Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bahrain crackdown: West turns blind eye.

The fate of Bahrain's protest movement is a stark reminder of how Western and regional power politics can trump reformist yearnings, even in an Arab world convulsed by popular uprisings against entrenched autocrats.

Bahrain is not Libya or Syria, but Western tolerance of the Sunni monarchy's crackdown suggests that interests such as the U.S. naval base in Manama, ties to oil giant Saudi Arabia and the need to contain neighboring Iran outweigh any sympathy with pro-democracy demonstrators mostly from the Shi'ite majority.

"The response from the West has been very timid and it shows the double standards in its foreign policy compared to Libya," said Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

"Saudi influence is so huge on Bahrain now and the West has not stood up to it, which has disappointed many. They're losing the hearts and minds of the democrats in Bahrain."

Iran has hardly been consistent either, fiercely criticizing Bahrain's treatment of its Shi'ites, and praising Arab revolts elsewhere as "Islamic awakenings" -- except the uprising in its lone Arab ally Syria, which it blames on a U.S.-Israeli plot.

Bahrain's king said on Sunday a state of emergency, imposed in March after Saudi-led troops arrived to help crush protests, would be lifted on June 1, two weeks before it expires.

That would be two days before a deadline set by Formula One organizers for Bahrain to decide whether to reschedule a Grand Prix it was to have hosted on March 13. The motor race was postponed because of the unrest then shaking the Gulf island.

Bahrain is eager to prove that stability has returned after the upheaval in which at least 29 people, all but six of them Shi'ites, have been killed since protests erupted in February.


Apart from verbal slaps on the wrist, the United States and its allies have stood by as Bahrain, egged on by Saudi Arabia, has pursued a punitive campaign that appears to target Shi'ites in general, not just the advocates of more political freedoms, a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination.

Some protesters had gone further, demanding the overthrow of the al-Khalifa family that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.

Bahrain, which accuses Shi'ite Iran of instigating the unrest, has detained hundreds of protesters and put dozens on trial in special courts. Others have lost their government jobs.

The dragnet has swept up politicians, journalists and even medical staff. Four detainees have died in police custody. The government denies reports by rights groups of torture and abuse.

Last month the main Shi'ite Wefaq opposition party reported the demolition, often by night, of at least 25 Shi'ite mosques -- described by the authorities as illegal structures.

Pro-government media have depicted the protesters as violent traitors, driven by sectarian designs to disenfranchise Sunnis and encouraged by Iran to further its regional influence.

"Bahrain has killed twice as many of its citizens as Syria has if one adjusts for population size. Yet its ambassador was welcome at the Royal Wedding in Britain, and Bahrain was given a pass for repressing its revolution," said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert at Oklahoma University.

"Either it is because Shi'ites are not considered as highly as Sunnis due to Western enmity with Iran and fear of the 'Shi'ite Crescent', as it is often called, or it is because the U.S. has a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and needs oil and military bases in the Persian Gulf," Landis said.

Western officials deny that military action against Muammar Gaddafi's Libya versus rebukes for Bahrain reflect hypocrisy.


"There is a complete difference between the two circumstances," British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told Reuters last week, citing Libyan and Arab League calls for Western action to halt Gaddafi's intent to kill his own people.

"We'll continue to make representations to Bahrain, but in Bahrain there was a political process of dialogue between respective factions which we would encourage to be continued."

Saudi intervention, however, stymied any immediate prospects of political dialogue in Bahrain, as hardliners in the ruling al-Khalifa family silenced reformists led by the Crown Prince.

Washington has offered only muted criticism of its Bahraini ally in public, although even some Shi'ite politicians acknowledge it has raised its voice in private.

"There was sustained pressure from Western governments, especially the U.S.. But it was low-profile, given the friendly relationships with Bahrain," said Wefaq's Jasim Husain.

The United States, trying to balance its interests and its ideals as revolts threaten its Arab friends and foes alike, has struck a middle course on Syria, an old antagonist.

