Archive for May, 2010

Deaths as Israeli Forces Storm Gaza Aid Ship

As reported on BBC

More than 10 people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says. Armed forces boarded the largest vessel overnight, clashing with some of the 500 people on board. It happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in international waters.

Israel says its soldiers were shot at and attacked with weapons; the activists say Israeli troops came on board shooting. The activists were attempting to defy a blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. There has been widespread condemnation of the violence, with several countries summoning the Israeli ambassadors serving there.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries” and called for a “full investigation” into what happened.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Canada, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington on Tuesday to return to Israel, officials said.

Earlier, he expressed his “full backing” for the military involved in the raid, his office said. The White House said the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the storming of the aid ship.

A spokesman said US officials were “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.

‘Guns and knives’The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday. Israel had repeatedly said the boats would not be allowed to reach Gaza.

Israel says its soldiers boarded the lead ship in the early hours but were attacked with axes, knives, bars and at least two guns.

“Unfortunately this group were dead-set on confrontation,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC.

“Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear,” he said.

Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident. Israel says 10 of its soldiers were injured, one seriously. A leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement, Raed Salah, who was on board, was among those hurt.

Audrey Bomse, a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, which is behind the convoy, told the BBC Israel’s actions were disproportionate.

“We were not going to pose any violent resistance. The only resistance that there might be would be passive resistance such as physically blocking the steering room, or blocking the engine room downstairs, so that they couldn’t get taken over. But that was just symbolic resistance.”

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.

Al-Jazeera TV reported from the same ship that Israeli navy forces had opened fire and boarded the vessel, wounding the captain. The Al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, saying: “Everybody shut up!” Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”.

He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”.

Turkey, whose nationals comprised the majority of those on board, accused Israel of “targeting innocent civilians”. “We strongly denounce Israel’s inhumane interception,” it said, warning of “irreparable consequences” to the two countries’ relations

She said there was “absolutely no evidence of live fire”. Israel is towing the boats to the port of Ashdod and says it will deport the passengers from there.

Turkish TV pictures taken on board the Turkish ship leading the flotilla appeared to show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers.

The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher.

Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”. He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”.

“We strongly denounce Israel’s inhumane interception,” it said, warning of “irreparable consequences” to the two countries’ relations. Turkey was Israel’s closest Muslim ally but relations have deteriorated over the past few years.

In Turkey, thousands of protesters demonstrated against Israel in Istanbul, while several countries have summoned Israeli ambassadors to seek an explanation as to what happened.

Greece has withdrawn from joint military exercises with Israel in protest at the raid on the flotilla. Israel had repeatedly said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”.

Israel says it allows about 15,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week. But the UN says this is less than a quarter of what is needed.

Outrage in India As Mumbai Attacks Terrorist Leader Set to Be Freed By Pakistani Courts

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to free the leader of Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), a militant group that is blamed by India for masterminding  and orchestrating the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India that killed 166 people.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of the terrorist group had been placed under house arrest. However, he was released a year ago by the provincial Lahore High Court due to the fact that there was insufficient evidence against Hafiz and other members of the group. The only evidence against him and the group was the confession of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kassab, the lone person charged with attacks in India, who was given a death sentence earlier this month. Pakistan’s government appealed the decision of the Lahore High cCourt to the Supreme Court which upheld the lower court’s decision.

Lawyers for the government of Pakistan had requested that India extradite Kassab so that he could give testimony in Pakistani courts against Saeed and the militant group. However, India understandably did not hand over Kassab for fear that the sole surviving perpetrator of the Mumbai attacks could end up in a Pakistani court that sets him free. Sadly, this now happens to be the case as the masterminds of the attacks and leader of an already banned terrorist group, Hafiz Saeed, is set to be freed soon.

This obviously is very disappointing news to India to say the least. It would be the equivalent of letting the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have a long and high profile trial in New York, only to be set free for lack of evidence and or a weak case by the prosecution. The families of the victims would not stomach such a travesty and neither would the American people. In this same manner, the families of the Mumbai attacks are very upset by this decision by Pakistan the Supreme Court to release Saeed will now surelyonly serve to stall peace talks between India and Pakistan that were slowly progressing at the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Bhutan in April of this year.

At a time when the world’s attention is on Pakistan and Pakistanis for being associated with terrorism due to the attempt to bomb Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, the country and its courts have shot themselves in the foot by allowing to set free a known terrorist leader of a group that is not only attacking India and trying to provoke a war between the two countries, but is believed to be behind many attacks inside Pakistan also killing many innocent people.

If the shoe was on the other foot and the attackers came from India and killed 166 Pakistanis in a busy shopping area, while simultaneously attacking a major hotel, railway station and other locations throughout any of Pakistan’s major cities, then trust me, there would be demand for blood by Pakistani citizens and militias would have formed with or without the government’s blessings, and theywould have retaliated against the Indians. The Indian government and the Indian people are showing great resolve and patience with Pakistan and all along hoping that it truly becomes 100 percent committed to fighting and rooting out terrorism and terrorist groups within its borders as it is touted to be.

But as Tuesday’s decision by the Supreme Court illustrates, Pakistan’s government has a mixed record when fighting extremist groups within the country. As mentioned in previous articles on this site, the government of Pakistan and the army have supported and helped organize some of these militant groups like Lashkar e Taiba in order for the Pakistan army to have a guerrilla outfit as an ally in the event of a war with India. That is why there is reluctance by some inside the military and ISI to fully disband Saeed’s group, believed to be one of the largest and well funded militant groups in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan needs to realize that it cannot talk out of both sides of its mouth. It cannot present itself as one of the biggest allies of the US in the War on Terror, while at the same time not deal effectively with militant groups that are hostile to India.

We at Pakistanis for Peace are outraged that Hafiz Saeed, a known terrorist leader is set to be free from Pakistani courts. Our group and website Pakistanis for Peace was founded immediately after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 by concerned Pakistani Americans in response to the cowardly terrorist attacks by individuals who snuck in from Pakistan to cause one of the biggest terrorist incidents to ever hit India. These attacks certainly became their 9-11. 

