Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pakistani Taliban leader possibly killed by U.S.

WASHINGTON -- Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud may have been killed in a U.S. drone attack, a U.S. official said Friday.

"There's reason to believe Mehsud may be dead, but there's no confirmation at this time," the official said.

Mehsud's second wife was killed early Wednesday in a suspected U.S. drone attack, according to intelligence sources and relatives.

The unmanned aerial vehicle targeted the home of Mehsud's father-in-law, Mulvi Ikram ud Din, and dropped two missiles on the residence in northwestern Pakistan, an intelligence official said.

Mehsud's second wife was one of two people killed in the strike, according to the sources. Four others were wounded, they said.

Muhammad Jamal, a Taliban member in the area, said the attack caused injuries to children and women.

The U.S. military routinely offers no comment on reported drone attacks.

However, the United States is the only country operating in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones, which are controlled remotely.

Mehsud and other key leaders of the Pakistani Taliban have been targeted by the ongoing Pakistani military operation in northwest Pakistan. Hideouts linked to Mehsud are regularly shelled by both Pakistani aircraft and suspected U.S. drones.

Mehsud's close aide recently confirmed that the Pakistani Taliban chief was behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was gunned down at a political rally in December 2007. Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is the president of Pakistan.

The Pakistani government and CIA officials have said in the past that Mehsud was responsible for Bhutto's death.

US has 2 more tough years in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – An incoming adviser to the top U.S. general in Afghanistan predicted Thursday that the United States will see about two more years of heavy fighting and then either hand off to a much improved Afghan fighting force or "lose and go home."
David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who will assume a role as a senior adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been highly critical of the war's management to date. He outlined a "best-case scenario" for a decade of further U.S. and NATO involvement in Afghanistan during an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Under that timeline, the allied forces would turn the corner in those two years, followed by about three years of transition to a newly capable Afghan force and about five years of "overwatch."
"We'll fight for two years and then a successful transition, or we'll fight for two years and we'll lose and go home," Kilcullen said.
"I think we need to persist," he said, but with "some pretty significant limits on how much we're prepared to spend, how many troops we're prepared to send, how long we can do this for."
Kilcullen was speaking for himself, and it is not clear that McChrystal shares his dark assessment. McChrystal is assembling what aides describe as a blunt summing up of a war his predecessor called a stalemate. That review is due within weeks and may lead to a request for additional U.S. forces beyond those President Barack Obama has already sent to Afghanistan this year.
The report is expected recommend changes in the way the United States and NATO organize and manage the war. Ahead of those recommendations, the Pentagon set up a new command center, an ultra-secure war room where a people from a mix of services and disciplines sit together. The command post is supposed to quickly process information for McChrystal and bulldoze some of the pentagon's legendary bureaucracy.
Separately, the Obama administration is developing new measures of success in Afghanistan, something top military leaders promised Congress months ago. Some of the yardsticks would apply to the Afghan government, some to its armed forces and police and some to the United States.
Obama announced a retailored war strategy in March, with a streamlined focus on ensuring that Afghanistan cannot be used as a harbor for al-Qaida. He has committed 21,000 additional U.S. forces for Afghanistan this year, roughly doubling the U.S. footprint to 68,000 in a year.
The United States does have compelling reasons to continue the fight, Kilcullen said, but Obama's counterterrorism mandate isn't "at the top of my list."
His top reasons: The United States and NATO have promised protection to the Afghan people; the future of the NATO military alliance could hinge on perseverance in Afghanistan; and if Afghanistan crumbles, nuclear-armed Pakistan would probably follow.
Kilcullen, formerly an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the Taliban-led insurgency is pursuing a classic strategy in which a militarily weaker force avoids direct warfare and sits back to "wait us out 'til we get tired and go home."

Clinton Deflects Questions on Mission to N. Korea

NEW YORK -- Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday that, while negotiating the release this week of two American journalists detained in North Korea, he went no further than previous Obama administration statements in expressing regret for the journalists having entered the country illegally.

North Korea pardoned and released the two journalists after Clinton met in Pyongyang on Tuesday with the country's ailing dictator, Kim Jong-Il. North Korea said later that Clinton had apologized; the White House denied that any apology was offered.

