Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistani government ’

Pakistani Parliament Approves Proposals on US Ties

As Reported By The Associated Press

Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday unanimously approved new guidelines for the country in its troubled relationship with the United States, a decision that could pave the way for the reopening of supply lines to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted, but also call for an immediate end to American drone strikes against militants on Pakistani soil.

However, the lawmakers did not make a halt in the CIA-led missile attacks a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines, as some lawmakers had been demanding. The government and the army will use the recommendations as the basis for re-engaging with Washington.

Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan all but collapsed in November after U.S. airstrikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, after which Islamabad blocked the supply lines in protest. Washington wants the relationship back on track.

The U.S. State Department expressed respect for the Pakistani parliament’s decision. “We respect the seriousness with which parliament’s review of U.S.-Pakistan relations has been conducted,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic, and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the Government of Pakistan and continuing to engage with it on our shared interests.”

About 30 percent of supplies used by NATO and U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan are transported through Pakistan. Washington also needs Islamabad’s cooperation to negotiate an end to the Afghan war because many insurgent leaders are based on Pakistani soil.

The drones are a source of popular outrage in the country and have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment, although Pakistan’s powerful army has tacitly aided the missile attacks in the past, weakening Islamabad’s official stance that they are a violation of sovereignty.

Washington has ignored previous entreaties by the parliament to end the strikes, and is seen as unlikely to change its policy now.

Despite calls by Islamists for a permanent supply line blockade, few inside the Pakistani government or the army believed this was desirable, given that Pakistan relies on the U.S. and other NATO countries for its economic survival and diplomatic and military support.

Soon after the deadly airstrikes on the border, the Pakistani government called on parliament to draw up new guidelines for Islamabad’s relations with the U.S. The government’s move was widely seen as way to give it political cover for reopening the routes.

The national security committee presented a first set of proposals last month but opposition parties riding a wave of anti-American sentiment rejected them, seemingly unwilling to share any fallout ahead of elections this year or early next.

But on Thursday the opposition voted with government lawmakers to approve a revised set of guidelines, which differed little from the original ones. Opposition lawmakers didn’t explain why they had dropped earlier objections, but they could have come under pressure from the army or extracted other, unrelated concessions from the government.

The guidelines call for NATO and the U.S. to pay Pakistan more for the right to ship supplies across its soil and stipulate that no arms or ammunitions be transported. Western forces have only ever trucked fuel and other nonfatal supplies across Pakistan because of the risk they could fall into the hands of insurgents.

“We believe that the world has heard the voice of the people of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told parliament. “I would like to assure the house that our government will implement the recommendations that have been made in both letter and spirit.” Gilani did not say when the supply lines would reopen.

Western officials have said Pakistan would come under intense criticism if routes remained blocked during a NATO conference in Chicago on May 20-21 where more than 50 heads of state will discuss progress on ending the war.

Washington’s public line has been that it is waiting for the parliament to finish its review before calling for Pakistan to reopen the routes. It has refused to apologize for the border incident in November, and last week put a $10 million bounty on the head of a militant leader believed close to Pakistan’s security forces.

Behind the scenes, however, negotiations have been going on between the U.S. and Pakistan over the supply line issue and drone strikes. It was unclear whether there has been any new agreement on the strikes, which Washington believes are key to keeping al-Qaida on its back foot.

U.S. officials had said they had offered Pakistan notice about impending strikes and new limits on which militants are being targeted. For most of the Afghan war, 90 percent of the supplies came through Pakistan, but NATO has increased its reliance on an alternate, so-called “northern” route, through Central Asia in recent years.

Increased use of the northern route has removed some of the leverage Islamabad had over the West, but at a cost to the coalition.

Pentagon officials now say it costs about $17,000 per container to go through the north, compared with about $7,000 per container to go through Pakistan.

Advertisements

Pakistan Leans Toward Talks With Taliban, Not Battle

By Karin Brulliard and Haq Nawaz Khan for The Washington Post

ISLAMABAD — Amid growing American frustration with Pakistan’s handling of Islamic militancy, the government here appears less willing than ever to challenge insurgent groups and is more inclined to make peace with them.

In a series of recent statements, Pakistani officials have rejected the notion of robust military action against insurgents based in its tribal belt and instead called for truces. At a recent summit, political leaders issued a resolution that did not condemn terrorism but said their policy is dialogue. The decree was widely viewed as having been rubber-stamped by the powerful military, whose top two figures briefed the conference.

