Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Obama, 'We will hold them accountable'

Pakistan To Remove Border Installations After Afghan Objections

A senior Afghan military official says Pakistan has promised to remove controversial installations along the disputed border line between the two countries. Afzal Aman, the Afghan National Army's chief of military operations, said Pakistan would remove the structures on April 16. Aman told RFE/RL that the agreement was reached during a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad on April 15. One day earlier, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had reportedly instructed his top security officials to take "immediate action" regarding the removal of a border gate and checkpoint recently installed by Pakistan along the British-drawn Durand Line.An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman had suggested that "all options" were open in Kabul to ensure the installations were removed. Pakistan and the United States view the Durand Line, created in the 19th century, as an international border. Kabul, however, has consistently refused to recognize the Durand Line, a boundary that cuts through the ethnic Pashtun heartland.

Ghulam Bilour wounded, 9 others killed as ANP rally is targeted Peshawar

Awami National Party leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour was injured while 9 party supporters were killed in a blast targeting an election rally in the Yakatoot area of Peshawar. According to initial information, Bilour and his nephew Haroon Bilour, the son of the late Bashir Bilour, were leaving the rally venue when a bomb struck near Haroon's vehicle, injuring his uncle Ghulam Bilour. Haroon Bilour escaped the attack. At least 9 supporters of the party are reported dead while 40 others are being treated at the Lady Reading Hospital. - See more at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/04/16/news/national/ghulam-bilour-wounded-others-killed-as-anp-rally-is-targeted-peshawar/#sthash.0BBlG23T.dpuf

Blast near ANP meeting in Peshawar kills 8, injures 45

At least eight people were killed and 45 were injured in a blast in Peshawar near a Awami National Party (ANP) meeting on Tuesday. The bomb blast took place in Yakatoot just after the arrival of senior Awami National Party leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. Initial reports suggest that it was a suicide attack targeting ANP leader Ghulam Bilour’s car. The car caught fire after the blast in which the driver burnt to death, while Bilour reportedly sustained injuries. SHO Kotwali Abid Khan was also killed in the blast. The injured, including Express News correspondent Ehtisham Khan, were shifted to Lady Reading Hospital. Nearby shops were also damaged in the blast. A rescue operation is underway at the site.

Earthquake kills at least 21 in Pakistan

According to US Geological Survey, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Iran on Tuesday, killing at least 45 people while tremors of the quake were felt in several other countries including Pakistan killing at least 21 people in Mashkeel area of Balochistan. The epicenter of the quake was area near Pak-Iran-Afghan border at a depth of 73 miles. According to Director General Met Arif Mahmood, a 7.9-magnitude quake was recorded while its depth was 76 kilometre. People came out of houses and offices due to the tremors. The earthquake damaged a part of a six-storey building at Tariq Road in Karachi while windowpanes of several other buildings were also damaged. Tremors were also felt in other cities of the country, including Lahore, Multan, Quetta and parts of Sindh. Strong tremors of quake were also felt in North West areas of India and several other countries including UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Pakistan: ''' Approaching IMF ''

