Sunday, October 31, 2010

Give Obama a Break

New York Times:

In politics as in finance, markets overshoot. Traders and voters swoon over stocks or politicians one week, and then rage at them the next.

That’s why I’m feeling a bit sorry for President Obama as we approach a midterm election in which he is poised to be cast off like an old sock. The infatuation with Mr. Obama was overdone in 2008, and so is the rejection of him today.

So here’s my message: Give him a chance.

The sourness toward Mr. Obama reminds me of the crankiness toward Al Gore in 2000. We in the news media were tough on Mr. Gore, magnifying his weaknesses, and that fed into a general disdain. So some liberals voted for Ralph Nader, and George W. Bush moved into the White House.

Like others, I have my disappointments with Mr. Obama, including his tripling of forces in Afghanistan. Yet the central problem isn’t that Mr. Obama has been a weak communicator as president or squandered his political capital — although both are true — but that we’re mired in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s.

After all, Gallup polls still show Mr. Obama with public approval a hair ahead of Ronald Reagan’s at a similar point in his presidency (when America was also in recession). And maybe the best comparison is with President George H. W. Bush, a solid president and admirable man who had stratospheric approval ratings in 1991 at the end of the Persian Gulf war and then was fired by the public a year later when he sought re-election — because of a much milder recession than today’s.

Bill Clinton, who was as good a president as we’ve had in modern times, captured Mr. Obama’s challenge: “I’d like to see any of you get behind a locomotive going straight downhill at 200 miles an hour and stop it in 10 seconds,” Mr. Clinton told a crowd in Washington State, according to a Washington Post account.

Mr. Clinton also noted that the midterm elections are not a referendum. “Let’s make this a referendum on everything that’s bothering you about life right now,” he paraphrased the Republicans as saying, before adding: “It is not a referendum. It. Is. A. Choice. A choice between two different sets of ideas.”

The criticisms of Mr. Obama from the left often ring true to me, but I also think we elide the political difficulties of getting better legislation past obstructionists in Congress. A “public option” would have improved the health care package in my judgment, but it might also have killed it.

The economic crisis has also distracted from authentic accomplishments. Presidents since Harry Truman have been pushing for health care reform, and it was Mr. Obama who finally achieved it. The economy seemed at risk of another Great Depression when he took office, and that was downgraded to a recession from which we have officially emerged — even though the pain is still biting.

Mr. Obama has also helped engineer a successful auto bailout, a big push for clean energy, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to reduce sex discrimination, tighter tobacco regulations aimed at the 1,000 Americans under age 18 who become smokers each day, and tighter financial regulation including reform of credit card rules.

Above all, Mr. Obama has been stellar in one area crucial to our country’s future: education. Democrats historically have been AWOL on school reform because they are beholden to teacher unions, but Mr. Obama has reframed the debate and made it safe to talk about teaching standards and “bad teachers.” Until Mr. Obama, Democrats barely acknowledged that it was possible for a teacher to be bad.

Mr. Obama used stimulus money to keep teachers from being laid off and to nudge states to reform education so as to benefit children for years to come. His “Race to the Top” focused states on education reform as never before.

He has also revamped and expanded student loans and bolstered support for community colleges, opening a new path to higher education for working-class Americans. Millions more Americans may end up in college.

Presidents in both parties have talked for years about the importance of education, but until now it has been lip service. Improving America’s inner-city schools will be a long slog, but Mr. Obama has done far more than any other president in this area — arguably our single greatest national challenge. In my view, it’s his greatest achievement, and it has been largely ignored.

So, sure, go ahead and hold Mr. Obama’s feet to the fire. He deserves to be held accountable. But let’s not allow economic malaise to cloud our judgment and magnify America’s problems in ways that become self-fulfilling.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

Obama warns of policy rollback if Republicans win

President Barack Obama warned Saturday that Republicans could roll back his agenda if they prevail in Tuesday's congressional elections as he sought to rally Democrats in a final campaign push.

Making his way through a four-state tour, Obama implored Democratic voters to show up in large numbers. Polls show his party is likely to lose control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans and see its Senate majority weakened.

"Unless each and every one of you turn out and get your friends to turn out and get your families to turn out then we could fall short and all the progress that we've made over the last couple of years can be rolled back," Obama told cheering campaign volunteers at his first stop in Philadelphia.

In his hometown of Chicago, a crowd estimated by Democratic officials at more than 30,000 people held signs saying "Vote this Tuesday" and "Moving America Forward."

"We've got a lot of work to do, not only to move the country forward but to make sure that the progress we've made continues," Obama said.

The president and his Democrats are facing voter discontent over an ailing economy and persistently high unemployment.

Republicans have scored points by attacking Obama's agenda, including a healthcare overhaul and huge economic stimulus plan, that they call a government overreach. Loss of the House could stall Obama's legislative efforts.

Representative John Boehner, who would likely be the new Speaker of the House if Republicans win a majority, said Obama's agenda had not fixed the country's economic problems.

"These problems didn't start under President Obama. But instead of fixing them, his policies have made them worse," Boehner said in the weekly Republican address.


Obama is battling an "enthusiasm gap," with polls showing Republicans more likely to vote than Democrats.

Another problem has been rising complaints from liberals, who helped sweep Obama to victory in the 2008 election, that he has not done enough for their causes, such as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, closing the Guantanamo military prison and reforming the immigration system.

At a rally in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Obama was heckled by a small group of AIDS activists chanting "Stop global AIDS," the latest of several such protests at his campaign events. The crowd of 9,000 drowned them out with chants of "Obama, Obama."

Forced off script, an exasperated Obama urged the hecklers to redirect their protests at Republicans who he said had no interest in funding international AIDS programs.

"We're in a difficult election," Obama said in Philadelphia. "This election is not just going to set the stage for the next two years. It's going to set the stage for the next 10, for the next 20."

Monday, October 25, 2010


Daily Times

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has said that the government would complete its tenure and the PPP will also win the next general elections. Mr Gilani’s confidence (read overconfidence) notwithstanding, the performance of the PPP-led government is nothing to write home about. In a democratic system, the government should be allowed to finish its term but if it does not deliver on its promises and does not do anything for the masses, it should be ready to face the music, i.e. be voted out in the next elections. The PPP has not done much as far as good governance is concerned during its two and a half years of rule. Whether the people vote the party to power again in 2013 or not cannot be said with certainty since it depends on the electorate, but the performance of the government makes it look uncertain. If Prime Minister Gilani is serious about the PPP coming to power again after the next general elections, he needs to not just improve governance but heal the internal fissures inside the PPP at the earliest.

On Saturday, the PPP issued a show-cause notice to Sherry Rehman and suspended the basic membership of Senator Safdar Abbasi after they appeared on a local TV channel. Abbasi’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) membership was also suspended according to some reports and he had received the notification letter through e-mail. The PPP has barred its members from appearing on the television channel of a local media group or giving interviews to its Urdu and English dailies. But Mr Abbasi and Ms Rehman have complained of discriminatory treatment since other members of the PPP have appeared on the same channel in recent days but have neither been served any show-cause notice nor have they been suspended.

The treatment meted out to Senator Abbasi can be understood — though not justified — to a certain extent. His wife, Naheed Khan, was very close to late Benazir Bhutto but after BB’s death, Ms Khan has been criticised within the party and sidelined. The Naheed Khan ‘group’ has been asking the party leadership to pursue Ms Bhutto’s murder case and to bring the perpetrators out into the light of the day. This is something that everyone in Pakistan wants. Targeting those affiliated with Ms Khan could be because they have accused the new party leadership of cronyism. The PPP leadership maintains that everything has been done according to the party’s rules.

In the case of Sherry Rehman, former information minister, things took a turn for the worse when a violent demonstration was held outside her house in Karachi allegedly by PPP workers. They burnt Ms Rehman’s effigy and chanted slogans against her. Ms Rehman said that she “had no official communication from the party about any ban on any channel” and since the PPP is not at war with the media, she did not know something of this sort could occur. It is disconcerting to see that a party worker of Ms Rehman’s stature was treated in this manner. According to the grapevine, Prime Minister Gilani wants Ms Rehman to join his cabinet again but the manner in which President Zardari abruptly accepted her resignation and her reservations about the present set-up has led her to decline Mr Gilani’s offer. It must be said here that Ms Rehman was arguably the best PPP information minister and given her journalistic background knew how to handle the media.

The PPP leadership seems hell bent on alienating members who have done great service for the party. It seems as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing in the PPP. If the PPP wants to carve out a successful future and win the upcoming local bodies polls and the next general elections, its leadership must put its house in order. *

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean miners rescued

AT THE SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE He had spent 69 exhausting days trapped far below the Earth's surface. So when Mario Sepulveda was finally rescued early Wednesday, he bear-hugged Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, danced a victory jig and punched his fist into the air while leading rescuers in a cheer that summed up the elation in this country. In a mesmerizing story of grit, endurance and triumph, the 33 men who had been stuck underground since their mine collapsed on Aug. 5 were hoisted to the surface, one by one, in a rescue celebrated across Chile and watched on live television worldwide. At 10:54 p.m., the last of the miners, Luis Urzua, the stoic foreman, was lifted from purgatory, capping off a flawless operation that lasted less than a day.

