Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama's liked, but is he respected?

Story Highlights
Ed Rollins: Obama returns home in triumph from his trip
He says Obama performed superbly in the role of world leader
Rollins: Obama didn't get policy changes he wanted from Europe
He says the real test will be whether the world respects the new president
By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, was political director for President Ronald Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Obama has returned from his first trip abroad with praise ringing in his ears from the media elite and barely a word of protest from the Republican opposition.

It truly was an extraordinary introduction on the world stage for our celebrity president, and his only rival for attention was the first lady.

He is a true talent and performs with the best of them. You can like the man and disagree with his policies, but you're a fool if you underestimate him. The headlines said it all -- from California's Sacramento Bee: "President's overseas debut a love feast!" The Washington Post: "Obama portrays another side of the U.S." The Fort Wayne Journal: "Obama rallies troops in Baghdad."

But in spite of the rave reviews and talk of a brand new relationship with the world, it was also a week of reality. Great leaders are always looking at the past and learning from those who go before them. As William Shakespeare said: What is past is prologue.

The following quote, which could be written today, is from the past:

"The president continues to be highly regarded. By solid majorities of 65 percent or more, those surveyed said he has a vision for the country's future, has brought dignity back to the White House and is a strong leader willing to make hard decisions," reported a CNN/Gallup Poll.

The time was the end of 2003 and the president was the now despised-by-many George W. Bush after he visited Iraq at Thanksgiving for the first time.

So, the next time you hear the pundits chattering about the president's approval ratings on cable television, remember Bush's approval rating remained above 80 percent for nearly six months after 9/11 and above 70 percent for 10 months after that. He remained popular with a 63 percent approval rating at the time of the 2002 elections, helping Republicans to achieve rare congressional seat gains in a midterm election year.

As the second president to go stealthily into Iraq to praise our troops, President Obama warned our newest ally, the Iraqi government, that the ball was now in their court and that we are getting out of there on schedule.

I thought this was a wonderful way to end the trip as commander-in-chief, thanking our brave men and women who have given so much. But it did make me think of the immediate past president, who was equally praised on his first visit to Iraq. And on his last visit, an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at his head and was cheered on by his countrymen.

Even though President Obama spoke to the G-20 leaders as friends, addressed them more humbly then his predecessor and apologized for past perceived slights, the Europeans, especially France and Germany, weren't going to follow the United States in supporting an expanded stimulus program. They weren't going to follow us into Afghanistan, either, with their combat troops.

Even before the G-20 began, our new banker, China, expressed doubts about all its loans to us. Chinese officials stated, at a most inopportune time, that the world may need to find a new reserve currency rather than the U.S. dollar. We hope they will loan us the $100 billion we committed to the International Monetary Fund as a result of this meeting, money that we don't have and will have to borrow.

At almost the same time the president was advocating his vision of a world without nuclear arms and arguing that it is an achievable goal, reality came forth again. The North Koreans, who repeatedly dismissed as idle threats U.S. and U.N. warnings regarding their attempts at obtaining nuclear weapons and the systems to deliver them, on Saturday fired a rocket over Japan on its way to either space or Alaska.

Even though the alleged satellite didn't make it into orbit, the ripples it created went way beyond the Pacific Ocean where it crash-landed. Even our beloved governor of Alaska warned us that the North Koreans are coming, the North Koreans are coming.

The two old superpowers, China and Russia, wanted immediate sit-down summits later in the year to take the measure of the man. President Obama's reward for agreeing to the meetings was that both countries did everything possible to make sure the U.N. Security Council did nothing to condemn North Korea for its rocket blast. Beware of leaders calling you "comrade" on the first date.

The president's visit to Turkey, a key ally, was also historic. The first American president of color and Muslim heritage made great mileage with our important ally when he said:

"The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them." To the billion-plus Muslims in the world, those words had to be heartfelt and a welcome acknowledgement.

As an American, I am proud when our president does well overseas. Being humble worked much better than being cocky. But in order to lead, you must be tough. Being liked is important. Being respected will be the test. The president had a great opening round, but there are many more rounds to fight.

So welcome home, Mr. President. The financial mess is still here. Enjoy the Easter Egg roll on the South Lawn this weekend. And know that the decisions you make in the coming weeks and months will be all about those kids playing on your back lawn -- and every other child in America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.

