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Ramadan or Not, Hunger Hits Pakistan Flood Victims

By Mahmood Farooq for The Associated Press

Pakistani flood survivors already short on food and water began the fasting month of Ramadan on Thursday, a normally festive, social time marked this year by misery and fears of an uncertain future.

The U.S. announced a navy ship with 19 helicopters and 1,000 Marines on board was close to the southern coast of the country and relief flights would soon begin. The U.N. launched an emergency appeal for international assistance for Pakistan after the already-poor nation was hit with one of its worst-ever natural disasters.

Damage to crops, roads and bridges have caused food prices to triple in some parts of the country, adding to the pain of those marking the fasting month.

“Ramadan or no Ramadan, we are already dying of hunger,” said Mai Hakeema, a 50-year-old who sat alongside her ailing husband in a tent outside the city of Sukkur. “We are fasting forcibly, and mourning our losses.”

Observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk each day for a month each year to control their desires and show empathy for the poor. The month is marked by increased attendance at mosques, a rise in charitable giving and family gatherings that coincide with the evening breaking of the fast.

While millions of flood-affected people were performing the fast, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, one of the country’s top religious scholars, said victims living in difficult conditions dependent on charity could skip the fast and perform later in the year.

“I am sad to miss the first day of fasting,” said Ghullam Fareed of Gormani village in eastern Punjab province. “Later, when we reach home, we will compensate for this.”

In the northwest, where many are especially devout, many refugees said flood or no flood, they would fast.

“I cannot disobey God, so I am fasting as it is part of my faith no matter what the conditions are,” said Fazal Rabi, 47, who was staying in a tent village in Akbarpura.

The floods hit the country more than two weeks ago, beginning in the northwest before spreading down the country and inundating thousands of villages. Around 1,500 people have been killed, and the U.N. estimates up to 7 million people need emergency assistance.

On Wednesday, the U.N. appealed for $460 million to provide immediate help, including shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and medical care.

“Make no mistake, this is a major catastrophe,” U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told diplomats from several dozen countries in launching the appeal in New York. “We have a huge task in front of us. The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, but the numbers affected are extraordinarily high.”

The United States said it was more than doubling the number of helicopters it is providing to help.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the USS Peleliu was off the coast near Karachi, carrying 19 helicopters and about 1,000 Marines. The helicopters will help rescue people and deliver food and other supplies.

The Pakistani government’s response to the crisis has been criticized by many as too slow and patchy, and the civilian leaders have struggled to rally public opinion in their favor.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani flew to southwestern Baluchistan province Thursday to see flood-hit areas. He told The Associated Press that Pakistan still needs more helicopters to assist in the relief work.

“We will try our best to reach millions of people to ensure that they get food and other basic items during and after the month of Ramadan,” he said while aboard a military plane.

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Karzai Questions Allies’ Willingness to Act on Pakistani Terror Havens

As Reported by the Voice of America

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is questioning the willingness of Western allies to go after terrorist sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai said Thursday that the war against terrorism is “not in Afghanistan’s homes and villages” but in the sanctuaries and training centers that lie outside the country.

The Afghan leader told reporters in Kabul that only international forces have the ability to tackle such insurgent forces.

President Karzai’s comments come after the website WikiLeaks released thousands of classified U.S. military documents that allege Pakistan’s intelligence agency was actively collaborating with Afghan Taliban militants.

Pakistan has dismissed the allegations.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit called Mr. Karzai’s remarks “incomprehensible.”  He said Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul was seeking clarification, noting the neighboring nations have been closely cooperating against terrorism.

President Karzai on Thursday also condemned  WikiLeaks’ release of the military documents and said their leak endangers the lives of Afghans who worked closely with NATO forces.  He said he has ordered a government review of the files.

The 91,000 documents also contain details of civilian casualties allegedly caused by coalition forces.  

U.S. officials have also condemned the documents’ release and launched an investigation into the source of the leak.