On Thursday, Clinton spoke publicly for the first time about the trip the White House has described as a "private humanitarian mission."

While not specifically addressing whether his remarks constituted an apology, Clinton said the secretary of state -- his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton -- had already expressed regret for the journalists' breach of the North Korean border. "I was not asked for any more, nor did I offer any more," he said.

Clinton, appearing at a news conference about his foundation's efforts to combat AIDS, deflected questions about his impressions of Kim and about whether he had made concessions to the North Koreans to free the journalists.

"My job was to do one thing, which I was honored to do, as an American and as a father," he said. "I wanted those young women to be able to come home."

"Anything I say beyond that could inadvertently affect the decisions and moves either here or in North Korea, and the attitudes of our allies," Clinton continued.

The two journalists, Euna Lee, 36, and Laura Ling, 32, were detained by North Korean soldiers on March 17, and then sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean prison camp for illegal entry.

The former president answered questions at his Harlem-based William J. Clinton Foundation, in a room packed with about 150 reporters, at a news conference intended to announce the foundation's new agreements for low-cost AIDS and tuberculosis drugs for the developing world.

Clinton did not directly respond to a question about whether the trip has helped to restore him to the role of elder statesman, an image that suffered because of controversial comments he made during his wife's presidential campaign.

"As soon as the election was over, I went back to work here," he said. "I just let my work speak for itself."

"There can only be one president at a time," said Clinton, adding that he does not want his statements to restrict the administration's ability to chart a way forward. "It's not helpful and it's not necessary."

Clinton described a "deeply emotional" first encounter with Lee and Ling. He said they were "delightful" on the trip home to Los Angeles by private plane, so happy and excited they couldn't sleep. Lee talked frequently about being reunited with her young daughter, he said.

The two journalists ate huevos rancheros for breakfast when the private plane stopped at an American base in Japan, Clinton said, and were careful to measure their food intake because they had been on a radically different diet for almost five months.

"It was basically a lovely thing," he said.

7 terrorists killed, 17 apprehended in Swat: ISPR

SWAT: Seven terrorists were killed and 17 others apprehended as search and clearance operations continued in Swat and Malakand with the support of local Lashkars during the last 24 hours.

According to ISPR, security forces apprehended 6 suspects from Jan Patai near Alpurai while 2 terrorists were killed during search operation in Amankot.

Security forces apprehended 2 terrorists from Perona near Jambil and 1 terrorist was killed at Rashghatta-Kokarai near Jambil.

Four terrorists voluntarily surrendered themselves to security forces in Dakorak.

Security forces killed 4 terrorists and apprehended 6 suspects during an encounter at Samsel Banda near Kabbal. Security forces also recovered 20 pistols, 2 Small Machine Guns, 15 rifles, 3 Tearguns, 6 Light Machine Guns, 10 rounds of 82 mm Mortar,1 x IED and ammunition of different calibers during search operation at Sharafai Banda near Kabbal.

On an information provided by locals Security Forces carried out raid and arrested 3 terrorists in Guljabba.

Security forces recovered 21 x rifles, 1 RPG-7, 2 rounds of RPG-7, 3x84 mm rounds, 1 Small Machine Gun, 1 IED and ammunition of different calibers from Doghlai near Chuprial in Swat during search operation.

Kidnappings on the rise in NWFP(Pukhtunkhwa)

