Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pakistan is not Taliban Empire': Taseer

Governor Punjab Salman Taseer has urged women to play their dynamic role in containing terrorism and extremism.

Addressing the first convocation of the Government College University (GCU) Faisalabad here Wednesday, he said that Pakistan is grappling with big challenges of extremism and terrorism.

Government is exploiting its resources to tackle these issues, however, women should also come forward and play their role in weeding out the sentiments leading to terrorism and extremism.

He said that girls' schools in northern areas are being closed and bombed while anti state activities are also rife in these parts of the country.

Education is imperative to foil their conspiracies against the solidarity and integrity of Pakistan; he said and added that government was making sincere efforts for the promotion of education.

Governor also quoted his meeting with US Representative Holbrook and said that he had made it clear that Pakistan was not Somalia or Sudan and could not be isolated from the rest of world. A sizable number of Pakistanis are playing their positive role in different countries.

Pakistani doctors in sufficient number are present in US while 5 % NASA engineers also belong to Pakistan. He termed Pakistan as a liberal, progressive Muslim democratic country and said that we are facing threats of terrorism and extremism. "God forbid, he said and added that any loss to Pakistan in this fight would have negative repercussion on international community", he added.

He said that Pakistan is a diverse, ethnic and linguistic identity and success of democracy in this part of world was imperative for the future of democracy and Pakistan.

Governor said that President Asif Ali Zardari was elected with a majority vote while Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Speaker National Assembly Fahmida Mirza were also elected unopposed. In spite of these facts, we decided to set up coalition governments to involve all political forces.

He said that future of Pakistan is directly linked with democracy. A new democratic culture cropped up immediately after martyrdom of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on February 18, he added.

Governor said it was the miracle of democracy that participants of Tokyo conference decided to give record aid to Pakistan. Out of this pledged amount, maximum funds would be spent on education, development of infrastructure and social sectors.

He said that 70% population is comprised youth with less than 25 years. This youth is actually our present and future and they have to lead Pakistan during next 50 years.

"Pakistan is not Taliban Empire", he said and added that Islam is a religion of peace, love and tolerance. Suicide attackers should know that it is a liberal Islamic democracy and we would not allow handful extremists to spoil its Islamic and democratic fabric.

He said that it was an era of science and technology and we must concentrate on modern scientific subjects to compete with rest of the world and to facilitate our masses.

Taseer said that hundreds of youth is deprived of education in Pakistan. Hence, educated class being a privileged one should focus on others crumbling under the scourge of illiteracy.

Governor said that country was facing ticklish issues of extremism and terrorism and President Asif Ali Zardari has decided to remain part of the provincial coalition in order to face prevailing challenges.

He also assured that funds withheld by HEC would be released very soon.

Earlier, in his address of welcome Dr. Shahid Mehboob Rana Vice Chancellor GCU enumerated the achievements of the university and said that it was catering to the needs of 10,000 students belonging to various disciplines.

He said that in 2002, the University started with only 7 Master Level Programs but now it has been able to offer a wide range of basic and applied subjects and it is offering research-based M. Phil and PhD programs in thirteen and eight subjects respectively.

He also highlighted some of the significant achievement of the University which include establishment of 27 Departments in the areas of Science, Arts, Social Sciences, Law, Pharmacy and Engineering, strong linkages with renowned Industrial & Business Organizations, Research Institutions and Universities, financial incentives for University Teachers who publish their research works, procurement of instruments to facilitate research students and faculty member to carryout advance research in pure and applied sciences. He said that in field of Sports, the GCU athletes have secured top positions at national and international level.

Vice Chancellor stressed the need for special grant of Rs 100 million from Punjab Government for the construction of an Auditorium, Central Library and a Mini Sports Complex.

Later Governor awarded degrees to 2,980 graduates of 2003-2005 and 2004-2006 sessions.

Rana Muhammad Farooq Saeed Khan Federal Minister for Textile Industry, MPAs Dr. Asad Moazzam, Maj (Retd) Abdur Rehman Rana and Haji Liaqat Ali Nazar were also present on the occasion.

$55B to go to poor nations

The World Bank said Saturday it would provide poor countries with more than $55 billion for public work projects left in limbo when the recession dried up capital investment.
The goal is to create jobs and lay the foundation for future economic growth and poverty reduction. Africa is expected to see a largeportion of the investments, given the continent's needs.

