Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Missing Pakistan journalist Saleem Shahzad found dead near Islamabad

Shahzad's body was discovered less than two days after he was allegedly abducted by ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service
The journalist Saleem Shahzad was found dead with torture marks on his face and a gunshot wound to his stomach, according to Pakistani media. Photograph: Cristiano Camera/AFP/Getty Images

A prominent Pakistani journalist has been found dead on the roadside outside Islamabad, less than two days after he was allegedly abducted by the country's powerful military intelligence service.

Saleem Shahzad disappeared on his way to a television interview on Sunday evening. Human Rights Watch said it learned he been abducted by the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

Shahzad's body was found six miles from his car in a small hamlet on the edge of Islamabad. Local media reported that he had torture marks on his face and a gunshot wound to the stomach.

"This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies," said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch, noting that Shahzad had previously warned that his life was in danger from the ISI.

Hasan called for a "transparent investigation and court proceedings". Other journalists reacted angrily, directly accusing the ISI of responsibility.

"Any journalist here who doesn't believe that it's our intelligence agencies?" tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author and BBC correspondent.

Shahzad, the Pakistan correspondent for the Hong Kong-based news service Asia Times Online, vanished two days after publishing a story alleging negotiations between Pakistan military officials and al-Qaida.

The story claimed that al-Qaida attacked the Mehran naval base in Karachi on 22 May in retaliation for the arrest of two naval officials with militant links. Al-Qaida had been secretly pressing the military to release the men, Shahzad said.

Pakistani security forces battled for 17 hours to contain the assault, during which at least four heavily armed men slipped into the base, blew up two American-built surveillance planes and killed 10 soldiers.

On Tuesday Pakistani media reported that military intelligence had picked up a retired navy commando and his brother in Lahore in connection with the raid. The detained men, who allegedly have militant links, were previously questioned in connection to an earlier militant assault.

Shahzad was abducted from central Islamabad on Sunday evening as he travelled to the studios of Dunya television to discuss his report on the naval base attack. The following day, after being alerted by Shahzad's wife, Hasan said he had been informed through "reliable interlocutors" that Shahzad was being held by the ISI.

Last October Shahzad sent Human Rights Watch an email saying he was afraid he would be killed by the ISI, Hasan claimed. In the email, intended to be released in the event of his death, Shahzad said he had been summoned to ISI headquarters in Islamabad to discuss an article about Mullah Brader, a Taliban commander captured in Pakistan with American help months earlier.

The two ISI officials Shahzad said were present at the meeting, Rear Admiral Adnan Nawaz and Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, were both naval officers. Last week Pervaiz was made commander of the Karachi naval base that was attacked.

"We believed [Shahzad's] claim that he was being threatened by the ISI is credible, and any investigation into his murder has to factor this in," Hasan said.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan called for a government inquiry into the "heinous crime", but avoided mention of the ISI, focusing blame on the "servile policies [of] a corrupt and inept government".

As a reporter, Shahzad was known for delving deep into the murky underworld of Islamist militancy. He had interviewed some of the most notorious leaders including Sirajuddin Haqqani, a major player in the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani militant who works for al-Qaida.

His new book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, had just been published.

Pakistan is the world's most dangerous country for journalists, according to Reporters without Borders, which says that 16 journalists have been killed in the past 14 months.

Last September Umar Cheema, another investigative reporter, was abducted from Islamabad for six hours and tortured before being released. He said he suspected that his kidnappers belonged to the ISI.

Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.

Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants.

At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.

An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.

Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda's demands over the detained suspects.

The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan's surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.

The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.

Volcano of militancy
Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country's largest city and key port.

"Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces," a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

"We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan," the official said.

"Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities."

The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people - mostly from the lower cadre - were arrested in a series of operations.

"That was the beginning of huge trouble," the official said.

Those arrested were held in a naval intelligence office behind the chief minister's residence in Karachi, but before proper interrogation could begin, the in-charge of the investigation received direct threats from militants who made it clear they knew where the men were being detained.

The detainees were promptly moved to a safer location, but the threats continued. Officials involved in the case believe the militants feared interrogation would lead to the arrest of more of their loyalists in the navy. The militants therefore made it clear that if those detained were not released, naval installations would be attacked.

It was clear the militants were receiving good inside information as they always knew where the suspects were being detained, indicating sizeable al-Qaeda infiltration within the navy's ranks. A senior-level naval conference was called at which an intelligence official insisted that the matter be handled with great care, otherwise the consequences could be disastrous. Everybody present agreed, and it was decided to open a line of communication with al-Qaeda.

Abdul Samad Mansoori, a former student union activist and now part of 313 brigade, who originally hailed from Karachi but now lives in the North Waziristan tribal area was approached and talks begun. Al-Qaeda demanded the immediate release of the officials without further interrogation. This was rejected.

The detainees were allowed to speak to their families and were well treated, but officials were desperate to interrogate them fully to get an idea of the strength of al-Qaeda's penetration. The militants were told that once interrogation was completed, the men would be discharged from the service and freed.

Al-Qaeda rejected these terms and expressed its displeasure with the attacks on the navy buses in April.

These incidents pointed to more than the one al-Qaeda cell intelligence had tracked in the navy. The fear now was that if the problem was not addressed, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines could face a new threat. NATO convoys are routinely attacked once they begin the journey from Karachi to Afghanistan; now they could be at risk in Karachi port. Americans who often visit naval facilities in the city would also be in danger.

Therefore, another crackdown was conducted and more people were arrested. Those seized had different ethnic backgrounds. One naval commando came from South Waziristan's Mehsud tribe and was believed to have received direct instructions from Hakeemullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban). Others were from Punjab province and Karachi, the capital of Sindh province.

After Bin Laden was killed by American Navy Seals in Abbottabad, 60 kilometers north of Islamabad, militants decided the time was ripe for major action.

Within a week, insiders at PNS Mehran provided maps, pictures of different exit and entry routes taken in daylight and at night, the location of hangers and details of likely reaction from external security forces.

As a result, the militants were able to enter the heavily guarded facility where one group targeted the aircraft, a second group took on the first strike force and a third finally escaped with the others providing covering fire. Those who stayed behind were killed.

Asia Times Online journalist feared dead

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online who went missing on Sunday evening, has been killed, according to police.

Shahzad, who has been writing for Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online for nearly 10 years, failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on a television talk show in the capital Islamabad.

Police reported that his body was found in a canal in Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab province about 150 kilometers southeast of Islamabad and about 10 kilometers from where his car was found. They said that his body bore marks of torture.

Earlier, the International Federation of Journalists released a statement saying it "urgently appeals to the Government of Pakistan to order its security and police agencies to respond immediately to find a senior journalist who disappeared in Islamabad on May 29".
Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani expressed his "deep grief and sorrow" over Shahzad's death and ordered an immediate inquiry into his kidnapping and murder, according to Associated Press of Pakistan.

Shahzad, 40, had on several occasions been warned by officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over articles they deemed to be detrimental to Pakistan's national interests or image. He leaves a wife, two sons aged 14 and seven, and a daughter aged 12.

Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan earlier said he suspected ISI officials abducted Shahzad, possibly because of a recent story he wrote on al-Qaeda infiltration in the Pakistani navy. Authorities haven't commented. (Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike.)

Tony Allison, the Editor of Asia Times Online, expressed his deep concern for one of the most fearless journalists with whom he had ever worked. "We will bring the utmost pressure to bear on the authorities over this case. We at Asia Times Online express our deepest sympathies for Saleem's family."

Asia Times Online journalist missing

International organizations including the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have called on Pakistani authorities to immediately release any information they have on Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, who went missing on Sunday evening.

Shahzad, who has been writing for Asia Times Online for nearly 10 years, failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on a television talk show in the capital Islamabad.

The International Federation of Journalists released a statement saying it "urgently appeals to the Government of Pakistan to order its security and police agencies to respond immediately to find a Asia Times Online journalist missing.

journalist in ISI custody; ISI , a major human rights abuser in Pakistan

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has, through credible sources, learnt that journalist Saleem Shahzad is in custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), HRW’s Pakistan representative Ali Dayan Hasan told Daily Times on Monday.

Dayan remarked that the ISI remained a major human rights abuser in Pakistan and it frequently kept abusing and torturing those journalists it disagreed with. He further said the HRW had previously documented similar cases of abduction and torture on journalists by security agencies.

People close to Shahzad told Daily Times that he was picked up by officers of an intelligence agency who have promised through anonymous calls to release him soon. Shahzad, who was working as bureau chief of the Asia Times Online in Islamabad, was whisked away by unidentified people on Sunday evening when he left his F-8 Sector residence to participate in a television talk show. His mobile phone remained switched off and his car could not be traced.

People close to Shahzad stated that he had received numerous warnings from security agencies for his reporting in the past, adding that his recent reporting on the issue of terrorist attack on PNS Mehran might have become the reason of his abduction.

Meanwhile, a case has been registered against the unidentified kidnappers in the F-8 Sector Police Station.

