Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama urges action after job losses

Unemployment is continuing to climb after the US lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008 [EPA]
Barack Obama, the US president, has called for urgent action on the US economy following the announcement that tens of thousands of jobs were being cut at four major US firms.Obama cited the job losses on Monday as the reason the US could not afford "distractions" or "delays" to an $825bn economic stimulus plan currently being debated in US congress.US construction equipment giant Caterpillar earlier said it was to cut about 20,000 jobs, after its profits slumped by 32 per cent.The move came as Sprint Nextel, the US's third largest wireless provider, said it was cutting about 8,000 jobs, or around 14 per cent of its workforce.Home Depot, a US retailer of home appliances, also announced it was to cut 7,000 jobs and close its smaller Expo chain as the slumping US economy continues to hit the nation's housing market.General Motors, the struggling US car-maker, also said it was cutting a further 2,000 jobs.
The job losses at Caterpillar, which amount to about 18 per cent of the firm's entire workforce, will be accompanied by freezes in overtime and salaries, the firm said.
The Illinois-based company blamed the losses on a fall in demand and declining commodity prices along with current poor market conditions.
The job losses come as the US senate confirmed Timothy Geithner, former chief of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, as the new US treasury secretary.
Geithner, who was sworn in to the post on Monday, will have one of the toughest jobs in the new Obama administration as it tries to restore confidence in the US economy.

Profits tumble
The job cuts were happening because US firms are currently in the middle of reporting fourth quarter results and many US firms are reporting profits sharply down or even financial losses.

Caterpillar blames the job cuts on falling
demand for construction equipment [Reuters]
"[This] is leading firms' chief financial officers to argue that they cannot keep the same numbers of staff," he said.
"This is a country where social provision is limited and a job means a lot," he added.

Obama has said he hopes that the stimulus plan, can be implemented by mid-February, but some Republicans have argued that the administration's stimulus package is too large and does not include new tax cuts.

Although Republicans do not have enough votes in the House of Representatives or the US senate to defeat the bill, they could still stall it for several weeks.

The House is expected to vote on the package bill on Wednesday.

Obama said on Monday the government owes it to "every American'' to act with a
"sense of urgency'' and "common purpose" on the bill.

The US president who has said he hopes to create 2.5 million green jobs, also announced action to allow states to further curb fuel emssions.

Obama said he wanted to combine the plans for greater fuel efficiency with new technology to help create jobs.

Falling demand

Geithner has been confirmed as treasury secretary [GALLO/GETTY]
Caterpillar, which employs more than 112,000 people worldwide, has expanded dramatically in recent years, driven partly by booming construction demand in developing countries, particularly in Asia.

However, demand for its heavy equipment has plunged with the weakening global economy.

In addition to the job cuts, the firm said it planned to slash executive compensation by up to 50 per cent and offer buyouts to US-based employees.

Investors are hoping that plans by Obama to implement a US-wide infrastructure spending programme will help boost demand for road-building and other equipment made by Caterpillar.

However, analysts say the plan may have little impact on equipment demand in the short term and that the proposed figures would not be enough given steep declines in the US construction market.

A total of 2.6 million US jobs were lost in 2008, the largest slump in employment since a 2.75 million drop in 1945, the US department of labour said earlier this month.

Job cuts mount; Pfizer, Barclays reignite optimism

NEW YORK - A tidal wave of layoffs washed across the world on Monday, sending tens of thousands of workers into joblessness as the pain of the global recession worsened.

Amid reports of tumbling corporate profits, dire outlooks and a lowered global growth forecast from the International Monetary Fund, companies in Europe and the United States announced they would cut employees in a dramatic effort to reduce costs and keep their businesses afloat.

Despite the corporate gloom, markets rallied on some of Monday's other news: No. 1 drugmaker Pfizer Inc said it would buy rival Wyeth for $68 billion, Barclays said it had no need to raise capital and sales of existing U.S. homes unexpectedly rose 6.5 percent.

