Saturday, June 26, 2010

Afghan Overture to Taliban Aggravates Ethnic Tensions

New York Times The drive by President Hamid Karzai to strike a deal with Taliban leaders and their Pakistani backers is causing deep unease in Afghanistan’s minority communities, who fought the Taliban the longest and suffered the most during their rule. The leaders of the country’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, which make up close to half of Afghanistan’s population, are vowing to resist — and if necessary, fight — any deal that involves bringing members of the Taliban insurgency into a power-sharing arrangement with the government. Alienated by discussions between President Karzai and the Pakistani military and intelligence officials, minority leaders are taking their first steps toward organizing against what they fear is Mr. Karzai’s long-held desire to restore the dominance of ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for generations. The dispute is breaking along lines nearly identical to those that formed during the final years of the Afghan civil war, which began after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989 and ended only with the American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 100,000 Afghans died, mostly civilians; the Taliban, during their five-year reign in the capital, Kabul, carried out several large-scale massacres of Hazara civilians. “Karzai is giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban, and he is opening up the old schisms,” said Rehman Oghly, an Uzbek member of Parliament and once a member of an anti-Taliban militia. “If he wants to bring in the Taliban, and they begin to use force, then we will go back to civil war and Afghanistan will be split.” The deepening estrangement of Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun communities presents a paradox for the Americans and their NATO partners. American commanders have concluded that only a political settlement can end the war. But in helping Mr. Karzai to make a deal, they risk reigniting Afghanistan’s ethnic strife. Talks between Mr. Karzai and the Pakistani leaders have been unfolding here and in Islamabad for several weeks, with some discussions involving bestowing legitimacy on Taliban insurgents. The leaders of these minority communities say that President Karzai appears determined to hand Taliban leaders a share of power — and Pakistan a large degree of influence inside the country. The Americans, desperate to end their involvement here, are helping Mr. Karzai along and shunning the Afghan opposition, they say. Mr. Oghly said he was disillusioned with the Americans and their NATO allies, who he says appear to be urging Mr. Karzai along. “We are losing faith in our foreign friends,” he said. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was worried about “the Tajik-Pashtun divide that has been so strong.” American and NATO leaders, he said, are trying to stifle any return to ethnic violence. “It has the potential to really tear this country apart,” Admiral Mullen said in an interview. “That’s not what we are going to permit.” Afghanistan’s minorities — especially the ethnic Tajiks — have always been the most reliable American allies, and made up the bulk of the anti-Taliban army that the Americans aided following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The situation is complicated by the politics of the Afghan Army, the centerpiece of American-led efforts to enable the Afghan military to one day take over. The ethnic mix of the Afghan Army is roughly proportional to the population, and the units in the field are mixed themselves. But non-Pashtuns are widely believed to do the bulk of the fighting. There are growing indications of ethnic fissures inside the army. President Karzai recently decided to remove Bismullah Khan, the chief of staff of the Afghan Army, and make him the interior minister instead. Mr. Khan is an ethnic Tajik, and a former senior leader of the Northern Alliance, the force that fought the Taliban in the years before Sept. 11. Whom Mr. Karzai decides to put in Mr. Khan’s place will be closely watched. One recent source of tension was the resignation of Armullah Saleh, the head of Afghan intelligence service and an ethnic Tajik. Mr. Saleh, widely regarded as one of the most competent aides, resigned after Mr. Karzai said he no longer had faith that he could do the job. Along with Mr. Khan, the army chief of staff, Mr. Saleh was a former aide to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary commander who fought both the Soviet Union and the Taliban. Since leaving the government, Mr. Saleh has started what appears to be the beginning of a political campaign. Other prominent Afghans have begun to organize along mostly ethnic lines. Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister and presidential candidate, has been hosting gatherings at his farm outside Kabul. In an interview, he said he was preparing to announce the formation of what would amount to an opposition party. Mr. Abdullah, who is of Pashtun and Tajik heritage, said his movement would include Afghans from all the major communities. But his source of power has historically been Afghanistan’s Tajik community. Mr. Abdullah said he disagreed with the thrust of Mr. Karzai’s policy of engagement with the Taliban and Pakistan. It would be impossible to share power with Taliban leaders, Mr. Abdullah said, because of their support for terrorism and the draconian brand of Islam they would try to impose on everyone else. “We bring the Taliban into the government — we give them one or two provinces,” Mr. Abdullah said. “If that is what they think, it is not going to happen that way. Anybody thinking in that direction, they are lost. Absolutely lost.” The trouble, Mr. Abdullah said, is that the Taliban, once given a slice of power, would not be satisfied. “They will take advantage of this,” he said of a political settlement, “and then they will continue.” The prerequisite for any deal with the Taliban, Afghan and American officials have said repeatedly, is that insurgents renounce their support of terrorists (including Al Qaeda), and that they promise to support the Afghan Constitution. Beyond that, though, Mr. Karzai’s goals vis-à-vis the Taliban are difficult to discern. Recently he has told senior Afghan officials that he no longer believes that the Americans and NATO can prevail in Afghanistan and that they will probably leave soon. That fact may make Mr. Karzai more inclined to make a deal with both Pakistan and the Taliban. As for the Pakistanis, their motives are even more opaque. For years, Pakistani leaders have denied supporting the Taliban, but evidence suggests that they continue to do so. In recent talks, the Pakistanis have offered Mr. Karzai a sort of strategic partnership — and one that involves giving at least one the most brutal Taliban groups, the Haqqani network, a measure of legitimacy in Afghanistan. Two powerful Pakistani officials — Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff; and Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, — are set to arrive Monday for talks with Mr. Karzai. Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun leaders are watching these discussions unfold with growing alarm. But so far they have taken few concrete steps to resist them. But no one here doubts that any of these groups, with their bloody histories of fighting the Taliban, could arm themselves quickly if they wished. “Karzai has begun the ethnic war,” said Mohammed Mohaqeq, a Hazara leader and a former ally of the president. “The future is very dark.”