"I was with God, and I was with the devil," Sepulveda, 40, said upon reaching freedom. "They both fought for me. God won."
Sepulveda then bounded into a field hospital, hugging journalists, nurses and rescue personnel and saying "Thank you, thank you" to anyone within earshot. Stopping for a moment to talk, he told The Washington Post that he never doubted he would be extricated from the 2,000-foot-deep hole that he and the others called home for 10 weeks.
"We always knew that we would be rescued," he said. "We never lost faith."
The first to come up Tuesday night, Florencio Avalos, a 31-year-old, barrel-chested man, hugged his rescuers as the crowd whooped and cried with joy. He then walked into the field hospital, flopped down on a couch and exclaimed: "It's over. It's over at last."
The rescue effort, carefully orchestrated by Chilean engineers, included a 13-foot, cigar-shaped rescue capsule constructed with tips from NASA. An American from Denver, Jeff Hart, who had been drilling water wells in Afghanistan, drilled the escape shaft, 28 inches in diameter. And an innovative winch was installed to lower and then pull up the rescue vessel, which weighs nearly 1,000 pounds.
The miners, who had been in contact with the outside world through a narrow hole drilled Aug. 22, were given special diets to keep them from getting sick on their bumpy, spinning journey to freedom.
Pinera, who has yet to complete his first year in office, told his countrymen that they should be overjoyed at the rescue.
"I am convinced that Chile's greatest treasure is not copper, it is the miners," he said.
Hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide watched as an underground camera captured grainy video of each miner getting into the capsule for the journey up. The miners wore shorts in the cavern, where the temperatures and humidity are high, but switched to green work suits before getting into the capsule, dubbed the Phoenix. They put on helmets and special protective sunglasses so their eyes would not be damaged by the glare on the surface.
Once freed, Mario Gomez, at 63 the oldest miner, dropped to his knees, hugged his wife and said, "Thank you."Carlos Mamani, the only non-Chilean among the 33, embraced and kissed his wife. Mamani, who is Bolivian, chatted with his nation's president, Evo Morales, who arrived at the mine to witness the rescue of his countryman. "I feel so happy to be able to see my brother after so much time," said his sister, Nelia Mamani, who arrived Wednesday on a bus from Bolivia. "I saw him healthy and happy. I think he survived because of all the help he got."
Avalos's wife, Monica, said her faith, and that of her husband, saw them through the ordeal. She had waited for him day after day at the makeshift camp - called Esperanza, or Camp Hope - with the families of other miners and hundreds of journalists. "God was always present," she said. "It is a miracle. This rescue was so difficult. It is a great miracle."
Pinera's administration received messages of congratulations from governments around the world, including the United States.
"Last night, the whole world watched the scene at Camp Esperanza as the first miner was lifted out from under more than 2,000 feet of rock and then embraced by his young son and family," President Obama said in remarks at the White House Rose Garden. "And the tears they shed - after so much time apart - expressed not only their own relief, not only their own joy, but the joy of people everywhere."
Once invisible for so long, toiling underground with little recognition, the miners are now celebrities who will face a dizzying array of propositions and invitations. Sepulveda, the miner who captivated his country with his humor and wit in videos from the deep, seemed to understand this.
"We do not want to be treated like artists or journalists," he said after his rescue. "I want to still be treated like Mario Sepulveda Espina, worker, miner."
But if other historic sagas of disaster and perseverance are any guide, the lives of "Los 33," as they are known here, will be altered forever. Jeff Goodell, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine who wrote a book about nine miners who survived a Pennsylvania mine disaster, said the Chilean miners are accustomed to hard, dirty and dangerous work. But he said that, much like the American miners rescued in 2002 in Somerset, Pa., the Chileans have no idea of the pressures of celebrity that await them.
"They are being reborn into a world that they know nothing about, unlike the one that they are used to," said Goodell, whose book, "Our Story: 77 Hours That Tested Our Friendship and Our Faith," was a bestseller. "They are going to be flown around with foreign leaders, get tickets to soccer games, be asked to speak to corporations, and there will be a lot of pressures put on them that they are woefully prepared for."
Even before their rescue, the men had been invited to make appearances in Europe, with one Greek company, Elmin, offering to take them to soccer matches in Spain and England. Chilean mining executive Leonardo Farkas gave $10,000 checks to each of the miners' families. Mining companies have met to determine which ones can offer jobs to the men, should they still want to make a living under the surface.
"Some of them are real miners who have done this as a career, and others were just starting," said Carlos Vilches, a congressman who represents this region and is a part-owner of a mine. "Those who have been in mines, they will go back, no doubt."
But Vilches said the pressure on the miners would be intense. "Just imagine, everyone wants to hear their story," he said.
Alejandro Pino, a former journalist who was part of a support team offered by the country's leading workplace insurance association, said the men "are no longer the same people, but important celebrities, not just nationally, but on the international stage."
For nine days before the miners were freed, Pino spoke to them via a video link, offering pointers on how to talk to reporters.
"They will need to construct their ideas so they can be interesting and entertaining," he said Wednesday.
Pino said the miners want to do the best they can to maintain their old lifestyle, even if people here in Chile and beyond are clamoring to hear their stories.
"They don't consider themselves heroes," Pino said. "They are called heroes, they are called everything. But they say they are just trying to be normal."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Number of mentally ill people increases sharply

PESHAWAR: Speakers at a seminar here Sunday said the shortage of psychiatrists and approved social workers at tehsil and district level was badly hampering the implementation of the Mental Health Act, 2001 in its letter and sprit.
“For population of 180 million there are only 400 psychiatrists across the country which is lamentable, as keeping in view the overall security situation and the recent natural calamity that hit the country, a sharp increase in the patients suffering from mental illness has been recorded,” said Prof Syed Muhammad Sultan, head of the Psychiatry unit of Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH).
The seminar was organised in connection of World Mental Health Day observed every year across the globe to educate people about mental health issues. The programme was organised by psychiatry department of KTH in collaboration with psychiatrists of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr Sultan said the government should enhance the mental health budget so that more physiatrists and approved social workers could be trained to perform their duties at district and tehsil level. He said there is a lack of physiatrists in the country for children, old-age people and forensic psychiatrist for prisoners. He mentioned different barriers to the treatment of the mentally ill patients and suggested that services should be extended to district and tehsil level.
The speakers lauded the services of Prof Dr Haroon Rashid, who died of cardiac arrest last week. Dr Haroon was the president of Pakistan Psychiatric Society and served millions of patients and their families. One of his special contributions is establishment of a rehabilitation centre named ‘Fountain House’ in Lahore. The participants also eulogised his role in writing clinical guidelines for various psychiatric disorders.
They hailed the services of Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan who was killed in his clinic in Mardan few days ago. The participants attributed the day to both eminent psychiatrists of the country. Another seminar in connection with the World Mental Health Day was held at Ebadat Hospital. Speaking at the seminar, noted psychiatrist and former principal of the Khyber Medical College Prof Dr Khalid Mufti said every fourth person in Pakistan was suffering from some psychiatric problem during to ongoing mayhem in the country. He said rising price-hike, insecurity, lawlessness and drone attacks had made life a hell for the people. He said though the Mental Health Act had been enforced, but it could not be properly implemented due to shortage of resources. Dr Khalid Mufti demanded of the government to increase funds for mental healthcare so that people suffering from mental disorder could get proper treatment.

Number of mentally ill people increases sharply

PESHAWAR: Speakers at a seminar here Sunday said the shortage of psychiatrists and approved social workers at tehsil and district level was badly hampering the implementation of the Mental Health Act, 2001 in its letter and sprit.
“For population of 180 million there are only 400 psychiatrists across the country which is lamentable, as keeping in view the overall security situation and the recent natural calamity that hit the country, a sharp increase in the patients suffering from mental illness has been recorded,” said Prof Syed Muhammad Sultan, head of the Psychiatry unit of Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH).
The seminar was organised in connection of World Mental Health Day observed every year across the globe to educate people about mental health issues. The programme was organised by psychiatry department of KTH in collaboration with psychiatrists of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr Sultan said the government should enhance the mental health budget so that more physiatrists and approved social workers could be trained to perform their duties at district and tehsil level. He said there is a lack of physiatrists in the country for children, old-age people and forensic psychiatrist for prisoners. He mentioned different barriers to the treatment of the mentally ill patients and suggested that services should be extended to district and tehsil level.
The speakers lauded the services of Prof Dr Haroon Rashid, who died of cardiac arrest last week. Dr Haroon was the president of Pakistan Psychiatric Society and served millions of patients and their families. One of his special contributions is establishment of a rehabilitation centre named ‘Fountain House’ in Lahore. The participants also eulogised his role in writing clinical guidelines for various psychiatric disorders.
They hailed the services of Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan who was killed in his clinic in Mardan few days ago. The participants attributed the day to both eminent psychiatrists of the country. Another seminar in connection with the World Mental Health Day was held at Ebadat Hospital. Speaking at the seminar, noted psychiatrist and former principal of the Khyber Medical College Prof Dr Khalid Mufti said every fourth person in Pakistan was suffering from some psychiatric problem during to ongoing mayhem in the country. He said rising price-hike, insecurity, lawlessness and drone attacks had made life a hell for the people. He said though the Mental Health Act had been enforced, but it could not be properly implemented due to shortage of resources. Dr Khalid Mufti demanded of the government to increase funds for mental healthcare so that people suffering from mental disorder could get proper treatment.