To now have the leader of this terrorist group be set free by Pakistani courts only serves to strengthen the claims of opponents of Pakistan that it is not doing enough in the fight against terrorism. Certainly the families of the 166 dead Indian nationals deserve justice and better outcome than what transpired in Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week. One should make no mistake, only a just and lasting peace with India will ever lead to a prosperous Pakistan and the sooner there is an earnest effort to stop ALL militant and terrorist groups operating within inside the country by Pakistan, the sooner the two sides can sit across from each other at the peace table.

The Facebook Creed? Racism’s Bad, Bashing Religion Is Good

By Tommy De Seno for FoxNews.com

Recently, in a column for the Fox Forum called “Muhammad Cartoons vs. Piss Christ” I compared the insult Muslims feel when they see a drawing of Muhammad to the hurt Christians felt when an artist photographed a crucifix in a jar of urine, called it “Piss Christ” and received a tax-funded monetary award from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The point I tried to make is that just because the First Amendment allows you to say something doesn’t mean you should say it. Freedom comes with responsibility, which includes tactfulness when discussing the revered symbols of another’s religion.

Sure you are free to hurl insults – but remember the purpose of criticism is persuasion, and no one has ever been persuaded by first being insulted. Criticism can be made of Islam and Christianity without denigrating either’s most sacred symbols.

As Americans we should fight like hell for the right to draw a picture of Muhammad, but then choose not to.

This issue is hot today because some folks short on good criticism and long on juvenile insult declared May 20 “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” I wonder why they didn’t include “Everyone Piss On a Crucifix Day,” too? That they didn’t do just that, suggests that this is not a pro-First Amendment movement, but a purely an anti-Muslim movement.

So here’s my question: Why does Facebook allow a page whose purpose is to spread hate for a religion? After all, Facebook used to ban activity for no other reason than the author was home-schooled (and that’s some weird priorities right there).

A Facebook spokesperson defended the company’s decision to not ban the “Draw Muhammad” page to FoxNews.com earlier this week:

“Groups that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs — even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some — do not by themselves violate our policies.”  

But compare that to this quote from an interview with a Facebook spokesman last year with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Things were different when the topic was not anti-religion pages, but about pages that include racism:

“However, there is no place for content that is threatening, abusive, hateful, or racially or ethnically objectionable on the site and Facebook will remove any such content that violates our Terms of Use when it is reported… We have already removed a number of groups that violated these terms and we are continuing to be vigilant, immediately removing further postings when we become aware of them.”  

I see the Facebook matrix: “Racism is bad, but bashing religion is good.”

Facebook also said this to FoxNews.com about the “Draw Muhammad” page:

“When a group created to express an opinion devolves into threats or hate speech, we will remove the threatening or hateful comments and may even remove the group itself.” 

Hey Facebook – have you seen the two pages today? They are both a cesspool of hateful anti-religious commentary, devoid of useful criticism and swimming with the worst of distance-induced Internet hatred and nastiness.

If these pages don’t violate Facebook’s rules against hate speech, you can’t violate them.

Both pages have been taken over by anti-religious zealots whose purpose is to stir up anger for the sake of eliciting an even angrier response – all heat and no light. The folks posting the hate have the advantage of hiding whatever it is they hold sacred, so that no one can employ their own tactics against them. Cowards.

Both pages are filled with drawings, manipulated photos and commentary showing all religious leaders in acts of bestiality, pedophilia and outrages claims to calamities in history that religion couldn’t possibly be held accountable for.

Even if you’ve read hateful speech, you’ve still probably never read such blind, ignorant rage as is existent on these pages. Both pages should be taken down immediately, but they won’t be.

Facebook has obliterated civilized discourse.

Pakistan Seeks Resolution of India Water Dispute

By Tom Wright for The Wall Street Journal

Pakistan told India it wants to begin formal arbitration proceedings over an Indian dam project in Kashmir, threatening to heighten tensions ahead of high-level bilateral talks. Pakistan says India’s planned hydropower dam on the Kishanganga River would violate a 50-year-old water-sharing treaty between the two neighbors by diverting water Pakistan needs for agriculture and power generation.

India denies its project would violate the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. It has received Pakistan’s request for arbitration and is examining it, an Indian official said. Water disputes have become a growing point of controversy between the rivals in recent months, and could become an impediment as they seek to re-establish diplomatic ties. India cut off dialogue with Pakistan after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, but has shown an interest in restarting talks if Pakistan cracks down on terrorists on its soil.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met last month at a regional summit and agreed to move forward with dialogue. The countries’ chief foreign-policy bureaucrats will meet in late June to prepare an agenda for mid-July, when their external affairs ministers are expected to meet in Islamabad. In previous rounds of diplomacy, India and Pakistan have discussed issues ranging from trade to the fate of Kashmir, the disputed territory that is two-thirds controlled by India and over which the countries have fought two of their three wars. India has said it is open to discussing all issues in the current talks, though shutting down terrorist groups and getting Pakistan to more aggressively prosecute Mumbai suspects are its core objectives.

 India has said river-sharing disputes should be settled through the 1960 treaty, rather than in the bilateral talks. The accord split six Himalayan rivers between the countries, with the three Western ones going to Pakistan, the three Eastern ones to India, and each side retaining the right to the other side’s resources for uses such as run-of-river hydropower and irrigation. Under the treaty, the countries nominate commissioners who share data and try to resolve problems as they arise. If the commissioners can’t agree, they can seek a World Bank-appointed expert to intervene, which happened in 2005 when Pakistan objected to another big dam.

India was told to make minor changes to its design. Jamaat Ali Shah, Pakistan’s Indus waters commissioner, said the country is now seeking formal arbitration proceedings—a treaty mechanism that neither side has used before—because it feels India is stalling on the Kishanganga dispute. Pakistan on Wednesday named two members that would sit on a seven-person arbitration panel. Under the treaty, India has 30 days to name its own two members, and the countries are supposed to jointly name the three other participants. If they can’t agree, the World Bank would step in to name them.

Pakistani farmers and Islamist groups have staged protests against India’s 330-megawatt hydroelectric project on the Kishanganga, which is a tributary to one of the rivers Pakistan was allotted under the treaty. Water availability in Pakistan has fallen 70% since the early 1950s to 1,500 cubic meters per capita, according to a report last year by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. India says Pakistan’s poor water management is responsible for the water shortages it is experiencing in some regions.