Pakistani jets attack Taliban hideouts

Pakistani warplanes attacked Taliban positions in the northwestern Orakzai region on Tuesday, killing 17 militants, a senior regional government official said.
Orakzai is one of seven ethnic Pashtun tribal areas where the Pakistani army has tried to root out militants with offensives against their strongholds.
The strike came a day after a local newspaper reported that Pakistan will launch an offensive in North Waziristan, a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants also located in Pakistan's tribal belt.
Pakistan's performance in fighting militancy has come under close scrutiny again after it was discovered that al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden had been living in the country.
Army operations in areas like Orakzai have failed to break the back of militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, who have stepped up suicide bombings since U.S. special forces killed bin Laden near Islamabad on May 2.
"We had information that militants gathered there and were planning attacks so we launched the attack," a local senior government official told Reuters. He said 17 militants were killed and six wounded in the Orakzai operation.
Residents in the town of Mamoozai, where the air strike took place, said several helicopter gunships were hovering overhead hours after the attack.
After the bin Laden raid, the United States told Pakistan it needs to step up the fight against militants, and government officials said Mamoozai has become a hub for militants who fled military operations elsewhere in the tribal belt, a strategy that has enabled them to survive army assaults.
The Pakistani Taliban, which has strong ties to al Qaeda, has attacked army recruits, a naval base, and trucks carrying fuel to U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan to avenge the death of bin Laden.
On Tuesday, gunmen on a motorcycle attacked and torched two NATO trucks in southwestern Baluchistan province, a provincial government official said.

Shahbaz Sharif should be replaced

Demanding replacement of Shahbaz Sharif as the Chief Minister with some other suitable person from the PML-N, Punjab Opposition Leader Raja Riaz on Monday alleged Shahbaz was not releasing the report of the judicial commission on illegal breaches of dykes made during last year’s floods on behest of PML-N leaders.
While addressing a news conference at Lahore Press Club, Raja said that report of the said commission was gathering dust in CM Secretariat for the last over three months, but Punjab CM was not making it public to save the skin of his blue-eyed bureaucrats and PML-N leaders who have been held responsible for the crime. The PPP leader said that judicial commission in its inquiry report has held Secretary Irrigation, Malik Rabnawaz responsible for the illegal breaches which caused massive devastation. He further said that secretary irrigation had already stated that he was acting on the advice of chief minister’s Principal Secretary, Dr. Tauqeer Shah who enjoyed backing of his boss.
He said Punjab CM had himself ordered constitution of a judicial commission on controversial breaches, and now when the report has been submitted to him, it was not being made public for the said reason.

Afghan president warns NATO against airstrikes that kill civilians

Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned Tuesday that any future NATO airstrikes that kill civilians will be considered attacks against the Afghan people.
The statement came three days after an airstrike killed 14 civilians in southern Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials.
"This is my last warning to the NATO forces: No more attacks on the homes of Afghans will be allowed," Karzai told reporters.
"If they continue such operations to kill civilians, international forces will change to a force who is not fighting against terrorists but fighting against Afghan people."
Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, joined two other generals in offering "sincere apologies" Monday for the airstrike that killed nine civilians in Helmand province. There was no immediate explanation for the disparity between this figure and Karzai's account of 14 killed: 10 children, two women and two men.
Maj. Gen. John Toolan, head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force command in southwest Afghanistan, pleaded with Afghans to not only forgive, but to also work with coalition forces in hopes of bolstering their security.
"I offer our heartfelt apologies to the families and friends of those killed," Toolan said in a statement. "I ask that the Afghan people continue to trust and assist their security forces, so that together we can stop the senseless killing brought upon us by an enemy who wants to exploit the Afghan people through fear and violence."
Karzai said Tuesday that the international community has turned the war against terrorism into political objectives.
"They seek their own interest and played politics," Karzai said. "... If they were fighting against terrorism as the Afghans were honestly advising them, if they were focusing (on) the terrorism sanctuaries ... this war would have been more successful."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Doctors in Khyber Pakthunkhwa announces end of strike

The Provincial Doctors Association (PDA) here on Monday announced end of strike in Khyber Pakthunkhwa public sector hospitals while medical practitioners and young doctors joined their duties.

President PDA Dr Shah Sawaar in presence of doctors and Special Health Secretary0020Noorul Eman announced the end of strike during a press conference here at Press Club.

The announcement was made after PDA office bearers held successful talks with KPK Health Department officials regarding implementation of their six point agenda.

Saudi Arabia thinks Pakistan controls Taliban: WikiLeaks

A cable sent by the American ambassador in Riyadh said that the Saudi officials made it clear to the United States that Pakistan would only accept the Afghan leadership which would accept Durand Line as an international border.

In January 2010, Saudi Interior Minister General Masoodi and special US envoy Barnett R Rubin met in Riyadh. Saudi officials were of the view that most of the warriors were grown up in Pakistan due to which Pakistan had control over them. However, most of Afghan Taliban want to end this control. Masoodi said that the Afghan Taliban group was weak at the moment and America should help it to make it strong because Pakistan and Iran were using most of the Taliban for their own benefit.

The Saudi general also told the US representative that there was a need to remove Pakistan’s reservations on Afghanistan, otherwise there would be grave consequences. He said that the presence of India in Afghanistan extremely displeased Pakistan. The Saudi general also said that there was no benefit of talks with Pakistani Taliban because they were dominated by Al Qaeda.

Britain trained Saudi troops used in Bahrain crackdown

Britain sends 20 military training teams a year to Saudi Arabia to train the kingdom’s national guard, the forces deployed in the recent crackdown on protests in neighbouring Bahrain, it was reported Sunday.

The country’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted military personnel run courses in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training,” the UK’s Observer reported.

The courses are organised through the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, a unit that consists of eleven British army personnel, the paper said. Saudi Arabia covers “all BMM personnel, as well as support costs such as accommodation and transport,” the MoD. “By providing training for countries to the same high standards used by UK armed forces we help to save lives and raise awareness of human rights.”

Bahrain, home of the US Fifth Fleet, faced a wave of Shi’ite-led protests in February and March that left at least 29 people dead, including four policemen, and dozens more injured.

Bahrain's rulers imposed emergency law and called in troops from neighbouring Gulf countries in March to quash the protests, including 1,200 Saudi soldiers.

Britain revoked dozens of licences for the export of weapons to Bahrain in February, amid fears weapons would be used to repress anti-government protests. In March, the country said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of human rights abuses in the Gulf island kingdom.

Human rights groups and opposition parties have spoken out over the news, questioning Britain’s military support for revolts in Libya and elsewhere, while indirectly aiding the suppression of protests in the Gulf.

“It is intensely hypocritical of our leadership in the UK – Labour or Conservative – to talk of supporting freedoms in the Middle East and elsewhere while at the same time training crack troops of dictatorships,” said British MP Jonathan Edwards. US-based New York-based Human Rights Watch this weekend asked the ruling body for Formula One to consider alleged human rights abuses in Bahrain when deciding whether to reinstate its Grand Prix this year.

Pakistan army more anti-American than radical

Dr. Stephen Philip Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, Washington DC, is a respected authority on the Pakistani army and the country’s politics. His book The Pakistan Army was published in 1998 and was translated into Urdu and Chinese. In 2004, he published another book The Idea of Pakistan. In an exclusive interview with Dawn.com, Dr. Cohen speaks about the Pakistan-US relationship and the future of South Asia after the Osama bin Laden crisis.

Q: Who do the Americans hold responsible for harbouring Osama bin Laden: The Pakistani civilian government or the army?

A: The US military respects the Pakistan army for its professionalism but they are angry with the Pakistani military for playing both sides against the middle. They are aware that if you’re an American soldier and the Afghan Taliban who are shooting at you are actually the ones being supported and trained in Pakistan. So, there is real anger with the Pakistan army over this double game. I can understand why they are playing this double game as the Taliban are an asset for Pakistan but the Americans do not like this. There is also deep resentment over some of the policies the army has imposed on the civilian government.

Q: How old is the history of collaboration in the Pakistan army with the Islamic radicals?

A: It dates back to the Bangladesh separatist movement when the army recruited people for al Badar and its death squads. It became more systematic during Zia’s government both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Now, it is a full-fledged strategic alliance for the Pakistan military.

Q: The Pakistanis complain that dictatorship and Islamic radicalisation were actually gifted to them by the United States. What has compelled the US to support military rulers in Pakistan?

A: The US has needed Pakistan for strategic purposes. Our policies have done as much harm to Pakistan as they have helped the country. We could have supported them but put more pressure to liberalise and democratise the society. The Bush administration made a strategic mistake by supporting Pervez Musharraf and excluding the other politicians. We should have supported Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. The US did support a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto but excluded Sharif. We should have come out and said publicly that we support all the legitimate politicians in Pakistan.

Q: Do you think the Pakistan army can ever overcome its obsession with India? How can the US help both the countries resolve this conflict?

A: I am writing a book about the India-Pakistan rivalry and calling it the “hundred-year old war”. My prediction is that the India-Pakistan conflict, which includes Kashmir besides many other problems, will last for one hundred years or even more.

