Friday, June 18, 2010

Handicrafts by Swati women next on display at Lok Virsa

ISLAMABAD—A unique display of handcrafted products by valiant women of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the name of “Reviving Livelihood through Handicrafts in Post-conflict Areas” is being organized at Islamabad. Giving details, Khalid Javaid executive director Lok Virsa informed that the opening ceremony will take place at Lok Virsa Heritage Museum, Garden Avenue, Shakarparian, Islamabad on Saturday, 19 June 2010 at 6.00 p.m. Ms Sitara Ayaz, minister for culture and social welfare, government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be the chief guest. The other prominent speakers will include Director UNESCO Dr. Warren Mellor, CEO Heritage Foundation Mrs. Yasmeen Lari and executive director Lok Virsa. The event is being organized by Heritage Foundation, UNESCO and UK Aid in collaboration with Lok Virsa. According to the organizers, the project “Reviving Women’s Livelihood in Swat” was initiated in mid February 2010. focusing on capacity building within mohallahs, 500 women have been trained in twelve Karavan Mini Craft Centres established in union councils of Islampura, Mingora, Barikot, Saidu Sharif, Charbagh and Landikus. 327 women have been trained to make highly salable embroidery products within their homes, 110 women in khaddi (looms) for home-based handloom production and another 53 women for making handmade yarn. All 500 women have been provided the required tools and equipment including sewing machines, khaddis and charkhas, as well as toolkits to enable them to produce quality products. As part of the programme assistance greater outreach has been provided for the revival of one khaddi centre in Islampura, one vocational training centre in Odigram, a women’s sewing centre in Landikus and one pottery centre in Charbagh. For ensuring sustainability and regular income, linkages to urban consumer markets are being developed such as permanent outlets in Islamabad and Karachi, capacity building of local representatives for promoting sales and establishment of permanent green women centre in Islampura.

Saudi Arabia Gives OK To Israeli Attack On Iran

Saudi Arabia has given its go-ahead to Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to the 12 June edition of the Times UK. As the UN Security Council imposes stronger sanctions on Iran, Saudi military sources announced that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israeli attack planes to fly over Saudi airspace that they may shorten the distance for an attack on Iran. According to a US diplomat, “They [the Saudis] have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.” Riyadh has already carried out tests to make certain Saudi military interceptors are not scrambled, and missile defense systems are not activated, during an Israeli mission. Once the Israelis are past Saudi airspace, the Kingdom’s air defense systems will default to full alert. “The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over - and they will look the other way,” confirmed a US military source in the region. Despite tensions between Israel and Saudi Arabia, they both share a mutual loathing of the Ahmadinejad regime and both fear Iran’s nuclear potential. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through - and see nothing,” said one anonymous source. The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could possibly produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete. The targets lie as far as 1,400 miles (2,250km) from Israel; the outer limits of their bombers’ range, even with aerial refueling. An open corridor across northern Saudi Arabia would significantly shorten the distance. An Israeli air strike would involve multiple waves of bombers, possibly crossing Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Aircraft attacking Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, could swing beneath Kuwait to strike from the southwest. Passing over Iraq would require permission from Washington DC. So far, the Obama Administration has refused to give its approval as it pursues a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Military analysts say Israel has held back only because of this failure to secure consensus from America and Arab states. Military analysts doubt that an airstrike alone would be sufficient to knock out the key nuclear facilities, which are heavily fortified and deep underground or within mountains. But if the latest UN sanctions prove ineffective, the pressure from the Israelis on the USA to approve Jewish military action will intensify. Israeli officials refused to comment yesterday on details for a attack on Iran, which Netanyahu has refused to deny. In 2007, Israel was reported to have used Turkish air space to attack a rumored nuclear reactor being built by Iran’s main regional ally, Syria. Although Turkey publicly protested against the “violation” of its air space, it is thought to have turned a blind eye in what many saw as a dry run for a strike on Iran’s far more substantial and better-defended nuclear sites. Israeli intelligence experts say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are at least as worried as themselves and the West about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. Each also worries about Israel's extensive nuclear arsenal and its willingness to employ it against neighboring countries Israel has sent missile cruisers and at least one Israeli nuclear missile submarine through the Suez to be deployed into the Red Sea, possibly to attack Iran. Israeli newspapers reported last year that high-ranking officials, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, met with their Saudi counterparts. Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, also met with Saudi intelligence for their assurance that Riyadh would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets violating Saudi airspace en route to an attack against Iran. ___