''As developing countries are facing the trials of the global economic crisis, it is vitally important that economic stimulus packages in the developed world are accompanied by support for those who cannot afford multibillion bailouts,'' the bank's president, Robert Zoellick, said.

The announcement came as the bank and the International Monetary Fund held their spring meetings this weekend.

An organization set up by the bank's private sector arm will make $10 billion available for lending; the bank will provide the other $45 billion.

''These public-private partnerships in the infrastructure sector are a key component not only of the immediate response to the crisis but also of a long-term economic growth,'' France's finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said.

Germany's development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, said that when funding sources became scarce, it left projects ``high and dry. And yet they are needed as key elements of development. Services such as water sanitation, energy, transport and telecommunications are vital in the fight against poverty.''

The bank said the financial crisis has depressed investment in such projects, particularly in developing countries. The total yearly financial gap for infrastructure investments, including maintenance, in developing countries could range from $140 billion to $270 billion.

The initiative follows a tripling in lending, to $12 billion, to support health, education and other safety net programs in poor countries.

Civilians Flee as Pakistani Forces Hit Resistance

SHEIKH JANA, Pakistan — The Pakistani forces air-dropped commandos into the main town in Buner on Wednesday and quickly retook control of it from Taliban militants who flooded into the area last week, the military said. But the district was far from recaptured and the military may be in for a hard fight.

Villagers who fled the fighting and made it to this village on the plains said the military was bombing in Buner with fighter jets and firing rockets from helicopter gunships as Pakistani troops battled the Taliban on the ground for a second day.

Despite a curfew imposed by both the Taliban and the army, one villager, Walayat Khan, a cowherd in his 20s who did not know his exact age, said everyone was trying to get out of the district.

Some people were leaving on foot, as few vehicles were available. Those who left were forced to use back roads since the Taliban and military forces had blocked the main arteries leading into and out of Buner.

Mr. Walayat left his village, Kowgah, at dawn with 18 members of his family, mostly women and children, after jets bombed two nearby villages held by the Taliban on Tuesday afternoon. He left his brother and elderly father behind in the house, he said.

“Jets dropped bombs three times,” he said. “There was smoke and dust; I could not tell if they hit houses. We packed our things and then started moving because we thought they might hit us as well.”

Coming after intense criticism, both here and in Washington, of the military’s inaction, the air and ground campaign against the Taliban was the most intense waged by the army in six months.

Commandos of the Special Services Group were air-dropped into Daggar, the administrative center of Buner, a district of about one million people just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad, the military said.

The use of the American-trained special counterterrorism forces, jets and mobile units was a sign of the military’s seriousness of purpose in this fight, said a former government official, who did not want to be identified while discussing national security matters.

No civilians were displaced in Daggar, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the military spokesman, said at a news briefing in Rawalpindi. That part of the operation appeared to have gone fairly smoothly.

But elsewhere heavier fighting was reported. Military units backed by paramilitary forces were deployed in a three-pronged attack against the Taliban in Buner from neighboring districts, General Abbas said.

Those forces met fierce resistance in areas in the north, south and west of Buner — in Nawagin, Pir Baba and Sultanwas, where the Taliban have established positions, he said.

“We are facing stiff resistance in the area of Ambala,” General Abbas said, referring to the area near Mr. Walayat’s village, where local people said the Taliban were firmly entrenched and blew up a bridge on Tuesday to block the army’s advance.

Taliban were also reported to be patrolling a key road in the north near the Pir Baba shrine and the boundary with the Swat Valley, which is a stronghold for the militants. They were also firing on helicopters from the mountains, local reporters said.

Heavy fighting was also under way in Karakar, in the north of the district, where the Taliban were holding hostage about 70 police officers and members of the Frontier Constabulary. Eighteen of the men were later released, General Abbas said, without providing more details.

He said the army was concerned about hurting civilians. “Our constraint is that we are launching an operation in an area where militants have held the local population hostage,” he said. “We are trying to ensure there is minimum collateral damage and minimum displacement of local people.”