United States crashed out of the World Cup

The United States crashed out of the World Cup on Saturday night as Ghana became just the third African team to ever reach the quarterfinals with a 2-1 extra-time victory. Asamoah Gyan scored the winning goal in the third minute of the opening period of non-regulation play as Ghana's "Black Stars" eliminated the U.S. for the second time in a row at soccer's showpiece tournament. Ghana will now play Uruguay in the last eight in Johannesburg on Friday, after the South Americans defeated South Korea 2-1 earlier on Saturday. "I am the happiest man in the world. In 2006 we made the second round, now we have gone a step further. We have made Ghana proud and the whole of Africa proud," Gyan told reporters after his side followed in the footsteps of Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. U.S. coach Bob Bradley lamented his side's failure to match their opponents' strength. "I thought at 1-1 we had a chance, but we didn't have enough freshness against all of Ghana's power," he said. "We have a great squad. We're proud but also disappointed not to have gone further." Kevin-Prince Boateng put Ghana ahead in just the fifth minute of the second-round tie in Rustenburg as the U.S. paid for losing possession, but Landon Donovan leveled the scores with a second-half penalty. The Ghanaians, who beat the U.S. 2-1 in the final group game at Germany 2006 before losing to Brazil, are the only Africans left at the first World Cup to be held on the continent. Midfielder Boateng, who switched nationalities before the tournament after representing Germany at under-21 level, pounced to score the opening goal with a clinical left-foot finish after Ricardo Clark lost the ball near the halfway line and allowed him to surge towards the U.S. goal. Bradley quickly responded to his team's predicament by hauling off Clark on the half-hour mark, bringing on Maurice Edu. It was another substitution that sparked the Americans into life, as Benny Feilhaber again impressed after coming on at halftime for the third successive match. The midfielder forced a close-range save from Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson as his introduction freed up Donovan and Clint Dempsey. That duo combined to bring the U.S. level in the 62nd minute when 19-year-old defender Jonathan Mensah was booked for bringing down Dempsey, allowing Donovan to net his 45th international goal from the penalty spot and become the Americans' overall top scorer at World Cups. Kingson then did well to block Michael Bradley's low shot, and Jozy Altidore fluffed his effort wide of the Ghana goal under pressure from the elder -- and unrelated -- John Mensah as the U.S. could not repeat their heroic late efforts from previous matches. The Americans were caught napping again soon after the restart as Gyan out-muscled captain Carlos Bocanegra to get to Andre Ayew's punt forward and fire past goalkeeper Tim Howard. It was his third goal of the tournament after scoring twice from penalties as Ghana qualified second from Group D behind Germany following a tense final round of matches that saw three teams level on four points. The U.S. poured forward desperately in search of an equalizer, but could not force the tie into a penalty shootout. Ayew will miss the quarterfinal at Soccer City along with the younger Mensah as both received their second bookings of the tournament during regulation time. Donovan and Gyan top the overall goalscoring charts along with Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain, Spain star David Villa and Slovakia's Robert Vittek.

