Sunday, May 9, 2010

Afghan refugees’ stay extended till 2012

Islamabad—Government of Pakistan, United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR and Afghanistan have signed an agreement of extending the stay of 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan till December 31, 2012.The agreement was signed in 19th meeting of the Tripartite Commission comprising Pakistan, UNHCR and Afghanistan at a local hotel in Lahore yesterday, says a press release here on Saturday.Federal Minister for State & Frontier Region (SAFRON) Najum-ud-Din Khan,UNHCR Country Head for Afghanistan Mr. Ewen Mcleod and Afghanistan Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Engineer Abdul Rahim attended the meeting.Federal Minister for SAFRON Najum-ud-Din Khan briefing the media said that as many as 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees would be facilitated for their voluntarily return to Afghanistan.He said that earlier in 2003, an agreement was signed with the Afghan government and UNHCR for the return of refugees which was expired in December 2009.
The Minister added that following the current agreement, the refugees living in various parts of the country would gradually return to Afghanistan and US$ 100 per head would be handed while the Afghan government would also provide them with shelter and other facilities there.Najum-ud-Din Khan said,the Pakistan government was committed to provide continued protection to those refugees who could not return safely to Afghanistan according to the Pakistan’s strategy.He said that three parties have reaffirmed the commitment to the return of Afghans in conditions of safety and dignity.To a question, the Federal Minister told that government already started verification of the Afghans who had got NADRA ID cards and 80,000 were cancelled so far. He added that a committee was formed to expedite the process of repatriation of 500,000 refugees till the end of this year.During the meeting, three stakeholders also took note of Pakistan’s strategy for the management of the stay of refugees and all were agreed to extend cooperation regarding VISA and border management issues.Afghan Minister Engineer Abdul Rahim thanked the Pakistan Government for its hospitality to the refugees for a long time.“Afghan government is pleased to extend this agreement which demonstrate the continued generosity of the government and people of Pakistan,” he observed.The UNHCR head told that since March 2010, a total 36,000 and from 2002 as many as 3.6 million refugees were repatriated to Afghanistan.

Foreign troops join Red Square parade

NATO troops marched across Red Square on Sunday as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany, a gesture of friendship to the West which won praise from U.S. President Barack Obama but enraged Communists.
Foreign leaders including President Hu Jintao of China and German Chancellor Angela Merkel watched as over 11,000 troops from World War Two victors Russia, the United States, Britain and France paraded to the sound of a huge military band.
A detachment of Welsh Guards from Britain in their trademark red tunics and black bearskin hats marched past Lenin's mausoleum carrying assault rifles. Armed U.S. troops from the 170th Infantry Brigade based in Germany followed shortly after. "Our unified formation is evidence of our common willingness to defend the peace," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the troops. "Only together can we confront today's threats, only on the basis of good neighborliness can we solve the problems of global security."
Russia's Communists, still the country's biggest opposition party, pledged to hold a protest march in central Moscow after the parade. They will chant slogans against NATO forces for marching over a hallowed square which is also home to the embalmed body of their revolutionary hero, Vladimir Lenin.
"Foreign troops have never appeared on Red Square. It's a violation of tradition," said Sergei Obukhov, a member of the party's Central Committee. "The presence of foreign troops with weapons in their hands unnecessary reminder that we lost the Cold War".
Obama, unable to come to Moscow because of a scheduling clash, praised the invitation to NATO troops.
"President Medvedev has shown remarkable leadership in honoring the sacrifices of those who came before us, and in speaking so candidly about the Soviet Union's suppression of elementary rights and freedoms," he said in a statement.
Russians back invitation
Most Russians seem to back Medvedev's invitation to the NATO forces.
A poll by the independent Levada Center last month showed that 55 percent viewed the presence of NATO troops at the parade as wholly or partly positive, with only 28 percent opposing it.
The result may reflect markedly better relations between Moscow and Washington since Obama's election and his "reset" of relations. This has already brought a new treaty cutting nuclear weapons and a deal on helping supply NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Victory Day is one of Russia's most important public holidays and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that this year's commemorations would be among the biggest ever, with over 102,000 troops marching in cities across this vast country.
Continuing a tradition begun by Stalin, Soviet and then Russian troops have marched in Red Square every year on May 9 to mark the capitulation of Nazi forces in Berlin.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin revived two years ago a Soviet-era tradition of parading tanks, missiles and military vehicles across the square and flying helicopters, fighters and bombers low overhead.
Uniformed war veterans, their chests weighed down with rows of clanking medals, packed the stands in front of the Kremlin walls to watch the parade in bright, warm sunshine.
The walls of the giant luxury GUM shopping center on Red Square were emblazoned with huge replicas of Soviet war medals. But in a concession to modernity, the Lenin mausoleum, from whose roof Soviet leaders used to watch the parade, was hidden from view by a large hoarding displaying the colors of the Russian flag.
Police locked down much of the center of Moscow, blocking roads and checking identification papers amid heightened fears of attacks by Islamist insurgents after a March bombing on the Moscow metro killed 40.
Two people were killed by bombs on Sunday in the southern Russian region of Dagestan.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cancelled their attendance at the last minute, citing the need to deal with the crisis surrounding the euro currency.