The fear that Islamabad will eventually approach the International Monetary Fund for yet another bail-out package have finally come true because Pakistan has decided to again approach the world body as the only option to replenish its dwindling foreign exchange reserves and widening budget deficit. A six-member delegation, including the State Bank of Pakistan governor and chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue, will enter into technical talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $5-7.5 billion package. The delegation will, between April 17 and 22, also negotiate with the United States treasury department for the next tranche of Coalition Support Fund. Pakistan has estimated the CSF at $ 2.52 billion and Washington has accounted this to be $1.5 billion. With the US authorities showing willingness to disburse fresh CSF to Pakistan, an agreement between the two figures seems on the card during the Pakistan delegation visit to Washington. The talks will be held on the sidelines of annual spring meeting of the World Bank and IMF. The three-day meeting is scheduled to begin on April 19. A critical picture of Pakistan's economy was portrayed by the State Bank of Pakistan which reported last week that the country's foreign exchange reserves are rapidly falling and budget deficit gap is also widening. The central bank said that foreign exchange reserves had declined from $8.7bn, at the end of January, to $6.7bn on April 5, mainly due to debt repayments. The balance of payment position continues to be driven by low financial inflows and high debt repayments as net capital inflow of $34m in first eight months were not sufficient to finance external current account deficit of $700m. It said the current account deficit was expected to widen in the remaining two months and the net capital and financial flows were not likely to increase considerably. This pressure on the national economy was hard to be eased out unless fresh income flows were generated. The caretaker government, realizing the economic situation, reluctantly decided to go for another IMF bailout out package, the third since 2007-08, because no other option was apparently available. What is, however, feared at this stage is that the IMF would impose stricter conditions for the next package than before as the world body has been showing its displeasure on Pakistani authorities failing, owing to political reasons, in enforcing a general sales tax, withdrawal of subsidies in the power and agricultural sectors, structural reforms to put the macroeconomic framework in order over the next few years and many more. As beggars are no choosers, Islamabad might this time assure the IMF to meet its condition in the absence of another alternate. Nevertheless, if GST is placed in action, Pakistan may achieve the long standing objective of documentation of the national economy that would ultimately bring the affluent trading community and the country's elite into the tax net. Pakistan has since repaid a total $8.3 billion of the remaining IMF loan and is required to pay another $840 million during the current fiscal year. The remaining amount of $5.3bn would have to be repaid over the next two years. The IMF is least satisfied with Pakistan's ability to retire its debt and this may serve as instrumental for the country getting another bailout package. Another factor favouring Pakistan is the increase of remittances from Pakistanis abroad which have been growing since 2006 and have touched a figure of approximately $20 billion. Promising trend has also been witnessed in the country's exports mainly due to the major contribution by the textile sector that swelled by a robust 36 per cent in the first 10 months of the current fiscal. Except for these areas none other external inflows showed up in the federal budget for 2012-13. This poses a serious challenge to the economy. The main area of shortfalls remains the failure of the Federal Board of Revenue in meeting targets. The FBR is, however, unlikely to achieve the annual revenue collection target of Rs 2.3 trillion revenue collection as is manifest from a robust shortfall that stood at of more than Rs 60 billion in first four months of the year 2012-13. This area has been a permanent worry for the country's economic managers because the FBR is infested with rampant corruption and bureaucratic lethargy. Exactly this is the area of concern for the IMF which wants the country's elite to be taxed. The world body is all likely to enter into a new arrangement with Islamabad but effective measures to boost the tax recovery regime have to be taken but, for all practical purposes, tax collection is a victim of political expediency.


President Asif Ali Zardari has urged people of tribal areas to enthusiastically participate in the general elections and elect representatives who can bring about a positive change in their lives.Addressing a grand jirga of elders from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) at the President House here on Monday, he said the country was undergoing a democratic transition for the first time in its history.He said security concerns and the fragile law and order situation should not obstruct the electoral process. He said he himself had suffered and rendered sacrifices in the war against militancy and mentioned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.President Zardari said a nation itself should change its circumstances and should not expect anyone else to do it for them.“You have skilled manpower, highly qualified engineers, doctors and other professionals who can play an active role in bringing about a socio-economic change in their respective areas.”The president said that after an initial resistance in some parts of Fata, the Benazir Income Support Programme had now started receiving attention. A number of features might be added to the programme which could cater to health, education and stipends for tribal people through its social safety net, he added.The president said the PPP-led government from day one had been doing a lot to develop the area and bring it on a par with other parts of the country.He said the appointment of the KP governor from Fata was a step in the right direction and it would go a long way in bringing the area to the national mainstream and acknowledge it as an important part of the country and to recognise sacrifices of its people.The president called the valiant and courageous people of Fata “defenders of the frontiers”. He acknowledged their sacrifices and struggle along with the armed forces to make Pakistan a safe place to live.He said the PPP-led government had taken a number of measures over the past five years for uplift of tribal people and had opened for the first time an opportunity for reforms in Fata which had been denied for over a century.Besides getting a new judicial system, he said people of tribal areas had been allowed for the first time to freely participate in political activities.Mr Zardari said the new judicial system in Fata ensured due process and right to appeal and bail. It was, he added, a leap forward for the people of Fata towards freedom, liberty, human rights and political participation.He said that those considering reforms in Fata as too little too late should realise that the door had finally opened and all should work together to open up further the window of opportunity.But he stressed that the drive for change in Fata must come from within because it could not be imposed from outside. He said changes and reforms must respect tribal customs and traditions without which any reforms would fail.The president stressed the need for devising a monitoring mechanism to oversee implementation of reforms on the ground. He said it was important that reforms were fully implemented, and it must be ensured that people actually benefited from them.He assured that along with the Gomal Zam project, Bara dam would also be constructed to meet water and energy needs of the area.He stressed the need for stepping up efforts for setting up the Fata Information Technology University and Fata Medical College.He mentioned a new model for development wherein tribal people would be partners in projects and industries that would be set up under the concept of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in tribal areas.Mr Zardari said the problems being faced by internally displaced persons in Fata would be seriously addressed.He assured construction of schools, colleges and academic institutions in the tribal areas. He said efforts were being made for enhanced access of Pakistani goods to international market which would promote industrial development and create jobs for the youth.Senate Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Governor Shaukatullah, federal ministers, elders from different agencies of Fata, ACS Fata Dr Tashfeen Khan and senior officials of the Fata secretariat attended the jirga.