The approach has puzzled U.S. officials and renewed debate in Pakistan about how to handle insurgents who have killed thousands in attacks nationwide.

Much remains unclear about the potential for peacemaking, including which militant groups would be included or willing. But some analysts say Pakistan has lost the resolve to battle homegrown insurgents who many here view as disgruntled brethren.

“Everyone went along with what the army wanted” at the recent political summit, said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on militancy in the northwest. “It became obvious that the military has no appetite for military operations.”

Many here express skepticism about talks, arguing that such efforts had failed in the past. But the idea is backed by Islamic parties and other political leaders.

In interviews, politicians and security officials said Pakistan views the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella insurgent group that is an offshoot of the Afghan movement, as splintered enough to be open to peace deals mediated through tribal elders or clerics. And the United States, they note, is supporting a similar approach in Afghanistan.

“If by giving a chance to peace, any terror is eliminated, it’s the best option,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a leading ruling party figure, said in an interview. He added that he had received armistice offers from militants: “They want to talk.”

Pakistan’s fragile civilian government regularly condemns terrorism, and the army has executed several operations in the country’s northwest, including against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The battles have scattered some militant leaders, leaving the organization weakened but still capable of carrying out deadly attacks. But there is little public enthusiasm for large-scale military action, which could displace millions of people.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is jockeying for inclusion in any Afghan political settlement, which security officials here believe will bring Afghan Taliban representatives into the government. The army therefore sees little incentive to antagonize Pakistan insurgents, who commingle with their Afghan counterparts, security analysts said.

‘A focus on peace’

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called last month’s political conference as tensions with the United States soared over American allegations of Pakistani state support for the Haqqani network, an Afghan group based in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Participants, in a rare show of unity, unanimously rejected the U.S. claims and called for a “new direction and policy with a focus on peace and reconciliation” with “our own people in the tribal areas.”

Two days later, Gilani told local media that a parliamentary committee would monitor talks that could include all Taliban factions, including the Haqqani network, but warned that failure could prompt military action. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, however, suggested otherwise to reporters, saying: “Military operation is not a solution to every problem. We’re done with those operations where we had to.”

An American official said the United States was unsure what to make of the resolution. “We’ll be watching, of course, and asking through military channels what the [Pakistanis] have in mind,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive relationship.

The United States has stepped up a campaign of drone strikes against the Haqqani network, targeting the group with several strikes in recent days.

Taliban reaction to the Pakistani overture has been wary. One top commander, Faqir Mohammed, was quoted by local media as saying he welcomed talks — but that they must lead to the establishment of Islamic law. Mohammed later denied willingness to talk.

“There have been contacts between the government and militants through indirect channels,” said a tribal elder from the Waziristan region. “Both sides are seeking guarantees before starting.”

A Pakistani intelligence official pointed to the recent defection of one Pakistani Taliban commander, Fazal Saeed Haqqani, as an argument for truces, which he said exploit insurgent infighting. Pakistan, the official said, “met Haqqani’s demands,” including by releasing some of Haqqani’s imprisoned relatives.

Others bemoan the idea of talks as surrender, though many critics remain enthusiastic about reconciliation in Afghanistan. Javed Ashraf Qazi, a senator and former intelligence chief, said the Afghan Taliban is fighting a foreign occupation, while the Pakistani Taliban seeks to create an Islamic caliphate.

“These are our own citizens who have revolted against the state . . . and therefore they should be subjected to the law,” Qazi said. “They have the blood of innocent people on their hands.”

Pakistan’s numerous past attempts at peacemaking with domestic insurgent groups provide ample reason for doubt. Some analysts say a 2006 deal in North Waziristan helped create a haven in the area, from which the Haqqani network and other fighters now operate freely.

The Pakistani army has maintained truces with a few factions, including one led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose North Waziristan-based forces attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan and are closely allied with the Haqqani network. Some analysts speculate that the army has struck other secret deals that it wants to avoid jeopardizing.

The military and the Taliban are “ happy nowadays because there are fewer attacks — on both sides,” Yousafzai said.

Special correspondent Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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 .

Millions of Pakistani Kids Risk Waterborne Disease

By Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

Five-year-old Shahid Khan struggled to remain conscious in his hospital bed as severe diarrhea threatened to kill him. His father watched helplessly, stricken at the thought of losing his son — one of the only things the floods had not already taken.