"In the midst of a global recession, here is Pfizer, hopefully spending their dollars wisely," said Andre Bakhos, president of Princeton Financial Group in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "It adds a little confidence that all is not lost."

But the darkening view was reinforced by a dismal revised outlook from the IMF, which slashed its forecast for 2009 global growth to 0.5 percent from 2.2 percent in its last economic outlook in November, a source told Reuters.

The IMF saw the U.S. economy contracting 1.6 percent in 2009, with the euro zone shrinking 2 percent and Japan contracting 2.6 percent, according to the source. The IMF pegged 2010 world growth at 3 percent.

The tsunami of layoff announcements, affecting more than 70,000 workers, started in Europe, with electronics maker Philips reporting 6,000 job cuts as it posted a bigger-than-expected 1.5 billion euro ($1.9 billion) loss, its first quarterly loss since 2003.

ING cut 7,000 of its 130,000 jobs, replaced its CEO and got guarantees from the Dutch government as other European banks sought to reassure investors they are coming to grips with the turmoil in financial markets.

Corus, Europe's second-largest steelmaker, said 3,500 jobs would go worldwide, including 2,500 in Britain, as the company, owned by India's Tata Steel, sought to boost operating profit.


In the United States, Caterpillar, the world's largest maker of heavy equipment, said it would eliminate nearly 20,000 jobs, reported a 32 percent drop in profit and forecast the weakest year for business since the end of World War Two.

Sprint Nextel Corp the No. 3 U.S. mobile service provider, said it will cut up to 8,000 jobs, or about 14 percent of its workforce. [ID:nN26368948] Retailer Home Depot Inc said it will cut 7,000 jobs, or about 2 percent of its workforce.

Chip maker Texas Instruments said it was cutting 12 percent of its workforce, including 1,800 layoffs and 1,600 voluntary departures [ID:nN2638388], and car maker General Motors Corp said it would lay off 2,000 more workers at two assembly plants.

On the flip side of Pfizer's deal for Wyeth, Pfizer said it will cut 15 percent of the companies' combined 130,000 workers -- about 19,500 jobs.

Major U.S. indexes rose. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.5 percent and the broader S&P 500 was up 0.6 percent. Bond prices fell as the increase in existing-home sales raised questions whether the housing market was as weak as thought. European stocks rose, with Europe's FTSE 300 index closing 3.2 percent higher.

Gold climbed above $900 an ounce, the highest in more than three months.

Governments around the world focused on stimulus packages to grapple with the financial crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told reporters the president "would do everything in his power to ensure the financial system does not collapse," after a weekend in which Republicans voiced objections to Obama's stimulus proposals.

Obama's choice to help lead the government effort, Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, won Senate approval after a delay due to qualms over his underpayment, since rectified, of some personal taxes earlier this decade.

Geithner is expected to be sworn in quickly and within weeks will likely unveil reforms to the $700 billion financial bailout program to provide more support for housing and credit markets and possibly to absorb troubled assets from banks.

Canada will spend C$7 billion ($5.7 billion) on infrastructure over the next two years, a government minister said, and officials said Canada will run budget deficits totaling C$64 billion over the next two years.

"We not only create jobs and economic activity now, we also improve our economic competitiveness for decades to come," said Minister of Transport John Baird.

The Norwegian government presented a $2.87 billion fiscal stimulus package to prevent a surge in unemployment.

In Iceland, however, the government of Prime Minister Geir Haarde collapsed under the pressures of the financial crisis.

Banks have borne the brunt of the credit crisis, which was sparked by mass defaults on U.S. home loans. The sector has seen a wave of consolidation as leading banks around the world have collapsed or been taken over.

But shares in Britain's Barclays leaped 73 percent after it said its projected 2008 pretax profit of more than 5.3 billion pounds ($7.3 billion) would include significant writedowns of 8 billion pounds and that the bank had made a good start to 2009.

