times of India said in a front-page editorial. "The guilty must be identified and brought to book.

"It may not restore our reputation, but at least it will show that we, as a nation, value our honour."

Games organisers have downplayed the mounting concerns at home and abroad about the event and said they still expected a "very good" field of athletes.

New Delhi is expecting to host some 7,000 athletes and officials from countries and territories mostly from the former British empire for the multi-sport event.

"I can reassure everyone that the athletes will enjoy their stay in New Delhi," organising committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot told AFP.

"The stadiums are world class and so is the games village. We will be ready by the time they start arriving this week."

But Australia warned that more competitors could withdraw, after world discus champion Dani Samuels made a tearful withdrawal over health and security worries on Tuesday.

Minister for Sport Mark Arbib said Australia's Commonwealth Games chief Perry Crosswhite was expecting "a number more" to follow and that he would be imposing tough rules restricting athletes' travel in New Delhi.

A home-grown Islamist group on Sunday claimed responsibility for a shooting on a tourist bus outside New Delhi's Jama Masjid that injured two Taiwanese nationals, prompting a number of Western countries to issue travel warnings.

The Indian capital has also been in the grip of an outbreak of dengue fever, caused by mosquitoes breeding in stagnant pools of water that have accumulated on games construction sites.

The Commonwealth Games Federation on Tuesday blasted the official accommodation as "uninhabitable" with rubble in doorways and malfunctioning toilets, along with electrical and other problems.

Officials from some teams have even taken to cleaning the facilities themselves to bring them up to scratch.

The revelations come after a series of delays and missed deadlines for venues, plus a catalogue of claims about corruption, dubious contracts and the use of poor-quality materials -- seven years after India was awarded the games.

Monday, September 20, 2010

'Serious concern' over fraud at Afghan elections

The main group observing the voting says it has serious concerns about the legitimacy of this weekend's parliamentary elections, but Afghanistan's leader thinks otherwise.

President Hamid Karzai is calling balloting a solid success. But the independent Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan says it has "serious concerns about the quality of elections," given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud.

There were complaints that indelible ink to stain voters' fingers for 72 hours could be washed off. In some polling stations, observers said poll workers were letting people vote with obviously fake voter cards.

The Afghan election commission says at least 21 civilians and nine police officers were killed, and there were dozens of bombings and rocket attacks.

The first vote counts are due to be made public in a few days, with full preliminary results expected in early October.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Afghans brave attacks to vote in elections

Rocket attacks have disrupted polling in Afghanistan as parliamentary elections get underway.
Afghanistan's second parliamentary election since the Taliban regime was ousted began on Saturday morning in the shadow of widespread intimidation and kidnapping.

The Afghan government and western diplomats have sought to lower expectations of the vote, warning of insecurity and fraud, but hoping it will be better than last year's presidential elections. Polling stations opened hours after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the country from its epicentre under the Hindu Kush mountains in the north east of the country. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Last year's poll saw Hamid Karzai re elected amid widespread fraud and was the most violent day of 2009 following similar insurgent threats. Turn-out was only around a third of voters.

The Taliban this year have threatened to attack polling stations and voters. About 20 candidates, poll staff and campaign workers were kidnapped in the two days before voting began.

A rocket landed close to Nato headquarters in Kabul early on Saturday and several more were launched at a US base in Nangahar province, without causing casualties.

Mohammad Husman, who queued to vote in the east of the capital, said: "I came here because I want prosperity for Afghanistan, stability for Afghanistan." "I'm worried about security and fraud. I hope my vote goes to the person I picked to vote for." The elections have been keenly contested with over 2,500 candidates standing for 249 seats and around 650 fighting for 33 positions in the capital alone.

Many Afghans have called for a new generation of better educated, young candidates to replace incumbent strongmen who have failed to deliver their 2005 campaign promises and often remain implicated in the savagery of the 1990s civil war.

Walls and billboards have been wallpapered with posters for new candidates including businessmen, an Olympic female sprinter, a chat show host and a television comedian.

Bawar Hotak, a 32-year-old bodybuilding, shot putt and wrestling champion standing in Kabul, said voters demanded jobs, peace and education after years of disappointment.

He said: "We all voted in the first election. We were promised there would be solutions, but we haven't seen anything. No one reached out to us." However the election is instead expected to consolidate power among Mr Karzai's supporters and wealthy strongmen. Warlords and existing ministers and governors have promoted their own candidates.

Several campaigns have apparently received vast funding. The close relatives of existing governors, and ministers are among those standing.

Campaign workers and diplomats said voting had become a lucrative market for entrepreneurial election officials.

One senior diplomat in Kabul told the Sunday Telegraph fraudulent votes had been auctioned by officials in Wardak province for $6 (£4) each.

One campaign worker in Parwan, due north of Kabul, said he had been telephoned by a corrupt official and offered fake votes for $20 (£12) each.

