Thursday, April 29, 2010

India, Pakistan leaders agree on new peace talks

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed Thursday to resume peace talks between their top diplomats and work toward rebuilding trust shattered by the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that New Delhi blamed on Pakistani militants.

Officials said India's Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, agreed on the need to normalize relations, dogged by more than six decades of hostility since both gained independence from Britain. They deputed their foreign ministers to meet at a later date to discuss the resumption of a wide-ranging formal dialogue that began in 2004 but was suspended after the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

The two prime ministers met for more than one hour in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, on the sidelines of a summit of South Asian leaders. It was their first meeting in eight months.

India's foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, said Gilani assured India that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India and it would expedite the trial of suspects of the Mumbai attacks it is holding in Pakistan.

The two prime ministers "agreed that relations between the two countries should be normalized and the channels of contact should work effectively to enlarge the constituency of peace in both countries," Rao told reporters.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, described it as a "very friendly" meeting and signaled that he thought the resumption of the dialogue — which covers a range of issues from border disputes, nuclear weapons and the two countries' dispute over Kashmir — was a formality.

"The two prime ministers have agreed to resume a dialogue process that remained suspended for so many months. Both foreign ministers have been asked to work out modalities of engagement. The climate has changed," Qureshi told reporters.

"I don't think that either side was expecting such a positive turn in dialogue."

Rao was more equivocal. She said India was willing to discuss and resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan — including terrorism and the rise in infiltration by Islamic insurgents. She said the foreign ministers have been charged with "thinking afresh and working out ways to restore trust and confidence in the relationship." No date has been set for the meeting.

India and Pakistan have been under pressure to resume their peace dialogue — which eased historic tensions although it made little headway on the key issue of Kashmir, which they both claim in entirety and have fought two of their three wars over since gaining independence in 1947.

The United States hopes that if tensions on the subcontinent ease, Pakistan will be able to deploy resources to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida on its western border with Afghanistan.

"The issue of terrorism was holding back progress," Singh was quoted as telling his Pakistani counterpart. "Pakistan has to address the issue of terrorism. The terror machine that operates from Pakistan needs to be eliminated."

Pakistan is trying seven men on charges they planned and carried out the Mumbai attacks, but the militant network blamed for the assault continues to operate relatively freely in the country.

India also accuses Pakistan of supporting militants fighting Indian rule in the portion of Kashmir it controls — a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives over two decades.

Shakira visiting Phoenix over immigration law

Colombian singer Shakira planned to visit Phoenix on Thursday over concerns that a sweeping new state law cracking down on illegal immigration will lead to racial profiling.The Grammy winner was set to meet with Phoenix's police chief and mayor to learn more about how the law will be implemented if it goes into effect this summer, said Trevor Nielson, her political and philanthropic adviser.
The law, signed Friday by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, is viewed as the toughest on illegal immigration in the nation and has drawn criticism from President Barack Obama, who questioned its legality. The law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and directs police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they're illegal immigrants.

"Shakira is deeply concerned about the impact of this law on hardworking Latino families," Nielson said. "She is coming to Arizona to try to learn more about how law enforcement is reacting to this new law and how we can ensure that people in the state of Arizona are not being targeted because of the color of their skin."

He said Shakira canceled other commitments to make the visit and also planned to meet with Hispanic families in Phoenix to see how they'd be affected by the law.

Nielson said Shakira also sought to meet with Brewer during her visit to Phoenix, but that the governor's director of scheduling told Nielson it wouldn't be possible because the governor was booked.

The new law thrust Arizona into the international spotlight last week, with civil rights leaders and others demanding a boycott of the state, and the Mexican government warning its citizens about an "adverse political atmosphere" in Arizona. At least three Arizona cities are considering lawsuits to block the law, and there are two efforts to put a referendum on Arizona's November ballot to repeal it.

Supporters of the law say it takes the handcuffs off police and is necessary to protect Arizonans, while opponents say it will lead to rampant racial profiling.

Shakira is perhaps best known for her nimble dance moves and songs including "Hips Don't Lie" and "She-Wolf," but recently she has become more active in political and social issues.