It has tightened sanctions to punish President Bashar al-Assad's use of force against demonstrators, but has stopped short of calling for the overthrow of a regime it sees as a vital, if unsavory, component in regional stability.

"Bahrain escaped the kind of criticism Syria got out of deference to Saudi Arabia, which has absolutely no interest in reforms in Bahrain, let alone regime change," Murhaf Jouejati, a Middle East scholar at George Washington University, said.

"Moreover, Bahrain, an ally of both Saudi Arabia and the U.S., is home to the U.S. Fifth fleet, and Washington has every interest in the continued dominance of the pro-American and anti-Iranian Bahraini monarchy."

For now, Bahrain may have jammed the authoritarian lid back on, at a significant cost in national trauma, sectarian rancor and regional tension. It is hard to imagine the story is over.

Obama heads to Texas to push immigration overhaul

President Barack Obama

is making his first trip as president to the U.S.-Mexico border, using the setting to sharpen his call for a remake of the nation's immigration laws and try to cast the GOP as the obstacle standing in its way.

The president's speech in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday, and his visit to a border crossing there, are the latest high-profile immigration events by Obama, who has also hosted meetings at the White House recently with Latino lawmakers, movie stars and others.

It all comes despite an unfavorable climate on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who control the House have shown no interest in legislation that offers a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

That's led to criticism that Obama's efforts are little more than politics in pursuit of the ever-growing Hispanic electorate ahead of the 2012 election. White House officials dispute that. They acknowledge the difficulties in getting a bill but say it's likelier to happen if the president creates public support for immigration legislation, leading to pressure on Republican lawmakers.

"We already know from the first two years, the last Congress, that there was political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, including from some places where there used to be political support," said presidential spokesman Jay Carney. "We are endeavoring to change that dynamic by rallying public support, by raising public awareness about the need for comprehensive immigration reform."

At the same time, the strategy allows Obama to highlight that Republicans are standing in the way of an immigration bill — shifting responsibility away from himself at a time when many Latino activists say he never made good on his campaign promise of prioritizing immigration legislation early on.

Obama's spotty immigration record in the eyes of Latino voters makes it all the more politically imperative for him to shore up their support with his re-election campaign approaching.

"What's different from 2008 is that there are more Hispanics and more millennials in the electorate overall. Latinos are even a bigger share than they were in 2008," said Simon Rosenberg, a former Clinton White House strategist who follows immigration policy as head of the left-of-center NDN think tank. "Millennials" is a term for people born after 1980.

More Latinos than ever voted in the 2010 midterm elections, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, accounting for almost 7 percent of those voting. Still, turnout among Hispanic voters is far lower than among other groups, giving Obama a reason to want to try to motivate them. He's picked hostile political territory to make his pitch, visiting a state he lost by more than 10 percentage points in 2008. But the trip does have one overtly political upside: Obama plans a side trip to the relatively liberal bastion of Austin to raise money for the Democratic National Committee at two fundraisers Tuesday night.

At the same time, Obama is pitching his immigration argument to the larger public, and he's refining it in a way that goes to Americans' pocketbook concerns. White House officials say Obama will emphasize the economic value of reforming immigration laws, noting that immigrants account for a substantial share of business start-ups and patent applications, among other things — activities that create jobs for everyone.

It's a different approach than talking about immigration as a security issue or a moral one, and also provides a counter to the Republican argument that illegal immigrants drain U.S. resources.

The president will also argue that his administration has made great strides on border security. Administration officials boast of increasing the number of agents on the border, seizing more contraband and nearing completion of a border fence, and say they plan to extend the deployment of National Guard troops Obama sent to the border. To Republicans who say that immigration overhaul legislation shouldn't happen until the border is secure, the White House now says it's as secure as it's ever been and the conversation on legislation needs to happen.

Republicans aren't buying it.