Pashto poet living miserable life

PESHAWAR: Noted Pashto poet Akmal Lewanay was once the lifeline of almost every political gathering of the Awami National Party but nowadays he is living a miserable life at his home, suffering from acute paralysis for the last two years. Besides reciting his revolutionary poems at the public meetings of ANP or other literary gatherings, Akmal Lewanay also used to sell books and magazines outside these functions, which was the sole source of income for the 63-year-old poet from Katlang area of Mardan. “I have rented a shop at Katlang bazaar for the books and magazines but hardly shift these selling items to the literary or political functions to Peshawar or other far-flung areas of the province,” the paralysed Akmal told The News in Peshawar, where he had come for medical treatment. Author of three books, Akmal Lewanay was not only liked by the audience in the ANP political gatherings but also the nationalist leaders sitting on the stage often requested Akmal to recite his famous poems on the occasions. “I had actively participated in the meetings and rallies led by Baacha Khan and Wali Khan but when Abdul Wali Khan and other nationalist leaders were jailed, I read out a revolutionary poem at a public gathering in Mardan, presided over by Begum Nasim Wali Khan.” He recalled that the poem had received much praise from the audience and on the request of Begum Nasim he had been reciting such poems at almost all political gatherings of the party across the province. However, the erstwhile energetic poet has been confined to his hometown for the last two years, as he cannot move without support of a walking stick. “I have been suffering from paralysis since 1991 but for the last two years it has affected my legs,” he added. He said he was neither receiving any stipend from the provincial government nor has he any expectation from the ANP-led government. “I have not been affiliated with the nationalist movement for any worldly gains but composed poetry and struggled as per my conscience and ideology,” he said, adding that he was receiving stipends from the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL). Akmal Lewanay is also known for his comic poetry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan and has got published three books titled ‘Tortum’, ‘Chapawona’ and ‘Lewantoob’. He also has to his credit an unpublished collection of comic poetry and wants to publish it at the earliest.

Obama to challenge Ariz. immigration law

Obama administration officials have decided to file a suit to block a much-disputed Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigration, according to several news reports. The decision to intervene was confirmed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in an interview last week with an Ecuadorian journalist. "President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy," Clinton said in the interview. "And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act." "But the more important commitment that President Obama has made is to try to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform," she said. "That is what we need. Everyone knows it, and the president is committed to doing it." When asked whether Clinton misspoke, Mark Toner, the director of the State Department's press office, told Bloomberg News: "The secretary's words stand for themselves." A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department "continues to review the law." But other administration officials said the decision to intervene has been made, only the details of the suit need to be worked out. The Arizona law gives local police greater power to check the legal status of people they stop and makes illegal immigration a state crime. Opponents fear the law will lead to racial profiling. The law has sparked boycotts and protests, both around the country and in Boston. On May 5, the Boston City Council passed a resolution urging that business ties be cut with Arizona in protest over the law. Mayor Thomas M. Menino joined the council, saying he would consider canceling city contracts with Arizona companies that support the law. The controversy has even carried over into Boston's sports scene. Demonstrators gathered outside Fenway Park this week to protest the arrival of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in town for a three-game series against the Red Sox.