I am very pessimistic about a solution between the two countries. They should cooperate over trade, for instance. Kashmir will eventually find its way. The United States should have only a silent role which should be limited to providing ideas and suggestions as we often do in the Middle East peace process.

Q: Does Osama bin Laden’s killing formally end the war on terror?

A: I don’t know if it was a murder or not but maybe it was an extrajudicial killing. Yet, it does not bring the war on terror to an end. Al Qaeda is a large global movement and it will continue to operate. It has diminished not only in terms of its organisational capability but also in terms of its symbolism. There will be major terrorist attacks on Pakistan, United States, India and other countries.

The notion of having a global Khalifat, where the whole world is united under one Khalifa is fanciful. That was not popular in Pakistan some years back. The anti-Americanism popular in Pakistan is based on the misunderstanding of American policies and some of the things that we have done in the past.

Q: Is it anti-Americanism or anti-Indianism that motivates radical elements in the Pakistan army?

A: I don’t have evidence of Pakistan army as radical in the extreme sense. However, it has become more anti-American. Some sections of the army are more anti-American than they are anti-India. The obsession with India, on the other hand, is weakening Pakistan rather than strengthening it. Pakistan has a huge list of reforms that it should have made.

In a talk at Quetta’s Staff College, I said Pakistan should take a lesson from South Korea and Japan which had their own way of taking revenge through economic productivity. Pakistan should struggle to beat India in the software industry, modern agriculture and exports.

Pakistan has had natural advantages over India in many areas but it has failed to capitalise on those advantages. I do not know if it is too late to reverse that process but if Pakistan continues to make India the center of its foreign policy, the country will go nowhere.

Q: There is a lot of resentment inside Pakistan over the drone strikes which many view as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Can anti-Americanism subside if these attacks stop?

A: We know from the WikiLeaks that the Pakistanis themselves are helping us with the targets. It’s astonishing that the Pakistan government has not said this publicly. The government is too much of a coward to openly admit that some of the drone strikes have killed the enemies of Pakistan. If the Pakistani army and police had taken action against the terrorists, the drone strikes would probably not take place. Every state in the world has an obligation not to allow its territory to be used for terrorist attacks on other states. Pakistan has allowed groups to operate from its territory to launch attacks against the US, Afghanistan and of course India.

Q: How serious is the crisis in Pakistan and how can the world help Pakistan overcome this?

A: There are two things requiring attention: The State of Pakistan, which is mostly bureaucratic, and the idea of Pakistan. The United States can help the State of Pakistan in many ways by developing its organisational and budgetary procedures but we can’t do much about the idea of Pakistan. Pakistanis themselves have to discuss and debate what it means to be a Pakistani. If being anti-India is being a Pakistani then you are taking the crisis deeper but if you are looking for a modern Islamic state that rest of the world should look upon then that is a different definition of Pakistan.

Q: Do you think the Pakistan army will eventually move with another coup?

A: I don’t see a coup coming in Pakistan. There is this joke in America that when Obama got elected, some newspapers wrote: “Black man gets worst job in the US”. Who wants to be the president of Pakistan? Zardari is doing a mediocre job. I doubt if General Kayani can do a better job as the president. Pakistan is currently pressed and embarrassed with many issues. Another military coup will simply make things worse for that country.

Q: How do you predict the scenario once the US withdraws from Afghanistan?

A: The US will stay in Afghanistan to a limited degree to make sure that al Qaeda does not show up again. A significant development program is going on in Afghanistan which is more effective than our development work in Pakistan. There is no economic and strategic interest for the US in Afghanistan. It is important because it is having a contaminating effect on Pakistan.

Q: How serious is the tug of war between Pakistan and India to gain political and economic influence in Afghanistan?

A: The good news I have heard is that both the countries are going to talk about Afghanistan. If both the countries can work on an agreement as to what role they should play in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people then that will be a role model for the United States and Iran. The four countries — United States, Pakistan, Iran and India — are critical for the future of Afghanistan. They should agree to have a non-aligned democratic, but certainly not a radicalised, Afghanistan. I am optimistic that the Indians and Pakistanis will work together in Afghanistan.

Q: The right-wing opposition leaders are suggesting that Pakistan should stop getting aid from the United States. Is that going to help Pakistan attain more prosperity and self-reliance?

A: Pakistan should develop its own strategy to develop its industry and agriculture. It has to work out with India on the agreements over Indus waters and also work among its provinces. I want to see a business-like transactional relationship between the United States and Pakistan. The Pakistanis should tell the US what and why they need assistance in certain areas. Once we commit our aid, the US should work as if we are under a contract and if the Pakistanis perform effectively, we should provide them further aid on time.

Afghan Bank Commission Absolves President’s Brother in Fraud Case

A commission appointed by President Hamid Karzai to assess responsibility for the massive fraud at Kabul Bank issued its report on Sunday, absolving the president’s brother of any blame. The brother, Mahmoud Karzai, was among the bank’s politically connected shareholders and insiders who took out a total of $925 million in loans, often with no collateral or even documentation, the commission’s chairman, Azizullah Ludin, announced at a news conference here. Only $347 million of that amount is so far expected to be repaid, he said.

At the same time, the report suggested that loans to politically connected figures were even more widespread than previously known. Mr. Ludin said that 207 borrowers took out undocumented loans, including many members of Parliament and government ministers.

Mr. Ludin said “three or four” sitting cabinet members had received dubious loans. He did not identify them, but he did name Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the military chief of staff to the president and a leading Northern Alliance member, as taking out about $100,000 in unsecured loans.

He said the president’s brother had paid off his loans, news welcomed by Mr. Karzai although the case remained murky. Abdul Qadir Fitrat, a Central Bank governor, recently told Parliament that Mahmoud Karzai still owed the bank $22 million, which Mr. Karzai denied.

Differences between the Central Bank and the presidential commission underpinned the report, which tried to shift the blame for the fiasco to the Central Bank, as well as to international auditors paid for by American aid programs, for what often amounted to looting of the bank’s deposits.

Mr. Ludin was particularly critical of Mr. Fitrat, the Central Bank governor.

“It’s very easy to be national hero in Afghanistan,” Mr. Ludin said Sunday, clearly referring to Mr. Fitrat. “Some officials of the Central Bank are involved in this issue, and those who were guilty in this case are now in charge of the affairs in Kabul Bank.”

After news of the scandal threatened to destroy the bank, Afghanistan’s largest, destabilize the country’s financial system and drive away foreign aid, President Karzai vowed last year that the government would stand by the bank and prevent it from failing. Last month, the government announced its plan to overhaul the bank, splitting it in two. One entity, the New Kabul Bank, would take over the bank’s branches, deposits and good loans, and the other would be a receivership office set up to try to collect on the bad loans.

Mr. Ludin did not release the text of the report, which he said was the president’s prerogative. He said the president would decide whether any criminal or other action would be taken based on its recommendations.

He did, however, quote liberally from the report, and took care to absolve the bank’s two most politically prominent borrowers, Mahmoud Karzai and Abdul Hassin Fahim, the brother of the powerful first vice president. Officials had previously said that Mr. Fahim’s loans totaled as much as $100 million, but Mr. Ludin said that his commission had been assured by him that he had agreed to pledge enough property to cover his obligations.

On Mr. Karzai, a businessman with dual Afghan-American nationality, the commission accepted his view that he had paid off all of his obligations to the bank, $4.2 million. “He is not guilty,” Mr. Ludin said. “He has no problem.” The other $18 million charged to Mr. Karzai comprised an $8 million loan to buy a villa on Palm Island in Dubai, a $6 million loan to buy shares in the bank, and accumulated interest of about $4 million.

Mr. Karzai maintains that the deed to that villa was in the name of the bank’s chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, and that he was only a tenant there. And he says that since the bank has been in effect taken over by the government, his obligations to pay for shares in the bank have been erased.

Reached by telephone, he reiterated his claim that he had paid off his Kabul Bank loans, and said the report had exonerated him. He said Mr. Fitrat, the Central Bank governor, had apologized to him for publicly saying he owed $22 million, and that Mr. Fitrat had accepted Mr. Karzai’s accounting. “He told me I’m clean,” Mr. Karzai said. But a spokesman for Mr. Fitrat denied that he had apologized. “It’s not true and we reject this allegation,” said the spokesman, Emal Ashur. As to whether Mr. Karzai still owed the bank money, Mr. Ashur referred questions to the bank’s Receivership Office.

A spokesman for that office, Nesar Ahmad Yousefzai, said the receivers were not yet able to divulge how much any individuals owed the bank.

Informed of Mr. Fitrat’s denial, Mahmoud Karzai lashed out. “The incompetency in this government is beyond comprehension, from my brother on down,” he said. “Basically my brother has licensed 600,000 people to rob the rest of the population,” he added, referring to the estimated number of government employees.

