Friday, May 7, 2010

Officials predict higher casualties in Kandahar op

When record numbers of U.S. troops confront the prized Taliban stronghold of Kandahar this summer, higher casualties will likely result, the chairman of the House Armed Service Committee predicted Wednesday, and top Pentagon officials didn't disagree.Kandahar, the southern city partly controlled by militants, is expected to test the Obama administration's revamped counterinsurgency strategy far greater than this spring's smaller offensive in Helmand province."Our adversaries are intelligent and adaptable, and we will need to continuously refine our own tactics in response," Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy said during testimony before chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and other members of the Armed Services Committee.Although violence is up, partly because of the larger numbers of U.S. troops in the country, Flournoy and Lt. Gen. John Paxton gave their most upbeat assessment of the war in Afghanistan in months while warning of possible setbacks."I'm cautiously optimistic," Flournoy said. "The insurgency is losing momentum."paxton gave the Kandahar operation a name Wednesday: Operation Hamkari, which translates as "cooperation."
The war to displace a persistent Taliban is now in its ninth year, and even strong supporters of the effort say staggering amounts of time and money have been wasted. The Obama administration ordered a top-to-bottom reorganization of the war effort and a major increase in U.S. forces.
About half of the 30,000 additional forces ordered by President Barack Obama last year are in place and by the end of summer some 98,000 U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan.In recent months Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior defense leaders have said little more than that they saw some signs of improvement in a war that was stalemated in much of the country. Last month, Gen. David Petraeus predicted that 2010 would be the year that the U.S.-dominated international force in Afghanistan reversed the slide.Flournoy and Paxton ticked off examples of what they called successes or encouraging signs, including what they described as greater goodwill from ordinary Afghans toward their government and foreign forces.Paxton said there was a sharp increase in the number of tips to U.S. forces about the location of homemade bombs during this spring's operations around the districts of Marjah and Nad Ali in Helmand province.Some of the assessments put the best possible face on a war that top military leaders say is at a tipping point.
Flournoy said that of 121 key regions of Afghanistan examined by the NATO-led international force in December, 60 were considered sympathetic or neutral to the Afghan government. By March, the number had climbed to 73 districts, she said.
A Pentagon report to Congress last week broke out those numbers more precisely, and in a less flattering light.It found that there were no districts where the Afghan government held full control and where the local population completely supported the NATO-backed central government.In 29 other districts, Afghans sympathized with their leaders in Kabul, while in 44 the population was neutral. The rest either supported or sympathized with the insurgency.