He said: "They said we could for example send ten people to a polling station, but they would give us 20 ballot papers. Then they could add another 20 votes when they tallied the votes at the end."

The Taliban have formally rejected offers to join the political system and called for a national boycott, but several candidates have seemingly been promoted or allowed to campaign by local militant commanders.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan said Taliban in Faryab had posted notices demanding voters support their favoured candidates.

Several candidates in north western Afghanistan are rumoured to have strong insurgent links.

Stephen Carter, an independent political analyst in Kabul said: "I don't think this is a breakthrough, I think it is more likely to be people accommodating themselves with the Taliban than the Taliban trying to enter the political system."

Pakistan faces major hunger crisis

The world's leading independent NGO for kids - Save the Children- has warned that Pakistan faces a major hunger crisis, as the number of acutely malnourished children is set to rise steeply in the wake of unprecedented floods in that country.

"The number of malnourished and critically sick children will rise dramatically in October and November as the food crisis takes its toll," the Daily Star quoted the NGO's country director in Pakistan, Mohammed Qazilbash, as saying.

"These children have weakened immune system because of the shortage of food, making them very vulnerable to disease," he added.

According to UN statistics, over 12,000 children have become severely malnourished since heavy monsoon rains devastated large parts of the country in early August, but experts suggest that the true figure could be higher, as many vulnerable young survivors in remote areas might have missed the count.

Around 21 million people have been affected by the floods, of which, approximately three million are under the age of five, according to Save the Children.

Senior officials from all over the world will meet United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in New York on Saturday to discuss the global response.

Girls’ school bombed in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: Taliban bombed a girls’ school on Saturday in Peshawar.

Terrorists planted explosives around the Iqra Rozatul Atfal Girls’ School, situated at Charkhakhel area of Peshawar, which went off around 1:40am.

Police said that the blast damaged the walls, rooms and windowpanes of the school. However, the watchman of the school, who was present there at the time of the blast, was unhurt. On September 6, Taliban had also bombed a girls’ high school in Landi Arbab area of the city.

KP Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak had earlier said that more than 1,000 schools had been destroyed as a result of Taliban bomb attacks so far. The KP government says it needs at least Rs 5 billion to rebuild the schools.

Donors want Pakistan to tax rich to pay for floods

Pakistan's plea for billions of dollars to recover from this summer's floods has sparked pressure on the country to reform a tax system that collects very little money, even from the rich.

The country's biggest donor, the United States, has issued one of the strongest warnings, saying the world will only be able to fund a quarter of the tens of billions of dollars it will take to rebuild — and it will be difficult to get American taxpayers to help if Pakistanis aren't footing their share of the bill.

But many economists fear the threats are hollow and the US and others will once again bail out Pakistan without insisting on necessary economic reforms because the country is so important in the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

''Pakistan can say, 'If you don't help us, the economy crumbles, the Taliban takes over and there goes your war on terror,''' said Akbar Zaidi, an economist who recently published a report on Pakistan's tax system for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ''They don't want to alienate the government, so they will let them off the hook.''

Despite years of international pressure, Pakistan has one of the lowest effective tax rates in the world, equal to about nine per cent of the value of the country's economy, according to the Carnegie report. In contrast, the US equivalent is more than three times as high at about 28 per cent.

One of the reasons Pakistan's rate is so low is because many people avoid paying taxes. Fewer than two per cent of the country's 175 million citizens pay any income tax, according to the report.

Also, some sectors of the economy like agriculture — a major money maker for the elite — are totally exempt from tax, and the rich have pushed to keep it that way.

''A small elite comprised of the military, land owners, and the rising urban upper and middle classes, is loath to give up any of its wealth (some of which is illegally accumulated),'' said the report.

Ishrat Hussain, former head of the Pakistan central bank, estimated that better enforcement of current tax policies and the elimination of key exemptions should produce an effective tax rate of 15 per cent — generating nearly $10 billion in additional revenue per year.

That money would go a long way toward repairing devastation from the floods, which affected more than 18 million people and damaged and destroyed over 1.8 million homes. It would also provide the money necessary to begin fixing Pakistan's crumbling school system and health infrastructure.

''This is a time we have to tell people that we have to all pitch in and mobilise our own resources,'' said Hussain. ''Why should the international community come to your rescue if you are not doing your part of the bargain?''

He said donors should keep up the pressure on Pakistan, but advised against directly linking reconstruction money to tax reform, predicting the move could backfire in a country where animosity toward the West, and the US in particular, is extremely high.

''It wouldn't be a very smart move because people here would consider this as an intrusion on their sovereignty, and the debate would then be muddied,'' said Hussain.

The US and other countries have donated around $1 billion for emergency relief, and international financial institutions have provided about $2.5 billion in emergency loans. Donors are scheduled to meet in New York this weekend to discuss raising additional aid.

