Friday, August 20, 2010

On Midterm Stump, Clinton Is Defender in Chief

New York Times

The last time Bill Clinton and Barack Obama spent so many hours on the campaign trail, dashing across the country to appear before adoring crowds, they were on different sides of the Democratic argument.

So that is exactly where Mr. Clinton began when he arrived here this week.

“It’s no secret that I tried hard to defeat President Obama in the primaries — and some of you helped,” Mr. Clinton said, drawing a laugh from an audience in Palm Beach County, a place that was slow to embrace Mr. Obama two years ago.

“But I want to tell you something,” he continued, waiting for the crowd to listen. “It is my professional opinion that he has done a much better job than he has gotten credit for so far. And all elections are about the future, so what is the alternative?”

A coast-to-coast campaign swing by Mr. Obama this week, his biggest plunge into the midterm election season to date, drew considerable attention as he raised money for Democrats in five states over three days. But in a series of less noticed trips to every corner of the country, it is Mr. Clinton who has stepped into the role of defending all Democrats — Mr. Obama included.

Few people may have more credibility paying a compliment to Mr. Obama than Mr. Clinton. Tense exchanges between the two men were an unforgettable element of the 2008 presidential race, which by all accounts Mr. Clinton took far longer to get over than Hillary Rodham Clinton did.

“If you’re a Democrat, you need to hold your head up,” Mr. Clinton said this week, delivering the pep talk of a coach who is disappointed with his team’s behavior. “I’m tired of reading about how we’re all belly-aching.”

The former president has become one of the party’s best salesmen. He has long been in demand to raise money for Democratic candidates, but now there is a more pressing need: raising the spirits of Democratic voters, dispensing wisdom as he works to put the party’s political challenges into a broader context.

A decade after he was banished from the campaign trail — seen at the time as a liability to Vice President Al Gore’s presidential ambitions — Mr. Clinton is now the most sought-after Democrat, logging 29 stops so far this year with more to come in the fall. He has been embraced by Democrats wherever he goes, even as several candidates have run the other way when Mr. Obama has arrived in their state.

In Nevada, Mr. Clinton campaigned for Senator Harry Reid in June. (“Why would you give away the Senate majority leader who has delivered time and time and time again?” Mr. Clinton asked a crowd in Las Vegas.)

In Pennsylvania, as he appeared this month for Representative Joe Sestak in his Senate race, he warned about what could happen if Republicans win control of Congress. (“Give us two more years, and if we’re wrong, send us packing,” he argued.)

And here in Florida, he made stops on Monday in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties on behalf of Representative Kendrick B. Meek, a longtime friend who faces an uphill Senate race. (“We haven’t built our way out of that hole as fast as anybody wanted, but it was a very deep hole,” Mr. Clinton told his audience.)

Mr. Clinton, who gives precedence to Democrats who endorsed Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid, makes use of the perspective and latitude afforded to former presidents.

This week, as both Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton passed through Florida, Democrats had the chance to see the distinct styles of the 42nd and 44th presidents side by side. Mr. Clinton is more cerebral, delivering a thorough recitation of the economic condition and discussing how the challenges of today are more severe than those of his time in office. Mr. Obama, after ticking through his policy achievements, edged closer to mockery of his rivals.

“Remember our campaign slogan, ‘Yes we can’?” Mr. Obama told a fund-raising audience Wednesday evening at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. “This year, their campaign slogan is, ‘No, we can’t.’ It’s pretty inspiring, huh? You know, you wake up in the morning and you hear ‘No!’ That just puts a little pep in your step.”

By the time Mr. Obama returned to the White House a few hours later, he had raised millions of dollars for the Democratic Party across the country, in Florida, California, Washington State, Wisconsin, Ohio. Along the way, he honed his fall message and spent nearly as much time criticizing Republicans as promoting his own achievements.

For Mr. Clinton’s part, the utterances of a past president are not scrutinized as closely as the words of a sitting one, so he speaks a bit more bluntly now than when he was in office. His words are passionate, yet not personal. He conceded that the economic condition of the country has not improved as much as people hoped it would after Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and the White House two years later.

“A year and a half just wasn’t enough time to get us out of the hole we were in,” Mr. Clinton said. “So I want you to stick with us. Give us two more years — two more years until another election. If we fail, you can throw us all out.”

There is one word, though, that Mr. Clinton does not say: Bush.

Some Democrats have started mentioning former President George W. Bush with such frequency that you might think he had been written into the party’s platform. But Mr. Clinton spoke of the opposition in generic terms, focusing on Republicans in Congress. (Not only has Mr. Clinton joined with Mr. Bush in raising money for rebuilding in Haiti, he also has become a close friend of Mr. Bush’s father.)

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, said the Democratic Party was showing its desperation by spending so much time focusing on his brother. “It’s a loser issue — they have a big L on their foreheads,” Mr. Bush said in an interview. “If that’s all they’ve got, it’s a pretty good indication of the problems that the Democrats face in 2010.”

And before Mr. Clinton took the stage here in Delray Beach — yes, he often still runs very late — a parade of local Democratic officials warmed up the crowd, with speakers offering sharp criticism of President Bush.

But when Mr. Clinton began speaking, he did not mention his successor in the White House at all, an omission that at least one woman in the crowd said she appreciated.

“I think that’s the politically correct thing to do. It’s also respectful,” said Fay Gallam, a social worker from West Palm Beach, who waited hours to see Mr. Clinton for the first time. As she walked away from the gymnasium, she beamed.

“He says just what we need to hear, and because he’s articulate, you can follow him and see the logic,” Ms. Gallam said. “He’s more at liberty now, and President Obama is really under the gun.”

Zardari, attempts damage control after European trip during disaster

Damage control for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is in full swing following his much-criticized trip to Europe.

In recent days, state broadcasts have shown Zardari embracing a Pakistani woman in tears at a relief camp in the flood-ravaged southern city of Sukkur, handing out relief packages to flood victims in Nowshera, then accompanying U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a helicopter ride to survey submerged farmland in southern Punjab province.