"It seems President Obama has once again put on his campaigner-in-chief hat. The president's push to legalize millions of illegal immigrants is purely political," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "And even though administration officials like to pretend the border is secure, the reality is that it isn't."

Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that House Republicans had no plans to take up immigration legislation and argued that if Obama were serious about immigration reform he would have reached out to Boehner on the issue, which Buck said he hasn't.

The White House says Obama will push Tuesday for legislation and release a blueprint on his approach to reform, but without setting out any timeline. Indeed, getting immigration reform done any time soon is not realistic. Obama wasn't even able to get legislation through Congress last year that would have provided a route to legal status for college students and others who were brought to the country as children. The so-called DREAM Act passed the House, then controlled by Democrats, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

The Senate is now even more heavily Republican, and Republicans control the House. That means immigration reform can't happen unless they cooperate.

But for Obama, if the public's aware of that, it's a political win — even if Republicans don't budge.

Afghan police committing crimes with impunity, warns Oxfam

Afghan police are committing crimes such as child sex abuse, torture and killings with impunity, according to a report released by Oxfam.
The charity has warned that unless the international community acts immediately the country will not be secure enough to hand over to Afghan forces in 2014.

The report, titled No Time to Lose, claims Nato is not doing enough to prevent abuses by Afghan police and "time is running out" for change.

It warns that unless training is "urgently stepped up there is a serious risk that abuses and violations by Afghan forces will escalate".

As Nato prepares for withdraw from Afghanistan there are "serious concerns regarding the professionalism and accountability of the security forces they will leave behind".

It outlined a number of abuses that Afghan forces are alleged to have carried out including torture, killings and sexual abuse of children. "Incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation of boys (including the practice of 'dancing boys') by the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] have also been reported, although the subject is so taboo that understanding the extent of the problem is difficult."

As greater responsibility is handed over to the Afghans the report warns there is a "serious risk" that human rights violations will escalate and civilians "will pay the price".

The civilian death toll of the conflict in Afghanistan is getting worse each year with 2,777 killed last year, about 10 per cent of them by security forces.

It gave an example of a girl killed by a soldier who the security forces helped flee the area. In another incident women were lashed in public by local elders as members of the police stood by "laughing and clapping".

There was no "satisfactory mechanism" for an individual can lodge a complaint against the security forces and people were scared to do so.

"There are serious concerns regarding the professionalism and accountability of the security forces that will be left behind."

The report said there are an estimated 40,000 police who have had no training at all and criticises Nato for prioritising quantity over quality.

Many people with "dubious human rights records" have been recruited particularly in the Afghan Local Police who act as local militia groups and have allegedly been involved in kidnappings and beatings. The report calls for further ALP recruiting to be suspended.

Rebecca Barber, who spent three months in Kabul compiling the report, said: "The Afghan people need to know these forces will protect them and be brought to justice if they commit abuses – or public trust and confidence in the government could be seriously undermined."

She said the British government was not giving enough details on the state of the police and added it needed to contribute more than the 14 police officers currently training Afghans as Finland had 37 and Germany 36.

Despite the reports criticisms there has been a marked improvement in the training and vetting of the police force in Helmand, especially following the incident in 2009 when five British soldiers were murdered by a rogue policeman.

What was Osama doing in Pakistan, asks Munter

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter on Tuesday asked Pakistan to answer what Osama bin Laden was doing living in Abbottabad, DawnNews reported.

Speaking at Sindh University in Hyderabad, Munter said that the Pakistani government must explain what Osama bin Laden was doing in Pakistan. He further stated that the US respects and recognises all the sacrifices Pakistani people have made in the war on terror.

Munter said that the US was providing a lot of aid to Pakistan in the fields of education and health. He said that both the countries needed to move on from the past and focus towards the future as the US wanted to see a stable and strong Pakistan.

Pakistan may let U.S. question bin Laden wives

Pakistan may let U.S. investigators question the wives of Osama bin Laden, a U.S. official said, a decision that could begin to stabilize relations between the prickly allies that have been severely strained by the killing of the al Qaeda leader.