Washington has promised more money for reconstruction, but the US special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, warned during a visit to the country this week that the international community could only fund about 25 per cent of the bill. He said the US would not condition reconstruction money on tax reform, but cautioned that American generosity has its limits.

''I don't want to withhold money they need, but I think we have to be clear that the Congress is going to be reluctant to give money if the money is filling in a gap because people are not paying taxes,'' he said.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund held back more than $1 billion of funding because Pakistan had not met a number of economic criteria, including reforming its tax system. The money is part of a multibillion loan Pakistan took out in 2008 to stabilise its economy.

It's unclear if the IMF's tough stance will last. The organisation has provided funding to Pakistan in the past when it didn't meet its loan criteria — a move that some Pakistani economists believe was driven by international pressure because of Pakistan's strategic importance.

Pakistan had promised the IMF it would introduce a new tax scheme in July — moving from a general sales tax to a value added tax — but ended up delaying it until the beginning of October because of disagreements between the central government and the provinces, especially Sindh province.

Kaiser Bengali, a senior adviser to the Sindh chief minister who is responsible for negotiating the tax deal with Islamabad, said it seems unlikely that the government will be able to reconcile its differences with the province by the revised deadline.

"I wouldn't do things simply because the donors are asking me to do it," said Bengali.

If Pakistan does not reform its tax system and the donors fail to bail the country out, it is unclear how the nation would come up with the money necessary for reconstruction.

The government has proposed a one-time tax on urban property and agricultural land not affected by the floods, but it is uncertain whether it will be implemented and how much money it would produce.

Hussain, the former central bank chief, said that even if the one-time tax was implemented, he was worried the elite would simply use their influence to avoid paying anything as they have done in the past.

"The system has given power to the thieves to monitor themselves," he said.

Afghan observers question election as tally starts

Afghan election observers said they had serious concerns about the legitimacy of this weekend's parliamentary balloting as officials began Sunday to tally the results — a process that could take months.

Saturday's balloting holds a chance of redemption for a government that lost much of its credibility both with Afghans and its international backers due to a fraud-tainted presidential vote a year ago. But a showering of rocket attacks, polling station closures and charges that anti-fraud measures broke down mean the vote counting and investigation of complaints will have to be particularly rigorous to guarantee a legitimate outcome.

The country's international backers rallied around the government as polls closed with praise for those who voted and hope for a democratic result, but the main Afghan observer group said the quality of the balloting was questionable.

The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan said it "has serious concerns about the quality of elections," given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud. FEFA deployed about 7,000 people around the country, making it the largest observer of the parliamentary vote. Many international observer groups scaled back their operations from last year because of security concerns.

At least 11 civilians and three police officers were killed during the voting, according to the Interior Ministry, amid 33 bomb explosions and 63 rocket strikes nationwide. The attacks appeared to have the desired effect, as many polling sites had light turnout. A number of polling stations were closed because of security problems, causing some in safer areas to run out of ballots.

The Afghan election commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure but said late Saturday that 3.6 million people cast ballots at the 86 percent of polling stations that had reported figures so far. Nearly 6 million ballots were cast in the presidential vote last year out of 17 million registered voters. The election commission said before Saturday's vote that its plan would allow a maximum of 11.4 million voters — an acknowledgment that turnout was not expected to be high.

Throughout Saturday's balloting, complaints that anti-fraud measures were being ignored or weren't working poured in from across the country. People said the indelible ink that is supposed to stain voters' fingers for 72 hours could be washed off. In some polling stations, observers said poll workers were letting people vote with obviously fake voter cards.

"Ballot stuffing was seen to varying extents in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting," FEFA said.

At a polling station in Sancery village in southern Kandahar province, one man said hundreds of people in his village of about 600 gave their voting cards to the village elder, who cast their ballots for them.

"My father asked me to give the card," said Matiullah, who only gave one name. "This is what we did last time. Everyone submitted their card to the elder." It was not possible to verify if the elder had been allowed to vote for the village.

Individual polling sites started counting ballots as soon as polls closed Saturday and 95 percent of them had completed that process by early Sunday, said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the election commission. As they complete their counts, the tallies are sent to a center in the capital that will compile and release results over coming days.

Full preliminary results are not expected until early October, and then there will be weeks of fraud investigations before winners are officially announced for the 249 parliamentary seats. With about 2,500 candidates running, there are likely to be a host of fraud complaints in each province.

If the people don't accept the results of the vote, it could have a profound effect both inside the country and with Afghanistan's international backers, who have 140,000 troops in the country and have spent billions trying to shore up the administration of President Hamid Karzai administration in the face of a strengthening insurgency.

Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up to Karzai in the 2009 poll, said violence was a possibility if voters feel disenfranchised.

"There is a possibility of people taking things into their own hands," Abdullah said. But he said he was also worried about the administration pushing through candidates regardless of accusations of fraudulent voting.