U.S. Urges Action in Pakistan After Failed Bombing

The Obama administration has delivered new and stiff warnings to Pakistan after the failed Times Square car bombing that it must urgently move against the nexus of Islamic militancy in the country’s lawless tribal regions, American and Pakistani officials said.
The American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, met with the Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, at his headquarters here on Friday and urged Pakistan to move more quickly in beginning a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in North Waziristan, Americans and Pakistanis familiar with the visit said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of continuing diplomatic efforts here.

The Pakistani-American man who admitted to the Times Square attack, Faisal Shahzad, 30, told American investigators that he had received training in North Waziristan, the main base for the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups.

The new pressure from Washington was characterized by both the Pakistani and American officials as a sharp turnaround from the relatively polite encouragement adopted by the Obama administration in recent months. And it comes amid increasing debate within the administration about how to expand the American military’s influence — and even a boots-on-the-ground presence — on Pakistani soil.

Though the bombing in Times Square failed, Mr. Shahzad’s ability to move back and forth between the United States and Pakistan has heightened fears in the Obama administration that another attempt at a terrorist attack could succeed.

“We are saying, ‘Sorry, if there is a successful attack, we will have to act’ ” within Pakistan, one of the American officials said.

That issue has been a source of growing tension between the countries. Pakistani officials, already alarmed by the increase in American drone aircraft attacks against militants in northwestern Pakistan, have been extremely sensitive about any hint that American ground troops could become involved in the fight. And attempts by the United States to increase the presence of Special Operations forces there even in an advisory or training role have been met with great resistance by the Pakistanis.

The Pakistani military has stepped up its campaigns against militants in the past year, including an offensive in South Waziristan that has been praised by American officials. It has said that it is preparing to take up the fight against militants in North Waziristan. But Pakistani officials have insisted that the expanded campaign will happen completely on their own terms, and they have warned the Obama administration not to push so hard that it uses up the good will it has tried to foster here.

But the Americans’ urgency has been increasing on multiple fronts. With an intensified American military campaign raging against the Taliban next door in Afghanistan, and now with the renewed evidence of Pakistani sources for plots to attack on American soil, it was clear the Pakistani government had to do more, and more urgently, a senior American official said Saturday.

General Kayani, with whom General McChrystal has forged a positive relationship, was essentially told, “ ‘You can’t pretend any longer that this is not going on,’ ” another American official said. “ ‘We are saying you have got to go into North Waziristan.’ ”

The American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, met Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, after the failed bombing and used “forceful” language to convey the American point that the Pakistanis had to move more assertively against the militants threaded through the society, a Pakistani official said.

“The element of threat is definitely different from the last few months,” said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador who also served in the United States. .

The Obama administration was planning to use the failed terrorist attack to impress on the Pakistanis of the urgency of getting American development aid in place in the tribal areas where militancy thrives, and into Karachi, the biggest city, where radical religious schools, known as madrasas, are popular.

“Last week’s incident makes it more urgent and more true” of the need to bring stability and security to these areas where the militants have multiplied, an American official said.

About $150 million was appropriated by Congress for assistance to the tribal areas in the coming period for reconstruction and other projects. But a host of problems, including American insistence on being able to monitor the money being spent, has made it a slow process.

Since Mr. Shahzad’s arrest in the Times Square attack, each country has, to some extent, blamed the other. Many Pakistanis insist that Mr. Shahzad is an American citizen who was radicalized in the United States by the difficulties he found living there as a Muslim. The Americans stress that Mr. Shahzad has traveled more than a dozen times back to Pakistan from the United States since 1999, and appeared to have received his military training in the epicenter of militancy, North Waziristan.

Mr. Shahzad’s background as the son of a senior Pakistani military officer has embarrassed the Pakistani Army, the most powerful institution in the country, and which receives generous financing from the United States. Mr. Shahzad’s father was a vice marshal in the Pakistani Air Force, and it appears that Mr. Shahzad grew up around senior military officers.

After Mr. Shahzad told American investigators that he was trained in bomb making in North Waziristan, the Pakistani Army tried to play down that claim, portraying it as unlikely.

The Pakistani Taliban took initial responsibility for the bombing attempt. Days later, though, their spokesman denied any involvement, a statement that may have been prompted by fears that their early claim of ownership of Mr. Shahzad might result in a direct attack on the North Waziristan enclave by the Americans, or the Pakistanis.