China, Venezuela to step up co-op in bid to curb global financial crisis

China and Venezuela agreed in Beijing on Wednesday to step up cooperation in fields such as energy, agriculture, and high technology and take joint actions in the face of the global financial crisis.The agreement was reached in a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his visiting Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the two exchanged in-depth views on bilateral relations and other issues of common concern and reached an important consensus.Hu highlighted the robust growth of bilateral relations during the meeting, saying that China was satisfied with the positive outcomes from bilateral economic and technological cooperation, progress made on some key projects and close coordination on international and regional issues.Hu also suggested the two nations should work closer and boost the various pragmatic cooperation, which would not only help resolve the impact from the international financial crisis, but also be conducive to laying a solid foundation for the long-term development of Sino-Venezuelan relations.China highly values its ties with Venezuela and will join hands with the Venezuelan side to make efforts to push forward the bilateral strategic partnership to a higher level, Hu said.Echoing Hu's views on bilateral relations, Chavez also applauded the progress made on bilateral cooperation in energy, agriculture, industry and technology.He especially mentioned the successful launch and delivery of Venezuela's first telecommunication satellite thanks to cooperation with China.Chavez noted that the world order is undergoing a profound change and China already played a significant and positive role in an effort to address the challenges posed by the international economic turmoil.Venezuela is willing to cement its cooperation with China in such a new international context, the Venezuelan president added.As Hu's guest, Chavez arrived in Beijing on Tuesday night for a three-day working visit.He will also meet Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during the visit, which is his sixth to China.

North Korea's Kim re-elected to top post

SEOUL:North Korea's parliament Thursday re-elected Kim Jong-Il to the country's most powerful post, cementing his authority over the hardline communist state despite lingering questions about his health.

The new parliament's move came four days after a rocket launch hailed at home as a historic scientific triumph but criticised abroad as a provocative missile test.

"The first session of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA)...elected leader Kim Jong-Il chairman of the National Defence Commission," the Korean Central News Agency reported.

This is an expression of the people's "unquestioned support and trust in him," it said, adding thath Kim "has performed immortal exploits to shine long in the history of the country."

The agency did not say whether the 67-year-old leader was present at the SPA meeting. If so, it would be his first appearance at a major public event since reportedly suffering a stroke last August.

Kim is also head of the ruling Workers' Party and supreme military commander.

But the National Defence Commission is in overall control of the 1.2 million-member armed forces, whose welfare is prioritised under his Songun (army first) policy.

Analysts say Sunday's launch of what Pyongyang calls a satellite was timed to shore up support for Kim and his regime in the run-up to the SPA meeting.

State television on Tuesday aired brief footage of the launch, and some 100,000 people rallied the following day in central Pyongyang's Kim Il-Sung Square to celebrate the event.

"Hurrah! Great victory of military-led politics," read one slogan on a giant placard depicting soldiers waving rifles and bayonets.

Continuing the propaganda blitz, the state news agency Thursday said "every heart is brimming with endless affection and trust for Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, who has enhanced the fatherland's dignity and status to the higest level and opened a new era of prosperity."

The North says it put into orbit a communications satellite as part of a peaceful space programme.

The United States and its allies say there is no sign of the object in space, and maintain the launch was in any case a disguised long-range missile test that violated United Nations resolutions.

"This launch is yet another step in the development of a North Korean long-range intercontinental ballistic missile," NATO ambassadors said in a statement after a meeting Wednesday .

"These irresponsible and provocative actions by Pyongyang pose a serious threat to the region and the international community at large." The UN Security Council, however, cannot agree how to handle the launch. The United States and its allies are pushing for a strong response but face opposition from China, Russia and others.

The SPA is a rubber-stamp parliament but its first meeting is seen as politically significant. It will approve shake-ups in the cabinet and the military and ratify foreign policy directives.

Analysts will closely watch for any personnel changes especially in the defence commission, whose first vice chairman Jo Myong-Rok, 81, is reportedly in ill health.

The parliament is also set to reaffirm the country's uncompromising stance on the rocket launch.

On Tuesday Pyongyang's deputy UN ambassador Pak Tok-Hun warned of unspecified "strong steps" if his country is censured by the Security Council.

The North, which tested an atomic weapon in 2006, has previously warned it will walk out of long-running six-nation nuclear disarmament talks in response to any UN action.