Christian Professor in Pakistan Beaten for Refusing to Convert

Muslim students attacked a Christian professor at the University of Peshawar this month after he refused their demand to convert to Islam, the instructor told Compass. Psychology professor Samuel John, a father of four who has been teaching at the university in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province for 12 years, said that as he came out of his house on the university campus at 8:30 a.m. on June 14, about 20 to 25 students rushed and assaulted him. “I shouted for help, but no one came to help,” he said. When his wife learned what was happening, she ran to help him, but the students beat her as well. Both John and his wife were rushed to Lady Reading hospital, where they were treated for their injuries, with John listed in critical condition. “I am still getting threats,” the professor told Compass. “They say, ‘Leave the university or accept Islam – if you don’t convert, we will kill your family.” Police have refused to register a First Information Report on the incident, he said. A group of five students had visited John on May 15, he said. “They said, ‘Professor, you are a good teacher and a good human being, please convert to Islam and we will provide you with everything you need,’” John said. “I was surprised and said, ‘Why do you want me to convert? I am a Christian, and Jesus Christ is my Savior – He provides me with everything.” One of the students became angry, saying, “Don’t forget that you are a family man,” John said. “I said, ‘I am not scared of anyone, God will protect me and my family.’” He reported the matter to the dean of the University of Peshawar, but the official was unable to take any action because the Islamic students councils are supported by political parties and powerful Islamic groups, the professor said. His family became worried, and other professors spoke of going on strike on John’s behalf, demanding an apology from the students who threatened him. “They said, ‘This is a university, no one will be allowed to take the law in their hands – we are professors and teach everyone and do not discriminate by religion, caste, creed or color,’” John said. But no action was taken against anyone. John subsequently faced various forms of harassment from different Islamic student groups who threw stones at his home, sent threatening letters and threatened his family over the phone, he said. John had recently been honored with an award for best results in psychology at colleges throughout Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Muslim professors and Muslim student councils were upset that a Christian professor was getting so much attention, Christian sources said. Students Pressured Separately, in Danna village in southern Punjab Province, Muslim administrators told three Christian students in the eighth grade to leave the school because they refused to convert to Islam. A new teacher of Islamic Studies who came from another village to Government High School Danna urged students in his class, Sunil Masih, Shazia Masih and Nasir Naeem, to convert to Islam, according to the father of Sunil, Ejaz Masih. The teacher, whom the parents declined to name, is also a Muslim leader. “The teacher began by saying, ‘Sunil, Shazia and Nasir, convert to Islam – it is the true religion, and you will go straight to heaven,” Ejaz Masih said. The students reported the pressure to their parents, who came to the school and complained to the principal. The principal asked the teacher to explain the details of what happened, but other staff members at the school supported the new teacher, Masih said. On June 16, under pressure from other teachers, the principal told the parents to remove their children from the school unless they were willing to convert to Islam. “We have been forced to leave the village,” Masih said. “The police have refused to help us. We are helpless here.” Masih, along with Sohail Masih and Naeem Boota, parents of the other children, have fled the village with their families. Their children were the only Christian students at the school.