"If, as a result of massive fraud, it turns out to be a sort of rubber-stamp parliament in the hands of the government, then we will lose that opportunity for checks and balances which is expected from the parliament," he said, warning that a weakened legislature would make it easy for Karzai to make constitutional amendments to stay in power past the end of his term.

In the south on Sunday, rockets disrupted efforts by officials to rally support against the Taliban in the Arghandab district of Kandahar.

Officials including the governor and Ahmad Wali Karzai, chairman of the Kandahar provincial council and President Karzai's brother, addressed about 150 people in Babasab, a town that is a staging ground for attacks on Kandahar city.

"We need your help," Ahmad Wali Karzai said. "We want you to give your men to the army and police. We will support you in every possible way."

Three rockets were fired at the meeting, with the closest landing about 40 meters (45 yards) away. There were no injuries.

Meanwhile, NATO forces said they killed seven insurgents in an attack against a village compound in volatile Nangarhar province in the east, though Afghan officials said the dead may have been civilians.

The military alliance said "initial reporting indicates no civilians were killed or injured during this operation" that targeted a Taliban commander in the southern Khugyani district of Nangarhar, a hotbed of the insurgency.

Ghafor Khan, the district police spokesman, said five people were killed and two wounded in the attack. He said an investigators were determining whether the casualties were insurgents or civilians.

Afghan officials have repeatedly warned that civilian casualties undermine anti-insurgency efforts.

Also Sunday, NATO said three of its service members died in attacks in southern Afghanistan on Saturday. Two died in a bomb attack in the south and another in an insurgent attack in the north. Their nationalities were not disclosed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Angelina Jolie makes Pakistan floods video appeal

United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie, has appealed for support for the victims of massive flooding in Pakistan.

The Disasters Emergency Committee has revealed the long-term struggle faced by thousands in Pakistan in the wake of the flooding.

Pakistani, Afghan Leaders Build Ties

Pakistan's president offered Wednesday to enhance intelligence sharing with Afghanistan to help fight Taliban insurgents.

President Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan and Afghanistan need to work closer to fight the militants who he said threaten the security of both the countries.

"The relations between the two countries have improved, and we intend to enhance them further," Mr. Zardari told reporters after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is on a two-day visit to Pakistan.

Afghanistan has long complained that Pakistan allows Taliban fighters to shelter on its side of the border between the two countries. U.S. officials have also raised concerns that the Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency continues to shelter the Taliban, which it helped create in the 1990s.

In response to a question on whether he believed the ISI was still funding the Taliban, Mr. Karzai said: "The insurgents are getting support from somewhere, and it is in the interest of both the countries to stop it."

Mr. Karzai said the talks touched on Taliban bases in Pakistan's tribal regions that border Afghanistan. "These are issues that we should discuss, and these are issues that we should fight together," he said.

In the past couple of years, the Pakistan Taliban, which often work closely with their Afghan Taliban allies, have been involved in a war against the Pakistan state. But Pakistan hasn't yet acted seriously against other Taliban factions that target mainly U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization soldiers in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say.

What Mr. Zardari's promises of increased intelligence sharing add up to is unclear. The ISI, which maintains ties to the Afghan Taliban and allied groups like the Haqqani network, isn't controlled by the civilian government.

Still, Mr. Karzai has increased the frequency of his trips to Pakistan in recent months, in a sign of attempts to forge an end to the Taliban insurgency. Mr. Karzai is expected to meet Thursday with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. Gen. Kayani and the ISI chief, Lt. General Shuja Pasha, have visited Kabul several times in the past few months.

Senior Pakistan officials have promoted a potential peace deal in meetings with U.S. and Afghan officials under which the Taliban would lay down arms in return for some measure of autonomy in the ethnic Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, people familiar with the discussions say. The Taliban draws its fighters largely from Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai's position on such a plan remains unclear. He has reached out recently to the Taliban in an attempt to start talks and stop the fighting, worrying some other ethnic groups in the north of Afghanistan who are traditional rivals of the Pashtun.

Mr. Karzai's visit comes ahead of critical Afghan parliamentary elections Saturday, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt. "We hope the elections will be peaceful," he said

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Punjab CM security takes life of infant at hospital

Punjab CM security takes life of infant at hospital LAHORE: Strict security beefed up at Children Hospital during Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit here, took life of an infant, Geo News reported Monday.

The father of the child was not allowed entry into the hospital thanks to reved up security measures for Punjab Chief Minister and resultantly, the child expired at the closed gate of hospital.

Gujranwala’s Omar Farooq brought his twin children to Children Hospital; however, he was not offered any cooperation by hospital staff, as he forgot to bring along his identity card.

Meantime, according to spokesman of the government of Punjab, the Punjab CM ordered an inquiry into the death of child at Children Hospital.