The itinerary, experts say, is meant to erase a different image for Pakistanis: one of a helicopter dropping off Zardari at the sumptuous 16th century chateau he owns in the French countryside, while back home floodwaters this month were upending millions of lives and plunging Pakistan into its worst crisis in its 63-year history.
The president's visit to Britain and France earlier this month during the country's hour of crisis — the disaster has killed more than 1,600 people, damaged or destroyed more than 895,000 houses and left many Pakistanis in need of shelter, drinking water and emergency healthcare — has mainly worsened the president's already suffering image at home, some experts say.

Although Zardari met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris and British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, the decision to go to Europe was "sheer arrogance," said political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais. "He has made many blunders, but I don't think there's a greater blunder than making this trip."

But experts also said Zardari, a leader the U.S. regards as one of its key allies in the fight against Islamic militancy, probably won't see any serious threat to his presidency. His term isn't up until 2013, and opposition parties do not have the votes in parliament to remove him. If Zardari harbors notions of staying in power after 2013, experts said, then those prospects have probably dimmed.

"It has damaged him politically, in the sense that it has refocused attention on his inadequacies," said Ayaz Amir, a Pakistani columnist and lawmaker from the opposition PML-N party. "There is renewed talk along the lines of, 'Look here, what kind of president do we have?' "

Zardari's approval ratings have fallen steadily since he became president in 2008. Many Pakistanis still call him "Mr. 10%," a reference to corruption allegations and the alleged demands for kickbacks that have dogged him since stints in previous decades as a Cabinet minister.

Zardari aides said that among other things, the trip allowed him to patch up ties with Cameron, who had said during a recent visit to India that Pakistan should not "look both ways" in dealing with the West and the Taliban, and seemingly suggested Pakistan was not doing enough to fight terrorism.

In France, Zardari made a two-hour stopover at a chateau in Normandy that his family has owned for 24 years. Zardari's 21-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, joined him during the visits to France and Britain, and was slated to make his political debut with a speech in Birmingham to followers of Pakistan's ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party. Zardari heads the party and his son is co-chairman. Bilawal Zardari later canceled the speech, saying such an event would not be proper while the nation was grappling with deadly floods.

Zardari's aides say the president knew his decision to make the trip would be unpopular but that the meetings with Sarkozy, aimed at obtaining additional flood relief, and Cameron were too important to shelve.

"Looking back, the president believes it was the right decision," said Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar. "Of course, from the point of view of getting political mileage, and to get good headlines in the next day's newspapers, it would have been good if he called off the visit. But he had to make a choice — whether he wants to have good, favorable headlines for [the] next three [or] four days, or whether he should keep in mind the long-term interests of Pakistan."

For many Pakistanis, Zardari is seen as an accidental leader who fell into the job after the death of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 as she was attempting a political comeback. Zardari became leader of the PPP, and in September 2008 he was elected by Pakistan's parliament and four provincial assemblies to a five-year term.

Since then, he has been criticized as not doing enough to put the country's moribund economy on the right track, and he has failed to tackle the daily power shutdowns that continue to beset the country.

With his approval ratings in a tailspin, Zardari yielded to widespread calls for a constitutional amendment that largely reduced the presidency to a figurehead role and shifted much of his powers to Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani.

Zardari's aides have said the president's new role does not entail hands-on stewardship of a crisis like the flood disaster — that the job belongs to Gilani. However, at a time when collective anger was welling up in Pakistan over what is perceived as the government's slow, disorganized response to the floods, Zardari's trip to Europe made things worse.

Amir called the Zardari administration's rationale for the trip "absurd."

"When a disaster like this hits, you don't have to go on a junket to get international support," Amir said. "The most effective thing to do is to remain at home and impress upon the world the magnitude of the disaster. Their explanation convinces no one. No one is buying it here in Pakistan."

'Three cups of tea' a byword for U.S. effort to win Afghan hearts and minds

So, did you have your three cups of tea?" a U.S. infantryman, bulky in body armor, asked another soldier as he emerged from the mud-brick home of an Afghan village elder.

In this case, it wasn't tea but slices of cool melon, served to the sweating troops who spent an hour crouched on a plastic tarp covering the dirt floor of the house in this hamlet in northern Afghanistan.

But the phrase "three cups of tea" has entered the American troop lexicon as shorthand for any leisurely, trust-building chat with locals. It is drawn, as legions of readers can attest, from the bestselling book of the same title by former mountaineer Greg Mortenson, who has devoted himself to establishing girls schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With its inspirational tone and idealistic worldview, "Three Cups of Tea" would seem an unlikely primer of military counterinsurgency.

Its message, however, has become entwined with U.S. strategic thinking in Afghanistan during the last year, roughly coinciding with the tenure of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who reached out to Mortenson and sought his advice on overcoming the mistrust of Afghan villagers.

Mortenson then helped broker a series of meetings between the general and tribal elders.

Befriending the locals in the service of ambitious goals in a strange land is hardly a new idea. But Mortenson's vivid, often poignant stories of his own early struggles to connect with standoffish or hostile elders in communities where he wanted to provide girls with schooling struck a chord with several senior military officers.

The book's rise in influence coincided with a growing belief that the war effort was faltering, in part because force alone was not working. Protecting civilians took center stage in the strategy McChrystal put together soon after arriving last summer.

Although the general was forced to relinquish his command over intemperate comments to a Rolling Stone reporter by him and senior aides, troops were already well steeped in the "Tea" phenomenon by the time of his departure this June.

Many deploying soldiers had the book pressed on them by wives or girlfriends. At bases around Afghanistan, tents and barracks often contain a dusty, dog-eared copy. Over the last year, Mortenson has made occasional appearances to talk to troops.

