Wednesday, July 22, 2009

US asks Pakistan: Stop begging, rely on own resources.

The Frontierpost
ISLAMABAD: US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has asked Pakistan to rely on its own resources to overcome its financial difficulties faced by the southasian nation. Addressing a joint press conference with Minister for State on Finance Hina Rabbani Khar here Wednesday, visiting US envoy regretted that the international community did not offered “satisfactory cooperation” to Pakistan for overcoming its financial hardships. However, Holbrooke assured that the US would continue its support for the country. US envoy said that the reality that India is a big power in the region should not be overlooked and must be accepted, suggesting Pakistan to extend cooperation with its neighbour “for its own interest.” Holbrooke also announced an aid of 165 million dollars for Swat IDPs in addition to already announced $350 million. Giving the breakdown of the $ 165 million assistance to Pakistan, Richard C Halbrooke said that the $165 million will be channeled both to meet the ongoing needs of displaced persons, located in camps and in host communities, and also to address the needs of families as they return to rebuild their homes and communities in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. He said $45 million will be provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support locally driven rehabilitation of basic infrastructure, including: water systems; health facilities; schools; roads; and bridges - maximizing the use of local labor and resources. Richard C Halbrooke said that $ 30 million will be contributed by USAID for small-scale infrastructure and community development grants for displaced families in NWFP. He added that$ 25 million will be provided by USAID to give families resources needed to rebuild their homes and livelihood. This, he said will be facilitated through community-driven, quick-impact cash-for-work programs in areas of reconstruction and return. He said that this could include removal of rubble and rehabilitation of irrigation systems in conflict-affected areas. As part of this assistance, USAID will support Pakistani government efforts to rebuild public buildings and facilitate the return of civil servants. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke said that US $ 23 million will be contributed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from the State Department's Bureau for Refugees, Population and Migration (PRM) for humanitarian relief and managing the voluntary return of displaced families to their homes. This, he said, included providing emergency shelter and non-food items to camps managed by UNHCR, as well as to displaced families in host communities. It also includes protecting children from violence and reuniting unaccompanied children with their parents, and funding facilitated transportation to assist the Pakistani authorities to support the return of displaced people to their homes, he remarked. Richard Halbrooke said that $20 million will be provided by USAID to rebuild education infrastructure across Dir, Swat, and Buner. More than 315 schools in NWFP have been damaged or destroyed due to the Taliban insurgency, and nearly 4,000 more are serving as informal camps, for approximately 200,000 internally displaced persons, he added. He said that $12 million will be contributed to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from the State Department's bureau for refugees, to be used for humanitarian operations and assistance for returning families as they rebuild their lives. This includes support for operations that assist displaced families in host communities and in camps run by the Pakistan Red Crescent Society/ICRC, help for those who need to trace their family members, and provision of aid to people living in conflict-affected areas, he remarked. Halbrooke said that $10 million will be provided by USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for immediate livelihood and agriculture programs, mobile health clinics in Buner and Swat, and cash-for-work activities. As part of this assistance, OFDA will provide tool kits valued at approximately $2 million, which will be distributed through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and will include supplies such as shovels, pickaxes, and hammers, he added. Much of this money was included in the Obama Administration's supplemental appropriation for Pakistan last month, and the new disbursements will enable UNHCR, ICRC, IOM and other courageous relief organizations to more effectively and expeditiously serve the Pakistani people, he said. In addition to new programs from existing financial commitments, he disclosed that the State Department will provide a new grant of nearly $1 million that will allow the Pakistani government to work with U.S. and Pakistani telecom companies to deploy an SMS-text messaging system designed to help displaced families obtain critical information from the government, international relief agencies, and local community members. Today's announcement, he said is a further indication of the American people's commitment to support the Pakistani people in their time of need. Since May 2009, the Obama Administration has committed more than $320 million to the Pakistani people to help them respond to this crisis.

Afghanistan moves troops to south, clashes in north

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan is repositioning forces to the south after complaints too few are involved in major U.S. and British offensives against the Taliban, officials said on Wednesday, even as clashes erupted in the north.

Afghan troops battled a group of Taliban fighters dug into a valley in northern Kunduz on Wednesday, Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimi said. He said fighters loyal to a wanted al Qaeda-linked Uzbek leader had entered the north recently.

With violence this year hitting its highest levels since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launched assaults in the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand this month.

The new offensives are the first major operations under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its militant Islamist allies and stabilize Afghanistan, which holds a presidential election on August 20.

A convoy belonging to a minor presidential candidate, former Taliban commander Mullah Salam Rocketi, was ambushed as he returned to Kabul after campaigning in northern Baghlan and one of his campaign officials was killed, Rocketi told Reuters.

Rocketi, an army commander during Taliban rule who renounced the militants after their overthrow to become a minister of parliament, was unhurt. He took his name because he often fired rocket-propelled grenades at occupying Soviet troops.

