Archive for April, 2011

AfPak envoy comes down heavy on Pakistan

Reported by The Press Trust Of India

Making it clear that Pakistan needs to do “more” to deal with the safe havens of terrorists on its soil, US AfPak envoy Marc Grossman on Friday said it will help in bringing peace to Afghanistan. On his maiden trip to New Delhi after being appointed in February as US special representative to Afghanistan-Pakistan, Grossman called on foreign secretary Nirupama Rao and held extensive consultations on the situation in the region.

“There is always more to do and we are encouraging Pakistan to do everything possible to deal with the safe havens…..which will also play a big role in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” Grossman told reporters after his meeting with Rao which lasted for nearly one-and-a-half hours.

Asked about the recent remarks of chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen accusing Pakistan’s ISI of backing the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban group, he said, “I have nothing to add or to subtract to whatever Mullen has already said. We do a huge amount of work with Pakistan in countering terrorism and extremism and that’s what we will continue doing.”

Appointed after the sudden death of Richard Holbrooke, Grossman since he was new to the job, it was important for him to come to India and take advantage of the expertise and experience of the “people here”.

Apart from Rao, he will also be meeting other senior officials, including National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon before resuming his journey, which will take him to Kabul, Islamabad and Riyadh. Giving some details of the meeting with Rao, the US envoy said they discussed the Indo-US global partnership, its future and their joint projects in Afghanistan.

“We have a lot of work to do together in Afghanistan and some of that work is very important…,” he said.

Recalling US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s February speech at the Asia Society, Grossman said the military surge in Afghanistan has been effective and Taliban has been degraded but his worry was that being unable to do much militarily, they might resort to terrorist attacks targeting civilians and Afghan police.

Syria Steps Up Crackdown; International Outcry Grows

As Reported by Voice of America

Syria has intensified its bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, as international criticism against the government’s action mounts. Gunfire continued Tuesday in the flashpoint city of Daraa, where an armed assault to end anti-government protests was in its second day.

Human rights activists say at least 34 people have been killed and dozens more arrested since Syrian troops and tanks entered the city at dawn Monday to crush the demonstrations.

Residents were said to be too afraid to venture out in Daraa. Electricity, water and telecommunications to the city remain cut.

Also Tuesday, thousands of riot police deployed near the coastal city of Banias and in two areas on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Activists say clashes have been especially brutal near the town of Douma. Demonstrators who attempted to enter Damascus from there during the last two weeks were met with bullets.

More than 400 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted last month. The Syrian rights organization Sawasiah said Tuesday the government has arrested at least 500 people during the ensuing crackdown.

Also Tuesday, the international response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown intensified. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused the Syrian leader of “disingenuously blaming outsiders” for the protests.

Susan Rice also reiterated that Washington has evidence of active Iranian support for what she called Syria’s “abhorrent and deplorable” crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. She said the “outrageous use of violence to quell protests” must end now.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned “the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators,” including the use of tanks and live fire that have “killed and injured hundreds of people.” The U.N. chief has called for an independent inquiry into the violence.

But Syria’s U.N. envoy said Damascus is capable of undertaking its own transparent investigation into the deaths of anti-government protesters, rejecting outside assistance.

Bashar Ja’afari also said the U.N. Security Council “should not rely on media reports” when making its decisions. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal asked the council to condemn Syria’s crackdown in a draft statement circulated on Tuesday.

Ja’afari told reporters Syria regrets civilian casualties, but said the unrest has “hidden agendas,” adding that some foreign governments are attempting to destabilize the country.

Earlier Tuesday, ltalian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Syria to “show moderation” and halt the “violent repression” of peaceful demonstrations.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Mr. Assad and urged him to show restraint. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the European Union is exploring possibilities for action against Syria, including asset freezes and targeted travel bans on the country’s leadership.

While U.S. officials have condemned the violence against Syrian citizens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his British counterpart, Liam Fox, played down the likelihood of a Libya-style intervention in Syria.

At a joint news conference in Washington Tuesday, Fox said the world’s response to popular revolts across the Middle East and North Africa must reflect the circumstances in each country. Gates made a similar point, saying that although the U.S. applies its values to all countries in the region, its actions will not always be the same.

A U.S. State Department official said Tuesday that, for now, Washington will limit its response to diplomacy and possible sanctions.

Pakistan’s Hypocrisy Has Run Its Course; It Needs A New Relationship With U.S.

By Ahmed Humayun
Best Defense department of frenemy relations

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has long been volatile, but recent weeks have witnessed an unprecedented level of open discord between the two countries. On April 11, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s ISI, met with American officials and demanded that the United States sharply limit its counterterrorism efforts inside Pakistan. Just two days later the CIA launched drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, provoking angry protests from Pakistani officials. And in a sign that Washington is determined not to back down, last week Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, publicly chastised the ISI for its “longstanding relationship” with the Haqqani network, one of the prime targets of the drone campaign.