The new commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose own wife urged him to read the book, has reaffirmed McChrystal's counterinsurgency doctrine, which he had helped craft. This month, he issued guidelines instructing troops to mingle with locals whenever possible.

"Take off your sunglasses," was one of Petraeus' admonitions. Another: "Drink lots of tea."

The military's embrace, however, has created some complications for Mortenson, who recognizes that it might arouse suspicions among some of the villagers he deals with.

"It's risky; some people don't like it," he said of his informal advisory role. "But then, some other people don't like us talking to the Taliban either."

A self-described free thinker who once lived in his car during a bout of joblessness, Mortenson hated the book's original subtitle, which included the phrase "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism." (Armed with the clout of burgeoning sales, he got it changed in later editions.)

It is an open question, though, whether the tactics championed in the book — respect, cultural sensitivity and perseverance — can reap the same rewards in an utterly different context.

In Afghan villages, troops in full battle gear making their way through narrow lanes remain an incongruous sight. Sometimes they are trailed by children, laughing and unafraid, but they can also be the recipients of studied silence or hard-eyed stares. Even a courteous reception is often tinged with wariness.

Abdul Shah Qul, the ranking elder of Pul-e-Kheshti, heard out the American troops who visited him last month, nodding assent as they told him of their wish to keep his community safe and help with local development.

"If we see anything bad or strange, we will let you know," he told the newcomers.

But later, contacted by telephone, he expressed doubts that an occasional visit by the American forces could keep the insurgents at bay.

"Seventy percent of the people here," he said, "believe the Taliban will be back."

Israeli and Palestinian leaders to be invited to U.S. for peace talks

World leaders are planning to invite Israeli and Palestinian officials to Washington in September to begin direct Middle East peace talks, a U.S. official confirmed Thursday.

An invitation from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations is expected to be announced as soon as Friday, nearly two years after the last round of talks broke off.

The world leaders are suggesting early September for the first session of negotiations.
Details were still being worked out late Thursday, and though acceptance by both sides was expected, officials warned that nothing had been confirmed.

U.S. and allied officials in recent days said they had persuaded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to join the talks. President Obama would be directly involved in the meetings, officials said.

The U.S. has spent months on shuttle diplomacy — special envoy George J. Mitchell has been meeting extensively with Israeli and Palestinian officials since May — in an attempt to start indirect talks, with little discernible result.

Key negotiators signaled a breakthrough in the effort to begin negotiations this week, when Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign policy official, announced in a letter to other EU officials that Abbas was on the brink of committing to talks.

Confirmation of such negotiations, first reported by the Reuters news agency Thursday, would be a relief for Obama, who has made Mideast peace talks a high foreign policy priority in his administration.

The resumption of face-to-face meetings would be a measure of political success for his administration, even if the two sides didn't agree to discuss core issues that could relieve long-term hostilities and move the region toward a two-state solution.

As in previous talks, major issues would include the borders of a Palestinian state, Israeli security, the claims of Palestinian refugees and competing claims over Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to make sacrifices for peace, but the hard-liners in his right-wing government have been reluctant to give ground to the Palestinians.

As for Abbas, it's not clear how decisive a commitment he could make on behalf of the Palestinians from his office in the West Bank. His rivals in the militant group Hamas control the Gaza Strip, home to about 1.5 million Palestinians.

Although pessimism may shadow the resumption of Mideast peace talks, a wild card in any new meetings is the role the U.S. may assume.

Obama has signaled that his government is willing to take a more active role than the previous administration, which was more reluctant to push the Israelis.

Such a prospect has stirred hope among Palestinians, who think Obama may have more sympathy for their cause, and anxiety among the Israelis, who worry the administration may press them for concessions that threaten their security.

Even such a small step toward peace is seen among American officials as a move toward building support in the Muslim world for the U.S. and its goals, including the military campaign in Afghanistan and the effort to halt Iran's nuclear program.

Pakistan Pledges Transparency To Ensure Flood Aid Arrives

Pakistan is seeking to reassure the international community that donations for the millions of people affected by devastating floods will reach their target.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the government is considering calling in independent auditors to show that the money is not being diverted to corrupt officials or Taliban insurgents.

Malik is hoping his assurance will speed the flow of aid to the 20 million Pakistanis who have been affected by the worst flooding ever recorded in their country. So far, international reaction has been muted, with less than half the required sum collected, though a UN spokesman, Maurizio Giuliano, said funding was now picking up as donors realized "the scale of the disaster," which has left 1,600 people dead.

One of those donors reacting is the European Union. The European Commission today announced it is providing immediately an additional $39 million in emergency relief to Pakistan. It said humanitarian aid commissioner Kristina Georgieva will visit the flood zone on August 23.
Conditions on the ground are reported to be getting worse, with the UN saying that so far, food rations and clean water have reached only 700,000 survivors.

One of the survivors in Punjab Province, Bibi Zainab, appealed for help.

"Our children are sick. The water even from the hand pump is dirty. You can see by yourself how dirty the area is," she said. "The elders and the children all are drinking this water, which is the cause of many diseases. Please, someone give us clean water. The government should help us."

Continued rain has led to a new, second wave of flood water making its way down the Indus River, adding to the problems of rescue teams. The sheer scale of the disaster is daunting, with the UN estimating the size of the flooded area to be as big as Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium combined.

"Something like 891,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed," Chris Lom, the International Organization for Migration's regional spokesman, told reporters today in Islamabad. "Now, this number is based on the assumption that nearly half of these homes are in Punjab. Now, this is very difficult to confirm at this stage because of the lack of access and because of changing flood levels.

"But if we accept this planning figure, if you like, it would mean that 446,000 households still face a shortfall in emergency shelter."

Even Islamic militants appear stunned by the disaster, insofar as there have been few clashes between insurgents and troops since the flooding.