Floods Stunt Pakistani Fight Against Insurgents

New York Times

KALAM, Pakistan — The destruction caused by the recent floods and the huge relief effort undertaken since by the Pakistani Army have forced it to alter plans to combat Taliban and Qaeda militants, Pakistani military officials here said.

Troops who have been fighting Islamist militants in the Swat Valley for the last two years will have to stay here for six months longer than planned, army officers here said. Elsewhere, some planned offensive actions have been converted to defensive actions to consolidate gains already made, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for the military, said in a telephone call.

While the changes do not appear to involve any major retrenchment in the nation’s counterinsurgency strategy, they are the first sign of the strain the countrywide flooding has put on Pakistan’s armed forces, which are overstretched in dealing with a virulent insurgency. The Pakistani military has already delayed operations against North Waziristan, the central hub of militancy and Al Qaeda, because it says its forces are overextended.

The armed forces had to divert 72,000 men at the peak, including army and navy commandos of its Special Services Group, to do the heavy lifting of the flood rescue and relief effort, as well as provide security for United States helicopters that have joined the relief effort.

The Pakistani military insists that not many of the 147,000 troops deployed in the northwestern region have been diverted by the floods and that continuing operations against militants in the border region with Afghanistan have not been affected. Troops are continuing to conduct offensive operations in several places, like the Orakzai and Khyber regions, General Abbas said.

Yet the floods have disrupted communications and supply lines for the army as well as the civilian population in places like the Swat Valley, and have forced the army to divert helicopters to relief efforts, the general conceded.

“It has drawn the army’s attention for different reasons,” he said.

The army has moved to safeguard gains made in recent months against militant networks in South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai and will continue to deny the insurgents space to maneuver, he said. “In some places where the army was on offensive operations, they have taken defensive positions,” he said.

General Abbas said he was unaware of any specific plans for deployments in the Swat region, except that the army was building four permanent military garrisons in the Swat Valley. But during a recent visit to Kalam, a small mountain resort at the northern end of the Swat Valley, Pakistani officers said they would be delaying plans to withdraw.

The army had been planning to scale down military operations and hand over policing to a strengthened police force by October, said Col. Nadeem Anwar, deputy commander of the army brigade deployed in the Swat Valley. That plan has now been postponed at least six months until next spring or summer, he and other security officials said.

The valley has been largely cleared of militants after two years of a sometimes brutal military campaign, yet militants keep seeking to slip back into the valley and make a show of their presence. In the days immediately after New York Times journalists visited Kalam, catching a ride on a United States Marine helicopter that was ferrying aid up the valley, militants attacked two schools in the district, bombing one and setting another on fire.

The Pakistani Army unit based in the town of Kalam is continuing counterinsurgency operations, including night patrols in the surrounding mountains, to watch for any return of militants. “We know their favorite places,” one commando said.

Yet at the same time the unit is managing a large-scale relief effort, with a constant daily flow of helicopters bringing in humanitarian assistance and ferrying townspeople out. The army is also running a tented camp and providing for nearly 4,000 homeless people, registering and dispensing humanitarian parcels to many more who are affected by the floods, and organizing 300 workers to start clearing more than two miles of road covered by landslides.

Colonel Nadeem was sent in from the brigade’s base in Mardan to oversee relief work in Kalam, so that counterinsurgency operations would not be interrupted. A corps of army engineers has also been sent lower in the valley to work on restoring communications, building temporary bridges and reopening roads.

The Swat Valley was one of the first regions in Pakistan to be hit by flooding and was among the worst hit. Though there seems to be little local enthusiasm for the army presence — residents said they were afraid to speak to a reporter in the presence of the military — many people here owe their lives to the presence of the army.

After four days of torrential monsoon rains, it was army officers who first noticed the danger signs when they encountered two unusually big landslides that cut the main road below Kalam around dusk on July 28.

As the river visibly rose, the army ordered the evacuation of some 6,000 Pakistani tourists from hotels along the riverbank, as well as townspeople from the houses and shops on the other side. By 9 p.m. the river had turned into a raging torrent that swept away the town’s bridge, a four-story riverside hotel, and houses and shops. Such was the force of the water that it permanently altered the course of the river.

A month later an army engineer was organizing the construction of a temporary metal bridge, inching it across the river with the combined muscle power of several dozen civilian workers. On the other side of the river, men worked feverishly to mix cement and prepare a strong base for the bridge. Nearby villagers carrying donated sacks of flour crossed a footbridge made of freshly hewn tree trunks on the start of a long trek to their homes further up the valley.

“No food is reaching here. All the bridges are down,” said a farmer, Afsal Khan, 25. “There are no facilities; everyone is trying to get down the valley.” He was lined up with hundreds of other men hoping to catch a ride down the valley on a United States Navy helicopter to buy supplies for his family. It would be a 24-hour hike — for some a two-day trek — to carry them back up the mountain to their homes, he said.