Pakistan women MPs wealthier than their male colleagues

Fifteen Pakistani women MPs, both in the provincial and national assemblies, are wealthier compared to their male counterparts.
The fact came to light after all the members of Senate, provincial and national assemblies were asked by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to submit details of their financial assets by October 15.
According to sources, these women members of the provincial, national assemblies and Senate have assets including diamonds and a large quantity of gold ornaments.
Some women MPs have also been found with more financial assets in male-dominated Parliament and provincial assemblies of the country, The Nation reports.he ECP will issue the exact details of the financial assets after the completion of the verification process.The sources also revealed that some women MPs claimed that they had no gold ornaments or vehicles.

Taliban War on Educated

New York Times

Farooq Khan, doctor to the poor, scholar of Islam and friend of America, represented everything the Islamist extremists hated.

A week ago, two Taliban hit men, disguised in casual clothes and with stubble on their chins instead of beards, climbed the stairs to Dr. Khan’s second-floor office and, as he had lunch between streams of patients, shot him at close range.

The assassination of Dr. Khan, cool and quick, was the latest in what appears to be a sustained campaign by the Taliban to wipe out, or at least silence, educated Muslims in Pakistan who speak out against the militants, their use of suicide bombings and their cry of worldwide jihad.

At least six Muslim intellectuals and university professors have been killed or kidnapped in the past year in Pakistan, each death met with momentary notice in the media, promises of inquiries by the government and then a frightened quiet.

The pattern has become almost familiar, so much so that Dr. Khan’s death was called unsurprising by many moderate Muslims, who complain that the government has become powerless in the face of the extremists.

Last year, Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi, a moderate preacher, was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the school where Mr. Naeemi had spoken out against jihadist ideology. Another popular moderate preacher, Maulana Hassan Jan, was killed in Peshawar in 2007 after he denounced suicide bombings.

Public figures associated with the secular Awami National Party, the main political group in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, have been kidnapped and killed. Ajmal Khan, a university official and a prominent personality in Peshawar, was kidnapped last month, most likely by the Taliban, and has not been heard from since, the police said.

The extinction of enlightened religious thought is one more element, the moderates say, in a long-term campaign by the Taliban — aided by Al Qaeda — to undermine the state.

“The government doesn’t have the will or capacity to do much. It’s unrealistic to expect them to do anything,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a journalist and longtime friend of Dr. Khan. The doctor, like others who have been assassinated by extremists, had received threats, he said. “This is not the first and the last of these kinds of killings,” Mr. Yusufzai said. “People are already scared of discussing the issues. Now they will be more scared.”

There were many strands to Dr. Khan’s energetic life that the Taliban would have found objectionable. In the past year, Dr. Khan, 56, who was trained as a psychiatrist in Vienna, taught what he called a “worldly” Islam to 150 young boys who had been corralled by the Taliban and then freed by the Pakistani Army in the Swat Valley. “He said: ‘This is my passion,’ ” his wife, Dr. Rizwana Farooq, a gynecologist, recalled of her husband’s weekly sessions at a vocational school, called New Dawn. The school was established by the Pakistani military with financing from international aid organizations.

In recent years, Dr. Khan grew intrigued by American democracy. He visited the United States as a guest of the government in 2002, he met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her first visit to Pakistan last year, and he was among those chosen to attend a farewell lunch for the departing United States ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, last month. “Dr. Khan has been a longstanding and valuable contact, a strong and central voice in denouncing extremism,” said Elizabeth Rood, the consul general in Peshawar.

But perhaps most challenging to the Taliban was his position as the vice chancellor of a new, liberal university in Swat, whose inauguration was scheduled a few days after Dr. Khan was killed. The Taliban effectively governed Swat, an area of scenic beauty within easy drive of the nation’s capital, for several months in 2009 before being driven out in a major military offensive.

The university had been a sore point with the Taliban for some time, partly because the government originally decided the campus would be built on land where the Taliban ran their biggest mosque and school. That site was later abandoned for a more neutral location on the edge of Mingora, the capital of Swat, and over the last year Dr. Khan had taken charge of hiring the faculty, shaping a curriculum devoted to the social sciences and recruiting a student body, said the rector of the university, Sher Alam Khan.

Of 280 students selected on merit, 50 were women, Mr. Khan said. Three of the 20 faculty members were women, he added.

The father of four children ages 22 to 27, all of whom are professionals, Dr. Khan may have been particularly irritating to the Taliban because his roots were in the rough and tumble of the nation’s right-wing religious parties, not the elite academies and mainstream parties.

He had been a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, the anti-American religious party devoted to turning Pakistan into an Islamic state. Dr. Khan broke with that group and joined another anti-American party, Tehrik-e-Insafi, led by the former cricketer, Imran Khan. From there he staked out more independent positions, and in the last few years participated in international conferences on women, democracy, and improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Soon after his death last Saturday, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, claimed responsibility for his killing, saying he had misinterpreted jihad and Islam.

While numerous Muslim scholars and professionals have been killed in recent years by the Taliban, the death of Dr. Khan seemed to cut deeper than the others. The News, a daily English-language newspaper that is critical of the government, denounced in an editorial the “dismal record” of the authorities in capturing suspects in such killings. “But merely because the murderers roam free, should they also be allowed to win?” the paper asked.

In the soft fall air in Swat on Thursday, a memorial service was held for Dr. Khan at the campus of the new university. Government officials were not invited, because of security concerns and emotions, said Mr. Khan, the university’s rector. “We are all his imams, we will stand silent in his memory,” he said. “That is a true form of prayer.”

North Korea's heir appears at gala performance

Obama Trots Out 2008 Slogans in Philadelphia

President Barack Obama dusted off old campaign slogans at an 11th-hour rally here Sunday, hoping to mobilize African-American and youth voters to back Democrats with three weeks to go before November's midterm election.

"On Nov. 2, I need you as fired up as you were in 2008," Mr. Obama said, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side. "They said 'No you can't elect a skinny guy with a funny name to the presidency of the United States.' What did you say?"

The crowd, which included union members, African-Americans and young people, responded, "Yes we can!"

Democrats are launching a final push to try to reignite their base, as they face a potential Republican takeover of the House and possibly the Senate. Many Republican voters, especially tea party supporters, are unhappy with Mr. Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress, and say they are eager to vote in November. Democrats, in contrast, are showing little enthusiasm for the election, according to numerous public opinion polls.

It's a sharp reversal from 2008, when strong Democratic-voter participation sent Mr. Obama to the White House and gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress.

The White House has said Democrats' best chance at victory is getting likely Democratic voters who had voted for the first time in 2008 to vote again.

Democrats have turned to Mr. Obama, who, despite his low approval ratings in recent polls, is still able to draw crowds. In Madison, Wisc., last week, the president appeared at a rally for Sen. Russ Feingold and other Democrats, with the crowd estimated by police to exceed 26,000.

On Sunday, people lined up along the streets in Germantown, a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia with a large African-American population. Many wore union local T-shirts; street artists sold portraits of First Lady Michelle Obama; and vendors peddled Obama buttons at two for $3. Philadelphia city officials put the crowd number at 18,500.

There are more than one million more registered Democrats than Republicans in the Keystone State. In 2008, Mr. Obama carried the state by 11 points. But this year, the Democrats face potential losses in the races for senator, governor and the state's congressional delegation.

Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Joe Sestak, has trailed his Republican opponent, Pat Toomey, in polls since early June. As many as 10 of the state's 19 U.S. congressional districts are considered battlegrounds this year by D.C. race watchers. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represents suburban Philadelphia, faces a tough reelection fight after voting for much of the White House's agenda.

Rep. Murphy, like some other Pennsylvania Democratic congressional candidates in close races, didn't speak at Sunday's event, apparently reflecting concerns that a link to Mr. Obama could further hurt their chances of victory.

With the exception of Mr. Sestak and the Democratic candidate for governor, Dan Onorato, many of the other Pennsylvania Democrats who attended the rally were well ahead in their races, or not up for reelection. They included Rep. Robert Brady, who represents south and central Philadelphia and is expected to easily win reelection; Gov. Ed Rendell, who has hit his term limit; and Sen. Arlen Spector, a Republican-turned-Democrat who lost to Mr. Sestak in the primary.

Mr. Obama devoted much of his speech to criticizing Republican policies, including what he described as a GOP proposal to extend tax cuts to the rich. Republicans are pushing to extend all tax cuts introduced under the Bush administration and which are due to expire at the end of the year, on the grounds that raising taxes would hurt the country's nascent economic recovery. Mr. Obama and other Democrats want to extend cuts only for families making less than $250,000 a year.