Elections for the SPA are normally held every five years but did not go ahead last summer amid reports of Kim's health problems.

It was finally held last month, with one pre-approved candidate -- including Kim himself -- standing in each constituency.

In recent weeks state media has released a stream of photos -- along with moving images this week -- of Kim on his trademark "field guidance" tours in an

apparent attempt to show he is fit and well.

Extremist Web Sites Are Using U.S. Hosts

On March 25, a Taliban Web site claiming to be the voice of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" boasted of a deadly new attack on coalition forces in that country. Four soldiers were killed in an ambush, the site claimed, and the "mujahideen took the weapons and ammunition as booty."Most remarkable about the message was how it was delivered. The words were the Taliban's, but they were flashed around the globe by an American-owned firm located in a leafy corner of downtown Houston.The Texas company, a Web-hosting outfit called ThePlanet, says it simply rented cyberspace to the group and had no clue about its Taliban connections. For more than a year, the militant group used the site to rally its followers and keep a running tally of suicide bombings, rocket attacks and raids against U.S. and allied troops. The cost of the service: roughly $70 a month, payable by credit card.The Taliban's account was pulled last week when a blogger noticed the connection and called attention to it. But the odd pairing of violently anti-American extremists and U.S. technology companies continues elsewhere and appears to be growing. Intelligence officials and private experts cite dozens of instances in which Islamist militants sought out U.S. Internet firms -- known for their reliable service and easy terms that allow virtual anonymity -- and used them to incite attacks on Americans."The relatively cheap expense and high quality of U.S. servers seems to attract jihadists," said Rita Katz, co-founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private company that monitors the communications of Muslim extremist groups. Even al-Qaeda has sometimes paid American companies to serve as conduits for its hate-filled messages, said Katz, who has tracked such activity since 2003.Militants' use of U.S. Web hosts has sparked occasional spats between the United States and its allies, as well as endless debates over whether it is better to shut down the Web sites when they're discovered or to let them continue to operate. By allowing them to remain online, intelligence analysts can sometimes discover clues about the leadership and structure of terrorist groups, some analysts say."You can learn a lot from the enemy by watching them chat online," said Martin Libicki, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit research organization. Libicki said the bloggers rarely spill secrets, and most are "probably using this more for public affairs rather than recruitment.""Public affairs," in many cases, means blatantly anti-Western invective and propaganda.For instance, the Afghan group that rented Web space from ThePlanet offered daily updates on skirmishes between Taliban fighters and U.S. "invaders" and Afghan "puppet army" troops. The Web site,, frequently claimed that the group's forces had killed coalition troops and even destroyed warplanes and tanks -- accounts that bear little resemblance to coalition field reports on those dates.Another Taliban Web site,, continues to operate, using the services of Free Web Town, a user-friendly template service run by Atlanta-based Tulix Systems. The group's site features regular updates about purported attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces and occasional interviews with Taliban leaders and commanders in English and the regional languages of Dari and Pashto.The site is associated with a Taliban group known as the Tora Bora Front, a hard-line faction operating in the remote mountainous region between northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan where fighting this year has been especially heavy.Representatives of Tulix and ThePlanet say their policies prohibit the airing of violent or hateful messages by ordinary Americans, and certainly by terrorists. Both companies say they act quickly to shut down any site that breaks the rules.The user-friendly American services are especially popular with groups like the Tora Bora Front. "It kind of makes it an ideal target for people who want to use it for nefarious reasons because not only is it easy to access and easy to use, it's easy to lie about your identity," said Thomas Burling, Tulix's chief financial officer.Burling said the company has "routinely" been contacted by various federal agencies tracking the use of the Free Web Town sites, but he declined to go into further detail or identify the agencies.Under federal eavesdropping laws passed last year, U.S. intelligence officials can legally monitor communications between foreign groups without a warrant, even if the transit lines pass through the United States.The firms acknowledge that it is not always easy to spot militants' activity. Tulix boasts more than 1 million clients, while ThePlanet is the country's biggest supplier of Web-hosting services, with nearly 16 million accounts. Yvonne Donaldson, spokeswoman for ThePlanet, said the firm cannot afford to monitor every site and instead reacts to complaints, as it did in the case of "If the complaint is credible, we notify the authorities," she said.In some cases, the complaints come from governments. Pakistan has been venting to U.S. officials about militants' use of North American Internet services since last fall, when an investigation of the Mumbai terrorist rampage, which involved Pakistanis, revealed that the attackers had communicated using Internet phone calls routed through another server based in Houston.American and Pakistani officials say the issue has raised tensions within diplomatic and intelligence circles in both countries and has reignited a high-level internal debate over the legality and efficacy of shutting off or restricting access to such services.A senior Pakistani official said repeated requests to Washington to shut down controversial sites have gone unheeded -- and American authorities' seeming reluctance has become "an irritant." The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not cleared to discuss the issue, said Pakistani intelligence experts are convinced that Washington prefers to keep the sites running for intelligence purposes."They're very reluctant or very slow to deal with this. We're saying at least if you monitor them, then share with us the information so we can take them out," the official said.U.S. intelligence officials acknowledge the dispute but note the futility of trying to turn off Web sites completely. Domain names can be easily changed, they say, and sites are so easy to relocate that a new site usually opens within weeks after the old one is shut down.Or sometimes even sooner. The Taliban's alemarrah1 site, which disappeared from its old location Friday, appeared again on Tuesday under a slightly altered name. In a matter of days, it was sending messages worldwide and routing them once again through ThePlanet's servers, based in the same leafy corner of downtown Houston.