The young boy is one of millions of children who survived the floods that ravaged Pakistan over the last month but are now vulnerable to a second wave of death caused by waterborne disease, according to the United Nations.

Khan’s father, Ikramullah, fled Pabbi just before floods devastated the northwestern town about a month ago, abandoning his two-room house and all his possessions to save his wife and four children.

“I saved my kids. That was everything for me,” said Ikramullah, whose 6-year-old son, Waqar, has also battled severe diarrhea in recent days. “Now I see I’m losing them. We’re devastated.”

Ten other children lay in beds near Khan at the diarrhea treatment center run by the World Health Organization in Pabbi, two of whom were in critical condition.

Access to clean water has always been a problem in Pakistan, but the floods have worsened the situation significantly by breaking open sewer lines, filling wells with dirty water and displacing millions of people who must use the contaminated water around them.

Children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery because they are more easily dehydrated. Many children in Pakistan also were malnourished before the floods, weakening their immune systems.

The Pakistani government and international aid groups have worked to get clean water to millions of people affected by the floods and treat those suffering from waterborne diseases. But they have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, which has displaced a million more people in recent days.

The floods started in the northwest in late July after extremely heavy monsoon rains and surged south along the Indus River, killing more than 1,600 people, damaging or destroying more than 1.2 million homes and inundating one-fifth of the country — an area larger than England.

Some 3.5 million children are at imminent risk of waterborne disease and 72,000 are at high risk of death, according to the United Nations.

The World Health Organization set up the diarrhea treatment center in Pabbi about a week ago with the help of several other aid groups. Workers have already treated more than 500 patients, mostly children, said Asadullah Khan, one of the doctors.

Some of the patients have been treated multiple times because broken sewer lines have contaminated the water in the town’s wells and pipes, said the doctor. “It is circulating the disease again and again,” he said.

The aid groups set up a similar treatment facility several days ago in Nowshera, a city adjacent to Pabbi that was also engulfed by the floods. Residents who have begun to return in recent days have encountered a scene of total destruction: caved-in houses and streets covered with mud and debris.

Most of the population lacks access to clean water, and mosquitoes have proliferated in stagnant floodwater around the city, raising the risk of malaria. Government help is nowhere to be found.

“It is trash, dirt, germs and odd smells everywhere,” said Zahid Ullah, whose 3-year-old and 10-year-old sons were being treated for gastroenteritis at the facility in Nowshera. “It is a big danger.”

Even at the hospitals where the diarrhea treatment centers have been set up, mobs of flies hovered around the patients despite attempts by staff to kill them.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund appealed to the world on Saturday to provide water purification units, family hygiene kits and other items needed to increase access to clean water in Pakistan.

Guido Sabatinelli, the head of the World Health Organization in Pakistan, said the international community’s help was critical to help Pakistan avoid a second wave of death from waterborne disease.

“We are fearing the epidemic of disease,” said Sabatinelli. “Access to safer water, potable water” is critical, he said.

Asma Bibi couldn’t agree more. The young mother searched in vain for clean water on the outskirts of Nowshera as her feverish 2-month-old son, Ehtesham, sweltered in a tent set up for flood victims. They had run out of water the day before.

“My son is sick. He hasn’t breast-fed in two days,” she said. “He needs milk. He needs water.”

As Power Shortages Spread, Pakistan Switches Off The Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

LAHORE, Pakistan — Amid fears that severe energy shortages could touch off riots, Pakistan will announce drastic measures this week to save electricity, including a shorter workweek and restrictions on nighttime wedding celebrations, government officials said Wednesday.

With power outages lasting up to 20 hours a day in cities and villages, halting industry and even farming in some places, the electricity crisis could further destabilize a vital U.S. ally. Already this year, there have been streets protests – some violent, resulting in at least one death – over the electricity stoppages.

“Children can’t do their homework. Household work doesn’t get done, as washing machines and other appliances cannot work. When you go home from work, you have no idea whether there will be electricity at home. Your whole life is disturbed,” said Mahnaz Peracha of the Network for Consumer Protection, an independent Pakistani advocacy group.

The Obama administration says that helping Pakistan surmount its electricity crisis is one of the top priorities of its aid effort.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said this week that Pakistan’s electricity situation was “not acceptable” and that Washington would help to “the absolute limits of what Congress will fund. It is a big issue.”

