Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eid Mubarak, says Kim Kardashian

Socialite Kim Kardashian and rapper will.i.am are wishing everyone Eid Mubarak.
‘Eid Mubarak to my friends across the world. I can’t wait to see you at Millions of Milkshakes in Dubai in October,’ Kim posted on micro-blogging site twitter.

Will.i.am of hip hop band The Black Eyed Peas said: ‘Happy EID to everyone who celebrates… Have a good day.’

Bahrain situation tense: UN rights body

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that the situation in Bahrain remains “tense and unpredictable” as the Manama regime continues its brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

“We continue to receive reports of the repression of small protests and understand that at least 264 cases involving protesters remain pending before the courts, many of whom may be tried in the Court of National Safety, which is effectively a military court,” said Rupert Colville on Tuesday, AFP reported.

Colville pointed out that civilians “must be tried in civilian courts, charged with a recognizable crime, and given access to lawyers and time to prepare their defense.”

He stated that some detainees were still “desperately calling their families to appoint lawyers a day before trial.”

“We are concerned that most of the defendants in these cases may be prisoners of conscience, detained only for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. All such detainees must be released,” Colville said.

About 124 cases in Bahrain have so far received verdicts, including two death sentences; sixteen of the cases were acquitted completely, while seven others were partially acquitted, according to the UN rights official.

Colville's remarks come as a special security court on Sunday resumed the trial of 20 doctors and nurses accused of treating injured anti-government protesters in Bahrain. The court adjourned until September 7, when it will begin hearing defense witnesses.

The spokesman also called on the Bahraini government to release the list of the names of those arrested since March 15, as well as details on where they were being held and the charges and status of their trials.

Thousands of protesters in Bahrain have been holding peaceful anti-government demonstrations since mid-February, demanding an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty in the tiny Persian Gulf sheikdom.

Libyan rebel leader gives Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte until Saturday to lay down arms

Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil Tuesday told Muammar Gaddafi's loyalists in his hometown Sirte to lay down arms by the end of the Eid holiday or face military strikes.

Jalil told a press conference in the eastern rebel bastion Benghazi that the rebels wanted to enter the town of Sirte in a peaceful manner and were still in negotiations with local tribal elders in this regard.

However, there are only four days left. "We have offered them an opportunity to coordinate with us," he said, "The window of this chance will be closed by the end of the Eid holiday."

If the efforts for a peaceful handover fail by Saturday, the rebels would resort to military means to enter Sirte, Jalil said, "We cannot wait more than that."

The rebels stormed the Libyan capital Tripoli last week and forced Gaddafi's forces to withdraw from the military compound Bab al-Aziziya in the capital. The opposition forces are edging both from the east and west front to Sirte, which is widely speculated as Gaddafi's hideout.

Meanwhile, Jalil told reporters that members of Gaddafi's family in Algeria have not yet been accused.

He said the Libyan National Transitional Council and Algeria have no deal on criminal handover. But he believed the Algerian authorities would not shelter those who deserve fair trial for a long time.

The relations between Libya and Algeria would not be influenced by the personal stance of some Algerian officials, Jalil added.

Several family members of Gaddafi entered Algeria Monday, but the whereabouts of the embattled leader remains misty.

The rebels are reportedly preparing attacks to capture the town of Sirte, which is located on the Mediterranean coast between Tripoli and Benghazi.

The rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani said on Tuesday at a press conference the electricity supply in Sirte has been cut off for 10 days in addition to the shortage of fuel, food and medicine.

NATO carried out strikes in the area for the fourth day Monday, Doha-based TV channel al-Jazeera reported.

Amnesty petitions Pakistan over disappearances


Amnesty International has called on Pakistan’s government to end what it calls the growing practice of disappearances enforced by the state.

In an Aug. 29 petition on its website, the human rights group alleged the disappearances have increased dramatically since Pakistan joined the American war on militancy after the Sept. 11, 2001 airliner attacks on the United States.

Those detained — including activists, journalists and students — are sometimes found dead, with signs of torture.

Thousands may have fallen victim to the practice, Amnesty said.