However, senior Pakistani government officials in Islamabad said on Tuesday no decision had been taken on the U.S. request.

Bin Laden was shot dead on May 2 in a top-secret raid in the northern Pakistani town of Abbottabad to the embarrassment of Pakistan which has for years denied the world's most wanted man was on its soil.

The government is under pressure to explain how the al Qaeda leader was found in the garrison town, a short distance from the

main military academy, and faces criticism at home over the perceived violation of sovereignty by the U.S. commando team.

Pakistani cooperation is crucial to combating Islamist militants and to bringing stability to Afghanistan and the U.S. administration has been keen to contain the fallout.

U.S. investigators, who have been sifting through a huge stash of material seized in bin Laden's high-walled compound, want to question his three wives as they seek to trace his movements and roll up his global militant network.

"The Pakistanis now appear willing to grant access. Hopefully they'll carry through on the signals they're sending," a U.S. official familiar with the matter said in Washington.

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

A Pakistani government official denied that permission for the U.S. questioning of the women had been given, saying local investigators had yet to finish their inquiry.

"It's too early to even think about it," said the official, referring to the U.S. request to question the women.

Pakistan says the three wives, one from Yemen and two from Saudi Arabia, and their children, will be repatriated and Pakistan was making contacts with their countries but they had yet to say they would take them, the official said.

Bin Laden's discovery has deepened suspicion that Pakistan's pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, which has a long history of contacts with militants, may have had ties with the al Qaeda leader, or that some of its agents did.

U.S. legislators have been asking tough questions, with some calling for a cut in billions of dollars of U.S. aid to the nuclear-armed Muslim country.

But the United States has stopped short of accusing Pakistan of providing shelter to bin Laden.

"We believe it is very important to maintain a cooperative relationship with Pakistan, precisely because it's in our national security interests to do so," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Western governments had no alternative to cooperating with Pakistan in the fight against Islamic militants.

"If we are to assure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan and beyond, then we need positive engagement with Pakistan," Rasmussen told the World Affairs Council in Atlanta on Monday.

In a reminder of Pakistan's own struggle against al Qaeda-linked militants, a bomb outside a court in the northwestern town of Nowshera killed a policewoman.


Pakistani-U.S. relations were already at a low ebb after a string of diplomatic disputes over issues including a big attack by a U.S. drone aircraft in March and CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot dead two Pakistanis in January.

Potentially stirring tension further, a Pakistani TV channel and a newspaper have published what they said was the name of the undercover CIA station chief in Islamabad.

U.S. officials said the name disclosed in Pakistani media was wrong and the station chief would remain at his post.

They said they believe the leak was a calculated attempt to divert attention from U.S. demands for explanations of how bin Laden could have hidden for years in Pakistan.

Last year, after the chief of the Pakistani ISI was named in a U.S. civil case over attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, the then-head of the CIA's Islamabad station was named by Pakistani media and forced to leave the country.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, in his first major address since bin Laden's killing, rejected suggestions of incompetence or even complicity in hiding the al Qaeda leader.

"Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd," Gilani told parliament on Monday, saying it was disingenuous for anyone to accuse Pakistan of "being in cahoots" with al Qaeda.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that bin Laden likely had "some sort" of a support network inside Pakistan, but added it would take investigations by Pakistan and the United States to find out the nature of that support.

Pakistan's main opposition party has called on Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to resign over the breach of sovereignty by U.S. special forces who slipped in from Afghanistan on helicopters to storm the bin Laden compound.

Pakistan has launched its own investigation and the military is due to brief parliament in a closed session on Friday.