Value to Big Powers May Not Be Enough to Save Kyrgyzstan

MOSCOW — A year and a half ago, the world’s great powers were fighting like polecats over Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked stretch of mountains in the heart of Central Asia. The United States was ferociously holding on to the Manas Air Base, a transit hub considered crucial to NATO efforts in Afghanistan. Russia was so jealous of its traditional dominance in the region that it promised the Kyrgyz president $2.15 billion in aid the day he announced he was closing Manas. With the bidding war that followed, Kyrgyzstan could be forgiven for seeing itself as a global player. And yet for the past week, as spasms of violence threatened to break Kyrgyzstan apart, its citizens saw their hopes for an international intervention flicker and die. With each day it has become clearer that none of Kyrgyzstan’s powerful allies — most pointedly, its former overlords in Moscow — were prepared to get involved in a quagmire. Russia did send in several hundred paratroopers, but only to defend its air base at Kant. For the most part, the powers have evacuated their citizens, apparently content to wait for the conflict to burn itself out. The calculus was a pragmatic one, made “without the smallest thought to the moral side of the question,” said Aleksei V. Vlasov, an expert in the politics of post-Soviet countries at Moscow State University. “We use the phrase ‘collective responsibility,’ but in fact this is a case of collective irresponsibility,” he added. “While they were fighting about whatever — about bases, about Afghanistan — they forgot that in the south of Kyrgyzstan there was extreme danger. The city was flammable. All they needed to do was throw a match on it.” Kyrgyzstan may have unraveled anyway, but competition between Moscow and Washington certainly sped the process. To lock in its claim on the base after the threat of expulsion, the United States offered President Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev $110 million to back out of his agreement with Russia, which had already paid him $450 million. Congratulating itself on its victory, Washington raised the stakes by announcing the construction of several military training facilities in Kyrgyzstan, including one in the south, which further irritated Moscow. This spring, the Kremlin won back its lost ground, employing a range of soft-power tactics to undermine Mr. Bakiyev’s government. Mr. Bakiyev was ousted by a coalition of opposition leaders in April, and conditions in Kyrgyzstan’s south — still loyal to the old government — hurtled toward disaster. “Let’s be honest, Kyrgyzstan is turning into a collapsing state, or at least part of it is, and what was partially responsible is this geopolitical tug-of-war we had,” said Alexander A. Cooley, who included Manas in a recent book about the politics of military bases. “In our attempts to secure these levers of influence and support the governing regime, we destabilized these state institutions. We are part of that dynamic.” Last week, as pillars of smoke rose off Osh and Jalalabad, citizens begged for third-party peacekeepers to replace local forces they suspected of having taken part in the violence. Roza Otunbayeva, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, asked Moscow for peacekeepers, and when that request was denied, for troops to protect strategic sites like power plants and reservoirs. She asked Washington to contribute armored vehicles from the base at Manas, which she said would be used to transport the dead and wounded, she told the Russian newspaper Kommersant. So far, Moscow and Washington have responded mostly with humanitarian aid pledges — late on Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Ms. Otunbayeva’s request was still under consideration. The United States, overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq, has neither the appetite nor the motive for a new commitment. Russia, the more obvious player, sees the risks of a deployment outweighing the benefits. Russian troops would enter hostile territory in south Kyrgyzstan, where Mr. Bakiyev’s supporters blame Moscow for his overthrow, and Uzbekistan could also revolt against a Russian presence. Mr. Vlasov, of Moscow State University, said: “Who are we separating? Uzbeks from Kyrgyz? Krygyz from Kyrgyz? Kyrgyz from some criminal element? There is no clearly defined cause of this conflict. It would be comparable to the decision the Soviet Politburo made to invade Afghanistan — badly thought through, not confirmed by the necessary analytical work.” If the explosion of violence was a test case for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an eight-year-old post-Soviet security group dominated by Russia, it seems to have failed, its leaders unwilling to intervene in a domestic standoff. In any case, neither the Russian public nor its foreign policy establishment is pressing the Kremlin to risk sending peacekeepers. “If you send them, you have to shoot sooner or later,” said Sergei A. Karaganov, a prominent political scientist in Moscow. “Then you are not a peacekeeper, but something else.” Though it seems that the worst of the violence has passed, great challenges remain. Beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis is an unstable state at the heart of a dangerous region. The Ferghana Valley, bordering Afghanistan, is a minefield of religious fundamentalism, drug trafficking and ethnic hatreds. If Kyrgyz-style violence should radiate across borders in Central Asia, the result could be a rise in Islamic militancy that would directly threaten Russia and the United States. The failure of international institutions last week should alarm both capitals. President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia began their relationship with the crisis over the Manas base, and as they grope toward tentative collaboration in the post-Soviet space, Kyrgyzstan has dominated their conversation. Now, Kyrgyzstan needs help building a stable government that knits together the north and the south. Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, suggested that NATO should be working with the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to develop a mechanism for collective action. The next time a Central Asian country is wobbling at the edge of a precipice, he said, someone must be prepared to accept responsibility. “You can abstain from a local conflict in Kyrgyzstan,” Mr. Trenin said. “You can close your eyes to it — it’s bad for your conscience — but you can live with it. It something happens in Uzbekistan, you will not be able to just let it burn out.”