Pakistan’s recent criticisms are partially a response to the rising public backlash against America’s counterterrorism operations. Till now, Pakistan has tacitly cooperated with the drone campaign while reluctantly permitting a few CIA agents and special operations forces to enter the country. At the same time, Islamabad has publicly denied cooperating with Washington due to domestic political sensitivities. In the aftermath of the Raymond Davis incident, however, this always-fragile pretence has become untenable. (Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, killed two Pakistanis with possible links to the ISI in broad daylight in January. Three months later, the subsequent media frenzy has not diminished. )

No state wants its territory to be a hunting ground for covert foreign operatives. Still, the fulminations of some in Pakistan omit critical context. The Pakistani state’s ambivalent attitude towards extremist groups — acting against some while tolerating or supporting others — has forced the United States to take proactive action. The rights of sovereignty also come with duties: if Pakistan is indulgent of or incapable of acting against anti-American terrorist groups, then foreign preventive counterterrorism should be assessed more soberly by Pakistanis.

To complicate matters further, elements in Pakistan’s security establishment have deliberately stoked public sentiment. Extensive leaks to the Pakistani press about the government’s demands to the United States hint at a desire to exert pressure on Washington through exploiting populist anger. For the ISI, this diplomatic crisis is a unique opportunity to obtain long desired strategic concessions from the United States. Among other things, the ISI does not want militant groups favored by Islamabad under America’s microscope — especially those perceived to defend Pakistani interests in Afghanistan.

This is a dangerous strategy. It is premised on the mistaken assumption that the United States is unwilling to increase pressure on Pakistan. If the Pakistani government faces domestic political constraints, this is no less true of the United States. Sentiment in the U.S. Congress is already heavily tilted against Pakistan. If reports about Pakistan’s entanglement with extremist groups persist, or in the worst case scenario, an attack on the United States by a Pakistan-based terror group succeeds, Washington will find it difficult to avoid taking harsh actions. Loose talk by some Pakistani politicians about cutting off supply routes to U.S. forces in Afghanistan is similarly self-defeating. It is in Pakistan’s long-term interests to prevent an irrevocable rupture with the United States.

At the same time, Washington should appraise the scope of its direct counterterrorism drive within the broader effort to stabilize Pakistan. According to U.S. officials, the drone campaign has been remarkably successful in weakening militant networks; in private, some Pakistani military and political leaders also acknowledge the program’s efficacy. That may be the case, but displays of U.S. coercive force on Pakistani soil — especially those involving U.S. personnel on the ground — have also accentuated the most extreme tendencies in that country’s public discourse. They have empowered those in Pakistan who maintain that the war on terror is America’s war, not Pakistan’s struggle, and that the United States has fundamentally hostile aims towards Pakistan.

Policymakers might shrug their shoulders at conspiracy theories. That would be short-sighted. The fact is that the United States cannot directly extinguish the threat posed by Pakistan-based terrorism. U.S. forces can certainly kill a few extremists through drone strikes or ground operations. But the militant threat is geographically dispersed: not only do insurgent sanctuaries infest the isolated border regions, terrorist networks are also embedded in the heavily populated areas of the Punjabi heartland. Some of these groups have deep roots stretching back decades and enjoy local political cover. Kinetic action by a deeply unpopular foreign power will not uproot them.

The single most decisive factor in disrupting Pakistani militancy will be the willingness of the state and society to commit to a long-term struggle. Only Pakistan can overcome the jihadi Frankenstein it has spawned through a combination of stepped up military force, political dialogue, and local governance. The impact of U.S. policies on the internal Pakistani debate about militancy should therefore be factored heavily into Washington’s policymaking calculus.

Pakistan is making progress — however halting or incomplete — in adopting a more robust anti-militant posture. Since 2009, its military offensives in the tribal areas have degraded insurgent sanctuaries at a heavy price in blood and treasure. Pakistani intelligence has also helped the United States capture numerous high-level al Qaeda operatives. The Obama administration’s economic assistance to Pakistan and its diplomatic efforts to stabilize the country’s fractious politics have contributed to these advances. Going forward, the core policy challenge is to generate the political will inside Pakistan that will expand these activities. Right now, Washington’s ability to do so is vitiated by Pakistani paranoia.

In the short term, Islamabad and Washington need to negotiate a new counterterrorism relationship. The old strategy of ambiguous private compromise veiled by public dissembling has run its course. Pakistan’s legitimate concerns should be weighed against the immediate threat to the American homeland and to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This is a herculean task given the underlying strategic differences, but the alternative is likely to be much starker.

Ahmed Humayun is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and senior analyst at Georgetown University’s Emerging Threats Project. He can be reached at ahmed.a.humayun@gmail.com .

Terry Jones Jailed for Dearborn Mosque Protests

By Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben for Yahoo News

Terry Jones, outspoken pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., and host of “Burn a Quran Day” was jailed in Detroit on Friday for protesting outside a Dearborn, Mich., mosque. Jones refused to pay his $1 peace bond.

Jones operates Dove World Outreach Center, a mission that proclaims to spread the word of God. Dove World Outreach was started by Don Northrup in 1986 as an apostolic, evangelical Christian ministry.

The DWOC history page reads like many fundamental protestant ministries. It talks about apostolic anointing, teaching and training missionaries to spread the gospel.

DWOC discusses a five-fold plan for bringing God’s Word into the world. It wasn’t outlined clearly, but the five prongs likely included mission work, Bible reading, prayer, teaching and preaching.