U.S. aid to Pakistan questioned by lawmakers

Obama administration fights to save healthcare law

Lawyers for President Barack Obama go to court on Tuesday to try to save the cornerstone of his healthcare overhaul, arguing that the requirement for Americans to buy insurance is constitutional.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will consider whether a lower court was correct in striking down the requirement. But they will not be the final arbiter in a fight that is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Legal scholars see the case as pivotal because it is the first to have oral arguments before an appeals courts. That means its ruling could affect other courts and become the first challenge to the law to reach the high court.

The healthcare law, which requires Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, was a major victory for Obama, one that the Republican party is working to undo in the courts, statehouses and Congress.

Obama's Republican opponents are expected to make the issue a theme during his 2012 re-election bid by arguing it is a costly and unnecessary government expansion. They have already sought to repeal and choke off funds for the law in Congress.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Virginia last year ruled that Congress exceeded its authority by forcing Americans to buy health insurance, a key piece of the law aimed at keeping premiums low through ensuring everyone buys coverage.

Virginia had passed a law barring the federal government from making its citizens buy health insurance.

The state filed a legal challenge arguing that the federal government cannot penalize citizens for not buying goods or services under the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause.

"It will also be important because any future decision from other courts will feel compelled to respond to the Fourth Circuit's reasoning," said Kevin Russell, a former Justice Department appellate lawyer.

"If it is a well-reasoned opinion, it will likely be influential in other courts as well," said Russell, now in private practice. The 4th Circuit is split evenly among judges appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents.

The three-judge panel will not be known until Tuesday morning and the Obama administration's top appellate lawyer, Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, will be arguing on its behalf.

Justices in another U.S. appeals court in Atlanta will likely take note of the arguments when they hear an appeal on June 8 by the Obama administration in a similar lawsuit filed by more than half the U.S. states.


Republicans in the House of Representatives have tried to repeal Obama's healthcare overhaul, but the president's fellow Democrats control the Senate and have stymied the effort.

So the focus has been turning to the courts, where numerous challenges are pending.

Two federal judges have struck it down, including one who found the entire law unconstitutional in a challenge by 26 states, but several other judges have ruled that it passed muster and upheld it.

In Atlanta, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the Obama administration's arguments calling for the reversal of a decision in a multi-state lawsuit that declared the entire healthcare law unconstitutional. The court has yet to decide if a three-judge panel or all judges will hear it.

In the Virginia case, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli appealed Hudson's refusal to toss out the entire law, arguing that Congress would not have passed the healthcare reform legislation without the individual mandate and penalty.

While the appeals courts could side with the government argument that those challenging it are being premature because the individual mandate does not take effect until 2014, one legal scholar said they will likely discount that point.

"I think it is a weaker argument for the government, and I think the courts of appeals feel some pressure to sort of move forward on this," said Daniel Ortiz, a law professor at the University of Virginia. "There is some feeling that if you wait until things are really clear, then it would be so disruptive to unwind the thing and change states' expectations."

The three appeals court judges in Virginia will also consider on Tuesday an appeal by Liberty University, founded by conservative evangelical Jerry Falwell, which argued another federal judge in Virginia was wrong to uphold the individual mandate as constitutional under the Commerce Clause.

Pakistan Military to get Rs 495 bn in fiscal year 2011-12.........WHATS ABOUT EDUCATION?????????????


ISLAMABAD: Against the demand of Rs 586 billion for defence, the country’s armed forces will get Rs 495 billion budgetary allocation for the upcoming fiscal year 2011-12, official sources told Daily Times on Monday.

“The Ministry of Finance has set the defence budget at Rs 495 billion for the next financial year 2011-12, some 11.7 percent more than the budgetary allocation of Rs 443 billion for the outgoing fiscal year 2010-11,” the sources added. The current budgetary allocation of Rs 495 billion is for the three armed forces – Pakistan Army, Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force – for the fiscal year 2011-12.

The sources informed that the three armed forces had worked out their defence budget needs at Rs 586 billion for the next fiscal year, however, the Ministry of Defence had recommended an allocation of Rs 525 billion for defence purposes for next the fiscal year.