Civilians driving on the roads, including students, were wounded when their vehicles came under fire, local reporters said. Several civilians, including a child hit by a bullet, were taken to the hospital in Swari, reporters for the newspaper Dawn said.

People were unhappy with the military operation, Mr. Walayat said. But his relatives in the neighboring district of Swabi who gave shelter to the extended family said they supported it.

They live less than six miles from the boundary with Buner and said Taliban militants had come into their area just two days ago.

“People are happy with the operation because the government gave them a deadline to leave and the people are saying that the Taliban really want to take over Tarbela Dam and Islamabad,” said Yaqoub Khan, 42, a farmer who has made space in his house for 18 relatives who fled the fighting.

“If they had not come, the Taliban would have established positions here in this village by now,” he said.

Killings by the Taliban have shocked the local people, another relative said. Five days ago militants cut the throats of eight local policemen operating a post in the village of Chingalay in the south of Buner, just a few miles from Sheikh Jana.

“They cut their tongues out as well,” said Afsar Khan, 47, who saw the bodies of two of the policemen when he attended their funerals nearby.

Yet he said he doubted the military would be able to stop the Taliban advance. “This thing will expand,” he said. “It started from Afghanistan, then we saw Bajaur, Swat. Buner was the only place they could not gain a foothold,” he said.

But the local resistance in Buner to the Taliban also failed. “We expect this thing will come here as well,” he said.

World Health Organization Raises Swine Flu Alert Level

The global spread of swine flu, a pandemic, is highly likely, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday and raised its alert level to Phase 5, the next-to-highest level in the worldwide warning system.

Phase 5 has never been declared before. Phase 6 means a pandemic is under way. The health organization’s said its decision was based on the continuing spread of swine flu in the United States and Mexico, particularly the increasing numbers of unexplained cases among people not exposed to travelers or to institutions like schools or hospitals where many people have close contact with one another and high rates of transmission might be expected.

“All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans,” Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the organization, said at a news conference in Geneva. “Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.”

The first death from swine flu in this country — of a 22-month-old child from Mexico who was being treated in Houston — was reported on Wednesday, along with more infections and hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 91 confirmed cases from 10 states, up from 64 cases in 5 states on Tuesday.

Dr. Chan emphasized the need for calm, but at times spoke as if a pandemic had already begun, saying, for instance, “W.H.O. will be tracking the pandemic.” She also emphasized that flu epidemics tended to take much higher death tolls in poor countries than in rich ones, and said her organization and others would need to make special efforts to help poorer nations.

She called for global solidarity, saying, “After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.”

President Obama planned to use his opening remarks at a prime time news conference on Wednesday to discuss the worsening outbreak. “This is obviously a very serious situation,” Mr. Obama said, according to excerpts of his prepared text released by the White House, “and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations.”

Preparedness plans referred to by Dr. Chan include things like making sure that laboratories can test for the disease and that health systems can identify and treat cases, track an outbreak and prevent the virus from spreading in hospitals and clinics. Governments should also decide whether to take measures like closing schools and discouraging or banning public gatherings to prevent disease transmission. Mexico, for instance, has prohibited people from eating in restaurants and is allowing restaurants to provide only take-out food.

“The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S.,” the C.D.C. said on its Web site. More hospitalizations and deaths are expected, the site said, because the virus is new and most people have no immunity to it.

The outbreak has caused such concern because officials have never seen this particular strain of the flu passing among humans before, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“There is no background immunity in the population, and it is spreading from human to human – all of which has the potential for a pandemic,” Dr. Fauci said.

Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that officials had no way of predicting whether the outbreak would become more serious.

“You don’t know if this is a virus that will fizzle in a couple of weeks or one that will become more or less virulent or severe in the diseases it causes,” Dr. Besser said.

He said officials must follow government plans for a pandemic because of that unpredictability, just in case.

“If we could see into the future, it would be wonderful so that we could tailor all our responses specifically to what is occurring,” Dr. Besser said.

The disease centers’ count of 91 confirmed cases in the United States did not include later reports by Maine and Nevada of confirmed cases there, which were announced after the C.D.C. tally had been posted. In addition, Louisiana and Delaware had suspected cases. Kits being provided to the states and other countries will allow them to test for the virus on their own and obtain results within a few hours.