Power of education is the real gold in Afghanistan

Amid all the dark news from Afghanistan, every now and then a sliver of light slips through the cracks. Afghanistan, it turns out, is rich in minerals. Trillions rich. It's going to become the Saudi Arabia of lithium, they say. Thanks to vast stores of that resource, plus iron, copper, cobalt and gold, this impoverished, war-torn nation could become a wealthy nation. No more wars, no Taliban, no heroin, no Osama bin Laden. Too good to be true, right? The deposits are real enough, but the question remains: Can a country without mining infrastructure and populated by people who've never known prosperity or possessed the collective memory of self-direction (70 percent of Afghans are under age 30) put its resources to constructive use? Although the potential is "stunning," according to Gen. David Petraeus, the sidebars and footnotes to this heartening story are full of caveats and "yes, buts." There's also potential for corruption, for fights between the central government and the provinces, for conflict along the border with Pakistan, where some of the richest deposits are located, and for a resurgent and enriched Taliban. Moreover, turning deposits into a functioning mining industry will take decades. But speculation naturally leads to the hope that Afghanistan could begin to fund its own reinvention and liberate other nations, notably ours, from that burden. The key, it seems, lies in educating the rising generation of Afghans -- in the liberal arts as well as in the technologies needed to advance this new economic potential. There is hope there, too, not least because of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), the nation's only private, nonprofit university. The school was launched with the help of a substantial grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development and built on 48 acres in Kabul. Instruction commenced in 2006, and the first class graduated last month. The school has 500 students, 20 percent of them women, and it hopes to expand to 800 students next year and to 2,000 in five years. Most Afghans can't afford the tuition -- 70 percent receive financial aid -- and are being educated in large part through American donations. Some of those donors attended a dinner in Washington recently to hear from students and to honor former first lady Laura Bush for her support of the university. A new fundraising project is underway for the Laura W. Bush Women's Resource Center, which will be the cornerstone of a new library and student services building with classrooms, conference space and an auditorium. And you thought all she did was sit and smile. The dinner, held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, was attended by many of those who have worked in the private sector to help bring opportunity to Afghans, especially women. In attendance, to name but a few, were C. Michael Smith, university president; Leslie M. Schweitzer, chair of the Friends of the AUAF; Said T. Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States; and Caroline Hudson Firestone, who has dedicated herself to helping Afghan women and is the author of "Afghanistan in Transition." It was one of those events familiar to Washingtonians where philanthropists and government officials convene to sip wine and, if the spirit moves the crowd, to write checks. If inspiration is the lubricant that compels luckier Americans to share prosperity, then this particular evening was rich. The highlight was the testimony of five students who trekked from Afghanistan to report on the results of American generosity. More than once, they urged the audience: "Don't feel sorry for us, be there for us." Each spoke variously of escaping the Taliban, losing family members, living as refugees in Pakistan. All spoke of feeling safe on the campus, of free speech, of open dialogue with professors and mutual respect -- all miracles we take for granted. But one young woman stood out. Masooma Habibi, a graduate of Goldman Sachs's 10,000 Women program at the AUAF, founded an Internet-related consulting business in Kabul and employs nearly two dozen people. Her head covered, she spoke softly in somewhat halting English. The AUAF is "like a dream," she said. When Americans educate an Afghan, "you are playing with life, so thank you." We knew just what she meant. It seems at times too much to hope that Afghanistan might ever become a stable country, where men and women could lead prosperous, peaceful lives. The key to that kind of future clearly lies in education. There's more to mine in Afghanistan than minerals. And there's gold in these students.