Amnesty said a judicial commission of enquiry on the so-called enforced disappearances “had failed to resolve the crisis or to hold the security forces and intelligence agencies to account in cases implicating them.”

“The Prime Minister of Pakistan who controls the security agencies needs to urgently step in to address this human rights situation,” Amnesty said on its website.

It noted that enforced disappearances occur frequently in Balochistan. The province has been facing a low-level insurgency by nationalists who want more control over its natural resources, which they say are unfairly exploited by the federal government.

Amnesty said there were 93 recorded cases of people killed after being reported missing between October 2010 and May 2011 in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s military and security forces deny allegations of human rights abuses in the South Asian country, a strategic US ally.

Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said: “There has been no military operation conducted in Balochistan since 2008. There is infighting going on between various militant groups, and they are kidnapping and killing each other”.

Partial Eid-ul-Fitre celebrated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Partial Eid-ul-Fitre was celebrated in district Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Charsadda, Nowshera, Malakand of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Bajaur, Khyber, North and South Waziristan agencies of the tribal region on Tuesday.

In almost all these districts their local Ruet-e-Hilal Committees announced the celebration of the Eid-ul-Fitre while the unofficial Ruet-e-Hilal Committee of the Masjid Qasim Ali Khan also declared Eidul Fitre after receiving 10 witnesses regarding the sighting of the Shawal moon. With the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitre one-day ahead of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa kept alive its tradition of observing two Eids.

Zulfiqar Mirza lashes out at MQM...again

Former senior Sindh Minister Zulfiqar Mirza alleged that thousands of containers that were meant for NATO forces in Afghanistan have gone missing from the Karachi Port.
Mirza was addressing a press conference in Hyderabad on Tuesday when he blamed Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Babar Ghauri for the ‘illegal’ disappearance of the containers.
According to Mirza, the containers were full of arms and ammunition, and they went missing at around the same time when Ghauri became the Minister for Port and Shipping.
He said that Ghauri became the biggest real estate tycoon in Karachi from “being nothing at all during Musharraf’s era”.
Lashing out at the MQM, Mirza said the party’s main objective is to rule Sindh.
Mirza had earlier given fiery statements against the MQM in a press conference on Sunday, accusing the party of consipiring against Pakistan.
The recent press conference by Mirza came at the time when MQM leader Faisal Sabzwari was addressing the media in Karachi in an attempt to clear the allegations put up against his party.During his latest press conference, Mirza re-iterated that he will not take part in active politics.

Jerusalem Post fires writer over 'right to terror'

The English-language Jerusalem Post said on Tuesday it had terminated the employment of a columnist who wrote in a private blog that Palestinians "have the right to use terrorism" against Israelis.
The right-leaning daily announced on its front page that US-born writer Larry Derfner was being dismissed "due to a professional disagreement... connected to his personal blog."
Derfner could not immediately be reached by AFP but in a post on his blog entitled "I got fired by the Jerusalem Post today," he wrote that the paper had received "hundreds of notices of cancellations" from subscribers after they read an earlier blog he had posted on Sunday.
Entitled "The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror" the 1,000-word essay expressed Derfner's position that the Palestinians have the right to fight the Israeli occupation -- even violently.
The post was not connected to his "Rattling the cage" column in the Post.
"My intent was not to encourage terror but the opposite," he wrote.
"I meant, instead, to shock Israelis and friends of Israel into seeing how badly we?re hurting the Palestinians by denying them independence: It?s so bad that it?s helping drive them to try to kill us."
In Sunday's post, for which he later apologised and has since removed from his blog, Derfner wrote: "So long as we who oppose the occupation keep pretending that the Palestinians don?t have the right to resist it, we tacitly encourage Israelis to go on blindly killing and dying in defence of an unholy cause.
"But while I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us, I don?t want them to use it, I don?t want to see Israelis killed, and as an Israeli, I would do whatever was necessary to stop a Palestinian, oppressed or not, from killing one of my countrymen."
A day later, the Post ran a column entitled: "Justifying murder -- an abomination" in which commentator Isi Leibler wrote that Derfner's comments "are so vile that they go beyond treason."
But Derfner found an unlikely ally in right-wing analyst and commentator Barry Rubin who wrote that the correct response should have been to refute his arguments rather than dismiss him.
"Larry Derfner should be debated, not fired," he wrote in a post on an academic website.
"All too often nowadays the response to disagreement is to try to destroy people on the other side of the argument, to delegitimise them with name-calling and to silence them. That?s not the way democratic debate is supposed to work."
Rubin makes his own beliefs clear in the same post, where he maintains that only east Jerusalem and part of the southern West Bank city of Hebron are under Israeli occupation.
International law considers all territory seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War -- the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- to be illegally occupied, and jurists have said that even though Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, its continued control over its air and sea space, means it remains occupied.
One response to the firing of Derfner's expressed surprise at his fate. "Bizarre," it read.
"You're employed by a leading newspaper to 'rattle the cage' and when you do, they fire you?"