Corruption Undercuts U.S. Hope for Afghan Police

GHAZNI, Afghanistan — As part of his new strategy for Afghanistan, President Obama has announced plans to send 4,000 more American troops this spring to train the Afghan National Police and Army.

But a shortage of American trainers is only one factor hampering the Afghan police. If the experience of the American troops already training police officers in Ghazni Province is any indication, better policing may be impossible for Afghanistan unless government officials at all levels stop cannibalizing their civil administration and police force for a quick profit.

In two weeks of interviews in this mountainous region of poor farmers and shepherds, exasperated American soldiers said it was hard to determine which was their more daunting opponent — the few thousand Taliban who ruled villages through a shadow government of mullahs, or corruption so rife that it had deeply undercut efforts to improve the police and had destroyed many Afghans’ faith in government.

That lack of trust, coupled with the absence of security forces in almost all villages, further strengthens the hand of the Taliban as the only real power here. Ghazni’s experience shows the challenge that corruption presents to efforts to establish better policing throughout the country.

The list of schemes that undermine law enforcement is long and bewildering, according to American and Afghan officers who cite some examples: police officials who steal truckloads of gasoline; judges and prosecutors who make decisions based on bribes; high-ranking government officials who reap payoffs from hashish and chromite smuggling; and midlevel security and political jobs that are sold, sometimes for more than $50,000, money the buyers then recoup through still more bribes and theft.

In some cases the American officers requested that their names not be used when discussing specific allegations or that the titles of certain Afghan government and police leaders be withheld, since it would otherwise make it impossible to work with these officials, an important part of their mission.

But the frustration was palpable as they described the enormous corruption running the length of the civilian administration in this province of 1.3 million people, whose capital, Ghazni, lies 80 miles southwest of Kabul.

Referring to one corrupt and high-ranking government official he sees routinely, Maj. Randy Schmeling, a 43-year-old Army National Guardsman who commands the American police mentoring teams in Ghazni, said, “I’d like to break down his door, stomp on his chest, point my 9-millimeter at his head and say, ‘Stop what you are doing!’ ”

Some of the troops’ Afghan colleagues recognize the problem, too. “In every office there is corruption,” said Col. Mohammed Zaman, the departing provincial police chief. “It’s not only prosecutors and judges.”

“This is the reason no one accepts the rule of law,” he said, “because the government is not going by the rule of law.”

The result is an ineffective and woefully undersupplied Afghan police force and a frustrating lack of justice for Afghans. Worse still, by comparison with the government’s exercise of authority, the law imposed by the Taliban is far more certain — quick and clear, if ruthless.

“The appointed officials and elected officials, the people don’t trust them, and they don’t trust them with good reason,” Major Schmeling said. “They take from them and they give nothing back.”

He added: “Right now, there is no meritocracy here. It’s, ‘Hey, your sister has a pretty mouth — do you want to be a general?’ ”

That culture of corruption affects everything: promotions, assignments, the resolution of cases. As one example, Major Schmeling pointed to a police officer who a year ago was a lowly patrolman and gate guard. Then, he said, the policeman scraped together the money for a new job: a top noncommissioned officer on the provincial police force.