Musharraf barred from Pakistan elections

Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who returned to his homeland from exile just weeks ago pledging to become its next prime minister, was barred from the race Tuesday by election judges. An appellate panel in Peshawar disqualified Musharraf from running for a parliamentary seat in a northwestern district where he had earlier been approved and stood a chance of winning. Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan for nine years but left in 2008 under threat of certain impeachment, also has been barred from running for three other parliamentary seats in other districts. Musharraf’s campaign blamed the disqualifications on biased electoral officials, noting that they are drawn from the judiciary, which in 2007 launched a movement to unseat Musharraf. “We were anticipating this from the very beginning,” said Aasia Ishaq, spokeswoman for Musharraf’s campaign. Ishaq said Musharraf’s party would appeal the election panel’s ruling to the Supreme Court and continue with its plans to field candidates. The party, she said, has already picked 125 candidates to run for seats in the historic May 11 election, which would bring the first transition of elected governments in Pakistan’s history. The chances of Musharraf resuming his campaign seem as slim as his prospects for victory. He has found little public support since his return last month from Dubai— his home in exile along with London— although some Pakistanis say they believe he managed the economy better and made the country more secure. But the retired general is widely criticized for his autocratic efforts to stay in office — including suspending the constitution and sacking the Supreme Court. Today the court is headed by the same chief justice that Musharraf fired and is hearing a case by lawyers who want Musharraf tried for treason. Musharraf can seek a stay of the election judges’ ruling, but the process would probably drag on beyond the election, said lawyer and constitutional expert S.M. Zafar. “Legally, he can go to higher courts, but practically, he seems to be out of the race and he holds no chance to contest the polls,” Zafar said. On Monday, Musharraf unveiled the platform of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, and reiterated why he had returned to the country at the risk of jail and death at the hands of militants who have say they have created a special squad to kill him. “The only thing in my heart was to save Pakistan,” he told reporters. “And now [that] I am here I have the same commitment, that I will save Pakistan.”

Obama Vows Justice for Those Responsible for Boston Attacks

President Barack Obama has vowed to bring to justice to whoever was responsible for the explosions in Boston Monday that killed at least two people and wounded many others. President Obama says he has directed the full resources of the federal government to help state and local authorities protect Americans, as an investigation continues into the Boston explosions. "We still do not know who did this or why, and people should not jump to conclusions before we have all the facts," said Obama. "But make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this and we will find who did this and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice." Obama did not specifically describe the explosions in Boston as a terrorist attack. But a White House official said "any event with multiple explosive devices, as this appears to be, is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror. The official said a thorough investigation will have to determine whether the Boston attack was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic. Obama said he has spoken with U.S. congressional leaders. On Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner led the chamber in observing a moment of silence. The president was notified of the explosions minutes after they occurred and briefed by his new Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco and other members of the White House senior staff. Obama telephoned Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to offer support. The president also received a briefing from Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. In addition to the two explosions near the Boston Marathon finish line, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis also reported an incendiary device and fire at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library. Davis said it was not certain it was related to the earlier blasts near the Boston Marathon finishing line, but officials were working on the assumption that it was. President Obama paid tribute to the people of Boston, saying he is confident they will support each other in this difficult time. "Boston is a tough and resilient town," he said. "So are its people. I am supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other and move forward as one proud city, and as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way." In Washington, police cordoned off Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House for precautionary reasons. In New York, a Police Department spokesman said the city increased security in the city's subway system, and around major landmarks in Manhattan, including near prominent hotels.