Fruit and vegetables rot as hunger stalks India

Sunil Sharma, a young tomato farmer in northern India, must navigate decripit roads, corrupt policemen and blazing heat to deliver his produce in an unrefrigerated truck to New Delhi's wholesale vegetable market.
India is plagued by malnutrition and soaring inflation, but it's not for lack of food. It is the world's second largest grower of fresh produce, but loses an estimated 40 percent of its fruit and vegetables to rot because of the kind of problems Sharma faces every week.
During one recent journey trucking tomatoes for himself and two other farmers to the capital, he was stuck for three days.
"Of the 350 crates of tomatoes I started out with, I could salvage only around 150 crates. The rest had turned to pulp," a despondent Sharma said.
Post-harvest food losses of the scale found in India are a problem throughout the developing world and translate into lower incomes for farmers and higher prices for consumers. Inflation is already undermining living standards across Asia with world food prices at record highs since December last year, according to the U.N. food agency.
In India, home to more than a third of the world's 150 million malnourished children younger than 5, food inflation reached nearly 10 percent in July.
"It's criminal neglect on the part of the government to allow this volume of wastage," says Biraj Patnaik, an adviser to India's Supreme Court on food policy. "Just cutting back on the waste would make such a dent in bringing down food inflation, making food more affordable, and hence, available to poor families."
At a busy New Delhi market, shop-owner Raj Kumar polishes his vegetables with a drop of oil on his duster. Shiny purple eggplants, bright green beans and golden lemons beckon middle-class shoppers.
But around the corner from Kumar's brightly lit shop lay the food that had arrived there wilted and rotten: a heap of beans turning gray, mushy eggplants and blight-blackened potatoes.
"I throw out vegetables every day. What can I do with them? Nobody wants these," he said.
Savitri Debi, a housewife with two teenage children, says she is shocked and angry at the mass of vegetables thrown away by shopkeepers.
"Vegetable prices keep going up and up. But look at the amount that is wasted," says Debi as she shopped for groceries. "It just makes me so angry that every day this place has mounds of rotten vegetables, when we can barely afford to buy potatoes."
The government, as well, has expressed horror and frustration at the rot. It has begun work on a strategy to cut post-harvest losses by building modern grain silos, cold storage warehouses and setting up farmers' markets in remote areas to link vegetable growers with retail outlets in the cities, Food Minister K.V. Thomas told The Associated Press.
Plans are also afoot to assign special — though not refrigerated — railway wagons to transport vegetables on a priority basis to modern warehouses, he said.
But for Ranvir Thakur, a farmer in the agriculturally rich Solan district of Himachal Pradesh 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Delhi, the government's efforts seem all too far away.
"Growing vegetables in India is a risky business," Thakur said as he tried to find a buyer for a truckload of his almost table-ready tomatoes and capsicums at the bustling vegetable market in Solan.
"We face the risk of vegetables rotting at every stage — whether in the field, on the road, or in the markets," says Thakur, his weather-beaten face grimacing as he recalls recent losses.
The fetid odor of decaying vegetables hits the visitor to the 'mandi' or wholesale market in Solan nearly a hundred meters (yards) away from its massive gates. The mandi, the first point of sale for local farmers, was crowded with farmers, traders, commission agents and truckers surrounded by thickets of plastic crates stacked atop each other in shaky towers.
Hundreds of vegetable and fruit trucks reach the wholesale market each morning. Commission agents trawl the narrow alleys between the crates, looking out for the best bargains. Deals are struck, crates of vegetables— color-coded to indicate the owner— are auctioned in a high-decibel exchange and swiftly heaved onto trucks by a swarm of sweating musclemen.
Trader Balwant Singh says the paucity of refrigerated trucks means that delays at state border crossings, traffic jams, or the frequent landslides that clog hill roads can wilt and rot vegetables.
"There are only one or two trucks, belonging to private firms, that are refrigerated. The rest are open trucks, with tarps or plastic sheets for cover in case it rains," Singh said. "By the time we put up the tarps, the vegetables are soaked, and these begin to decay when we hit the heat and humidity in the plains."
Some believe allowing supermarket giants such as Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour to operate in India's multibillion-dollar retail market could succeed where the government has failed. They are keen to move in, sign contracts directly with farmers, use refrigerated transport and storage to reduce waste and bypass the middlemen.
Their entry so far has been blocked by government restrictions out of fear they will wipe out millions of small grocery stores in India. A government panel last month recommended allowing up to 51 percent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail on condition that at least half the investment is made in back-end infrastructure such as cold storage chains and warehouses. A decision by the Cabinet could take several months.
Sharma, the young tomato grower, says the vulnerability of the farmers is exploited by road transport inspectors who demand bribes for trucks to enter neighboring states.
"The worst is when we enter Delhi. Police and transport officials hold up the trucks for hours at the toll gates till we pay up."
Sharma said he pays a bribe of 1,500 rupees ($33) for his truck every time he crosses into New Delhi on his way to Azadpur Mandi, one of Asia's biggest wholesale markets.
Spread over 90 acres in northern Delhi, Azadpur Mandi is a nerve center of India's fruit and vegetable trade. Trucks, cars, horse-carts and bicycle-driven carts are parked haphazardly in an ankle-deep mix of mud and putrefying vegetables.
Heaps of produce that is overripe and unlikely to withstand further transportation are tossed aside, crushed underfoot, or dumped in the mandi's overflowing garbage site.
When Sharma's truck arrives, a gang of loaders surrounds it. After a quick agreement, a trio of workers begins disgorging its contents. It's soon evident that delays have cost Sharma heavily.
"We'll barely recover the cost of hiring the truck. Such a large amount has spoiled," said Prem Singh, Sharma's trader at Azadpur Mandi.