New York City added five new confirmed cases, bringing its total to 49. All have links to Mexico or St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, where the virus first surfaced in New York, health officials said. The city identified five more probable cases.

The total in Canada rose to 19, from 16. In Mexico, more than 150 people are suspected to have died from the illness, and almost 2,500 are thought to have been infected.

The outbreak was the focus of Kathleen Sebelius’ first news conference as health secretary on Wednesday, and she promised a vigorous fight against the disease.

“We’re determined to fight this outbreak and do everything we can to protect the health of every American,” Ms. Sebelius said.

She noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended that schools close only if a student is found to be infected with the swine flu virus. More aggressive steps are under discussion, Ms. Sebelius said, but officials realize that school closings can cause problems from families.

“What happens to parents? Where do children go?” she asked.

Dr. Besser, who joined the news conference via a video feed, said the most recent cases included patients from a broad range of ages, with two-thirds of all cases occurring in people under the age of 18.

“There have been five hospitalizations so far, including the child who died. But we have a number of suspect cases that have been hospitalized and we expect that number to go up,” Dr. Besser said.

He added: “It’s a serious outbreak, and we’re taking aggressive measures.”

Dr. Besser said that a quarter of the nation’s stockpile of 50 million treatments of antiviral medicines would be distributed to states by Sunday.

The United States has no plans to close international borders because, Dr. Besser said, such closures are not effective in slowing pandemics. When Hong Kong was hit with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, “increased border screening on entry and exit was not an effective way of identifying cases or preventing transmission,” Dr. Besser said.

Nonetheless, Customs and Border Protection agents have stepped up efforts to spot sick travelers and are passing out travel health advisories telling people whether to see a doctor if they become sick.

“Individuals who are identified as sick are referred to public health professionals for evaluation,” Dr. Besser said.

Elected officials have begun to question the decision to leave the borders open. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was grilled by senators on Wednesday who asked whether her agency was acting aggressively enough to stop the virus from spreading from Mexico into the United States. The senators, including John McCain of Arizona, and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut asked several times why the Obama Administration had decided against closing the border, and banning travel to Mexico.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine took issue with Ms. Napolitano’s decision to use only “passive inspection techniques,” to monitor people entering the United States. She urged that the customs officials conduct more aggressive inspections and that the agency consider using heat-sensors that would allow agents to detect people who are entering the country with fevers.

NWFP, Fata, Balochistan most ‘food insecure’

ISLAMABAD: The NWFP, Fata and Balochistan are the most ‘food insecure region’ in the country while northern Punjab is the least.

Food accounts for about 60 per cent of total expenditure for an average farming household in Pakistan.

According to the findings of a baseline survey conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and released here on Tuesday, there are a number of constraints to crop production, such as inadequate access to affordable credit, high cost of agriculture inputs like seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, unreliability of water supply and low returns on investments.

The survey was conducted between January and June last year in 1,012 villages in the four provinces as well as in AJK, Fata and the Northern Areas in collaboration with the Ministry of Food, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council and the Agriculture Policy Institute.

The focus of the survey was on household food security conditions, scope for enhancing crop productivity and opportunities to increase income for poor farmers of small and medium resource.

‘The data of the study confirms that education is a major determining factor in reducing household vulnerability and improving food security as educated family members are more likely to have higher incomes,’ said Wolfgang Herbinger, WFP’s country representative in Pakistan.

According to the survey, a majority of farmers use local non-improved seeds and the use of fertiliser is much less than the recommended levels.

The overall productivity levels are low in the country, except for northern Punjab.

Commenting on the survey report, Food Secretary Mohammad Ziaur Rehman said there was an urgent need to increase the supply of improved seeds. ‘Empowering small farmers and building their knowledge base through farmers field schools along with easy access to credit are basic requirements for increasing agricultural output,’ he added.

The survey said that 64 per cent of farm households in Sindh relied on off-farm employment, compared to the national average of 28 per cent.

Taliban raze houses of Sikhs in Orakzai

KOHAT: The Taliban on Wednesday night demolished 11 houses of the Sikh community in the Orakzai Agency for refusing to pay ‘Jazia’.

