Friday, August 6, 2010

Pakistan Floods,Thousands Still Stranded.

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For Pakistan, it’s the worst flooding in living memory. The United Nations estimates more than 1 million people have been affected by the surging waters. On Sunday, Pakistan officials said more than 1,000 people were killed in the disaster — and that number is expected to rise, emergency workers admit they’re struggling. A BBC reporter explains.

“They’re saying they don’t have all the equipment they need to get the sheer number of people who are stranded. We’re talking about an estimated 400,000 people who have been displaced. Many of whom are stuck in areas where communication links have been cut off”

Bilawal Bhutto cancels his launch speech on Aug 7

Chairman of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari dramatically declared last night that he would not address the Birmingham rally on Saturday, August 07, putting cold water on the plans that he would be launched as the party chief and adding a new sense of drama to the countrywide campaign against President Zardari.

In a dramatic climbdown, the 21-year-old son of Benazir said that he would continue with his studies and wanted to stay away from the media. The move comes as a humiliation to the party mandarins who were preparing for weeks for his grand entry into politics.

The press release by Bilawal Bhutto, the party chairman who shares the party portfolio with his father, the president, puts him at odd with the party leaders who were betting on him all along.

Through the High Commission of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Oxford graduate, said that he would not even be attending the event and instead “I will be opening a donation point at the Pakistani High Commission in London for victims of the terrible floods which have ravaged northern Pakistan.”

He said, “As for my future plans, I intend to continue my education, both academic and political. I am currently looking into the possibilities of studying law, just as my grandfather Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did. I feel that an understanding of law and an appreciation for the rule of law is important for any politician seeking to strengthen democracy in Pakistan”.

I have been inundated with requests from the British media for interviews. Following my mother’s assassination, the press had kindly agreed to allow me to continue with my education without being disturbed, he said.

He said, “I hope this courtesy will be extended until I complete my further education as well. I do look forward to working with the media, the international community and most importantly the people of Pakistan in the future to achieve our shared goals of strengthening democracy in Pakistan and combating the forces of extremism that robbed me of my mother and threaten the world today.”

Pakistan could face food shortage in wake of floods: economists

Pakistani economists have expressed apprehensions that flash flood could create food shortage in the country which has to double its efforts for meeting growing needs of the galloping population.

Currency Buying Selling
Euro 111.80 113.00
USD 85.70 86.00
Pound 135.00 136.20
YEN 0.9860 0.9960
AUSD 77.70 78.70
According to Radio Mashaal, they advised that more barren land should be used for cultivation to control this possible shortage of food.

Financial experts say that ongoing terrorism has already have had a very impact on the country's economy and the recent floods have destroyed thousand acres of farmlands which could cause shortage of food commodities in future.

Experts claimed that on one hand government is neglecting the development of agriculture sector and on the other smuggling of food items to Afghanistan were the reasons behind this shortage.

When Financial and Agriculture expert Dr. Shahid Hasan Sadique was questioned about the issue of possible food shortage in Pakistan, he said:" We are continuously warning the government that due to shortage of food items in future there will emerge a risk of possible anarchy in the country."

There are some reasons for this food shortage. According to the official estimates, the country has suffered a loss of twenty billion dollars, in the last two years, due to this ongoing war against terrorism, and this is almost ninety billion rupees per year which could affect supply of food items.

Secondly the IMF is giving Pakistan loans with strings, for example to increase the electricity charges, gas bills and to stop tariff on some other facilities is also the biggest reason. The third reason is that government is paying no attention to the development of agriculture sector.

The population has also increased twenty four per cent in the last ten years and agriculture product has increased only five percent.

On this question that Pakistan is an agricultural country and has one of the best irrigation systems then why it was importing food items from abroad. There are also many other reasons behind, one is water shortage to the farmer for cultivation, our thousands of acres land is barren and this must be developed for cultivation, third reason is that big farmers are of the opinion that due to food they will get more profit.

If government does not chalkout any strategy about then there is a possibility of food shortage and crisis in the country.

Floods affect 4.5 million people across the country: UN

Devastating floods across the country have affected an estimated 4.5 million people, United Nations officials said on Friday, as relief workers warned that aid needs were ‘absolutely daunting’.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates globally that 4.5 million people have been affected by the flooding, said UN spokeswoman Elena Ponomareva, marking an increase of some 300,000 in a day.