Army engineers have already set up temporary bridges lower in the valley and hope to open a rough road, passable by light jeeps, within a month. But Colonel Nadeem estimated it would take months, or longer, to reopen the valley to normal freight trucks. That will not only hamper the military operation but also leave thousands of farmers — who cannot move their produce down the valley to market or bring up basic staples and agricultural necessities — dependent on aid, he said.

Taliban insurgents, meanwhile, are intent on continuing their campaign of violence, yet they seem to be aiming at soft targets, using sleeper cells to set off car bombs and suicide attacks rather than instigating direct military clashes with the army, General Abbas said. There have been several serious suicide bomb attacks in the cities, he said, but no significant ground action by militants since the onset of the floods.

Barack Obama in about turn on Afghanistan corruption

Barack Obama's advisers are pushing for a softly, softly approach to tackling government corruption in Afghanistan just days after the American president promised to keep up pressure on Hamid Karzai to rein in widespread graft. The move will be seen as an about-turn on a crucial plank of policy as the President tries to shore up a weak Afghan government before the withdrawal of American troops.

Tackling corruption has become key to building a stable Afghanistan – and choking off funds for insurgents – but has so far met with only limited success. Now Mr Obama's advisers say that high-profile prosecutions of government officers should be dropped in favour of face-saving compromises negotiated in private in order to heal a growing rift with President Karzai.

"The current approach is not tenable," an administration official told The Washington Post on condition of anonymity. "What will we get out of it?

We'll arrest a few mid-level Afghans, but we'll lose our ability to operate there and achieve our principal goals."

Already strained relations between Mr Karzai and the US soured further when one of his aides was arrested in July for allegedly taking bribes to impede an investigation into a money transfer scheme said to have channelled about $3 billion (£2 billion) out of the country. The arrest was made by an Afghan unit trained and supported by the FBI and other American agencies.

Mr Karzai ordered his official's release and has asked for new rules to limit the role of foreign agencies in graft investigations.

Mariam Abou Zahab, of the Centre for International Studies and Research, said the episode showed how the US simply did not understand Afghan sensibilities and a culture where a quiet, private word is the key to getting things done.

"Saying things like this in public just doesn't work in Afghan society," she said. "Karzai reacted just like an Afghan." The possible change in strategy contrasts with Obama's public remarks on Friday, when he said tackling corruption was crucial to building a stable government.

"And that means making sure that the tradition of corruption in the government is reduced," he said. "And we're going to keep on putting pressure on him on that front." Corruption has already emerged as an obstacle to free and fair parliamentary elections on Saturday.

Independent observers say election officials have been offered as much as $500,000 (£380,000) to falsify returns by supporters of President Karzai.

At the same time, General David Petraeus has issued new guidelines for Nato contracts in Afghanistan to help root out corruption and prevent cash flowing to insurgents.

The unclassified document urges commanders to set up systems and databases to ensure that contractors are properly vetted.

Fake Afghan poll cards

Thousands of fake voter registration cards have been found across Afghanistan, election officials said on Tuesday, and observers called on the government to act to prevent widespread fraud in Saturday's election.

The parliamentary vote is seen as a key test of stability in Afghanistan, where violence is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, before U.S. President Barack Obama conducts a war strategy review in December.

Poor security and fraud are major concerns ahead of the polls, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt by hitting foreign troops and then Afghan targets.

Last year's presidential vote was marred by widespread fraud, with a third of ballots cast for President Hamid Karzai thrown out as fake by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

On Tuesday, both the ECC and independent watchdog the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) said fake registration cards, which voters must produce to cast ballots, had been found in Herat in the west, Kunduz and Baghlan in the north and Nuristan and Paktia in the east.

Neither had exact figures or could say who was behind the fake cards, but some media reports have put the figure as high as 3 million -- about a sixth of Afghanistan's roughly 17.5 million registered voters.

FEFA's Jandad Spinghar told Reuters some fake cards had been used in the past three elections but numbers seemed to be much higher this time.

"We have seen samples of fake cards found by our observers. If the government does take preventative measures, the level of fraud can be reduced, if not totally prevented," Spinghar said.

"The security organs have the time to basically find the specific differences between the real and fake cards and appoint police at each polling station to check any voter's card. Any one found with a faked card should be arrested and prosecuted."

The election is seen as a test of credibility for Karzai after last year's ballot. Karzai has lately been seeking to assert his independence from his Western allies after his government was criticised for not doing enough to tackle graft.

Washington worries that widespread corruption weakens the central government's control, hampering its ability to train Afghan security forces so the almost 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan can gradually start to leave.


While Karzai is not running, he could face a hostile parliament if enough regional and ethnic-based members form blocs that could oppose him on issues such as cabinet appointments.