Pakistani Muslim Rocks Against Extremism

By Richard Allen Greene for CNN

Salman Ahmad is a devout Pakistani Muslim on jihad — but his holy war is a rock ‘n’ roll battle against intolerance, he says. He’s the frontman of the band Junoon. He’s sold 30 million albums. And he says music is a powerful weapon against extremism. “My own personal narrative tells me that arts and culture is mightier than the sword,” he told CNN during a tour of the United Kingdom Thursday.

Ahmad, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in New York, has set himself an ambitious goal — not only fighting Muslims’ own misconceptions about their religion, but reclaiming the very word “jihad” from extremists.

It’s come to mean violent holy war of the kind waged by al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Ahmad says that’s not its true meaning”There has been a sinister case of identity theft where the extremists have hijacked not only language but culture,” he said. “Jihad means to strive, to overcome your ego, to work for social justice and peace.” That may be why his new book and album are called “Rock & Roll Jihad.”

He insists his long-haired, guitar-driven rock music is entirely compatible with Islam.

“Anybody who says that music is un-Islamic is a poser,” he said. “Muslims have expressed their faith, their lives, their hopes, through music, through poetry, for 1,400 years.”

His own music is a fusion of the wildly disparate influences he grew up with, he said. “I was a 13-year-old from Pakistan (when I) arrived in a suburban cocoon like New York,” he recalled. “My exposure to rock-and-roll was watching Led Zeppelin in Madison Square Garden.” Frontman Jimmy Page “had a two-headed guitar and dragons painted on his pants, and I said: ‘That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.'”

“My music takes equal inspiration from classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and also Sufi poetry,” he said, citing a mystical Muslim tradition. “We are in the same tradition of musicians who are sending out a message of love, a message of joy. “And while he may seem like a trailblazer — and be one — he said he is not alone. South Indian Muslim composer A.R. Rahman won an Academy Award for best song for “Slumdog Millionaire’s” anthemic “Jai Ho,” Ahmad observed. And Ahmad’s mentor, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, performed with Peter Gabriel and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. “He said to me, “The Quran promotes cultural diversity, so why not play with rockers?'”

Ahmad’s done some high-profile collaborations of his own, including recording a song with American rocker Melissa Etheridge. “I saw him perform at the concert and was amazed by his vocal and guitar abilities. Here was this traditional Eastern sound that was rocking hard at the same time,” Etheridge writes in the introduction to Ahmad’s new book. They traded ideas, resulting in the song “Ring The Bells.”

She remembers listening to some tunes he recorded to kick off their collaboration: “I found in one track a haunting guitar part that I kept playing over and over until finally the words started to come. ‘Whose God is God? Whose light is light? Whose law is wrong? Whose might is right?'” The message is resonating, Ahmad said.

He has played rock concerts in the disputed territory of Kashmir, with “thousands of kids braving death threats going to hear concerts,” he said.

“It’s a way for people to vent their emotions. Junoon’s sold over 30 million albums,” he said. “That music wasn’t bought by a fringe. That’s a mainstream majority.”

Ex-president Musharraf Vows Return to Pakistan Politics

As reported on Cnn

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf plans to return to Pakistan and to re-enter politics, he told CNN Thursday.

Musharraf declined to commit to seeking a particular office, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “the question… of whether I am running for president or prime minister will be seen later.”

But he strongly implied he wants to be prime minister.

“We run a parliamentary system there” Musharraf told Blitzer. “So you have to — your party has to win in the election. Then only do you decide to run.”

“Basically, you are heading the party, you are running for the prime ministership,” he said. “Because in Pakistan, the chief executive is the prime minister, not the president.”

Musharraf, who resigned as president under pressure in 2008 and left the country about a year ago, said he’s unsure about the exact timing of his return.

“It is related to the elections in Pakistan,” he said. “I am very sure of one thing, that whether it’s end-term elections or midterm elections, I will be there before those elections.”

Midterm elections could come next year, Musharraf said.

Musharraf also said that security concerns were shaping his decision on when to announce his return.

“Maybe my wife and my family (are) more worried than I am,” he said Thursday. “But there are security issues which one needs to take into consideration. And that is why I’m not laying down any dates for my return.”

“But,” he added, “I do intend launching and declaring my intentions formally sooner rather than later.”

The former Pakistani president took issue with a United Nations report released last month that said Musharraf’s government failed to protect former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination.

“It was me who warned her about the threat to her,” Musharraf said. “It was I who stopped her from going to that venue once before, to which a lot of political aspersions were cast on me that her movements are being restricted. But she decided to go again.”

“All the security, wherever possible… by the police was provided to her,” he said.

Asked if he would do anything differently if he could relive the experience, Musharraf said, “I think the same would have been done.”

Musharraf also criticized the reported use of unmanned aircraft by the U.S. against militants in Pakistan, saying the “indiscriminate use of the drones… is having a negative impact in the public because of the collateral damage.”

He said the attacks could be radicalizing Pakistanis and referred to Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American charged with the failed Times Square bombing. “I wonder whether this Faisal Shahzad incident… has he been affected by indiscriminate bombing by the drones,” he said.

Musharraf also expressed support for the Pakistani government’s decision to block access to Facebook this week in response to an online group calling on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed.

“You cannot have photographs of the Prophet Mohammed — leave aside going for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed,” Musharraf said. “It’s most unfortunate. We must understand, these are sensitive issues. And for the sake of independence of media, liberty of speech, we cannot hurt sensitivities of millions of people.”

Pakistan Blocks Facebook Over Contest to Draw Prophet Muhammad

By Farhan Sharif and Paul Tighe for Bloomberg Businessweek

Pakistan blocked a section of Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social-networking service, citing plans for a “blasphemous” competition inviting users to draw caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Lahore High Court imposed the ban until May 31 and asked Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry to protest to the international community over the competition, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan said on its website yesterday.

Pakistan needs an effective plan to prevent anti-Islam elements “hurting the sentiments of Muslims,” APP cited religious affairs minister Saeed Kazmi, as saying in Islamabad. Protesters gathered in Karachi holding banners and shouting slogans against Facebook yesterday and people circulated text messages asking users of the site in Pakistan to support the ban.

Cartoons depicting Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005, provoked protests by Muslim communities around the world including Pakistan, home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Depictions of the prophet are considered blasphemous by Muslims.