Referring to Republicans' "Pledge to America" manifesto detailing their candidates' positions on issues, including a call to roll back the health-care overhaul, Mr. Obama said: "Republicans might have a new name for it. But it's the same old stuff they've been peddling for years."

The GOP has countered that Mr. Obama's spending programs have created unsustainable deficits and that raising taxes would kill jobs.

Last Sunday, the Rev. Melvin McAllister hosted Mr. Sestak at Mount Tabor Baptist Church, a black congregation of about 200 that worships a block from the Philadelphia rally.

Mr. McAllister said his flock may have tuned out election politics this summer, but he compared it to a long baseball season. "When the playoffs come, all of a sudden you're interested," he said.

In 2008, Lynette Washington knocked on doors and attended weekly Democratic campaign meetings, to support Mr. Obama's candidacy. She hasn't done so this year, but on Sunday, she drove to Philadelphia from southern New Jersey to attend Mr. Obama's rally.

"I'm going to sign up" to volunteer to support Democrats' mid-term campaigns, said Ms. Washington, 54 year old. "I still get the emails."

Afghan President Karzai confirms Taliban 'contacts'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed that "unofficial contacts" with the Taliban have been taking place to end the insurgency.

In a CNN interview, he said such contacts "have been going on for quite some time".

The admission comes shortly after Mr Karzai set up the High Peace Council - the body to start a dialogue with the Taliban.

His comments follow growing reports of secret peace talks with the militants. "We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman, talk in that manner," Mr Karzai told CNN's Larry King Live.

"Not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with a fixed address, but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time."

However, he stressed that Kabul would fight groups like al-Qaeda, accusing them of "working against Afghanistan".

The excerpts of the interview were released on Sunday. The full interview is due to be broadcast later on Monday.

Kabul's previous attempts to negotiate with the Taliban have failed, partly over their insistence that foreign troops leave the country first.

Taliban fighters continue to inflict casualties on the US-led Nato forces and resist all attempts to defeat them by military means.

There are nearly 150,000 foreign troops currently deployed in Afghanistan.

UNHCR provides relief to 665,000 flood victims in KP

The UN Refugee Agency has so far provided assistance to 665,000 flood-affected people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), said a statement issued on Sunday.

To reach the people in need, UNHCR established 17 distribution points in coordination with implementing partners in Peshawar, Charsadda, Swat, Kohat, Nowshera, Kohistan, Shangla, Dera Ismail Khan, the lower and upper districts.

In addition, the agency had distributed aid to affected people in Haripur, Manshera and those scattered in various parts of the Chitral Valley.

UNHCR and its partners had carried out assessments, and those whose houses had been destroyed or damaged had received tokens that allow them to collect assistance, including tents and other non-food relief items such as jerrycans, mosquito nets and kitchen sets from the distribution points.

UNHCR’s Peshawar officer-in-charge Yoshimi Saita said, “Needs of affected people are immense and to survive through these difficult times they need continued support from aid agencies.”

The UNHCR and the UAE Red Crescent Authority had recently launched a joint emergency shelter programme in Nowshera. Under the project, 20,000 families would receive emergency shelter and basic domestic items, to assist them in coping with the hardships of refugee life.

“Winter is approaching which is going to make it more difficult for the people who do not have shelter, especially in that parts of the province where the season is quite harsh. In response, we have initiated our transitional shelter project for the flood-affected people in Uthror village of Swat”, Saita added.

Materials for 105 transitional shelters had already been airlifted to Uthror in Upper Swat.

Airlifting is preferred as access by road through the recently constructed route to the village is only possible on light vehicles.

As part of a coordinated relief effort in KP, UNHCR had distributed 54,491 tents, 570,810 blankets, 332,516 quilts, 95,035 kitchen sets, 130,790 mosquito nets, 149,480 plastic buckets, 375, 992 sleeping mats, 117,924 plastic sheets, 196,678 jerrycans and 142,702 kilogrammes of soap.

Pakistani capital shaken by earthquake

Residents of Pakistan's capital were jolted from their beds overnight by a 5.3-magnitude earthquake - a chilling reminder of the devastating temblor that killed more than 80,000 people and left 3 million homeless almost exactly five years ago.

Arif Mahmood, a seismological official in the north-western city of Peshawar, said the quake's epicentre was only about 28 kilometres north of Islamabad.

It occurred about 2.45am today and was shallow, about 10 kilometres deep, so it caused strong shaking. But no damage or injuries were reported.
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A 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck on October 8, 2005, devastating areas around the epicentre in Pakistan-held Kashmir. It also toppled an apartment block in the capital, killing 74 people.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Liu Xiaobo Nobel peace prize may harm China-Norway relations

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to China's Liu Xiaobo desecrated the prize and could harm China-Norway ties, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu on Friday.

Ma made the remarks in a press release after he was asked to comment on the award, which was announced earlier in Oslo, Norway.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in jail on Dec. 25, 2009 after a local court in Beijing convicted him of agitation aimed at subverting the government.

The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to people who contribute to national harmony, country-to-country friendship, advancing disarmament, and convening and propagandizing peace conferences, Ma said.

He claimed this was the wish of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prizes.

Ma said Liu was a criminal sentenced by the Chinese judicial authorities for violating Chinese law.

"What he has done is contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize," he said.

The Nobel committee's decision to award such a person the peace prize ran contrary to and desecrated the prize, he said.

China and Norway had enjoyed sound development of bilateral ties in recent years. Ma said this was conducive to the fundamental interests of the two nations and their peoples.

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu might harm China-Norway ties, Ma said.

Source: Xinhua

Afghan Talks But Peace Is Not at Hand

Nine years after the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, a flurry of reports this week confirm one of the worst-kept secrets of the conflict: the protagonists on all sides - and in various combinations, depending on which reports are to be believed - have begun negotiating over a political settlement. But nobody ought to hold their breath until all the parties with irons in the Afghan fire manage to forge an agreement.

History has demonstrated that the onset of negotiations does not necessarily bring an end to fighting. Often, both sides seek to reinforce their hand at the table by strengthening their position on the battlefield. For example, the U.S. and North Vietnam began negotiating an end to the Vietnam war in May of 1968; the Paris Agreement formalizing peace terms were signed by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in January of 1973; and the war only really ended in March of 1975, on terms quite different to those envisaged in the peace deal. And there are far more players with competing agendas and an ability to influence events in the Afghan theater than there ever were in Vietnam. (See photos of a civilian casualty in Afghanistan.)

It is hardly surprising, then, that the reports suggest there are multiple conversations currently underway among longtime antagonists. President Hamid Karzai's government has been meeting with representatives of the Taliban leadership in talks blessed by the movement's leader, Mullah Omar, according to the Washington Post. Earlier reports had suggested that exploratory talks between representatives of Karzai and of the Taliban leadership had been held late last year under the auspices of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. (See photos of U.S. troops deep in the Taliban heartland.)

Pakistan, mindful of its strategic interests in Kabul, will work hard to avoid being cut out of any peace deal. Last year, in a rare departure from its hands-off approach to Afghan Taliban leaders on its turf, Pakistani authorities arrested Mullah Baradar, a Taliban commander believed to have opened his own talks with Karzai. But Karzai and the U.S. are also reported by Britain's Guardian to have begun exploratory talks (indirect in the case of the U.S.) with the Haqqani network, the most feared insurgent group which remains close to the Pakistani intelligence service and which also has the strongest ties with al-Qaeda of any of the Afghan groups. A third insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also historically close to both Pakistan and Iran, has been negotiating openly with the Karzai government.

But even if everybody's suddenly talking, the formal preconditions set by the two main players preclude any serious negotiations. The Taliban says it won't talk until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan; the U.S. says the only basis for a negotiated peace is if the Taliban agrees to cut ties with al-Qaeda, lay down arms and respect Afghanistan's constitution. But each of those positions is unrealistic unless the side holding it believes the other side can be militarily vanquished. Even if it kept to President Obama's summer of 2011 deadline to begin reducing troop levels, the U.S. is not about to cut and run from Afghanistan. Still, the Taliban are reportedly open to talking on the basis of a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. Similarly, while a number of reports suggest Taliban leaders are willing to prevent al-Qaeda operating from Afghanistan, they're unlikely to lay down arms and embrace the Afghan constitution. That constitution, after all, was negotiated largely under NATO auspices at the Bonn conference in 2002; the Taliban had no say in it. And they're hardly likely to lay down their arms and adopt it - in other words, to surrender - when they believe, not without good reason, that they're winning the war. (Is the U.S.-Pakistan border spat crippling the Afghanistan campaign?)

While Bob Woodward's latest book, Obama's Wars, has revealed that many in the Obama Administration concur with most U.S. allies in Afghanistan that the war cannot be won, General David Petraeus and others in the military still believe that the balance of forces can be made more favorable through a counterinsurgency strategy. The Taliban, they argue, will only be ready to settle on terms acceptable to the U.S. if it is pummeled to standstill. Until then, reconciliation efforts should focus on reintegrating Taliban elements willing to change sides.