U.S. Has Wasted $30 Billion on Iraq, Afghanistan Contracts and Grants

The federal government has wasted more than $30 billion on contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new report set to be released Wednesday.
The co-chairmen of the committee producing the report previewed the results, saying "major changes in law and policy" will be needed to prevent such a large degree of waste in future conflicts. Christopher Shays, a former Connecticut congressman, and Mark Thibault, a former Pentagon official overseeing contracts, blamed poor management and a slew of other factors in a Washington Post column.

The amount of money wasted on Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade represents at least one in every six dollars spent. Part of the problem was contracts were doled out without "effective competition," while others were subcontracted to foreign firms not subject to U.S. laws.
The result was a series of boondoggles. The co-chairmen cited a $40 million prison in Iraq that the country did not want and was not completed. They also cited a $300 million Kabul power plant -- which, like some other projects the co-chairmen expressed concern about, would require sustained funding and expertise that Kabul does not have the resources to provide.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan will submit its report to Congress.
The officials noted that because the number of contractors in the war zones has roughly equaled the number of military forces, the U.S. cannot conduct major operations without them. In the future, they recommended creating a "permanent inspector general for contingency operations," as well as an official who would work in the White House budget office and participate in National Security Council meetings to make sure agencies are properly coordinating contracts.
They also recommended "more rigorous use of risk analysis" to determine whether certain jobs should be contracted out in the first place.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/08/29/commission-30-billion-in-waste-on-iraq-afghanistan-contracts-and-grants/#ixzz1WXjefUxv

Feeling insecure, Pakhtuns start leaving Karachi

THE deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi has forced many people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to leave behind their properties, jobs and business and say goodbye to the port city.