Pakistan has been crippled by a shortfall in electricity generation, producing only about 10,000 megawatts of the required 16,000 a day. Further, some generators aren’t working at full capacity because the government owes money to power producers. The government is expected to inject around $1 billion into the system to pay its debts, but energy savings can’t make up for the shortages until new plants come online.

Industries such as the textile sector have had to shorten shifts and lay off workers, and farmers can’t use their electric pumps to irrigate fields. Some businesses, such as tailoring and printing, are telling customers it will take weeks to complete their orders.

As well as suffering from outages, consumers have been hit by a steep increase in the price of electricity, as Pakistan eliminated subsidies to meet lending terms by the International Monetary Fund, causing further resentment.

The energy-saving measures are likely to extend the country’s one-day weekend to a second day, push clocks forward by an hour and close industry for one day during the workweek, according to officials who were briefed on the plans but who spoke only on the condition of anonymity ahead of the government announcement.

Zafaryab Khan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the proposals were being finalized Wednesday and would be unveiled Thursday.

Street lighting also will be cut back, so that only every second or third light is on, markets will close soon after sunset and wedding receptions – huge, ostentatious events in Pakistani tradition – will be required to end by 9 or 10 p.m. Individual provinces will impose further restrictions.

In the dominant Punjab province, where more than half the country’s population lives, there will be a ban on electrical billboards, neon signs, decorative lights on buildings and the operation of fountains, and government offices won’t be permitted to run their air conditioners before 11 a.m. Analysts said enforcing the restrictions would be difficult.

Behind the Scenes of a Pakistani Suicide Bombing

By Chris Brummit and Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

Abdul Baseer sent the grenades and explosive vest ahead, then boarded a bus that would take him to his target, accompanied by the 14-year-old boy he had groomed as his suicide bomber.

But before they could blow up their target, a luxury hotel in Lahore where they believed Americans would be staying, the two were arrested and are now in jail — Baseer unrepentant about having plotted to send a boy to his death, and the boy saying he never knew what was in store for him.

The story that unfolded in an interview with The Associated Press offers a rare insight into the world of a Pakistani militant, from his education at hard-line Islamic schools, through his professed participation in an attack on a U.S. patrol in Afghanistan, up to his arrest by Pakistani police along with the the boy, Mohi-ud-Din. His tale shares much with that of the thousands of other foot soldiers who make up the Taliban-led insurgency that is ravaging Pakistan, experts say. It also shows how the wars here and in neighboring Afghanistan bleed into each other.

The Associated Press, after several requests, was allowed to interview the two detainees, with police present for most of the meeting at a police interrogation center in Lahore, a political and military power center in eastern Pakistan. Baseer was born in 1985 close to the Swat Valley, which last year was overrun by Taliban and recaptured by the Pakistanis. The eldest of seven children, his father was a wheat farmer and earned barely enough to feed the family. Meat was reserved for guests, he recalled.

Like many who cannot afford a regular education, Baseer attended three Islamic boarding schools where children learn the Quran by heart and spend little time on secular subjects. The religious schools provide free board and lodging, but are widely criticized for indoctrinating students with an extreme version of Islam. At least one of the schools Baseer attended, Jamia Faridia in the capital, Islamabad, has been linked to terror.

“Through my studies, I became aware that this is the time for jihad and fighting the infidels, and I saw that a jihad was going on in Afghanistan,” said Basser, a rail-thin man speaking just louder than whisper. “I looked for a way to get there.” “A trip to Afghanistan is considered part of the profession for a militant,” said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “It is almost like you need to do it for graduation. “The American troops are there, and it’s a cause of resentment.”

Baseer said he spent three summer vacation periods in Kunar, an Afghan province just across the border from northwest Pakistan, which he reached through a network of sympathetic clerics. On his first trip, in his mid-teens, he cooked for around 30 or 40 other militants, most of them Afghans, who were living in a large cave complex. On his second stay he had military training and learned to make suicide jackets. On the final trip he took part in the ambush of a U.S. patrol after he and other fighters had lain in wait in the snow for two days.”I was happy to be in place where I could kill unbelievers,” he said. “I thank God that we all returned safely and had a successful mission.”

He said he was in the rear of the attack, in which automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were fired. He said the vehicles were left smoldering and that later the assailants were told two U.S. soldiers were killed, but there was no way of confirming that.

Back in Pakistan, Baseer worked as a mosque preacher in the Khyber region, not far from the northwestern capital, Peshawar. He said it was there that he hooked up with a man named Nazir, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban, who was plotting the attack in Lahore. Baseer said he made 10 suicide vests for Nazir.