She visited earthquake-ravaged Haiti earlier this month, expressed her support for Cuban dissident group Ladies in White and has worked as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Her Barefoot foundation provides nutrition to more than 6,000 children in Colombia, and she is a member of the ALAS foundation that advocates for children across Latin America.

Last month, the U.N. labor agency gave the singer a medal for her work to help impoverished children.


Obama: Congress may not tackle immigration soon

President Barack Obama says there "may not be an appetite" in Congress to deal with immigration immediately after going through a tough legislative year.

With energy legislation on the table and midterm elections approaching, Obama said Wednesday he didn't want to force an immigration bill through Congress "just for the sake of politics." Still, he said discussions on the issue must move forward in a way that can garner the support of the American people.

"We've gone though a very tough year and I've been working Congress very hard, so I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue," the president told reporters aboard Air Force One returning with him to Washington from a Midwest trip.

The issue of immigration bubbled to the surface in recent weeks after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a controversial bill into law requiring local and state law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally. The law also makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally.

Obama has sharply criticized the law, asking the Justice Department to look into whether it violates civil rights. On Wednesday, he said he understands the frustrations of people in Arizona who are faced with thousands of immigrants coming into their state illegally, but he said the state's new immigration law would only end up polarizing the debate over reform.

"What I think is a mistake is when we start having local law enforcement officials given the power to stop people on the suspicions that they may be undocumented workers," Obama told reporters. "That carries a great amount of risk."

The president said that while he believed he could get a majority of Democrats to support immigration reform, he still needs help from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had talked about moving immigration ahead of climate change legislation, a suggestion that splintered bipartisan support for the climate bill. Then Reid said Tuesday he was willing to bring up climate change legislation ahead of an immigration bill, but Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was still angry that Reid considered putting off the climate bill.

Reid said the long-delayed climate bill "is much further down the road in terms of a product" than the immigration measure, which remains unwritten.

An immigration proposal by three Democratic senators calls for more federal enforcement agents and other border security-tightening benchmarks before illegal immigrants could become legal U.S. residents, according to a draft of the legislation obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The bill is being developed by Reid of Nevada, Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Hispanics, Democrats to rally against Arizona immigrant law

Hispanics and Democratic lawmakers furious over Arizona's harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants expect huge weekend rallies across the United States, piling pressure on President Barack Obama to overhaul immigration laws in this election year.

Protest organizers said on Wednesday outrage over the Arizona law -- which seeks to drive illegal immigrants out of the state bordering Mexico -- has galvanized Latinos and would translate into a higher turnout for May Day rallies in more than 70 U.S. cities.

"The marches and demonstrations are going to be far more massive than they otherwise would have been," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, a Los Angeles rally organizer who runs an immigration assistance company.

The backlash began on Friday after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a measure that requires state and local police to determine a person's immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" they are undocumented. Critics say it is unconstitutional and opens the door to racial profiling.

Republican backers of the law say it is needed to curb crime in the desert state, which is a key corridor for drug and migrant smugglers from Mexico.

A Rasmussen Reports poll on Wednesday found that almost two-thirds -- 64 percent -- of voters in the state favored the measure. A telephone survey earlier in the week showed that 60 percent of voters nationwide favored such a law.

The crowds on the streets, from Los Angeles to New York, could be the biggest since 2006, when hundreds of thousands of marchers urged former President George W. Bush to overhaul of federal immigration laws. He tried, but failed in Congress.

"With what's going on in Arizona we see renewed energy for folks to fight for immigration reform," said Marissa Graciosa, of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, an organizer of rallies and vigils on Friday and Saturday.

In Washington, a diverse group of more than two dozen lawmakers -- Hispanics, blacks, Asians, whites -- held a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to denounce the Arizona law as a violation of civil rights.

"What Arizona has done is that it has galvanized, united, fortified, focused our immigration movement," Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez declared at the news conference.


The Arizona law has catapulted the immigration issue back to the front and center of U.S. politics in this congressional election year, and ratcheted up pressure on Obama to keep a pledge to Hispanics to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama said on Wednesday there may not be an "appetite" in Congress to immediately tackle the divisive issue while plenty of work remained on energy legislation ahead of the November congressional elections.

U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who faces a tough re-election battle in Nevada where Latinos helped clinch victory for Obama in 2008, said on Wednesday he would work to pass energy legislation before tackling immigration reform, although both are seen as election-year long shots.