This five-fold ministry was the focus of DWOC. Since Jones has taken over, there is less talk about the five-fold plan. DWOC has morphed into one main mission: to take out Muslims and the Islamic faith. Instead of the gospel, DWOC preaches a straw man doctrine of fear. The site is funded by sales of Muslim-bashing paraphernalia in their store. T-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs all sport one legend: “Islam is of the Devil.” The “bookstore” sells one book only, written by Jones, called “Islam is of the Devil.”

The website is coated with fear-mongering, anti-Muslim propaganda. Followers are exhorted to erect wooden yard signs reading “Islam is of the Devil.” There are scheduled protests at mosques, like Dearborn’s Islamic Institute of Knowledge and American Moslem Bekkha Center. Jones’ hosts his annual inflammatory (term used literally and figuratively) “Burn a Quran Day”.

I am opposed on many grounds to Jones and DWOC’s activities, not the least of which is constitutional. Jones has a right to protest, guaranteed him by the Constitution of the United States. He does not have a right to slander or libel. Muslims have a right to worship as they chose, also guaranteed them by the Constitution.

I am a Catholic Christian. I do not see it as my Christian vocation to hate Muslims. Quite the opposite. It will likely be said, by activists like Jones, that I must not be a Christian if I defend Islam. My faith is based in love, not fear, however, and my God loves the whole world. I refuse to retaliate and say that Terry Jones can’t call himself a Christian and hate Muslims. I don’t believe it’s my place to judge whether a person has faith or not. However, I do question the tenets of said faith. Look at the name of Terry Jones’ ministry:

Dove: The dove is a Biblical symbol of peace, sacrifice and of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, believers of many nations where there and heard in their own tongue. The Holy Spirit ignited a fire, but it was a fire of love, not hate.

World: from the Latin, “mundi”; comprised of people of all race, creed, color, religion or lack thereof.

Outreach: If I reach out to hit and hurt someone, they will shy away. In order for an out-stretched hand to be accepted, it must come in love. True outreach (or mission work) is done in compassion, nurturing, ministerial and loving way. I exhort Terry Jones to check out St. Paul on the subject.

I don’t see how wearing a hat and tee-shirt saying “Islam is of the Devil”, is promoting peace or promulgating any doctrine but hate. I smell ignorance-based fear in Terry Jones and DWOC.

Jones is starting to show a lot of similarities to Westboro Baptist Church. These are the nice people who brought you “God Hates Jews”, “Priests Rape Boys”, God Hates Fags and Beast Obama.

Low-key Easter Preparations for Pakistan’s Christians

By Kamran Haider for Reuters

Christians in the small Pakistani town of Gojra are making low-key preparations for Easter this year.

Residents of the neighbourhood, known as Christian Colony, in the town in Punjab province, are haunted by memories of a 2009 attack by a Muslim mob in which seven members of a family were killed and dozens of houses torched.

A few days before Easter, which Christians believe marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion, bare-foot children played cricket in the town’s dusty alleys while some men chatted on a bench under a tree.

“If we celebrate it with a fanfare, we fear somebody might get annoyed and attack us,” said Khalid Anjum, 45, the owner of a small snooker hall. The only sign of the approach of Easter was a few young men rehearsing hymns in St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“Fear is there but we cannot give up our religion,” said Wilson Rafiq, the leader of the group of singers, who plays a traditional drum set known as a tabla.

Pakistan was founded in 1947 as a home for the Muslims of South Asia at the end of British colonial rule, with the country’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, promising that all communities would be able to worship freely.

But today, Jinnah’s pledge of religious tolerance often seems hollow as religious violence increases. Religious minorities account for about 4 percent of Pakistan’s 170 million people, with about three quarters of members of religious minorities Christian.

The independent Human Rights Commission said at least 100 people from minority communities were killed in 2010. The bloodiest attack was on Ahmadis, a sect that mainstream Muslims consider heretical, when 86 people were killed.

This year, the liberal Muslim governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were killed in separate shootings for speaking out against a blasphemy law aimed at defending Islam.

Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but human rights activists say the law’s vague wording has led to its misuse, often against members of minority religions.

Compounding a climate of fear, Islamist militants, angered by Pakistan’s alliance with the United States since 2001, have carried periodic attacks on minorities as part of a campaign to destabilise the state.

“FEAR IN THEIR HEARTS”

In Gojra’s Christian Colony, the level of fear has increased since the sentencing Monday of a Muslim to death for shooting dead two Christians who had been accused of blasphemy.

Rather then welcoming what some people might see as justice, Christians fear that if the sentence is carried out, it will only mean more trouble for them. “Things will only get worse. If one is punished, someone else will stand up to take revenge for him,” said housewife Shahida Kashif.

“My kids still get scared whenever there’s a small disturbance. They says ‘mother, they’ve come. They’ll set fire to our houses again’. They still have fear in their hearts,” she said, referring to memories of the 2009 riot.

A mob of about 1,000 Muslims, incensed by rumours that a Christian had desecrated the Koran, rampaged through the neighborhood, firing guns and throwing petrol bombs.

Hameed Pannum Khan was shot dead and six members of his family, including two women and two children, were burnt to death when their hut was torched.

Authorities blamed militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban for the violence. Abdul Khaliq Kashmiri, a Muslim prayer leader, was locked up for 15 months on charges of inciting the attack.

He was recently released after Christians, fearing his continued detention would only make things worse for them, told authorities they had no proof of his involvement. Kashmiri denied any part in it and appealed for tolerance.