Keeping in view the financial constraints faced by the country, especially after the floods, the Ministry of Finance has decided to keep the defence budget at Rs 495 billion for the next fiscal year.

The sources further informed that allocation for Armed Forces Development Plan (AFDP) which amounts at Rs 120 billion annually and around Rs 125 billion expenditures on the war against terror (later reimbursed from Coalition Support Fund) would be over and above the defence budget allocation of Rs 495 billion for the next fiscal year 2011-12, the sources explained.

The development budget of the Ministry of Defence for the next fiscal year 2011-12 would be allocated separate amount.

The ministry had allocated Rs 443 billion for defence budget for the ongoing fiscal year 2010-11 and some Rs 331.5 billion has been spent during the first nine months (July-March) period of the ongoing fiscal year. Some Rs 112 billion is available for defence expenditure for remaining (April-June) period of the ongoing fiscal year.

'Bahrain, Saudi regimes to be sued'

A group of international lawyers are to file a “serious complaint” against the Saudi and Bahraini regimes by the end of May over their violent clampdowns on Bahraini people, an international lawyer says.

“There is a lawsuit being prepared against the monarchy [of Bahrain] and the Saudis, naming individuals, being filed in the American court through the American legal system,” Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer, told Press TV on Monday.

“That will be a very serious complaint in the Federal district court and that will apply the standards of law,” he pointed out.

“We will get it filed before the end of this month,” and then a group of five international lawyers will go to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, to hold a press conference on the issue, he went on to say.

Lamb noted that the complaint will be filed based on “a very powerful law called the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act that requires all American aid cut off, in this case to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, if they engage in a serial human and civil rights violation.”

So far, the law has been applied 14 times against different countries and “Bahrain is absolutely vulnerable to this lawsuit,” the activist added.

Lamb pointed to another petition already filed with the International Criminal Court against the Manama regime, arguing, “I do not think it will go anywhere, because there were several defects in that filing.”

He criticized the United States over its role in violent crackdowns on the popular revolution in Bahrain.

“Obviously, the Americans are the ones most responsible indirectly because of the support [for the Manama regime]. Their fear now really is that if there is a regime change they will lose the base for the Fifth Fleet,” the activist added.

Lamb argued that even if their legal campaign does not succeed, it will still be beneficial to the popular movement in Bahrain, because “It will give the American public and the media of the world a chance to learn the details and because of the jurisdiction we can submit voluminous filings.”

Since mid-February, thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain have poured into the streets, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the country for almost forty years.

On March 13, Saudi-led forces were dispatched to the Persian Gulf island at Manama's request to quell the countrywide protests.

According to local sources, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested so far during the government clampdown on the peaceful demonstrations.

Bahrain is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet.

U.S. Braced for Fights With Pakistanis in Bin Laden Raid

President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In revealing additional details about planning for the mission, senior officials also said that two teams of specialists were on standby: One to bury Bin Laden if he was killed, and a second composed of lawyers, interrogators and translators in case he was captured alive. That team was set to meet aboard a Navy ship, most likely the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.

Mr. Obama’s decision to increase the size of the force sent into Pakistan shows that he was willing to risk a military confrontation with a close ally in order to capture or kill the leader of Al Qaeda.

Such a fight would have set off an even larger breach with the Pakistanis than has taken place since officials in Islamabad learned that helicopters filled with members of a Navy Seals team had flown undetected into one of their cities, and burst into a compound where Bin Laden was hiding.

One senior Obama administration official, pressed on the rules of engagement for one of the riskiest clandestine operations attempted by the C.I.A. and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command in many years, said: “Their instructions were to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. But if they had to return fire to get out, they were authorized to do it.”

The planning also illustrates how little the administration trusted the Pakistanis as they set up their operation. They also rejected a proposal to bring the Pakistanis in on the mission.

Under the original plan, two assault helicopters were going to stay on the Afghanistan side of the border waiting for a call if they were needed. But the aircraft would have been about 90 minutes away from the Bin Laden compound.