Mr. Ludin said the commission discovered that Kabul Bank had $925 million in questionable loans, including $338 million in accumulated interest. Of those loans, $467 million were made without any guarantees or even paperwork or documentation. Only $49 million of the bank’s loans were considered good loans that were properly performing.

The scandal, which led to a brief run on the bank last year, threatened to damage the entire economy and scared off the foreign aid that keeps the government running. Without that aid, Afghanistan has only $1 billion in annual revenues, so it was unclear how its government could cover the bank’s obligations.

International donors made it clear they were unwilling to bail out the bank, and the International Monetary Fund made addressing the bank’s problems a condition before foreign aid money could resume. No one has been charged or prosecuted in connection with the bank so far.

The State Department has canceled a contract with Deloitte, the international accounting firm, in Afghanistan, after the department’s inspector general reported that it had ignored signals of trouble at the bank for two years.

Mr. Ludin said the bank’s problems were caused by inadequacies in international accounting practices, as well as by the Central Bank’s failure to heed warnings made to it a year ago by Afghanistan’s intelligence service.

Mr. Ludin was previously appointed by Mr. Karzai to head the Independent Electoral Commission during the 2009 presidential race. Mr. Ludin was widely criticized for claiming that the race was free and fair, despite condemnation from the international community.

New details emerge in Abbottabad

Poverty survey in FATA to start in June

The government will start poverty survey in FATA from 1st week of June this year, for which tribal areas have been divided on seven parts to make it more authentic and productive, a senior official said on Sunday.

Talking to APP, Director General Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) for KPK and FATA Ikram Ghani said that arrangements in this regard have been completed and the poverty survey will start in FATA from 1st week of next month. The survey will start from Bajaur Agency because of its better security environment and later on it would kick off simultaneously throughout the six agencies.

Three-day training and capacity building programs for officials would be responsible for collecting data about poverty in FATA will start next week and officials showing good performance would be awarded. To a question, he said that delay in starting of the survey in FATA was due to security, law and order situation saying that it would be completed in two months and its contract has been awarded to two firms.

World Bank will provide technical and financial assistance to make the survey transparent; he said and added that local people have been hired for the task.

He informed that 68, 7196 persons have been registered in 20 districts of KPK while work on seven lakhs forms earns progress. Ghani informed that poverty survey continued in Shangla, Kohistan, Bannu and Upper Dir. He said that poverty has been increased due to devastated floods.

He informed that 43,625 deserved families of district Charsada affected by floods have been registered with BISP and it is assumed that it would jumped to 60,000 while in Peshawar 94,000 families have been registered. Likewise, 80,000 in Mardan and 24,000 families were registered in Nowshera. In FATA, tribal elders, elected representatives and Ulama to make the program transparent, he said.

Under Waseela Haq Program, the official said 520 persons were trained and 996 persons were paid, while 140 people would be given to 1st Installment of Rs. 3 lakh next week.

Musharraf declared PO in Benazir murder case

The Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) on Monday declared former military ruler Pervez Musharraf a Proclaimed Offender (PO) in the Benazir assassination case, DawnNews reported.

Taking notice of Federal Investigation Agency’s special public prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar’ request, Judge Rana Nisar Ahmed declared the former president a PO.

Earlier in April, Mr Zulfiqar had requested the court to start the process of declaring Musharraf proclaimed offender because his arrest warrants could not be served on him and that he was wilfully avoiding them.

According to legal experts, declaring the former army chief a proclaimed offender would enable the court to attach his immovable property in Pakistan and proceed with the trial of other accused in the case, leaving the authorities to seek other means for his arrest.

Mr Musharraf has been accused of failing to provide adequate security to Benazir Bhutto and conspiring to kill her.

Ex-navy commando, brother detained after Pakistan base attack

Pakistani security officials have detained a former navy commando and his brother in connection with the militant attack on a naval air base this month, intelligence officials and relatives said on Monday.
Last week's attack on the PNS Mehran base in Karachi, the headquarters of Pakistan's naval air wing, embarrassed the military and raised fresh doubts about its ability to protect its bases after a similar raid on the army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi in 2009.
Kamran Ahmed, who was sacked from the navy about 10 years ago, and his younger brother, Zaman, were picked up from the eastern city of Lahore on Friday, five days after the attack that killed at least 10 military personnel.
"They have been detained in connection with the naval base attack and are under interrogation," one intelligence official said, without giving details. It was not immediately clear why Kamran Ahmed had been sacked.
Imran Ahmed, another brother who was not arrested, told Reuters the two were taken away by intelligence officials on Friday. He gave no details.
The Pakistani Taliban, which is allied to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Mehran base, but many analysts believe they had inside help.
A group of between four and six militants besieged the base for 16 hours and destroyed two P-3C Orion aircraft from the Unites States, crucial for Pakistan's maritime surveillance capabilities.
Pakistan has faced a wave of assaults over the last few years, many of them claimed by the Pakistani Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked militant groups.
In October 2009, a small group of militants attacked the Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, taking 42 people hostage, including several officers. By the end of the day-long siege, nine gunmen, 11 soldiers and three hostages were dead.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks since the killing of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid in a Pakistani garrison town earlier this month.
The raid embarrassed the military, which has been unable to explain how the al Qaeda chief hid in the country for years or how the Americans could launch the attack deep inside their territory.

Memorial Day comes as troops fight in Afghanistan

U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan paused Monday to remember the fallen in Memorial Day services, as a war nearly a decade old trudges on.
Some prayed and held flag-raising ceremonies at dawn to recognize the more than 1,400 killed in combat here since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that triggered the war.
"We reflect on those who have gone before us. We reflect on their service and their sacrifice on behalf of our great nation," said Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Craparotta, who commands a Marine division in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. "We should also remember those serving today who embody that same commitment of service and sacrifice. They are committed to something greater than themselves and they muster the physical and moral courage to accomplish extraordinary feats in battle."
In Iraq, an estimated 46,000 U.S. troops remain stationed there though officials say combat operations are over in a nation that saw more than 4,400 American troops die in combat. Under an agreement between Washington and Baghdad, the troops still in Iraq must leave by Dec. 31.
Black Hawk helicopters churned through the night sky Sunday as a strong wind coming over Kabul's surrounding mountains blew against the flickering candles that cast an orange glow on those gathered for a remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' headquarters.
Earlier in the day, those working there enjoyed one of their five days off a year from building police stations, dams and other projects in a nation torn by decades of war. Col. Thomas Magness, 47, of Los Angeles, California urged the more than 100 corps employees and U.S. troops gathered there to remember the meaning of Memorial Day — advice that could carry home to America.
"While we were playing volleyball today, no doubt some soldier gave the ultimate sacrifice," the corps commander said.
Memorial Day, instituted to honor America's war dead, will be observed Monday with a public holiday. This Memorial Day comes before the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which ultimately brought U.S. troops into Afghanistan to unseat the Taliban government and hunt terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"Our country got attacked, and we're here to fight the war on it," said Roger Nowicki of the corps.
While Navy SEALs shot and killed bin Laden earlier this month in neighboring Pakistan, the U.S.-led war here continues. President Barack Obama plans to draw down U.S. troops beginning in July, while NATO has committed to handing over control of security in the country to Afghans by 2014.
In the meantime, the war grinds on toward its 10th year. The sharp pangs of loss are visible on some attending the event, like Maj. Erica Iverson, 33, of Vermillion, South Dakota. She spoke of serving as a casualty assistance officer after the 2010 death of Staff Sgt. Adam Dickmyer of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who once served as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.
Iverson's voice choked as she recounted how Dickmyer's mother fell off her chair in grief when her son's body returned to the U.S. His widow chased after the casket, screaming: "Don't leave me!"
"His wife has an empty house," Iverson said. "His entire unit came home today, and he didn't come with them."
Iverson said speechwriters for Obama called her in recent days, saying the president may honor Dickmyer in remarks on Memorial Day.
Increasingly skeptical American and Afghan publics question why U.S. and NATO forces remain there. The Taliban recently begun its spring offensive, as suicide bombings, roadside explosions and attacks in remote posts have returned with a frightening regularity.
"You don't get used to it because you're in a war zone," said civilian corps worker George S. Triggs, 54, of Louisville, Kentucky. "You learn to tolerate it and do the best you can."
Yet the worst stress, some acknowledged, is that of family members waiting at home for their loved ones to return. Lt. Col. Jon Chytka, 44, of Tabor, South Dakota recounted having to explain to his 5-year-old daughter why he had to leave.
He gave this answer: "I told her that before she was born, there were 19 people who killed 3,000."

Pakistan to launch offensive in N. Waziristan - report

Pakistan will launch a military offensive in North Waziristan, a newspaper reported on Monday, days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated a U.S. demand to tackle sanctuaries for al Qaeda and the Taliban on the Afghan border.

An understanding for an offensive in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary in Pakistan for militants fighting in Afghanistan, was reached when Clinton and Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen visited Pakistan last week, Pakistan's the News newspaper reported.