Amnesty International and FATA

By Zar Ali Khan Musazai. In a recent Report issued by Amnesty International regarding Human Rights situations in FATA concern was shown that nearly 4 million people in FATA live under Taliban rule where they suffer human rights abuses from both militants and the Pakistani Army. As if Hell Fell on ME, a report based on interviews with nearly 300 people, says millions live in a, human rights free zone, where militants torture and kill women aid workers and men without beards. Pakistani soldiers have also committed serious violations, including indiscriminate artillery fire and extrajudicial executions, as the army swept across the tribal belt over the past year, the report said. FATA is a buffer between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan termed it its geography but till this very day since its creation in 1947, she has done no good to this part of the world. Political freedom has been closed for the people of this area. Political parties act has not been yet extended to FATA. On Aug. 14, 2009 incumbent President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari announced abolition of FCR and extension of Political Parties Act but soon retreated back for the known reasons pressurized by military establishment not to dare intervene into the affairs of FATA. As for as we know, there are reasons for pushing FATA into hell, the foremost is that area in question is still not having any constitutional status as to whose part is it? The second is that Pakistani establishment has been in its control to use it against Afghanistan and to take into hands who rules the Kabul. People at helm of affairs in Islamabad have no interest in those living in FATA (Native People of FATA) rather they have their own interest in FATA. We see that FATA has been used for the terrorism for the last nearly 30 years. Religious extremism was promoted by the establishment. Seminaries were constructed and people were encouraged to participate. Politics was termed as a forbidden flower for the people of FATA. They were told that they were different from those living both sides of them. But actually people who at their west and east are of the same ethnicity, Pashtun. They were also told that they were more brave and courageous than others and they had a unique culture. Many a times they were presented as the soldiers having no formal salary out of the national kitty which is supposed to be filled by the alms getting on the very name of tribal people. Actually people of FATA have never been antagonistic to any country or people. They have always remained as peaceful and secular people. In Tirah valley of Khyber Agency so many people are living who are Sikh, by religion. More than 30 thousands Christians have been also residing in FATA but there has never been an incident of killing, abducting or abusing each other. They have all rights what a tribesman and woman have except some what the FCR has taken from them. This is an excellent example of tolerance and secularism. People in Tirah go to the funeral prayers of their sikh brethren and have a good relation ship and no one counts him or her as alien. They have never scorned at them for being different from what they practice. Now we have to come to the facts as to what are the reasons that turned the situations sour. Due to an area like a black hole having no know how about politics and political parties’ presence the religious extremism was promoted and encouraged by the state sponsored agencies for the reasons already mentioned above. Political Agent was imposed on them to decide about their future. Militants from across the world and Punjab were invited by establishment to FATA and a farce like situations was developed in which several actors have been performing their respective acts. Militants were handed over the guns and weapons while on other players started getting fund from international community to apparently wipe out terrorists. In this whole drama the marginalized people of FATA has no role. They and their land are just used for the stage and getting money. Pakistani establishment is a fund starved one and would be using all means and tactics to get the dollars to fill the pockets and have an occasion to loot and plunder with both hands and the recent report of Transparency International also supported our view. The report of Amnesty International should open the eyes of international community giving fund to the cheaters and robbers on the heads of tribal and FATA. People are hostage and they have been terrorized to the extent that no one in FATA could dare to discuss this issue and go to the bottom of the awful tale of the FATA residents. Most of the tribal have left for comparatively safer places to take shelter. Those who are still there are at the mercy of terrorists and military alike. More than 50000 innocent tribesmen and women were sacrificed for the sin they had not committed. About 3500 pro peace political people, tribal Malakan and influential were ruthlessly beheaded and assassinated Fund is coming and drowned the drain. Neither terrorism was wiped out nor did miseries of people come to an end. Now it is the responsibility of the Pakistan government to do something for the betterment of the people in FATA because it has been getting the fund on its name but no one knows where it goes. (The writer is a social and political worker and currently is Chairman Tribal NGOs Consortium, FATA and can be reached at email,

Pakistan's SC seeks list of loan write-off beneficiaries from 1971

ISLAMABAD : Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday sought the list of loan write-off beneficiaries from 1971, Aaj News reported. According to the details, a three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry resumed hearing of suo moto case of Rs 54 billion write off loan on Friday. Chief Justice said that those who have not returned national capital will be sent to jail.