“As long as people are buying themselves into positions like that, the people will never trust the system,” the major said.

To those buying jobs, the payments are an investment they intend to recover, along with a profit. Jobs that bring more money, like posts near the Kabul-Kandahar highway that allow opportunities for extorting truckers and smugglers, sell for a premium, soldiers here say.

But in the process, honest officials are passed over or punished. “You could say that the corruption you are involved in is an investment in your future, and your family’s future,” said First Lt. Craig Porte, a military intelligence officer in Ghazni, who said it was “fairly common to buy your position” in government. “If you are not involved in corruption, you are seen as an enemy of those who are, which has a tendency to get you fired.”

Many soldiers question whether anything will ever change. “The corruption here is a bigger threat to a stable government than the Taliban,” said First Sgt. John Strain, the senior noncommissioned officer on the American unit training the Ghazni police.

“If we stay here another year, or another 50 years, I think it’ll probably only take two to three years after we are gone until it reverts to the way it was right before we got here,” he added. “To have to admit that when you look at these kids,” he said, referring to Afghanistan’s children, “it really breaks your heart, to think that what you are doing is probably not going to turn out to be a hill of beans.”

Extortion by police officers is common. But there is fraud and swindling up the chain of command, too. Several police officials are part of a group that has been stealing thousands of gallons of gasoline a month, a major reason some districts receive less than half their allotments, said American officers, who are mostly powerless to do anything but report corruption to their superiors.

As a measure of the corruption, the American officers said, one senior provincial official recently paid $50,000 to free a kidnapped relative — about five times his annual salary.

American officers described another Ghazni provincial police official who had a lucrative side business: coercing police officers to sign requisitions for far more weapons than they actually needed. Then the official would keep the extra weapons and sell them, sometimes to the Taliban. The official was killed recently, officers said.

In some places, government officials are believed to have paid off Taliban fighters to limit attacks, allowing smuggling that benefits provincial officials to continue without interference, several American and Afghan officials from Ghazni said.

In this swindle, provincial “bodyguards” demand protection money from smugglers, anywhere from $400 to $2,000 per truck, for safe passage through Ghazni, said a Ghazni police official recently forced out of his job.

“High-ranking officials in Ghazni have immunity from the law,” said the official, who feared retribution and agreed to speak only if he was not identified. Likening many provincial officials to a criminal mafia, he added, “People have no choice but to go to the Taliban to solve their problems.”

Indeed, in Ghazni’s impoverished villages, where the light brown of clay walls and mud homes is broken only by green plots of winter wheat, the Taliban exploit the widespread sense that the government does not serve people. When the Taliban were in power in the 1990s, corruption and official bribery were more limited.

The lack of competent civilian authority aids the insurgents. Afghan Army officers trained by Maj. Daren Runion “don’t like the Taliban,” he said. But some believe “that in some ways parts of their rule were better.”

Police officers from a handful of Ghazni districts have gone through an intensive eight-week training course and returned to their districts to be overseen by American mentors. Nationwide, more than 3,000 police officers have gone through the course, a linchpin of the American effort to expand the police.

The new training has helped the police on the ground. Patrolmen are more alert, with better weapons discipline and less absenteeism, American officers here say.

But with little support from the government, most police forces remain a trivial presence in villages, marshaling their meager resources just to protect district centers and their small outposts.

Even if the corruption were not so debilitating, American and Afghan forces would still face a sizable enemy. Major Schmeling estimates that there are 2,000 Taliban fighters in the province. “They still exercise the exact same control over these villages that they had up until 2001,” he said.

In Qarabagh, one of the largest districts, the Taliban use 40 villages as bases to dominate hundreds of other villages, said Qarabagh’s deputy police chief, Capt. Mohammed Younus.

Police recruits are easy prey. Twenty-four policemen have been killed in Taliban ambushes and roadside bombings in Qarabagh over the past year, Captain Younus said.

“We don’t have any presence with the civilians,” he said. “Taliban live with them 24 hours a day.” Residents take complaints to local Taliban leaders, not the police, he said. “They have a judge and prosecutor. The Taliban is active at the bazaar in each village.”