The United States has long demanded that Pakistan attack the region to eliminate the Haqqani network, one of the deadliest Afghan militant factions fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been reluctant to do so, but it has come under more pressure and its performance in fighting militancy is under scrutiny again after it was discovered that Osama bin Laden had been living in the country.

The News quoted unidentified "highly placed sources" as saying Pakistan's air force would soften up militant targets under the "targeted military offensive" before ground operations were launched. There was no timetable given.

The newspaper cited the sources as saying that a strategy for action in North Waziristan had been drawn up some time ago and an "understanding for carrying out the operation was developed" during the Clinton visit.

The target of any North Waziristan operation would be the most violent factions of the Pakistani Taliban, which has strong ties to al Qaeda.

But the United States would almost certainly push for a move against Haqqani, too.

Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment. A U.S. embassy official had no immediate comment.

The newspaper said a "joint operation" with allies had been discussed but no decision had been taken because of sensitivities.

"In case the two sides agreed to go for a joint action, it would be the first time in the present war (on militancy) that foreign boots will get a chance to be on Pakistani soil with the consent of the host country."

That could be highly risky for Pakistan's generals.


The military, long regarded as the most effective institution in a country with a history of corrupt, inept civilian governments, suffered a major blow to its image when U.S. special forces killed bin Laden deep inside Pakistan.

Some analysts say any joint U.S.-Pakistani operation would subject the army to even more public criticism in a country where anti-U.S. feeling runs deep.

"The reaction could be even more vociferous, just because everybody is so suspicious -- as well as dismissive -- of American interference," said Imtiaz Gul, author of "The Most Dangerous Place," a book about Pakistan's militant strongholds.

"People already feel so humiliated because of this Osama bin Laden thing and now they will have another reason to react."

But the South Asian nation, dependent on billions of dollars in U.S. aid, is under more pressure than ever to show it is serious about tackling militancy.

Attacking U.S. enemies in North Waziristan may be one way of repairing ties with Washington which were badly damaged by the bin Laden affair.

Pakistan maintains about 140,000 troops in the northwest, including about 34,000 in North Waziristan, but says they are too stretched fighting Pakistani Taliban insurgents in other parts of the region to tackle North Waziristan.

But analysts say Pakistan sees the Haqqani network as an asset to counter the growing influence of rival India in Afghanistan.

Aside from strategic concerns, an attack on the Haqqani network could further threaten Pakistan's security as it faces a new wave of attacks by the Pakistani Taliban to avenge the killing of bin Laden by U.S. special forces on May 2.

Pakistan could pay a heavy price if Haqqani's formidable fighters, believed to number in the thousands, and their militant allies, turn on Pakistani security forces.

Highlighting the dangers in North Waziristan, a blast at a restaurant in its main town Miranshah wounded 12 people on Monday, government officials and residents said.

Yemeni forces fire at protesters in Taiz

Yemeni forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on protesters in the southern city of Taiz on Sunday, killing at least six people and wounding 120, hospital sources said.
A Reuters photographer at the scene said police fired live ammunition, tear gas and used water cannons to disperse demonstrators protesting outside a municipal building to demand the release of a fellow protester who was arrested on Saturday.
The clashes took place near Freedom Square where thousands of anti-government protesters have been camping since January to demand Saleh's overthrow. Police set two tents on fire in the square. Protesters hurled Molotov bombs and rocks at police.
In the capital Sanaa, seven explosions were heard on Sunday night in the district of Hasaba, the scene of week-long fighting between Saleh's forces and a rival tribe in which 115 people were killed, residents said.
There were no immediate details on the explosions, which appeared to have partially breached a truce between Saleh's forces and the powerful Hashed tribe led by Sadeq al-Ahmar in the bloodiest fighting since unrest erupted in January.
Ahmar condemned what he described as "Saleh's new massacre" against civilians in Taiz. Earlier on Sunday, his men handed back control of a government building to mediators as part of a ceasefire deal.
A breakaway military group called for other army units to join them in the fight to bring down Saleh, piling pressure on him to end his three-decade rule over the destitute country.
Despite global and regional powers demanding he step down, Saleh has refused to sign a deal, mediated by Gulf states, to start a transition of power aimed at averting civil war that could shake the region that supplies the world with oil.
"We call on you not to follow orders to confront other army units or the people," the breakaway units said in a statement read by General Abdullah Ali Aleiwa, a former defense minister.
Opposition leaders separately accused Saleh of allowing the city of Zinjibar, on the Gulf of Aden, to fall to al Qaeda and Islamists militants in order to raise alarm in the region that would in turn translate to support for the president.
Residents in Zinjibar, about 270 km (170 miles) southeast of the capital, said armed men likely from al Qaeda had control of the city in the flashpoint province of Abyan.
"About 300 Islamic militants and al Qaeda men came into Zinjibar and took over everything on Friday," a resident said.
Three militant gunmen and three civilians have been killed in fighting against locals, who have been joined by a few government soldiers, trying to take the city back from the al Qaeda group and Islamists, medical sources said.
Nearly 300 Yemenis have been killed over the past few months as the president has tried to stop pro-reform protests by force.
Generals and government officials began to abandon Saleh after deadly crackdowns on protesters started in force in March. There have been no major clashes yet between the breakaway military units and troops loyal to Saleh.
Opposition groups and diplomats have accused Saleh of using the al Qaeda threat to win aid and support from regional powers seeking his government's help in battling the militants.
Fears are growing that Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will exploit such instability, analysts said. The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of attacks by AQAP, are worried that growing chaos is emboldening the group.
Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, and sits along a shipping lane through which about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nawaz wants to derail democracy

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif wants to derail the democratic system by implementing the agenda of national enemies, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said on Sunday.

Reacting to the statement of Nawaz in which he levelled serious allegations of corruption on the PPP-led government, and declared that he was ready to support any anti-government movement in the country, PPP Punjab Information Secretary Dr Fakharuddin Chaudhry, upon contact, said that the PML-N leaders were busy in disturbing the democratic government following the plan of ‘others’.

He said that the PML-N chief had no political plan to attract the people, so he was busy in criticising the system and important institutions of the country that was why he was levelling allegations against the army, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the government.

Although the army and the intelligence agencies were sacrificing their lives for the sake of the country in the war against terror and the government was trying to deal with terrorism with an “iron hand” and was making policies for boosting the economic system, he said. However, some ‘simple minded politicians’ who had no idea about the situation, and just wanted to attain popularity that was why they were giving anti-democracy statements, Chaudhry added.

The PPP leader said that Nawaz had been left alone at the front of politics, and now wanted to please some ‘elements’ without thinking that these elements or powers had no influence in the current situation.

Nawaz Sharif should show political maturity: Babar

Senator Dr Babar Awan of Pakistan Peoples Party said on Sunday that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz should show political maturity as the country was passing through difficult times. Addressing a press conference here, Babar said that PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif should not adopt “a non-serious attitude and mislead the nation asking it to revolt against the government”.

Babar Awan said that Nawaz Sharif had not mentioned that what kind of revolt he was demanding from the people.”Whether it is against the parliament, constitution, democracy or law and order?”, he said.
He alleged that Nawaz Sharif preferred to leave the country instead of confronting the dictator. “ Why did he not announce rebellion at that time?” he asked.
He said that the PPP had always played the politics of federation and reconciliation while Nawaz Sharif, he claimed, was doing the politics of division and separation.

ANP govt criticized for stalled health delivery

The Awami National Party-led provincial government has been under tremendous criticism from the masses for failing to resume the health services suspended for the past 10 days due to continuous strike by the doctors across the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The doctors continued the strike for 10th consecutive day on Saturday, which paralysed the health delivery in major hospitals of the province, particularly in Peshawar where doors of the three tertiary care hospitals Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), and Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) had been closed for the patients for the past couple of days.

Hundreds of poor patients and their hapless attendants, after sensing that there was no hope for end to strike by the doctors had started leaving hospitals for homes.

Most of the wards, laboratories and operation theatres in the three teaching hospitals in Peshawar have been wearing a deserted look by persistent strike by the doctors.

The doctors want increase in salaries and went on a strike on the call of Provincial Doctors Association (PDA), representative body of the serving doctors. The provincial government has not been able to take note of patients suffering caused by doctors strike.

Majority of the patients and their exhausted attendants criticised the ANP-led government for the miseries they were facing at the public sector hospitals. Instead of strengthening these so-called hospitals, the ANP government closed its doors for the poor patients and left them at the mercy of doctors to suffer, a disappointed attendant, Ikhtiar Gul, who had taken his ailing brother to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), remarked.

Some senior doctors affiliated with the Pakistan People s Party were making individual efforts to bring the protesting doctors and the government to the negotiating table, but in vain.

The PDA, on the other hand, has vowed to continue strike till acceptance of their lone demand, raise in salaries.

The authorities at the LRH and KTH Saturday made some alternative arrangements for the patients coming to the two teaching hospitals.