After last year's election, Karzai moved quickly to change the make-up of the ECC, reducing the number of foreigners among its five commissioners from three to two. However, at the United Nations' insistence, no ECC decision will be ratified unless it has the agreement of at least one of the foreign commissioners.

A spokesman said the ECC had also seen fake cards but did not know who was behind them. The Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is running the poll, said the real cards had special security features which made it easy to distinguish fakes.

"I want to assure you that no such fraud will take place. It will not be possible to use them," IEC head Fazal Ahmad Manawi told reporters.

Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan, said those trying to use fake cards "were wasting their time." De Mistura also displayed the ink that will be used to mark voters' fingers, another safeguard against fraud and multiple voting.

More than 1,000 complaints have been lodged with the ECC, ranging from intimidation of candidates and voters to improper use of government services in support of particular candidates and unfair campaigners.

Election observers expect many more complaints to be lodged after the election, in which 2,447 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament.

A high number of complaints could delay the results of the election. Preliminary results are not expected until October 8, with the final outcome set to be released on October 30.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Angelina Jolie meets Pakistani Prime Minister

Hollywood Actress and UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador Agelina Jolie met Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani to discuss the country's devastating floods.

Angelina Jolie has promised to ''do what she can'' for flood-ravaged Pakistan. The Hollywood actress and UN goodwill amabassador was attending the London premiere of her new film Salt when she made the pledge.

Afghan election officials 'offered £380,000'

Afghan election officials have been offered as much as $500,000 (£380,000) to falsify returns in the forthcoming parliamentary election by supporters of President Hamid Karzai, independent observers have said. Fraud in Saturday's election is expected to be at least as widespread as it was during last year's presidential election. The observers said individuals were being offered up to $20 each for their votes.

The vote was delayed from its original date in May after international allies insisted on reforms to ensure a cleaner election. But the country's Election Complaints Commission has been weakened since the presidential election. Complaints of ballot fraud will now be addressed at a provincial level, where officials will be more vulnerable to local pressure.

Stephen Carter, who has worked as an observer in all Afghan elections since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, said poor security would allow Mr Karzai's allies to control voting in many areas.

"In the last election a significant proportion of voters were disqualified and this time it won't be any less. There is an electoral process going on which is more about the market place for ballot rigging and how effective one can be at organising fraud," he said.

In the presidential election, Mr Karzai was forced to accept a second round run-off with Abdullah Abdullah, the opposition leader, after officials reported widespread ballot stuffing and intimidation. Turnout was 30 per cent, but in insurgency-affected areas it was as low as 10 per cent.

In the parliamentary elections, female candidates and their supporters have been subjected to some of the worst violence. According to Human Rights Watch, 10 supporters of Fauwzia Gilani were kidnapped on Aug 26. Five of them were shot dead.

More than 2,400 candidates, including 386 women, are standing for 249 seats in the parliament's lower house.

Nato urged to allow partition of Afghanistan

Afghanistan should be allowed to partition along ethnic lines by pulling back Nato forces and acknowledging that the Taliban will not be defeated in their heartland, a senior former American national security adviser has warned. Robert Blackwill, who was Condolezza Rice's deputy as National Security Adviser in 2003 to 2004, will use a speech at the International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank in London on Monday to call on President Barack Obama to make drastratic changes in the war's objectives.

He told The Daily Telegraph that the surge of forces launched last year to stabilise Afghanistan was "high likely" to fail and that the death toll in the conflict was too high a price to pay. "The Taliban are winning, we are losing," he said. "They have high morale and want to continue the insurgency. Plan A is going to fail. We need a Plan B

"Let the Taliban control the Pashtun south and east, the American and allied price for preventing that is far too high."

Mr Blackwill said that there had been a decade of "innumerable errors" in the Western approach to Afghanistan. Most notably American policy shifted after the atttacks on September 11, 2001 from expelling al Qaeda from its Afghan sanctuaries to crushing the Taliban and installing a democratic government in Kabul.

The result was that America now had 1,000 soldiers deployed for every one of the estimated 100 al Qaeda operatives now believed to be based in Afghanistan and was hemorraging $100 billion a year on the conflict.

A review of the Afghan war that Mr Obama will present to the US public in November, represents an opportunity to change the contours of the conflict. The US committed an extra 35,000 troops to Afghanistan in attempt to reverse Taliban gains.

Mr Blackwill believes the US should only seek to defend those areas dominated by Afghanistan's Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities by pulling out of bases in the south.

By accepting that the Taliban would overrun Kandahar and other big population centres, the US would threaten the Taliban only if it allowed al Qa'eda to reform or if the movement started to encroach northwards.

"How many people really believe that Kandahar is central to Western civilisation. We did not got to Afghanistan to control Kandahar ," he said.

"Our preference at the time of the attack was for the Taliban to give up al Qaeda not to change the regime. Mr Obama himself and the administration say what we are trying to do in Afghanistan is to destroy al Qaeda."