Most of the business community and investors belonging to NWFP are leaving the province or even the country, thus shutting down 80 per cent industry in the province due to massive incidents of kidnapping by the militants and other criminals.
Reliable sources told TheNation that the war in the province is not the only problem, there is an even more terrible issue faced by the masses badly affecting the economic condition of the province in particular and the country in general.
They said these criminals, many of them having close ties with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and some other groups, have started kidnapping businessmen, industrialists, NGO staffers, government employees and any wealthy person only to extort money under TTP umbrella.
Sources revealed that more than 1000 persons had been kidnapped during one year and released after payment of billions of rupees ransom. Sources further revealed that the government was ignoring this serious completely issue and was only busy in war on terror.
Mohammad Ishaq, Vice President of Sarhad Chamber of Commerce while talking to TheNation said that most of the industry had been shut down due to the rampant crime. One year earlier there were around 2,254 industrial units working in the province, which had now come down to 594, he lamented.
Both war on terror and kidnapping factors played vital role in destroying the economy of the province. Due to terror war, 178 out of total 500 units closed their operations in Swat but law and order situation forced 55 units to shut down in Peshawar, 9 out of 33 in Risalpur, 80 out of 200 in Hattar Industrial Zone. In addition to deterioration of law and order, withdrawal of incentives caused shut down of 136 units in Gadoon Amazai industrial zone, he said.
The closure of industrial units primarily hit the labour class to the extent that in Peshawar alone, out of 125,000 workers, 100,000 got unemployed, which he said was not an issue to be ignored. He said, “I am the only person still living here but most of my siblings have shifted to other cities of Pakistan and the rest of them were about to take the same decision”. He said that apart from closure of industrial units, 25 per cent of business community had been shifted from the province. “Some have gone to other parts of the country but many who could afford, preferred to leave the country because most of them are those who had been the victim of kidnappers”, he added.

Clinton: It is a 'great regret' the US is not in International Criminal Court
Hillary Clinton has signalled a significant shift by the US in favour of the international criminal court, the world body that pursues war criminals but was strenuously opposed by the Bush administration.

In the most public expression of support yet from Barack Obama's administration, the US secretary of state expressed regret that the US has not yet joined the ICC.

The court, set up in 2002, has pursued dictators, mainly from Africa, who are alleged to have been engaged in genocide and other war crimes.

The US is at present not only not a member but government officials are theoretically banned from any engagement with the ICC whatsoever. An administration official predicted there will be increased US cooperation with the ICC but cautioned against expecting early entry.

Clinton, speaking at a public meeting in Kenya, the first leg of an African tour, indicated she hoped this would come sooner rather than later: "This is a great regret that we are not a signatory. I think we could have worked out some of the challenges that are raised concerning our membership. But that has not yet come to pass."

There is a divide in the Obama administration over entry. Clinton and some other senior figures at the White House and state department are passionately in favour, while others advocate caution, saying the president can afford not to rush membership and should wait to see how the ICC evolves.

Supporters of the ICC, including the UK, which is a member, have long advocated the US joining, saying this would immensely strengthen the body.

But President George Bush blocked American membership, expressing fears that US officials could be open to arrest for alleged war crimes. The Pentagon was concerned that US soldiers might end up in court in The Hague.

In December 2000, just before he left office, the former president Bill Clinton signed up to the ICC. But Bush two years later announced that the US would not be joining and a bill ratifying membership failed to get through Congress.

Noah Weisbord, who teaches law at Duke University and who worked in The Hague with the ICC's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, expressed scepticism about whether the US would sign up within the next four years, but he said the US can help the ICC in other ways. This included help in gathering evidence and in isolating diplomatically leaders accused of war crimes as a precursor to bringing them to justice.

"Hilary Clinton's comment that she regrets that the US is not yet a signatory to the ICC is intriguing. I think it marks an important moment in the courtship between the US and the ICC. Not only has she voiced an aspiration, but she has explicitly stated that the US has been cooperating with the ICC," said Weisbord.

Barack Obama backed the ICC's decision earlier this year to issue an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in connection with the mass killings in Darfur.

This week Clinton criticised African leaders who continued to support Bashir instead of helping to bring him to justice. She said the US supported the charges and considered the ICC indictments against him as a clear message that his behaviour was outside accepted bounds.

The British government was coy yesterday about reacting to her comments. A Foreign Office spokesperson issued a short statement, without referring to the US: "The UK played a leading role in the negotiations and drafting of the Rome statute [which set up the ICC]. We believed then, and continue to do so, that the principles of the statute can help bring an end to the culture of impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community."

During his election campaign, Obama's foreign policy advisers said he would on taking office consult with US military commanders and examine the track record of the court before reaching a decision.

But the advisers also said that membership would be difficult while the US was still in Iraq and the prison at Guantánamo Bay remained open.

Supporters of the ICC say the US is losing out by not being a member, citing discussion currently underway on adding the crime of aggression to the ICC's list. This is being shaped without US participation. A vote on the new crime is scheduled for May next year in Uganda.