Imran Khan Moves Supreme Court Against Drone Attacks

As reported on Despardes.com

Cricketing legend-turned politician Imran Khan has filed a lawsuit in Pakistan’s apex court asking it to declare drone attacks as war crimes.

According to published reports, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief on Wednesday filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to declare drone attacks as attacks on the sovereignty and defence of Pakistan and a war crime.

The petition, filed by Imran Khan’s lawyer Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, argues that the provisions of logistics and facilities to any foreign country or alliance for mass destruction through drone strikes inside the territory of Pakistan resulting into killings of Pakistani citizen is illegal, unwarranted, unconstitutional, in violation the United Nations Charter, universal declaration of human rights, international law as well as the international humanitarian law, a war crime and an attack on the sovereignty, solidarity, integrity and defence of Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s petition was filed today after a Lahore court Lahore cort ruled against drone strikes and called on the government to take appropriate measures to halt strikes by unmanned drones in Pakistan if they aren’t approved by Islamabad.

Federal authorities should take measures to stop drone attacks in Pakistan if they are carried out without formal approval, the court said on Wednesday. The court was responding to a petition that said drone strikes were a violation of national sovereignty.

Drone attacks have increased under the authority of U.S. President Barack Obama, notably inside Pakistan. The CIA, a civilian entity, said it is acting according to the code of law in carrying out the strikes.

Pakistan’s government publicly objects to the attacks, saying they violate its sovereignty. But it is widely thought there is a tacit agreement between the U.S. intelligence agency, the CIA, and Islamabad to allow such strikes, reported Voice of America on its website today.(http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Suspected-US-Missile-Strike-Kills-10-in-Pakistan-97396999.html)

Two missiles believed fired Tuesday by an unmanned drone struck a village in the tribal regions of Pakistan, killing militants including Hamza al-Jufi, an Egyptian allied with al-Qaida.

U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan May Involve Greater Use of Special Operations Forces

By David S. Cloud and Julian E. Barnes for The Los Angeles Times

U.S. special operations troops in Afghanistan have stepped up a campaign to kill or capture insurgent leaders, senior U.S. officials say, an effort that began in March and is likely to expand as Army Gen. David H. Petraeus looks for ways to show progress.

Senior U.S. military officials said the raids by special operations troops have killed or captured 186 insurgent leaders and detained an additional 925 lower-level fighters in the last 110 days. That would mark a rare success for American troops in a war that has otherwise gone poorly in recent months.

The operations have been most effective in and around the southern city of Kandahar and in eastern Afghanistan, according to American military officials, who requested anonymity in discussing information that had not been released publicly, and outside analysts. Already, they said, there are signs in these areas that roadside bomb attacks have decreased and the Taliban control is weakening, as senior leaders are killed or captured.

A successful effort would support the contention made by Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials who are skeptical of the military strategy in Afghanistan: Special operations troops, with their small footprint and skill at tracking and killing the enemy, can be more effective than conventional forces in the difficult conflict the U.S. faces in that country.

Biden has argued for shrinking the U.S. effort and relying largely on special operations troops and airstrikes to disrupt the Taliban and Al Qaeda, officials say.

President Obama has sided so far with those who favor using large numbers of U.S. troops as part of a far-reaching counterinsurgency effort, a point that he reiterated last week in naming Petraeus to replace Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of the war in Afghanistan.

But if the special operations effort is the most successful element of the war effort, Biden and those who agree with him could be in a stronger position to argue for shrinking the U.S. military presence when the strategy is reexamined, perhaps as soon as the December review Obama has promised.

Supporters of the more limited strategy advocated by Biden believe special operations should be the main military effort in Afghanistan. Petraeus, however, argues that special operations troops are just one tool, albeit a highly effective one, in fighting an insurgency.

While leading the U.S. military force in Iraq, Petraeus advocated a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy aimed at combating militants with both special and conventional forces. He is expected to utilize the same strategy in Afghanistan.