About 10 days before the raid, Mr. Obama reviewed the plans and pressed his commanders as to whether they were taking along enough forces to fight their way out if the Pakistanis arrived on the scene and tried to interfere with the operation.

That resulted in the decision to send two more helicopters carrying additional troops. These followed the two lead Black Hawk helicopters that carried the actual assault team. While there was no confrontation with the Pakistanis, one of those backup helicopters was ultimately brought in to the scene of the raid when a Black Hawk was damaged while making a hard landing.

“Some people may have assumed we could talk our way out of a jam, but given our difficult relationship with Pakistan right now, the president did not want to leave anything to chance,” said one senior administration official, who like others would not be quoted by name describing details of the secret mission. “He wanted extra forces if they were necessary.”

With tensions between the United States and Pakistan escalating since the raid, American officials on Monday sought to tamp down the divisions and pointed to some encouraging developments.

A United States official said that American investigators would soon be allowed to interview Bin Laden’s three widows, now being held by Pakistani authorities, a demand that Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, made on television talk shows on Sunday.

American officials say the widows, as well as a review of the trove of documents and other data the Seals team collected from the raid, could reveal important details, not only about Bin Laden’s life and activities since he fled into Pakistan from Afghanistan in 2001, but also information about Qaeda plots, personnel and planning.

“We believe that it is very important to maintain the cooperative relationship with Pakistan precisely because it’s in our national security interest to do so,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney.

In an effort to help mend the latest rupture in relations, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, will talk soon with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, “to discuss the way forward in the common fight against Al Qaeda,” an American official said.

On Sunday, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. “Mullen just wanted to check in with him,” said an American military official. “The conversation was civil, but sober, given the pressure that the general is under right now.”

In describing the mission, the officials said that American surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft were watching and listening to how Pakistan’s police forces and military responded to the raid. That determined how long the commandos could safely remain on the ground going through the compound collecting computer hard drives, thumb drives and documents.

American forces were under strict orders to avoid engaging with any Pakistani forces that responded to the commotion at the Bin Laden compound, senior administration officials said.

If a confrontation appeared imminent, there were contingency plans for senior American officials, including Admiral Mullen, to call their Pakistani counterparts to avert an armed clash.

But when he reviewed the plans, Mr. Obama voiced concern that this was not enough to protect the troops on the mission, administration officials said.

In planning for the possible capture of Bin Laden, officials decided they would take him aboard a Navy ship to preclude battles over jurisdiction.

The plan, officials said, was to do an initial interrogation for any information that might prevent a pending attack or identify the location of other Qaeda leaders.

“There was a heck of a lot of planning that went into this for almost any and all contingencies, including capture,” one senior administration official said.

In the end, the team organized to handle his death was called into duty. They did a quick forensics study of the body, washed it, and buried it at sea.

But the officials acknowledged that the mission always was weighted toward killing, given the possibility that Bin Laden would be armed or wearing an explosive vest.

Dreams from Kabul

Hoping to create a more positive image of their country, a Kabul-based Afghan rock band livened up the weekend for the city’s music lovers at a local cafÈ with English and Dari songs, some of which promoted peace and freedom.

The band, consisting of three Afghani youngsters, is rather aptly called Kabul Dreams’. Siddique Ahmed is the bass guitarist for the Indie-rock band; Mujtaba Habibi is on drums and Suleiman Qardash plays the guitar and provides the vocals.

The band flew in from across the western border to perform at the city’s Base Rock Cafe. It will stage performances for two days and sing 10 English songs as well as numbers written in the Dari language. The music played by this Afghan band was highly regarded by the music enthusiasts who had gathered to witness the performance.

Inspired mostly by the West, the band prefers to play independent or indie rock music. However, the group has also composed some songs in the Dari and Uzbek languages. “Most of our songs in the local language promote positive notions such as peace, freedom and friendship. We want to portray the softer, more positive side of out country,” said Qardash. The name of the band signifies the dreams and aspirations of the youth living in the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan.