Citing estimates from Pakistani authorities, UN relief agencies said an estimated 252,000 homes have been destroyed as relentless monsoon rains continue and flood water roll southwards through some of the poorest parts of the country.

As we're hearing, the scale of the needs is absolutely daunting, said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Obama raises nearly $1 million for Giannoulias

President Barack Obama sought to help U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias on two fronts Thursday, raising much-needed campaign cash and reassuring voters that the Democrat is a trusted ally who can be counted on to help advance a progressive agenda.

The nearly $1 million fundraising event at the Palmer House Hilton highlighted a quick visit by Obama back home to Chicago that also included a tour of a Southeast Side Ford plant and a 49th birthday dinner Wednesday night with friends including Oprah Winfrey.

Speaking Thursday afternoon to more than 400 donors, Obama and Giannoulias each sought to label November's mid-term elections as a stark choice for the public between the economic policies of the previous Bush administration and efforts by the Democratic White House — admittedly not always popular — to reverse the recession.
"Alexi is my friend. I know his character. I know how much he loves this country. I know how committed he is to public service for all the right reasons," the president said. "I appreciate his strong sense of advocacy for ordinary Americans. He's not doing this to help the lobbyists. He's not doing it to help special interests."

Though Obama and Giannoulias have a long history, their relationship had been strained over the Senate contest. In 2004, Giannoulias helped introduce Obama to the city's Greek community and donors when Obama won the U.S. Senate seat Giannoulias is now seeking. Two years later, Obama repaid the favor by endorsing Giannoulias for state treasurer over the Democratic organization-backed candidate. But last year, the White House was actively trying to recruit a sure-win Senate candidate despite Giannoulias' early entry into the contest.

Obama's fundraising appearance came at a critical time for Giannoulias. The treasurer's political viability had been questioned until his Republican Senate opponent, five-term North Shore U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, stumbled badly when it came out that he had embellished and misstated his Naval Reserve record and personal history. Even with those problems, Kirk entered the final months of the campaign with nearly $4 million to spend while Giannoulias had about $1 million.

Kagan to Take Supreme Court Oath Saturday

After being confirmed by the Senate with a 63-37 vote yesterday, Elena Kagan is taking no time to rest before being sworn in as the country's 112th Supreme Court justice.Kagan will take her oath tomorrow to become an associate justice. Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the constitutional oath during a private ceremony, and then administer the judicial oath in public.This will mark the first time three women serve at the same time. Kagan will join Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the fall term, starting in October. She is also the only current justice with no experience as a judge, which was a point of contention during her confirmation process.Kagan has already recused herself from hearing several Supreme Court cases in which she was involved previously. As Solicitor General, she acted as the chief lawyer for the Obama administration, which included her involvement in several high-profile cases to be heard in the fall term.
But before any cases are heard, she gets to party. Obama invited her to the White House for a celebration today.

Punjabis flee unrelenting rainfall

U.S. Attends Hiroshima Ceremony

The United States ambassador participated for the first time on Friday in an annual ceremony to mark the anniversary of the atomic bombing here in World War II, raising hopes that President Obama may soon follow.

With the mournful gonging of a Buddhist temple bell and the release of doves, a crowd of 55,000 solemnly marked the moment 65 years ago when the world’s first atomic attack incinerated this city under a towering mushroom cloud.

During the ceremony, Hiroshima’s mayor welcomed the ambassador, John Roos, and praised President Obama as one of the world leaders who “wielded their powerful influence” to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

During the solemn ceremony at the city’s peace park within sight of the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, other speakers also praised Mr. Obama’s call last year in Prague for a denuclearized world.

“We greet this August 6 with re-energized determination that no one else should ever have to suffer such horror,” said the mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba. “Clearly, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience.”

Mr. Roos did not speak at the ceremony, which included a minute of silence at 8:15, the moment the bomb detonated on a Sunday morning in 1945, killing more than 140,000 residents. In a statement issued by the American Embassy, Mr. Roos said, “we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons.” While no one mentioned it during the ceremony, city officials have said they hoped Mr. Roos’s attendance would serve as a step toward a future visit by President Obama to Hiroshima, which along with Nagasaki has become a symbol of the horrors of nuclear war.