Current and former Petraeus advisors also said the general will try to quickly reverse the perception that the Afghanistan war is going badly. When he appears before the Senate on Tuesday for a hearing on his nomination to lead the allied war effort in Afghanistan, he is likely to emphasize recent successes by special operations forces.

“Trumpeting the successes of ISAF [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force] operations, Afghan operations, should be part of the strategy,” said Peter Mansoor, who served as Petraeus’ executive officer in Iraq. “The strategy is clearly to knock the Taliban back, but if you don’t show the world that is happening, what is the use?”

A senior military official in Afghanistan said the killings of leaders since March have reduced the effectiveness of the Taliban, making the militant movement less capable of threatening the Afghan population.

Officials did not release the list of 186 insurgent leaders they say have been killed since March. Last week, however, they did name two insurgent leaders slain last month in Kandahar.

In eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. has been trying to take out key commanders in the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned insurgency that maintains a safe haven in Pakistan, said Jeffrey Dressler, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

“We have seen over the last four weeks an increase in special operation maneuvers,” Dressler said. “And it is having a significant impact on the Haqqani network’s ability to operate.”

But Haqqani fighters still are able to use their base in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region to try and mount suicide bombings across the border in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and has been linked to several recent attacks, including a mortar barrage that disrupted a peace conference convened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai this month.

U.S. officials hope that continued special operations raids against insurgent leaders will encourage lower-level followers to lay down their arms and reconcile with the government in Kabul.

Skeptics of the administration’s overall strategy see the results of the special operations campaign as a powerful argument for shifting away from the counterinsurgency campaign crafted by McChrystal toward the strategy advocated by Biden.

“This is a great opportunity to reconsider the direction of the strategy and move it more towards what is showing some success, the strategy Vice President Biden advocated from the beginning,” said Charles J. Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general who writes extensively on counterinsurgency strategies.

A plan focused first on killing insurgent leaders will ensure that the U.S. does not have to remain in Afghanistan for decades building up the central government, he said.

But advocates of the current strategy said special operations forces alone can disrupt insurgent movements, hindering their advance, but are not enough to stabilize a country and help it take charge of its own security.

“There is a misconception that in counterinsurgency there isn’t any sort of assassinations or special operation forces doing targeted killings,” Dressler said. “As we have seen from Iraq, that is not the case. It is a critical part of counterinsurgency.”

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan

By James Risen for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.” The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines. American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact. Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.

“No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces,” observed Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.

At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. “The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Mr. Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”

With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. “They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan.”

The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.” Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted. The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings, and then briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

For the geologists who are now scouring some of the most remote stretches of Afghanistan to complete the technical studies necessary before the international bidding process is begun, there is a growing sense that they are in the midst of one of the great discoveries of their careers. “On the ground, it’s very, very, promising,” Mr. Medlin said. “Actually, it’s pretty amazing.”

Pressure Builds on Pakistan’s Military

By Omar Waraich for Time.com

“When in doubt, do nothing” could have served as the Pakistani military’s unofficial motto until now on the tricky question of tackling militant strongholds in the tribal badlands of North Waziristan. But doing nothing may no longer be an option, now that the Obama Administration is blaming the failed Times Square bomb attack on the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Washington has long cajoled the Pakistani army to extend its campaign against militants on its own soil into North Waziristan, where the TTP leadership has set up shop amid a viper’s nest of militant groups that include al-Qaeda, but the generals have until now demurred, claiming a lack of resources. Following reports that Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad was trained by TTP elements in North Waziristan, the pressure on Pakistan from Washington has sharply increased, leaving the Pakistani military leadership in an increasingly uncomfortable position.

On May 7, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, met with Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, reportedly to coax Pakistan into moving into North Waziristan. And on May 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sternly warned of “very severe consequences” for Pakistan if an attack similar to the one tried in Times Square were to prove successful.

Pakistanis are already embarrassed at the fact that Shahzad was not only born in Pakistan and is alleged to have been trained there, but is also the son of a retired senior military officer. More alarming still is the apparent move by the TTP, until now a domestic insurgency directed at the Pakistani state, to target a U.S. city in retaliation for drone attacks in Pakistan. That leaves Pakistan’s political and military leadership to find a response sensitive to both the needs of a key ally and the concerns of a skeptical public.