“Everybody should follow their own religion and should stop slinging mud at others,” he said. Christian Allah Rakha, a relative of the family killed in 2009 said the hatred had to stop for the sake of future generations.

“We all should get rid of this evil,” said Rakha, 70, sitting on a threadbare sofa in the drawing room of his single story home. “If we talk of revenge we’ll never have peace.”

The Tragic Case of Mukhtaran Mai

As Reported by The Express Tribune

The decision by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly on April 22 to disallow any discussion on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mukhtaran Mai is most unfortunate, especially given that it was PPP MNA Sherry Rehman who wanted to speak on the matter.
The Supreme Court decided earlier this week to uphold a Lahore High Court verdict that had acquitted all the accused in Mukhataran Mai’s gang rape in 2002, except one.

The gang rape was ordered by an illegal panchayat of Meerwala in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, after which an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced five of the six accused to death. The fact is that a powerful local tribe has been able to prevent its men from being punished by the justice system. The powerful in our society can first cause a delay in justice — nine years in this case — and then cause a miscarriage of justice through manipulation of the lower ranks of the police.
Mukhtaran Mai is one of many women who have to put up with violence at the hands of men and are forced to keep quiet because the investigative-judicial system is biased against them. Because of ‘anticipated injustice’ in Pakistan’s judicial system, Mukhtaran Mai was made into a global symbol of an abused woman, a challenge which she accepted. Unfortunately, the state became defensive about the publicity and support she got from all over the world; it also manifested a clear conservative bias against the women’s rights movement in Pakistan, which is demonised by powerful religious lobbies.

There was more than ‘anticipated injustice’ in the Mukhtaran Mai case. This was the impunity of the powerful, seen in relation to the terrorist elements in Pakistan which are supported by sections of the state. According to official statements, no terrorist caught after horrendous acts of killing has been punished. Those who view our judiciary politically say that the kind of out-of-the-box jurisprudence applied by the courts to matters such as the NRO will never be applied to Lal Masjid and Mukhtaran Mai. This view holds that the judiciary has always been drawn from a largely conservative legal community and it tends to agree with religious constraints to justice when it comes to women, while tacitly accepting the reign of the powerful in society.

The Supreme Court had intervened after the Federal Shariat Court in 2005 contested the jurisdiction of the Multan Bench. It heard the case and, agreeing with the Multan Bench verdict, ordered the release of the accused. Mukhtaran Mai went in appeal and the latest decision has come after over five years of hearings. Now, in 2011, two of the three judges on the bench have decided to go along with the earlier findings while one judge thought the Court could have taken a more pro-reform view and focused more closely on the notorious methodology of registering an FIR in areas where feudal power trumps justice all the time. The Musharraf government — illegal in the eyes of the Court — pitted itself against this wronged woman and put a ban on her travel abroad. If the liberal elements in Pakistan had stood behind the so-called ‘liberal reforms’ of Musharraf, this was one case that they did not support his government on. Alas, the Supreme Court’s latest decision will be seen as being supportive of Musharraf’s policy of hiding the truth of women’s disabilities in Pakistan from the world.

The judiciary takes the position that its power is not only derived from the Constitution but also from civil society, which stood up for the judges dismissed by Musharraf and finally got rid of the military ruler through street agitation. But civil society also includes women and their rights must equally be defended; more so because Pakistani society needs reform before it learns to treat women as desired by the Constitution. And the Court remains the guardian of the Constitution. If the Honourable Court is today dubbed as being ‘activist’ in favour of the people, let it be clear that it is not the Court of the conservative elements simply because they are powerful.

Ahmed Rashid on Negotiating With the Taliban

By Amar C Bakshi for CNN Global Public Square

Intrepid Pakistani author and journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times describing the Obama administration’s secret decision to ramp up talks with the Afghan Taliban, trying to find a negotiated solution to a decade-long conflict. In a follow-up phone call, Rashid said that the Obama administration ought to announce these talks publicly and pressure Afghanistan’s neighbors to get behind them.

Amar C. Bakshi: What is the shift in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan?
Ahmed Rashid: For a very long time there was a lot of division about whether the U.S.would talk to the Taliban or not. Those divisions have now more or less ended. There is much greater determination to set in motion not just secret talks but everything around it that has to happen.

For example, the Taliban are very keen to open an office somewhere in one of the Gulf countries or maybe Turkey. There is nowU.S.support for that. There would presumably be international support for that also. These are the kinds of steps that are needed to get a political process going.

There is the acknowledgement that an over-dependence on a military strategy is not going to work in the long-term. Secondly, the economic and international situation is really not in favor of a long-term military strategy. What is needed now very much is a political strategy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself has said this several times in the past few weeks.

What would a deal with the Taliban look like?
We are a very, very long way away from that. Many questions are being raised. For example, would there be a power-sharing with the present government? How would it take place? How would the constitution accommodate something like that? There are all sorts of social and legal issues about the constitution and Islamic law.

One of the key steps that the Americans have taken is that for the last two years or so, the Obama administration has been talking about preconditions – that the Taliban has to renounce Al Qaeda, accept the constitution and President Karzai. Now what we’re seeing is that talks are going on without any preconditions. These preconditions, or red lines, are something that everyone assumes will be accepted by the Taliban at the end of the talks rather than at the beginning. That is a very positive thing because I don’t think either side could go into their talks with their preconditions.