Afghan president to remake image in Washington

Surgar Daily
In Washington next week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai will work to recast his image as a mercurial leader prone to outbursts against the West into one of a credible partner worthy of the thousands of U.S. troops and billions of dollars of aid still pouring into his nation in its ninth year of war.After months of rocky relations with the Obama administration, the U.S. and Karzai are getting their partnership back on track. If he's successful in the visit, which starts Monday, the Afghan president will leave Washington with renewed legitimacy and the political backing he needs for possible peace talks with the Taliban.The trip comes at a critical juncture in the war. At the same time that more troops and aid are moving into Afghanistan, the U.S. has made it clear that its involvement is not open-ended. President Barack Obama, who gathered his national security team to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday at the White House, wants to start pulling out troops in July 2011 if conditions allow. That's 15 months from now.Karzai is traveling to Washington with nearly a dozen members of his Cabinet who will hold in-depth discussions with their counterparts about development priorities and other issues. Showing up with these ministers — many with strong backing from the international community — will help Karzai make the point that while bribery and graft is rife in some ministries, there are many Cabinet officials committed to progress and reform.Foreign Affairs Minister Zalmay Rasoul said the trip should address three questions: "How can we finish this war? Why is it eight years on? How can we succeed with less blood and less money?"
The meetings will end with a communique, but a renewed strategic partnership agreement being drafted in Kabul and Washington won't be ready to be signed until later this year.
Karzai is going to Washington as the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements Obama dispatched to the war continue to stream into the country. About 4,500 have deployed, with another 18,000 due to arrive by late spring and the rest by early fall. The military buildup is aimed at routing the Taliban from their strongholds, especially in the south, and bolster security needed to start development projects and offer public services so Karzai's government can win the support of residents.
Thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces just finished a major offensive to oust the Taliban from central Helmand province in the south. They now are ramping up pressure on the Taliban's birthplace of Kandahar province next door.
A new, fragile government has been established in Helmand, but residents siding with the Karzai government and the international coalition are still subject to intimidation from the Taliban, especially at night. In Kandahar, work is being done to establish a more robust local government with links to the district level.
Jointly, the Afghans and NATO are trying to curb the influence of powerbrokers who operate outside the government, and iron out tribal disputes, but the Taliban are fighting back with attacks on contractors and government officials. Last month, gunmen stormed a mosque and killed the deputy mayor of Kandahar as he knelt for evening prayers.
Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said he will tell the Americans that the situation in Afghanistan is not as gloomy as is depicted in the news. At the same time, he said he will impress upon Washington that failure is not an option and that the Taliban are just waiting for the U.S. and Afghanistan's other international partners to show signs that their support is wavering.
"If we fail here, there will be no place safe on the planet," he said Thursday.
The U.S.-Afghan relationship has suffered in recent months from friction between the two nations. The U.S. is pressing Karzai to reform his government and reduce corruption. Fed up with years of foreigners meddling in his government, Karzai is demanding respect as the leader of a sovereign state that is anxious, but not yet able, to take charge of its own affairs."The president of Afghanistan wants frank discussions — frank discussions — about things that can be improved," Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said.Last month, following a visit by Obama to Kabul in late March, Karzai lashed out against the U.N. and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a "vast fraud" in last year's presidential polls as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory — accusations the U.S. and the United Nations have denied. Two days later, Karzai told a group of parliament members that if foreign interference in his government continued, the Taliban would become a legitimate resistance — one that he might even join, according to several lawmakers present.
First, U.S. officials called the remarks "troubling." After a few days, U.S. officials worked to smooth over the rift by expressing sympathy for Karzai and the pressure he's endured and repeatedly referring to him as "commander in chief" of his country. Even if the U.S. believes Karzai is a flawed leader, it cannot afford to alienate him because he is key to a successful American exit from the war.
Karzai, however, is not likely to be coddled by U.S. lawmakers currently deciding whether to approve the Pentagon's request to spent $192 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the next year and a half — $33 billion of it for Afghanistan. Members of both parties bristled at Karzai's tirade against the U.S. last month and he'll need to earn back their trust.
Karzai's visit to the U.S. is just one item on Afghanistan's packed calendar. A peace conference, or jirga, to forge a national consensus on how to reconcile with the Taliban is scheduled later this month in Kabul. In July, foreign donor nations are meeting in the capital. And parliamentary elections are slated for September.
The Karzai government also is getting ready to roll out a new program offering economic and other incentives to low- and midlevel Taliban fighters who join the government side. Maj. Gen. Richard Barrons, in charge of reintegration issues for NATO in Kabul, said getting insurgents to lay down their weapons would be on the Washington agenda.
He said efforts to reconcile with the Taliban's top leadership will very likely be a key part of discussions as the Karzai government and Obama administration reach a common understanding about how a peace process can work."Then Karzai can do much more — proceed with confidence and flair — if he knows how the U.S. is set on this," Barrons said. "With that confidence, Karzai can have the peace jirga, get a mandate from the home team (the Afghan public) about how to talk to the insurgency, who to talk to and by what means."Karzai or his intermediaries have already had at least indirect talks with top Taliban representatives, but while the U.S. supports the idea of reconciliation, the Obama administration is still working out its position on how the talks should be conducted. Talking with the Taliban, which harbored the al-Qaida leaders who orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is a delicate political issue for the U.S.
"The U.S. keeps stressing that the reconciliation process should be `Afghan-led,' but the reality is the U.S. must also be deeply involved," said Lisa Curtis, an expert on Afghanistan at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
"Karzai appears to recognize that he cannot move forward on this front without support and backing from the U.S.," she said. "The U.S. should provide a clearer picture of how it envisions a reintegration and reconciliation process unfolding so that the Afghan and U.S. governments can work in tandem and bolster each other's efforts to bring stability."

Bill Targets Citizenship of Terrorists’ Allies

New York Times
WASHINGTON — Proposed legislation that would allow the government to revoke American citizenship from people suspected of allying themselves with terrorists set off a legal and political debate Thursday that scrambled some of the usual partisan lines on civil-liberties issues.

The Terrorist Expatriation Act, co-sponsored by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, would allow the State Department to revoke the citizenship of people who provide support to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or who attack the United States or its allies.

Some Democrats expressed openness to the idea, while several Senate Republicans expressed concern. Mr. Brown, who endorsed aggressive tactics against terrorism suspects in his campaign for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s seat, said the bill was not about politics.

“It reflects the changing nature of war and recent events,” Mr. Brown said Thursday. “War has moved into a new dimension. Individuals who pick up arms — this is what I believe — have effectively denounced their citizenship, and this legislation simply memorializes that effort. So somebody who wants to burn their passport, well, let’s help them along.”

Identical legislation is also being introduced in the House by two Pennsylvania congressmen, Jason Altmire, a Democrat, and Charlie Dent, a Republican. The lawmakers said at a news conference that revoking citizenship would block terrorism suspects from using American passports to re-enter the United States and make them eligible for prosecution before a military commission instead of a civilian court.