Mr. Akiba also praised the ambassadors of Britain and France and also the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, all of whom also attended the ceremony for first time.

It is time to move from “ground zero to global zero,” Mr. Ban said in a speech, referring to the elimination of nuclear weapons. “For many of you, that day endures as vivid as the white light that seared the sky, as dark as the black rain that followed.”

Asif Ali Zardari is fiddling while Pakistan drowns

Pakistan has had to endure more than its fair share of disasters, but even by its harsh standards, the floods that have driven millions of people from their homes, and killed at least 1,700, qualify as a tragedy.

In such circumstances, you might expect Asif Ali Zardari, the country's president, to abandon his European tour and return home at the earliest opportunity to assume personal control of the relief operation – such as it is. The military's failure to organise the evacuation has left entire communities stranded, while the authorities' wider inability to deal with the floods' aftermath has led to outbreaks of cholera in the Swat valley.And yet Mr Zardari displays no inclination to return home, even though David Cameron's injudicious comments about Pakistan's ambivalent approach to fighting terrorism provided him with the perfect excuse. His officials insist that he is leaving the crisis in the capable hands of his prime minister, Yousef Raza Gilani, while he presses on with his equally important diplomatic mission to France and Britain to discuss global security issues.

But the reality is that Mr Zardari has a very different agenda – which is why, after spending a convivial few days at his family's opulent chateau in northern France, he and his entourage have taken up residence in London's Churchill hotel. They will then travel to Chequers for talks with Mr Cameron, before concluding their visit with the highlight of the entire tour, at least as far as Mr Zardari is concerned – a massive rally in honour of his eldest son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto.

Under Pakistan's constitution, Bilawal, who will be 22 next month and has just completed a history degree at Oxford University, is not allowed to run for office until he is 25. But ever since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber in the garrison town of Rawalpindi in December 2007, Mr Zardari, her husband, has been determined to ensure that Bilawal becomes the latest in a long line of Bhuttos to lead the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.

The fortunes of the 700,000-strong Bhutto clan have fluctuated wildly since the PPP was founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first elected prime minister, in 1967. His government collapsed amid allegations of corruption in 1977, and he was hanged two years later under martial law. Benazir was only 24 at the time of her father's death. Initially, she was placed under house arrest, but in 1984 made her way to London, where she became the PPP's leader-in-exile.

She returned in triumph following the mysterious death in a helicopter crash of General Zia al-Haq, the country's military dictator, and fulfilled her life-long ambition of becoming prime minister in 1988. The previous year she had married Mr Zardari, the son of a wealthy tribal leader from Sindh. When she was forced out of office in 1990, Mr Zardari found himself at the centre of corruption allegations surrounding a variety of property deals.

Although Mr Zardari has always protested his innocence, he spent a total of 11 years in jail – many of them in solitary confinement. Even after his release, rumours swirled that he had acquired a fortune worth £1 billion, including homes in France and Britain. For years, Mr Zardari denied ownership of a 335-acre estate in Surrey, until his stake in the property was revealed when it was sold.

In the light of Mr Zardari's controversial past, it is unlikely that he would ever have become president had it not been for his wife's dramatic assassination. Even then, other factions within the family believed they had a better claim, including Mumtaz Bhutto, the 77-year-old clan leader who had previously opposed Benazir's accession.

To keep the rival factions at bay, Mr Zardari worked hard to safeguard the position of his eldest son. And it is to this end that, rather than returning home to rally his country in its hour of need, he will be attending Saturday's 3,000-strong rally in Birmingham, where Bilawal is to make his first political speech.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Mr Zardari, who shares the chairmanship of the PPP with his son, has effectively acted as a regent. Soon, he is expected to stand down as the PPP's co‑chairman, opening the way for Bilawal to become its undisputed leader.

The importance of Saturday's rally lies in the fact that the majority of the 1.2 million Pakistanis resident in Britain support the PPP, not least because it has always taken care to protect the interests of Britain's Pakistani immigrants, as well as taking a hard-line position on Kashmir. The British Government, for its part, has quietly lent its support because of the party's perceived pro-Western stance.