A Facebook user set up a page called “Draw Mohammed Day,” allegedly inviting people to send in their caricatures of the Muslim prophet by today, Agence France-Presse reported.

Kazmi called on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to organize a meeting of Muslim countries and create a united policy for dealing with anti-Islamic moves, APP reported.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority imposed the ban after the high court ruling.

“We were instructed by the Ministry of Information Technology to block a link,” Khurram Mehran, spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, said by telephone from Islamabad yesterday.

The cartoons of the prophet printed in Danish newspapers in 2005 included one of him with a bomb in his turban and accompanied an article on freedom of speech and self-censorship in the media.

Pakistan, Training Camps, and a Culture of Terror

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The arrest of the would be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad has brought increased scrutiny to the fact that Pakistan has become the central destination for the world’s would be terrorists and extremists. This should not come as a surprise to anyone as there have been reports of everyone from the militant Muslims of the Philippines to the Arab Al-Qaeda extremists of Yemen and Saudi Arabia who have all trained side by side with each other. Now Pakistan and Pakistanis everywhere are increasingly coming under suspicion due to the numerous instances of Pakistani men’s involvement in attacks and attempted terrorist attacks.

The London Tube bombings in 2005 by young Pakistani British men, the Mumbai attackers in late 2008, and the attempted Times Square bombing by Faisal Shahzad all are linked by the fact that all the perpetrators in these instances were Pakistani men and that they all got their schooling at terrorist training camps in Pakistan.

Something I have never understood is how are these guys from all over the world able to come to Pakistan and simply find training camps to attend? If these camps are so easy to find by your average would be terrorist wanna-be, then how come with the billions being spent on the war on terror are we not able to find the locations, the leadership, and the infrastructure of these camps and destroy it? I know that the US government has been aiding Pakistan with billions of dollars for the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. So how come are there still terrorist training camps and extremist groups in throughout Pakistan?

Part of the problem as to why there are still terrorist and militant camps in Pakistan is because a number of Pakistan’s army leadership and specifically Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), view India as the ultimate threat to Pakistan’s security and sovereignty. And in order to fuel a low level insurgency in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, the rationale was to use the militants and insurgents in causing maximum havoc and to use them in the decades old war with India over the disputed Kashmir region.

The real issue is that the groups such as Lashkar e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen were originally founded by the ISI to help obtain volunteers for the Pak army who would be willing to fight India and aid the militancy in Indian Kashmir. Pakistan’s army and the ISI used the same technique used by the US during the Soviet-Afghan war where militants were encouraged to wage a “jihad” against the Russians and were now asked to do the same in Kashmir against India. So this climate of tacit state approval for militancy and the funding and support for militant groups took root at the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and continued after the Soviet retreat.

Once the Soviets left, warring factions or warlords in neighboring Afghanistan led to great instability and hardship for the average Afghani who was just trying to survive in a thoroughly destroyed and desperate country. During this time, students or Talibs of local madrassas in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, emerged as a force as they started to defeat various powerful warlords around Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan’s ISI.

These young men, and in many cases boys, were made up mostly of Afghan refugees who had studied at Islamic religious schools in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. These young Talibs had received important training, supplies and arms from the Pakistani government and particularly from the ISI as well as logistical and financial support. The ISI historically supported the Taliban throughout the 1990s, viewing it as a counter to what they regarded as an Indian-supported Northern Alliance. In a matter of months, the Taliban captured many key provinces inside Afghanistan and soon Kabul and declared themselves rulers of the country. Only three countries ever did recognize the Taliban government’s 5 years in office running Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and they were United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

For the Pakistani government, the psychological thinking has always been figuring out this: How do you contain India to the east? What ways can we leverage ourselves in a retreat and counter strike strategy if ever the eastern border with India collapsed in the event of an all out 4th war in 60 years? This is what has always kept the generals up in their barracks in Rawalpindi at Pakistan Army’s Headquarters. When the country of Afghanistan was embroiled in a struggle for power between the warring factions of among others Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud, and other warlords for control of various provinces and cities, the Taliban were gaining valuable training from the ISI and eventually becoming into the force they did culminating in their rise to power in 1996.

When 9/11 happened in 2001, the Taliban were in the cross hairs of the US forces for not handing over their guest, Osama Bin Laden. And since the arrival of US troops have continued to be on the run from American and Pakistani forces. The problem is that certain elements in the ISI still view the predominantly Pashtun Taliban as an important ally in Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s efforts to combat and eradicate the Taliban, there is evidence that they are still receiving some support from some members within the Pakistani spy agency.

Now despite being on the run in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban have joined forces with other militants in the country. These previously separate and independent Islamic extremist groups are now joining forces to fight the Pakistani government. What makes the apparent link-up of Islamic militant groups so much more dangerous than they were on their own is the fact that now the fighters are also coming from Punjab, the country’s largest and most important province, and who were originally trained by the Pakistani military to fight a guerilla war in Kashmir against India.

So now the chickens have come home to roost as both the Taliban who were trained to fight the Soviets and the other groups trained to fight the Indians are instead now causing chaos and mayhem inside Pakistan while fighting Pakistani and foreign forces. These extremist groups are the real threat to Pakistan as they are responsible for near daily civilian deaths inside the country as they battle government forces. This culture of jihadist and militant Islam propagated during the time of General Zia-ul-Haq’s efforts to fight the Soviets has ended up making Pakistan a haven for terrorist groups and militant Islamic ideology. Now couple this with the fact that elements in both the Pakistan army and the spy agency, ISI, continue to provide support, logistics, and information about Pakistani and American forces efforts to capture them, and you start to see picture why there are still terrorist networks and camps available for individuals like Faisal Shahzad to join and get support from in terrorist activities.

Several decades of both fighting the Russians, each other, Pakistani and now American forces along with training from the ISI has made these terrorist and militant groups very adept at surviving. And even though by all accounts the Pakistani government is now fighting the Taliban with full force and in all earnest, it is not doing enough to dismantle and destroy all the other groups that have sprung up throughout the country. If it is so easy for a thirty something year old Pakistani American from a Connecticut to come and get training from a terrorist group as is the case with Shahzad gaining assistance by the Pakistan Taliban, then why can the ISI or Pakistan army or even American or Nato forces sniff out all the training camps and terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan?

