Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pakistan army eyes permanent bases in Swat

New threats risk delaying a handover to civilian leaders in Pakistan’s Swat valley, where the army remains in force two years ago after stamping out a Taliban insurgency and restoring peace.

After years of violence, a military offensive and devastating floods, Pakistani tourists this summer started coming back to the lush valleys, bubbling rivers and superb mountains of the famed northwestern district.

But if the scenery hasn’t changed, visitors from Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi need to negotiate a more recent fixture: the omnipresent uniformed soldiers and beige military vehicles.

In the summer of 2009, the army sent 30,000 troops into battle against Taliban fighters controlled by Maulana Fazlullah, who since 2007 had terrorised people with a campaign of beheadings, violence and attacks on girls’ schools.

By July 2009 the army declared the region back under control and said the rebels had all been killed, captured or had fled.

Since then, Swat has lived in peace. There has been no deadly attack since a suicide bombing in the main town of Mingora in July 2010.

But two years on, there are still more than 25,000 soldiers in Swat filling the void left by years of conflict.

Former administrative offices, luxury homes or hotels with panoramic views from Mingora to the northern reaches of the valley, the army has requisitioned dozens of buildings to house its troops.

Some make fun of the prolonged stay in a beautiful landscape with a climate far less punishing than the heat-blasted plains of the south.

“They’re taking advantage. The clear air, the countryside, the luxury homes are better than ordinary camps,” smiles Iftikhar Ali, 24, a student in the suburbs of the town of Madyan.

Everyone knows, however, that the army came to save them twice in the last two years: in kicking out the Taliban and during floods last year, which cut off 80 percent of the population of Swat from the rest of the country.

“The army did a lot for us. They cleared roads, rebuilt bridges, gave us food rations, while the government was all promises and didn’t give us a single penny,” said Mohammed Iqbal, who sells clothes in Behrain, a tourist town partly devastated by the floods.

But the population of Swat, for a long time an autonomous princely state and without any military bases before 2009, is getting tired of the overt military presence, particularly the numerous checkpoints which hinder free movement.

Sardar Ali, 30, a worker in Mingora, acknowledged that checkpoint practices had eased in recent months, but said he was still fed up.

“Soldiers don’t listen to people’s complaints. Sometimes they are brutal and cruel, they beat people who rush to go through, even when it is for a medical emergency,” he told AFP.

“The army should stay in Swat, because the Taliban can come back. But soldiers have to stay in cantonments, not on the streets,” said Inayat Ur Rehman, a 40-year-old peasant, a view shared by a number of Swatis.

The army says 80 percent of its checkpoints have been dismantled or handed over to police in the last year. It also insists it will hand over control to the civilian administration.

The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half its existence, most recently from 1999 until 2008, when the current civilian government was elected.

General Javed Iqbal, commander of the area, talked about a civilian transfer within “several months” as part of a “gradual process” in which “several steps still have to be taken”.

But it seems a return to normal could take much longer.

The army is planning to move into three or four cantonments, says Iqbal.

The construction of the buildings alone, will take two years.

Then there is a spike in unrest in the neighbouring district of Dir, where the Taliban assaulted a police post in early June killing 10 policemen.

Dir borders the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan where a number of security officials believe Fazlullah and some of his fighters sought refuge.

“I am concerned,” admits Iqbal. “It is going to impact the process, but will not derail it.”The head of the civilian administration in Swat, Kamran Rehman, says he is ready to take over immediately, but that it’s up to the army.

“Maybe in the coming one year,” he mused.

But one security official dismissed that out of hand. “My guess is it will take two or three more years,” he said.

Pakistan quizzes suspects over abducted American

Pakistani police have detained a number of people for questioning in connection with the kidnapping of an American development expert in the eastern city of Lahore, investigators said on Sunday.

In a pre-dawn raid on Saturday, six to eight assailants broke into the house of the man, identified by the U.S. State Department as Warren Weinstein, and abducted him after overpowering security guards.

"We have detained a few people for questioning, including guards posted at the house," Lahore police chief Ahmed Raza Tahir told Reuters.

"We hope to recover him soon," he added, without giving further details.

U.S. embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said they had not yet been informed about any progress in the case. "Police are investigating. We are waiting."

No one claimed responsibility for the abduction.

Kidnapping for ransom is relatively common in Pakistan, although foreigners are not often targets. Militants also occasionally take foreigners hostage but these incidents have taken place in the volatile western regions bordering Afghanistan, where Islamist insurgents are very active.