But beyond the power politics, Saturday's rally is a microcosm of the wider problem that afflicts Pakistan. By attending, Mr Zardari will help to secure the PPP's leadership for his son – yet in doing so, he will, like so many before him, be putting clan before country. And few in Pakistan will easily forget the image of their president's helicopter leaving the elegantly manicured lawns of his French villa at a time when millions of his countrymen have been deprived of homes of their own.

Obama promotes trade at Ford plant

President Obama visits a Ford assembly plant in Chicago to highlight the potential of U.S. auto exports. Jon Decker reports.

Half million flee as more floods sweep Pakistani south

Pakistani authorities have evacuated more than half a million people in southern Sindh province, threatened by the worst floods in 80 years that have stoked popular anger at absent President Asif Ali Zardari.

Zardari may have made the costliest political mistake in his career by leaving for state visits in Europe at the height of the disaster which swallowed up entire villages, killed over 1,600 people and devastated the lives of millions.

Many Pakistanis were already critical of Zardari's leadership of a country where militants still pose a major security threat despite army offensives, poverty is widespread, little has been done to improve education and corruption is rampant.

Floods have already spread to Sindh but more raging waters threaten to inflict far worse suffering by Saturday.

"Monsoon rains continue to fall and at least 11 districts are at risk of flooding in Sindh, where more than 500,000 people have been relocated to safer places and evacuation still continues based on the Meteorological Department's alerts," said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While authorities have conducted evacuations they are struggling with relief efforts. Food supplies are becoming a serious issues in some areas and conditions are ripe for disease.


"There have been constant rains which have aggravated the situation in the areas already struck by floods," said Saleh Farooqui, the director general of the provincial Disaster Management Authority.

"People had to leave their homes because of floods and they now also have to face problems because of rains."

Zardari, whose reputation is already tarnished by corruption allegations, is currently in Britain for a five-day visit. Prime Minister David Cameron invited him to dinner on Thursday at his Chequers official country residence.

Formal talks on Friday will focus on strengthening cooperation in countering terrorism.

"What else you do expect from these rulers. Our president prefers to go abroad rather than supervising the whole relief operation in such a crisis," said Ghulam Rasool, a resident of the flooded southern Sukkur town.

"They don't care about us. They have their own agendas and interests." The floods have so far ravaged the northwest and the agricultural heartland Punjab.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, has led flood relief efforts since state relief agencies don't have the resources to cope.

In a typical scene, army helicopters fly above roofs of houses to pluck people stuck there since entire villages were submerged. But there is only so much the military can do.

Across the country, many Pakistanis fend for themselves.

Many are out in the open and are likely to be displaced again, just like cattle-breeder Khair Mohammad.

"We don't have anything, no one has given us even a single penny," said Mohammad, standing under a rain that had not stopped all morning.

Some distance away, an elderly woman who fractured her leg while leaving her flooded house sat on a portable wooden bed, wondering, like so many others, if help will ever come.

In other flooded areas, some Pakistanis were living off a small amount of bread. Getting food is a huge challenge because roads have been destroyed, cutting off villages.

Horses, donkeys and mules may have to be used to try and reach villages, officials say.

Some of those who do have access to markets can't afford to buy food because shortages have driven prices higher.

Karzai suggests oversight of anti-corruption work

KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. officials are waiting to see if the Afghan government will attempt to impede corruption probes of high-ranking officials — concern that comes as a new report issued in Washington questioned the Afghan administration's ability to fight graft and bribery that are undermining the war against the Taliban.

The possibility that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will place restraints on the operations of two anti-corruption units set up with help from U.S. law enforcement officials heightens already growing tension between the U.S. and the Afghan government, which is seeking more control over the billions of foreign dollars being poured in to foster reconstruction.

Corruption and a weak court system have undermined public trust in Karzai's government and its efforts to win the loyalty of many Afghans away from the Taliban.

Soon after a key Karzai adviser was arrested last week for allegedly taking a bribe, the Afghan president sought more oversight of the work of the two U.S.-backed anti-corruption units, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation helps train employees of the two units who conduct corruption probes of high-level Afghan government officials and then feed cases to Afghan prosecutors.

Mohammad Zia Salehi, head of administration for the Afghan National Security Council, is accused of accepting a car in exchange for his help in exerting pressure on Afghan officials to ease off in another corruption case, said Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, first deputy attorney general. He said the attorney general's office has wiretaps of Salehi discussing the vehicle.