So far 110 countries have ratified the Rome statute. Those who have not signed, apart from the US, include Russia, China and Israel.

Although the Bush administration frequently cited Pentagon concerns, US lawyers report that there appears to be a shift there too, with some senior military figures now viewing the court as a useful tool rather than a threat.

One of the most prestigious international legal bodies in the US, the American Society of International Law, published a report in March from its own taskforce, which unanimously recommended that the Obama administration officially engage with the ICC and give serious consideration to joining the court.

About the International Criminal Court

The ICC was set up in 2002 to ensure individuals engaged in genocide, war crimes and other atrocities would no longer escape with impunity.

Temporary ad hoc courts have been established in the past to deal with Nazi war crimes and more recently with ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda. But the international court is a permanent one and is based in The Hague.

The creation of the ICC had long been lobbied for by human rights campaigners after watching a host of atrocities created round the world without any action being taken.
Its powers were not retrospective and it has only be able to tackle crimes alleged to have been committed after 1 July 2002.

So far the ICC has investigated or started the process of prosecution into crimes in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan. With regard to the latter, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, over the mass killings in Darfur. But the limitations of the ICC have been exposed, with Bashir able to travel freely round Africa without being arrested.

The prosecutor can decide when to intervene, or can react to complaints against a state or individual or a request from the UN security council.

Pakistan: Laws To Be Reviewed Post-Christian Havoc

Pakistan's prime minister pledged Thursday to review laws that are "detrimental to religious harmony" nearly a week after a Muslim mob killed eight Christians following rumors that a Quran was desecrated.

Though he did not specify it, Yousuf Raza Gilani's announcement suggests that the government may review Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty for those convicted of insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad or the Muslim holy book.

To date no one has been executed under the blasphemy laws, but those prosecuted tend to be non-Muslim minorities. Anyone can make an accusation under the laws, and they are often misused to settle personal scores. Still, attempts to reform the related rules in the past have met with tremendous resistance in the conservative nation of 175 million, which is 95 percent Muslim.

"A committee comprising constitutional experts, the minister for minorities, the religious affairs minister and other representatives will discuss the laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved," Gilani told a gathering in Gojra, the city where the eight Christians were killed and scores of homes belonging to Christians were burned last week.

He did not give more details or a timeframe, and his spokesman could not immediately provide more information.

Besides blasphemy laws, there are other legal measures that discriminate against certain religious groups in Pakistan.

For instance, a non-Muslim cannot be prime minister or president.

The Ahmadis, who consider themselves a Muslim sect, are forbidden from calling themselves Muslims or engaging in Muslim practices such as reciting Islamic prayers, according to the U.S. State Department's 2008 Human Rights Report.

The government has declared the Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority because the group's founder declared himself a prophet centuries after Muhammad, who Muslims believe was the final prophet.

Pakistan's Constitution also requires that laws be consistent with Islam, which is the state religion.

The killings in Gojra come as extremist Islam, fed by a virulent Taliban insurgent movement, is on the rise in Pakistan, making minorities feel more vulnerable than ever. Even Shiite Muslims, the second largest sect in Islam, face threats from extremists in the Sunni Muslim majority.

Gilani is one of a series of government officials who have visited Gojra over the past few days to calm the community and assure them of financial aid and other assistance. He said the government would provide $1.2 million to help reconstruct the areas damaged by the rioting, which began last Thursday but hit a peak Saturday.

Authorities say initial investigations showed that rumors of a Quran being defiled were untrue. Officials also say that Sunni extremist groups in the area spearheaded the attacks.

Gilani said the government would observe next Tuesday as "a day for minorities."

"All those who were found responsible for the gory acts will get exemplary punishment to prove that all citizens are equal and no one is above law," Gilani said.

2 Women Vie For Afghan Presidency

In a country where most women leave home only under the cover of a burqa, Shahla Atta wears bright pink nail polish, highlights her eyes with glitter and wants to be Afghanistan's next president.

Atta, 42, is one of two women among more than 30 candidates vying for the presidency _ an uphill and even dangerous undertaking. Neither has much chance of unseating President Hamid Karzai in the Aug. 20 vote. But just the fact that they are running open campaigns, plastering photos of their uncovered faces around Kabul, is an accomplishment in itself.