US report ties militancy to Pakistan school woes

Pakistan's poor public education system helps stoke militancy, while the religious schools often cited as a cause of extremism appear not to be a major risk factor, says a report by a Washington think tank. The report, set to be released by the Brookings Institution on Wednesday, examined a raft of studies to assess links between militancy and education, a priority area for the Obama administration as it boosts development aid to Islamabad. The researchers said low enrolment rates were a risk factor for violence and demand for education inside Pakistan far exceeded the government's ability to provide it. In addition, Pakistan's public school system was highly corrupt with positions handed out for political favours and teachers paid whether they turned up for class or not. “The way the education system is set up is contributing to support militancy,” said Rebecca Winthrop, with the Center for Universal Education at Brookings. “Historically education in Pakistan has been used as a tool by successive regimes in pursuing narrow political ends,” she added. The curriculum and teaching methods in public schools helped create intolerant views and also did little to prepare students for the labour market, frustrating youngsters and increasing the pool of militant recruits, the report said. Winthrop and fellow conflict specialist Corinne Graff said the religious schools, or madrassahs, that were frequently cited by the West as causing militancy, were not as numerous as suspected. Far less than 10 per cent of the full-time, school-going population went to them. “Madrassahs account for a tiny fraction of student enrolment and they can hardly be cast as the main obstacle to high quality education and stability,” they wrote. “The almost exclusive focus on madrassahs as a security challenge — which is especially prevalent in the West — needs to be corrected,” the researchers added. Sobering statistics Education statistics in Pakistan are “sobering”, they said — just 54 per cent of the population is able to read and 6.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 9 are not in school. Less than a quarter of the girls complete elementary school and only one-third of Pakistani children get a secondary education, with many dropping out. “The data shows that lack of access to schooling is a risk factor for conflict or militancy. We know that Pakistan has extremely limited access (to education),” said Graff. The Obama administration has promised to put more money into improving education in Pakistan and has made it a focus of the $1.5 billion in non-military aid allocated annually by Congress for Pakistan over the next five years. “Undoubtedly, a high-quality education system prepares its students to participate in and contribute to economic growth, which leads towards security and stability,” said Rajiv Shah, who heads the US Agency for International Development. “Improvements in education are critical to reducing violence,” he said in an email response to questions. USAID's total education budget in Pakistan for fiscal year 2010 is $335 million — with $265 million for basic education and the remainder for higher education. Since 2002, USAID has invested $682 million for education projects in Pakistan. One way in which the money is being used is to offer stipends to families as a temporary measure to offset the cost of education for the poor. The Brookings researchers cited problems with the curriculum in many schools, with historical facts altered and hatred towards archrival India and Hindus prominent in texts. Shah encouraged Pakistan's government to implement a new curriculum announced in 2007, which he said addressed many problems with previous content but had not been put in place. For example, with the new curriculum, science and math were treated as secular subjects and Islamic studies was a stand-alone topic, he said.