U.S. showed Pakistan evidence on militant faction

The United States has presented evidence to Pakistan that a militant faction aligned with the Taliban and based in Pakistan orchestrated brazen attacks last month in Afghanistan, a top general said on Wednesday. The United States has long pressed the Pakistani military to crack down on the so-called Haqqani faction in the North Waziristan tribal region, which borders Afghanistan, but Islamabad has so far balked at doing so. General David Petraeus, who oversees the Afghan war as head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing that he, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff raised Haqqani links in a recent meeting with Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Kayani. “We have shared information with him about links of the leadership of the Haqqani network located in North Waziristan that clearly commanded and controlled the operation against Bagram air base and the attack in Kabul, among others,” Petraeus said. Suicide bombers carrying rockets and grenades launched a brazen predawn attack on the base on May 19, killing an American contractor and wounding nine U.S. troops. About a dozen militants, many wearing suicide vests packed with explosives, were killed, the Pentagon said at the time. A day earlier, a suicide bomber attacked a military convoy in Kabul, killing 12 Afghan civilians and six foreign troops. Bagram is the main base for the U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, with the largest airfield in the country. It was used by the former Soviet Union during its invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Pentagon has expressed confidence that Pakistan will eventually mount an offensive in North Waziristan, but said Islamabad would decide on the timing. The Haqqani network has long been described by U.S. forces as one of their biggest enemies in Afghanistan. But there are strategic reasons for Pakistan’s hesitancy to attack the Haqqanis. Pakistan sees the group as a strategic asset that will give it influence in any peace settlement in Afghanistan so Islamabad will want those militants on its side. The United States has increased pressure on Pakistan to act in North Waziristan following a botched May 1 car-bombing in New York’s Time Square that U.S. investigators have blamed on the Pakistani Taliban. But Pentagon officials have said they understood the Pakistani military was already stretched by operations in other tribal areas.

Pentagon Claims Afghan Strategy Working Despite Problems

Official says progress is beginning to prove validity of President Barack Obama's strategy for defeating Taliban The Pentagon claimed Thursday that progress in some areas of Afghanistan is beginning to prove the validity of President Barack Obama's strategy for defeating the Taliban and related groups. The claim came after Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed concern that news reports from southern Afghanistan, where the effort has run into significant challenges, are painting a more negative picture than is justified. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledges that the situation in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar has been difficult, with slower progress than had been expected. But he says the fact that there has been some progress in ousting the Taliban, improving security and beginning to help the Afghan government assert its authority in several towns is significant. "I think we are beginning to see a proof of concept in some areas. The areas where our strategy has been employed the longest have improved the most," he said. Morrell told a news conference the Taliban's momentum in Northern Afghanistan has been reversed, and there has been progress in several towns in the West and in the difficult Eastern region, where insurgents can easily seek refuge across the Pakistani border. Even in the South, where journalists traveling with American forces have reported on distrust among local residents, attacks by tenacious Taliban units and other problems, Morrell says the U.S. Marines have been expanding security in a series of towns. "What they are effectively doing is creating a contiguous zone of security where farmers can move, people doing commerce can move freely, and business can be done, people can go to school. Now, we're far from perfect. We got a long way to go in each of those places. But this notion that there has not been progress made is an erroneous one," Morrel said. Morrell included the major town of Marja in his list of improved areas, even though he acknowledged "there is still too much intimidation" by Taliban forces there. He also said that in spite of some high-profile attacks, there have been improvements in security in the capital, Kabul. Experts say it is normal to have an uneven mosaic of progress and problems in a counterinsurgency campaign. Officials have acknowledged slower-than-expected progress in Kandahar City, a key Taliban stronghold, and have also said success in the city is essential for success overall in Afghanistan. On Wednesday at a Senate hearing, Secretary Gates appealed for patience, noting that the new strategy has only been in place for a few months and all the troops needed to implement it have not yet arrived. In answer to a reporter's question Thursday, Morrell echoed the secretary's call for people to give the strategy a chance to work. "Ultimately, Steve, it's up to us to prove it conclusively, and we're perfectly prepared to do that. We just want to make sure that the time is provided to do it," he said. Morrell and other officials note that the president's next strategy review is six months away, and his deadline for starting what is expected to be a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is more than a year away. Officials say they expect to be able to prove more conclusively that their strategy is working by the end of this year, and to meet the president's deadline in July of next year.