Passing an overhaul offering a path to citizenship for many of the 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the United States would consolidate support for Democrats among Hispanics, the country's largest minority, but would run the risk of energizing Republican opposition to Democratic lawmakers in swing states and districts.

Arizona's bold move reverberated well beyond its borders, sparking calls for economic boycotts and celebrity interventions.

Colombian-born pop star Shakira said she will travel to Phoenix on Thursday to help campaign against the new law, and would meet with Mayor Phil Gordon, police and Latino families. She sought a meeting with Governor Brewer but was turned down, her publicist said.

Adding to calls to shun the state, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Chris Coleman on Wednesday banned publicly funded travel to Arizona. The state law set a "dangerous example to the rest of the country," he said, by creating a culture that made racial profiling acceptable.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said similar state immigration enforcement laws may be proposed in Georgia and Texas in coming months, following a summer recess.

In Mexico, where the government has warned its citizens living in or traveling to Arizona that they could be harassed, taxi drivers organized their own peculiar boycott.

"We don't give service to gringos from Arizona," was the phrase some Mexico City taxi drivers painted in white on their rear windows.

Afghan support for Karzai's government low: Pentagon report

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai commands support or sympathy in only a quarter of 121 Afghan areas considered ‘key’ by the US military, a Pentagon report said on Wednesday."The overall assessment indicates that the population sympathizes with or supports the Afghan government in 24 percent (29 of 121) of all Key Terrain and Area of Interest districts," the quarterly report to Congress said."The establishment of effective governance is a critical enabler for improving development and security."Karzai has gone from a darling of the international powers who placed him at the head of the Afghan state in 2001 to facing accusations from the United States and other nations that he has allowed unchecked corruption.
Popular anger at Karzai's government, which is widely seen as corrupt and inefficient, has allowed the Taliban to "perceive 2009 as their most successful year," the Pentagon report said."Expanded violence is viewed as an insurgent victory, and insurgents perceive low voter turnout and reports of fraud during the past presidential election (in August 2009) as further signs of their success," the 150-page report said.According to the Pentagon, "violence is sharply above the seasonal average for the previous year -- an 87 percent increase from February 2009 to March 2010."
"Although the overall security situation has stabilized somewhat since the end of 2009, violence during the current reporting period is still double that for the same period in 2008-2009," the report said.
The Pentagon said increased action by coalition forces in the country meant the Taliban has "been under unprecedented pressure.""Reporting indicates increased and often strained efforts to resource the fight, which has led to tension and sporadic dips in morale," the report said.It added that the decline in stability seen in the last report submitted to Congress "has leveled off in many areas over the last three months of this reporting period."
"Polls consistently illustrate that Afghans see security as improved from a year ago," the report added.

U.N. Report says 1.6 Billion Still Lack Access to Electricity

A new U.N. report calls for expanding access to energy to more than two-billion people and boosting efforts for clean, efficient and renewable energy.The Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change report - Energy for a Sustainable Future - says many people still lack access to electricity, describing it as a “significant barrier” to development.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon released the report Wednesday in New York, saying, “I convened this group last year for one simple reason. We need to urgently transform this global energy system.”Moon adds, “The decisions we make today on energy will have a profound impact on global climate, on sustainable development, on economic growth and global security.”He says a “clean energy revolution” is needed in developing countries to meet rising demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Moon says affordable, modern energy sources are necessary to meet the Millennium Development Goals by their target date of 2015.“One-point-six-billion people lack access to electricity. Without electricity you cannot do anything in this world. Two to three billion people still rely on traditional energy sources, such as firewood, peat or dung. This affects their health and keeps people trapped in poverty,” he says.The report calls for “universal access to basic modern energy services” by 2030. It says this can be achieved “without significantly increasing greenhouse emissions.”
New industrial revolution
Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, chairs the advisory group.
“What we advocate for here is a transition to a low carbon economy, investing in new energy systems. But these investments must also enhance access for all.”He says there was much debate among advisory group members about reaching the energy goals by 2030.“You can look at the composition of our group – more private sector than U.N. types. And that was a deliberate choice by the Secretary-General because, given the many dimensions and its linkages to so many things, we wanted fresh thinking from the private sector,” says Yumkella.
Clean, renewable energy is a major recommendation in the report.
“We believe that’s part of the transformative change,” he says, “that will in fact engender a new industrial revolution that will lift people out of poverty and also deal with some of the issues of climate change.”
United Nations Foundation President Timothy Wirth calls energy the “oxygen of commerce and wealth creation.” He adds, “Producing more with less makes economic sense and is fast approaching an environmental imperative.”