But The Associated Press today reports that Islamic militants attacked police posts in Pakistan's northwest. Liaqat Ali Khan, Peshawar's police chief, said dozens of militants from the Khyber tribal region, which lies near Peshawar and along the Afghan border, attacked police posts in the Sarband area of Peshawar. The two sides exchanged fire for about an hour before the militants retreated to Khyber, Khan said.

Meanwhile, health authorities are worried about the spread of waterborne diseases.

Daniel Toole, UNICEF's regional director for South Asia, explained the situation on August 17 at a news conference in Islamabad, saying, "We have a country that has endemic watery diarrhea, endemic cholera, endemic upper respiratory infections, and we have the conditions for much, much expanded problems in all of those areas."

Toole said millions of society's more vulnerable members are especially at risk.

"We have women and children at risk, not in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions," Toole said. "Women and children are more vulnerable. They are susceptible to infections and they are living in dreadful conditions."

Adding to the misery is a warning from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that Pakistan could be facing famine conditions if farmers miss the sowing season, due to start next month.

Obama takes break, Oil spill and Iraq combat over

Finally, President Barack Obama can relax on vacation.

The Gulf oil leak is plugged. The last combat troops are out of Iraq. And Congress is on its own summer break.

Still, doubts remain about the strength of the U.S. economy, and Obama tried to tamp them down before his 10-day vacation on Martha's Vineyard. He called on lawmakers to pass a small business aid package when they return next month.

"A majority of senators are in favor of the bill and yet the obstruction continues," he said before departing the White House on Thursday. "It's obstruction that stands in the way of small business owners getting the loans and the tax cuts that they need to prosper. It's obstruction that defies common sense."

With that final jab at Republicans, he traded his suit coat and tie for an open collar, flew up to this island playground and settled into the 30-acre Blue Heron Farm, where the first family stayed last year.

First lady Michelle Obama traveled separately with daughters Sasha and Malia, after picking up 12-year-old Malia following two weeks at a summer camp. Family dog Bo also made the trip.

The White House said it was hoping for a news-free trip, but shortly after the president arrived, he announced a series of recess appointments. He filled four diplomatic and agency jobs under a temporary authority he gains while Congress is on recess, and he blamed Republicans for forcing him to bypass the normal confirmation process.

"At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent," the president said in a statement. "Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people."

Martha's Vineyard has previously played host not only to Obama, but also two other presidents, Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant. It has been a traditional gathering point for affluent African-Americans, and Obama visited even before he was elected the country's first black president in 2008.

"It's a beautiful part of the country. It has really nice beaches and the folks are really great. The food is terrific," deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One. "And it's someplace that the president went before he was president and likes to go back, because it's a comfortable place where he can rest and recharge the batteries a little bit."

The spokesman said he expected the president to indulge in golfing, beach time and a visit or two to the island's numerous ice cream stands.

Education in danger

Dawn Editorial

The state of education in Pakistan has never been very good. An even bleaker picture emerges when we factor in the effect of natural disasters and militancy on education.
The devastation caused by the ongoing floods has been commented on extensively. However, what may have escaped our attention is the fact that the floods have also left an already shaky educational system in tatters.Although the exercise of collecting data on the number of schools affected in the flood-hit areas has yet to begin, it is clear that the government faces an uphill task in rebuilding the educational infrastructure in these places. Man-made disasters have also taken their toll on Pakistan’s education system.Militancy, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has paralysed educational activities in several districts. Scores of schools have been bombed, with the extremists bearing particular animus towards girls’ education.
In fact, it has been reported that hundreds of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, even in areas not affected by militancy, have closed down because of a shortage of teachers as educators are not interested in serving in far-flung areas.
Enrolment in government schools is also low, while the dropout rate is high. The failure of the public school system has been cited as one of the reasons for growing extremism in society.Though it is repeatedly pointed out that the education sector suffers from resource constraints, the money that is available is not judiciously spent. A glaring example is of teachers who draw salaries but don’t actually bother to show up and teach. Setting things right in such a scenario will not be easy.
We must ask if the provinces are prepared to deal with the task of revamping the education sector made worse in many places by the floods. In the short term, while the government must provide food, shelter and medical care to flood-affected people it must also include educational needs in its rehabilitation plans.
Looking at the bigger picture, maladministration in schools and the leakage of funds meant for education must be strictly checked. The state must not lose sight of the importance of education in such times of crises.

China to send more humanitarian aid to Pakistan

China said on Friday it would send 1,000 tents and other emergency equipment to Pakistan to help with the nation's devastating floods.

The news comes as Richard Holbrooke, the US point man on Pakistan, called on China, which has already sent 60 million yuan (8.8 million dollars) in aid, to “step up to the plate” with regards to helping the flood-hit country.

The United States has pledged a total of 150 million dollars to Islamabad.

China’s defence ministry said that the aid, which includes 69 sets of machines such as generators, draining and water-purification devices, would be airlifted to Pakistan “in days,” according to a report on its website.

Nearly 1,500 people have been killed by the devastating floods in Pakistan, whose Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Wednesday that 20 million people had also been affected.

China is itself battling with its worst floods in a decade, which have left thousands dead or missing.

Pakistan: Lack of terror convictions hurts fight

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD – Pakistani courts have yet to convict a single person in any of the country's biggest terrorist attacks of the past three years, a symptom of a dysfunctional legal system that's hurting the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida at a critical time.

Police without basic investigative skills such as the ability to lift fingerprints, and prosecutors who lack training to try terror cases, are some of the main reasons cited. Another daunting challenge: Judges and witnesses often are subject to intimidation that affects the ability to convict.

The legal system's failure to attack terrorism is critical because it robs Pakistan of a chance to enforce a sense of law and order, which militants have set out to destroy.

It has "caused a sense of terror and insecurity amongst the members of society," said one of the country's top judges, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif.

The legal failures also call into question the government's ability to fight terrorism in any way except by using the army in military offensives or — human rights groups alleged — through targeted extra-judicial killings.

The United States has said repeatedly that its success in Afghanistan and throughout the troubled region depends on strong help from Pakistan against militants.