Afghanistan's Karzai Faces Muted Washington Reception

New York Times
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will visit Washington on Monday without the fanfare and celebration he once enjoyed, but with a more hard-hearted welcome from a sceptical host and his legitimacy under sharp scrutiny.Karzai's partnership with the United States and its Western allies has deteriorated significantly over the year, at times bearing a strong resemblance to a marriage on the rocks.With record numbers of U.S. troops being killed and billions of U.S. dollars ploughed into the impoverished country, some U.S. lawmakers will be reluctant to support defense and aid budgets if they are unconvinced about Karzai's leadership.Last month, Karzai's relationship with Washington reached a nadir when he accused foreign nations, especially the United States, of causing widespread fraud in last year's presidential poll and reports -- later denied by officials -- emerged that he had threatened to join the Taliban.The tone of the diatribe surprised even some of his allies in Kabul and the White House called his comments disturbing and untrue.
It was all a contrast to Karzai's chummy relationship with President George W. Bush when the two leaders regularly spoke with each other and when the Afghan leader was feted as a modern Muslim leader helping his war-torn country recover.
U.S. President Barack Obama has distanced himself from Karzai since his inauguration, despite it being his top foreign policy priority, until more than one year into his job. He stayed no more than a few hours in Kabul in a whirlwind night visit.Balding with a trim salt-and-pepper beard, Karzai is a chief of the Popalzai tribal group of the Pashtuns and hails from a royalist family with a tradition of public service.Born in Kandahar on December 24, 1957, the fourth of seven sons, Karzai went to school in Kabul before going to India to study for a masters degree in political science.Politics became his passion, and he did not marry until his 40s, when he wed an Afghan doctor active in helping refugees in Pakistan. They have a son.But despite losing the love of the West, as a Pashtun -- Afghanistan's largest ethnic group -- the 52-year-old Karzai has strong support in the south and east and there is as yet no credible political opposition strong enough to unseat him.Despite criticisms, Karzai has faced a huge task of pulling together one of the world's poorest countries that suffers from warlords, decades of conflict, a huge opium trade and unstable neighbours like Pakistan.As a tribal leader he is best placed to lead Afghanistan's current policy of reintegration and reconciliation with some elements of the Taliban.His status as a powerbroker in his home province of Kandahar, where he still garners respect from tribal leaders, could be crucial in U.S. efforts to tackle the insurgency there.But his half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who is accused of amassing a vast fortune from the opium trade, gives U.S. lawmakers another reason to pour cold water on Obama's Kandahar-focussed troop surge. Karzai's half brother denies the allegations.Karzai and his relatives, like millions of Afghans, fled to Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion. In exile, he helped fund and arm anti-Soviet fighters.He served as deputy foreign minister from 1992-94 after the fall of the Soviet-backed government, but quit as the government weakened in civil war that reduced much of Kabul to rubble and led to the rise of the Taliban.
At first supporting the Taliban, Karzai later worked from Pakistan to overthrow the Islamists. He returned to Afghanistan in late 2001 when he was appointed president of the country's interim government in a U.N.-sponsored deal in Germany.As president he has survived at least three assassination attempts, the most recent in April 2008 while attending a military parade close to the presidential palace in Kabul.

Victims of violence speak out in Afghanistan

Mothers of slain teenage sons, men wounded by mine blasts and tearful widows were among Afghans who spoke out Sunday at a conference billed as the first major gathering of victims of decades of war in their country.The so-called "victims' jirga" at a Kabul hotel brought together dozens of Afghans from across the country to build pressure on the government ahead of a national peace assembly called by President Hamid Karzai for later this month.Legal advocates who organized the gathering in the capital want to make sure the voices of the Afghan people who have suffered at the hands of insurgents, warlords and under the former Taliban and Soviet regimes are heard at the government's peace assembly.Some 1,500 people from across Afghan society have been invited to the assembly to seek a consensus for reconciling with insurgents willing to lay down their arms. Some victims don't want those who perpetrated violence over the years to be allowed to regain a measure of power, and for them to pay the consequences for their actions in order to resolve the more than eight-year-old war."We cannot lose hope for a peaceful life," said Sima Hussiani, a woman from Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan. The former Taliban regime killed her two brothers, both teachers, in the late 1990s, she said. "I don't want blood for blood, but the perpetrators should acknowledge their mistakes."Despite talk of peace and hopes for justice, the violence continues across the country as an insurgency led by Taliban militants works to destabilize the Karzai government and its international supporters.NATO reported a service member died Sunday following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. No other details were disclosed.On Saturday, four members of a community defense force protecting villagers in western Afghanistan were beheaded by militants in fighting, an Afghan army official said Sunday.Maj. Zainudin Sharifi, the commander of the Afghan National Army's rapid-response team in Herat province, said the fighting occurred in Zerko, a Taliban area of Shindand district.The defense force, hired by the Afghan Interior Ministry, came under fire while investigating tips that suicide bombers were planning to attack a coalition outpost. Four were captured and beheaded.
Coalition forces and the quick-response force responded, killing 10 militants. Sharifi said four of the militants died when they were hit by bullets that detonated their suicide vests.
Also on Saturday in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, a joint Afghan and international force uncovered a roadside bomb factory in Now Zad district. NATO said Sunday two suspected insurgents were detained and dozens of rocket-propelled grenades and bomb parts were confiscated.
In a separate operation, NATO said a joint force killed several insurgents and seized 4,960 pounds (2,250) kilograms of opium resin, 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of morphine, 44 pounds (20 kilograms) of heroin and four guns on Saturday in Helmand, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the Pakistani border.