Two U.S. troops were killed by a roadside bomb in the south on Wednesday, the U.S. military said, taking to at least 30 the number killed in combat in July, the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces.

Another member of the NATO-led force was killed in a separate blast but the nationality was not confirmed in Afghanistan. Britain's Ministry of Defense said a British soldier had been killed.


The aim of the operations in Helmand is to clear the vast province of insurgents and hold the ground it wins, something overstretched NATO forces have so far been unable to do.

But the offensives underscored weaknesses in the Afghan security forces, with only about 650 fighting alongside some 4,000 U.S. Marines and a similar number of British troops in the major opium producing center.

Brigadier General Lawrence Nicholson, commander of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, complained about a week after Operation Strike of the Sword began in Helmand that there were not enough Afghan troops involved. "You can do the math," he said.

He said many more were needed to build relations with local leaders, a major part of a new counter-insurgency strategy under General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and identify Taliban members hiding among residents.

Azimi blamed the media for complaints about the paucity of Afghan troops fighting in Helmand and said security forces were stretched to their limit combating insurgents across the country.

He said an extra battalion of about 700 troops was being sent to join the fight in Helmand. Afghanistan already has more than 5,000 troops in the province, he said.

"We are sending an extra battalion to Helmand, it is en route and, with its arrival, the number of Afghan forces will exceed 6,000 in Helmand," Azimi told a media conference.

Afghanistan's army totals about 95,000 troops. The United States has about 58,000 troops in the country, with another 39,000 from NATO and other non.-U.S. coalition members.

Washington plans to increase its troop levels to 68,000 by year's end, more than double the 32,000 at the end of 2008.

Nicholson has said there were also problems with the quality of Afghan police units. Under Obama's new strategy, 4,000 more troops are also being sent to train Afghan security forces.

Violence has spiked across the country since the operations in Helmand began.

U.S. and British troops in Helmand and elsewhere have so far borne the brunt of the Taliban backlash. Record death tolls have prompted questions in London and Washington about strategies in Afghanistan and how long troops should remain.

In Berlin, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said about 300 German soldiers had joined a week-long offensive against the Taliban around Kunduz.

Russia should have quarter of nuclear power market: Medvedev

MOSCOW :Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that Russia should hold a quarter of the international nuclear energy market, as he announced an ambitious development programme.

"With ultra-modern technologies and the ability to guarantee the complete cycle, from the production of uranium, to the maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power plants, Russia can count on a minimum of a quarter of the international market," Medvedev said at a meeting in Sarov in the Volga region.

"It is a very strong position," he added, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia should take advantage of the fact that more and more countries "want a proportion of atomic power in their energy balance", he said.

"Russia should occupy a position that corresponds with the country's potential," he said.

Medvedev said more than 120 billion rubles (2.7 billion euros, 3.8 billion dollars) was going to be made available between 2010 and 2012 for the development of a new generation of nuclear power technologies.

Terrorist training centre bombed in S. Waziristan

TANK: Ten militants were killed when military planes bombed suspected positions of militants in South Waziristan on Wednesday.

(AFP quoted an official as saying that the planes bombed two places in the Sarwakai area of South Waziristan.

‘Our jets hit a militant base in Gurguri and a Taliban compound in Ous Pass in Sarwakai. Both were destroyed and a total of four militants were killed,’ the military official said. The militants killed in the strikes belonged to Mehsud’s group, he said.)

Official sources said that a training centre run by Baitullah Mehsud’s group was destroyed in Gurguri while some houses were bombed in Ous Pass area.

Local people were reported to have vacated their houses because of the possibility of military operation in the area and these were occupied by the Taliban.

Four bodies, two of sons of a slain militant commander, were found on the Tank-Jandola road on Wednesday, police said.

The bullet-riddled bodies, said to be of Idrees and Sher Qanoon, the sons of late militant commander Gul Pir, Jamshed and Younus, were found near the Fauji bridge.

Gul Pir, a supporter of Baitullah Mehsud, was killed during an operation in Sheikh Utar area two days ago. Security forces also arrested 12 militants during the operation.

According to sources, incidents of target killing are taking place in the town of Tank and adjoining areas and Baitullah’s men are at the receiving end.

It may be mentioned that earlier Baitullah group virtually ruled the area but now it is under the control of its adversary Turkistan Bhittani.

IDP crisis puts strains on UN’s global aid efforts

GENEVA: The United Nations on Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a 10-fold increase in needs in Pakistan, Reuters reported.

This recession is driving up humanitarian needs, UN Emergency Relief CoordiNator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.

A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008.

While there have been no large natural disasters so far in 2009, the collapse of the globally-dominated Capitalist system has amplified needs in impoverished countries, and especially in those in protracted crisis such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Pakistan’s military incursion against Taliban fighters that has sent over two million people from their homes has also stretched UN aid operations, which are meanwhile expanding in Iraq and Zimbabwe as a result of better aid worker-access there.