The action was ordered by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief for Orakzai Agency, Hakeemullah Mehsud, after the deadline given to the Sikh community for payment of Jazia passed on Wednesday.

Earlier, the Sikh community had postponed its decision about vacating the area following the demand of the Tehrik-i-Taliban for payment of ‘Jazia’ being non-Muslims for their protection.

They gathered in the Merozai area to finalise their decision for leaving the area, but a dispute erupted over the issue among them and the meeting was postponed till Thursday.

The Taliban had asked the Sikh community living in the tribal area for centuries earlier this month to pay annual Jazia because ‘Sharia had been enforced in the area and every non-Muslim had to pay protection money’.

The Sikh community comprising 30 to 35 families shifted from the Feroze Khel area to the nearby Merozai in Lower Orakzai Agency because they could not arrange Rs150 million demanded by the Taliban.

The Taliban had forcibly occupied shops of two Sikh businessmen, Sewa Singh and Kalak Singh, and houses of several Sikhs to force them to pay Jazia. Later, the Sikh community refused to pay Jazia and decided to leave Orakzai and settle in some other area.

Most of tribal families belonging to a particular sect have also migrated to different parts of Hangu and Kohat due to the fear of Taliban.

100 days - and shock defection - boosts Obama’s grip on power

President Obama can celebrate his 100th day in office today knowing that he is one step closer to securing unfettered power in Washington – and domination across ever bigger swaths of America.

The dramatic defection of veteran Senator Arlen Specter from Republican ranks has put Democrats on course to gain a congressional “super-majority” for the first time in a generation.

This makes it easier, if not certain, that Mr Obama will be able to make rapid progress with key items on his bulging legislative agenda such as healthcare reform as well as speeding through nominations that have stalled in the Senate.

Mr Specter, who has served Pennsylvania in the Senate for 29 years, described his switch of affiliation as “painful”, but declared that Republicans had “moved far to the right” in recent years and “I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats”.
Mr Obama, who was handed a note informing him of Mr Specter’s decision during a morning meeting, spoke to the Senator just before the announcement yesterday and told him that Democrats would be “thrilled to have you”.
The defection means that the party is likely to get the 60 votes needed to overcome Senate delaying tactics known as filibusters when Minneso-ta’s supreme court rules later this summer on whether Democrat Al Franken’s razor-thin election victory there should stand.
Although Mr Specter, 79, said he had reached the decision gradually, secret negotiations on Capitol Hill and repeated overtures from Vice-President Joe Biden in recent weeks are believed to have tipped the balance. It is understood that the Democratic leadership has promised to give Mr Specter strong backing – and to discourage others from standing against him – in next year’s Pennsylvania primary.
He had faced a tough contest for the Republican nomination in his home state where he was being challenged by former Congressman Pat Toomey, a staunch conservative. Polls showed that his approval ratings are 35 per cent higher among Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania.
As one of just three Republicans in Congress to have backed Mr Obama’s $787 billion (£537 billion) stimulus Bill earlier this year, Mr Specter said he was aware his vote had caused “a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable”. He added: “I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.”
Although the addition of Mr Specter and Mr Franken would give the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority for the first time since 1979 when Jimmy Carter was President, it does not guarantee that Mr Obama will be able to get all his legislation through Congress.
Pointing out that he remained opposed to the Employee Free Choice Bill – which would abolish the requirement to hold secret ballots for union organising – Mr Specter said: “My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans.”
Healthcare and energy reform are looming. Democrats have promised to employ a technique called “reconciliation” to push through health legislation with as few as 51 votes, but recognise a 60-seat majority will be needed to approve bitterly contested measures to limit carbon emissions. Mr Specter, as a Senator from a coal-mining state, may now join others – both Democratic and Republican – in seeking to secure concessions on this Bill from the Administration.
His presence in the Democratic caucus may also help to speed through some of the nominations that have languished in the Senate. The greater significance of the defection, however, is likely to be its consequences for a Republican Party that now looks marginalised in many regions as it retreats into a Southern redoubt.
Among 435 members of the House of Representatives, there is not a single Republican from New England. In the Senate, they have just two, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. “Ultimately, we’re heading to having the smallest political tent in history the way things are unfolding,” said Ms Snowe yesterday. A Washington Post poll on Sunday showed that only 21 per cent of voters now regard themselves as Republicans.
Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing talk radio host, who, with Dick Cheney, has increasingly become the voice of the party since the election, welcomed Mr Specter’s departure. “It’s ultimately good,” he said. “You’re weeding out people who aren’t really Republicans.”
How filibusters are used
— The filibuster rule in the US Senate allows the minority party to block legislation with 40 of the 100 votes. The filibuster is the act of holding the floor, preventing a vote
— Senators have been required to stand and speak nonstop for hours, reading from recipe books, the Bible or popular literature in an act of defiance
— Filibustering has been used to block everything from judicial nominations to civil rights legislation. Strom Thurmond, a Southern Democrat, holds the record for a filibuster, when he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957