Weinstein has been identified as working for J.E. Austin & Associates, an Arlington, Virginia-based consulting firm, on a development project in lawless tribal areas where Pakistani troops have been battling Islamist insurgents for years.

Police said the gunmen barged into house on the pretext of sharing a meal with the guards, a common practice during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which started early this month. The attackers then forced Weinstein's driver to knock on his bedroom door. When he opened it, they took him.

The victim, in his 60s, had been living in Pakistan for five to six years, according to police. He mostly lived in Islamabad but had been traveling to Lahore.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have sharply deteriorated since January, when a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, and worsened after U.S. Navy SEALS killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a raid in northwestern Pakistan that Islamabad termed a breach of its sovereignty.

Pakistani Taliban, linked to al Qaeda, have claimed responsibility for kidnapping a Swiss couple in July in the volatile southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Eight Pakistani employees of a U.S.-based aid organization, American Refugee Committee (ARC), were kidnapped in Baluchistan last month.

Obama says political divide is hurting economy

AUGUST 14, That enduring shame

TODAY is officially a day of celebration — of sorts — for the ruling clique and a sizeable portion of the 180-plus million who inhabit this unfortunate republic.

The latter have little (if anything) to celebrate in their lives, so rushing around on mutilated motorbikes, one must suppose, is better than nothing.

On this 64th anniversary of the birth of what was Jinnah’s Pakistan one can only be repetitive — as repetition is the name of the game as far as our governments, who ceaselessly repeat the mistakes made over the decades, are concerned. What all should be asking themselves today is should we be celebrating or tearing out our hair in sorrow and shame?

The sole celebration that springs to mind is that the country Pakistan still exists, though in truncated state, despite the best efforts of the string of governments that have done their best to run it into the ground. But then, what is left, bears no resemblance to the country envisaged by Mr Jinnah.

Internationally somewhat isolated, internally strife-ridden and at odds with itself, the nation somehow manages to trundle on albeit each and every pillar of state and institution is tarnished (including the mighty armed forces) and battered (including the judiciary).

Religiosity has spawned dangerous discord which stalks the land. The founder’s aim was a modern, free-thinking liberal, secular state (the word ‘secular’ now regarded as being almost treasonous when applied to Pakistan).

Three months prior to partition, in an interview with Doon Campbell of Reuters, Jinnah said: “The new state will be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of religion, caste or creed.” This was repeated in no mean terms three days before the country’s birth to the members of the constituent assembly. The speech bears repetition continually, and Jinnah’s words were prominently highlighted in the press this Aug 11.

He could not have been more explicit; he stressed two factors which can make or break a country — that religion is not the business of the state and that the primary duty of any government is to impose and maintain law and order, both factors having been negated by successive governments.From Day Two, which followed Jinnah’s death, the mullah faction, which has always had the upper hand (other than for a brief period in the 1960s) over the politicians, however clad, and the so-called self-styled intellectual fraternity, has sown dispute and divergence of views, disagreement and differences. All that Jinnah stood for has been firmly repudiated.

We are as shameless as the men and women we have allowed to ‘lead’ (in the wrong direction), or misrule or misgovern, we are as guilty as they for having brought the country to the impasse in which it now stands. We have allowed ourselves to be led by the nose, even acquiesced, whilst those who have been shot to power through various means have collectively and dissolutely danced along the way, down 64 years, whilst dipping at will into the national exchequer, promulgating constitutions and making and breaking laws to suit their individual purposes.

We have accepted kings of straw, decked out in the colour of the time, and with them have denied and abrogated the founder’s creed. Where stand we now?

Democracy has by this present regime been declared a form of revenge — not that it ever was anything else when wielded by those who have sneaked in through the ballot box, voted in by a minority of the millions who have purposefully and with intent been kept in a state of illiteracy, ignorance and poverty, all whilst being brainwashed into the practice and application of a brand of religion peculiar to this country.

We are rent by sectarian and ethnic killings, by intolerance and bigotry, and by discriminatory laws (which no one has the guts to do away with) that murder and maim. Corruption and mendacity have become a way of life.

Are any of those who sit atop the powerhouses of the capital and its neighbouring city worrying about what they should be worrying about? No. They are intent on keeping themselves where they are, an intent they do not even bother to pretend to cover. The politicians’ every act is geared towards the next election, and the military that runs them cannot shake off an ingrained mindset.