Pakistani militants declare war on healthcare

An increasing wave of militancy has destroyed the health infrastructure in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Malakand division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, forcing the population to seek treatment outside its hometowns, even for minor ailments. “About 104 health facilities have been destroyed by militants, requiring $11.7m for reconstruction”, said Dr Mustaqeem Shah, an official at the FATA health directorate. Such massive destruction has deprived about 5m people of healthcare needs, he said. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s health department needs about $19m to restore the 55 Swat health facilities damaged by militants between 2008 and 2009. Militants in Malakand division also stole about 45 vehicles used to transport pregnant women to health facilities, executive district officer health Abdul Wali said. “The tribal population happened to suffer the most, as 80% of the health facilities have gone into disuse”, Mustaqeem said. The number of patients visiting the health facilities has dwindled since 2005, said Dr Riaz Shah. Medics examined about 150,000 patients in 2006, 131,000 in 2007, 104,000 in 2008, 80,000 in 2009 and 28,677 this year so far, he said. “Similarly, the number of surgeries dropped to only 12,040 in 2009, compared to 90,000 in 2005”, he added. “Targeting health facilities is an inhuman act and condemnable by all the people because it has deprived patients”, said Shakirullah, 40, who underwent an appendectomy at the Khyber Teaching Hospital Peshawar last week. “In 2005, my younger brother was operated on for a kidney stone in our native Miramshah, but now the doctors have left the hospital after threats by militants”. The FATA has been home to Taliban and al-Qaeda members whom coalition forces expelled from Afghanistan toward the end of 2001. From there, they began targeting Pakistani forces, music shops, and government installations, such as schools and health facilities. Their campaign against health facilities extended to medical personnel. The list of slain or injured medics is long. Three years ago, Dr Bakht Sarwar was critically injured by a missile that slammed into his hospital in Miramshah. He refused to return to work and is on indefinite leave in Peshawar. In February 2008, a roadside bomb killed Bajaur Agency surgeon Dr Abdul Ghani Khan and injured three health department officials. In May 2009, nine health workers conducting a survey were kidnapped in North Waziristan. They were freed after a week. Such intimidation has caused a shortage of medics, paralysing FATA’s 26 hospitals, eight rural health centres and 400-plus community health centres. The government appointed 66 specialists, 435 medical officers, 48 female doctors and 182 nurses to serve in FATA, but now only a few primary care doctors can be seen. “Doctors have either taken long leaves or have transferred to settled areas for security reasons”, said Dr Dilaram Khan, general secretary of the Provincial Doctors’ Association. “I had been working in Bajaur Agency since 2000, but under pressure from my family, I took leave and (opened) my clinic in Peshawar”, said Dr Wakil Ahmed, a medical officer. The entire FATA lacks a single nurse, he said. School teacher Fazal Maula from Mohmand Agency brought his wife to Lady Reading Hospital to deliver a baby June 9. “We had a full-fledged hospital there before the emergence of militancy”, he said. “Now the same hospital has a deserted look, as doctors and health staff have disappeared”. The strain of travel added to their woes. “On transportation, we are spending $150. It’s not the money so much as the journey being full of trouble for the patient”, he said. Basic health indicators like infant and maternal mortality rates have worsened, said Dr Fayyaz Ali, a public health specialist. He questioned the government's commitment to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Those goals include bringing down the infant mortality rate to 44 from the present 116 per 1,000 live births and the maternal mortality ratio to 140 from 600 per 100,000 live births in FATA, he said. The health indicators for FATA are worse than the national averages. The infant mortality rate for Pakistan is 103 per 1,000 live births and the maternal mortality ratio is 350 per 100,000 live births, he said.