Citing with approval news reports that President Obama has signed a secret order authorizing the targeted killing of a radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar Al-Awlaki, Mr. Lieberman argued that if that policy was legal — and he said he believed it was — then stripping people of citizenship for joining terrorist organizations should also be acceptable.

Several major Democratic officials spoke positively about the proposal, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Noting that the State Department already had the authority to rescind the citizenship of people who declare allegiance to a foreign state, she said the administration would take “a hard look” at extending those powers to cover terrorism suspects.

“United States citizenship is a privilege,” she said. “It is not a right. People who are serving foreign powers — or in this case, foreign terrorists — are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she supported the “spirit” of the measure, although she urged caution and said that the details of the proposal, like what would trigger a loss of citizenship, still needed to be fleshed out.

Several Republican officials, though, were skeptical of the idea. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, questioned the constitutionality of the proposal.

“If they are a U.S. citizen, until they are convicted of some crime, I don’t see how you would attempt to take their citizenship away,” Mr. Boehner said. “That would be pretty difficult under the U.S. Constitution.”

The proposal would amend an existing, although rarely used, program run by the State Department. It dates to a law enacted by Congress in 1940 that allowed the stripping of citizenship for activities like voting in another country’s elections or joining the army of a nation that is at war with the United States. People who lose their citizenship can contest the decision in court.

The Supreme Court later narrowed the program’s scope, declaring that the Constitution did not allow the government to take away people’s citizenship against their will. The proposal does not alter the requirement of evidence of voluntariness.

That means that if the proposal passed, the State Department would have to cite evidence that a person not only joined Al Qaeda, but also intended to relinquish his citizenship, and the advantages it conveys, to rescind it.

Several legal scholars disagreed about the legality and effectiveness of the proposal.

Kevin R. Johnson, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis, argued that it was “of dubious constitutionality” because merely joining or donating to a terrorist group fell short of unequivocal evidence that someone intended to relinquish his citizenship.

Peter H. Schuck, a Yale University law professor, said the Supreme Court might allow Congress to declare that joining Al Qaeda created a presumption that an American intended to relinquish his citizenship, so long as the program allowed the person to rebut that view.

Mr. Lieberman portrayed the proposal as a reaction to increasing involvement in Islamic terrorism by United States citizens, including Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American man who was arrested in connection with the failed attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square last Saturday. Mr. Shahzad was granted American citizenship last year.

However, Mr. Lieberman emphasized, the measure would apply only to people who commit such acts in the future. Senate aides said that it would apply only to acts undertaken overseas.

Pakistan foreign minister Mr Shah's comments makes no sense.

The News

The comment by our foreign minister about the attempted bombing in New York being possible retaliation from the Taliban for drone attacks makes little sense. How can Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi know what the precise motive was or indeed who was behind the plot that could, had it worked, have inflicted terrible destruction? As for his assertion in his interview to a US TV channel, that the Taliban will not simply sit back and allow themselves to be eliminated, this is precisely where Pakistan needs to act to eliminate them on its own. For the safety and security of our own country, we need to take measures that can lead to the Taliban being prevented from operating from our territory. To be fair, the foreign minister was desperately attempting to deflect some of the pressure that has come Pakistan's way since stories emerged about the nationality of the would-be bomber. It is also true that in the past year a great deal has been done by Pakistan to take on the militants. Its army has paid a big price for this. We cannot be responsible as a nation for every person who sets out from camps here to plant bombs in western cities. It is true also the drone strikes have created resentment and as such are a factor in the creation of animosity to the US. This is something Washington needs to see.

At the same time we need to face some facts ourselves. As Mr Qureshi said, Faisal Shahzad was indeed a naturalised US citizen. But this does not change the fact he had strong links with Pakistan. Emerging evidence indicates he might also have been connected to groups here. A joint investigation is required. For its own sake, Islamabad needs to acquire a full understanding of how militant groups reach men like Shahzad. In the past, others from similar backgrounds have taken up the militant cause. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the killer of Daniel Pearl, comes to mind. Where Shahzad was recruited and how he was able to cover up his beliefs as a militant convert remains a mystery that we must strive to solve. The arrest of a man associated with Pakistan in yet another terrorist plot threatens all of us in many ways. We must do all that is possible to prevent such incidents in the future and severe the links that tie militants in with ordinary young people across the country.