Helpless patients suffer in doctors-govt tussle Ailing poor forced to visit costly private clinics

he strike of doctors continued in provincial capital on Friday as no genuine representation of young doctors was seen in wards, operation theaters and OPDs in major hospitals.The public sector health facilities throughout the provincial capital are simply crippled by the week long strike of young doctors under the banner of Provincial Doctors Association. The patients coming across from Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Fata to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) are suffering due to extended strike by doctors as most of them are turning up to private clinics and laboratories where they are being charged heavily.Misal Khan, a retired government employee, who had brought his ailing wife to Lady Reading Hospital on Friday, said unavailability of doctors had added miseries of people like him. “I prayed doctors for examining of my wife after her INR test in LRH this morning but their response was very downbeat,” he told APP. Most of patients are visiting Dabgari Garden, a hub of medical practitioners where they are being looted due to extended strike of doctors and that diagnostic laboratories are getting double charges for X-rays, bone scan, CT scan, MRI etc tests from poor patients.The young doctors of provincial capital on the call of Provincial Doctors Association are on strike for almost one week to press government to fulfill their demands.A young doctor in LRH told APP that due to lackluster attitude of provincial government, the young doctors were actually forced to go for strike for the acceptance of their demands. He said young doctors should be given facilities on pattern of Punjab doctors.Meanwhile, Spokesman of Khyber Pakthunkhwa Health Department said most issues of doctors had been addressed and asked Provincial Doctors Association (PDA) to call-off their strike for best interest of people. He said the only unsolved issue was salary package, which could be addressed through discussion. The continuation of the doctors’ strike in current circumstances when province is confronted with several challenges like war against terror, the strike of doctors will added problems of people and doctors should call off the strike immediately to mitigate suffering of ailing humanity and victim of terrorism.The Spokesman said in these circumstances the doctors’ strike is very negative and counter productive, which are bringing bad name to medical profession and medical institutions and hoped that PDA would call of their strike in public interest immediately.Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health department in order to provide better services to medical practitioners and doctors took a proactive measures to accommodate students who had passed FCPS-I examination to meet the current and future needs.The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got recognized six institutions by the college of Physician and Surgeon in the month of February this year for post graduate training.These institutions include Saidu Group of Tecaching Hospitals, Gomal Medical College, Bacha Khan Medical College, Gastroenterology Unit of LRH, IKD and KCD. In the last twenty years this is the first ever expansion of the postgraduate teaching intuitions outside Peshawar.

Nation’s tragic catastrophe

Just forget about what the others say about us. Much of that is patently motivated discourse, self-serving hectoring or sheer jiggery-pokery. But there is no question about it that we really are in a state of war, under the siege as we visibly are of extremists and terrorists. They may be homegrown, they may be foreign proxies. Whatever they are, they have declared war on us, unmistakably now threatening viciously our very existence. And to contend with their vile challenge to the state, we stand in need of a war leadership. But the nation’s greatest tragic catastrophe is that what we have is a leadership not fit even for peacetimes. We need tall leaders with high minds, tremendous vision and enormous wisdom. Instead, what we have are small men with small minds, unable to see even beyond their own noses.
Unarguably, this war is no unidirectional fight. It is a multidimensional battle, to be fought out on multiple fronts and in the minds. The counter-offensive has to be multi-pronged, for which you need leaders who show themselves apart, not for custom-made robes, but for richness of intellectual faculties, creative thoughts and innovative ideas. But the leaders in the saddle across the spectrum have established beyond a shred of doubt that none of this is their forte. Clearly, this war has to be battled not just on the security front. It has to be fought as much on political and development planes. But this leadership is yet to show anything worthwhile on its slate by way of political initiative to cope with the existential threat of wicked terrorism monsters to the polity and to the state. So much so, it has spectacularly failed even to drive home to the mass of our people that the war we are now pitched is none else’s but our own.
Such an utter disappointment has indeed this leadership been that for almost two years it ran the crucial finance ministry on ad hoc basis. It had had no regular finance minister and the key portfolio of finance was handled by a variety of cabinet ministers as an additional charge. And shockingly enough, till now this leadership has unfolded no economic policy. At best, its act on the economic front is marked with firefighting; at worst, its economic policy boils down to begging and borrowing money from international donors. And no move whatsoever has it made to modernise the curricula of madrassas. It indeed gives the vibe that this task has never been on its agenda. At least, Pervez Musharraf made an attempt to this end, though he too in the end caved in to the awe of the clerical orders. This leadership has not even ventured on this task, feeling it safer to steer clear of this ticklish enterprise.
Even on the security front, this administration has not anything grand to boast of. The field is cluttered with its inactions, inertia and sloth. Even after three years, it is still hovering around the inanities of “has decided”, whereas by now it should be talking in the lingo of its decisions “being carried out decisively” and “curbing the terrorists crushingly”. Nothing of the sort is happening. No counter-terrorism strategy is visibly or perceptibly in play. And where order should have necessarily prevailed by now still reigning supreme are anarchy and chaos. No coordinations or collaborations between the various parts of the state security apparatus are in evidence. Each seemingly is working in its own light and in its own direction. And the lashkars and jaishes of all brands and hues are running their trades unimpeded and unobstructed, even the known outlawed ones openly under not-so-veiled new banners. And hate literature is circulating without any fears or inhibitions.
Not that the grandees occupying the opposition tents are showing any better. Superficiality and hollowness fills their camps as deafeningly as the official corridors, while the clerical orders for their own religiosity see spotless white what is visibly only opaque black. But none should harbour any hallucinations. The country is caught up dangerously in the stormy whirlpool of an existential threat which if not tackled unitedly would throw this nation in such an irreversible crisis that each and all will rue inconsolably. So each in own interest must see what is in the making and work to avert the otherwise inevitable grim eventuality at every cost. Terrorist are certainly no friends of this country and its people. They in reality are this nation’s foes.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Karzai wants Afghans to take control of night raids

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the Defense Ministry to take control of night raids, one of the most controversial tactics used by foreign troops fighting the Taliban, in a move likely to stoke tensions between Kabul and its Western backers.

NATO-led forces defended the night-time operations as "indispensable," but also said they supported Karzai's aim of making them Afghan-led and were working to achieve this.

Karzai, who has previously riled U.S. and NATO leaders with criticism of night raids, said in a statement from his office that Afghan troops should be carrying out the sensitive night raids themselves.

"President Hamid Karzai ordered the Defense Ministry to prevent foreign troops from uncoordinated and arbitrary operations and bring night raids under its control," the statement said.

"The president stresses that special operations and night raids must be independently conducted by Afghan troops."

Afghans say the raids, carried out in darkness on houses suspected of harboring insurgents or being used as a store for weapons, often lead to civilian casualties.

Foreign troops have defended them as key to gaining ground against insurgents, cutting down the leaders of a movement with more territory and influence than at any time since 2001.

"We know we would not have seen the gains and progress made to date without the conduct of targeted, intelligence-driven night operations," a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

"ISAF fully supports President Karzai's intent to have Afghan forces increasingly in the lead for operations...We are working together to move from always having Afghan force participation, as we do now, to operations being Afghan-led."


Karzai said the operations alienate Afghans from their government through violence, and cause discontent. Last November he called for the U.S. military to end night raids.

His latest demands come at a time of high anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan and days after deadly protests by thousands of people against a night raid by NATO troops in which four people, including two women, were killed.

Twelve people were killed during violent protests and clashes with police in usually peaceful northern Takhar province and more 80 were wounded.

Afghans, including Karzai, have condemned the raid and said the dead were four members of one family.

NATO said that four armed insurgents, two of them women and one a senior member of al Qaeda linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), were killed in the raid on May 18.

Despite the calls from Karzai for night raids to be banned, General David Petraeus, the commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, has stepped up night raids since taking over running Afghan war last year.

Under a plan agreed by NATO leaders in Lisbon last year, foreign troops will begin handing over security responsibilities to Afghan troops from July with a plan to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Despite the presence of some 150,000 foreign troops, violence in Afghanistan last year reached its deadliest phase since the U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict.

The Taliban this month announced the start of a long-awaited "spring offensive" vowing to carry out attacks, including suicide assaults, on foreign and Afghan troops and government officials.

Peshawar Doctors’ strike continues.

The extended strike of doctors continued in provincial capital on Friday as no genuine representation of young doctors are being seen in wards, operation theaters and OPDs in major hospitals of the City.

The public sector health facilities throughout the provincial capital are simply crippled by the week long strike by young doctors under the banner of Provincial Doctors Association. The patients coming across from Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Fata to Lady Reading Hospital, Khyber Teaching Hospital and Hayatabad Medical Complex are suffering a lot of problems due to extended strike by doctors as most of them are turning up to private clinics and laboratories where they are being heavily charged.

Misal Khan, a retired government employee, who has brought his ailing wife to Lady Reading Hospital on Friday, said unavailability of doctors has added miseries of people like him. “I prayed doctors for examining of my wife after her INR test in Lady Reading this mourning but their response was very downbeat,” he told APP.

Most of patients are visiting Dabgari Garden, a hub of medical practitioners where they are being looted due to extended strike of doctors and that diagnostic laboratories are getting double charges for X-rays, bone scan, CT scan, MRI etc tests from poor patients.