Kabul Dreams dates back to 2008 when all the three band members were returning to their home soil after they had fled to avoid the Soviet War which broke out in 1988. The seed to start off a proper band was planted in Qardash’s head in late December 2008. The vocalist had been playing with a local band in Afghanistan called ‘Signal Fire’.

“We met a gathering where the three of us decided to start a music band. It was a pleasant encounter and we needed somebody like Suleiman Qardash who can compose as well as sing since Mujtaba and I only play instruments,” shared Ahmed.

The global community tends to think of Afghanistan as a country with a closed society and Kabul Dreams intends to change that perception. “The younger generation of Afghans enjoys western music and always welcomes our tunes. They are evolving as time goes on,” Ahmed highlighted, while sharing his views on the youth of his country. He added that despite the ban imposed by the Taliban for a certain period of time, Afghans always appreciated good music.

Besides Kabul Dreams, there are around seven other underground bands which are equally active in Afghanistan, which reflects the growing popularity of western music among the Afghan youth. “Apart from us, there are others that are based in Kabul, while one of the bands is from Herat.”

Ahmed had moved with his family to Islamabad in 1989, where he lived with his family for 15 years while his country was fending off an invasion from the Soviet Union. When the situation improved, Ahmed returned to Kabul in 2004 and has been living there since.

Qardash returned to his home country a few years later in 2007 after living in Uzbekistan for 10 years. On the other hand, the drummer Mujtaba Habibi had never been to his ancestral town of Kabul until his family returned in 2002 from Iran.

Although music is their passion, the three band members are also completing their Bachelors in Kabul. Ahmed and Habibi are doing their Bachelors in social science, while Qardash is studying economics.

Apart from studies and music, the band members keep themselves busy by working in the Afghan media. Qardash is a news anchor at a private channel, whereas Habibi and Ahmed are producers for a music show on one of the local radio stations.

Kabul Dreams has already performed in Istanbul, Delhi and Jaipur. Although the band has not played in other cities of Afghanistan other than Kabul, it intends to perform in places such as Herat in the future.

Part of their future plans also involves the launch of a music album that will contain 12 tracks. The band intends to record these songs abroad. “Since we do not have good recording studios in Afghanistan, we are planning to record these songs abroad. However, we are yet to decide where these tracks would be recorded.”

Some of the tracks have already been played at various performances in Afghanistan, but the album will contain some exclusive numbers, stressed Ahmed. The band has already introduced its extended play (EP) album, which consists of five English songs and was launched as a promotional exercise.

Afghanistan to play three one-dayers in Pakistan

Afghanistan will play three one-day matches against a second-tier Pakistani team later this month, becoming the first international side to tour Pakistan in more than two years.

The tour will include a game in Abbottabad, the city where US Special Forces last week found and killed Osama bin Laden.

International cricket has been suspended in Pakistan over security fears since militants attacked the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009.

The attacks, which killed eight people and wounded seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach, prompted the International Cricket Council (ICC) to strip Pakistan of its share of matches for the 2011 World Cup.

Pakistan and Afghanistan officials hope the tour will encourage other international teams to visit.

"It was decided that the Afghanistan national team will tour Pakistan for a series of three one-day matches against the Pakistan ?A? team," said a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) statement.

The Afghan team will arrive on May 24 before playing matches in Faisalabad the following day, Rawalpindi on May 27 and Abbottabad on May 29.

Pakistan has been at the forefront in helping its neighbour improve its promising cricket team. Most Afghan players learnt the game as refugees in camps in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Afghanistan qualified for the World Twenty20 in the West Indies last year and the same year won the Inter-Continental Cup, meant for Associated countries of the International Cricket Council.

The Afghan team is coached by former Pakistan wicket-keeper and ex-captain Rashid Latif.