Wednesday, February 9, 2011

US breaks off high-level contact with Pakistan over shooting case

The US has broken off high-level contacts with Pakistan as it increases pressure on Islamabad to free an American official who shot dead two Pakistanis, according to sources from both countries.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already cancelled one meeting and the diplomatic row threatens talks due later this month on the war in Afghanistan.

The freeze comes as a damning US watchdog report reveals that aid money lavished on Pakistan – almost $4bn since 2009 – as part of a strategy to foster closer ties has failed to show any change.

The case of Raymond Davis has convulsed Pakistan, opening a fresh seam of anti-American anger and unleashing a wave of speculation about what an American diplomat was doing driving alone in a Honda Civic through the streets of Lahore with a Glock handgun.

Pakistan has so far refused to release Davis despite US insistence that he is entitled to diplomatic immunity.

The US has warned Pakistan that it would consider cutting aid unless Davis is freed. Buck McKeon, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he mentioned to Pakistani leaders that Congress was working on the budget.

Asked if aid could be at risk, Mr McKeon said: “It very well could be.”

A senior Pakistani official said the government had to balance its international commitments with the risk of provoking a backlash if it was seen to bow to Washington's pressure.

"We understand that diplomatic immunity is absolute. It's not that we don't get it," he said. "Pakistanis have been killed and there is a lot of emotion on the ground so all the Pakistani government is seeking is American understanding."

He confirmed that ministerial-level talks had been frozen.

Last week, Mrs Clinton cancelled a meeting with Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, at an international security conference in Munich. The two are due to meet again in Washington on February 24, along with their Afghan counterparts.

The freeze is the latest setback in relations between two countries that have maintained an awkward alliance against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan.

Davis has been held for 12 days since shooting two men whom he claimed were trying to rob him. A third man died after being run over by a vehicle sent to rescue the American.

A massive five-year civilian aid package was meant to help stabilise the nuclear-armed country, quell rampant anti-American feeling and prove to Pakistanis that the US was not simply using the country to do its dirty work against the militant threat.

However, the inspectors general's report found that USAID had failed to come up with a set of indicators to monitor progress.

It also revealed that one fifth of posts – or 68 jobs – remained unfilled in USAID's office in Islamabad.

A key priority was to promote economic development in Pakistan's tribal areas as a way of reducing the influence of extremist groups but that has also struggled to make an impact.

"The audits found the programmes had made little progress in achieving the goal largely because of the hostile environment – the chief of party for one implementing partner was assassinated – but also because of a lack of baseline date and inadequate oversight, which resulted in questioned costs of $767,841," the report said.

US Aid to Pakistan Ineffective

A new U.S. government report says U.S. aid to Pakistan is not meeting its goals.

The report says little has been achieved since 2009, when Congress set aside $7.5 billion for programs to help civilians in Pakistan. The money is meant to be used over five years to develop Pakistan's infrastructure by building roads, bridges and power plants to provide electricity.

The report, which was released by the Inspectors General for the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Agency for International Development (USAID), cites a number of reasons why the aid has proved ineffective. It says problems with staffing the programs, a hostile security environment and – in one case – fraud, have led to programs not being implemented.

The report says aid programs are understaffed by 20 percent – making oversight, implementation and measuring success difficult.

Commenting on the report Monday, USAID said that the implementation of U.S. civilian assistance programs in Pakistan "continues to face challenges."

The agency cited continued security threats in Pakistan, the effects of last year's unprecedented flooding in the country and the death of Richard Holbrooke.

The veteran diplomat was serving as the Obama administration's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan when he died in December.

Egypt Must End Emergency Law, Broaden Talks

The United States says the Egyptian government must do more to address the demands of opposition groups. It is calling for Cairo to immediately repeal an emergency law allowing detention without charge, and to allow greater participation in transition talks.

The White House says Vice President Joe Biden spoke to his counterpart in Egypt Tuesday to emphasize that the Egyptian government must stop beating, harassing and detaining protesters and those reporting on the massive demonstrations.

Biden also told Omar Suleiman that Egypt should broaden the range of opposition groups included in developing a plan for transitioning the government, and immediately rescind the country's deeply unpopular emergency law, in place since Mr. Mubarak took office in 1981.

In New York Tuesday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the Egyptian people are frustrated and demanding "bold reforms" that should be implemented quickly - "the sooner the better." He said all parties must avoid violence and he repeated his call for an "orderly and peaceful transition."

Mr. Ban said Egypt and its president, Hosni Mubarak, are key players in the Middle East peace process, and that he hoped Cairo will continue to play an important stabilizing role in a volatile region.

Earlier, in his first public comments on the unrest, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised the Egyptian military for its restraint, reiterated the need for an orderly and steady transition, and prodded other Arab governments in the region to reform.

Gates said the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia should inspire other Middle Eastern governments to begin moving in a "positive direction" toward addressing the political and economic grievances of their people.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a transition in Egypt that engages all parties and leads to democratic practices, free and fair elections, and a representative government that is responsive to the grievances of the people.

U.S. government figures indicate the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $1.5 billion in assistance to Egypt last year, mostly for security. The budget request for 2011 is about the same. U.S. officials say there are no plans to cut off the aid, but caution the assistance will be reviewed as events unfold.

Mr. Mubarak, who has been president for nearly three decades, has responded to the protests by declaring that he will not run for a sixth term in a September election.

Peshawar Airport yet to be renamed after Bacha Khan

PESHAWAR: Leading the two-party coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and sharing power at the Centre, the Awami National Party (ANP) has failed to get the Peshawar International Airport renamed as Bacha Khan Airport despite the provincial assembly adopted a resolution to this effect more than two years ago.

Those who want the airport’s nomenclature changed believe that the federal government seems to be least interested in renaming the lone international airport in the province after great freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan lovingly called by his admirers as Bacha Khan.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has sent several reminders to the federal government to approve the resolution and notify renaming of the airport, but to no avail. “Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti especially talked to the prime minister about the issue before leaving for the UK last month and handed over another copy of the resolution,” Minister for Information and Culture Mian Iftikhar Hussain told The News.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour had moved a resolution in the provincial assembly in August 2008, asking the federal government to rename the Peshawar Airport as Bacha Khan Airport. The resolution was adopted unanimously.

The resolution had stated that the people who worked for the interest of the province deserved to be appreciated by naming the places after them to pay tribute to their services in a true manner.

The federal government has already renamed the Islamabad Airport as Benazir Bhutto Airport. After the renaming of the Islamabad Airport, it was expected that the federal government would take the minimum time to meet the demand of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

Mian Iftikhar said the provincial government was still hopeful that the federal government would soon honour their genuine recommendation. “I think the delay in this regard is not good. It is a genuine and simple demand and it should be accepted at the earliest,” he said.

“It has always been observed that the Punjab-dominated establishment at the Centre shows reluctance to accept demands of the Pakhtun majority pertaining to provincial rights and other nationalist issues,” said senior ANP leader Hameedur Rahman Mohammadzai while talking to The News.

A resolution adopted by the same assembly in 1997 pertaining to the renaming of the province was accepted at last when the province was renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 18th Amendment in April 2010.

The known facilities having the name tags of the great Pakhtun leaders are Bacha Khan Medical College in Mardan, Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, Abdul Wali Khan Complex at the Civil Secretariat, Peshawar and many important squares, roads and other places.

Egypt enters third week of protest