— The practice was nearly eliminated in 2005 when Republicans threatened to use a “nuclear option” – overriding a Democrat filibuster of President Bush’s judicial nomination

Taliban Advance in Pakistan Prompts Shift by U.S.

The Pakistani government's inability to stem Taliban advances has forced the Obama administration to recalibrate its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy a month after unveiling it.

What was planned as a step-by-step process of greater military and economic engagement with Pakistan -- as immediate attention focused on Afghanistan -- has been rapidly overtaken by the worsening situation on the ground. Nearly nonstop discussions over the past two days included a White House meeting Monday between Obama and senior national security officials and a full National Security Council session on Pakistan yesterday.

A tripartite summit Obama will host here next week with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will center heavily on the Pakistan problem rather than the balance originally intended, officials said.

New consideration is being given to a long-dormant proposal to allow U.S. counterinsurgency training for Pakistani troops somewhere outside the country, circumventing Pakistan's refusal to allow American "boots on the ground" there. "The issue now is how do you do that, where do you do it, and what money do we have to do it with?" said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity yesterday.

On Capitol Hill, anxious lawmakers proposed breaking $400 million out of the administration's pending $83 billion supplemental spending request in order to fund immediate counterinsurgency and economic assistance to Pakistan. "We could pass it really quickly, in just a matter of days," said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who just returned from Pakistan. Waiting for debate and approval of the entire supplemental, Kyl said, "could be too little, too late."

"Certainly, we are discussing with the administration what is needed, and I think that all of us are very concerned about what's happening in Pakistan," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters.

The administration shares that concern, even as it is struggling to retain control of its own policy and its full spending request, including money for the Iraq and Afghan wars and other issues. "Our position is that if, in fact, some money would be able to be fast-tracked so that we could get started earlier [in Pakistan], given the urgency of the situation, that's a good idea," the senior administration official said. "But we wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize" the rest of the supplemental. "We do not support anything that derails that."

The breakout proposal, the subject of a meeting of national security deputies at the White House yesterday, appeared to have lost steam by the end of the day. But administration officials said they were hopeful that some provision could be agreed on to make funds more quickly available for Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, returned last weekend from his 11th trip to Pakistan "more concerned than I've seen him after any prior visit," a Pentagon official said, adding that at a meeting with senior aides Monday, "the word [Mullen] used was 'alarmed.' "

"We're not saying the sky is falling," the official said, "but it's raining pretty hard in Pakistan."

The level of concern -- always high where nuclear-armed and politically tumultuous Pakistan is concerned -- began to rise two weeks ago, when the Pakistani Parliament passed an agreement to authorize sharia, or Islamic law, in the Swat Valley, about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad. Taliban forces had expanded in the area, and the agreement was part of a deal in which the government said the extremists would lay down their arms.

Instead, the Taliban advanced farther east, to within 60 miles of the capital, with no apparent government resistance. On Sunday, after increasingly stern public statements from the administration and some Taliban withdrawal, the government launched a military offensive in the area, backed yesterday by helicopter gunships.

But on the eve of Obama's first meeting with Zardari, tensions were running high between the two governments. "We see more duplicity than ambivalence" about the fight against extremists, one participant in the administration's strategic review of the region said of Pakistani authorities.

Other officials expressed skepticism that the Pakistani offensive would continue. "The test of all these Pakistani military operations -- because we've seen them from time to time in the past -- is always their sustainability," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Beyond this week's combat, officials said they were still looking for Pakistan to begin moving large quantities of its half-million-strong military away from the eastern border with India, its historic adversary, and toward Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the west.