There are Taliban preconditions that seem to be watered down too because the Taliban were insisting that they wouldn’t talk until the American forces started to leave. But they seem to be willing to put that aside for the time being.

Why is this shift happening now?
The overall international and economic situation is very, very dire. First of all, the majority of European countries want to pull their troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible and that includes some of the leading nations like Britain, Germany and Canada.

Economically they can’t do it. They’re cutting their defense budgets. They are in recession.

And secondly the huge expenditure by the Americans themselves: Something like $108 billion is going to be spent on Afghanistan this year on the war effort. This is clearly not sustainable with all the economic crises that President Obama is facing right now.

What can the U.S. do to help make India and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on Afghanistan?
That is obviously a very crucial part of it. The big tussles going on over Afghanistan right now is between India and Pakistan in a battle for influence there. I think the U.S. needs to play a more upfront role – privately at least – to bring the two countries together if not on the other issues that divide them like Kashmir and larger issues, then certainly on Afghanistan. I think that’s very doable.

The more we get into this endgame and negotiations – the more the world realizes that the Americans are talking to the Taliban – I think it becomes very imperative for both the governments in India and Pakistan to accept the fact that they will have to work with each other if they want to be part of the ultimate equation.

Does Pakistan want to see stability in Afghanistan?
Pakistanis very keen to see stability in Afghanistan. An end to the war in Afghanistan could have a very dramatic effect on containing terrorism inside Pakistan too and containing the Pakistani Taliban. So I think Pakistanis very keen to see stability.

The question at the moment is: If the U.S. is going to take the lead – or the United Nations or whoever we are going to see in the months ahead take the lead on this – they have to bring together all the neighboring countries, of which Pakistan is probably by far the most important, but all of the neighboring countries have to agree to some king of on non-interference in Afghanistan.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are being exacerbated by upheavals throughout the Middle East. How might Saudi Arabia and Iran see eye-to-eye in Afghanistan?
For the last 30 years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals in Afghanistan. For example, the Saudis backed the Taliban regime in the 90s. The Iranians very strongly opposed it.

The point right now is that with the tensions in the Gulf – the Saudis accusing the Iranians of destabilizing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia– they are both searching for allies.

The Saudis have recently been approaching the Afghans and the Pakistanis to ally with them against Iran. That is something that neither country can afford to do – neitherAfghanistannorPakistan. Secondly, you need the compliance of both Saudi Arabia and Iran for any eventual Afghan peace settlement.

So taking sides on this Iran-Saudi dispute in the region is not a good idea. It is not very helpful, especially if you want to bring the two countries into the peace agreement.

So a major diplomatic lift is needed?
Yes, absolutely. We’re talking about a huge diplomatic effort, which the former U.S. Af-Pak Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had started. It needs a very big push by the United States, NATO and the European countries.

It needs some public diplomacy. Things need to be done and said in public so that people around the world can see that there is movement on this. As well, of course, a great deal of private diplomacy is needed such as dealing with this Iran-Saudi Arabia issue, bringing India and Pakistan together. A mixture of private and public diplomacy is needed.

We might see some of that public diplomacy in July when President Obama marks the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The quicker the United States gets on with this, the better it is going to be. One of the big steps it should take in the public realm is admitting that the U.S. is having talks with the Taliban and set out a roadmap as to what the President would like to see. The quicker we see the administration doing this, the faster this process will move.

Fight Against Extremists Stretches Pakistan’s Military

By Jim Garamone for The American Forces Press Service

Just as two wars over the last decade have stretch the U.S. Army thin, the Pakistani military is stretched by its fight against extremist groups along the country’s western border, senior defense officials said here today.

At any given time, roughly one-third of the Pakistani army is deployed along the border region. Another third is along Pakistan’s border with India, and the rest is in garrison training and re-equipping.

“There are units along the border that have been in the fight for two years,” said a senior defense official, speaking on background. “That’s a long time. They are stretched.”

While many in the United States want the Pakistani military to do more against terrorist groups in North Waziristan, the truth is it may not be able to do much more, the official said. Pakistani troops – including members of the Frontier Corps – are in Khyber province, South Waziristan and other areas of Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas. North Waziristan, specifically, is a safe haven for many senior Taliban leaders launching attacks in Afghanistan.

The military has launched a campaign against terrorists in Mohmond province – an area they cleared once, but where extremists have re-emerged. And that’s the problem, the official said: once the army clears an area – “and they do that quite well,” he said – the soldiers don’t have a force to turn it over to, and they’re forced to police the region. “The civil capacity does not exist in the region to hold the area,” the official said.

The civil capacity also does not exist to rebuild areas, and the army is stepping into the breach. “They are building schools and roads and water projects,” the official said. “This should be the job of civilian agencies, but they are not available.”

If Pakistan’s army could turn over the policing and development duties, troops would be available for further operations against the extremists, the official said, but they cannot.

The Pakistani military could deploy troops from the border with India to step up the fight against extremists, but Pakistan sees India – a nation with which it has fought four wars– as the foe. India and Pakistan have troops facing each other in Kashmir province. A solution to the dispute over Kashmir, which goes back to the founding of the two nations in 1947, could “unlock solutions” for Pakistan, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with Pakistani reporters.