Swat hit-list and two-finger sign

IT IS BEYOND MY UNDERSTANDING THAT ONE IGNORANT MULLAH CAN CONTROL SWAT AND PEOPLE'S LIFE,WHAT THAT SO CALLED POWERFUL PAKISTANI ARMY DOING?IF THEY CAN'T KILL THIS MONSTER THEN LET NATO HANDLE HIM....ITS REALLY AMAZING THAT PAKISTANI REGIME IS ACTING HELPLESS AND LETTING THIS BARBARIAN MONSTER TO KILL INNOCENT PUKHTUNS AND DENY GIRLS EDUCATION.There might be problems of poverty, diseases lack of resources but its not like Swat was the only part in the country prone to that. Its simple, they created a monster, it got lose and now its out of their hands. This is why these incompetent retards in the previous Govt were let go of by their real masters.
If international humiliation and domestic depression is what the Taliban wanted, they have found the device with which to do it in Swat. They have released a list of 43 people whom they have declared “wanted” and liable to punishment under the Taliban sharia. People on the list include former and current members of the national and provincial assemblies, district and local nazims, officials of political parties, local elders and other influential residents of the troubled valley.

And what is the Taliban sharia all about? Warlord Fazlullah says those on the list will face some sort of sharia court but he also says in the same breath that the “enemies” would “be arrested or killed by his men”. He promises that they would face the court only if they escape getting killed. The death sentence has already been passed and his men will most probably try to do the rough justice with their own hands. In his mind, Mr Fazlullah is content that the sharia court is there to back him up but only if he wants the court to do the job. There can be no doubt that he will make it clear to the court what kind of verdict he wants for his “enemies”.

This is not sharia. This is a clear stratagem of war. It becomes clear when he announces amnesty for those of his “enemies” who have stopped opposing him. This he has done without reference to the sharia courts he presumably has functioning in Swat. The charade is lost on no one except those who forgive the atrocities of these people because in their minds these have come about only because the army has not been withdrawn from Swat as per the “unanimous” resolution of the Pakistani Parliament. Publicists opposed to the government continue to bring up witnesses from the Swat region who complain only of the “atrocities” committed by the army through collateral damage.

One can make an easy prediction. The ANP claim that “good news” will come from Swat “in fifteen days” will have to be swallowed without a glass of water like the earlier papers signed with the warlord. The hit-list is in fact his answer to the ANP’s “good news”. The scene in Swat is depressing and it is all the more so because it is a warlord’s two-finger sign in the face of our mighty army. Swat is the war that Pakistan will have to fight if it wants to survive. All other “threats” are political red herrings.(DAILY TIMES)

‘Taliban won’t be allowed to impose their agenda’

ISLAMABAD: The government will not allow the Taliban to impose their political and ideological agenda on the people through the use of force, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday.The president was talking to a delegation of parliamentarians, senators and ministers of the Pakistan People’s Party that met him at the Presidency.
The meeting was jointly chaired by the president and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, but Gilani left the meeting early, as he was due to leave for Davos, Switzerland, early on Tuesday morning (today).Zardari said the Taliban would not be allowed to challenge the writ of the government in Swat or any other part of the country.During the meeting, the PPP leaders informed the president about the non-cooperative attitude of ministers and the bureaucracy, complaining they were treated like members of the opposition.The PPP parliamentarians told President Zardari that the ministers did not even attend their phones, which further encouraged bureaucrats of various ministries to ignore them. The most vocal during the meeting were Amjad Dasti from Punjab and Nawab Wasan from Sindh.“Most the complaints were against Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Interior Adviser Rehman Malik, Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah.Legislators were also critical of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, saying he had ignored the problems of the people in their respective constituencies.
Rumours of a change in the government, mid-term elections and the lawyers’ long march also came under discussion in the meeting.The sources said the president rejected the rumours of the change in the government, saying the PPP government would complete its five-year term and no one should have any doubt about that. “The government will complete its term and no conspiracy against it will succeed,” the president said.
Long march: Zardari also asked the PPP leaders not to be afraid of the lawyers’ long march. “We will tackle this march as we did in the past. Let them exercise their democratic right,” the president was quoted as saying.Challenges: Zardari said the PPP government was not afraid of the challenges confronting the nation. “We are not afraid to lead ... we know the way.” The president said that the party was committed to its principles of democracy and would not deviate from its stance in any case.
Several PPP parliamentarians spoke on the occasion to express their views on the country’s current political situation and to highlight the problems of their constituencies.President Zardari said he had decided to hold such consultative dialogue with the party legislators every time parliament was in session. He said he valued such consultations, adding “trust and wisdom is not the monopoly of any individual”.Truth and wisdom, he said, emerged only as a result of discussion among a large number of people, in which each individual contributed with his/her ideas and proposals.