Karzai speaks out vs. drug smuggling, profiteering

President Hamid Karzai urged neighboring countries Saturday to do more to curb smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan, saying his government lacks the resources to seal its own borders. The Afghan leader also urged anti-corruption officials to monitor the incomes of all government figures and their families — including his own — to make sure they were earning their money legally. Karzai's younger half brother is a wealthy and influential leader in Kandahar province, a hotbed of insurgent and criminal activities. Karzai spoke to several hundred Afghan officials as America's top military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived in Afghanistan in the wake of Wednesday's firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces. Mullen told Karzai in a meeting that McChrystal's successor, Gen. David Petraeus, is an experienced commander who will pursue the policies crafted by McChrystal, according to a statement from the presidential office. On the battlefield, three international service members, including at least one American, were killed Saturday in two separate roadside bombings in southern Afghanistan, NATO said. That brought to 87 the number of international troops killed so far in June — already the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year-old war. The figure includes at least 51 Americans. During his speech marking International Narcotics Day, Karzai acknowledged that curbing Afghanistan's huge drug trade remains a major challenge, despite success in reducing or eradicating opium poppy cultivation in 22 of the country's 34 provinces. "We will work strongly against poppies and other narcotics for our national interest, honor, the welfare of Afghan people and development," he said. But he said the problem will not be solved until other countries crack down on smugglers within their own borders who profit from the traffic in Afghan poppies and heroin. He said Afghanistan is a "poor and weak country that cannot control its borders" and asked its neighbors "why can't you control your borders?" Karzai did not cite countries by name but U.N. experts have pointed to Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan as major transit points for Afghan drugs smuggled into Russia and Western Europe. The drug trade also fuels corruption, which the U.S. and its international partners believe has helped contribute to the return of the Taliban after it was ousted from power in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Critics have faulted Karzai for not doing enough to combat corruption. In his remarks, Karzai said there was nothing wrong with relatives of politicians and government officials investing in the Afghan economy, as long as the businesses operate legally. "I would ask the anti-corruption department to monitor their incomes, starting with the president's family, then the vice presidents, ministers, governors and lawmakers," he said. "There will be accountability in the country." Karzai also complained that international missions in Afghanistan were spending too much money on private security companies, describing them as little more than armed militias. "I request of the U.S., Britain and other countries and their militaries not to support private security guards," he said. Those companies that are blocking the road, they are creating problems for the people and even support terrorists. They should not waste their money on these private security companies." Use of private security companies to guard convoys transporting food, water, ammunition and fuel frees up soldiers for the battlefield. However, U.S. lawmakers criticized the military during a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday for failing to heed warnings that those companies were paying warlords millions of dollars to ensure safe passage through dangerous areas. Some of the money may go to the Taliban, lawmakers said. Afghan authorities have also complained that security guards protecting such convoys fire on civilians without provocation in high-risk areas. Also Saturday, NATO said a senior Taliban commander disguised as a woman was killed the night before after opening fire with a pistol at Afghan and international troops who had come to arrest him. Intelligence sources tracked Ghulam Sakhi to a compound in Logar province, south of the capital. Afghan forces used a loudspeaker to call for women and children to leave the building. "As they were exiting, Sakhi came out with the group disguised in women's attire and pulled out a pistol and a grenade and shot at the security force," the coalition said in a statement. "When Afghan and coalition forces shot him, he dropped the grenade and it detonated, wounding a woman and two children." NATO said Sakhi, who is known by several aliases, was involved in roadside bombings and ambushes throughout the province, and had kidnapped and killed an Afghan government intelligence chief there. In Kabul, a small explosion occurred in an area that houses foreign embassies and government offices but caused no casualties. Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of the criminal investigation unit of the Kabul police, said the blast was caused by a small bomb placed on the engine of a government vehicle. The driver of the car, used by the Afghan National Army, was arrested. The front of the vehicle was damaged, but no one was wounded, he said.

Afghan forces must show progress 'within five years

Afghan government forces must make concrete progress towards assuming more responsibility for the security of their country "within five years", the G8 group of nations said Saturday. A summit statement from the leaders of the world's major industrialized nations called on Kabul to "expand the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces to assume increasing responsibility for security within five years." The government must also "combat corruption, address illicit drug production and trafficking, improve human rights, improve provision of basic services and governance and make concrete progress to reinforce the formal justice system." "Clear steps by Afghanistan towards more credible, inclusive and transparent parliamentary elections in September will be an important step forward in the country's maturing democracy," the G8 statement said. President Hamid Karzai's government is Kabul is kept in power by a US-led international military coalition, and Western capitals are trying to help it gain enough strength and legitimacy to govern with less outside support.