Alongside misdirected strategy, the "utter corruption" of the government of President Hamid Karzai had eclipsed Nato's hopes to keeping the Taliban at bay after its defeat in late 2001.

In contrast to Mr Blackwill's view that Afghanistan's army and police could not be made ready to control the whole country, Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, said the forces would assume responsibility by 2015.

"If we were to leave before 2015, a point at which on current progress we expect to have achieved our security aims, it would be a shot in the arm to violent jihadists everywhere, re-energising violent radical and extremist Islamists," he said.

"It would send a signal that we did not have the moral resolve and the political fortitude to see through what we ourselves have described as national security imperative."

Pakistani Insurgent Group Expands in Afghanistan
There was nothing unfamiliar about last month's hours-long gun battle between Afghan security forces and insurgents in Nuristan province - except the identity of some of the militants. Of the 40 or so fighters killed, Gen. Mohammad Zaman Mahmoodzai, head of Afghanistan's border security force, says about a quarter had carried documents implicating them as members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based outfit better known for its role in the Kashmir insurgency and the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The general claims that recent months have seen a steady increase of violent clashes in the east that have yielded a higher ratio of Pakistanis and other foreigners among the insurgent casualties. That, he says, is proof of the nominally Kashmir-oriented group's growing involvement in Afghanistan. The trend is confirmed by U.S. military officials, who say that well-trained LeT fighters are bringing deadlier tools and tactics to the war's second-fiercest front.

With NATO's attention fixed on the southern battle zone where the Taliban is strongest, the LeT, or "Army of the Pure," has aligned with a host of militant groups that have ramped up attacks against Afghan and U.S. forces in the borderlands and beyond. Since they began tracking the group's involvement in Afghanistan in 2008, U.S. officials say the LeT has expanded from a small presence in Kunar province to multiple cells in at least five provinces, actively collaborating with everyone from the Afghan Taliban to the Haqqani network. Kunar and Nuristan remain their focal point, provinces where the U.S. military shut down several remote, heavily targeted bases in the past year. But when NATO in July announced the arrest of two Taliban commanders accused of aiding the LeT, a statement noted the influx of LeT foot soldiers in Nangarhar province, an important commercial center and military supply route. A spike in suicide- and roadside bomb attacks against convoys and government officials have disrupted the once stable area, and Afghan security officials allege the LeT is providing fake documents to attackers.

Originally nurtured by Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as a proxy force to drive India out of Kashmir, the LeT has since raised its profile with spectacular strikes on India's parliament and commercial capital. It was banned by the Pakistani government in 2002 under pressure from the U.S., although the organization continues to operate freely there via thinly disguised front organizations.

But according to Stephen Tankel, a U.S.-based analyst and author of the book Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba, "Lashkar was never just a Kashmir-centric organization and always had ambitions beyond the region." Today, he explains, some cadres are motivated by anti-Indian sentiment; others want to wage war against America. Because of increased Indian influence in the government of post-Taliban Afghanistan, these jihadist desires converge. And while India remains its main enemy, anti-Western activity by the LeT is nothing new - as the arrest of operatives as far away as the United States shows. "What we're seeing now is an acceleration of trends that have been in place," Tankel says, "rather than Lashkar trying to go in a new direction."

The LeT's presence in Afghanistan has coincided with mounting Pakistani concern that India's influence in Kabul represents an Indian strategy of encirclement. Ensuring a friendly regime in Kabul was the reason for the ISI helping the Taliban seize power in Afghanistan in 1996, and U.S. officials suspect ongoing Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban since the movement's ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001. U.S. intelligence officials also suspect a direct Pakistani hand in some attacks in Afghanistan, notably the mid-2008 Indian embassy bombing in Kabul that left 58 people dead. More recently, Afghan intelligence officials blamed a Feb. 26 attack on a guesthouse in the capital on LeT operatives. (Half of the 18 killed were Indian nationals.) Pakistan, for its part, has denied any responsibility, insisting that its priority is its battle with its domestic Taliban insurgency. But in light of its long-standing reluctance to crack down on the LeT - and alleged involvement in attacks in Afghanistan - Tankel says we "must take seriously" the possibility that elements within the ISI are making use of LeT militants in Afghanistan, even if "there's no smoking gun."

While there's some dispute over just how substantial the LeT presence in Afghanistan really is, Afghan and U.S. officials agree that the group's role is likely to escalate as Western forces begin to withdraw and Pakistan tries to strengthen its influence. What's more, some contend, the LeT's threat should not be measured in numbers. Given that its training program was developed by the Pakistani army, its operatives are still considered among the most capable at small-unit tactics and explosives, making them ideally suited to the low-intensity Afghan conflict. "A few well-equipped pros who go around teaching and coordinating can do a lot more damage" than your average Taliban guerrilla, says the senior U.S. military official, noting the increased level of cooperation. "They're already having a big impact."