Karzai gathered his top law enforcement and justice officials at the presidential palace Wednesday to hear from a panel he asked to monitor the work of the two units that made the arrest. A statement released by Karzai's office said that work done by the U.S.-based anti-corruption units, including the Major Crimes Task Force, should follow Afghan law and respect Afghan values and the national sovereignty of the nation.

"All the cases, which are being investigated and those cases that have been completed, should be reviewed by the delegation and the outcome of its assessment should be reported to Karzai's office," the statement said. "All the activities — arresting, investigation, questioning and detention — should be based on the principles and laws of the country and respect human rights."

That sparked concern among U.S. officials that Karzai was attempting to derail corruption probes of top officials in his government.

The president's office did not elaborate and little more detail about what Karzai might be planning was revealed at a news briefing Thursday by Afghan Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Alako; Mohammad Yasin Usmani, director of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, the office Karzai set up months ago to battle corruption; and others that Karzai asked to look into the issue.

They told reporters that the arrest of Salehi had nothing to do with Karzai's review of the units' work. "It was a coincidence," Usmani said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington viewed the arrest of Salehi and other ongoing investigations as evidence that the Afghan government was following through on pledges to fight corruption. Crowley said the U.S. did not see Karzai's intervention as problematic at this point, but that the U.S. was closely monitoring developments in the Salehi case as well as Karzai's decision to review the anti-corruption work being done by the investigative units.

Since 2002, the U.S. has appropriated more than $50 billion for reconstruction. The Obama administration has requested $20 billion more to help the Afghan government bolster the nation's security forces and improve governance.

The U.S. has agreed to channel more money through the Afghan government in coming years, but this is hinged on the government's ability to prevent waste, abuse, fraud and other forms of corruption.

"Fighting corruption continues to be a challenge," retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a report released Thursday in Washington. "Afghan institutions must begin to play a more active role in fighting corruption and should be active participants in investigating corruption issues, but the Afghan institutions need to be strengthened to do this."

The 30-page report said corruption has tarnished the legitimacy of the Afghan government. The perception among Afghans and the international community that corruption lurks in the ranks of government officials is affecting the war strategy.

Tens of thousands of U.S. reinforcements are still streaming into the country to try to reverse the Taliban's momentum and give the government space to win the loyalty of citizens and expand its influence deeper into the countryside.

"The U.S. had made strengthening the Afghan government's capability to combat corruption a priority," the report said. "However, the majority of U.S. reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan has been provided without the benefit of an approved comprehensive U.S. anti-corruption strategy."

The report also said that while the Afghan government has established a number of anti-corruption institutions, "they lack independence, audit authority and capacity." According to the report, U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have provided relatively little assistance to some key Afghan oversight institutions.

Afghan government officials have pointed some blame at the international community for the corruption by criticizing the way foreign nations award contracts, which sometimes end up in the hands of politicians and powerbrokers.