Pakhtunkhwa govt, Hazara MPAs agree to resolve issues peacefully

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and members of the Provincial Assembly from Hazara division on Wednesday agreed to resolve the issues of Hazara province and Abaseen division through political means and proposed that the provincial assembly would take up the matter in its upcoming session.

The proposal came at a consultative meeting between the government and the assembly members belonging to Hazara. The meeting was called by speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Karamtullah Khan. Except a couple of lawmakers from Hazara, all other members from the area attended the meeting.

After the meeting, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain briefed members of the media. He said the government was ready to hold negotiations with the Hazara Action Committee. He said the meeting discussed in detail both the demands — Hazara province and Abaseen division — and it was decided that the issues would be debated in the next session of the provincial assembly. He said the participants condemned the sad incident of April 12 and demanded a judicial inquiry, which had already been initiated by the government.

Mian Iftikhar said the sentiments of Hazara people would be respected and the lawmakers from the area would be taken into confidence and efforts would be made for maintaining peace in the region.

The minister said protest was the constitutional and democratic right of the Hazara people, but added that it should remain within the ambit of law. He warned that no one would be allowed to damage public property and violate the law. He said the government had called another meeting with the Hazara lawmakers today to discuss the issue further in presence of the chief minister.

Sources privy to the meeting said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and PML-Quaid members had an argument over the happenings of April 12 in Abbottabad and Haripur district.

The PML-Q lawmakers opined that despite the fact that the people of Hazara division voted for PML-N, the party did not take them into confidence while agreeing on the new name for the province.

The PML-N lawmakers pointed out that the 18th Amendment was not only confined to renaming of the province but had resolved many longstanding demands of the provinces, which would strengthen the federal parliamentary system. They said that despite imposition of Section 144 in Abbottabad, the PML-Q workers took to the streets and looted shops and attacked police station.

Curfew imposed in Kohat region

The Hangu police have imposed curfew in Thall tehsil from morning till afternoon to allow a safe passage to an army convoy to Parachinar.

The Kohat-Parachinar road was opened for general traffic in the afternoon when the authorities decided to lift the curfew.

The in-charge of the Thall police station in a late night announcement had advised the people to remain inside their homes from 5am till 4pm and close the bazaar as a huge military was scheduled to cross over to Parachinar.

The precaution had been taken in view of the imminent threats of terrorism due to ongoing military operation in Orakzai Agency and strict vigilance of the security forces in Tootkas area which had been vacated by the people on the orders of the local army high command.

The outskirts of Thall were the most infested ones with banned militants from TTP who had started suicide attacks and IEDs blasts at army and police while ambushing the passengers more frequently in recent months

US inaugurates $25m Peshawar Ring Road

The United States has started a $25 million project to reconstruct 25 kilometres of the Peshawar Southern Ring Road to strengthen security and generate greater trade opportunities.The project was inaugurated by the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, at a function in Peshawar early this week, the State Department said yesterday.The project, overseen by the State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in close cooperation with the Government of Pakistan, will provide USD 25 million in upgrades to the important provincial thoroughfare for the purpose of strengthening security and bolstering economic development, it said.The inauguration of the Peshawar Ring Road project follows the signature of a Letter of Intent between Deputy Secretary of State Jacob J Lew and Pakistan's Finance Secretary Salman Siddique on March 25, as part of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.The Ring Road will be widened and improved from two lanes to three lanes, including construction of service roads, green belts, centre medians, and drainage on both sides.The refurbished road will also include a bypass of the Hayatabad residential area and a transit link to the Matani bypass road, the construction of which the US is currently supporting."The new Ring Road will ease traffic between Charsadda and Hayatabad, improve security, and generate greater trade opportunities," Patterson said."We are proud to partner with the Government of Pakistan to deliver this vital infrastructure that will benefit the citizens of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas," she said.