Many Afghans, especially in rural areas, believe that a woman should not show her face to non-family members.

"It is difficult for a woman even to invite some people over for tea and tell them about her ideas," said Shinkai Kharokhel, a female lawmaker in Kabul.

Then there is the Taliban, the extremist movement that banned girls from schools and ordered women to stay home and tend to their families during its harsh rule from 1996 to 2001. Taliban militants have targeted female politicians, and have claimed responsibility for the killings of policewomen and officials with the women's affairs ministry in recent years.

Frozan Fana, 40, the other woman running for president, hasn't campaigned in some outlying areas. Her vice presidential running mate, Mohammad Nasim Darmand, said he or other male deputies have gone to rallies instead. Most of her campaign events have been indoors with security-screened guests.

"Taliban and anti-government elements are against everyone, men and women, but women are soft targets for them," Kharokhel said.

Still, Fana, an orthopedic surgeon who has never held political office, has scheduled campaign events throughout the south _ a Taliban stronghold that includes Helmand province, where U.S. Marines and British soldiers are fighting major offensives.

Both Fana and Atta come from political families and cite husbands and fathers who were involved in politics as part of the experience that makes them ready to lead.

Atta, a Kabul lawmaker, says women can help reform a political system dominated by male cronyism and corruption.

"The people of Afghanistan are sick of this. Billions of dollars have been wasted," she said in an interview at her campaign headquarters. "My grandchildren will get old before Karzai changes this, so the women should bring change."

At a rally in Kabul this week, Atta, wearing a long black headscarf, told a tentful of more than 100 people _ the front rows packed with women _ that she has to fight particularly hard as a woman running against so many men.

Fana is more soft-spoken and quick to defer to male deputies on policy. Dressed in conservative black robes and a matching headscarf, she said she was eager to run because her medical work has shown her how much Afghans are hurting. She says she wants to help people who can't pay for care.

Neither woman has the sway of Afghanistan's first female presidential candidate, who ran in the last election in 2004. Massouda Jalal finished sixth in a field of 18 candidates _ though she received only 1.1 percent of the vote _ and served briefly as Women's Affairs Minister.

Fana and Atta are expected to finish near the bottom of the field in this election, which Karzai is favored to win.

Not all women support them. The Movement of Afghan Sisters, a nationwide voting bloc of 16,000 women, backs Ashraf Ghani, a man who is also a long-shot but seems stronger on women's rights, said Homaira Haqmal, the group's founder.

"Many of the female MPs in Afghanistan today came through warlords or the political machine. They aren't free to speak and they aren't decision makers," said the professor of law and political science at Kabul University.

Haqmal said the real battle for women's rights will be fought in the provinces, where women have to fight conservative culture and male-dominated local govenment both to run for office and to vote. Dozens of provincial council seats reserved for women are likely to go unfilled this year, because there are no candidates willing to run.

Haqmal's year-old group recruited 47 female candidates for provincial councils this year and is planning car pools to get women to the polls in areas where their husbands would be unlikely to let them out alone.

Sotomayor Confirmed by Senate, 68-31

WASHINGTON — Voting largely along party lines, the Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th justice of the Supreme Court. She will be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the court.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was expected to administer the oath of office to Judge Sotomayor, 55, in the next few days, with a formal ceremony likely in September. She succeeds Justice David H. Souter, who retired in June.

Democrats celebrated the successful nomination and relatively smooth confirmation process as a bright spot in a summer when they have been buffeted by several challenges, including rocky progress on their attempts to overhaul the nation’s health care system, President Obama’s falling approval ratings, the climbing unemployment rate and other lingering economic problems.

Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation was never in much doubt, given Democrats’ numerical advantage in the Senate. But the final vote — 68 to 31 — represented a partisan divide. No Democrat voted against her, while all but 9 of the chamber’s 40 Republicans did so. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, is ailing and did not vote.

During three days of debate on the Senate floor, Republicans labeled Judge Sotomayor a liberal judicial activist, decrying several of her speeches about diversity and the nature of judgments, as well as her votes in cases involving Second Amendment rights, property rights and a reverse-discrimination claim brought by white firefighters in New Haven.