The young doctors of provincial capital on the call of Provincial Doctors Association are on strike for almost one week to press government to fulfill their demands. A young doctor in Lady Reading Hospital told APP that due to lackluster attitude of provincial government, the young doctors were actually forced to go for strike for solution of their demands. He said young doctors should be given facilities on pattern of Punjab doctors. Meanwhile, Spokesman of Khyber Pakthunkhwa Health Department said most issues of doctors have been addressed and asked Provincial Doctors Association (PDA) to call-off their strike for best interest of people.

He said the only outstanding issue is salary package, which could be addressed through discussion. The continuation of the doctors’ strike in current circumstances when province is confronted with several challenges like war against terror, the strike of doctors will added problems of people and doctors should call off the strike immediately to mitigate suffering of ailing humanity and victim of terrorism.

The Spokesman said in these circumstances the doctors’ strike is very negative and counter productive, which are bringing bad name to medical profession and medical institutions and hoped that PDA would call of their strike in public interest immediately. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health department in order to provide better services to medical practitioners and doctors took a proactive measures to accommodate students who had passed FCPS-I examination to meet the current and future needs. The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got recognized six institutions by the college of Physician and Surgeon in the month of February this year for post graduate training. These institutions include Saidu Group of Tecaching Hospitals, Gomal Medical College, Bacha Khan Medical College, Gastroenterology Unit of LRH, IKD and KCD. In the last twenty years this is the first ever expansion of the postgraduate teaching intuitions outside Peshawar.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa refuses ministers’ demand for pay raise

The ministers of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) asked the provincial government to increase their salaries. The K-P government, in an interesting turn of events, refused.
According to sources, some of the ministers reasoned that keeping in mind the general price-hike, the government needed to consider raising their salaries in the upcoming budget.
A minister, on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that they were being paid a mere Rs16,000 a month.
He added that some of the ministers were given official houses in addition to the monthly salary, while others were given housing rent apart from the salary.
“Our salaries are equal to that of a police constable and we cannot manage within that much,” the minister said. “This is not the first time that we have asked for our salaries to be increased … we discussed it with the chief minister earlier, but he flatly refused.”
K-P senior minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour was of the same view. “Yes, the salary of a minister is equal to that of a police constable and when the utility bills of a minister exceed the limit, the amount is then deducted from his or her salary,” Bilour added.
Low income is an issue which has also been at the heart of the doctors’ strike in the province. However, no one has paid heed to their demands either.

Bomb blast in NW Pakistan kills five

A bomb exploded in a market in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region on the Afghan border on Saturday, killing five civilians and wounding 10, officials said.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence since al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in a northern Pakistani town on May 2. Pakistani Taliban militants allied with al Qaeda have vowed to avenge bin Laden's killing.

The latest blast occurred in Salarza area, about 15 km (9 miles) north of region's main town of Khar.

"The explosive was planted somewhere in a restaurant. Many people were there when it exploded," Saad Mohammad, a government official in the region, told Reuters.

He said five people were killed in the blast. Residents have formed a tribal force to fight Taliban militants in the area that borders Afghanistan.

A suicide car bomber killed 27 people in an attack outside a police station in the northwestern city of Hangu on Thursday.

Early this week, Taliban assaulted a heavily guarded naval base in the southern city of Karachi. Ten military personnel were killed and two aircraft destroyed in the attack.

Kuwaiti protesters call for PM ouster

Hundreds of Kuwaitis have held a protest rally in the capital Kuwait City to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

The protesters gathered outside the national assembly in Kuwait City to press their demand for the premier's ouster in the 'Day of Rage' demonstration on Friday, IRNA reported on Saturday.

The demonstrators are angry at Sheikh Nasser's refusal to face questioning in the parliament for allegedly wasting public funds and committing financial and administrative irregularities.

The Kuwaiti prime minister, a nephew of the emir of Kuwait, has resigned six times since he was appointed premier in 2006.

He formed his seventh cabinet just two weeks ago. The Persian Gulf state has seen six cabinets resign and its parliament dissolved three times ever since Sheikh Nasser took office. In addition, development plans have stalled in the oil-rich state.

Earlier this month, two Kuwaiti lawmakers filed a petition against the country's premier over allegations of financial and administrative irregularities.

The two parliamentarians charge that Sheikh Nasser is responsible for squandering public funds and hindering the country's development plan.

The Kuwaiti premier has issued a passionate appeal for cooperation with the opposition lawmakers at a parliamentary session.

However, around 15 opposition members of the parliament walked out of the session to protest against the new cabinet.

Disputes between the Kuwaiti lawmakers and government have caused political crises in the country since early 2006 following Sheikh Nasser's appointment as prime minister.

Afghan army salary theft shows fraud widespread

The theft took just a few keystrokes — a couple of numbers changed on a spreadsheet and suddenly one soldier's salary was dumped into another's bank account.

For a long time, no one noticed. The three Afghan army officers didn't divert the salaries of active duty soldiers. Instead they kept deserters on the books and directed their pay into their own accounts. Sometimes they diverted bonuses.

When 14 soldiers at a northern Afghan army base were eventually charged in the theft, about $22,000 had been stolen.

That's not much in Afghanistan, where millions disappear from aid projects, government contracts and training programs. But the case is especially worrying as the U.S. looks to start drawing down forces this summer because the theft occurred in one of the army's elite commando units — using a system put in place precisely to prevent such fraud.

It's a reminder that turning the Afghan army into a professional fighting force will likely stretch far beyond the NATO allies' timeline to hand over control of security to the Afghan government by 2014.

Ten men were found guilty in a trial in April, and the three main conspirators received prison sentences of two to three years. All three plan to appeal.

Both Afghan officers and their American advisers praised the trial as proof that misconduct is being reined in.

"I'm upset that such an incident happened, but I'm glad that we are having the trial," said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahi Azimi. "It is a lesson to others that anyone who steals in this way will end up in court."

The important thing, he said, is that the corruption was discovered and punished.

That almost didn't happen. If it weren't for the dogged pursuit by one military prosecutor, who withstood death threats and the anger of his superiors, the embezzlement would still be going on.

Lt. Abdul Wakil first became suspicious when an informant alerted him in late 2010 that money was somehow being stolen from the payroll at his base, the 5th Commando Battalion in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Wakil went to the commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mohammad Basir, with his suspicions. "He refused to listen. He said there was no problem," Wakil said.

Undaunted, Wakil started investigating on his own. As he examined the base's payroll documents, something strange popped out: The battalion never seemed to lose any soldiers.

Desertion is common in the Afghan army. Soldiers sign up for the mandatory three years, then leave whenever they've had enough. Sometimes they go AWOL for months, returning without explanation.

Normally a unit's payroll shows these fluctuations. But the 5th Commando Battalion had no deserters. No one ever left and came back in.

Then Wakil compared the electronic spreadsheet emailed to the bank with the official paper copy. The computer file was different. The deserters' bank account numbers had been changed to those of active duty soldiers.

Wakil took the evidence to his superiors and opened an investigation last June. It took months for him to follow the money trail and unravel who received the stolen funds and how much.

During that time, Wakil faced angry challenges from his superiors.

Basir, the commanding officer, said the allegations were impossible, and he seemed to have a point. The computerized direct-deposit system was set up precisely to prevent such fraud. Before, officers routinely skimmed off some of the rank-and-file's pay without soldiers ever realizing they were being cheated. Now salaries went directly into soldiers' bank accounts.

But, it turned out, there was another avenue for fraud.

"No one understands the banking system, so no one saw the problem," Wakil said.

As the investigation progressed, rumors started to fly about who might be charged.

Late one night, Wakil was awakened by a phone call. The caller said he knew about the investigation, then warned: "When you come out of the military court, we will kill you."

Wakil received three more death threats that week. Then he started getting threatening text messages. In one, the sender said he had enlisted 20 Taliban fighters to hunt Wakil down.

Wakil pressed on.

"These sort of things happen in Afghanistan," he said of the threats. "I have to do my job."

The head of the Afghan army's legal office in Kabul said corruption cases are notoriously difficult to pursue.

"The people who cheat the military, they are smart about it," Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim said. They know where the weaknesses are and the people to pay off. And it goes far beyond payroll theft, he said. Soldiers routinely sell weapons on the black market and bribe superiors for promotions.

And yet the army courts have pursued few corruption cases. Only about a dozen of the 783 cases heard in military courts in the past year involved corruption, Karim said. Most are for traffic violations, AWOL soldiers, lost weapons or immoral conduct, with an occasional serious crime like murder, he said.

Karim could recall only one other corruption case in which an officer was convicted: a colonel found guilty a year and a half ago of stealing $10,000 from a construction contract. He was sentenced to one year restricted to the base at reduced pay.

The convicted ringleaders in the Mazar-i-Sharif theft were the battalion's financial affairs officer, Lt. Col. Shamsudin, as well as two young sergeants under his command, Sgt. Ahmad Jawed and Sgt. Hemran.