So, while everyone in Washington accepts the need to combine military action in Afghanistan with peace talks, where they place the emphasis in that combination - and the terms they set for such talks - will be settled in the Administration's ongoing debate. While President Obama has ordered a review of Afghanistan strategy at the end of 2010, the expected surge of the G.O.P. in November's election and the prospect of his own reelection campaign may restrain the President from picking a fight with his top general - indeed, by Woodward's account, the President ducked such a battle last year, when he was politically far stronger than he is now.

The Taliban, to the extent that one can talk of it as a single entity, is also likely divided on the question. The most powerful element of the insurgency currently is the Haqqani network, which operates independently of the Quetta-based leadership of Mullah Omar. Hekmatyar, who has historically had relations with both Pakistan and Iran, has proven the most amenable thus far of insurgent commanders. Reports on the purported Pakistani-Saudi mediated talks suggest that the Taliban is ready to break with al-Qaeda and to accept some form of power-sharing, although the insurgent movement is unlikely to have a single coherent approach to these questions.

President Karzai has established a High Peace Commission to reach out to the Taliban, a move pilloried by his many political critics in Kabul because of the heavy presence in the commission of warlords who have been the Taliban's most ferocious opponents. But Karzai may be operating from the assumption that peace with the Taliban will need buy-in from precisely those longtime enemies of the Taliban in the north of the country who have threatened a civil war if Karzai agrees to share any power with their hated foe.

At the onset of President Bush's Afghan war nine years ago, Pakistan had been holding out for a different scenario: a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan without al-Qaeda. And while it may have given up on the prospect of restoring a Taliban monopoly on power, it certainly aims to restore the influence of its Pashtun allies in Kabul and curb that of its chief rival, India, which is a key ally of the Northern Alliance factions that make up the core of the Karzai government. For that reason, Pakistan can be expected to play a spoiler role in any talks from which it is excluded.

The end game in Afghanistan is clearly underway, and its outcome won't resemble either side's best-case. But just what that outcome will be comprised of is a chapter that will be written on the battlefield, at the negotiating table and in the corridors of power in Washington, Kabul, Islamabad and other more discreet venues over the next couple of years.

Pakistan allies sound alarm on disorganized flood recovery

The U.S. and other foreign donors are voicing alarm that Pakistan's civilian government, having failed to organize rescue and relief during the floods that devastated a fifth of the country this past summer, still hasn't produced a reconstruction plan for the 20 million people affected.

They also fault President Asif Ali Zardari for failing to shake up the government's top-heavy cabinet with a reputation for corruption, and they criticize the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for failing to introduce taxes on the wealthy to pay for day-to-day government and for reconstruction.

Experts and officials say a restructuring is crucial to the future of the state, at a time when Zardari's government is facing a political crisis that threatens its survival.

The vacuum in governance in Islamabad has added to U.S.-Pakistan tensions, which already are high over American helicopter and pilotless-drone incursions across the border from Afghanistan, a symptom of a broader clash over Afghan policy and the sanctuaries that the Taliban and other militant groups enjoy on the Pakistani side of the border.

"We are committed to helping Pakistan, but Pakistan has to help itself," said a senior Western diplomat, who requested to remain anonymous to speak more candidly. "We know it's not easy to make changes, particularly in difficult times, but it is difficult times that focus the mind to bring difficult changes."

The political and fiscal gridlock are making it difficult for the Pakistani government to focus on tackling extremism and on helping to bolster the struggling campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, analysts say. On Thursday, a suicide bombing ripped through a famed shrine in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, home to a mild spiritual form of Islam that's anathema to extremists. The attack claimed at least 10 lives and injured 65.

"While success in its ongoing struggle against extremism is critical to the country's well-being, the other war that it should be fighting, but is not, is essential for its survival. That war is against vested interests, which prevents taxation of the elite and derails the best laid-out plans for improving the efficiency of the government as well as of the public sector," wrote former finance minister Shaukat Tareen, in an opinion article Thursday in Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper.

Some, however, see the floods as an opportunity for the country, providing the impetus to long-needed restructuring and a focus on the rural areas, where the majority of the country's population live.

Although the floods ravaged as many as 40,000 square miles of land, the affected areas, when they dry out, and others that were spared will potentially be more productive in the next few years, assuming government provides help for farms to get back on their feet.

Some economists had predicted that the floods would wipe out growth, but the International Monetary Fund forecast Wednesday that the Pakistani economy would still expand 2.8 percent this year, down from its previous prediction of 4.5 percent.

Pakistanis are among the least taxed people in the world. Large parts of Pakistan's economy go untaxed, including the country's landowning elite, while the declared assets and yearly tax returns of even its members of parliament draw widespread skepticism in a country where corruption and tax avoidance is ingrained in the national culture.

Pakistan repeatedly has pledged to the IMF that it will broaden the narrow scope of its sales tax, but it has missed deadlines for doing so, including the latest on Oct 1.

So far, the world has donated $640 million to the Pakistani flood effort in response to an urgent United Nations appeal, plus another $866 million outside the appeal, and pledges total some $500 million more, according to U.N. figures released on Oct. 4.

The U.S. has contributed $362 million of that sum, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, separate from the $1.5 billion in annual civilian assistance program and the roughly $2 billion in yearly military aid that Pakistan currently receives.

None of the money that's coming in for the floods covers reconstruction work, only immediate relief and "early recovery." Experts say there is no plan and no funding in place for rebuilding, a bill that's expected to run into the tens of billions of dollars. Some 2 million houses, more than 12,000 schools and thousands of miles of road have to be rebuilt.

The government also is under intense pressures for reform from within - from the courts, the opposition, the media and the powerful military. The coalition government in Islamabad has an unwieldy Cabinet of over 60 members. Many ministers and bureaucrats have reputations for incompetence and corruption, with several, including Zardari, holding their positions because a controversial legal amnesty had wiped out graft charges against them.

State-owned enterprises, ranging from steel mills to airlines, a vehicle for corruption for their politically connected bosses, lose around $3 billion a year. There are some 300 state agencies tied to various ministries in a bloated bureaucracy. Chronic double-digit inflation, galloping national debt and a yawning budget deficit will have to be tackled, economists say.

According to several Pakistani and foreign officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, the military has presented the government with a list of inept and dishonest officials it wants dismissed, a move backed by at least some of Pakistan's Western allies.

Zardari, who's resisting the demand to sack members of his government, insisted this week that the "victory" of his reconciliatory approach to politics was that "no one wants an undemocratic act" now. Many in his own party think that he'll have to cull allies if the government is to survive. Zardari called this week for a one-off "flood tax" but gave no specifics and suggested that each province would have to decide whether to impose it.

"You can't run a country with tax-to-GDP ratio of 9 percent, particularly when you're fighting a war on terror," said Jahangir Tareen, an opposition member of parliament. "For the first time, tax has become such an important issue, as somehow we could get by in the past."

Read more:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

U.S. Tries to Calm Pakistan Over Airstrike

New Yrok Times:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration scrambled to halt a sharp deterioration in its troubled relationship with Pakistan on Wednesday, offering Pakistani officials multiple apologies for a helicopter strike on a border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week.

But even as the White House tried to mollify Pakistan, officials acknowledged that the uneasy allies faced looming tensions over a host of issues far larger than the airstrike and the subsequent closing of supply lines into Afghanistan.

American pressure to show progress in Afghanistan is translating into increased pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups. It is also running up against Pakistan’s sensitivity about its sovereignty and its determination to play a crucial role in any reconciliation with the Taliban.

American and NATO officials said privately that the Pakistani government’s closing of a crucial border crossing might have made it easier for militants to attack backed-up tanker trucks carrying fuel through Pakistan to Afghanistan to support the American war effort.

Still, the unusual apologies, officials and outside analysts said, were intended to clear away the debris from the explosive events along the border, in hopes of maintaining Pakistani cooperation.

“We have historically had astonishing sources of resilience in our relations with Pakistan,” said Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One should not too quickly assume we’re in a breakpoint. But having said that, the time we’re in right now, the intensity of anti-American feeling, the antipathy of militants, all of these things make new crises a little more complicated to get through than the old ones were.”

The overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has been pulling out all the stops — aggressively using the American troop buildup, greatly expanding Special Operations raids (as many as a dozen commando raids a night) and pressing the Central Intelligence Agency to ramp up Predator and Reaper drone operations in Pakistan.

He has also, through the not-so-veiled threat of cross-border ground operations, put pressure on the Pakistani Army to pursue militants in the tribal areas even as the army has continued to struggle with relief from the catastrophic floods this summer.

The fragility of Pakistan — and the tentativeness of the alliance — were underscored in a White House report to Congress this week, which sharply criticized the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and other insurgents and noted the ineffectiveness of its civilian government.

American officials lined up to placate Pakistan on intrusions of its sovereignty. General Petraeus offered Pakistan the most explicit American mea culpa yet for the cross-border helicopter strikes, saying that the American-led coalition forces “deeply regret” the “tragic loss of life.”

Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Pakistan, quickly followed suit, calling “Pakistan’s brave security forces” an important ally in the war. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a private, but official, apology to Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a telephone call on Wednesday afternoon.

Both American and Pakistani officials said that they expected that Wednesday’s apologies would be effective, at least in the short term, and that Pakistan would soon reopen the border crossing at Torkham, a supply route for the NATO coalition in landlocked Afghanistan that runs from the port of Karachi to the Khyber region. The Pakistani government closed that route last week to protest the cross-border strikes.

“It’s obvious that the situation right now ain’t good,” said a senior NATO official, who agreed to speak candidly but only anonymously. “The best thing we could do is to strip away as many of the relatively smaller things as possible so we can focus on the big issues. And crazy as it may seem, the border crossing is a relatively small issue, compared to the others.”

Those other issues were flagged in the latest quarterly report from the White House to Congress on developments in the region. The assessment, first reported in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, takes aim at both the Pakistani military and the government.

For instance, “the Pakistani military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the report said. It also painted Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, as out of touch with his own populace, a disconnect that the report said was exacerbated by Mr. Zardari’s “decision to travel to Europe despite the floods.” The overall Pakistani response to the catastrophic floods this summer, the report said, was viewed by Pakistanis as “slow and inadequate.”

Frustration with Pakistan is growing in the United States in part because “we’re living in the post-Faisal Shahzad era,” said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Pakistani-American who was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for the attempted Times Square bombing.

Mr. Markey said that tensions among counterterrorism officials had also mounted because of the unspecified threats of terrorist attacks in Europe. “Frustration has really mounted, so the drumbeat is getting louder,” he said.

Making things worse, the administration is expected to brief Congressional officials on an Internet video, which surfaced last week, that showed men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes, underscoring concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the United States.

A prominent House Democrat warned on Wednesday that American aid to Pakistan could be imperiled. “I am appalled by the horrific contents of the recent video, which appears to show extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military,” Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“The failure of Pakistani officials to punish those responsible could have implications for future security assistance to Pakistan,” he said.

A joint Pakistan-NATO inquiry on the helicopter strike concluded on Wednesday that Pakistani border soldiers who initially fired on NATO helicopters were “simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, a NATO spokesman, in a statement.

“This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistani military,” he said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa introduces Pashtu as compulsory subject

PESHAWAR – The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government introduced Pashtu as a compulsory subject in 17 provincial districts from first grade to intermediate classes.
The provincial cabinet reached the decision in its October 5 session, chaired by Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti. In the eight districts where Pashtu speakers are a minority, the various majority mother tongues have been declared compulsory subjects.
In Peshawar, Pashtu will be compulsory in rural areas, while majority mother tongues will be compulsory in urban communities.

UNHCR, German government inaugurates health project in Peshawar

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in collaboration with the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and KfW Development Bank today inaugurated the Basic Health Unit (BHU) Improvement Programme in Chamkani, Peshawar.

Under the project, seven basic health units will be refurbished and receive new labour, recovery and waiting rooms, new medical equipment,and improved water and sanitation services. The doctor’s residence and staff quarters will also be refurbished at each facility.

UNHCR’s Deputy Representative Mr. Khassim Diagne and Mr. Friedel Eggelmeyer, Director General in-charge for European, by and multilateral development policy at the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, opened the project which will help 96,500 people. The scheme in Chamkani, implemented by Wish International is one of the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) projects being implemented in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony in Peshawar, Mr. Friedel Eggelmeyer said that the RAHA programme would contribute to better social and economic living conditions of refugee affected areas as well as the population in the hosting areas.

“Germany supports this initiative since it contributes significantly to balanced and equal access of the population to social infrastructure in these areas,” he added.

“The RAHA programme recognizes the long tradition of hospitality in Pakistan towards Afghan refugees by boosting essential services in areas where refugees live, helping Pakistanis and Afghan refugees alike,” UNHCR’s Diagne said.

The projects focuses on improving water supply and sanitation facilities, boosting education and medical facilities, and educating Pakistani and local Afghan communities on clean hygiene practices.

RAHA is a joint initiative between Pakistan’s Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and Economic Affairs Division (EAD), UNHCR, UNDP and other UN agencies and NGOs.

Pakistan has been the world’s largest refugee hosting nation in the world, currently hosting some 1.6 million registered Afghans on its soil.

Afghan peace talks not likely advancing

Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban aren't likely to advance until the United States and NATO forces gain an advantage on the battlefield, several experts on the region say.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to advance the reconciliation goals of his recently named High Peace Council, those familiar with diplomatic efforts say the current military standoff makes any peace deal difficult.

Talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials have been ongoing for months, but experts say that doesn't mean they're advancing.

"We really haven't seen anything concrete coming out of those negotiations," says Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. As the Taliban makes gains in southern Afghanistan, she says, "we would be in a weaker position at this particular point in time."The White House reiterated its support for peace talks Wednesday, as long as the Taliban renounces terrorism, cuts ties with al-Qaeda and supports the fledgling Afghan constitution, including minority and women's rights.

"This is something that has to be Afghan-led, and we've supported for quite some time," said press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution scholar who chaired an interagency review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy for the White House last year, says the Taliban should be forced to do at least one more thing: point the way to the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"They know where Osama bin Laden is," he says. "That ought to be our bottom line with them."

Without major concessions by the Taliban, Riedel says, Karzai risks the support of the Afghan people, many of whom fear the strict Islamic regime's return.

If the talks are in the preliminary stage, as most experts believe, then the time is ripe for U.S. and NATO forces to advance in southern Afghanistan, while continuing to train government troops and police to take over security operations. That would weaken the Taliban's negotiating position, they say.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday the military offensive led by Gen. David Petraeus is intended to "create the conditions for those who, for one reason or another, are opposing the Afghan government to switch sides."

"All the while, we're continuing to press forward with a very aggressive counterinsurgency campaign," says Jeffrey Dressler, a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who specializes in southern Afghanistan. "I don't think anyone's talking about stopping that as we continue these talks."

The Taliban might have more reason to negotiate now, before their position on the ground is weakened by the coalition's offensive in Helmand province and Kandahar, experts say. The Obama administration's plan to begin withdrawing combat forces next July helps the Taliban, which has demanded the withdrawal of all foreign forces, some say.

"From the Taliban perspective, I can see why they want to talk right now," says Stephanie Sanok, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Despite the Obama administration's public hands-off approach, she says, it's not likely to remain that way.

"I can't imagine the U.S. State Department taking a complete back seat to these negotiations," Sanok says.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gunmen attack NATO supply trucks in Pakistan

Gunmen in Pakistan set fire to 20 trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday, police said, the latest in a series of assaults on the logistical backbone of the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities, angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters from Afghanistan, last week blocked a supply route for the troops in Afghanistan. The latest attack on fuel tankers took place on another route near the southwestern city of Quetta.

NATO incursions and the border closure have raised tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, long-time but uneasy allies.

U.S. pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants in its northwest tribal areas who cross the border to attack Western troops in Afghanistan is also source of friction.

An alleged al Qaeda plot to attack European targets has put Pakistan's performance against militants under scrutiny again.

A British man killed by an air strike in Pakistan had ties with the would-be Times Square bomber, a Pakistani intelligence official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

He said the Briton, Abdul Jabbar, had also been in the process of setting up a branch for the Taliban in Britain.

"He had some links to Faisal Shahzad but the nature of the ties are not clear," the official said, referring to the Pakistani-born U.S. citizen who was sentenced to life in prison in the United States this week for trying to set off a car bomb in New York's busy Times Square.

Those links are likely to fuel concerns that al Qaeda and groups linked to it, such as Pakistan's Taliban, which trained Shahzad, are becoming an increasing threat to Western nations.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in early September vowed to launch attacks in the United States and Europe "very soon." It had previously made similar threats but Shahzad's plot was the closest it has come to success.

The TTP claimed responsibility for most of the latest attacks on NATO trucks. Nearly 70 vehicles have been hit.

On Wednesday, 14 gunmen in two pickup trucks opened fire on the trucks and torched them, killing a driver.

The bulk of supplies for the foreign forces in Afghanistan moves through Pakistan which is itself battling a deadly homegrown Taliban insurgency.

Analysts say supply routes to Afghanistan give Pakistan leverage over the U.S.' war efforts in Afghanistan, although Pakistan often cites security concerns as reasons for closures.

Tensions could deepen if Washington demands more cooperation from Pakistan before a gradual U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has raised concerns over the country's stability, starts in July 2011.

Zarsanga receives assistance

Members of various social and political organisations visited the noted Pashto folk singer Zarsanga at her tent and provided her financial support after the story of her misery was highlighted by media.

A delegation of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman Foundation comprising Ashfaq Paracha, Riyasat Sarhadi and Kifayat on the special instructions of PTI Chairman Imran Khan visited her and assured an all-out support.
The PTI delegation conveyed the message of Imran Khan to Zarsanga who was left without shelter in the recent flood in Nowshera as her house and belongings were swept away by floodwaters.
In his message Imran Khan said that Zarsanga contributed matchless services for the promotion of Pashto language and its folklore for more than 35 years. The delegation assured her that her house would be rebuilt as in the next couple of days a team of builders sent by the PTI chairman would reach Nowshera district.
Meanwhile, director of the Bacha Khan Education Foundation Dr Khadim Hussain also visited her tent and gave her Rs30,000 in cash along with food items. Thanking all those who helped her, the singer said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Sports and Culture Syed Aqil Shah also gave her Rs100,000 after her ordeal was reported in the media.