Number of flood-affected people in KP soars to 4.2m

The number of flood-affected people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa soared to 4.2 million with reports of more destruction on Thursday. Official death toll also reached 847 after the confirmation of 46 more casualties, while the number of villages destroyed across the province was reported as 468, rendering 720,608 people homeless, Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told media here. The minister said 100,110 houses had been destroyed and 56,695 houses partially damaged. Other figures of infrastructure destruction included 233 roads, 208 bridges, 169 educational institutions, 37 health facilities, 307 water supply schemes, 39 government buildings, 561 electricity transformers, 172 electric poles and five grid stations, he said, adding that the floods also killed 7,793 cattle heads and livestock and swept away crops on 26,737 acres of land. Mian Iftikhar said the destruction figure was on the rise as more cases of human and material losses came to light daily as access was made to the affected areas. He said more relief camps had been established in government buildings, raising the number of camps to 385 in the province where more than 0.1 million people of 15,349 families have been accommodated. About relief goods, he said 105,530 food packets, 86,000 blankets and 12,448 tents had so far been distributed among the affected people. He said that mobile teams of the Health Department were vaccinating the people in the affected districts like Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera, Mardan, DI Khan, Buner, Swat, Shangla, Kohistan and Dir Upper while in Peshawar alone 4,858 people had been provided healthcare facilities. The minister said that 12 medical teams were working in Charsadda, four in Nowshera and 19 in DI Khan providing services in the affected areas along with Unicef and Red Crescent Society staff. He said that besides the district administrations, Pakistan Red Crescent Society, World Food Programme, Unicef and other welfare organisations were fully engaged in relief activities. Admitting that many people were still waiting for relief, he said relief items were being sent where access was possible either through land route or by helicopters. He argued that the government could not be blamed if access was not possible to some places. He said the fumigation, animal vaccination and work on water supply restoration was also going on. To a question about assistance from Islamic states, he said Saudi Arabia had sent 150 tents for which the government was thankful to the Kingdom. About grant from the federal government, he said that no grant had so far been released but the provincial government was hopeful that the Centre would look into the miseries of the people of the province and would contribute maximum possible amount. The minister asked the countrymen, expatriate Pakistanis and the international community to extend help to the needy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said flood damage in the province was 95 per cent of the damage that the entire country had faced due to floods. Mian Iftikhar also thanked a Bangladesh-based NGO, Obrak, for distributing relief items among the affected in Lala Killay, Peshawar and said that the UN, the US and China had responded to the disaster so far and sent assistance. To a query, he said the provincial government had been releasing whatever amount the district administrations had demanded for relief. The minister said the rehabilitation of roads and other infrastructure had been launched in the areas where weather conditions were improving. Many roads have been opened but dozens more were still closed and efforts were being made to restore communication system at the earliest, he said.

Pakistan’s Rupee Declines This Week After Violence in Karachi

Pakistan’s rupee headed for third weekly decline on speculation investors will shy away from the nation after violence in Karachi killed 76 people following the assassination of a government lawmaker. Shootings between unidentified opponents ensued after Raza Haider was gunned down on Aug. 2, causing businesses to shut and prompting public transport owners to strike in protest. The currency dropped to a three-week low on Aug. 3, while the Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry estimated financial losses of 10 billion rupees ($117 million) over three days. “The violence and strike will hurt investor sentiment even if it doesn’t have a direct impact on the currency,” said Khurram Schehzad, head of research at Invest Capital & Securities Ltd. in Karachi. “We will see the impact of violence in coming weeks as investors pull out funds.” The rupee fell 0.1 percent this week to 85.76 against the dollar as of 8:38 a.m. in Karachi, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency reached 85.86 on Aug. 3, the lowest level since July 13, and has declined 1.7 percent so far this year. The Karachi 100 Index of stocks dropped 1.6 percent this week, its worst five-day performance since June 11. The exchange closed an hour early on Aug. 3 due to the strike. Interior Minister Rehman Malik accused a banned militant group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, of killing Haider as part of its campaign against members of the minority Shiite sect, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.

Flood relief flights grounded in Pakistan

Bad weather grounded helicopters carrying emergency supplies to Pakistan's flood-ravaged northwest Friday amid warnings the worst monsoon rains in decades would bring more destruction to a nation already reeling from Islamist violence. U.S. military personnel waiting to fly Chinooks to the upper reaches of the hard-hit Swat Valley were frustrated by the storms, which dumped more rain on a region where many thousands are already living in tents or crammed into public buildings. Over the last week, floods have spread from the northwest down Pakistan, killing around 1,500 people and affecting more than 3 million others. Much of the destruction has come from the mighty Indus River, which in better times irrigates vast swaths of farmland. Some 30,000 Pakistan soldiers are rebuilding bridges, delivering food and setting up relief camps in the northwest, which is the main battleground in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Foreign countries and the United Nations have donated millions of dollars. Also helping out are Islamist charities, including at least one with links to a banned militant organization. The government has come under criticism for not doing enough, especially since President Asif Ali Zardari chose to go ahead with a trip to Europe at the height of the crisis. Amal Masud, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Authority, said all helicopters currently stationed in the northwest were grounded because of poor weather. Saleh Farooqi, head of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority in southern Sindh province, said authorities had evacuated about 200,000 people from areas where floodwaters could hit, but many more were still living in the danger zone. "About 500,000 people living near the Indus River do not realize the gravity of the situation, and they do not know how fast the water is rushing to their areas," he said. River embankments were being strengthened and people evacuated from low-lying villages in the province's Sukkur district, regional Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said. About 85 U.S. military service people are taking part in the relief activities. On Thursday, six helicopters picked up about 800 stranded people and dropped off emergency aid. The United States is unpopular in Pakistan, and Washington is hoping the relief missions will help improve its image. But the missions could draw criticism from Islamist politicians and others in Pakistan who are hostile to the idea of American boots on the ground, even if they are helping after a disaster. The U.S. military carried out larger operations in the aftermath of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, as it did in predominantly Muslim Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. Those missions were credited with boosting Washington's reputation there.