It was a major move to deploy the Pakistani forces from the Indian border in 2008, and U.S. officials do not expect that to happen again.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials are worried about the spread of radicalism in the nation. While most incidents still are centered on the western border, many incidents have occurred in Balochistan, Sindh and even the Pakistani heartland of Punjab. “They even use the term Punjabi Taliban,” the official said. “And it concerns them.”

The United States is set to provide roughly $3 billion in aid to the Pakistani military in fiscal 2012, the defense official noted.

Pakos- Pakistan Zindabad

Khan Enjoys Early Finish

From Sky Sports

Amir Khan retained his WBA light-welterweight title after a controversial technical points decision over Paul McCloskey in Manchester.

The bout was halted during the sixth round after the challenger was deemed unable to continue due to a cut caused by a clash of heads. Khan was a unanimous victor on the scorecards, with all three judges awarding him a comfortable 60-54 win.

McCloskey’s awkward southpaw style meant the champion did not have it all his own way but there was no doubt who was on top at the time of the fight’s premature end.

But after the contest there was protestations from the McCloskey camp that the cut was not bad enough to warrant the stoppage.

The opening stages of the contest were tentative, with Khan looking to come forward but finding his fast hands matched by the reflexes of the previously unbeaten McCloskey.

Khan looked to be more settled in the second as he landed in bunches, but McCloskey stood firm and landed a left of his own at the end of the round. The challenger even had Khan on the back foot at times and caught him with another winging left hand in the third.

Khan began to fire again in the fourth, landing a sharp right and crisp left before attacking with hooks in the early stages of the fifth. McCloskey’s defences seemed to be weakening in the sixth as Khan landed an impressive flurry but the fight was soon over.

After an accidental clash of heads, referee Luis Pabon called for the doctor, who advised the official to bring an end to the bout.

On the undercard, Leicester binman Rendell Munroe made a winning return to action after his unsuccessful world title challenge by claiming a unanimous points win over Andrei Isaeu.

Craig Watson lost his British welterweight title to Lee Purdy the later claimed a fifth-round stoppage win in their contest.

US Envoy Upbeat Over Relations With Pakistan

By Phil Ittner for The Voice of America

Relations between the United States and Pakistan in the last few months have been severely strained by a series of events and ongoing disagreements. The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan spoke to Voice of America about how he feels things are improving.

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said ties between Pakistan and the United States have been far from the best recently, and while there are still differences, there also is room for improvement.

“The issues are still on the plate. We still have to have discussions, but there was a period in February and some parts of March where we just didn’t have good ties. We’ve established a process,” said Munter.

Pakistan is seen by Washington and London as a vital ally in the “war on terror,” and the Pakistani government and army say they remain committed partners 10 years after the Afghan conflict began.

But, relations have been increasingly strained between the two countries.

Bitter disputes over covert CIA activities and drone attacks inside Pakistan, the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan and rising Islamist-led opposition to the presence of foreign forces in the region are fueling the discourse.

Relations also have been frayed since a CIA contractor fatally shot two Pakistani men in the city of Lahore earlier this year. The U.S. said Raymond Davis had diplomatic immunity and acted in self-defense. He was released after victims’ families accepted compensation.

Furthermore, a recent White House report criticized Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign, accusing Islamabad of not doing enough to counter militants in North Waziristan. Pakistan rejected that report.

Munter said that while America may have some advice for their ally, at the end of the day, it is up to the Pakistanis to decide how to proceed.

“Ultimately the decision to bring peace, to bring the authority of the Pakistani leadership to bear in North Waziristan, that’s a decision for Pakistan. We’ve given our advice. Sometimes we may not have been diplomatic about it, but the fact is that’s going to be their decision and we do accept that.”

This diplomatic approach means having confidence that Pakistan will step up its efforts to rout out insurgents in safe havens in the tribal regions. Ultimately the U.S. hopes this will put pressure on certain groups there who plan their attacks on international forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The “Indo-Pak Express” Overthrows No. 2 Seeds to Reach Semis in Monte Carlo

By Erin Frauenhofer for 10SBalls.com

The India/Pakistan pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi made waves at the Monte Carlo Masters with a quarterfinal upset over No. 2 seeds Daniel Nestor of Canada and Max Mirnyi of Belarus. With a 6-1, 7-5 victory on Friday, the sixth-seeded duo advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, where the pair will play Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela and Brazil’s Bruno Soares.

Bopanna and Qureshi took command in the first set, breaking Nestor’s serve and holding steady on their own serve to take a 4-1 lead. The “Indo-Pak Express,” as the pair has been dubbed, remained in control for the rest of the set, breaking Mirnyi to give Qureshi the opportunity to serve for the set. Bopanna and Qureshi won the game to wrap up the first set handily, in only 21 minutes.

Nestor and Mirnyi displayed a stronger performance in the second set, after suffering an early break to fall behind 1-2. They rallied back to break Bopanna and Qureshi in the next game, and both pairs held serve for the next four games, until Nestor and Mirnyi were broken once again.

At 5-4, Bopanna and Qureshi had their first chance to serve for the match, but Nestor and Mirnyi battled back to even the score with a break. Bopanna and Qureshi retaliated in the next game with another break to take a 6-5 lead.