US takes the war into Pakistan

ISLAMABAD - The approval given to the United States
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by the administration of President Barack Obama to expand drone strikes in Pakistan's
tribal regions is on face value a declaration of war by the US inside Pakistan. The move comes at a time when Pakistan is trying to win some breathing space to delay an all-out operation in North Waziristan, home to powerful militant groups and an al-Qaeda headquarters.
The CIA was given authority on Wednesday to expand strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against low-level combatants, even if their identities are not known. Obama had previously said drone
strikes were necessary to "take out high-level terrorist targets".
However, official figures show that more than 90% of the 500 people killed by drones since mid-2008 were lower-level fighters; in effect, the new approval simply legitimizes the current situation.
Federal lawyers backed the drone measure on the grounds of self-defense to counter threats militants pose to US troops in Afghanistan and the United States as a whole, according to authorities.
Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani has developed close ties to the US military, and there is no doubting Pakistan's conviction in fighting militancy. Islamabad has opened theaters in all of the tribal regions except North Waziristan, as it fears a militant backlash across the country would be unmanageable.
The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, visited Pakistan recently for talks with senior military officials to put the finishing touches to the operation in North Waziristan. But the Pakistanis pointed out that given the rising number of casualties in South Waziristan, the army did not want to open another front for at least another few months.
This in part could explain the US's decision to expand drone operations, while North Waziristan has also been attracting world attention.
Focus on North Waziristan
The sequence of events began with the dramatic abduction in late March in North Waziristan of former Inter-Services Intelligence officials Khalid Khawaja and Colonel Ameer Sultan Tarrar, also known as "Colonel Imam". They were on a mission to broker a peace deal between the military and the militants.
Then this month the chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban - TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, resurfaced after having been reported killed in a drone attack in January. A few days after this, the bullet-riddled body of Khawaja was found in North Waziristan.
Then this week, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested in New York in connection with a failed attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square. He is reported to have said that he received training in North Waziristan. The TTP claimed responsibility for the incident and vowed attacks on US cities.
On Thursday morning, Colonel Imam, credited as being the founding father of the Taliban, was handed over by the so-called Asian Tigers to Afghan Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, again in North Waziristan. Also freed by the Punjabi militants was a journalist, Asad Qureshi, who had been on the peace mission.
The men were apparently freed after the intervention of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whose delegation demanded that everyone needed to clarify where their allegiances lay.
In an attempt to speed up operations in North Waziristan, the US on Wednesday expedited a payment of US$468 million for Pakistan from the Coalition Support Fund, which has been set up in recognition of Pakistan's contribution in the "war on terror". Pakistan has been paid approximately $7.2 billion since 2001.
However, Islamabad went into overdrive to deflect attention from North Waziristan. The ambassador to the US, Professor Husain Haqqani, called Shahzad a disturbed man. He said it was premature to speculate on whether he had trained with any radical groups in Pakistan and that an investigation into his links to the country was ongoing.
The military chipped in too. Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas denied that any group was linked to the bombing and he refused to accept that Shahzad had ever visited North Waziristan. He also said an unspecified number of people had been questioned, but no one had been arrested or detained in Pakistan - contrary to media reports of several arrests. On Thursday, Shahzad's father, retired Air Vice-Marshal Baharul Haq, was taken into protective custody.
The plain fact cannot be missed: North Waziristan is the nerve center of the Afghan resistance and as long as Pakistan delays, the US will take matters into its own hands.

Debate on Expanded Presence in Pakistan

New York Times
WASHINGTON — The evidence of ties between the man accused of being the Times Square bomber and Pakistani militants has intensified debate inside the Obama administration about expanding America’s military presence in Pakistan, with some officials making the case to increase the number of Special Operations troops working with Pakistani forces in the country’s western mountains.

The American military presence in Pakistan has already grown substantially over the past year, and now totals more than two hundred troops, part of a largely secret program to share intelligence with Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops and train them to battle militant groups.

But the failed bombing in Times Square, and evidence that the accused man, Faisal Shahzad, received training in a camp run by the Pakistani Taliban, has given support to those who want to expand the mission.

In particular, some inside the administration believe that the C.I.A. program of killing militants from the air is insufficient for preventing attacks on the West, and that an expanded training mission might raise confidence in Pakistan’s military enough to launch an offensive in the militant sanctuary of North Waziristan, in the tribal areas.

“There is a growing sense that there will need to be more of a boots on the ground strategy,” said one Obama administration official.

Officials, who requested anonymity to discuss strategy surrounding a program that is technically secret, emphasized that any new troops in Pakistan would serve as advisers and trainers, not as combat forces.

But the presence of any American troops on Pakistani soil is extremely sensitive. It is thought to be widely opposed by Pakistanis, and the Pentagon has worked hard to keep a low profile. American troops there are careful about how much time they spend away from enclosed garrisons.

Officials said there was now discussion about presenting Pakistan’s government with a formal request to dispatch more Special Operations troops to the country. American officials believe they have improved relations with Islamabad in recent months, and that this might be a particularly opportune time to press the case.