“Judge Sotomayor is certainly a fine person with an impressive story and a distinguished background,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said this week. “But a judge must be able to check his or her personal or political agenda at the courtroom door and do justice evenhandedly, as the judicial oath requires. This is the most fundamental test. It is a test that Judge Sotomayor does not pass.”

But Democrats portrayed Judge Sotomayor as a mainstream and qualified judge whose life — rising from a childhood in a Bronx housing project to the Ivy League and now the Supreme Court — is a classic American success story. And they called her judicial record moderate and mainstream.

“Judge Sotomayor’s career and judicial record demonstrates that she has always followed the rule of law,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday. “Attempts at distorting that record by suggesting that her ethnicity or heritage will be the driving force in her decisions as a justice of the Supreme Court are demeaning to women and all communities of color.”

From the moment Mr. Obama chose her in May, many political strategists warned Republicans that opposing the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court would jeopardize the party in future elections. In the waning days of the debate, some Democrats sought to portray Republican opposition as a grave insult to Latinos.

“Republicans will pay a price for saying ‘no’ to this judge,” Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, said in Spanish at a news conference Wednesday.

And in July, the National Rifle Association, which historically has stayed out of judicial nomination fights, came out against Justice Sotomayor and said it would include senators’ confirmation vote in its legislative scorecard on gun-rights issues for the 2010 election — a pointed threat to Democrats from conservative-leaning states.

But attempts to appeal to interest-group politics in the confirmation process largely faltered.

The final vote was “a triumph of party unity over some of the interest group politics that you would have expected to play a bigger role,” said Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, which opposed Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation.

Many Republicans took pains to emphasize that their vote against Judge Sotomayor did not mean they were anti-Latino. They praised her credentials and her biography, saying they were troubled only by what they said was her judicial philosophy.

Before announcing his opposition to her nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona, last year’s Republican presidential nominee who has been sympathetic to calls by Latinos and others for reforming the nation’s immigration laws, first described her as an “immensely qualified candidate” with an “inspiring and compelling” life story. And he dwelled on his support for Miguel Estrada, an appeals-court nominee of President George W. Bush whom Democrats blocked from a vote even though “millions of Latinos would have taken great pride in his confirmation,” Mr. McCain said.

Many other Republicans echoed Mr. McCain’s approach in explaining their votes. On Thursday, for example, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, spoke at length about the “unfair and disgraceful” treatment of Mr. Estrada, while criticizing Judge Sotomayor’s record.

“I wish President Obama had chosen a Hispanic nominee whom all senators could support,” Mr. Hatch said.

Juan Hernández, who served as Hispanic outreach coordinator for Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign, said most Republicans had not done enough to persuade Hispanics that they were welcome in the party.

“It’s not good enough to give two or three lines about Hispanics and then say, ‘No, I’m not going to vote for Sotomayor,‘ “ he said. “We’re just losing Hispanics left and right. It’s amazing, in the Republican Party — we’re doing it to ourselves.”

But Manuel A. Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of conservatives who opposed the Sotomayor nomination, said Hispanics were ideologically diverse and would understand that Republican opposition to a particular liberal-leaning judge did not mean they were hostile to Hispanics — especially since her confirmation hearing was civil, he said.

“Hispanics are not going to be offended by the opposition because Republicans didn’t torment her,” Mr. Miranda said. “Republicans can take this vote because they treated her well.”

For many Hispanic voters, the symbolism of the first Latina joining the Supreme Court — and the memory of who opposed her — could be all that lingers, said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic advocacy group.

“This is a singularly definitive historic moment,” she said. “So it is a vote, I think, that will matter to the Latino community and will be remembered by the Latino community.”

What also remains to be seen is whether Democratic senators — especially those from conservative-leaning states and those who have received high ratings from the National Rifle Association in the past — will pay a political price for voting to confirm Judge Sotomayor despite the group’s opposition.

Andrew Arulanandam, an N.R.A. spokesman, declined to comment about the vote, but he did say it was too early to know how much weight his group would give to the Sotomayor vote when putting together its scores and endorsements for the 2010 election cycle.