Pakistani army offensives and U.S. missile strikes have killed some suspected terrorist suspects in recent years in the rugged northwest near the Afghan border, where militant leaders and senior operatives are based. The head of the Pakistani Taliban, the group blamed for many of the 20 biggest attacks, was killed in a drone strike last August, for example.

Indeed, human rights groups have accused security forces of carrying out hundreds of assassinations of suspected extremists or sympathizers in the Swat Valley, which the army reclaimed from the Taliban last year, rather than even trying to prosecute suspects in court.

Authorities deny the allegations, saying they do try to use the legal courts.

But their record is dismal.

An Associated Press review found no convictions in the 20 largest and most high-profile terror attacks of the last three years.

Many of the Pakistani court cases connected to those attacks — which have killed nearly 1,100 people_ have dragged on for years, or have yet to make it even past the investigation stage and into the courts.

The handful of cases that have been decided have all resulted in acquittals — though many of these defendants remain in custody while they are investigated in other cases, court officials said.

By contrast, 89 percent of terrorism cases in the United States have resulted in convictions since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, according to a report this year by the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law.

The recent acquittals of suspects in two of the most high-profile attacks — the 2008 truck bombing outside the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and last year's commando-style raid on a police academy in Lahore_ have highlighted the problems plaguing the system.

The verdict in the Lahore police academy attack seemed to defy explanation.

The only person captured during the eight-hour siege in March 2009 was caught on the academy grounds — in possession of a hand grenade — allegedly trying to blow up a helicopter. Other militants attacked the main building with automatic weapons and grenades, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.

But the man claimed he was an innocent garbage collector picking up trash, and was convicted in June only of weapons possession for carrying a hand grenade and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was acquitted of involvement in the attack for lack of sufficient evidence.

Lack of evidence was also the reason given for the acquittal in May of four men on trial in connection with the suicide truck bombing that killed 54 people at the Marriott Hotel in September 2008.

Pakistani lawyers and law enforcement officials said weak investigations conducted by poorly trained and resourced police officers made it very difficult for prosecutors and judges to convict.

"I think the man who really plays the most critical role is neither the judge nor the prosecutor, but it is the investigating officer who is in charge of the case who sits in the police station in a pretty shabby environment," said Ahmer Bilal Soofi, a Supreme Court lawyer and legal commentator.

"Everyone has ignored him consistently," Soofi said.

The U.S. has provided some training and equipment for police in Pakistan, mainly in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where security forces staged a massive offensive against Taliban militants last spring, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

But even when policemen receive training in skills like lifting fingerprints or gathering other forensic evidence, those skill are rarely used in practice, said Akbar Nasir Khan. He recently served as the police chief in the central Pakistani city of Mianwali and is now pursuing a master's degree in public policy at Harvard University.

"If there is no fingerprint provided to the court, no bloodstained clothing, no ballistics provided, no firearms or other things, how can the court convict?" Khan said. "The courts will always say there is no proper evidence collection by the police authorities that helps us convict, which is right."

The police also can by stymied by Pakistan's most powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, which often detains suspects and conducts parallel investigations without notifying the police or presenting evidence at court. That was the case after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, according to a U.N. report.

The lack of collected evidence forces prosecutors to rely heavily on witnesses, a problem in a country where there is no witness protection program. People who are asked to testify in terror trials are often threatened or killed by militants.

"This system relies on witnesses, and in the incidents that take place there are no witnesses normally or they don't want to come forward," Khan said.

"If people are not confident that state institutions can protect them, then why should they come forward?"

These threats often extend to others involved in terror cases, including policemen, prosecutors and judges, leaving them to decide whether to pursue convictions against suspected militants or protect themselves and their families.

In June, three men showed up at the house of antiterror judge Asim Imam in the northwestern city of Peshawar and threatened him and his family if he didn't "behave" during the coming trial of Sufi Mohammed, a hard-line cleric with close ties to the Taliban, said the judge's father-in-law, Javed Nawaz Gandapur. That trial has been delayed.

Prosecutors not only face similar threats, they lack the training needed to take on terror cases, are poorly paid and do not have the resources to carry out their jobs successfully, said Mohammad Jahangir, the chief prosecutor in Punjab province. That province has been hit by a rising number of attacks in the last two years.

"They do not have proper offices ... staff or transport facilities," Jahangir said.

Judges and prosecutors are also grappling with an antiterror court system that has become bloated with cases that often have nothing to do with terrorism. That is ironic because the courts were established in 1997 to expedite terrorism cases that could otherwise get stuck in the quagmire of Pakistan's traditional legal system.

The Lahore judge, Sharif, called the state of affairs "alarming."

"The accused have been acquitted by trial courts due to defective investigation, lack of sufficient evidence and, as such, failure of the prosecution to prove the cases against the culprits," he said.