How stands the population growth? In dire straits if statistics are anything to go by. Successive governments have refused to even consider a curb, so some 40 per cent of the 180-plus million exist beneath the poverty line, and, frighteningly, almost 70 per cent is below the age of 25. What is their future? Literacy is at a standstill — thinking realistically it would seem that a mere 20 per cent are actually literate. Literacy frightens the feudal mindset which cannot come to terms with a 21st-century world, which believes in murder in the name of honour and many other antiquated practices. So until we are rid of the old and in with something new, the millions are doomed.

Do we celebrate the anarchy that reigns in the northern border areas and in our southern port city, or do we repent? And in what form should be that repentance? Or do we give up, and merely hang our heads in shame at the betrayal of what could have been a perfectly viable country?

After Britain riots, many ask 'Why,' but find no clear answers

Outside a London court last week, as those accused of looting and rioting in the most destructive and widespread violence in recent British history faced justice, a mother turned to her 11-year-old son, accused of theft, and asked simply, "Why?"

That question has been at the heart of a fraught national debate as Britons puzzle over what drove even some previously law-abiding people to steal, sometimes risking arrest for nothing more than bottles of water. The debate has often divided people into predictable camps.

The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, stood up in Parliament as Britain smoldered around him on Thursday and railed against "mindless violence and thuggery." His critics on the left blame deep mistrust of the police in poor communities, and income inequality they say will worsen as his government pursues sweeping cuts in spending and social welfare.

Some commentators have blamed modern society at large. The Daily Telegraph struck a popular chord when it blamed a "culture of greed and impunity" that it said extended to corporate boardrooms and the government itself. Many politicians, meanwhile, have lashed out at technology - including the instant messaging that encouraged looting - for whipping up the crowds.

But as more details of the crimes emerge, the picture has become infinitely more complicated, and confusing. In some of the more shocking cases, the crimes seemed to be rooted in nothing more than split-second decisions made by normally orderly people seduced by the disorder around them.

An aspiring social worker, Natasha Reid, 24, turned herself in after stealing a $500 television. Nicolas Robinson, a young engineering student who had never been in trouble with the law, grabbed bottles of water because, his lawyer said, he was thirsty.

The 11-year-old, the youngest looter arrested, stole a trash can.

At several of the riots last week, those perpetrating the violence had no ready explanation for their behaviour. One young man, kicking trash cans into the street, shrugged when asked why. And the atmosphere in Hackney's Pembury Road low-income housing projects was sometimes one of adrenaline-driven glee. Looters whooped as they stripped a convenience store bare, yards from the police.

Even some Londoners who had initially condemned the riotous behaviour joined in. Bystanders had watched in shock as rioters lined up against police officers on Tottenham's main street last weekend, setting fires and looting. The mood shifted dramatically, though, after officers moved in, dogs barking and horses charging. One man, suddenly emboldened, grabbed a box of pears from outside a convenience store. A woman carried off an armful of coconuts. Another man, seemingly conflicted, sprinted, then turned back briefly to snatch a crate of bottled water.

Clifford Stott, a social psychologist at the University of Liverpool who studies riots, says that behaviour, at least, is not unusual. Bystanders, he said, often turn against the police when they themselves get swept up in a broad crackdown. "That confrontation makes them start to think that the police are wrong, not the rioters," he said.

But he added that crowd dynamics are incredibly complex and cannot be readily reduced to blame people, or to explain away their behaviour.

The condemnation of social media, said Pamela Rutledge, who studies the intersection of the media and human psychology, is equally glib. It is true, she said, that social media "accelerates behaviours because it creates social modelling - people see that other people are involved and they're encouraged." But, she said, these "tools" are not only in the hands of the rioters; the police, for instance, have used social media to inform worried local residents about the state of rioting in their areas. "You can use a hammer to build something or destroy it," Dr. Rutledge said. "It's just a tool."

Especially difficult to explain, both psychologists said, are the rapid-fire decisions behind the snatching of small and often cheap goods.

In Wood Green last weekend, where looters were allowed a free rein for four hours before the police arrived, some rioters set upon an eyeglass shop. And three men stood just outside a GNC, debating whether stealing the vitamins and food supplements was worth the trouble. "Shall I take this?" asked one as he lifted a tub of a nutritional supplement. "Nah, man, don't bother," his friends replied. He took it anyway.

So far, the police say more than 1,200 people have been arrested in connection with "violence, disorder and looting." Of those, 725 have been charged and some are being handed stringent sentences by courts that run 24 hours in some areas. Many have prior convictions, and court records reveal that some were armed, or carrying quantities of drugs when arrested - the "criminals" that many political figures have blamed for the riots.