Serving for the match for the second time, with victory nearly in sight, Bopanna and Qureshi dropped the first two points of the game but recovered to close out the match. Bopanna and Qureshi broke their opponents a total of five times during the match and lost their serve twice.

Friday’s win was the second victory of the tournament for Bopanna and Qureshi. After receiving a bye in the first round, Bopanna and Qureshi notched a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over the American/Netherlands Antilles duo of Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer to reach the quarterfinals.

Chela and Soares have recorded three wins in the tournament thus far. The duo took a straight-set win in the quarterfinals, defeating Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky and Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 6-4, 6-3. In the previous round, the pair upset No. 8 seeds Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Horia Tecau of Russia by a score of 6-2, 6-4. Earlier, Chela and Soares had prevailed in a three-set first-round match, outlasting Michal Mertinak of Slovakia and Dick Norman of Belgium, 6-2, 3-6, 10-7.

Monte Carlo is the first clay-court Masters tournament for the Indo-Pak Express, and the duo has high hopes for the French Open. Bopanna and Qureshi’s strong showings this year and efforts toward peace between their countries have earned them an enthusiastic and steadily growing following.

Bopanna and Qureshi have made recent headlines for their request to play an exhibition match on the India-Pakistan border in an attempt to foster reconciliation efforts between the two nations. As part of a “Stop War, Start Tennis” campaign, the duo plans to string a net across the Wagah border crossing and switch sides during the match.

Religious Harmony: Thousands of Indian Sikhs Arrive for Baisakhi

As Reported By The Express Tribune

Over 2,000 Sikh yatrees from India arrived at the Wagah railway station on Monday to attend the 312th Baisakhi festival.
The pilgrims, who arrived via special trains, will be taken to the recently-renovated

gurudwara at Punja Sahib in Hassan Abdal where the festival begins today (Tuesday). As many as 13,000 Sikh men and women, from Pakistan and India, are expected to participate in the festival, which marks the commencement of the Sikh new year.

On April 14, the pilgrims will go to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, and return to Dera Sahib, Lahore, on April 17. They will also visit Dera Rohri Sahib, Aimanabad, and Kartarpur in Narowal, before they return to India on April 20.

The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has made special arrangements to provide free transport, accommodation and food to the pilgrims during their 10-day stay. Stalls of immigration, customs and a medical camp have been set up at the railway station.

War in Afghanistan is Destabilising Pakistan, Says President

By Simon Tisdall for The Guardian

The war in Afghanistan is destabilising Pakistan and seriously undermining efforts to restore its democratic institutions and economic prosperity after a decade of military dictatorship, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has told the Guardian.

Speaking during an exclusive interview in the imposing presidential residence in Islamabad, Zardari also pointed to widespread concern in Pakistan at the slow pace of efforts to end the Afghan conflict, and said some US politicians showed limited understanding of the impact of American policies.

“Just as the Mexican drug war on US borders makes a difference to Texas and American society, we are talking about a war on our border which is obviously having a huge effect. Only today a suicide bomber has attacked a police compound in Baluchistan. I think it [the Afghan war] has an effect on the entire region, and specially our country,” Zardari said.

Asked about harsh criticism of Pakistan’s co-operation in the “war on terror” published in a White House report last week, Zardari said Pakistan always listened to Washington’s views. But he suggested some members of Congress and the US media did not know what they were talking about when it came to Pakistan.

“The United States has been an ally of Pakistan for the last 60 years. We respect and appreciate their political system. So every time a new parliament comes in, new boys come in, new representatives come in, it takes them time to understand the international situation. Not Obama, but the Congress, interest groups and the media get affected by ‘deadline-itis’ [over ending the Afghan war],” Zardari said.

“I think it is maybe 12 years since America has become engaged in Afghanistan and obviously everybody’s patience is on edge, especially the American public, which is looking for answers. There are no short-term answers and it is very difficult to make the American taxpayer understand.”

With less than three months left before Barack Obama has promised to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, the White House recriminations reflected the growing pressures on all three governments to agree a workable, long-term strategy. The report complained bitterly that after years of US funding of the Pakistani military, “there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency” inside Pakistan.

It criticised as ineffectual Pakistani army operations in some areas of the western tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, which are believed to be used as safe havens by Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida elements.

A congressional panel also weighed in this week, urging the Obama administration to abandon Pakistan in favour of India. “Pakistan is about to go broke or collapse,” said Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat.

Zardari suggested that if that assertion were true, the interventionist policies of the US and other foreign governments in south Asia would be a significant contributory factor. Pakistan had been in a state of “security alert” for several decades, he said.

“Our emphasis has been on security rather than our commerce and we need commerce for our survival.

“We have all the gas in the world waiting to go through to markets in India and the Red Sea but it cannot be brought in until Afghanistan is settled. So Afghanistan is a growth issue for us. I think most of the time, the quantification of the effect of the war is not calculated [by the US].

“Prices are going up, obviously we are a high fuel-importing country, and fuel prices are going up. Because of the war situation, the industry in one of our provinces has practically closed down … When one whole sector is not working, there is an effect on the other sectors.”

According to senior intelligence officials, the “war on terror” has cost the Pakistani economy approximately $68bn (£42bn) since 2001.