U.S. sends warning to Afghanistan, and John Kerry delivers the message

The Obama administration on Tuesday delivered what might be its toughest warning yet to President Hamid Karzai over corruption in his government through a messenger who in the past has managed to forge a rapport with the mercurial Afghan leader in times of tension.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, flew in for a one-day visit to the Afghan capital that included two sessions with Karzai, whose relations with the United States have plunged to a low not seen since last summer's fraud-riddled presidential election.
Karzai and the West are in the midst of a confrontation over his efforts to assert control over two Afghan bodies set up with U.S. backing to combat high-level graft and fraud. The dispute burst into the open last month after a senior aide to Karzai was targeted in a bribery investigation.
Karzai has stopped short of trying to shut down or significantly restrict the activities of the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit. But he has hinted he may seek to do so, a prospect that has caused concern among his Western patrons that has only increased as the Karzai government has failed to live up to its frequent promises to curb corruption.
Before an evening meeting with the Afghan president, Kerry told reporters he would lay down specific benchmarks that Karzai would need to meet in order to demonstrate that he was making good-faith efforts on the issue.
Kerry also suggested that Karzai would receive a blunt message about congressional restiveness over the war, unease that is increasingly fueled by the corruption issue. A House panel is threatening to hold up $4 billion in aid to Afghanistan if the Obama administration can't provide proof that the money won't be lost to corruption and waste.
"I think President Karzai understands that this is an important moment," Kerry said. "It is going to be vital that the president lead, over these next months, a very public, tangible, accountable effort to be providing the best governance to the people."
However, Kerry also telegraphed willingness to listen to Karzai's grievances, which could help provide a face-saving way out of the impasse. He also made a point of framing the Afghan leader's objections to the work of the anti-corruption units in sympathetic terms.
Karzai has said the task forces' methods, which have included an early-morning raid on the home of the aide suspected of bribery, were a possible violation of human rights. Kerry said Karzai might have a point.
"I think in America, people would object to a 5 o'clock-in-the morning-gunpoint-arrest process," he said.
U.S. officials have been fretting over Karzai's complaints about the two anti-corruption agencies, and with elections coming in Afghanistan next month don't want a repeat of the vote fraud that rocked the presidential election a year ago.
A senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said American officials were watching to see how the Karzai government deals with the case of the aide. "If the case stalls, that would set off some alarm bells," the official said.
He said the administration has had "a number of conversations" with Karzai about the upcoming elections in an effort to avoid the problems that occurred last year.
Some senior officials are saying privately that they fear their reliance on the Karzai administration could be the weakest link of their strategy to stabilize the country. Government corruption is seen as one of the most important factors driving ordinary Afghans to support the Taliban."Even if we have success in rolling back the militants, if the Afghans don't trust the government, it all won't work," said a second U.S. official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the newly appointed head of the international forces in the country, has hired two experts known for their strong emphasis on fighting corruption, Frederick Kagan and Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Kerry was not acting as an envoy of the White House on the trip but had the "full backing of the administration," an aide to the senator said. Kerry met recently with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and discussed the trip at length with Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Massachusetts Democrat has had success moving the Afghan leader in the past. In October, Kerry managed to avert a crisis when Karzai balked at accepting the findings of a U.N.-backed panel that stripped him of one-third of his votes in the presidential election, depriving him of the majority he would have needed to win the balloting outright.
In marathon meetings that included long walks around the grounds of the presidential palace, Kerry talked the Afghan president into agreeing to a runoff with his nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
In the end, Abdullah dropped out of the race, but Kerry's intercession was crediting with staving off a rupture between the West and Karzai that could have precipitated a chaotic domestic power struggle.
Karzai has responded to the latest contretemps by seeking to deflect attention away from corruption. Over the weekend, he urged President Obama to conduct a strategic review of how the war is being conducted, citing rising civilian casualties. His office said he also raised the topic with Kerry.
On Monday, Karzai caught Western officials by surprise with an announcement by his spokesman that private security companies operating in Afghanistan would be shut down within four months.
The Afghan president on Tuesday issued a formal decree to that effect, though it granted an exemption for private security firms that work on the premises of international installations such as embassies and nongovernmental organizations.
The timetable, if enforced, could pose enormous problems for the Western military, which uses security contractors to help guard bases and escort supply convoys.


In its Flood Response Plan, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) identified nearly $460,000,000 of funding needs for the humanitarian response. According to OneResponse, a humanitarian tracking website run by OCHA, 55 percent of those funding needs are still unmet.
How You Can Help
In the U.S. text SWAT to 50555 to make a $10 donation to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or donate online from international locations.

Aid Agencies Taking Donations

Save the Children
Islamic Relief USA
Relief International
American Red Cross
International Rescue Committee
Other Ways to Help

Google Person Finder
Report missing or found persons
Sahana Eden
Help enter data into Sahana's response coordination database
Pakistan Flood Incident Reporting
Contribute to a crowdsourced map tracking flood-related incidents.

Pakistan's government estimates some 15.4 million people have been affected by massive flooding this summer, making it the country's worst-ever natural disaster.

« Click to see a U.N. infographic on how the floods compare to other natural disasters in Pakistan (PDF)

In its Flood Response Plan, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) identified nearly $460,000,000 of funding needs for the humanitarian response. According to OneResponse, a humanitarian tracking website run by OCHA, 55 percent of those funding needs are still unmet.

How You Can Help
In the U.S. text SWAT to 50555 to make a $10 donation to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or donate online from international locations.

Aid Agencies Taking Donations

Save the Children
Islamic Relief USA
Relief International
American Red Cross
International Rescue Committee
Other Ways to Help

Google Person Finder
Report missing or found persons
Sahana Eden
Help enter data into Sahana's response coordination database
Pakistan Flood Incident Reporting

UN Estimates 4 Million Left Homeless by Pakistan Floods

The United Nations says more than 4 million people have been left homeless by devastating floods in Pakistan, double the previous U.N. estimate.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Thursday it would more than triple its emergency aid appeal for flood victims from $47 million to $141 million, because the number of people needing emergency aid has grown considerably.

UNICEF regional director Daniel Toole says relief workers urgently need cash donations to provide food, water, and health care -- and that such needs cannot be paid for through pledges.

The latest appeal comes as the U.N. General Assembly prepares to hold a special session Thursday to discuss the flood response. The U.N. last week issued an appeal for $460 million for relief efforts, with half the goal met so far.

U.S. officials say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce another increase in U.S. aid, with $90 million already committed.

U.S. Senator John Kerry visited flood-damaged areas in Pakistan on Thursday, and met with U.S. troops involved in relief operations.

Monsoon rains have triggered massive floods in Pakistan's Khyber-Paktunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces, killing an estimated 1,600 people and affecting up to 20 million.

During Thursday's session in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to brief the General Assembly about his visit to Pakistan last Sunday. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is also among those expected to address the assembly.

The Asian Development Bank has said it will give $3 million for emergency relief, and expects to contribute at least $2 billion to recovery efforts during the next two years.