Others, like Ms. Reid and Mr. Robinson, are not so readily pigeonholed. Ms. Reid is a university graduate. She put her head in her hands in court, and her mother told reporters that she had been sobbing in her bedroom since her arrest over the stolen television. "She didn't want a TV," her mother said. "She doesn't even know why she took it. She doesn't need a telly."

Mr. Robinson, the engineering student, was walking home at 2:40 a.m. on Monday when he looted a supermarket in Brixton. Mr. Robinson, the court heard from his lawyer, "got caught up in the moment" and was now "incredibly ashamed." He was sentenced to six months.

The story of Chelsea Ives, an 18-year-old athlete who had been chosen to be one of the faces of London's coming Olympic Games, has dominated the front pages of newspapers in Britain. She has been accused of burglary, violent disorder and throwing bricks at a police car, according to media reports. She was turned in by her mother, Adrienne. "I had to do what was right," her mother told reporters.

Another woman listed on court documents was accused of stealing "six bottles of nail varnish" and a tin of food.

Dr. Rutledge said that in times of unrest, people craved clarity. "In the same way we want to blame social media, we want an answer to this. But individuals are individual," she said. "So what if these people didn't have criminal records? We can't know what they were feeling."

Dr. Stott said that people, in a rush to judgment, often latch on to the idea that a mob mentality has taken hold. "There's an excitement and an intensity to those situations that are really quite profound," he said, "and the tendency is to say, 'Well, these people are upstanding citizens, like me, something must have gone wrong with their brains. It must be mob mentality.' "

But he said the theory that people in mobs become mindless had been widely discredited, and he warned that focusing on such a simplistic explanation would prevent an important national discussion about the underlying causes of the riots.

When faced with difficult questions about the role that policing, government policies, and societal ills might have played, Dr. Stott said: "You can see it becomes very useful to portray it all as just mindless. Why did that young man steal bottles of water? We may never know."

President Obama sends best wishes on Pakistan’s independence day anniversary

The US ambassador in Pakistan Cameron Munter, on behalf of President Obama, has sent best wishes on the joyous anniversary of Pakistan’s independence on August 14. In his statement on the occasion of Pakistan’s independence day (August 14) the US ambassador said, “ On behalf of President Obama, I send best wishes on the joyous anniversary of Pakistan’s independence on August 14. May you continue to build on the great legacy of your founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and realize his vision for a strong, stable, and secure country.”

Training Afghan soldiers a tough mission

There's no let-up in the violence in Afghanistan. On Friday, a U.S. service member was killed by a roadside bomb. Forty Americans have died this past week -- most in last Saturday's Chinook helicopter crash. At least 51 have died this month.

For the U.S., the way out of Afghanistan depends on training Afghans to fight their own battles. American taxpayers have already spent more than $27 billion on that training. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane went to violent Kandahar province to see if it's working.

On the front lines, there's more than just fighting. Training the 170,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army is essential -- as President Obama hopes Afghanistan will add an additional 100,000 Afghan troops by 2015 to create an army of more than a quarter million that can stand on its own.

"What have you learned from the U.S. Army?" Doane asked an Afghan trainee.

"I learned how to shoot, how to search a compound, and how to go on missions," he said.

On publicity posters and at checkpoints, the effort is to make Afghans the face of security -- even if coalition forces are usually right behind them, like U.S. Army Lt. John Cote.

"They're the locals, they can distinguish who is who," he said. "And if we have a positive influence on them, then they can assist us."

The frequent Afghan saying in the region is "shona-ba-shona" or "shoulder to shoulder." But while working on the story, CBS News saw a number of cases where the U.S. seemed to have to prod the Afghan forces, whether it was to just show up on time or to stay at their posts. In some cases, they would leave checkpoints after our cameras turned off.

So it begs the question: Are these two forces really standing side-by-side, or are the Afghans leaning too much on the Americans?

"What people tend to forget is they're never going to be the United States Army," said U.S. Army Maj. Brian Ducote, "and we should stop expecting them to be that. They're going to be the Afghan National Army. It's going to be an army that is capable of defeating the insurgency."

But building an army with that capability is a tough mission. Fewer than half of the Afghan soldiers can read and write. Their basic pay is only about $165 a month. And roughly one in four quit after their three-year hitch ends.