They have started seeking alternative sources of income in the province to shift their families to their hometowns for their protection.

“Millions of Pakhtuns, most of them very poor, are crying for help as they cannot move to workplaces, but no one is there to given them a helping hand in the existing dreadful situation,” said Dr Wilayat, who vacated his residence in Karachi and moved to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Dr Wilayat, who belongs to Dir district and works at a government hospital in Karachi, told Dawn by telephone that two years ago he had shifted to his newly built house at Raja Tanveer Colony in Orangi Town but his family was unsafe there and he again returned to Banaras Colony.

“A group of unidentified youths thrice tried to kidnap me when I was on way from office to home but they failed to do so. In such a situation earning money has no importance and the only option left for me was to vacate my house,” he said.

He said that he was seeking job in Peshawar to shift his family from Karachi permanently.

Abdul Wajid, a worker of a private firm of the same area, said that he was living at Banaras Colony but could not go to his workplace and had to purchase everything on debt. “It was not possible for me to live there any longer as my children also could not go to schools,” he added.

He said that he decided to say goodbye to Karachi and shift his family to Peshawar for its protection. He added that two youths in his neighbourhood — one belonged to Swat and the other to Buner — were shot dead when they were on way to home for Iftari but police did not arrest the killers.

“Those, who wear shalwar qamees are shot dead at sight,” he alleged. He said most of the people wanted to return to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but they had no source of income in their villages.

Awami National Party Sindh president Shahi Syed, when contacted, also expressed grave concern over the situation. He said that maximum of the Pakhtuns, who suffered, belonged to Balochistan as they had hotels, restaurants, hardware shops, tea stalls in the localities of the Urdu speaking people.

“People are kidnapped and their drilled bodies stuffed in bags are dumped in open plots or in drains but law enforcement agencies are yet to arrest the killers,” he lamented.

The only demand of people, he said, was restoration of peace, arrest of killers and destruction torture cells wherever they located. He stressed the need for effective and across the board operation and recovery of weapons. In the month of July, he said, over 100 Pakhtuns had been killed.

Many of the cases of killings and injuries had not been registered with police. “About 4,000 Pakhtuns living in localities of Urdu speaking people because of their businesses or jobs have been forced to flee,” Mr Syed added.

He appealed to Pakhtun leaders of different political and religious parties to come forward, sit together and take unified stand for safety of Pakhtuns as all those suffering were not ANP workers Feeling insecure, Pakhtuns start leaving Karachi
but they belonged to different groups.

The ANP leader said that Pakhtuns were auctioning their costly houses and leaving Karachi. It was duty of the government to protect lives and properties of the people, he added.

Jamaat-i-Islami deputy chief Sirajul Haq said that it was not the problem of Pakhtuns only as every community had suffered owing to target killings and the entire responsibility rested with the coalition partners in the government. He said that ANP, MQM and PPP were equally responsible for bloodshed in Karachi.

“Every ruling party has formed its own armed wing for illegal occupation of plots, buildings, collection of extortion and police are not allowed to arrest them,” he said.

He added that police knew about everyone, every torture cell and dumps of weapons in all localities but government was least interested to stop the bloodshed.

He said that army should take action against criminals irrespective of their political affiliations. He said that armed groups had been established just for blackmailing of each others.

Veteran politician Afzal Khan Lala suggested that all the political parties should come together and devise a combined policy to save Karachi. He said that it was duty of all secular and religious parties to realise their responsibilities, feel agonies of each other and take unified stand on the issues of national interests.

He said that Pakhtuns were suffering everywhere but their leaders were divided in groups. He said that Karachi was mini-Pakistan and Pakhtuns had played and were still playing vital role in development of the metropolis and nobody had the right to expel them unlawfully.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party provincial general secretary Arbab Mujeebur Rehman, National Party provincial president Mukhtar Bacha and Pakhtuns Awareness Movement president Shahab Khattak also expressed concern over the bloodshed in Karachi.

They suggested that an all parties’ conference should take decisions and government should implement the same. They said that Pakhtuns should be given due representation in different departments and their localities should be developed.