ANP agrees to rename NWFP as Afghania

ISLAMABAD: The Awami National Party (ANP) agrees to change the North West Frontier Province’s name to Afghania, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali said on Monday.

“We don’t want to get into the controversy of renaming the NWFP anymore. We have proposed the name Pakhtoonkhwah for the province. However, since Chaudhry Rehmat Ali had said that the name should begin with the letter ‘A’, we would agree to the notion that the province should be renamed as Afghania,” Wali told reporters at the Parliament House.

He said all political parties should sit together to evolve a consensus over the draft of the 18th Amendment.

NATO, Russia mend relations as Afghan war heats up

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO and Russia discussed new supply routes for alliance troops in Afghanistan in a meeting Monday that helped to mend ties suspended after Russia's August war with Georgia.
NATO is urgently seeking an alternative line through Russia to supply the 62,000 Western troops currently in Afghanistan and the 30,000 reinforcements U.S. President Barack Obama intends to deploy this year. Existing routes through Pakistan are becoming precarious amid deteriorating security.
President Dmitry Medvedev has said his government is ready to allow NATO nations to cross Russian territory with cargo intended for coalition forces in Afghanistan.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said after the two-hour meeting that the envoys from Russia and NATO's 26 member states had focused on areas of common interest, "with Afghanistan coming up frequently."
"There was a very positive discussion, a very positive spirit, with no recriminations or any desire to dredge up past disagreements," he said.
Despite sharp disagreements over NATO expansion and U.S. plans for missile defense, Moscow has repeatedly expressed willingness to help the war effort in Afghanistan. It has warned that any return to power by Afghanistan's Taliban extremists would destabilize Central Asia and endanger Russia's own security.
Because Russia does not border Afghanistan, NATO is also negotiating with several Central Asian states to secure transit rights to Afghanistan's northern frontier.
Ties between NATO and a resurgent Russia were suspended following the five-day Georgian war. NATO nations accused Moscow of using disproportionate force to eject Georgian forces that had shelled and occupied the capital of the breakaway province of South Ossetia, which has run its own affairs with Russian support since the early 1990s.
Moscow says its military actions were defensive and in response to Georgian aggression.
As months of angry exchanges subsided, NATO foreign ministers agreed last month to resume high-level contacts gradually. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer last month met Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow's ambassador to the alliance, as a first step.
Monday's talks may pave the way for a formal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a consultative panel set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.
Appathurai said the next step in the re-engagement process probably would be for de Hoop Scheffer to meet Russian leaders. This could happen as early as next month, when a Russian government delegation will attend the annual security conference in Munich, Rogozin said.
"Losing in Afghanistan would lead to a total crisis inside the alliance." Rogozin told Russia's Vesti-24 television station. "OK, maybe this doesn't affect us much, but it could lead to ... extremists of all kinds, primarily the Taliban, coming north, coming toward Russia and taking more and more territory."
Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan rely on the winding, mountainous road from Pakistan's port of Karachi through the Khyber Pass for delivery of up to 75 percent of their fuel, food and other supplies.
Militants have repeatedly attacked supply convoys heading into Afghanistan, where fighting is escalating seven years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.
A secondary route through Pakistan's western province of Baluchistan also runs through some of the most Taliban-infested regions of Afghanistan.
"NATO needs supplementary routes (through) Central Asia, an area where Russia is czar," Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based think tank, said in a report released Monday. "The moves are aggressive, because Washington needs to lock down a new supply route ... now rather than later."
Several individual NATO nations — including France, Germany and Canada — already use Russia to bring non-lethal supplies to their contingents in Afghanistan. Last week the United States reached a deal with Russia to begin using that route too.

Pakistani PM rejects Taliban courts

ISLAMABAD, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Monday rejected Taliban courts and said that they would not be allowed to run a parallel judicial system. "We will not accept parallel courts of Taliban," Gilani told reporters in Islamabad. "The government will not allow Taliban to set up their courts and will sternly deal with them." Taliban in Pakistan's insurgency-hit Swat valley have released a list of 43 people, including former and incumbent ministers, who they have declared "wanted" and liable to punishment under the Taliban sharia. The "wanted" men also include former and current members of the national and provincial assemblies, district and local mayors, officials of political parties, local elders and other influential residents of the restive valley. Taliban leader Maulana Fazalullah asked the ministers, members of parliament, political leaders and prominent figures to appear in their court, prove their innocence and to get pardon. At the same time, Gilani said that investigations into the Mumbai attacks were Continuing and the result would be shared with India and the world. When asked about the U.S. missile strikes on the tribal regions, Gilani said that Americans had voted Barack Obama for a change and "we hope he will change his policies". Gilani also hoped that Obama would change policy of drone attacks on Pakistan. He was of the opinion that the U.S. policy had not been successful in Afghanistan. Expressing concern over the law and order situation in some parts of Pakistan, Gilani said that the government was taking solid steps to improve the law and order situation there. He said that that the authorities concerned had been directed to submit report regarding Monday's blast in Dera Ismail Khan and a firing incident in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

ISRAEL:IDF's violations of laws-of-war prohibitions

Israelis take comfort in the belief that the IDF does all it can to spare civilians, but its shelling of Gaza calls that belief into question. Two kinds of artillery shells selected for use in Gaza - one as an "obscurant," the other as a weapon - were utterly inappropriate for the densely populated areas where the IDF deployed them. Their use violated the IDF's obligations under the laws of war.

The first was white phosphorous. A typical shell releases 116 phosphorus-soaked wedges which, upon contact with oxygen, burn intensely, releasing a distinctive plume of smoke. That smoke can be used legitimately to obscure troop movements, but white phosphorous can be devastating when used in urban areas, igniting civilian structures and causing people horrific burns. Its use violated the legal requirement to take all feasible precautions during military operations to avoid harming civilians. The IDF never should have used it in densely populated sections of Gaza.

The IDF has tried to defend itself with denial and obfuscation. It first denied using white phosphorous at all. Then, when that proved untenable, it claimed that use was limited to unpopulated areas. Neither claim is true. On January 9, 10 and 15, a Human Rights Watch military expert personally observed white phosphorous being fired from an artillery battery and airburst over Gaza City and the Jabalya refugee camp. Its telltale jellyfish-like plume was a dead giveaway, as can be seen from photographs.

The Times of London also photographed an IDF artillery battery firing white phosphorous shells. The shells are color coded and labeled with the IDF term for white phosphorous - "exploding smoke." They are also marked with the code used by the US manufacturer of white phosphorous - M825A1. Similarly marked and color-coded shells and other evidence of white-phosphorous use have been recovered within urban areas of Gaza where they fell.

As for obfuscation, the IDF claimed that all weapons it used were "legal," but that begs the critical question of how they were used. The use of white phosphorous is legal in certain circumstances but illegal when deployed in a way that causes unnecessary or indiscriminate harm to civilians, as the IDF's use in Gaza clearly did. The IDF even harped on press reports suggesting that the International Committee of the Red Cross supported its position, but in a rare public comment, the ICRC denied that claim.

The IDF's latest line is that the shells fired in Gaza "contained phosphorus material, but were not actual phosphorus shells." That is semantic game-playing. Nothing that indiscriminately burns the way the IDF's shells did, regardless of name, should be used in densely populated areas.

THE IDF'S USE of 155 mm. high-explosive artillery shells in Gaza was also clearly unlawful. These weapons can injure civilians from blast and fragmentation over an area with a radius of as much as 300 meters. In the densely populated residential areas of Gaza, where Human Rights Watch saw these shells used on January 15, they can cause extensive civilian casualties. Such use violates the laws-of-war prohibition of indiscriminate attacks because the shells strike military targets and civilians without distinction.

Some might argue that the IDF's unlawful use of white phosphorous and high-explosive shells is justified by Hamas's deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on Israeli cities and towns. But illegality by one side to a conflict does not excuse illegality by the other. And as should be obvious, it is hardly in Israel's interest to degrade international law protecting civilians.

The IDF holds Hamas wholly responsible for civilian casualties in Gaza, alleging that Hamas combatants stored weapons in mosques and fought from among civilians. Those allegations may or may not be true. Long experience, as during the 2006 war in Lebanon, shows that we must take such ritual IDF pronouncements with a grain of salt. We will not know exactly how Hamas waged the war until human rights monitors can conduct on-the-ground investigations. The IDF's refusal during the fighting to allow journalists and human rights monitors into Gaza suggests that it did not want its claims tested by independent inquiry.

Israelis seem dismayed that the world has not embraced the justness of its latest war in Gaza. Of course Israel is entitled to defend itself from Hamas's rocket attacks, but when it does so in violation of its duty to spare civilians, and with so massive a civilian toll, public outrage is entirely predictable.

Pakistan's tourist idyll falls prey to Taliban militants

Men ordered to grow beards and women barred from markets as Islamic law is brutally imposed.

Militants who have seized control of swaths of Pakistan's Swat Valley have set today as a deadline for men to grow beards or face retribution.

In the latest edict issued by Taliban forces seeking to impose Islamic law on an area once celebrated as a tourist destination, men have been told to begin growing beards and to wear caps. Barbers in the Matta area, a militant stronghold, have been ordered to stop offering shaves, and have posted signs in their shops asking customers not to request them.

The Swat Valley, just five hours from Islamabad, has gradually fallen under the control of militants headed by the cleric Maulana Fazlullah. Despite claims by the Pakistani army that they are successfully confronting the extremists, local residents say up to 80 per cent of the valley is outside government control.

In recent weeks the militants' tactics have become increasingly extreme. Corpses of people who have fallen foul of the Taliban have been strung up in trees and markets have been ruled off-limits to women. Two weeks ago the movement demanded the closure of hundreds of schools, leaving the future education of around 125,000 young girls in doubt.

"Swat was once the most verdant, peaceful valley. You could even travel safely at night. Now you cannot even travel during the day," said Zubair Torwali, an activist and journalist. "It is beyond sad. What is happening is a tragedy."

Another indication of the looming terror concerned the killing last week of Amjad Islam. The luxuriantly bearded teacher seemed an unlikely target for the Taliban, having previously fought for the mujahedin in Afghanistan. But on Thursday he was approached by militants who did not like the fact that his shalwar, baggy cotton trousers worn by Pakistanis, concealed his ankles. Followers of the austere strain of Islam practiced by the Taliban – and the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia – insist trousers should be raised over men's ankles, in the belief that this was the manner of the Prophet Mohamed.

Mr Islam declined to comply and, according to local reports, a scuffle ensued. The militants shot the teacher before also killing his father, Ghani Akbar. They later took Mr Islam's body and hung it in a public square, telling people not to remove it, so that it might serve as a warning.