Still, Afghan forces add manpower to most every mission. And on average, three are killed in this war everyday -- sharing the sacrifices with the Americans training them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

August 14,1947 Sixty-four years of slavish independence


There was not one but two national liberation struggles. Their aims and interests were diametrically opposed. One was led by the local elites and the other was that of the workers, peasants and youth. The first wanted to keep the system intact and the other’s inspiration was a revolutionary transformation of the system of the imperialists

Sixty-four years after the bloody partition in 1947 the plight of about a quarter of the human race that inhabits this South Asian subcontinent is excruciating and awful. More than 40 percent of the world’s poverty torments this tragic land. While the ruling elites continue to multiply their billions, the rest of the population is in a dire state of existence. The condition of the masses has continuously been in a downward spiral and now life has become a living hell for the working classes. Living conditions today are even worse than under the British colonial rule for the vast majority of the population. In these six and a half decades the ruling classes of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other states of the region have failed to solve any single problem of society. The agrarian revolution is far from accomplished, parliamentary democracy is a farce and a deception. It is a democracy of the rich by the rich and for the rich. Instead of creating unified nation states, national and ethnic strife rages on with centrifugal forces tearing society apart. The Indian ruling elite boasts of a secular constitution and yet India has more religious riots and killings than perhaps any other country of the world. Pakistan, a country that was supposed to protect the rights of a certain religious community, today is being pillaged by the very same religious ideologies. The social and physical infrastructure is crumbling and the access to basic needs like water, electricity, health and education for the ordinary people is in a despicable state. The masses are bewildered and in anguish at this pathetic notion of independence.

This so-called independence and very hasty withdrawal of the British Raj was achieved through a conscious compromise and a negotiated agreement between the imperialists and the local Hindu and Muslim elites who were trained and propped up by the Raj. They manipulated the mass revolt by bringing religion into politics, in connivance with their imperial masters. It was to produce a cleavage in the national liberation movement that was rapidly moving onto the path of class struggle. The callous attitude of Gandhi and other leaders of the local elite to the assassination of Bhagat Singh in 1931 is a glaring proof of this treachery. With the red storm raging in China and throughout Asia, the imperialists were terrified of a national liberation that would have very quickly moved on to social and economic liberation. They were extremely fearsome of the class struggle that would overthrow capitalism and put an end to imperialist exploitation and extortion.

The mouthpiece of the British ruling class, the London Times, wrote in its editorial of January 29, 1928, “There is no real connection between these two unrests, labour and the congress opposition. But their very existence and coexistence, explains and fully justifies the attention, which Lord Irwin gave to the labour problems.”

There was not one but two national liberation struggles. Their aims and interests were diametrically opposed. One was led by the local elites and the other was that of the workers, peasants and youth. The first wanted to keep the system intact and the other’s inspiration was a revolutionary transformation of the system of the imperialists. The proletarian struggle was derailed by its traditional leadership at the helm of the Communist Party of India in the early 1940s. Their criminal blunder of capitulating to the British in the name of the anti-fascist war and supporting the imperialists was due to their slavish submission to the dictates of Moscow that prioritised its own national interests to those of proletarian internationalism. In this act, they handed over the movement on a platter to the bourgeois nationalists.

But such was the momentum of the movement that these bourgeois leaders could not control the raging struggle and ultimately tried to divide it on religious and ethnic lines. Despite this reactionary policy imposed on the national liberation struggle, there was the historic revolt of the sailors in the British Indian Navy in February 1946. It not only shook the British imperial military establishment in British India but gave rise to a militant strike wave of the workers in textile, railways and other sectors from Karachi to Madras, paralysing the whole subcontinent. The imperial Raj was shaken and the commander in chief of the British Indian Army General Claude Auchinleck sent a wire to Whitehall in London saying that if they were not given freedom in three days they will take it themselves. The Raj was stunned. The native bourgeois leaders again intervened to save the British by acting as scabs and strike-breakers.

The new reformist Labour government of Clement Attlee, which had come to power after defeating the Conservatives led by Churchill, were terrified of the bloodshed and massacres that would result in the wake of a partition. They sent the Cabinet Mission in March 1946 that convinced Jinnah against partition and settle for a confederation. But Nehru provoked Jinnah at the behest of Churchill, who manipulated him through Edwina Mountbatten and wrecked the deal.