They suggested that Pakhtuns Qaumi Jirga having representation of all parties and groups should be convened to find a permanent solution to the problem.

Talks on new US-Afghan pact strains relations

A pact aimed at clearing up mistrust and confusion between Washington and Kabul about the future of U.S. troops and aid in Afghanistan has instead sowed more of the same.

Afghan officials worry that the United States is looking for a way to decrease support for Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in 2014, especially in light of U.S. economic woes and waning public support for the war, now in its tenth year. American officials insist the agreement is designed to allay that fear, but acknowledge the draft agreement is less precise than the Afghans want, and unenforceable.

With Kabul seeking detailed guarantees but Washington insisting on something more vague, it's not surprising that each side is looking warily at the other.

Negotiators from both countries are to meet in Washington early next month to continue their talks. Discussions come at a time when relations are already strained, anti-Americanism is running high in Afghanistan and uncertainty abounds over what will happen to the nation as foreign forces continue their march home.

The document is meant, in part, to give Afghans confidence that the United States will not abandon them after 2014, when U.S. and other foreign combat troops have left or taken on military support roles. At the same time, it will give the U.S. a legal framework to continue counterterrorism, counter-narcotics and training missions, according to a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.

The goal is to have an agreement done before an international conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan in December, but many sticking points remain. Among them:

— Will American forces be stationed on joint or Afghan-run bases?

— Who will take the lead in conducting nighttime kill-and-capture raids, a flashpoint for anger over foreign meddling in Afghanistan?

— Will detention operations be run by the Afghans or Americans?

— What long-term commitments will the U.S. make to support the struggling Afghan government, education and health care?

The document will leave several major questions unanswered, including how long American taxpayers will foot the bill for Afghan security forces, which in 2014 will cost an estimated $8 billion a year.

The agreement also sets up a potential conflict between two U.S. goals for Afghanistan — a base of operations for counterterrorism and a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban demand a complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

The so-called "strategic partnership agreement" was sought by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and U.S. officials are confident that Afghans' desire to get something in writing is likely to trump their worry that the document is not specific enough.

But the talks have gone on longer than the Americans wanted, and there is palpable frustration at what two U.S. officials described as circular and repetitive discussions. The two sides already held talks twice this year.

Karzai has a string of specific demands, including that U.S. troops stop conducting nighttime raids to nab suspected insurgents and that Afghans be put in charge of detention facilities. He also wants a ban on U.S. launching operations into other nations from Afghan soil. The U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan was launched from Afghanistan.

Some Afghan officials also want the U.S. to equip them with F-16 fighter jets and Abrams tanks — military wares that U.S. officials say are too costly and not needed by the nascent Afghan security forces.

"We will come to an agreement only if our conditions are accepted," Karzai boldly told a group of Afghan security officials at a recent meeting.

A senior U.S. official familiar with the negotiations said the Obama administration is not trying to water down the agreement, but can't — or won't — negotiate so many details of the relationship at once. The official said the agreement is supposed to be broad and by design will not carry the force of a treaty.

But Afghans say a vague agreement could leave them vulnerable to the Taliban, and that they need guarantees of support if they are going to risk the ire of neighboring nations like Iran by signing a long-term deal with the U.S. — especially one that will allow tens of thousands of American troops to stay in Afghanistan.

Many Afghans are afraid of trusting the Americans because they felt abandoned by the U.S. after 1989, when the Soviet Union withdrew its army from Afghanistan. U.S. support to mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviets dried up a few years later and Afghanistan then sank into civil war. That was followed by the rise of the Taliban and the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaida, which was using Afghanistan as a sanctuary.

"There's a famous saying 'Once bitten, twice shy,'" said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, deputy national security adviser and special assistant to Karzai. "We are worried about our destiny, our future." Still he is confident the two sides eventually will agree to a new pact.

A central question is how many American troops will remain in Afghanistan after the international combat mission ends in 2014, and for how long. Estimates have ranged from 20,000 to 40,000.

Two U.S. officials refused to specify any proposed numbers of American soldiers, and said the agreement would not have an expiration date.