Unfortunately that answer is more complex than this simple question. There are many competing interests fighting each other inside Pakistan. As their conflict flares on and continues to escalate, the citizens of Pakistan continue to pay the biggest price with their lives as slowly Pakistan is itself turning into Afghanistan in front of our very eyes. The only solution that makes any sense is a durable peace with India. For if there is peace with the giant neighbor to the east, the very reason for the existence of many of these militant groups will cease and that will allow Pakistan to focus entirely on the Taliban and stabilization of Afghanistan to the west. Also it would free up hundreds of thousands of troops from the Indian border who would go into Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan to finish off the Taliban and destroy their terror training camps and infrastructure.

Eliminating the terrorist infrastructure and militant and extremist network ingrained in Pakistan is the only way that the war on terror will have a fitting and lasting end. And in order for Pakistan to successfully accomplish that, it must eliminate the threat it constantly feels from India by aggressively attaining the elusive peace treaty with its neighbor. Just like the French and the British are such good enemies that they cannot resist being friends, so too must Pakistan extend a hand of friendship to India, if only to ensure its survival from the vicious cycle of violence it now finds itself as a result of decades of militant ideology primarily directed at its Hindu neighbor.

Pakistani-Americans and Police Sharing, and Trying to Spread, Trust

By Anne Barnhard for The New York Times

STRATFORD, Conn. — Last month, a resident of Avon, Conn., received a threatening letter full of religious references. The police chief there, Mark Rinaldo, wondered whether the letter implied a broader threat from a Muslim militant.

He called Dr. Atique A. Mirza, a Pakistani-born Muslim cardiologist, who studied the letter for cultural, religious and political clues. They concluded that the threat probably involved a narrow dispute between neighbors.

Now that a Pakistani-American man from Connecticut, Faisal Shahzad, stands accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, setting off soul-searching and unease among the state’s thousands of residents of Pakistani descent, Mr. Rinaldo and Dr. Mirza are holding up their relationship — built over three years of meetings and cooperation between Pakistani-Americans and law enforcement — as a model for communities across the state and the nation.

The comfort level is such, said Mr. Rinaldo, that Dr. Mirza “wouldn’t be insulted and say, ‘Why are you calling me,’ “ nor would the chief doubt Dr. Mirza’s analysis. “That’s the trusting relationship we are looking for,” said Dr. Mirza, who has formally assumed the role of Avon’s police-community liaison for the Pakistani American Association of Connecticut (Paact), which has similar representatives in 13 towns and hopes to increase the number to 70.

Paact’s work makes Mr. Shahzad’s case all the more upsetting to Dr. M. Saud Anwar, a pulmonologist who founded the group. He has played a role in the investigation, acting as liaison between the authorities and a Pakistani friend of Mr. Shahzad’s who feared talking to them. The friend provided e-mail messages that may shed light on Mr. Shahzad’s views on violence.

But Dr. Anwar wishes the attempt could have been stopped before it began, something he calls possible in future cases if cooperation between his community and the authorities increases by another “order of magnitude.”

“This is not, God forbid, to spy on people, but just to live your life the way it is and if you notice something that concerns you, speak up,” he said, speaking to about 100 Connecticut residents of Pakistani descent and representatives of the F.B.I., the State Police and a dozen police departments who gathered Saturday at the Ramada Inn in Stratford. “This is someone who lived among us and under the radar without anybody in the community knowing he was radicalized.”

Paact moves beyond reminding law enforcement not to unfairly paint all Muslims as terrorists — though it still strongly takes that position. It also calls on Pakistani-Americans to acknowledge that people of Pakistani descent have been implicated in high-profile terrorist attacks, to probe the causes and in the process to remind the public that they want security as much as other Americans do.

Dr. Mirza’s wife, Faryal, an endocrinologist, took a similar approach when her son was called “terrorist” in school several years ago. She began giving annual diversity classes, in which she offered Pakistani food and talked about her culture and religion. She also goes out of her way to let patients know she is Pakistani, so they associate the country with something other than terrorism.

Although she could have argued that the burden of explaining culture should not fall on her, she said, “We have to be proactive.”

Now Paact hopes to franchise its approach to other states. On June 19, the group is holding a national conference in Hartford on radicalization and prevention, featuring the Pakistani ambassador, representatives of the National Counterterrorism Center, theologians and others.

Saturday’s meeting focused on the narrower question of how it could have been that people did not seem to remember Mr. Shahzad from a mosque or a dinner party, let alone alert the authorities about him.

Dr. Mirza said it pointed to a need to rethink the atomization of suburban culture: “Know your neighbors; say hi; help them when they need you; be attentive.”

Mr. Shahzad may have isolated himself from mosques and Pakistani organizations, but he must have had some connections; he was married to a Pakistani-American and lived in Bridgeport, where there is a relatively large Pakistani-American population, said Jaleel Rahman, a retired real estate agent.

“We have to be more vigilant,” Mr. Rahman said.

Zaheer Sharaf, Paact’s president, said that many Pakistanis were afraid of the police, because they believe that police officers in their original country are corrupt.

Add to that the post-9/11 fear that reporting a suspicion about a Muslim might lead to an overreaction by the authorities, and it made for a wide gulf between Pakistani-Americans and the police forces that Mr. Rinaldo, the police chief of Avon, said he was unaware of until he began meeting with Dr. Mirza and others.

His reaction: “Wait a minute. We’re the good guys. We have to open up to this community.”

This month, he said, he was upset to see negative reactions to Pakistani-Americans after Mr. Shahzad’s arrest.

“It seems to be one individual, yet a whole community is suffering for the crime,” Mr. Rinaldo said. “It’s not fair.”

Mateen Haider, 56, an engineer from South Windsor, said that Pakistanis, like all immigrants, simply want to fit in, so they are loath to do anything that could draw attention, including call the police.

“That is no longer enough,” he said, telling the meeting: “Today is a great day. We have spoken out. We are all united together as citizens, and we will fight this to the end.”

Lebanese Immigrant Becomes First Muslim Woman to be Crowned Miss U.S.A.

By Derrick Henry for The New York Times


Pageant organizers on Sunday night crowned a 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant from Michigan as Miss USA 2010.