Humanitarian need is increasing because of economic crisis and other global challenges, the report said, saying the loss of jobs and decline in remittances from relatives overseas had pushed more people into poverty and made food, health and education harder to access.

There is likely to be a rise in distress migration, malnutrition and social unrest, it said. Extreme economic hardship is likely to generate new, or exacerbate existing, social tensions and conflict.

For the most part, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, traditional donors such as the United States, European Union, Japan, Canada and the Nordics have not slashed their aid budgets, many of which were set before the financial crisis exploded in the last quarter of 2008.

However, budgets will be under greater pressure for 2010, because of the expected declines in government revenue if national income continues to fall and simultaneous increases in government borrowing for economic stimulus spending, the report circulated on Tuesday said.

The $4.8 billion shortfall for 2009 affects all major UN humanitarian projects, which involve supplying water, food, medical care and shelter, clearing landmines, and helping vulnerable people improve their agricultural output.

Countries with the biggest funding gaps include Sudan ($916 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo ($505 million), Zimbabwe ($458 million) and Somalia ($428 million).

Pakistan, which has seen the most dramatic change following the army offensive against militants that caused more than two million people to flee their homes, has a $312 million gap.

The UN report also stressed that Kenya has sunk into a more perilous situation, with food becoming more expensive and scarce, and refugee camps filling up with thousands of people fleeing violence in neighbouring Somalia, where insecurity has made it increasingly difficult and costly to deliver aid.

Zimbabwe’s funding needs have increased because of ongoing humanitarian pressures and also because the new power-sharing government has opened the door to more humanitarian activity.

Pakistan needs ‘Marshal Plan’ to overcome economic problems

ISLAMABAD: In their separate meetings with US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke on Wednesday, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani discussed a number of issues, including the country’s economic and security situation.

President Zardari said Pakistan needed a ‘Marshal Plan’ to overcome its economic problems. He urged the international community, particularly the US, to come forward and help the country fight the Taliban. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gilani informed Holbrooke that Washington should share credible and actionable intelligence with Pakistan and provide it drone aircraft and other much-needed equipment to enable Pakistan’s armed forces to take on the terrorists.

Drone attacks: Gilani said the continued drone attacks in FATA had proved counterproductive and impeded Pakistan’s efforts to fight militancy.

The prime minister urged the US to come forward in the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase in Swat and Malakand, as the displaced population had begun returning home. Gilani also urged the US to ensure the early passage of the Kerry-Luger bill and reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZs) bills from the US Congress.

Holbrooke assured the PM and the president of the US government’s continued support to Pakistan.

Pakistan Objects to U.S. Expansion in Afghan War


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan is objecting to expanded American combat operations in neighboring Afghanistan, creating new fissures in the alliance with Washington at a critical juncture when thousands of new American forces are arriving in the region.

Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that the Marines fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan, with the potential to further inflame the troubled province of Baluchistan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Pakistan does not have enough troops to deploy to Baluchistan to take on the Taliban without denuding its border with its archenemy, India, the officials said. Dialogue with the Taliban, not more fighting, is in Pakistan’s national interest, they said.

The Pakistani account made clear that even as the United States recommits troops and other resources to take on a growing Taliban threat, Pakistani officials still consider India their top priority and the Taliban militants a problem that can be negotiated. In the long term, the Taliban in Afghanistan may even remain potential allies for Pakistan, as they were in the past, once the United States leaves.

The Pakistani officials gave views starkly different from those of American officials regarding the threat presented by top Taliban commanders, some of whom the Americans say have long taken refuge on the Pakistani side of the border.

Recent Pakistani military operations against Taliban in the Swat Valley and parts of the tribal areas have done little to close the gap in perceptions.

Even as Obama administration officials praise the operations, they express frustration that Pakistan is failing to act against the full array of Islamic militants using the country as a base.

Instead, they say, Pakistani authorities have chosen to fight Pakistani Taliban who threaten their government, while ignoring Taliban and other militants fighting Americans in Afghanistan or terrorizing India.

Such tensions have mounted despite a steady rotation of American officials through the region. They were on display last weekend when, during a visit to India, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said those who had planned the Sept. 11 attacks were now sheltering in Pakistan. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued an immediate rebuttal.

Pakistan’s critical assessment was provided as the Obama administration’s special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday night.

The country’s perspective was given in a nearly two-hour briefing on Friday for The New York Times by senior analysts and officials of Pakistan’s main spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s policy. The main themes of the briefing were echoed in conversations with several military officers over the past few days.

One of the first briefing slides read, in part: “The surge in Afghanistan will further reinforce the perception of a foreign occupation of Afghanistan. It will result in more civilian casualties; further alienate local population. Thus more local resistance to foreign troops.”

