Tuesday, June 16, 2009

1st EU-Pakistan Summit To Focus On Trade Links, Anti-terrorism

BRUSSELS --The European Union and Pakistan hold their first summit Wednesday, with the fight against terrorism and deepening trade links topping the agenda, according to a draft text.

In a joint declaration prepared for the summit, the two agree to launch " strategic dialogue" on "development, education, science and technology, security, counter-terrorism, strengthening democracy, human rights and enhancing trade."

The E.U. which regularly stresses Pakistan's strategic importance in the region, is also set this week to hail Islamabad's efforts to tackle terrorism and recognise "the sacrifice which the Pakistani people and armed forces are making notably during ongoing operations in North West Frontier Province."

That is where their forces are believed to be on the brink of an all-out onslaught to crush the Taliban in the Swat valley.

In separate conclusions drawn up for an summit Thursday and Friday, E.U. leaders express confidence "a successful outcome would greatly strengthen the democratically elected government in achieving its political and development objectives."

At the landmark E.U.-Pakistan summit Wednesday, Europe is also set to offer more relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance in the Swat valley, according to the draft text seen by AFP.

In a report published Tuesday, NGO Oxfam International criticised "Europe's feeble response to the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan," saying it was " hampering efforts to assist more than 2 million people who have fled the fighting."

At the summit Pakistani President Ali Zardari and his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus, whose country holds the rotating E.U. presidency, are also set to agree to boost bilateral trade ties. The ultimate goal is a free trade agreement.

In the meantime the E.U. will "explore" how Pakistan could benefit from aspects of the bloc's preferential tariff regime, which affords customs privileges in return for respecting certain principles in the areas of workers' rights and the environment, according to the draft text.

From Rah-e-Rast to Rah-e-Nijat : Army ready to enter South Waziristan

From Rah-e-Rast to Rah-e-Nijat : Army ready to enter South Waziristan

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army has formally recieved marching orders against Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and preparations for the first phase of a miltary operation in South Waziristan have already been completed, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Athar Abbas said on Tuesday.

”The government has taken a principled decision to launch a military operation against Baitullah and his network,” Abbas said. Abbas told a press conference – which he addressed alongside Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira – that 13 terrorists were killed and another three were apprehended in Malakand and Dir during the last 24 hours. Abbas also said Baitullah claimed the support of a 10,000-strong militia

Abbas said Peochar valley, a stronghold for the Taliban, had been secured completely and a link up from Chaprial to Peochar had been completed.

He said the civil administration and police had become fully functional in Shangla. Kaira said the government would provide the army all the resources it needed to successfully complete the operation against the Taliban. The minister did not rule out the possibility of weapons flowing into the Tribal Areas from Afghanistan.

Abbas said there were unconfirmed reports that Uzbek militant leader Tahir Yuldashev was injured in a Pakistan Air Force strike on Sunday in the Makeen area of South Waziristan. He gave no further details.

Rival groups rally in Tehran

Tens of thousands of opposition and pro-government demonstrators have held rallies in the Iranian capital, raising fears of possible clashes.Thousands of people gathered at a government-organised rally in Tehran's central Vali Asr square on Tuesday, while a similar-sized demonstration was held by opposition supporters in the city's north.
State television footage showed a crowd of thousands of flag-waving protesters at the pro-government rally, while the media was banned from filming the opposition protests.
"They are two completely different events," Al Jazeera's Teymoor Nabili, who watched both rallies, said.
"The Ahmadinejad rally in the south was a much more organised affair - they had built a little platform and there were speakers there."
He said by contrast the smaller, anti-government rally, taking place just six or seven kilometres away, was "almost completely silent".
"They're planning to start chanting at 10pm tonight [17:30 GMT]," he said.
Rival protests

Pro-government demonstrators have demanded the government crack down on the opposition, while their anti-government rivals have protested that their votes were "stolen" in the presidential election, which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent, win a landslide victory over his rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Seven people were killed on the fringes of a massive opposition rally a day earlier.

Mossavi had urged his supporters to stay away from Tuesday's rally amid fears of further clashes.

In a message posted on his website, he asked his supporters to "exercise self-restraint".

Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian political analyst, said that the government had arranged its protest on Tuesday as a response to the anti-government movement.

"The government doesn't want to appear as being too soft - that's why they called this rally today and asked its supporters to come to the square where Mousavi's supporters had decided to gather," he told Al Jazeera.

"By arranging these crowds the government is making two points. It wants to demonstrate that it is firm in dealing with this crisis, [and] on the other hand they have been called [on] by the pro-government crowd to crack down.

"In a sense it is a justification for the seven people who were killed last night."

Possible recount

The rallies came just hours after Iran's powerful Guardian Council said it could order a partial vote recount if it found irregularities.

The legislative body has ruled out annulling the disputed poll, but the Council's move appears to be a first concession by authorities to the protest movement.

A spokesman for the Council, a constitutional watchdog formed by a 12-member group of clerics and Islamic law experts, said only that it was "ready to recount the disputed ballot boxes claimed by some candidates, in the presence of their representatives".

"It is possible that there may be some changes in the tally after the recount," Abbasali Kadkhodai, a Council spokesman said.

"Based on the law, the demand of those candidates for the cancellation of the vote, this cannot be considered," he told state television.

Media curbed

In Washington, Barack Obama, the US president, said he believed "people's voices should be heard and not suppressed" but also said that he did not want to be seen as "meddling" in Iranian internal affairs, given the history between the two countries.

Iran has grown increasingly sensitive to how the world views the heightened tensions and has subsequently restricted reporting by journalists working for foreign media.

Iranian state television said earlier that the "main agents" in post-election unrest had been arrested while carrying explosives and guns.

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, Iran's intelligence minister, said his ministry was chasing two categories of people seeking to create instability in Iran, one of them backed from abroad.

Despite the upheaval in Iran, Ahmadinejad travelled to Russia for a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, his first foreign trip since official results showed he had secured a second four-year term.

Owais stresses need for quality education

PESHAWAR: NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani Tuesday urged the heads of universities and other institutions to adopt policies and approaches for ensuring a minimum level of quality education.

He was presiding over a meeting of the vice-chancellors of all the public sector universities. Besides discussing several other issues, the meeting reviewed the existing procedures relating to grant of affiliation by universities to different subordinate institutions.

The governor said that huge resources were being spent on education and achievement of the desired standards of quality of knowledge was the best way to achieve the objective of their judicious utilisation.

The meeting also formed two committees comprising vice-chancellors of different universities to formulate necessary proposals within a week. The conference deliberated in detail on various aspects of the process of granting affiliations by universities to both public and private sector education institutions.