Shamsudin received a three-year prison sentence, while Jawed and Hemran were sentenced to two years each. Seven others were convicted and ordered restricted to base for six months to one year at reduced salaries, including Lt. Col. Basir, who was convicted of negligence.

Shamsudin, Jawed and Hemran were fined $4,000, $19,000 and $7,400 respectively, fines the court said reflected twice the amounts they stole.

Jawed's attorney, Abdul Matin, said his client and the others were scapegoats and the case would not stop corruption in the military.

"Stealing money in the commando battalion is a reality," Matin said.

"The thought among the people is that this government we have is temporary. There may be another one in a few months or a few days," he said. "So everyone steals.

Pakistan worried about Islamist infiltration: report

Top Pakistani military officials are concerned that their ranks have been penetrated by Islamists aiding militants in a campaign against the state, according to The Washington Post.

The top Pakistani military commander, General Ashfaq Kayani, was shaken by the discovery of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden close to a Pakistani military academy, the newspaper said.

He told US officials in a recent meeting that his first priority was "bringing our house in order," the paper reported, citing an unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official.

"We are under attack, and the attackers are getting highly confidential information about their targets," The Post quotes the official as saying.

Western officials have long accused Pakistan's intelligence services of playing a double game by fighting Islamist militants who pose a domestic threat, but protecting those fighting American troops in Afghanistan.

The United States has put pressure on Pakistan to lead a major air and ground offensive in North Waziristan, the most notorious Taliban and Al-Qaeda bastion, used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has always maintained that any such operation would be at its own time of choosing.

It argues that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are too stretched those fighting militants who pose a domestic threat.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Pakistan on Friday, said the United States was more committed to Pakistan after the Osama bin Laden crisis.

But she urged the country to take decisive steps to defeat Al-Qaeda.

According to The Post, US officials say they have no evidence that top Pakistani military or civilian leaders knew about bin Laden?s hiding place.

Some say they doubt Kayani or Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the military?s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, had direct knowledge, the report said.

Others however, find it hard to believe they did not, particularly because Kayani was head of the ISI in 2005, when bin Laden is believed to have taken refuge in Abbottabad, the paper noted.

US Navy commandos killed bin Laden there on May 2 in a raid that angered Islamabad because of US incursion on to their territory without prior notice.

US gives Pakistan list of five 'most wanted' militants

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan Friday, the United States gave Islamabad a list of terrorist leaders it wants joint operation against them, officials said.

The list includes Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al Zawahiri, along with Siraj Haqqani of the Haqqani network, Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and suspected al-Qaida leader, and Atiya Abdel Rahman, al-Qaida operations chief, the US TV reported, citing unnamed officials from both governments.

The list was discussed during separate meetings between senior Pakistani and US officials in the past two weeks, including Friday in Islamabad with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a US official, a Pakistani government official and a Pakistani intelligence official.

The United States is optimistic Pakistan would provide intelligence for prompt and joint actions against these militants.

A US news paper has reported that United States believes all these wanted militants are present in Pakistan.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Beer Gardens Everywhere

There are some who thought, prematurely, that 2010 was New York’s summer of the beer garden, what with the World Cup and the opening of a half-dozen outdoor, German-style drinking establishments. But not unlike some genetically altered superweed, these ale-and-oompah joints have continued even this year to crop up everywhere you look. They have grown so thick, so fast, that certain neighborhoods (Astoria in Queens and Williamsburg in Brooklyn come to mind) could, with the proper vantage and the help of several pilsners, be mistaken for Bavaria.

It would seem that last summer’s sprouting of beer gardens is about to turn into this summer’s beer garden jungle.

There are now no fewer than 54 beer gardens in the city, according to Beer Gardens NYC, a nine-month-old iPhone application dedicated to tracking the phenomenon, and that does not include some that have been announced but are not yet open.

There are classic beer gardens (Hallo Berlin), hipster beer gardens (Radegast Hall), beer gardens catering to frat boys (Studio Square) and a beer garden in a former Brooklyn auto-body shop (Mission Dolores). There are also temporary beer gardens, like the one that Colicchio & Sons plans to run this summer on the High Line in Chelsea, and another that will soon supplant the riverside bar at the South Street Seaport’s Water Taxi Beach.

Beer gardens have achieved such cultural ascendancy that even grand masters are getting into the act. Recently, Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali announced the opening of La Birreria, an outdoor Italian-style drinking establishment, on the roof of Eataly, their Italian food megamall on 23rd Street. The beer garden offers an Alps-influenced menu and craft beers seasoned with fresh thyme picked, by hand, from the hills outside Rome.

All of which demands a question: How many beer gardens can one city — even a fiercely pro-beer-garden city like New York — possibly have?

“Basically, this is too much,” said Larry Spacek, manager of the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria, the 100-year-old paterfamilias of the New York beer garden world. “Everybody sees our success and is copycatting us. I don’t know if it is progress, but probably we are reaching an era of beer gardens.”

According to Mr. Spacek — he pronounces his name SPAH-check (“I am not related to Sissy”) — a successful beer garden requires both the beer and the garden, and if there also happen to be bratwurst, schnitzels and enough communal tables to, as he put it, “sit around with 600 other fellows singing karaoke,” that’s all to the good. The problem, he suggested, resides with those beer gardens lacking foliage. It is true, he acknowledged, that some of these less-than-green newcomers have cut into the Bohemian Hall’s business. “But sooner or later,” he said, “the fact that we are in a real park, with real trees, will bring people back. This is very important.”

Michael Momm, meanwhile, who helped open Zum Schneider on Avenue C in 2000 and now owns two Loreley beer gardens (one in Brooklyn, the other on the Lower East Side), claimed to be unbothered by the current beer-garden glut, competition being the natural outgrowth of capitalism. Mr. Momm said, somewhat shockingly, that in the recent past some of his rivals have spied on his establishments (“We’ve had people come in, talking to the staff, like where did you get your furniture and so forth”). But he chalked this up to the constant search for a tactical advantage in the dog-eat-dog beer garden trade.

“That’s how it goes,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see it as a threat.”

It is difficult to trace the precise genealogy of the city’s beer gardens — the first of which was said to be Castle Garden, which opened on July 3, 1824, in a former Army fort in Manhattan’s Battery Park. (It later preceded Ellis Island as New York’s primary immigrant processing center.) In the early 20th century, German sections of the city —Yorkville on the Upper East Side, for one — had several beer gardens, but they eventually suffered from anti-Teutonic sentiment during the two world wars.

Of the city’s extant beer gardens, the Bohemian Hall, owned and operated by the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria, stands in a class by itself. Under it are the middle-aged beer gardens: Hallo Berlin on 10th Avenue (“New York’s wurst restaurant”); Killmeyer’s on Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island (sauerbraten, 57 different bottles of German beer); and Zum Schneider (fake trees, pretzels, St. Pauli Girl waitresses). Then, of course, there are the arrivistes: places like Berry Park in Williamsburg, with its D.J. booth and Tuesday night poker games, and Studio Square in Astoria, with — Was ist das? — sushi and panko-crusted chicken schnitzel fingers.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Batali’s La Birreria — which, its brew master said, will be the first beer garden in America to employ firkins, nine-gallon, old-English-style carbonation casks — represents the epitome of an increasingly baroque, gourmetized trend. One of its ales will be bolstered by ground Italian chestnut powder. Talk of the establishment is said to have begun six years ago at a “slow food” conference in Turin. “I hear beer garden and it connotes oompah bands and picnic tables,” said the brew master, Sam Castiglione, the founder of the Dogfish Head brewery. “But La Birreria will be a place for super-rustic, unfiltered, naturally carbonated beers accompanied by super-rustic, fresh-ingredient, Alps-inspired food.” Not to mention, he added, “The view is just epic.”

How did this come to pass?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that New York’s drinking zeitgeist has passed, in succession, from the Belle Epoque-ish wine bar to the pre-crash Jazz Age cocktail lounge, to the Weimar-flavored biergarten, with its whiffs of hyperinflation and the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Of course, it is also true that people like beer and will tend to drink it in large amounts, while sitting outside at long, communal tables in the sun.

“It’s a recession-friendly outing,” said Hope Tarr, who runs Beer Gardens NYC with her partner, Raj Moorjani. “If you take a date out in Park Slope or Manhattan, even to a modest restaurant, it’s a not inconsequential amount of money. But at a beer garden, you can get good beer for two to three dollars and, once the season starts, most have a grill menu, too. There’s probably still room for the market to grow. I don’t think we’ve reached the saturation point.”

That may seem like a difficult draft to swallow when — aside from the 8,000 square feet La Birreria takes up and the 3,500 square feet occupied by Bierhaus NYC near Grand Central Terminal and the 6,000 square feet currently consumed by Spritzenhaus, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — there is Local West, another 6,000-square-footer, which will open next month at 1 Penn Plaza, near Madison Square Garden.

“People think that if they do this, they can get success,” Mr. Spacek said. “But they forget: It is not just about big wood benches and selling beer. It is about the environment you create — and how you feel.”