Afghanistan opium production cut nearly in half by fungus

Opium production in Afghanistan this year plunged by nearly half from 2009 levels, the United Nations said in a report Thursday. But the steep drop was attributed to a fungus that wreaked havoc on the poppy crop, not to Western anti-narcotics efforts.

The scarcity dramatically drove up prices so much that officials fear poppy cultivation will prove an irresistible option in the coming year for farmers whom authorities are trying to entice to grow legal crops. And despite the blight, the premium prices probably put about as much drug money into the insurgency's coffers as previously.In its annual survey, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said this year's opium output was the lowest since 2003, but even so, Afghanistan continues to dominate the world supply. Moreover, homegrown drug use is increasing. In rural areas here, opium is commonly used as a painkiller, even for small children, and the ranks of urban addicts grow daily.

Poppy growth is concentrated in southern Afghanistan, the insurgency's main stronghold. Fighting makes it more difficult to contain drug production, though a government incentive program was credited with a slight drop in poppy cultivation in Helmand province, where intense clashes have taken place this year between Western troops and the Taliban.

Although the summer "fighting season" is drawing to a close, violence continued to shake the south.

A suicide car bomber Thursday struck a NATO convoy outside Kandahar, killing at least three civilians and injuring nine. The powerful explosion carved a large crater in the road leading to the civilian airport and the south's main Western air base.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force also reported the deaths of two service members in the south, without providing details. A major military push by Afghan and Western forces is underway in and around Kandahar, but military officials declined to say whether the latest deaths were associated with that fighting.

In the capital, Kabul, meanwhile, officials reported more suspected fraud in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections. In the wake of last year's tainted presidential vote, the parliamentary balloting was meant to showcase the country's ability to hold a reasonably fair election.

Votes have been counted in nearly two-thirds of the country's 34 provinces, but with thousands of complaints pending, a final tally is not expected until the end of October.

Linguists uncover 'hidden' language in north India
A previously unknown language has been uncovered in the far reaches of northeastern India, researchers reported Tuesday.

Koro, a tongue brand-new to the scientific world that is spoken by just 800 to 1,200 people, could soon face extinction as younger speakers abandon it for more widely used languages such as Hindi or English.

Koro is unlike any language in the various branches of the Tibeto-Burman family, a collection of 400 related languages used by peoples across Asia, according to the two National Geographic fellows who announced the discovery. The findings will be published in the journal Indian Linguistics.

The researchers, linguists K. David Harrison of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Gregory D.S. Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Ore., said they are not sure yet how old Koro is or how it developed. But they believe it could yield a wealth of knowledge about the way humans develop and use language. The speakers of Koro had remained invisible to outside observers because their bright red garments, the rice beer they made and other details of their lives seemed no different from that of the speakers of Aka, the socially dominant language in the region, Harrison said.

"There's a sort of a cultural invisibility; they're culturally identical in what they wear, what they eat, the houses they live in.... They just happen to have a different word for everything," Harrison said.

Koro also blends in because its speakers frequently marry Aka speakers (who number 4,000 to 6,000) and people who use another tongue, Miji (who number 6,000 to 8,000). And because the villages had been largely cut off from the outside world for so long, the languages in the region remain poorly studied.

"I expect that there are many such hidden languages around the world," said M. Paul Lewis, who edited the 16th edition of "Ethnologue: Languages of the World;" he was not affiliated with the work. "The lesser-known languages quite often are overlooked and understudied."

Anderson and Harrison, along with Indian colleague Ganesh Murmu, came across Koro by chance in 2008. They previously had identified the area in Arunachal Pradesh state as a hot spot of language diversity. After obtaining a permit to visit the area, they rode for two days into the Himalayan foothills and then crossed a river on a bamboo raft to get to the remotest of the villages.

The researchers had been told about the so-called dialect of Aka. But when they sat down to record the words of a villager they assumed to be speaking it, they were surprised by the unfamiliarity of the words and could tell this was no mere dialect.

"We noticed it instantly," Anderson said. "We started with a body-part word list, and there wasn't a single word in common." After further study, they realized that Koro was not only a language in its own right, but one as different from Aka as English is from Russian.

The linguists say there are still many mysteries they hope to unravel, such as why the speakers don't seem to notice how vastly different their languages are, and how the Koro speakers, who seem to blend in with Aka speakers in every other way, have managed to preserve their distinct language for so long.

The answers, said the linguists, are probably related to the community's relative isolation from the rest of the world.

Now globalization is ending that isolation, and it may end Koro's existence, too. In many families, the parents speak Koro while the children speak Hindi, the politically dominant language in India. Few Koro speakers are younger than 20.

The announcement comes in the same year that India lost the last speaker of Bo, one of the world's oldest languages.

The endangerment of languages such as Koro threatens more than a loss to history, anthropology and human cognitive studies, Harrison said. Speakers in remote regions that contain rich ecological diversity hold knowledge as yet untapped by science.

"They've learned to live sustainably in harsh environments. The knowledge they have about the medicinal use of plants is uniquely encoded in a way that cannot be translated," he said.

Saudi Prince hitting his servant,Video

Prince Saud Bin Abdulaziz Bin Nasir Al Saud had a long standing abusive relationship with Bandar Abdulaziz which culminated in the latter’s death in February this year, it was claimed.
Details of the pair’s allegedly tempestuous physical and emotional relationship were disclosed on the first day of the royal murder trial at the Old Bailey. Footage of the prince pouncing on Mr Abdulaziz, striking him with a volley of punches and kicks in a lift at the five-star Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, central London, was shown to the court.Three weeks later, on February 15 this year, Mr Abdulaziz’s lifeless battered body was found in the prince’s bed.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, prosecuting, said Prince Saud had “sought to lie and to mislead” to try and cover up his ferocious crime.

Presidential seal falls off Barack Obama's lectern

Barack Obama has made light of a "lectern malfunction", telling his audience "all of you know who I am" after his presidential seal clattered to the floor.

The president of the United States had been delivering a speech to an audience of women at Fortune magazine's "Most Powerful Women Summit" on Tuesday night at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"I'm sure there's somebody back there that's really nervous right now, don't you think?" Mr Obama joked about the staff member who had hung the seal on the front of his lectern so precariously.

"They're sweating bullets," he said, laughing before resuming his lecture once the laughter had died down.

Afghan women need opportunities

There is a crucial need for a long-term plan for Afghanistan — one that is inclusive of all groups within the society. Any development or nation-building process would prove to be incomplete if it excludes any given segment.
Women need to be armed with the necessary tools if they are to become engaged citizens — which includes good education, proper health care, and an array of job opportunities. It is true that there are many social restraints on the development of women in Afghan society. But this should not deter policy-makers from pushing to enable women as active citizens.
According to United Nations statistics for 2008, the female adult literacy rate (as a percentage of male) for example, stood at 29 per cent. Such numbers indicate a bleak outlook as the development process cannot afford to ignore this fact. Yet in order to address this matter, a consistent and vigorous approach is required.
This could be seen in the progress in some areas such as the increase in the percentage of girls in the school population from zero per cent in 2001 to 37 per cent in 2007. And this should become a standard followed across the country.

Pakistan Businesses Need More Than Dollars

Pakistan’s power looms are still turning, sewing machines are still stitching as the country continues to turn out textiles that had been providing a livelihood for more than 10 million farming families and accounting for almost 40 percent of its industrial employment.

But the massive floods that wiped out thousands of farms have curtailed the raw cotton supply. Expectations are that the reduced raw material could lead to a 30% reduction in the production of bed sheets, clothes and other goods that are sent to consumers around the world.

Pakistan has been receiving millions of dollars in international aid following the floods, however Aftab Ahmed, the Secretary General of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association says it is not cash that is needed in this case.

Ahmed said "Immediate help not in cash but in trade. The European countries, the USA, they can help us out with granting immediate market access and duty free concession to our exportable goods."

But the economic slowdown in Europe and America poses a problem. The European Union has agreed to some tariff cuts on Pakistani goods, but they are temporary. In the United States, there is a move in the legislature to create what are called “reconstruction opportunity zones” in Pakistan. These would provide lower tariffs and trade preferences in Pakistan’s violence ridden northwest. But that would do little to help the textile industry, which is centered in Pakistan’s southern regions. Even that legislation is stalled in the US Senate as the US unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent. Such proposals are also drawing opposition from the American textile and apparel industries, which have reportedly lost more than a third of their workforce since 2004.

Pakistani business leaders, like Chudry Waheed Raamay of the council of Loom Owners in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, say it is particularly galling in light of his country’s cooperation with the US in routing out militants. Raamay reasoned "Pakistan deserves more because we are the ally of America in the war against terror and we have lost billions of rupees and thousands of lives in this war and this is the time when they should support our economy."