US to Karzai: New general won't alter Afghan plan

America's top military officer assured President Hamid Karzai on Saturday that newly chosen NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus would pursue the policies of his ousted predecessor, whom the Afghan leader warmly praised for reducing civilian casualties. Karzai's emphasis on preventing civilian deaths and injuries could make it difficult for NATO to relax rules of fighting that some U.S. troops say give the battlefield advantage to the Taliban. For now, however, no changes have been proposed, said a spokesman for visiting Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During a 45-minute meeting with the Afghan leader, Mullen explained the events that surrounded President Barack Obama's decision to dismiss Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of both U.S. and NATO forces. McChrystal resigned after he and his aides were quoted in Rolling Stone magazine making disparaging remarks about top Obama administration officials guiding the civilian mission in the war. Mullen, who spent just a half-day in Kabul, also met with U.S. Embassy officials and had a video teleconference with regional commanders in the field. To both sides, Mullen stressed the importance of a good "lash up" between often strained civilian and military efforts to beat back a resurgent Taliban and extend the Karzai government's control beyond Kabul. "He stressed to President Karzai that absolutely nothing will change about our commitment to the struggle there, to the strategy," said Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen. Mullen then flew to neighboring Pakistan, where he repeated the message to President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Mullen's trip, which was scheduled before McChrystal's dismissal, took on a different tone after the change. Afghan leaders and some U.S. allies in the war worried that McChrystal's firing could disrupt the counterinsurgency strategy at a critical juncture in the war. But they were relieved when Obama chose Petraeus, McChrystal's boss who helped author the plan, to replace him. Mullen stressed at the meeting that Petraeus had been involved in developing the strategy from the beginning and was attuned to the challenges in Afghanistan. The two talked briefly about the ongoing security operation in Kandahar, a hotbed of insurgent activity, Kirby said. Karzai lauded McChrystal, saying he was able to "reduce civilian casualties, create good cooperation between the Afghan and international forces and strengthen and develop the Afghan forces," according to a statement from the Afghan presidential palace. A year ago, McChrystal imposed new restrictions on how NATO troops fight the enemy. The rules, credited for reducing the number of civilians killed and wounded by international troops, helped win McChrystal the trust of many Afghans. Down in the ranks, however, the rules are widely perceived as too restrictive. Some troops believe the rules cost American lives and force them to give up the advantage of overwhelming firepower to a foe who shoots and melts back into the civilian population. Kirby said that for now, all the rules of engagement that were in place under McChrystal will remain in effect. "Gen. Petraeus, as any new commander, has the right when he comes in to review those rules of engagement and may recommend changes to them as he sees fit," Kirby said. "But we have no indication right now that he has any intention of changing anything." Mark Moyar, a counterinsurgency expert, said he expected that Petraeus would reassess the rules and how they were being applied. "I think morale would not be an issue if the rules permitted success, but in many cases they have made it impossible to defeat the insurgents and to convince the population that we are strong enough to protect them," he said. The rules don't prevent U.S. troops from calling in air support, especially in the rugged east of the country where Taliban fighters are active but the population is smaller than in the agricultural areas of the ethnic Pashtun south — the main focus of the war. But the emphasis is on caution, and officers fear career damage if they mistakenly call for air or heavy weapons support and kill civilians in the process. Details of the rules are classified, but troops say they cannot fire on a suspected militant unless he is presenting a clear threat. Troops say, for example, if a fighting-age man emerges from a building from which they are taking fire, the soldiers cannot fire at him unless he is armed or they personally saw him drop a weapon. On the battlefield, three international service members, including at least one American, were killed Saturday in two separate roadside bombings in southern Afghanistan, NATO said. That brought to 87 the number of international troops killed so far in June — already the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year-old war. The figure includes at least 51 Americans. Separately, Karzai nominated seven new members of his uncompleted Cabinet to replace ones rejected by lawmakers. So far, lawmakers have approved only 15 members of Karzai's 25-member Cabinet. Among the nominations Saturday was Bismullah Mohammadi, a senior commander in the civil war against the Taliban, to replace Hanif Atmar as interior minister. Atmar, who was in charge of police, and Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghan intelligence, resigned earlier this month after Karzai held them responsible for failing to prevent a militant attack on a national conference, or jirga, on how to reach peace with insurgents. Both men were highly regarded by Western officials. ___

Lahore Market blast,4 injured.

Two small blasts wounded four people near a market in Lahore on Saturday, police said. There were no immediate suspects in the attack in Lahore. “Two small explosions went off outside a market where movies and CDs are sold and four people were wounded,” police officer Mohammad Luqman told Reuters by telephone from Lahore. Lahore, like other areas of Pakistan, is suffering from frequent violence.