A major concern is that the American offensive may push Taliban militants over the border into Baluchistan, a province that borders Waziristan in the tribal areas. The Pakistani Army is already fighting a longstanding insurgency of Baluch separatists in the province.

A Taliban spillover would require Pakistan to put more troops there, a Pakistani intelligence official said, troops the country does not have now. Diverting troops from the border with India is out of the question, the official said.

A spokesman for the American and NATO commands in Afghanistan, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, said in an e-mail message on Monday that there was no significant movement of insurgents out of Afghanistan, and no indication of foreign fighters moving into Afghanistan through Baluchistan or Iran, another concern of the Pakistanis.

Pakistani and American officials also cited some positive signs for the alliance. Increased sharing of information has sharpened the accuracy of strikes against militant hide-outs by Pakistani F-16 warplanes and drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. And Pakistani and American intelligence operatives are fighting together in dangerous missions to hunt down fighters from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas and in the North-West Frontier Province.

But the intelligence briefing clearly illuminated the differences between the two countries over how, in the American view, Pakistan was still picking proxies and choosing enemies among various Islamic militant groups in Pakistan.

The United States maintains that the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, leads an inner circle of commanders who guide the war in southern Afghanistan from their base in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.

American officials say this Taliban council, known as the Quetta shura, is sheltered by Pakistani authorities, who may yet want to employ the Taliban as future allies in Afghanistan.

In an interview last week, the new leader of American and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, paused when asked whether he was getting the cooperation he wanted from Pakistani forces in combating the Quetta shura. “What I would love is for the government of Pakistan to have the ability to completely eliminate the safe havens that the Afghan Taliban enjoy,” he said.

The Pakistani intelligence officials denied that Mullah Omar was even in Pakistan, insisting that he was in Afghanistan.

The United States asked Pakistan in recent years to round up 10 Taliban leaders in Quetta, the Pakistani officials said. Of those 10, 6 were killed by the Pakistanis, 2 were probably in Afghanistan, and the remaining 2 presented no threat to the Marines in Afghanistan, the officials said.

They also said no threat was posed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader who American military commanders say operates with Pakistani protection out of North Waziristan and equips and trains Taliban fighters for Afghanistan.

Last year, Washington presented evidence to Pakistani leaders that Mr. Haqqani, working with Inter-Services Intelligence, was responsible for the bombing last summer of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 54 people.

Pakistani officials insisted that Mr. Haqqani spent most of his time in Afghanistan, suggesting that the American complaints about him being provided sanctuary were invalid.

Another militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is also a source of deep disagreement.

India and the United States have criticized Pakistan for allowing Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, to be freed from jail last month.

The Pakistani officials said Mr. Saeed deserved to be freed because the government had failed to convince the courts that he should be kept in custody. There would be no effort to imprison Mr. Saeed again, in part because he was just an ideologue who did not have an anti-Pakistan agenda, the officials said.

Asians witness 21st century’s longest eclipse

The longest solar eclipse of the 21st century created near darkness in daytime, along a swath that stretched from India to China and the South Pacific.Millions gathered in the open to watch the spectacle, but millions more shuttered themselves inside their houses, gripped by fearful myths.The Pakistan Meteorological Department said Wednesday total solar eclipse is visible from India, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Japanese Islands and South Pacific Ocean.

The solar eclipse started at 5:58 am and ended at 11:12 am. It has been warned not to look at the sun without wearing proper eye shielding material as solar filter otherwise it can damage the eyesight.

The longest solar eclipse of the 21st century cast a shadow over much of Asia on Wednesday, plunging hundreds of millions into darkness across the giant land masses of India and China.

Ancient superstition and modern commerce came together in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which could end up being the most watched eclipse in history, due to its path over Earth’s most densely inhabited areas.

While the well-heeled took to the skies to watch the phenomenon from specially chartered planes, others took to holy waters to purify themselves as the sun’s rays were snuffed out from Mumbai to Shanghai.

The cone-shaped shadow, or umbra, created by the total eclipse first made landfall on the western Indian state of Gujarat shortly before 6:30 am (0100 GMT).

It then raced across India, blacking out the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, squeezing between the northern and southern tips of Bangladesh and Nepal before engulfing most of Bhutan, traversing the Chinese mainland and slipping back out to sea off Shanghai.

Monsoon clouds in India and bad weather over eastern China spoiled the party for millions who had got up early to watch the solar blackout.

The last total solar eclipse observed in Pakistan was on Aug. 11, 1999 in Karachi. Students and faculty of the astronomy department took an interest in the phenomenon.

The eclipse is met with trepidation and fear by some Pakistanis who believe that it is dangerous to undertake certain acts when an eclipse takes place.

Pregnant women are told to stay indoors and not cut anything, otherwise their child will be born with a cleft lip.