In Waghaz District, near Qarabagh, there are just 50 permanent Taliban members, among a population of up to 60,000 ethnic Pashtuns and 33,000 Hazara, said Abdul Azim, the subgovernor of Waghaz. Yet the Taliban do not need a large presence to dominate, he explained. Last year, he said, the Taliban took three men from their homes whom they suspected of helping the government.

“They burned the three men and chopped their limbs off with axes,” he said. “That’s why the 60,000 cannot beat the 50.”

Riots break out in Balochistan

QUETTA: One policeman was killed in Khuzdar as riots broke out following the killing of three Baloch nationalist leaders near Turbat on Thursday.

Baloch nationalist leaders Baloch National Movement President Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir and Sher Mohammad Baloch were found dead in a rural mountainous region near Turbat, police reported.

The killings have resulted in public outrage in the province.

Angry protesters took to the streets in Quetta and blocked the Karachi-Quetta highway, while shutter-down strikes were being observed in other towns across the province.

Rioters set ablaze several vehicles, including one belonging to the United Nations.

In a bid to ward off rioters and restore calm, police tear-gassed the protesting students on Sariab road, and have reportedly made several arrests.

Police claimed to have recovered the bodies of the slain leaders from a mountainous area 40 kilometres away from Turbat.

Meanwhile, Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani has constituted a three-member tribunal comprising Balochistan High Court judges to probe into killing of the leaders.

The CM appealed the public to remain calm, and said that unrest could sabotage the reconciliation process in Balochistan.

Terror Czar Sufi Mohammed calls off Swat peace deal

SWAT: The chief of outlawed Tehreek e Nifaz e Shariat Mohammedi has withdrawn from the peace deal with the government and has said all peace camps in the region will be abolished, DawnNews has reported.

Mohammed, who brokered the peace deal between the Taliban and the government of Pakistan has claimed that the authorities have used delaying tactics in imposing the Nizam-i-Adal (Islamic courts) in the Swat region.

The announcement casts serious doubt on the durability of a cease-fire in the Swat valley that U.S. officials worry will create another sanctuary for allies of al-Qaida responsible for a rising tide of violence in the nuclear-armed country.

Imposing Islamic law in Swat, a one-time tourist haven, was the key plank of an accord worked out in February between the provincial government and Sufi Muhammad, a cleric who once led thousands of volunteers to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan but has since renounced violence.

Thanks in part to Muhammad's mediation, the agreement ended 18 months of terror and bloody clashes that had left hundreds dead and forced up to one-third of the previously prosperous valley's 1.5 million residents to flee.

But the militants have retained their arms and this week pushed into a neighboring area where they fought deadly gunbattles with villagers and police.

President Asif Ali Zardari has said he will only sign an order introducing Islamic law in the region once peace has been restored _ without saying how that would be determined.

Muhammad, who had been camped out in the valley's main town of Mingora with hundreds of black-turbaned supporters, said they were leaving to protest Zardari's 'negative attitude.'

'From now on, President Zardari will be responsible for any situation in Swat, ‘ the white-bearded cleric told reporters. 'The provincial government is sincere and our agreement with the provincial government is intact, but we are ending our peace camp.'

Television footage showed dozens of Muhammad's supporters crammed into a column of cars and driving out of Mingora, some of them clutching black and white flags.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the government of North West Frontier Province, said he believed the federal government was 'sincere' in supporting the peace effort, but said he couldn't say when the Islamic law bill would be signed.

'We are committed to bringing about a durable peace and we will continue our efforts in the changed situation,' Hussain said.

Zardari aides said officials were looking into the matter but gave no further comment.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and military analyst, said Zardari may have delayed signing off on the agreement because of concerns within the year-old civilian government over negotiating with militants.

'The opinion is divided,' Rizvi said. 'A good number of people in the government think that this is not the right approach.'

Zardari's foot-dragging also lets him save face with Western critics of the deal, he said.

Under former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan struck a series of peace deals with militants along the Afghan border that U.S. officials say let the Taliban and al-Qaida regroup and focus their energy on attacking American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama has made a sharp increase in financial aid to Pakistan conditional on it demonstrating more commitment to rooting out al-Qaida and other extremist groups.

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday after meeting Zardari in Islamabad that the situation in Swat had helped persuade more of Pakistan's political elite of the need to combat extremism at America's side.