More than 33,300 Pakistani civilians and military personnel have been killed or seriously injured. Last year’s record-breaking floods added to the strain on the economy.

Zardari said the security situation was also undercutting efforts to strengthen democratic institutions bypassed or overturned during the military rule of his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf. “Democracy is evolving. It’s a new democracy. It takes time to bring institutions back. Destroying institutions during a decade of dictatorial regime is easy … So there is a political impact as well as an economic impact.”

Pakistani officials say relations with the US reached a “low ebb” following the recent row over Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis; a CIA drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal areas last month that accidentally killed dozens of civilian elders meeting in a jirga (council), and Pakistan’s suspicions that it is being excluded from discussions about an Afghan peace deal.

Zardari, who is expected to visit Washington next month, said he would ask Obama to share drone technology with Pakistan so future attacks could be planned and directed under a “Pakistani flag”. Although this request had been turned down in the past, he said he was hopeful the Americans would be more receptive this time, given the huge anger and rising anti-American feeling that the drone attacks were causing.

Zardari and other senior government officials said all parties felt a sense of growing urgency about forging an inclusive peace settlement in Afghanistan, but the process must be “Afghan-led”. Pakistan was ready to play its part, consistent with its national interest, they said.

Salman Bashir, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, said: “Everybody is gradually coming round to our point of view that this requires greater diplomatic pressure. There is no military solution in Afghanistan.”

Afghan Midwives Deliver Life-Saving Birth Education

By Nadene Ghouri for the BBC

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to have a child. Women face a one-in-11 risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth, while one in five children dies during or after birth or before the age of five. One initiative is under way to try to make giving birth safer.

Training and education is helping Rogul to save babies’ lives
Rogul wraps a grimy blue scarf around her face and uses the cleanest corner of it to wipe her tears.

She has just told me how nine of her babies died after she gave birth to them at home. Her firstborn, a little boy, was premature. Her mother asked a village mullah for advice. He suggested prayer and a type of holy water. The baby died.

Her second child died from an infection a few hours after birth. And so it went on – nine dead babies in total. I am sitting in an Afghan neonatal clinic in Guldara district, just 20 minutes drive from the capital city Kabul.

Women, some in traditional blue burka, others wearing the brightly coloured scarves and loose pantaloons more typical of the nomadic Kuchi tribe, are here.

Some are clutching roundly pregnant bellies, others are here to have their babies vaccinated. Few would be here at all, if they had not been persuaded to come by a local midwife.

A young girl called Pashtu, with a dirty face and scared eyes, agrees to talk. She does not know how old she is but looks no more than 15. She is eight months pregnant with her second child.

Next month she will give birth in the safety of the clinic. She gave birth to her first child in a filthy hole-in-the-ground toilet at home with only her elderly mother-in-law for help. Her son was born blue and barely breathing. He survived for just under an hour.

I ask her why the baby died? She gives me a nonchalant shrug. Her aunt, a large woman with long braided dark hair is sitting next to her. “Pashtu is too skinny and doesn’t eat enough,” she asserts loudly. “This is why her child died.”

Another woman tells me it is because Pashtu’s husband is an opium addict. Many babies in Afghanistan also die because of traditional cultural practices.

It is common for babies to be washed in freezing cold water immediately after birth – which can cause pneumonia – umbilical cords are cut with unsterile knives, or babies are placed on a dirty floor to ward off evil spirits, which can cause infection.

Few women breastfeed for the first few days because colostrum, the nutritious fluid in early breast milk – something which is vital for a baby’s immune system – is seen here as “dirty”. Instead newborns are often fed melted butter.

Istiqlal Hospital in central Kabul houses the city’s largest maternity ward. Here stories of ignorance prevail. Two teenage girls giggle as they tell me they had no idea how pregnancies happened, even after they were married.

One of them is here because she miscarried at five months. She had not known she was pregnant, because she was not aware of any of the symptoms of pregnancy.

“If we ask any questions about these things, we will be called bad girls,” they explain as their faces flush red with embarrassment. The doctor tells me that their mothers often assume they will work it out for themselves after they marry. But they often do not.

“I see many young girls who have married and still don’t realise sex with their husband equals babies,” he tells me. But change is beginning to happen. The ministry of public health has launched a programme to train and deploy 400 new midwives a year.

What is key is that the women are not outsiders forced on a mistrustful local population, but are local women from the communities they serve. This means religious leaders and conservative husbands do not prevent them from working.

Largely as a result of this, the number of women giving birth who were helped by a trained midwife has more than tripled since 2003. Rogul, who learned the hard way just what giving birth alone can mean has now been given midwifery training by the British charity Save the Children.

This woman who lost nine of her own babies has now saved lives of many others.

She tells me how, the week before, she had locked an angry mother-in-law out of a room where a young woman gave birth, because the mother-in-law had tuberculosis and could have passed the infection to the newborn.

She chuckles with glee as she recounts the tale of the mother-in-law banging on the door trying to get in.

It is clear what Rogul, with a combination of personal tragedy and a solid new education, can achieve in her community. But as yet, there are not enough Roguls to go around.

And for her the story has a happy ending. After her training she realised why her first nine babies had died. When she fell pregnant again, she knew what to do and now has a son and two daughters. “They are living proof of my work,” she says with a big smile.

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