Rima Fakih was born in Lebanon, moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York City, where she attended a Catholic school. She told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003, where she later became Miss Michigan USA.

Pageant officials told The Associated Press that pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Ms. Fakih was the first Arab-American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title. The pageant started in 1952 as a local swimsuit competition in Long Beach, Calif.

Ms. Fakih is from Dearborn and is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned her bachelors degree in economics with a minor in business administration, the pageant said in a release. She said she planned to attend law school after completing her term as Miss USA.

Fans in her state celebrated after learning that she had been crowned at the event held in Las Vegas.

“This is unbelievable,” Rami Haddad, 26, of Livonia told The Detroit Free Press on Sunday night. Mr. Haddad said he was one of Ms. Fakih’s biggest supporters. “It’s a dream come true. I can’t express my feelings.”

During the pageant, Ms. Fakih nearly fell in her evening gown because of the length of its train, but she recovered. During the interview portion she was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance. She said she believed it should because it is expensive.

“I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance,” Ms. Fakih said.

Miss Oklahoma USA, Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, was first runner-up. She was asked about Arizona’s new immigration law, and said she supported the law, which would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. She also said she was against illegal immigration but against racial profiling.

Donald Trump owns the pageant with NBC, which aired the event live

Amir Khan the Ambassador

By Lem Satterfield for Boxing Fanhouse

NEW YORK — WBA junior welterweight (140 pounds) champion Amir Khan had just scored Saturday night’s 11th-round knockout over Brooklyn’s Paulie Malignaggi in the biggest victory of his career.

In doing so, the 23-year-old, 2004 Olympic silver medalist not only out-boxed a pure boxer, but he mixed in an assortment of power shots — namely crisp, counter and over hand rights behind double- and triple-jabs — with a compliment of damaging left hooks and uppercuts.

When the fight was over, the English-born titlist had won the approval of the roaring crowd of more than 4,412 that filled Madison Square Garden’s 5,000 capacity WaMu Theater, and left the trash-talking Malignaggi beaten, battered and bloodied in his own hometown.

Khan had Malignaggi pinned on the ropes and was nailing him with several unanswered blows when referee Steve Smoger came to the rescue, calling a halt to the bout at 1:25 of the round.

“I was nervous, this being my first time in America. And I was walking into the theater, I could hear a lot of boos. But at the end of the fight, they started cheering for Amir Khan because I won them over with my style. I want to make all of my fights like this one,” said Khan, who rose to 23-1, with his 17th knockout and his fourth, consecutive victory.

“It’s my style. I’m explosive. I’m entertaining to watch. I’ve got speed, and I think I made a statement. I think that now there are a lot of American people who are interested in Amir Khan,” said Khan, who was coming off of a December’s first-round knockout of another Brooklyn resident, Dmitry Salita (30-1-1, 16 KOs).

“I’d love to fight some more over here. I want to save some big fights for the United Kingdom,” said Khan. “But I’ve had my American debut, and it’s the best feeling fighting in America. It’s a dream come true. I’d love to go to Las Vegas and have a big fight over there too.”

But as admirable as Khan’s in-the-ring efforts had been against Malignaggi, it is the maturity, poise and grace with which he handled the out-of-the ring distractions that may yet make Khan even more of a cross-cultural, crossover icon.

There was an irony surrounding Khan’s visa issues, which overlapped with the recent actions of alleged Times Square bombing attempt suspect Faisal Shahzad. Together, the two situations caused concern heading into Khan-Malignaggi.

Khan is a practicing Muslim who was born in England, but who is of Pakistani descent, while Shahzad is a native of Pakistan who became a U.S. citizen a year ago.

In early March, long before Shahzad’s actions on May 1, which resulted in a failed attack after he left an SUV rigged with a homemade bombing device in Times Square, Khan and his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, became aware of the fighter’s issues concerning the obtaining of a work visa.

David Itskowitch, chief operating officer of Golden Boy Promotions, said that Khan entered America under the country’s visa waivers program “which, for all intents and purposes,” allows its holder, “a tourist visa, which is good for ‘X’-amount of days.”

“Khan’s status while he was here training was one of a tourist while not earning money,” said Itskowitch. “In order to change your status to someone who is working, you have to leave the country, get a visa, and, then, come back.”

Khan had been holding workouts at Wild Card Boxing Club, in Hollywood, Calif., owned by his trainer, Freddie Roach, a three-time Trainer Of The Year.

But Khan was forced to leave the United States, and has been preparing for his American debut against Malignaggi (27-4, five KOs), while training under Roach in Vancouver, Canada.

“I was in training camp. Then I had to go to Vancouver to get my visa. And my visa took a long time. We had to move the whole training camp there. My head was all over the place, so I had to stay mentally strong,” said Khan, who was not granted the work visa until nine days prior to the fight.

“When I finally got my visa, I had to go back to Los Angeles again, and the, fly to New York. So I was flying a lot. I was traveling all over country, and I got a visa for 23 days that it took me three weeks to get. That could have gotten to me, but I had to work very hard not to let it bother me,” said Khan.

“I have to thank Freddie for flying all over with me,” said Khan. “One thing about Freddie, he looks at his fighters like they’re his kids. He was standing beside me all of the way through, so I have to thank him for that.”

Although Khan laments the notion that suspicion may have been heightened due to the comparisons between himself and Shahzad, he also embraces the opportunity to perhaps be an ambassador.

Khan wants to use his boxing skills to influence American opinion.

“What I want to do in this game is that, you know, I know that a lot of the Pakistani people and the Muslims are getting a bad name in the United States with the bombings and the terrorism and stuff, but not all of us are like that. Look at Amir Khan. I’m an English boxer. I’m one of the faces of boxing,” said Khan.

“And I want to do the same thing that I’ve done in the United Kingdom. I want to put a new face into boxing. I want to bring the Muslim community into boxing. Whenever you’re at an Amir Khan fight, if you come to the United Kingdom and watch me fight, you look into the crowd, and you see all different colors,” said Khan.

“You see the Asian, Chinese, Pakistanis, Muslims — you see everyone. I want to do the same in the United States,” said Khan. “As more people get to know Amir Khan, you’ll see more of that. Hopefully the Americans will love my style and I can do the same here. I want to fill out the stadiums and the arenas like I do in the United Kingdom.”