Taliban nexus

EDITORIAL Daily Times For years the Afghan Taliban have been considered an ‘asset’ in Pakistan’s establishment circles. They were trained and funded by the state so that we would not have an ‘enemy’ to deal with on our western border. But recent events should force the establishment to rethink its policy of nurturing them. A nexus between the local Taliban and their counterparts in Afghanistan has by now become obvious. More than 30 Pakistani troops are missing after an attack by the Afghan Taliban on a border checkpost between the Mohmand and Bajaur agencies. The Taliban have claimed that they are holding some Pakistani soldiers captive. This is quite alarming. It seems as if we are looking at another Frankenstein’s monster. After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance came to power. Musharraf adopted a dual policy when it came to handing over militants to the Americans. The Afghan Taliban were protected while members of al Qaeda were caught and subsequently handed over. Now that the endgame in Afghanistan is on the cards, a process of reconciliation has begun in Afghanistan whereby the Karzai government is offering to negotiate with the Taliban. But the militants have so far refused the Afghan government’s offer, keeping in view that they are far stronger than the weak government in Kabul. The local Taliban have already disrupted peace in the country with their terrorist attacks both against the security forces and civilians. The Pakistan Army has conducted successful military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. Another one is ongoing in Bajaur, where the local Taliban have suffered heavy casualties. An unprecedented attack by the Afghan Taliban on a border checkpost is indicative of the emerging nexus between them and the Pakistani Taliban. They must have intervened at the behest of the local Taliban in order to put pressure on the army. Pakistan must now reverse its ‘strategic depth’ policy, which has proved disastrous. This attack by the Afghan Taliban on our forces leaves room for scepticism whether they would ever prove to be an asset for Pakistan. Even in 2001 the Afghan Taliban paid no heed to Pakistan’s advice to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US, so putting our trust in them again will probably backfire. The Taliban are no one’s friends but themselves. The US has presented evidence against the Haqqani network to Pakistan regarding their attacks inside Afghanistan, but to help eliminate the terror networks operating from our soil, the US should provide us with advanced attack helicopters. We have suffered heavy losses during the military offensives and if we are to launch one in North Waziristan, additional military equipment and funds are required. Another worrying aspect vis-à-vis the terrorist nexus is the emergence of the Punjabi Taliban, a loose terror network that is spread all over the country. This group is not only in cahoots with the Pakistani Taliban but they also have suspected links with al Qaeda. It is about time that the so-called assets of the state like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are disbanded and crushed. These groups have enjoyed state patronage for years. Pakistan has suffered enough at the hands of its skewed foreign policy goals. We cannot afford to do so anymore. Enough is enough. Let our soil be finally cleansed of our sins of the past

Afghan vows to use Japan's aid effectively

Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised Thursday to use Japanese aid effectively to restore peace and stability in his country, as he sought to allay Tokyo's concerns that its support may be wasted on his corrupt and faltering government. Tokyo announced in November a five-year pledge of $5 billion to help the war-torn nation strengthen its police force as well as support agriculture and infrastructure projects. The Japanese have abandoned a refueling mission that supported troops in Afghanistan and now only offer humanitarian support. Japan is one of Afghanistan's biggest donors, but there has been no indication additional aid will be forthcoming on Karzai's five-day visit. Instead, Karzai is seeking to convince Tokyo that his government will use money already promised well. "I guarantee Mr. Prime Minister that Afghan people would do their best to have their money spent in Afghanistan for the best purposes of development and stability in Afghanistan," Karzai said in a joint news conference after holding talks with Japanese Prime Minster Naoto Kan, who took office earlier this month. Karzai is the first foreign leader to meet with Kan. The comments came a day after Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada warned Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal that Kabul must tackle the problems of security, corruption and flagging public support "so that (Japanese) taxpayers' money is effectively used." On Thursday, Karzai and Kan discussed the Afghan government's recent efforts to strengthen governance and improve security, as well as implementation of Japanese aid measures. Kan said that Afghanistan is key to world peace and pledged Tokyo's continuing support. But he stressed the need for the Afghan government to improve security and fight corruption. "I certainly hope that $5 billion would be used to benefit the Afghan people and the global peace, and I offered to continue our support to achieve the goal," Kan said. Over the past nine years, billions in aid and the presence of international forces have failed to decisively turn the tide of the war, and the Afghan government continues to struggle to assert its authority over wide swaths of the country. Widespread corruption in Karzai's administration is believed to have attracted Afghans into the insurgency. Karzai met with Emperor Akihito earlier Thursday. He is also scheduled to speak at a seminar, pray at Hiroshima's peace park for the victims of the U.S. atomic bombing and visit Japan's ancient capital of Nara before leaving Sunday.