But one senior Pakistani official cautioned that Washington should not overreach.

“The Americans have to be careful not to make demands that are disproportionate to the good will they have built up,” he said.

It is also unclear how much leverage the United States would have, given that the attack was amateurish and unsuccessful.

In the meantime, American officials said that Pakistan’s government had been helpful during the initial phase of the investigation. Investigators have passed along leads from Mr. Shahzad’s interrogation to officials at the American Embassy in Islamabad, who have passed the leads on to Pakistani authorities.

So far, administration officials said, Pakistani authorities have been cooperating with requests for details about Mr. Shahzad and his family. The American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, spoke on Thursday with Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, and the foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Administration officials said their top priority was to nail down Mr. Shahzad’s links to militant groups, and then to press Pakistan to act against the groups. While the evidence continues to point to the Pakistani Taliban as the primary link, a senior official said Mr. Shahzad “appears to be at the intersection of a whole lot of strands.”

“There’s a bit of a false distinction being made between these groups,” said another official. “The Pakistani Taliban is connected to Al Qaeda, which is connected to the Haqqani network. I don’t think you can put team jerseys on them.”

Pakistani officials have blown hot and cold on the issue of American troops in the country. Months ago, when sentiment was running more strongly against additional troops, Pakistan held up issuing visas for advisers and trainers. After visits by senior officials, including Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pakistan began issuing them again.

The near-miss in Times Square on Saturday evening is likely to make some Pakistani officials less reluctant to accept additional American trainers, said officials with knowledge of the Pakistani government. There is a sense in Islamabad, these officials said, that if the car bomb had exploded, it would have severely strained relations between the United States and Pakistan.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of United States Central Command, has been very supportive of the American training mission in Pakistan. But military officials said General Petraeus was cautious about making a formal request to Pakistan now, as he is concerned about the impact such a move would have on relations with Pakistan’s military and on inflaming anti-American sentiment in the country.

For the Obama administration, the terrorist plot comes at a sensitive time in its effort to cultivate Pakistan. In March, it held a high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan’s government, which officials said went a long way toward building up trust between the two sides.

Pakistan, for its part, said it would crack down on any group making the United States a target. “We do not, and we will not, make distinctions between any terrorist groups,” said Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. “Pakistan has proven over the last few years that it is fighting extremists for its own sake. We will continue to do that.”

U.S.-Pakistan Ties In Spotlight

From the time it became clear there was a Pakistan connection to Saturday's attempted bombing in Times Square, there seemed to be a concerted effort by U.S. officials to keep the rhetoric and the finger-pointing to a minimum.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. law-enforcement personnel are dealing with their Pakistani counterparts, as are the intelligence services.

"We're trying to understand and trace now what did this individual do when he was on the ground in Pakistan, who did he meet, and what are the implications of those actions," Crowley said.

He said Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, will continue to meet every day with senior Pakistani officials while the investigation continues.

Longstanding Pressure

Although Crowley painted a picture of cooperation and coordination between the two countries, in reality the U.S. has been pushing Pakistan — often hard — for several years to do more to prevent this kind of incident.

But Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, said there's no need for a public dressing down by Washington.

"I think that there's obviously already a fairly heightened dialogue between the U.S. and Pakistan," Nawaz said. "I don't see the need go public with any berating of Pakistani authorities for not doing enough."

Nawaz said there is an understanding on both sides that much needs to be done — including on the military front. Washington has prodded Islamabad to root out terrorist camps and networks on its soil. The Pakistani military has launched offensives in militant strongholds along the border with Afghanistan.

But two months ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was turned down, point blank, when he requested that Pakistan's military conduct more operations in North Waziristan, one of the most important safe havens for the Taliban, al-Qaida and other militant groups. There are indications that the suspect in the botched Times Square bombing, Faisal Shahzad, might have received training there.

Pakistan's Domestic Concerns

Brian Fishman, a terrorism expert at the New America Foundation, said the New York City incident may give the U.S. more leverage in its arguments.

"I think the U.S. right now is pushing very hard for the Pakistanis to go into North Waziristan militarily," Fishman said.

He said the attempted attack is going to give U.S. diplomats and military officials who are making that argument even more substance.

But Tom Johnson, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, said the Pakistani government and military have national security interests that differ from those of the U.S., and which rule out widespread incursions into North Waziristan for now.

"I think the Pakistanis have been pretty hard-core on what they'll allow us to do and what they won't allow us to do in these areas, and even their willingness to follow our advice in programs and operations that we view as very critical," Johnson said.

The Pakistani government has said it won't allow U.S. combat troops to operate in the area. The U.S. has intensified an aerial offensive — using unmanned drones — in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, including North Waziristan. That campaign could be stepped up further in the wake of Saturday's failed bombing attempt.