Muslim-Americans: Bracing For A Backlash

By Christopher Alessi for The Huffington Post

Adil Najam, a Pakistani-American professor at Boston University, took his 12-year-old son aside before sending him off to school last Wednesday. He told him to hold his head high, even if the other kids make fun of him and call him a terrorist.

In the days following this month’s attempted car bombing in Times Square by Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, Pakistanis and other Muslim groups in the U.S. have been taking precautions to prevent a public backlash similar to the one Muslim-Americans faced following 9/11–but they are still preparing for the worst.

“We are so grateful, thank God, that the bomb did not blow up, but the real damage here is to the Pakistani community,” Najam said. “Everyone [Pakistani-Americans] now gets ready for the office – or school – knowing he will be looked at differently.”

As a result, community leaders, such as Dr. Saud Anwar, the director of Connecticut’s branch of the Pakistani-American Public Affairs Committee, are counseling fellow Pakistanis to jump on the offensive. “We’re hoping we’re not going to be marginalized and we’re trying not to be scared, so we’re mobilizing the community to condemn the incident,” he said.

After 9/11, Anwar made a choice to be more “politically active and to build bridges with the law enforcement community.” He now works closely with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to help identify suspected terrorists. He has also encouraged his fellow Pakistanis in Connecticut to become more engaged with the police, in part to counter the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorist-sympathizers.

If Muslim-Americans don’t take an active approach, Anwar believes, they will only be further marginalized, which in turn will lead to increased “identity crises” and subsequent radicalization in the greater Muslim community–an arguably vicious and deadly cycle.

Najam also contends that Muslims are being “more vigilant against crackpots within their own communities,” by reporting them to the authorities. “We are trying to deal with incidents involving black sheep much better,” he said, referring to fellow Muslims that are suspected of harboring radical and violent agendas.

Both Najam and Anwar are trying to preemptively thwart the onslaught they say their communities faced after 9/11. Back then, both men argue, many Muslim-Americans felt they were put under a microscope by the mainstream American media and society at large. “There was a very high level of apprehension immediately after 9/11,” Najam said. “‘American-Americans’ – whatever that is – were apprehensive about Muslims, and we were internally apprehensive about how we were being viewed.”

Prof. Sinan Antoon of New York University believes that U.S. government policy and rhetoric following 9/11 only compounded the situation for Muslims. “The war on terror discourse and the manichaean view of a world populated by those who are with us and those others who are against us spelled danger and disaster for Arab and Muslim citizens or immigrants,” Antoon said. “After 9/11,” he added, “Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans were all guilty by association.”

Indeed, for many ‘ordinary’ Americans – non-Muslims, or “American-Americans,” as Najam put it – ‘Muslim’ became the codeword for ‘terrorist.’ As a result, many Muslims felt forced to take responsibility for the acts of religious (and political) fanatics who happened to share the same faith.

Antoon further argues that Muslims were easily linked with terrorists after 9/11 because “terrorism was explained in cultural and civilizational terms, not in material history and politics.” “The result,” he explained, “was for the U.S. government to absolve itself of its own responsibility in supporting foreign jihadists in the 1980s…and skirt the blame to the cultural sphere and simplify phenomena and events as simply a class of cultures.”

But Najam is optimistic that things could be different this time. He believes that mainstream American society has evolved since the time period following 9/11. “Society is more adept at handling these [terrorism incidents] as acts of criminality,” he said. Most Americans, Najam argues, no longer see the actions of individuals such as Shahzad as representative of an entire cultural or religious group.

Anwar, too, is trying to remain positive. “There are over 1 million people of Pakistani heritage in the U.S., and there was one idiot that couldn’t think straight,” he said.

“I think America is better than that–blaming the whole community.”

Pakistani is Charged in Chile for Explosives, not Terror

From The Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile — A Pakistani man detained with suspicious chemical residues at the U.S. Embassy in Chile was charged with possessing explosives on Saturday, and then set free pending further investigation.

Mohammad Saif Ur Rehman Khan was ordered to stay in Chile and check in with authorities once a week. Prosecutors have three more months to develop their case, Judge Maria Carolina Herrera ruled.

Defense attorney Gabriel Carrion said the judge declined to charge Khan with associating with terrorists for lack of evidence.

Khan, who maintains his innocence, made a victory sign with his hand and said only “Viva Chile” to a crowd of reporters as he left the courthouse with his lawyer.

Khan was called in to the embassy so that he could be told that his U.S. visa was revoked. A State Department spokesman in Washington said he had been added to a terrorism watch list after the U.S. government received information about him.

A summary of the closed hearing posted on the judiciary’s website Saturday said both TNT and tetryl – a chemical that boosts the power of explosives – were found on his cell phone and documents at the embassy, and that a police search of his room later found the same chemicals on his clothes, a suitcase and a computer bag.

But Carrion says the 28-year-old Khan is an innocent student of the tourism industry and Spanish, and that anyone can pick up traces of the chemical simply by living in a big, polluted city. Prosecutor Xavier Armendariz said the judge found that Khan’s detention was legal.

Chilean police have searched the apartment of an Egyptian man who prayed at the same mosque as Khan and continue to investigate people who associated with the suspect.

Khan’s parents were traveling to Chile to support their son, according to leftist Sen. Alejandro Navarro, who said he persuaded the interior ministry to grant them visas

Pakistan Needs Chemotherapy, Says Obama

From The Economic Times

US President Barack Obama has said that there is growing recognition among Pakistani leaders that the `cancer’ of terrorism is the
primary threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and not India.

“I think there has been in the past a view on the part of Pakistan that their primary rival, India, was their only concern. I think what you’ve seen over the last several months is a growing recognition that they have a cancer in their midst; that the extremist organisations that have been allowed to congregate and use as a base the frontier areas to then go into Afghanistan, that that now threatens Pakistan’s sovereignty,” Mr Obama said at a joint press conference with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. He further maintained that he was encouraged by what he has seen from the Pakistani government over the last several months.

“But just as it’s going to take some time for Afghanistan’s economy, for example, to fully recover from 30 years of war, it’s going to take some time for Pakistan, even where there is a will, to find a way in order to effectively deal with these extremists in areas that are fairly loosely governed from Islamabad,’’ he maintained.