Wary of U.S. motives at the best of times, Pakistani public opinion was rankled by Clinton’s warning. Even liberal newspapers committed to fighting militancy warned of the statement’s unintended effects. “Ms. Clinton’s comments are unfortunate and will rekindle suspicions here that America is no real friend of Pakistan,” said an editorial in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading newspaper. The fear is that those who oppose the campaign against jihadist militancy will turn Pakistani ire at Clinton’s perceived bullying to their advantage in the battle for Pakistani hearts and minds.

But while an offensive launched under pressure from the U.S. could antagonize the Pakistani public, there could be an even greater backlash should the U.S. decide to take matters into its own hands. This year alone has seen at least 32 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, principally at targets in North Waziristan, and that program — which infuriates many Pakistanis — is set to continue. While the authorities may be able to absorb the political fallout from the increasingly accurate drone strikes, their real worry is that Washington might decide to send its own ground forces into North Waziristan. “[The presence of U.S. troops] would be truly disastrous,” says Aftab Sherpao, who served as Interior Minister under former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. The mere presence of foreign soldiers, he believes, would inflame public opinion to dangerous proportions, weakening the hand of the civilian government and the army. In September 2008, the only known case of an American boots-on-the-ground operation triggered a chorus of outrage, led by General Kayani himself.

Even if the U.S. refrained from expanding its own actions on Pakistani soil, the generals and politicians also fear that failure to act could jeopardize the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in civilian and military aid from Washington. Given the risks that follow from doing nothing, Pakistan will have to take action. “The army realizes that it must go into North Waziristan,” says retired Pakistani general and analyst Talat Masood. “They have been looking at this option for quite some time, but they have been hesitant, as they are overstretched.” Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are already fanned out across the northwest and the tribal areas in an effort to consolidate gains made in recent offensives. “Washington should appreciate that we have covered a lot of area,” insists Sherpao, the former Interior Minister. “There have been operations in Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand and South Waziristan. We cannot move troops from the eastern border because there’s no comfort as far as India is concerned.” As the military’s decision to test-fire two ballistic missiles at the weekend demonstrates, India remains its principal focus.

The Pakistani military has long drawn a distinction between the Taliban, and related insurgent groups, using its soil as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan and those waging war on the Pakistani state. The Afghanistan-oriented groups have been allowed to operate largely unmolested in keeping with Pakistan’s desire to recover lost influence in Afghanistan, while the military has gone after the TTP. But as the army pushed into the TTP’s strongholds in South Waziristan, the group moved north, into territory controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur — a militant leader who enjoys a fragile nonaggression pact with the Pakistan army. “It’s a very complex area,” says Masood, “particularly because there are elements there that are not so hostile to the Pakistani military.” By that he means the Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda linked Afghan Taliban group deemed one of the most dangerous confronting the U.S. in Afghanistan but viewed as a strategic asset by Pakistan’s intelligence services. “The army will prefer to take a limited operation, one that is confined to the Mehsud areas,” says Masood, referring to TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

But North Waziristan is only one part of the jihadist infrastructure that enables terror attacks beyond Pakistan’s borders. As Shahzad’s alleged story — making contact with militant elements in Karachi before heading off to North Waziristan for training — demonstrates, there are jihadist groups seeded throughout the country, and they’re strengthening their cooperative ties with one another.

Dismantling that infrastructure will take years, say Pakistani analysts and politicians. “You can’t start operations against all these groups simultaneously,” says Sherpao. “You have to proceed step by step. You have to consolidate your gains first, then move on to the next target.” But the Shahzad case, says Sherpao, should serve as a wake-up call. “The political and military leadership have to sit down now and devise a serious response,” he says. “Otherwise, it will become very difficult.”

Situation in Afghanistan Remains Unstable Despite Gen McChrystal’s Troop Surge

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