As the elitist leaders in India and Pakistan were celebrating this moth-eaten independence, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were being slaughtered, especially in Punjab and Bengal in this ethnic frenzy. More than two million lives perished in this madness. Much more have been the victims of poverty, starvation, misery and disease ever since. They lost their lives long before their time. They were the victims of another economic genocide, which is going on unabated. The imperialists dictate every policy. The ruling elites, acting as their comprador agents, have their share of the plunder. In their extreme suffering, the toiling masses are being asked to celebrate this independence, the independence of the elite to repress and plunder, where the masses suffer and toil. The rulers celebrate their vulgar luxury; the masses have only their woes and misery to curse.

Ustad Daman expressed the plight of the ordinary people after partition in his famous verse:

“The freedoms that devastated us alike,

The redness of our eyes betrays, that wept we too have alike.”

The genuine independence of the masses can only be achieved through a socialist revolution. It was treacherously crushed in 1946. Conditions are intolerable for the masses in both India and Pakistan. The differences are superficial and secondary. Capitalist exploitation and the problems of the masses are the same. A mass upheaval can erupt instantaneously. Today if there is a revolutionary victory in any country of the subcontinent, like the Arab revolution; it will spread throughout the region. Victorious socialist revolutions do not only transform the state and society, they change the course of history and the divisions of geography.

FATA reforms

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday signed two decrees: Amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), 2011 and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the Tribal Areas. The reforms in FCR carry immense importance for the people of FATA to bring the tribal areas into the national mainstream. The more than a century-old FCR is a remnant of the British Raj. Since then, the tribal areas have been administered through political agents (PAs). The amendments to the FCR have brought an end to the practice of collective responsibility and collective punishment for children, women and people over the age of 65. The people of FATA can now appeal against the decisions of the PAs. Under the old system, if an individual was accused of committing a crime, the entire tribe was penalised. It was, therefore, imperative to introduce political reforms in the tribal areas, as the tribal people are very much citizens and entitled to the same rights and privileges as enjoyed by people living in other parts of the country. The Political Parties Order 2002 will allow political parties to operate in FATA. There is weight in the argument that had FATA been part of mainstream politics throughout, the extremist elements would not have been able to create problems for Pakistan. Though the amendments in the FCR can be seen as a first step towards promoting moderate trends to prevail over extremism, the next step is to abolish this traditionally conservative system. The British, facing problems during the colonial era on the Frontier, imposed a special governance and administrative system by creating tribal agencies and appointing PAs under the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As part of this arrangement of tribal autonomy, the maliks (local chiefs/elders) were bought off with money and asked to keep lawlessness in check.

It has finally dawned on the government after a century to correct the anomalies left by our colonial masters. Since that system worked for the British, it was portrayed as being the wishes of the tribal people whereas the truth is that the colonial authorities were indifferent to the public’s views. Maliks had a vested interest in the previous system, which is why it continued till now. There is a consensus that the FCR must be completely abolished but so far the government has done it haltingly by only partially amending the FCR.

The people of FATA do not have representation in any provincial assembly. Either they should be made part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or a new province should be formed, but only through the free and democratic expression of the people’s will, i.e. through a referendum. Other tiers of governance like local governments and the advantages of development should then be provided to the long deprived people of FATA.

Another question that needs to be addressed is that of the jihadi networks operating in the tribal belt. The cover to the jihadi networks like the Haqqanis is embedded in the tribal system. With the military going into the tribal areas from 2004 onwards, it became a very important player there as well. Whether this seemingly hesitant approach of the government is a purely well thought through incremental process of reforms or is intended to avoid ruffling the feathers of some very powerful institutions remains to be seen. There are obviously some pressures in the way of a wholesale, complete, consistent reform package. But if the Haqqanis are shifted to Kurram Agency, if they have not been already, will the military welcome these reforms is an important question. It is hoped that the government would not bow to any pressures as the people of FATA need complete mainstreaming, freedom, transparency and democratic expression.