His remarks follow some tough talking by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and show Washington’s ‘dual policy’ towards Islamabad. “He is telling Pakistan we still have problems with you but you are still important to us,’’ said former Indian envoy to Pakistan G Parthasarathy. “He has gone out of his way to save Pakistan.

Though New Delhi has initiated the dialogue process with Islamabad, there is low expectation of any real outcome on the terror front. Experts believe that the Pakistani Army — which is the central figure — has not shed its anti-India policies and continues to perceive terror as a state policy.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton issues a statement that sounded tough… but the real issue is has the military leadership in Pakistan changed its stand,’’ asked former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. “I don’t think there is any change in Pakistan’s approach on issue of terrorism.’’ He further noted that this kind of observation from the US on Pakistan has come earlier too.

Mr Obama maintained that the US aim is to build trust and continue working with the Pakistani government. “Our goal is to break down some of the old suspicions and the old bad habits and continue to work with the Pakistani government to see their interest in a stable Afghanistan which is free from foreign meddling — and that Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, the international community, should all be working to reduce the influence of extremists in those regions,’’ he said. He also said that the US is encouraged by Pakistan’s willingness to start asserting more control over some of these areas. “But it’s not going to happen overnight. And they have been taking enormous casualties; the Pakistani military has been going in fairly aggressively. But this will be a ongoing project,’’ he added.

Obama, Karzai Strive To Project Unity, Deny Serious Differences

By Jonathan Landay for The Kansas City Star

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai asserted Wednesday that progress is being made toward crushing the Taliban-led insurgency, but new studies on the Afghan army and police raise serious doubts about whether the strategy can succeed before a U.S. troop drawdown begins in July 2011.

Flanked by Karzai at a White House news conference, Obama urged Americans to have patience with the “joint strategy” that he unveiled in December to stabilize Afghanistan, defeat the insurgency and prevent the country’s reversion to a Qaida sanctuary. He warned, however, that “there is going to be some hard fighting over the next couple of months.”

He apparently was referring to the summer “fighting season” that’s traditionally racked Afghanistan and that this year will see a drive to clear the Taliban from the southern city of Kandahar that’s being supplemented by an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

The joint news conference was the public high point of a tightly scripted four-day visit in which Karzai was feted, praised and lavished with the full red-carpet treatment by the U.S. administration, which is determined to reset a relationship scarred by feuding and anti-American tirades by the Afghan leader amid record bloodshed.

The administration concluded that the tensions were an obstacle to Afghan cooperation on a number of fronts central to Obama’s strategy, especially the operations to drive the Taliban from their strongholds in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, turn them over to government control and jump-start economic development.

Moreover, U.S. officials want to reassure Karzai and ordinary Afghans – as well as regional powers that already are jockeying for influence – that the U.S. troop drawdown doesn’t mean that the United States will abandon Afghanistan as it did after the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, which was followed by a vicious 12-year civil war.

“We are not suddenly as of July 2011 finished with Afghanistan,” Obama said. “This is a long-term partnership that is not simply defined by our military presence.”

Obama and Karzai sought to present a portrait of unity, saying that progress is being made by the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign, by an American effort to avert civilian casualties and by Karzai on his vows to clean up narcotics-fueled corruption and boost public services, the rule of law and good governance.

“Our solidarity today sends an unmistakable message to those who would stand in the way of Afghanistan’s progress,” Obama said. “They will try to drive us apart, but we will partner with the Afghan people for the long term, toward a future of greater security, prosperity, justice and progress. And I am absolutely convinced we will succeed.”

Obama conceded that “there are going to be tensions in such a complicated and difficult environment and in a situation in which, on the ground, both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices.”

However, he said, a lot of “perceived tensions” between the sides “were simply overstated.”

“It’s a real relationship,” Karzai agreed. “It’s based on some very hard realities. We are in a campaign against terrorism together. There are days that we are happy. There are days that we are not happy.

“The bottom line is that we are much more strongly related to each other than we ever were before. That is a good message that I will take back to the Afghan people.”

U.S.-led international efforts have made considerable progress in helping to bring stability, education, health care and development to many parts of the country of 32 million people since the 2001 invasion drove the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership into neighboring Pakistan.

However, the Taliban and allied groups – aided by al-Qaida and the former Bush administration’s diversion of U.S. forces, time and money to Iraq – staged a major comeback that’s surged as U.S. commanders struggle to implement Obama’s strategy.

New reports on the Afghan army and police – each a crucial element of Obama’s plan to transfer responsibility for districts cleared of insurgents to Afghan government control as the U.S. troop drawdown begins – underscore the enormous hurdles that persist.

A report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group, a respected conflict-prevention organization, says that the Afghan army is suffused with corruption, desertions, ethnic tensions and disputes between its highest leaders.

The report warns that Obama’s plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 240,000 troops from 90,000 by 2013 could worsen those problems and “risk the army’s disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces.”

A report by the Rand Corp. research center on the Afghan Civil Order Police, an elite unit that’s playing a key role in Helmand and Kandahar, found that the contingent is infected with the same problems of corruption and ineptitude that plague other police forces.

ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to shake down residents, been kicked out of the unit for drug use and been shunned in some areas as outsiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on the Rand Corp. analysis, who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Relations between Kabul and Washington have been brittle since Obama took office last year, shaken by U.S. criticism of Karzai’s failure to crack down on official corruption, his dubious dependability, his reliance on a patronage network of warlords and family members, and the massive fraud that marred his re-election to another term last August.

For his part, Karzai has complained about civilian casualties caused by U.S. military operations and launched tirades against the United States and his other international backers, reflecting his unpopularity among ordinary Afghans, who are angry that the war is still raging nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion.

“We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties not because it’s a problem for President Karzai. We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties because I don’t want civilians killed,” said Obama, who noted that the Taliban have killed more civilians.

A Pentagon report last month said the overall level of violence in Afghanistan rose 87 percent from February 2009 to March 2010. More than 1,760 international troops – including 1,068 Americans – have been killed, according to iCasualties.org, a website that tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of Afghan security forces, officials and civilians have been killed and wounded. There are currently 102,000 troops from 46 nations, including the United States, in Afghanistan. There will be 98,000 U.S. troops there when the surge is completed later this summer.

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