Lahore, a city of around 9 million, has suffered scores of attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers over the last 1 1/2 years. Last month, two suicide bombers killed 43 people in near-simultaneous blasts. Baseer boarded a passenger bus along with the boy, Mohi-ud-Din, heading down the smooth highway to Lahore, where they were supposed to pick up the bomb and grenades.

Police officer Waris Bharawan, as well as Baseer, said the plan was to hook up with other militants and storm the PC International, one of Lahore’s grandest hotels. They said the suicide vest for the attack was sent to the city before the strike. Baseeer gave only a rough outline of the plan: He and others were to hurl the grenades around the lobby or entrance gate of the hotel, and then Mohid-ud-Din was to run in and detonate his explosive belt. Did he feel any guilt about what lay in store for his traveling companion? No, he said. “I was feeling good because he was going to be used against Americans.”

As he sat in Bharawan’s office, handcuffed and dressed in robe and baggy pants, an officer brought in the vest, dropping it on the floor with a thud. The explosive pads studded with ballbearings looked like slices of honeycomb. Also in the evidence bag were 26 grenades. Baseer obliged with a demonstration, miming the yanking of a white cable that would detonate the vest. “My instructors used to say this was the most important weapon in the fight against the enemy,” he said. In the same lockup, a crumbling building built when Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent, police also briefly presented Mohi-ud-Din to the AP. He seemed nervous and tongue-tied, claiming only that he knew nothing about the alleged attack.

The pair were arrested as they arrived at the house of another suspect, just days before the attack was due to have taken place, said Bharawan, who led the arresting officers. He said they acted on surveillance work in Lahore, but declined to give details. Torture and beatings are common inside Pakistani jails, according to rights groups. During a short time when no police were present, Baseer was asked how he was treated. He said he was beaten, but by members of Pakistan’s shadowy and powerful intelligence agencies soon after his arrest, not by the police. Police said Baseer and the boy would be tried for terrorist offenses behind closed doors and without a jury, as is customary in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Parliament Approves Reforms Stripping President of Some Powers

By Sean Maroney for The Voice of America

Pakistani lawmakers have passed a constitutional amendment that strips President Asif Ali Zardari of powers originally given to the presidency by the country’s former military dictator two decades ago. Lawmakers in Pakistan’s upper house have passed a series of key reforms to the country’s constitution. Senate Chairman Farooq Naik announced the result of the final vote live on state-run television.

“The motion is carried by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. And consequently, the bill stands passed,” he said. The lower house passed the reforms unanimously last week and the next step is approval from President Asif Ali Zardari, who is expected to sign the reforms into law.

Lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties drafted the constitutional changes, which will turn the president into a ceremonial head of state. In the 1980s, military ruler Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq assumed several powers to maintain control of the government, including the power to dissolve parliament and appoint judges and the heads of the country’s armed forces. These powers will now go to the parliament and the office of the prime minister.

A Senate opposition leader, Wasim Sajjad of the PML-Q party, addressed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who attended the vote. “Mr. Prime Minister, today you are a powerful man,” he said. “The responsibility, the power, everything you have, now the country wants you to deliver. And I hope and pray and I wish that you will come up to the expectations of the people.” But there has been much controversy regarding a clause of the new 18th amendment that renames the North West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The new name will reflect the Pashtun ethnic majority of the province, which predominately speaks Pashto.

But the province’s Hindko-speaking population has been protesting the name change since last week. The protesters say they want the province’s name to remain unchanged or they will demand a separate province that will reflect their majority in the south. On Monday, the demonstrations turned violent, leaving at least seven people dead and more than 100 others wounded. But analysts say this request does not seem likely because it does not appear to have two-thirds approval in the Parliament. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani addressed the controversy.

He says that his sympathies are with the people of Hazara and he urges the provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to make sure that those people are properly included as the renamed province moves forward. Many in Pakistan believe the 18th amendment will lead to political stability, allowing the government to pay more attention to its fight against the Taliban in the regions bordering Afghanistan.

But critics remain skeptical about the constitutional changes, saying President Zardari, who remains the head of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, will still be able to exert his influence on the prime minister. Mr. Gilani is a member of the president’s party and is considered a Zardari loyalist. In addition, as party leader Mr. Zardari has the power to dismiss PPP politicians from power, including the prime minister.

%d bloggers like this: