Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nawaz has lost political credibility, says Farzana

ISLAMABAD: Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has said the Pakistan People’s Party is in favour of the restoration of the judiciary but the PML-N should desist from pursuing a narrow agenda.

In a statement issued here on Wednesday, Farzana Raja said the PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif was engaged in political confrontation. She said any collision with the state institutions, whether it is the judiciary or parliament, is not good for the future of democracy, adding the PPP was in favour of the restoration of the judiciary and was not backing the reinstatement of an individual.

The PML-N has chosen a narrow personal agenda instead of holding discussions on the issue of terrorism and other serious challenges confronting the country, she observed. She was of the view that Nawaz Sharif had lost his political credibility. “First, he was saying that he did not enter into any agreement with Pervez Musharraf but when he returned to the country he admitted that there was a deal.”

The PPP does not believe in the politics of agitation and is serving the people and striving to provide them with the basic amenities of life, she added. Farzana said more than one million families had been extended financial assistance at their doorstep under the BISP, while a website of the BISP had also been launched on March 3.

The government has undertaken another project to distribute Benazir Smart Cards (BSC) among the people by the end of this month.She said the families whose members died or got injured in incidents of terrorism would also be able to benefit from the BISP.

China :Economy tops China's congress meeting

BEIJING, China-- China's National People's Congress -- the marquee event of the nation's political calendar -- convened Thursday in Beijing, with Premier Wen Jiabao pledging economic growth amid a growing national deficit and the global financial crisis.

Wen, who delivered his Cabinet's work report to the parliament's 3,000 delegates, said China would be able to achieve an 8 percent growth in the economy.

"As long as we adopt the right policies and appropriate measures and implement them effectively, we will be able to achieve this target," the report says.

The government deficit currently sits at 750 billion yuan ($109 billion) -- 570 billion yuan ($83 billion) more than last year, according to the report. That deficit is expected to grow.

"The global financial crisis continues to spread and get worse," Wen said. Watch how the economy will dominate this year's NPC »

The government has already acknowledged that 2009 will be "austere and complicated."

It officially says 20 million migrants are unemployed, and analysts think more jobs will be lost. China's exports have tumbled as the economic downturn has taken hold. The communist government has already approved a $586 billion stimulus plan, and there's talk of more.

Three thousand delegates from across the country and overseas represent China's central leadership, the military, every province, including minority groups such as Tibetans, and overseas Chinese.

Also on the agenda is landmark social security legislation to be considered, including universal unemployment and retirement benefits as well as health care. If implemented, it would mark a major change in the nation's social welfare system.

"Even if they were to put in place the world's greatest social security system and the world's greatest health services tomorrow, it will still take many, many years of testing the system before it has enough credibility to change household consumption patterns," Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University, said of ongoing attempts to stimulate the Chinese economy.

The congress will also debate a law that would require officials to publicly declare their assets -- part of a long-term campaign by the Communist Party to fight corruption.

Ahead of the meeting, the congress announced a 15 percent increase in its budget for China's quickly modernizing military.

In the past, the congress has been criticized as a political show, essentially a rubber-stamp parliament. But in recent years discussion and debate have crept in.

"They have a lot of work" to do, Pettis said. "China needs to make the transition from an export-oriented economy to a domestic-market economy, and the historical evidence suggest that it is very, very difficult and it takes a long time."

China is on guard against possible social unrest during a year filled with sensitive anniversaries and rising unemployment. March marks the 50th anniversary of an uprising in Tibet. June marks the 20th anniversary of the Chinese military's crackdown in Tiananmen Square. October marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the nation.

Arrests Announced in Pakistani Cricket Shooting

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A police official in Lahore said Wednesday that about 20 people had been arrested in the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in which six police officers were killed and six players were wounded.

Nasir Bajwa, the deputy superintendent of police in the Model Town section of Lahore, said the arrests were made Tuesday night, hours after the attack. He gave no details of the identities of those detained.

The owner of a hostel in an area of Lahore close to the attack said the police had detained about 13 students who were at his premises. Muhammad Ashger said the students were arrested around midnight. A rocket launcher and clothes with bloodstains were recovered from the hostel, the police said.

Another nearby hostel was searched by the police but no arrests were made, Mr. Ashger said.

A former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, who is a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party of President Asif Ali Zardari, dismissed the announcement of the arrests. “They want to show to the world they are making arrests,” Mr. Sherpao said. “They don’t know anything. There is not any semblance of government.”

Newspaper editorials accused Mr. Zardari’s government and the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, of devoting more attention to power politics than fighting terrorism.

“The politicians need to wake up, bury the hatchet in the national good and rout the real enemy,” an editorial in Wednesday’s edition of Dawn, a national English-language newspaper, said.

With eight dead in Lahore, not even cricket, a cherished national pasttime, seemed secure after 12 gunmen carrying sacks of weapons attacked a bus bearing the Sri Lankan team and then escaped in motorized rickshaws. A video of the attacks was broadcast around the world, a destabilizing image for a nation under siege from an insurgency by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Most major cricket teams already refuse to risk playing in Pakistan, ever more isolated from the rest of the world.

“This happened in the heart of Lahore, the cultural capital of the country,” Mr. Sherpao said Tuesday. “None of the attackers were shot or caught, and they were coming to the scene with big bags. That’s absurd.”

Mr. Sherpao called the attack a “total security lapse.”

The police said the gunmen — using assault rifles, grenades and even antitank missiles — assaulted the bus with the Sri Lankan team at a grassy traffic circle near the city’s main Qaddafi Stadium during a five day-match. Six police officers in an escort van were killed, and six cricketers were injured, the police said. Two bystanders were also killed.

The operation bore some similarity to the attack in November in Mumbai, India, in which 10 militants attacked hotels and other targets over three days, killing 163 people, security officials said.

In Lahore, the attackers also appeared to be in their early 20s. They wore sneakers and loose pants and carried backpacks loaded with weapons and high-energy snacks of dried fruit and chocolate, all characteristics of the Mumbai gunmen. The gunmen in Lahore walked casually as they fired, a stance that appeared to be part of the training of the attackers in Mumbai, security experts said.

The Sri Lankan team, including those who had been injured, arrived back in the capital, Colombo, on Wednesday morning. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

President Zardari met with the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani hours after the attack to discuss Pakistan’s security situation, according to a statement by the president’s office.

A senior official at the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, who is close to President Zardari, said: “We suspect a foreign hand behind this incident. The democracy of the country has been undermined, and foreigners are repeatedly attacked to harm the country’s image.”

American counterterrorism officials said that it was too early to determine which group was behind Tuesday’s attack, but that the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba were possible suspects. One South Asia specialist also raised the possibility that Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka might have asked Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in Pakistan to attack the cricket team. If true, this would be an ominous sign of collaboration between regional terrorist groups.

American experts voiced concern that such attacks might be the new terrorist strike of choice instead of suicide bombings. “It’s likely there will be more of these kind of attacks, which are much more difficult to defend against,” said Juan Zarate, the White House’s top counterterrorism official under President George W. Bush. “Mumbai has become a terrorist exemplar.”

The attack, which began at 9 a.m. Tuesday, appeared to have been well planned. Because it occurred on the third day of the cricketers’ match, the assailants had time to carry out reconnaissance on the previous mornings.

The driver of the cricketers’ bus, Mohammad Khalil, described how a white car had swerved in front of the bus, forcing him to slow. Television images showed gunmen emerging from the large grassy traffic circle and shooting at the bus from crouched positions.

According to an account on a cricket Web site,, the players ducked to the floor of the bus and shouted at the driver to speed ahead. Mr. Khalil drove through the gunshots and whisked them to the stadium.

Later, the Lahore police said they had found weapons stashes near the scene and at various points around the city, including 10 rifles, two rocket launchers, a 9-millimeter pistol and detonator cable.

Mr. Sherpao, the former interior minister, contended that it had been possible for the attack to take place because the top echelon of police officials in Lahore had been changed in the last few days.

The changes in police personnel had been ordered by the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who is now overseeing the province by executive order at the behest of President Zardari, Mr. Sherpao said.

Mr. Sherpao alleged that the new team of police officials was more concerned with security at political rallies staged by Mr. Sharif, the opposition leader. “The security team was marginalized,” Mr. Sherpao said.

Late Tuesday night, Mr. Taseer acknowledged that the top police officials had been changed, but the home secretary, responsible for security in the province, had remained in office.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, is scheduled to visit Pakistan on Wednesday on a previously planned trip. The F.B.I. offered to help in the investigation in Lahore, but had been told by the Pakistani government that its help was not needed, a senior bureau official said.

The wounded cricketers received treatment at a Lahore hospital. Two players were treated for bullet wounds, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission said. The team flew home on Tuesday night.

The Sri Lankan team had been particularly welcomed because it had agreed to play in Pakistan after other major world teams had refused to come, citing Pakistan’s poor security. Last year, the Australian, British and South African cricket teams said they would not take part in the Champions Trophy, a major world cricket event scheduled in Pakistan.

After the Mumbai attack, the Indian team refused to come for matches planned in 2009.

The series with Sri Lanka represented a sort of coming out for Pakistani fans starved of first-class cricket at home.

Cricket is as important to the sports psyche in Pakistan as baseball is in the United States. The matches with Sri Lanka were the first international cricket contests in Pakistan in 14 months.