Terror at Boston Marathon: 3 dead, 144 wounded

It was a gruesome end to what should have been a celebration of triumph. One man's legs were instantly blown off, yet he kept trying to stand up. Exhausted marathoners had to muscle the energy to flee the bloody scene. And more than 140 people remain hospitalized, some in critical condition. As authorities try to figure out who triggered the deadly bombings Monday at the Boston Marathon, which killed an 8-year-old boy and two others, many are at a loss to explain why anyone would target the annual event that celebrates thousands of runners from around the world.Both blasts happened in quick succession, near the row of international flags that led up to the finish line. The impact was so powerful, it whipped the limp flags straight out as if they were caught in a hurricane. It also knocked 78-year-old runner Bill Iffrig to the ground."I was just approaching the last straightaway to the finish line, and I had a good day and was feeling really good, and I got down to within about 15 feet of the finishing apron and just tremendous explosion, sounded like a bomb went off right next to me," Iffrig said. "The shock waves just hit my whole body and my legs just started jittering around. I knew I was going down," he said. Iffrig was not seriously injured. But trails of blood, severed arms and legs and other body parts littered the scene nearby. At least 144 people were hospitalized, with at least 17 in critical condition and 25 in serious condition, officials said. At least eight of the patients are children. A terrorism expert briefed on the investigation said doctors are "pulling ball bearings out of people in the emergency room," suggesting the bombs were designed to propel shrapnel. But Dr. Ron Walls of Brigham and Women's Hospital, which received 31 patients, said the debris found in some patients' wounds did not appear to be from ball bearings. "Everything we saw was sort of ordinary ambient material that could have been propelled by the blast but was not added to the device," Walls said. "It was not the kind of things that would be added to a device to make it more injurious than it otherwise would be."At Massachusetts General Hospital, several patients suffered from injuries to lower limbs that will require "serial operations" in the coming days, trauma surgeon Peter Fagenholz said Monday night. He said the most serious wounds "have been combined, complex lower injuries that involve blood vessels, bone and tissue." Numerous patients had to have limbs amputated, Fagenholz said. "Just like" going back to Iraq Nurses Stephen Segatore and Jim Asaiante were stationed near the finish line, expecting to treat the usual ailments from runners -- cramps and dehydration. Suddenly, they found themselves in a battlefield, with blood and debris everywhere. "For me, it was just like going back to being in Iraq in 2006-2007," said Asaiante, an Army captain who served an 18-month tour. "I heard the first IED, and I know there's never one. The bad guys always set up two or three" improvised explosive devices, he said.
From celebration to carnage
The plumes of smoke and images of bloodied victims running down streets also triggered haunting memories of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Tami Hughes had just crossed the finish line and was looking for her husband when she heard a deafening explosion. "I didn't know if it was a small aircraft going into the building," Hughes said. "I turned around and immediately saw the whitish-brownish smoke billowing up four or five stories and I couldn't believe that, you know, could it be a bomb? "And I stared at it and about five or seven seconds later, when the second one went off, I knew immediately that it was something coordinated or organized, because I had been ... down in the financial center, 9/11. So you immediately go back to those moments where OK, where is the third one going to be?" The hunt for clues Investigators don't know who was behind the attack, or whether it was spawned domestically or from afar. But federal authorities are classifying it as an act of terrorism. A federal law enforcement official said both bombs were small, and initial tests showed no C-4 or other high-grade explosive material, suggesting that the packages used in the attack were crude explosive devices. The explosions went off near the finish line at about 4 hours and 9 minutes into the race, within a 10-minute window of the average finish time for the marathon. But the fact that the blasts took place near the end of the race "seems to indicate this was not geared toward maximum damage," said a former federal law enforcement official who now works in the intelligence community. "It may speak volumes about the (level of) planning that went into this," the source said. "It raises questions ... why didn't the bombs go off when the crowd was packed in like sardines when the winners were crossing the finish line? It could mean the people behind it couldn't get access to the area when they originally intended." Officials have no suspect in custody, but many people are being questioned, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said. Investigators warned police to be on the lookout for a "darker-skinned or black male" with a possible foreign accent in connection with the attack, according to a law enforcement advisory obtained by CNN. The man was seen with a black backpack and sweatshirt and was trying to get into a restricted area about five minutes before the first explosion, the lookout notice states. Davis said authorities found at least one other explosive device that they were dismantling. But Rep. Bill Keating, D-Massachusetts, said two undetonated devices were found. One was discovered at a hotel on Boylston Street near the bomb site, and another was found at an undisclosed location, said Keating, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He called the bombing a "sophisticated, coordinated, planned attack." The unexploded devices could provide a treasure trove of information such as fingerprints and indications of the bomb maker's design, said the former federal law enforcement official. Late Monday night, authorities said they were still getting reports about suspicious packages, but some may be abandoned belongings left by fleeing spectators. Davis said while no new devices had been found so far, he is "not prepared to say we're at ease at this point in time."