Pakistanis in US stage protest demo against Talibanization

WASHINGTON: Pakistani community, residing in United States, staged a protest demonstration against the rising Talibanization in Pakistan in front of Pakistan Embassy here on Tuesday.

Protesters submitted memo draft for the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Demonstrators asked Pakistani government through reminding memo that the government violated the fundamental human rights of people in terms of Swat peace accord with Taliban while pressing Gilani administration for taking people into confidence for alleviation of the growing unrest in country.

It is demanded in memo that government becomes serious about providing basic human amenities for the people in Swat akin to people in Islamabad.

They also declared government failed to retaliate Nizam-e-Adl propaganda lodged by Taliban.

Dir fast moving to normalcy

DIR: Curfew still remained enforced after actions against the miscreants in Tehsil Maidan of district lower Dir, while the life here fast returning to normalcy after successful operation.

On the other hand, a Jirga of the local elders at Timargarh is underway, in which, Jirga elected representatives will discuss prevalent situation in the area with the officials.

Security forces have advised Tehsil Maidan people not to leave their hearth and homes and go out of the area, as the actions against the miscreants have been completed. Pamphlets have also been airdropped asking for support of the people by pointing out the miscreants. The pamphlet further warned that action would also be taken against those helping the miscreants.

Sources said that heavy guns from district headquarters Timargarh kept shelling Maidan area last night, but no loss of life was reported. Sources said that life in Maidan area remained suspended due to closure of link-roads under curfew, causing inconvenience to the people. However, life in all other areas of Dir lower including Timargarh has returned to normal and the people have heaved a sigh of relief.

A Jirga of local elders is underway at Lal Kalay area of Tehsil Maidan, which would elect their representatives, who would be meeting Dir peace Jirga members and in-charge forces action, brigadier Amalzada at Timargarh FC Headquarter to discuss the situation in the area.

Sources close to security forces told that curfew was likely to be lifted from Tehsil Maidan by this evening.

Troops secure 'key town' in Buner

BUNER :Troops took the main town in Buner on Wednesday after being dropped by helicopters behind Taliban lines on the second day of an offensive, a military spokesman said.

The Taliban's advance into a region just 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad earlier this month had sent shivers through Pakistan and heightened fears in the United States that the state was becoming more unstable.

Pakistan's demonstration of military resolve in Buner valley will likely reassure US President Barack Obama and Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai when they meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Washington May 6-7 to discuss regional strategy.

Taliban fighters held the entrances to the valley, but they risk being caught between security forces at their front and rear after the successful airdrop.

"The airborne forces have linked up to police and Frontier Constabulary in Daggar," the military spokesman said. "A link up with ground forces is in progress."

Residents saw troops rappel down ropes from helicopters outside Daggar, the main town in Buner, while firing and explosions were also heard intermittently.

"We saw a helicopter dropping troops on the hills early this morning. It came about seven or eight times," said Arshad Imran standing in the town's central bazaar. "We hear sound of explosions off and on and we can see helicopters flying over the mountains."

The military estimated some 500 militants were in the Buner valley and that it might take a week to clear them out.

Jet fighters and helicopters gunships provided air support for army and paramilitary troops leading the offensive on Tuesday.

The military has said a few hundred militants holed up in the mountains never represented a real threat to the capital.

But, Ikram Seghal, a retired army officer turned analyst, said the Taliban could have used Buner to advance on Tarbela, a dam regarded as critical for water and electricity supplies, before reaching Islamabad.

"It is very important psychologically, tactically and strategically to make sure that Buner is cleared of these Taliban," said Seghal.

US Encouragement

The Pentagon urged Pakistan to remain on the offensive.

"The key is to sustain these operations at this tempo and to keep the militants on their heels and to, ultimately, defeat them," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Washington is considering rushing hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid to Pakistan, the US Senate's second-ranking Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, told reporters.

Pakistan is desperate for military and economic aid to fight an insurgency that has washed back across the border from Afghanistan.

The first military operation began in Lower Dir on Sunday, and a military spokesman said 10 soldiers and around 70 militants were killed in three days of fighting there. Independent casualty estimates were unavailable.