McCain seeks end to NoC curb on US diplomats

US Senator John McCain met Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani her on Saturday and demanded withdrawal of NoC requirement on US diplomats.McCain, accompanied by US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, said it would be against American interests to not have ties with Pakistan. He said relationalship with Pakistan is important. He said Pakistan should allow US diplomats to move freely without the curb of No-Objection Certificate.“Pakistan is a main ally of the US in war on terror. It should restore the old traveling system in mutual cooperation,” the US senator said.PM Gilani assured McCain and Munter of looking into the restriction on the movement of American diplomats. He also said stable, sovereign and prosper Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan.Recently, US diplomats were barred from entering Peshawar because they didn’t have NoCs. Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan wants to have an enduring partnership with the United States and the relationship should go beyond cooperation on terrorism.The Prime Minister said that he would welcome the visit by the US Secretary of State Mrs. Hilary Clinton. We look forward to a deeper level of engagement with the US in all areas of our bilateral relations including energy, social sector and economic cooperation, the Prime Minister said. He also appreciated Senator John McCain’s continued support to Pakistan in the US Congress.Senator McCain who is a Ranking Member of US Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged that relations between US and Pakistan had seen difficult times in the past. US considers Pakistan as an important country. He said it is not in the US national interest to abandon Pakistan once again. He assured the Prime Minister of the United States’ continued support to the people of Pakistan in their endeavour to secure a stable and prosperous future.Minister for Interior, Rehman Malik, Senator, Syeda Sughra Imam and other senior officials were also present in the meeting.Senator John McCain, former presidential candidate and Republican senator from Arizona, also called on President Asif Ali Zardari.He was accompanied by Cameron P. Munter, US Ambassador in Islamabad, Christine Brose, Vance Serchuk and Ms. Maggie Goodlander. Pak side included A. Rehman Malik, Federal Minister for Interior, M. Salman Faruqui, Secretary General to the President, Senator Syeda Sughra Imam and other officials. Matters concerning Pak-US relations, war against terror and the regional situation were discussed during the meeting. Briefing the media Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said that the President during the meeting reiterated his call for both the countries to work more closely in institutionalizing the mutual cooperation and cement bilateral relations based on mutual interest and mutual respect. The President reiterated call for specifying clear and unambiguous terms of engagements in the war against the militants in order to avoid adverse impacts on bilateral relations owing to difference of opinion and stances on various issues. We need to build framework for an enduring strategic partnership, he added.The President said that Pakistan wanted to build a long-term, sustainable and multidimensional relationship with the US that was marked by mutual understanding of each others’ interest, mutual trust and respect. The President said that a stable, long-term and multifaceted relationship of the two countries was not only in the mutual interests of the two countries but would also serve the purpose of stability for region. The President said that the war against terror was a long drawn war. He said that it was important that root causes of militancy and reasons for drift towards extremism were also addressed. He said that a multi-pronged strategy encompassing socio-economic, political and educational measures besides judicious use of power could address the challenge of militancy and militant mindset. He said that Pakistan has been the worst sufferer of this scourge and has suffered losses that exceed in quantum to any other nation. He said that with direct and indirect economic losses equalling to $68 billion and 35000 martyrs behind us, we were determined to pursue this war till its logical conclusion. Our commitment remains above-board and without even slightest shadow of doubt, the President emphasized. The President said that besides the economic losses, the impacts of the war on our social fabric were equally devastating. He said that the Government, despite tremendous losses and toll, was committed to the uplift of the people especially of those who have been worst hit by the menace of militancy. The President said that he had been continuously pleading before the international the case for socio-economic development of the people of the hard hit areas especially that of tribal areas. FATA remains our top most priority, the President emphasized. He said that the Government was committed to bring about qualitative change in the lives of the people of tribal areas by bringing socio-economic development in the tribal areas. Through good education and providing the youth better economic opportunities we can effectively wean them away falling into the traps of militants, the President said. The President also raised the issue of recent moves in the Congress to reduce assistance under Kerry-Lugar-Berman. The issue of delays in flow of assistance, ROZ legislation and Enterprise Fund was also discussed during the meeting. Discussing regional situation, the President reiterated Pakistan support for efforts to contribute towards lasting peace in Afghanistan and helping in the development of the country. Senator McCain thanked the President for meeting the delegation and appreciated Pakistan’s countless sacrifices and struggle against the militants.

Climbers scale Afghanistan's highest peak

Foreign and local climbers have recently scaled Afghanistan's highest mountain, indicating that some areas of the war-torn country are ready for a revival of international tourism.
An expedition member says the summit of Mount Noshaq,

located in the Wakhan Corridor of northeastern Afghanistan, was reached by a team on Aug. 4.
Anthony Simms of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society says foreign tourists are already visiting the region — an oasis of peace but which suffers grinding poverty.
Simms said Sunday that the Noshaq expedition involved two Australians, including himself, two Afghan climbers and two Afghan support personnel. The 24,580-foot (7,492-meter) mountain was first climbed in 1960 by a Japanese team.