Nawaz, of the Atlantic Council, said an increase in drone attacks "may be useful temporarily, but you're not going to be able to stop this kind of activity with increased drone attacks."

He said any physical entry of U.S. forces into the tribal area would create a whole new problem.

The UK political system explained

The United Kingdom votes on a new government May 6 through a political system that dates back centuries.

When does an election happen?

The UK has no written constitution. Instead the country's electoral system is based on a series of parliamentary acts dating back to the 17th century, when men wore the sort of tights and wigs still donned on ceremonial occasions by some officials of the Houses of Parliament.

A general election is when voters nationwide choose lawmakers who will sit in the House of Commons, the lower chamber which initiates and approves legislation.

An election must take place, by law, at least every five years. That said, governments can call an election at any time during their term. They could also be forced into an election if they lose a majority of lawmakers in the Commons.

Who calls an election?

The starting gun in a general election is traditionally fired when the prime minister travels to Buckingham Palace to ask the queen, the UK's head of state, to dissolve parliament by royal proclamation.An election must then take place within weeks. Since 1979, elections have been held between April and June. It is customary for an election to be held on a Thursday.The vote is conducted through the "first past the post" system whereby the candidate in each constituency with the most votes wins the seat.
If the queen is the head of state, then how come the UK a democracy?
Although the UK is a monarchy, the powers of the reigning head of state have gradually dwindled since King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 following the English Civil War between Royalists and Parliamentarians.
Today, the monarch's role is largely ceremonial and mostly restricted to state functions and appearing on stamps and banknotes. But the monarch still retains formal powers and opens parliament each year.
How does parliament function?
The job of parliament is to make laws, scrutinize the actions of the government and debate issues of the day. The Commons -- which has green benches -- currently consists of 650 directly elected lawmakers known as Members of Parliament or MPs who each represent a geographical constituency.
The upper house, the Lords -- which has red benches -- is mostly appointed by the government with members serving for life. Its main duty is to vote on legislation passed by the Commons and, when necessary, to send it back for further debate.
In certain circumstances the government can force through legislation passed by the Commons but rejected by the Lords.
How is an election decided?
Voters do not elect the prime minister, or head of government, directly. Rather, they vote to elect a candidate representing a particular party to serve as their local MP. The leader of the party which wins the most seats is then asked by the Queen to form a government. The leader of the second largest party in the Commons becomes the "Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition."
MPs are elected by a plurality, rather than a majority, of votes. This means that a party can win a majority of seats in the Commons without achieving an overall majority in the overall popular vote. In fact, because there are three main parties in the UK it is extremely rare for a party to win an outright majority.
The last prime minister elected by an outright majority was Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Party leader, in 1931. In 2005, Tony Blair's Labour Party won just 35 percent of the vote but still controlled a 66-seat majority in the House of Commons.
So who can I vote for?
For most of the past century, British politics has been dominated by two parties, the left-wing Labour Party and the right-wing Conservative Party. That said, the boundaries between left and right have been blurred as each has strived to occupy the strategically important center ground.
A third party, the centrist Liberal Democrats, usually picks up around 20 percent of votes but wins far fewer seats because it is squeezed between the two main parties. Parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also send small numbers of lawmakers to Westminster.
What happens if a party doesn't win a majority of seats?
If no party wins an overall majority -- a "hung parliament" --- then the leader of the party which takes the most seats will usually be invited by the monarch to form a government. But its powers will be limited because it cannot control a majority of votes in the Commons. The party will usually call another election within months in a fresh attempt to secure a majority.
What would a hung parliament mean in 2010?
The last time this happened was in 1974, when an election in February resulted in a hung parliament. A second election followed in October of the same year. Many opinion pollsters and observers believe that the 2010 general election will result in a hung parliament.

UK faces government without single party majority

326 to win
Party Predicted seats Seats Change Vote %
291 +92 36.1
247 -86 29.2
Liberal Democrat
51 -6 22.9

Britain's opposition Conservatives became the biggest party in parliament on Friday in a bitterly fought election, but were set to fall short of a majority, leaving it unclear who would run the country.
British asset prices crumbled as the prospect of the first inconclusive election result since 1974 unnerved investors already spooked by a global equity market sell-off.

With 46 of the 650 seats yet to be announced, the center-right Conservatives led with 287 seats, ahead of ruling Labor on 239 and the Liberal Democrats, deflated after a surprisingly poor showing, on 51.

Conservative leader David Cameron said the ruling Labor party had "lost its mandate to govern", and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was asked by a reporter whether he would resign as he returned from his constituency to his residence at No. 10, Downing Street.

He did not reply.