Saudi Arabia announced Thursday it was increasing its aid to Pakistan by $80 million.

Japan says it will send helicopters to help in relief efforts. The country has already extended more than $14 million in assistance.

And Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday to express sympathy over the devastation

Obama's stump speech blends partisan rhetoric with populist themes

With the approach of congressional elections and the midpoint of what he hopes will be his first of two four-year terms, President Barack Obama is honing a humor-laced stump speech that is part pep talk, part populist ideology.

Obama delivered similar versions of the speech at six fundraising events this week, kicking into full campaign mode with calls to continue the progress made so far by his administration.

His poll numbers are shrinking, and Democrats are resigned to losing some congressional seats in November.

Amid unabated criticism from the political right and unyielding legislative opposition by Republicans, the White House wants to galvanize the liberal base and maintain support from independents vital to Obama's election but who polls show turning away.

The basic premise of the president's stump speech message is that his administration inherited a mess after eight years of Republican leadership and needs more time to fully fix it while also positioning America to prosper in coming generations.

Republicans complain Obama's repeated references to problems he inherited are intended to duck responsibility for what they call failures of his own policies that have allowed unemployment to remain high amid a sluggish recovery.

Obama, however, insists that full economic recovery from such a deep recession will take years, and that his administration has so far laid the basis for continued improvement while addressing longstanding problems

He cites what he calls his main achievements -- reversing the recession, getting health care reform and Wall Street reform bills passed -- and touts energy reform proposals intended to greatly increase clean energy alternatives to make the U.S. industry globally competitive in the 21st century.

Overall, though, the lingering message is that the GOP screwed up when in power, and now Democrats are making things right.

Partisan rhetoric and jokes abound. In almost every speech, Obama says Republicans are counting on voter amnesia about GOP policies that led to the Wall Street meltdown and economic recession.

He acknowledges some of his polices have been unpopular, particularly bailing out big banks and automakers.

"I actually have pollsters, so I know when things aren't popular," he said Tuesday at an event for Washington Sen. Patty Murray, repeating an oft-used line that always prompts laughter and applause. "I know when they don't poll well. But I was not sent to Washington just to do what was popular. I was sent to do what was right."

Noting his campaign rally cry of "Yes we can," he lampoons what he calls the obstructionism of congressional Republicans by dropping his voice into a kind of growl to mimic what he offers as their slogan: "No we can't."

"That's really inspiring," he deadpanned to laughter and applause at the Murray event.

"This vision they have for the future," Obama continued, pausing to add, "Gives you a little pep in your step when you hear it, don't you?" before adding a final "No, we can't."

When he's really revved up, Obama shifts to the car-in-a-ditch analogy.

Specific words change a little each time, but the message is unwavering: Republicans drove the American economy off the road through failed policies of tax cuts, deregulation and increased spending, and now his administration is getting it out of the ditch.

With Obama, it's all in the delivery.

"They spent almost a decade driving the economy into a ditch," he said Tuesday, pausing several times as laughter erupted. "And so me and Patty, and a bunch of others, we go down there and we put on our boots and we're pushing and shoving. And it's muddy and there are bugs and we're sweating and shoving, pushing hard."

The Republicans, meanwhile, are standing by "sipping Slurpees" and calling out "you're not pushing hard enough" and "that's not the right way to push," Obama continued, pretending to sip a Slurpee to laughter and applause.

"So finally, finally, Patty and I and everybody, we finally get the car up on level ground. We're about to go forward," Obama said. "And these guys come and tap us on the shoulder, and they say, 'We want the keys back.' "

He shouted over the roaring laughter to deliver his punch line: "You can't have the keys back! You don't know how to drive!"

In recent weeks, Obama included an additional jab based on motor vehicle transmission symbols.

"You notice, when you want to move forward in your car, what do you do?" he said Tuesday. "You put your car in 'D.' When you want to go backwards, you put it in 'R.' "

With the crowd applauding, he declared: "Back into the ditch. Keep that in mind in November. That's not a coincidence."

Along with the humor comes more stern rhetoric that depicts Republicans as the enemy of ordinary citizens.

On Tuesday, he described the basic GOP philosophy as cutting taxes for "millionaires and billionaires" who don't need it, cutting rules for special interests, gutting regulations that protect clean air and clean water "and things that most of us value," and then cutting "working folks loose to fend for themselves."

"So if you can't find a job or you can't afford college or don't have health insurance, tough luck -- you are on your own," Obama continued. "Now, if you're a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company like BP, come on in, help us write the regulations."

The American people tried those policies for eight years under the previous GOP administration, Obama said, adding: "And it didn't work."

"It gave us record deficits and ultimately led to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," he said.

"Now, I bring all this stuff up not because I want to re-litigate the past," Obama said as applause erupted. "I just don't want to relive the past."

Republicans, he said, are "counting on the fact that you don't remember; that you're going to forget what happened when they were in charge for eight years."

"So that's the choice in this election," Obama said. "Do we go back to the policies that got us into this mess, or do we keep moving forward? I believe we move forward. America always moves forward."

Pakistan seeks IMF loan restructuring after floods

Pakistan is to ask the International Monetary Fund to ease the terms of a 10-billion-dollar loan after enduring the worst floods in its history, a report said Friday.

Islamabad has concluded that it is now impossible for it to meet the conditions of the lending programme agreed in 2008, said the Financial Times, citing Pakistani officials.

Pakistan's Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh will travel to Washington next week to try and persuade the IMF to restructure the current loan or consider new financing, said the report.

"Meeting the IMF performance criteria of the current programme is impossible under the present circumstances," said a finance ministry official.

"The losses from the floods are huge and we are in no position to meet targets on critical areas such as budget deficit, reducing inflation or even economic growth."

Another official cited in the paper said the IMF either needed to allow "plenty of relaxations on the current programme" or start discussing a new agreement with criteria more suited to flood-ravaged Pakistan.