Cameron and Zardari holding talks at Chequers

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Zardari of Pakistan will try to patch up their differences during formal talks at Chequers later. They will try to smooth tensions after the PM's recent comments that elements in Pakistan promoted terrorism. On Thursday night, Mr Zardari was Mr Cameron's guest at a private dinner at the country residence. Topics for discussion will include counter-terrorism co-operation, the Nato campaign in Afghanistan and trade.The prime minister caused anger in Pakistan last week when during a trip to India, he said elements in Pakistan should not be allowed to "promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world". Mr Cameron continues to stand by his comments but Mr Zardari said he would personally challenge him over the remarks during his visit. On Tuesday, Mr Zardari told French newspaper Le Monde the battle for the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghan people had already been lost. He is also under intense pressure to show he can talk tough to the British prime minister and justify his absence from his country, at a time when devastating floods have caused a national tragedy.BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall said it was unclear how far the leaders will be able to patch up their relationship. But our correspondent added it was also in the interests of both leaders to show that collaboration between Britain and Pakistan on a range of issued has not been damaged by the row. A Downing Street spokesman said: "It is an important opportunity to reinforce the strong links between the UK and Pakistan and continue to support stability, security, democracy and prosperity in Pakistan." He added that the talks would cover the "full range of shared interests" that exist between the two countries. On terrorism, the spokesman said: "The leaders are expected to discuss the threat, review on-going efforts, and explore what more can be done. "The UK already has a significant programme of counter-terrorism assistance in Pakistan with Foreign Office counter-terrorism assistance rising to £9.5m in 2010/11." The men would also discuss about the international response to the floods. The UK has already donated £5m through Unicef on top of £5m donated to the Pakistan Emergency Response Fund. The spokesman added: "The PM and the President are likely to discuss how we can boost bilateral trade from its current levels of around £1bn of trade flows annually." President Zardari has already held talks with three other ministers. But no details have yet been released about those meetings - with Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi, Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Al-Qaeda in Pakistan is top threat, says US report

Al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and its affiliates in Africa remain the biggest threats to US and its interests abroad, a US government report says. The annual terrorism report states that al-Qaeda encountered setbacks in 2009 but has proved to be "resilient and adaptable". Iran was said to be the most active "state sponsor" of terrorism, as with previous years. But attacks globally fell to the lowest level in five years, it said. The report identified Pakistan and Yemen as of particular risk and said al-Qaeda had been able to create proxy groups, and managed to recruit citizens in the US and Europe, for attacks across the world. Al-Qaeda "has proven to be an adaptable and resilient terrorist group whose desire to attack the United States and U.S. interests abroad remains strong," it said. But it added that the organisation had suffered a backlash after its members and allies had launched attacks on Muslims in a number of countries. Fall in attacks The report says that the failed 25 December bombing - in which a Nigerian influenced by a radical Yemeni cleric attempted to blow up a plane heading for Detroit - underscored the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Pensinsula (AQAB). The group is the result of a merger between the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al-Qaeda.It also noted that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had increased the number of kidnappings in Mauritania, Niger and Mali, where the group recently killed French tourist Michel Germaneau. Militant group Al-Shabab in Somalia was also highlighted, being identified as "more of an ally than a full-blown affiliate" of al-Qaeda. In 2009, a total of 14,971 people died in 10,999 different terrorist attacks around the world, the report says, down from a recent high in 2006, when 22,736 died in 14,443 attacks. The figures represent a decrease of 6% in attacks and 5% in the number of deaths globally. But attacks in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province) increased from 16 in 2005 to 940 in 2009, said Russ Travers, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center. The report identified Iran, Cuba, Syria and Sudan as state sponsors of terrorism - unchanged from previous years.