Under the constitution, Brown has the right to try and form a government first, potentially opening the door to a period of political horse-trading.

He could struggle to form a coalition with the Lib Dems, however, since their combined forecast seats would still be short of the 326 needed for a majority in parliament.

The prospect of a "hung parliament" and uncertainty about who would form the next government hit already febrile financial markets.

The pound slumped against the dollar, equities tumbled and gilt futures went into reverse on a mixture of political uncertainty in Britain and turmoil on other exchanges.


The focus switches on Friday to possible talks between the parties to break any deadlock. They will be assisted by civil servants who have prepared briefing documents outlining key elements of party proposals and their costs.

However, none of the leaders were prepared to give details about what they might do now.

"I don't think anyone should rush into making claims or taking decisions which don't stand the test of time," said Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Peter Mandelson, Labor's business minister, added that he understood Brown had yet to open talks with Clegg's party.

"I'm not ruling out or ruling in anything," he told BBC TV.

The center-right Conservatives were forecast to win around 305 seats and Labor 255 seats in the lower House of Commons. The Lib Dems were a distant third with an expected 61.

Most seats showed a swing in support to Conservatives but not all of sufficient size to give the party the majority.

Notable losses for Labor included former cabinet ministers Charles Clarke and Jacqui Smith, while Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, was the highest-profile casualty of the night. Gainers included the Greens, who won their first ever parliamentary seat.


The next government will have to deal with a record budget deficit running in excess of 11 percent of national output, and demands for political reform following a parliamentary expenses scandal last year that left Britons disgusted with lawmakers.

Markets fear a stalemate could lead to political paralysis, hampering efforts to tackle the nation's spiraling debt and secure recovery from the worst recession since World War Two.

Britain's FTSE 100 share index fell around one percent in early trade, following losses in Asian equity markets after U.S. stocks plunged as much as 9 percent late on Thursday.

The pound sank to a one-year low against the dollar, below $1.46, and fell sharply against the euro.

"The current global financial turmoil puts pressure on all parties to reach a rapid agreement," said Brian Hilliard, UK economist at Societe Generale.

"In our view there could easily be an attack on the pound and on UK government securities if the markets sense deadlock in the political negotiations."

Independent think-tanks have accused all the parties of failing to be open with voters about the scale of cuts that will be needed to restore public finances, meaning any government could face a plunge in popularity early on once cuts begin.

Pakistan's Growing migration to urban areas worries ICRC

PESHAWAR: Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of Peshawar sub-delegation, Antje Ruckstuhl on Thursday said rural population was moving to urban areas in search of better jobs and services.

“But millions of this urban population are confronted with increasing violence, poverty, pollution and increased vulnerability. Today 50 per cent of the world population is living in urban areas and estimated one billion people live in slums or other substandard housings,” she said here while addressing an event held in connection with May 8 celebrations of Red Cross/Red Crescent Day. These millions of people, she said, need the urgent assistance and so the focus needs to be on what remains to be done.

“In Pakistan, the ICRC has been active since the time of partition,” she said and added that its delegates visited more than 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war held in India after the war of separation and are now visiting Pakistani nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in Afghanistan. “Such visits provide the opportunity to monitor conditions of detention and to pass Red Cross messages between detainees and their families,” she said.

Antje Ruckstuhl added that besides the devastating earthquake of 2005 and flash floods, countless Pakistanis have to live in atmosphere of hostilities. “Unfortunately, civilians are facing an ever greater risk of armed violence, including in major urban areas. The deteriorating security situation has impeded the access of humanitarian workers a great deal,” she said.

Nonetheless, she said, it was reassuring to see the ICRC and Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) reaching out to the most vulnerable in many areas where hostilities have occurred, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). She said recently displaced population of Orakzai Agency was provided with food, shelter, other relief goods and medical care.

Besides, she said, a regular presence has also been maintained in the hardest-hit areas of Malakand Division where fighting had forced millions of people to flee last year. She informed the participants of the meeting that since its opening in February 2009, the ICRC Surgical Hospital for weapon-wounded had performed over 4,500 operations for victims of bomb blasts, gun shots, mine injuries and shelling.

PRCS head for the province, Dr Sher Muhammad Khan, also spoke on the occasion. Later, a declamation contest on growing trend of urbanisation was held. Students from various departments of the University of Peshawar highlighted merits and demerits of urbanisation.

Wasteful expenditure

Dawn Editorial
The country is facing severe economic issues, some of which are spiralling out of control. Due to factors as varied as mismanagement, terrorism and the power crisis, the output of the country’s industries has plummeted to an unprecedented low, foreign investment levels are dismal and workers are being laid off in large numbers.