Afghan mineral wealth may be at least $3 trillion

Afghanistan is gearing up to award contracts to mine one the world's largest iron ore deposits buried in a peaceful province of the nation that has at least $3 trillion in untapped minerals, the country's top mining official said Thursday. Geologists have known for decades about Afghanistan's vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals, but a U.S. Department of Defense briefing earlier this week put a startling, nearly $1 trillion price tag on the reserves. Afghanistan's Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani called that a conservative estimate. He said he's seen geological assessments and industry reports estimating the nation's mineral wealth at $3 trillion or more. For Afghanistan, a war-torn, landlocked country with virtually no exports, it is a potential windfall, although formidable obstacles remain including lack of investment, infrastructure and adequate security in most of the nation. "The ministry has been working closely with the international organizations, including the World Bank, the U.S. Geological Survey and the international mining and finance community for some time to ensure all of the Afghan people benefit from our rich natural resources for decades to come," he said. Shahrani plans to travel to Britain next week to present 200 foreign businessmen with information about the estimated 2 billion tons of iron ore at Hajigak in Bamiyan province, where the Taliban and other insurgents have no significant presence. The project is to be bid on this fall with contracts awarded late this year or early next year, he said. Critics of the war in Afghanistan have been skeptical that the dollar amount of the country's untapped minerals was being promoted at a time when violence is on the upswing and the international community is hungry for positive developments in the nearly 9-year-old war. They argue that if impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, it could help foreign governments persuade their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops. But Shahrani insisted that the release of the information, first reported earlier this week by The New York Times, followed months of work to assess the mineral deposits, sometimes with the aid of data compiled by the former Soviet Union when it was fighting in Afghanistan. A. Rahman Ashraf, senior adviser to the minister of mines, said that during decades of conflict, an Afghan geologist safeguarded data about the mineral reserves at home. He said the geologist, who has died, gave the information back to the government in 2002 and that since then, it has been used to help make modern assessments of the deposits. Shahrani said the Ministry of Mines and the U.S. Geological Survey had been sharing information for months. "We were just waiting for the exchange of information from Washington to Kabul," Shahrani said. Shahrani added that the ministry recently completed a business plan to restructure, reform and modernize the ministry and improve oversight to international standards. He said those efforts coupled with new minerals and hydrocarbon laws will work to improve the transparency and efficiency of mining in the nation. Still, without increased security and massive investment to mine and transport the minerals, it could take years for Afghanistan to bank the rewards. A rail line, for instance, is needed before any iron ore could be transported from Bamiyan. And there's always the potential that such a discovery could bring unintended consequences, such as corruption and competition among nations for access to the resources. In November, two U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports alleged that Afghanistan's former minister of mines, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel, accepted $20 million after a $3 billion contract to mine copper was awarded in late 2007 to China Metallurgical Group Corp. The former minister has denied having taken any bribes and said the contract went through all legal channels. Aynak, a former al-Qaida stronghold 21 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Kabul, is thought to hold one of the world's largest unexploited copper reserves. Mining the copper could produce 4,000 to 5,000 Afghan jobs in the next five years and hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the government treasury, Shahrani said. Craig Andrews, a lead mining specialist for the World Bank, said Aynak was expected to start producing copper within two to three years. Production of iron ore at Hajigak could begin in five to seven years, and possibly sooner, he said. Andrews noted that studies show that every mining job creates five to 10 other jobs. "Clearly, these mines will have a huge economic stimulus effect on not only the national economy, but the region in which they are located in," Andrews said. "I think when people have jobs and they have an income, they have a stake in the future and the future does not include insecurity. I think once the communities are anchored in an economy that gives them jobs money and income they would be less inclined to support the Taliban or other insurgent groups." He said the government, however, must guard against raising the expectations of the Afghan public. Otherwise, "people are going to go off and pick up a rock and think that they can go to the bank," he said. "Unfortunately the business doesn't operate that way. It takes a lot longer."