A western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, said the U.S. wants to keep 35,000 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Discussions have centered on five locations, including Herat in the west near the Iranian border, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Jalalabad in the east along the Pakistan border and Kandahar in the south.

But Abdali says the question is not how many bases the American troops will occupy.

"What is important for us to agree upon are the terms. How will these facilities be used?" he said in an interview at the presidential palace.

Washington, though, has been very clear on one issue.

To ease friction with Afghanistan's neighbors, U.S. officials have said repeatedly the United States does not want permanent bases on Afghan soil. Pakistan, Iran, Russia and other regional powers have expressed concern over the idea of permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

"I would not rule out an U.S.-Afghan, or coalition-Afghan agreement that provides for coalition forces remaining in country beyond 2014," U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told reporters recently. "They would obviously remain on bases. I would expect they would be joint bases although I don't know that for a fact."

Then he added: "I offer you this fearless prediction: They will not be permanent."

Public inquiry in Mirza’s charges


The charges levelled by Dr. Zulfikar Mirza, former Sindh PPP minister, against the MQM and federal interior minister Rehman Malik are too serious to be dismissed just like that. Those very disconcertingly relate to the country’s security, stability, in fact its very existence. He has spoken of a US conspiracy to break up Pakistan, of which he says MQM supremo Altaf Hussain is very much part. He further claims Altaf having written to former British prime minister Tony Blair for the disbandment of the ISI. And he accuses Malik of being a compulsive liar, hand-in-glove with terrorists in Karachi. And if some harm comes to Pakistan, he says, Malik will be no less responsible for that. These are no petty political accusations that could be shrugged off dismissively, as have the MQM and Malik. Mirza has made specific charges and those have to be answered specifically by both, not evasively as have they done. His accusations have touched off very troubling alarms in the people’s minds which cannot be settled down by counter-allegations against him by the MQM nor by meaningless comments by Malik. The MQM has to clearly state if their supremo had spoken or not of the alleged US conspiracy to dismember Pakistan to Mirza and also if he had told him that his party was aboard this diabolical plot. And the party has categorically to state if Altaf had sent a letter to Blair for the ISI’s dismantling, as asserts Mirza. And Malik has to state his position unambiguously on each and every accusation that Mirza has slapped him with. The PPP leadership too must understand that it cannot take the escape route by simply taking the cover of Mirza’s accusations being his personal views. It is no some simple political foray that the leadership could dissociate with his sallies so conveniently. What he has said is not something that concerns just the party or its estranged political ally or Malik. Surly, it is not politics he has spoken of. It is sensitive matters so crucially concerning the country’s stability and security that he has talked of. The issue is too grave and the PPP leadership has necessarily to take the matter in the same light, which regrettably it has not, as is so evident from the patently evasive comments of the party’s senior official and political functionaries. Indeed, given the gravity of the affair, the ruling PPP leadership should have immediately responded to his charges by instituting on its own a high-level investigation to establish the truth. It deplorably has not. In fact, it appears inclined to sleeping over the issue and let it fade out, giving the perturbing sense that it is its political expediency not the country’s security that comes to it uppermost. That is not acceptable. Some pundits have proposed the inclusion of Mirza in the suo moto case presently being heard by the Supreme Court on the worrisome law and order situation in the port city of Karachi. Mirza has himself volunteered to appear before the honourable apex court if he is called to make a deposition. But what he has said goes beyond the Karachi turmoil and is much broader in content and substance. And that calls for an incisive separate inquiry to establish the facts for a very stern follow-up action. In the circumstances, the more appropriate action would be to set up a high-level tribunal comprising persons of repute in law, security and intelligence to hold the inquiry. And it must be a public inquiry, open to the media with permission to telecast the proceedings live. Mirza asserts he has the documentary evidence to substantiate his charges. Those he should present to the tribunal. And the tribunal must provide all the opportunity to the accused parties to present their case. The truth must not just be established; the people must know of it first-hand. This country is too precious. And nobody whoever he may be can be allowed to play with its destiny, integrity and security. The hands that are trying to hurt it must be chopped off with a sharp razor; and those colluding with its enemies must be dealt with unsparingly and unforgivably without any leniency or even the slightest favour.