The agricultural sector is in no better shape. It is suffering from the effects of long-term governmental mismanagement, outdated technology and global climate change. The ranks of the newly poor are swelling while inflation is rampant. Even the prices of daily essentials are on the increase while shortages are endemic. The country’s health, education and poverty alleviation systems are in a shambles. These are the grim realities of life in Pakistan today.

It is shocking, therefore, that the Punjab government has sanctioned the purchase of a Rs25m bulletproof Mercedes Benz for the use of the provincial governor, Salman Taseer. This is money, incidentally, that the government apparently does not have. Reportedly, the sum is to be drawn in advance through a supplementary grant before the close of the financial year as a special case by relaxing the rules. What is the pressing need for such a purchase when the federal and provincial governments have announced austerity measures that apply to all kinds of official expenditure from the presidency downwards?

Even if a case were to be made for the governor’s need for security, bulletproof vehicles — albeit older models — are already available. This extravagance amounts to rubbing salt into the wounds of the country’s population, wounds that the policies of the ruling elites have inflicted over the decades. Such an obscene display of wealth underscores the disparity between the rich and the poor and tips the balance towards anarchy and rebellion. Pakistan, which is fighting an insurgency in its north-western parts, simply cannot afford this crass profligacy.

US increases 'high-level contacts' with Islamabad

Washington: As the trail of the failed Times Square bombing leads to Pakistan, the US has increased the frequency of "high-level contacts" with Islamabad and is "pushing all buttons" to figure out the connection between the plot and the suspect's recent visit to the country.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson met the top Pakistani leadership for the second day in succession. She met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

"She is updating Pakistani officials on certain things that we've learned in the investigation. We continue, you know, to work through this together," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs PJ Crowley, told reporters.

Reluctant to share details of the meeting Patterson had with top Pakistani leadership, Crowley said the US is providing all information that could be useful to Pakistan in taking necessary steps in taking the investigation to a logical conclusion.

"We are informing Pakistan of what we are learning in this investigation, and then there are steps that Pakistan can take," Crowley said, adding that one of the reasons that the US is talking to high-level officials is to operationalise this mutual commitment of cooperation and support.

"I expect that we'll have these high-level contacts and meetings almost every day for the foreseeable future as we work through this investigation. So in certain cases we might ask Pakistan to take certain steps. I'm not sure we're at that point yet," Crowley said.

He said the investigator were "pushing all buttons" to understand what happens in Pakistan and how that was related to the actions taken by terror suspect Faisal Shahzad.

"I can't say at this point that there's any information that Pakistan has identified, at this point, that is useful to our investigation," he said.

He said the US is trying to trace Shahzad's actions and movements during his recent visit to Pakistan. "... who did he meet, and what are the implications of those actions".

"As this investigation goes forward, as we're able to understand, what kind of support might have been given to this individual, at that point, if we find out more along those lines, we'll pass that on to Pakistan. And we would hope that Pakistan will take appropriate action in place," he said.

In response to a question, Crowley appreciated the actions being taken by Pakistan against terrorist organisations over the last couple of years.

Whatever Happened to the Hole in the Ozone Layer?

Three British scientists shocked the world when they revealed on May 16th, 1985 - 25 years ago - that aerosol chemicals, among other factors, had torn a hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole. The ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging solar radiation, became an overnight sensation. And the hole in the ozone layer became the poster-child for mankind's impact on the planet.

Today, the ozone hole - actually a region of thinned ozone, not actually a pure hole - doesn't make headlines like it used to. The size of the hole has stabilized, thanks to decades of aerosol-banning legislation. But, scientists warn, some danger still remains.

First, the good news: Since the 1989 Montreal Protocol banned the use of ozone-depleting chemicals worldwide, the ozone hole has stopped growing. Additionally, the ozone layer is blocking more cancer-causing radiation than any time in a decade because its average thickness has increased, according to a 2006 United Nations report. Atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting chemicals have reached their lowest levels since peaking in the 1990s, and the hole has begun to shrink.

Now the bad news: The ozone layer has also thinned over the North Pole. This thinning is predicted to continue for the next 15 years due to weather-related phenomena that scientists still cannot fully explain, according to the same UN report . And, repairing the ozone hole over the South Pole will take longer than previously expected, and won't finish until between 2060 and 2075. Scientists now understand that the size of the ozone hole varies dramatically from year to year, which complicates attempts to accurately predict the hole's future size.

Interestingly, recent studies have shown that the size of the ozone hole affects the global temperature. Closing the ozone hole actually speeds up the melting of the polar ice caps, according to a 2009 study from Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

So even though environmentally friendly laws have successfully reversed the trend of ozone depletion, the lingering effects of aerosol use, and the link between the ozone hole and global warming, virtually ensure that this problem will persist until the end of the century.