Obama, Cameron and Saudi King urge Syria end violence

President Barack Obama spoke with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Britain on Saturday and all three called for an immediate end to the Syrian government's crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad, the White House said.
Obama and Saudi King Abdullah "agreed that the Syrian regime's brutal campaign of violence against the Syrian people must end immediately, and to continue close consultations about the situation in the days ahead," the White House said in a statement.
Similar language was used in a statement after a separate Obama conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
That statement also noted that the two leaders "agreed to closely monitor the actions that the Syrian government is taking and to consult on further steps in the days ahead."
Syrian troops killed three people as tanks swept into a coastal city on Saturday, activists said, the latest action in a military campaign that activists say has killed 1,700 civilians in five months.
The United States has stopped short of calling for Assad to step down from power, but it slapped additional sanctions on Syria earlier this week and urged countries to stop buying Syrian oil and gas.
King Abdullah on Monday called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and recalled the Saudi ambassador from Damascus.
European U.N. Security Council members including Britain warned Syria on Wednesday that it could face tougher U.N. action if it continued the crackdown.
Saturday's killing in the Syrian seaside city of Latakia came a day after security forces shot dead 20 people during nationwide marches demanding that Assad surrender power.

Obama sets sights on rural America to talk jobs

Trading Washington's hot house for states critical to his re-election prospects, President Barack Obama

is headed to the Midwest after a summer of discontent over a protracted debt showdown with Republicans and the downgrade in the nation's credit rating.
Obama's bus tour, his first as president, begins Monday and will take him to prairie communities in Minnesota and through Iowa and Illinois, with stops in the farmland and rural towns that launched his first White House bid.
The former Illinois senator is expected to tell audiences that he agrees with their frustrations about a dysfunctional federal government.
"What we've seen in Washington the last few months has been the worst kind of partisanship, the worst kind of gridlock — and that gridlock has undermined public confidence and impeded our efforts to take the steps we need for our economy," Obama said Thursday in Michigan. "It's made things worse instead of better."
Obama won a clean sweep in 2008 of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, a region that has supported Democratic presidential candidates since 2000, except for President George W. Bush's narrow victory in Iowa in 2004.
But Obama's standing in these states, like elsewhere, has grown precarious as the economy has slumped.
Republican governors are now in charge in three of those five states and Obama's approval rating, as measured by Gallup, is hovering around 50 percent in most of the region.
"We got a president who got a decrease in the credit rating of our nation, and that's because our president simply doesn't understand how to lead and how to grow an economy," Republican hopeful Mitt Romney said in Thursday's Iowa debate.
Romney and his GOP rivals blamed Obama for the growth of the federal deficit and the credit downgrade by Standard and Poor's, the first in the nation's history.
The GOP race intensified with Texas Gov. Rick Perry's entry Saturday. When Obama arrives at a town hall meeting in Decorah, Iowa, on Monday afternoon, Perry intends to meet with voters in eastern Iowa, about 100 miles away.
Nationally, Obama's approval rating is comparable to President Ronald Reagan's ratings in August 1983. But recent Gallup polls found that Obama's approval rating was hovering between 44 percent and 49 percent in 10 states closely watched by his political advisers. Those states include Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.
Obama's standing with independents, who helped him win in traditionally Republican states such as Indiana and North Carolina, has fallen, too.
"The country is in an unbelievably angry mood," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
Most presidents like to get away from the nations' capital, and this excursion couldn't come at a better time.
As a candidate, Obama said he would tame Washington's gridlock. Yet it was political paralysis that scuttled his quest for a "grand bargain" with congressional Republicans on increasing the country's borrowing limit and forced him to agree to smaller spending cuts without higher taxes on the rich, as he demanded.
Days later, Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating and stocks on Wall Street plummeted, undermining confidence in an economic turnaround. The Federal Reserve said Tuesday that economic growth had been "considerably slower" than expected this year and outlined a glum forecast.
Obama will have a tough sales job on the road. Unemployment is high, foreclosures are rampant and Wall Street is jittery.
While considered official White House travel, the bus tour will put Obama in campaign-like settings with small-business owners and workers in rural areas.
If 2008 was about hope and change, 2012 may be about hard-knuckle politics. Behind the scenes, Obama advisers are planning to draw sharp contrasts with some of the leading Republicans.
Yet Obama also finds himself under pressure from the left to generate jobs and raise taxes on the wealthy.
Most Democrats, said's Justin Ruben, "have not been offering a clear prescription for actually getting the economy moving."
Obama told workers in Michigan that he plans to roll out more economic plans "that will help businesses hire and put people back to work." That's an approach Democrats hope will set the tone for next year's election in the Midwest and beyond.