The IMF in 2008 approved a rescue package for Pakistan as the country struggled to cope with bloody attacks by Islamic radicals, 30-year-high inflation and fast-depleting reserves.

So far, Pakistan has received about 7.3 billion dollars (5.7 billion euros) from the IMF loan, said the FT.

The economic damage caused by the floods amounts to at least 43 billion dollars, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the UN General Assembly's emergency fund-raising session in New York Thursday.

Around 4.6 million people are still without shelter following the wave of destruction wreaked by the flooding, according to the UN.

It estimates 20 million people have been affected and a fifth of the country is under water with the risk of cholera, typhoid and hepatitis growing.

UN seen meeting aid goal for flood-hit Pakistan

The United Nations appeared to have met its target of $460 million in immediate aid for flood-stricken Pakistan on Thursday after the U.S. and other nations significantly upped their pledges.

The rush of promised help came after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing a hastily called meeting of the General Assembly, urged governments and people to be even more generous than they were in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and this year's Haiti earthquake, because the floods were a bigger "global disaster" with the Pakistan government now saying more than 20 million people need shelter, food and clean water.

"This disaster is like few the world has ever seen," Ban told the meeting. "It requires a response to match. Pakistan needs a flood of support."

Before the meeting, he said, donors had given half the sum the U.N. appealed for to provide food, shelter and clean water to up to 8 million flood victims over the next three months. But Ban insisted all the money was needed now — and much more will be needed later.

After listening to speeches by high-level representatives of some 20 countries, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he was assured that the $460 million goal "is going to be easily met," including "$100 million plus" from Saudi Arabia.

Aid groups and U.N. officials had worried about a slow response to the flooding, theorizing that donors who have spent heavily on a string of huge disasters in recent years are reluctant to open their wallets yet again.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, told reporters before the meeting that he believed that where the tsunami and Haiti catastrophes happened suddenly, "for about 10 days people didn't realize that this wasn't just another flood."

Earlier Thursday, after visiting flood areas with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, U.S. Sen. John Kerry warned of extremists who might "exploit the misery of others for political or ideological purpose, and so it is important for all of us to work overtime."

Zardari spoke of militants who might take orphaned children "and train them as the terrorists of tomorrow."

Holbrooke said it's impossible to assess whether al-Qaida or others are taking advantage of the floods because "we can't even get in there."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that her government, already the biggest donor, would contribute an additional $60 million, bringing its total to more than $150 million, and that about $92 million would go into the U.N.'s relief coffers.

The European Union raised its pledge to more than $180 million. In addition, Britain said it would double its contribution to nearly $100 million, on top of $25 million in public donations, and Germany raised its aid to $32 million.

Holbrooke warned that "many billions" will eventually be needed to rebuild Pakistan. He challenged other countries, especially China, Pakistan's close ally, which was recently crowned as the world's second largest economy, to "step up to the plate."

China's intentions were expected to become clear when its representative addresses the second session of the meeting on Friday.

At a gathering before the U.N. meeting, Qureshi said the Chinese had increased their cash assistance, supplied relief goods and taken responsibility for providing food, water and shelter to some 27,000 people in an inaccessible area in the north, "so if you put this all together, it's substantial."

For the Obama administration, Pakistan is vital for stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan and enabling American troops to withdraw. Washington has already committed to spending $7.5 billion over the next five years in the country.

"I want the people of Pakistan to know: The United States will be with you through this crisis," Clinton said. "We will be with you as you replant your fields and repair your roads. And we will be with you as you meet the long-term challenge to build a stronger nation and a better future for your families."

The floods have affected about one-fifth of Pakistan's territory — an area larger than Italy or Arizona — straining its civilian government as it also struggles against al-Qaida and Taliban violence.

Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, said every 10th Pakistani "has been rendered destitute," crops worth billions of dollars have been destroyed, and things are likely to worsen as monsoon rains continue.

He said Pakistan's army has made "substantial" gains against the terrorists, "But the peace and relative calm achieved ... are still fragile and need to be consolidated."

Famed Pakistani musician Salman Ahmad, who joined Holbrooke and others at the gathering before the U.N. meeting, stressed that 100 million of Pakistan's 175 million people are under 25 and "feel abandoned by the world."

They "have two possible futures — one of following their dreams, the other of being sucked into extremism," he said.

"Right now, the terrorists are counting on the fact that there will be a sluggish response from the international community, because if there is a sluggish response, the terrorists win, the extremists win," Ahmad warned.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to hold donor moot today for world aid

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would hold donor conference in Islamabad today (Friday) to brief foreign diplomats on devastation caused by the floods, also demanding Rs 200 billion from the Centre to repair damages and compensate losses.

Spokesman for the provincial government, Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that the KP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti would brief envoys from the Muslim countries, European Union, the United States, China and other countries on flood destruction in the province. Hoti said that the KP government took the federal government into confidence over holding the donor conference.

“The donor conference would help the envoys understand the situation and help Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with its fight against militancy,” the spokesman told the press.

Mian Iftikhar explained that the case of this particular province was different, as they have to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, compensate the damage to the public and fight terrorism at the same time, “We have suffered immensely, and we are also fighting the menace of terrorism,” said Iftikhar.

The KP spokesman warned that the terrorists would try to manipulate this occasion as the government was occupied fighting the flood situation. “Terrorists in Peshawar peripheries are regrouping and it would be difficult to fight on different fronts simultaneously unless KP is helped sufficiently,” Iftikhar added.

He said that the killing of Awami National Party leader Ubaidullah Yousafzai in Karachi on Thursday was an act of “terrorism”. He emphasised that the provincial government and Islamabad “must take notice of the situation to bring it under control.”

However, he laid no blame on any group for the killing of the party leader in Karachi where the ANP signed a ‘code of conduct’ with Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Pakistan People’s Party to help stop incidents of target killing.

Pakistan facing 'slow-motion tsunami'