Other Pakistani business leaders say continuing violence in their country is simply bad for business.

Karzai’s Kin Use Ties to Gain Power in Afghanistan

New York Time:

Until recently, Taj Ayubi’s specialty was retail. Mr. Ayubi, an Afghan immigrant, ran a furniture store in Leesburg, Va., and before that, a thrift shop in Washington.

But today, Mr. Ayubi’s specialty is foreign policy. He is the senior foreign affairs adviser to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Among Mr. Ayubi’s qualifications for his post in Kabul are ties to President Karzai’s extended family. His sister is married to a Karzai, and her sons are now important junior members of the growing Karzai family network in Afghanistan.

In recent years, dozens of Karzai family members and close allies have taken government jobs, pursued business interests or worked as contractors to the United States government, allowing them to shape policy or financially benefit from it.

While the roles played by two of President Karzai’s brothers — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the power broker of Kandahar, and Mahmoud Karzai, a prominent businessman and investor in the troubled Kabul Bank — have been well documented, the extensive web of other family members has not previously been reported. Most of them lived in the United States before going to Afghanistan, leveraging the president’s position to put them at the center of a new oligarchy of powerful Afghan families.

One of President Karzai’s nephews is a top official in the intelligence service, giving him authority over some of Afghanistan’s most sensitive security operations. A brother of the president is an official in the agency that issues licenses required for all Afghan corporations; an uncle is now ambassador to Russia.

At least six Karzai relatives, including one who just ran for Parliament, operate or are linked to contracting businesses that collect millions of dollars annually from the American government.

Other brothers, cousins, nephews and in-laws wield influence in Kabul and the family’s native Kandahar, through government posts or businesses like trucking and real estate development.

The family’s expanding presence serves both to strengthen and to undermine President Karzai, according to American and Afghan officials. Corruption allegations taint his government, and Afghans routinely accuse him of turning a blind eye to the activities of some of his relatives. They include Ahmed Wali Karzai, who denies repeated accusations of ties to the drug trade, and Mahmoud Karzai, whose business dealings are under investigation by American prosecutors.

A Survival Mechanism

But even if the extended clan fosters resentment in Afghanistan, the family also helps fortify a fragile presidency.

Ronald E. Neumann, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, said he believed that President Karzai intended to create a support network that could help him survive after the withdrawal of American troops, the same way that another Afghan president, Najibullah, survived for years after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989.

“Karzai is convinced that we are going to abandon him,” Mr. Neumann said. “What’s his answer? To create a web of loyalties and militia commanders and corrupt families all knitted together.”

“This network,” he added, “is part of his survival mechanism.”

Mahmoud Karzai defended his family, saying the Karzais worked hard — and honestly — to help Afghanistan. “You need people like us,” he said in an interview. “It’s very difficult to get qualified people to come here, and work here. We can’t build this country unless there are people willing to take the risk.”

American officials say the Karzais and a handful of other well-connected families have benefited from the billions of dollars that the United States has poured into the country since 2001. That money has helped pay the salaries of some Karzais who are government employees, kick-started real estate development and construction projects involving family members and created demand for businesses tied to the Karzais.

“Family politics is part of the culture of this part of the world,” said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author who has written extensively about Afghanistan. “Right now, Afghanistan is going through a phase of very primitive capital accumulation by the country’s leading families.”

Still, many relatives are hedging their bets against the decline and fall of the Karzai government, keeping their own families and homes outside of Afghanistan, either in the United States, in Dubai or elsewhere, several relatives said in interviews.

And some are increasingly critical of their kin, complaining that their rush back to Afghanistan to stake a claim has been unseemly. As more Karzais have gained prominence in Afghanistan over the last few years, some relatives have privately begun to point fingers at one another for trading too heavily on their connections to President Karzai, and accuse others of excessive political ambition and insider dealing.

“The Karzais are over there in Afghanistan cashing in on their last name,” said Mohammad Karzai, a cousin of President Karzai who lives in Maryland. “My relatives have told me they can’t understand why I don’t come over with them and get rich.”

Rising Fortunes

It is hard to quantify how the Karzais may have prospered from their proximity to power. But some appear to have significantly improved their circumstances.

Before 2001, Yama Karzai, a nephew of the president, was living with his brothers in Quetta, Pakistan, and receiving financial support from relatives in the United States, Mohammad Karzai said. Today, Yama Karzai is a top Afghan intelligence official and owns a house in Virginia, according to land records. He did not respond to inquiries from The New York Times.

Hashim Karzai, a cousin of President Karzai, now works as a consultant to Pamir Airways, an airline based in Kabul that has been controlled by one of Mahmoud Karzai’s business partners, and lives in Dubai on one of the luxurious Palm Islands. In August, he rented the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, one block from the White House, for his son’s wedding to a niece of President Karzai, according to Qayum Karzai, the bride’s father and the president’s brother.

And Mahmoud Karzai, widely considered to be the most well-connected business leader in Afghanistan, said a residential real estate project he has been developing in Kandahar was now worth $900 million, including the value of homes sold. The original five partners, including Mr. Karzai, started with an investment of $4 million, he said. The Kandahar project set off a bitter dispute with the Afghan Army, which claims ownership of the land used for the project.

One Afghan Parliament member said family members exploited their connections to get in on favorable business ventures. “They have carte blanche to be partners with anyone they want to; it’s the unwritten law,” said the official, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “Anyone who wants to start a business and has problems becomes partners with them.”

Before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many members of the extended Karzai family were quietly building new lives as American immigrants, and the family’s center of gravity had shifted from war-ravaged Kandahar to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, where many of them settled in the 1970s and ’80s.

Of the seven sons of Abdul Ahad Karzai, a prominent Kandahar politician who lived in exile in Quetta, Pakistan, until his 1999 assassination by the Taliban, only one — Hamid Karzai — had never lived in the United States. By 2001, a generation of Karzais who had grown up in the United States and knew little of Afghanistan was emerging.

But after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in 2001 and lifted Hamid Karzai from obscurity to the presidency, the family’s migration pattern reversed. Only one of his brothers, Abdul Wali Karzai, a biochemistry professor at Stony Brook University in New York, declined to go back home. Many others seized the opportunity.

The Obama administration’s attitude toward the Karzais has been deeply ambivalent. The White House has sent mixed signals about whether to investigate or tolerate reports of corruption of those around the president. While federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai’s business dealings, no inquiry has been opened into Ahmed Wali Karzai even though many United States officials have said they suspect that he benefits from drug trafficking.

Abdul Wali Karzai, the Stony Brook professor, said that his family had been unfairly attacked, but that the second-guessing of everything the Karzais did in Afghanistan explained his refusal to join his brothers. “The way the Afghan society is structured,” he said, “anything I do would be subjected to all kinds of rumors and false stories.”

Power Behind the Scenes

Some family members have had lower profiles than the three better-known brothers. Qayum Karzai, for example, served as a member of Parliament from Kandahar and then as President Karzai’s intermediary with the Taliban, while continuing to own three restaurants in Baltimore. Today, he talks of opening a university in Afghanistan. An Afghan business leader said Qayum Karzai had been a behind-the-scenes force in Kabul’s politics.

“Qayum is the interlocutor for the president with other political players in Afghanistan, and with foreign powers,” said the businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared the consequences of talking publicly about the president’s family. “He is a sounding board.”

Shahwali Karzai, another brother, lives in Ahmed Wali Karzai’s compound in Kandahar, where he runs his own engineering consulting firm and Mahmoud’s real estate project. Abdul Ahmad Karzai, who worked at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport before his brother became president, now works for the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, which issues corporate licenses.

Ahsan Karzi and Zabeh Karzi, younger cousins of the president who grew up in Los Angeles, now own a trucking company in Kandahar that has contracts with the United States military, according to Mahmoud Karzai.

Two other cousins, Rateb Popal and his brother Rashid Popal, own a security company that has contracts with the American military. Ajmal Popal, the son of Abdullah Popal, a former mayor of Kandahar and a Karzai relative, works for a company that has contracts with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

With so many Karzais flooding back into the country, tensions and rivalries have emerged among them, according to several family members. Rateb Popal, for example, has been feuding with Mahmoud Karzai, and in interviews, Mr. Popal, who served a prison sentence in New York on drug-related charges in the 1990s, accused Mahmoud Karzai and the president of undermining his business deals.

“I haven’t had a good relationship with Hamid from the beginning,” Rateb Popal said.

And Hekmat Karzai, a cousin who now runs a research organization in Kabul, recently irritated President Karzai. After the president denied reports earlier this year that he had secretly met with an insurgent leader, Hekmat Karzai gave a television interview in which he indirectly confirmed the supposed meeting, according to Qayum Karzai.

Qayum Karzai said the criticism of the family was unfair, adding that it had taken an emotional toll. “We have been on the political scene in Afghanistan for more than 100 years, and never has our name been mentioned with narcotics or wheeling or dealing,” he said. “We have always been identified with the moderate traditions of Afghanistan. So this is very heartbreaking to every family member.”