Still, despite the seeming impotence of the gun-rights group’s ability to intervene in the nomination fight, Mr. Miranda said he believed the threat of lower ratings might have had led more Republicans to vote against Judge Sotomayor, noting that many had cited her alleged lack of support for Second Amendment rights in explaining their votes.

“That was a seismic shift,” Mr. Miranda said.

Matthew Dowd, a former political adviser to Mr. Bush who had warned Republicans to be civil, disagreed. He said the Supreme Court confirmation process had simply become increasingly polarized along party lines, regardless of a nominee’s qualifications or the stance of groups like the National Rifle Association.

“My view is that gun rights had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Supreme Court nominations have become dodgeball games, with Democrats lining up on one side and Republicans lining up on our side.”

Gilani visits Gojra, condemns attack

GOJRA: Prime Minister Gilani has said that around 98 people have been rounded up in connection to Gojra attacks, according to a DawnNews report.

The Prime minister and Chief Minister of Punjab have announced two hundred million rupees for rehabilation of the victims during a visit to Gojra.

Gilani also announced the allocation of two Senate seats for the Christian community.

Five per cent quota will also be reserved for the community along with doubling funds for their developmental projects.

The cabinet and the national assembly has unanimously condemned the incident and the government has formed a judicial commission to bring the culprits to task, said Gilani.

The prime minister also led a minute's silence to pay his respects to the victims of the violence.

Meanwhile the Chief Minister of Punjab Shabaz Sharif also reiterated that all culprits will be brought to task and that the political administration is working hard to handle the situation.

It was also announed that August 11 will be observed as 'minorities day'.

Pakistan raises Swat militia to fight Taliban

PESHAWAR: Pakistan on Thursday showed off teenagers and hundreds of armed men from a private army who vowed Thursday to kick out the Taliban from the Swat valley, officials and witnesses said.

'We killed three Taliban and captured three others yesterday,' Syed Badshah, head of the private militia, told reporters in Qalagai town in northern Swat, where militants have fought for two years to impose sharia law.

Pakistan's military invited journalists to visit the town and meet the lashkar, a tribal militia raised traditionally on a temporary basis, and show off bodies of purportedly slain militants.

Around 300 people, mostly ethnic Pashtuns sporting grey beards and a clutch of younger men, squatted on open ground with guns slung over their shoulders.

Holding a Kalashnikov rifle with visible ease, one boy told private TV channel Geo he was 12 years old and joined the Lashkar for the sake of peace.

'I want peace in the valley, I want the schools reopened in our area,' said Gul Nawab. 'Yes, I know how to use a Kalashnikov,' he claimed.

Pakistani government forces have been bogged down, fighting for years against Taliban militants spreading out of tribal areas into settled areas, such as the northwest district and one-time tourist region of Swat.

Saddled with a standing army that lacks equipment and counter-insurgency specialists, one of Pakistan's answers has been to arm and support tribesmen to protect local communities.

'This is the first Lashkar that people have formed in Swat on a self-help basis,' said Major Suleman Akbar, army commander in the northern Kabal district of Swat, vowing full cooperation with the private militia.

'We will provide them arms, ammunition, rations and other logistic support' said Akbar as he handed three assault rifles and 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

'The Taliban are creating chaos in the name of Islam, they are terrorists,' Badshah told AFP by telephone.

'We have taken up arms in our defence. The lashkar has been raised because life became miserable in Swat with the daily slaughtering of innocent people.'

Around 5,000 people have joined the lashkar, he claimed, urging the government to arm them quickly. He confirmed that members were aged 12 to 50 years.

'Taliban know only the language of guns, we will also speak to them in their language now,' 19-year-old Salman Ahmed told AFP.

In late April, Pakistan launched a blistering air and ground offensive designed to dislodge Taliban from in and around Swat after rebels flouted a peace deal and advanced into new territory further south towards Islamabad.

The valley had slipped out of the government control after a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah mounted a violent campaign for tough sharia laws.

Thousands of his supporters led a brutal campaign beheading opponents, burning schools and fighting against government troops since November 2007.

Commanders say more than 1,800 militants and 166 security personnel have died in the military operation but there is no independent confirmation of the death tolls, and skirmishes in and around Swat have continued.