Pakistan desperately needs economic aid to ease the fallout from an economic crunch. It also faces an exodus of foreign investors in the face of rising violence and political uncertainty.

On Thursday, one policeman died and five more were injured as protests erupted across the southwestern province of Baluchistan after the discovery of the mutilated bodies of three missing political activists.

The trio included the leader of one of an array of Baluch groups campaigning _ or fighting _ for more autonomy and control over natural resources in the impoverished province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

Activists immediately blamed Pakistan's spy agencies for the political activists' deaths. Police said they were investigating.

Over the weekend, a previously unknown Baluch group freed an American U.N. worker after holding him for two months to press the government to release political prisoners.

Holbrooke's trip exposes standoff between U.S., Pakistan

ISLAMABAD -- The visit by Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the region has, for the first time, exposed sharp differences between the United States and Pakistan with regard to anti-terror operations."The stance of the Pakistan side came as a rude shock to Americans," Pakistani newspapers on Wednesday quoted a source in the U.S. delegation visiting Islamabad as saying after parleys between the two sides.Differences between Washington and Islamabad with regard to their mutual cooperation in the war against terrorism, now called international contingency operations, had been simmering since long.However, their 'trust deficit' has emerged more vividly in the wake of announcement of the new U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has given a regional aspect to the Afghan problem. This trust deficit now seems to have changed into a full-grown standoff."Islamabad has flagged certain red lines that cannot be crossed by the United States," uttered a seemingly defiant Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister of Pakistan, while addressing a joint conference with Richard Holbrooke and Mike Mullen, after their talks in Islamabad on Tuesday.He categorically said: "Pakistan has made it clear to the United States that it would not accept any foreign boots on the Pakistani soil."Islamabad has been criticizing the U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas along the Afghan borders, ever since their commencement in August last year. However, Washington persistently says these attacks have proved effective and would be continued.U.S. drones have so far made over 35 missile strikes in the tribal areas, killing more than 300 people, including a large number of foreign militants. U.S. officials claimed that 13 of the top 20 Al-Qaeda leaders have been eliminated in these drone attacks.However, Pakistan said these attacks are hampering its efforts to eliminate terrorism.Rather, Islamabad on Tuesday demanded drone technology and authority to itself carry out these attacks. For its part, the United States - alleging links between ISI, Pakistan's top military intelligence agency and Taliban - does not seem to trust the Pakistani forces. "There are challenges associated with the ISI," Admiral Mike Mullen explicitly said at a joint briefing in Islamabad, while addressing Pakistan's concern against U.S. allegations against the Pakistani spy network."There is support (in the ISI) for some (militant) organizations," he further asserted.Perhaps that is the reason that General Asif Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, reportedly refused to hold separate meeting with the visiting U.S. officials.Besides the ISI issue, differences also surfaced during the talks on the issue of carrying out joint military operations against militants in the tribal agencies."Pakistan rejects the U.S. proposal for carrying out joint operations against militants," newspapers quoted Pakistan government sources as saying.Last week, there were reports in British and American media that U.S. and Pakistani forces contemplated joint operations in South Waziristan tribal agency to eliminate Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of Pakistani Taliban, for whom Washington has fixed 50 million dollars bounty.Earlier, while charting out the new war on terror policy of his administration, President Obama had said that the U.S. and Pakistani forces would continue cooperation to eliminate terrorism.However, Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan, rejected these reports the other day, saying they were mere speculations.The new defiant posture of Pakistan is not an instant flare up of sentiments on the part of the Pakistani leaders.There are reports that Pakistan's defiant mood came after a collective decision of the government and the security establishment to adopt a tough posture."The Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, expressed Pakistan's concern (to the U.S. delegation) without mincing his words," Pakistani government sources said.Pakistan seems to be not bothered even about the tempting 1.5 billion dollar annual aid package, which Washington has promised in response to Islamabad's cooperation in the war on terror. "Blank check policy should be for both sides," Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in his press briefing, referring to a last week report, which quoted U.S. officials as saying that while extending aid, Washington would not give any blank check to Pakistan and would rather 'hold Pakistan accountable' for the spending it makes on war on terror.If the impression gathered from the joint press conference of Holbrooke and Qureshi and the ensuing media reports are some things to believe in, Islamabad appears determined not to 'do more,' at the call of Washington - as has always been alleged by the opponents - if not fully parting ways with its long-time ally.