Local politicians, who have fled the valley, say the military is not doing enough to impose law and order. They repeat residents' claims that elements of the military and the militants appear to be acting together. Bushra Gohar, vice-president of the Awami National Party, said: "Even if they are not, there needs to be a complete review of the military's strategy."

The suspicion of collusion, said a local government official in the largest town, Mingora, is based on the proximity of army and Taliban checkposts, each "a mile away from the other".

What is certain is that the army faces an uphill task if it is to restore order in Swat. Senior officers say that, having achieved significant gains a year ago, the new provincial government sought to end fighting by signing peace deals with Mr Fazlullah.

The deals broke down after the Taliban continued to set fire to girls' schools. They have captured territory, driven the police off the streets and established a network of makeshift sharia courts that dispense "speedy justice", namely the lashing and stoning of those found guilty. "[The effort to broker ceasefires] cost us a lot of time," said Major General Athar Abbas, an army spokesman.

Mr Fazlullah last week denied that he had issued the edict on beards, raising the prospect that groups of extremists are operating outside his control. Either way, the loss of the Swat Valley raises more questions about the effectiveness of the fragile government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani.

"Swat was a fully integrated part of the Pakistan state in a way that was not really true of the tribal areas," said Farzana Shaikh, a scholar at Chatham House in London and author of a forthcoming book, Making Sense of Pakistan. "Everyone from the ruling elite went to Swat every summer. It is significant that groups [such as the Taliban] now represent a threat to the sort of moderate, tolerant Islam that Pakistan and its dominant elite had been associated with."

Blast strikes school in northwest Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Suspected Taliban militants blew up a government-run school Monday in Pakistan's violence-plagued Swat Valley, bringing to 183 the number of schools destroyed since fighting began in the area six months ago, officials said.

A day earlier, radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah threatened to kill more than four dozen government officials if they did not appear before him for opposing the Taliban.

Local newspapers on Monday printed the list of 50 government officials and tribal elders whom Fazlullah has threatened with death.

The boy's high school that was destroyed was located in Mingora, the valley's main city, said Sher Afzal Khan, an education officer for Swat. The attack occurred early Monday and no one was wounded.

Swat Valley, located in North West Frontier Province, was once Pakistan's biggest tourist destination. It is situated near the Afghanistan border and about 186 miles (300 km) from the capital city of Islamabad.

The valley boasted the country's only ski resort and was a draw for trout-fishing enthusiasts until it was overrun by militants, led by Fazlullah. He has launched a violent and deadly campaign to enforce Taliban-style fundamentalist Islamic laws throughout the province.

The militants want to require veils for women and beards for men, and to ban music and television.

The central government has long exerted little control in the area, but it launched an intense military offensive in late July to flush out militants.

As retaliation for the military presence, the Taliban has carried out a series of deadly bombings, and has said the attacks will continue until the troops pull out.

Elsewhere in the North West Frontier Province, a blast killed five people and wounded 15 others Monday morning, officials said.

The bomb, planted on a bicycle, went off in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, said Mohammad Riaz of the province's police force. It killed shopkeepers and pedestrians, added the town's police chief, Abdul Rashid.

Bicycle bomb kills five in NW Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan, Jan 26 (Reuters) - A bomb planted on a bicycle exploded near a women's hostel in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan on Monday, killing five people and wounding several, police said.

Pakistan is struggling to stem growing insurgency by al Qaeda and Taliban militants, particularly in the northwest near the Afghan border.

"It was a cycle bomb. Five people died on the spot while the wounded were shifted to hospitals," police officer Bashir Khan said by telephone from the scene.

Khan declined to say if the women's hostel was the target. A hospital and a press club are also in the vicinity.

Dera Ismail Khan is 270 km (170 miles) southwest of the capital, Islamabad, in North West Frontier Province.

It is near the border with the South Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region, a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan border.

Militants have unleashed a wave of suicide and bomb attacks and assassinations in response to military operations against them in the northwest.