Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bahraini women rage at regime

Bahraini women hold protests in the country's capital against the detention of anti-regime protesters and the harsh sentences handed down to them as well as those, who helped them.

The demonstration was held in Miqsha just outside Manama on Thursday after Bahrain sentenced 20 doctors to between five and 15 years in jail for their treating anti-regime protesters, Reuters reported.

The doctors, who denied the charges, were among dozens of medical staff arrested during protests, which have been raging on since February 14.

Ahlam Al-Khezaei, the head of Women's Affairs for Al Wefaq, the biggest opposition party in Bahrain, called for the release of female prisoners.

"We ask for all women prisoners to be freed and for all charges against them to be dropped. These cruel sentences of our doctors, nurses and teachers, Rola al-Safar, Jalila al-Salman and Dr. Nadi Dhaif, and everyone else," she said, referring to some of the detainees.

Bahrainis have been holding the peaceful rallies since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa's over-40-year-long rule over the Persian Gulf island.

Scores of people have been killed and hundreds more arrested in a brutal Manama-ordered and Riyadh-backed crackdown in the country, which hosts a huge American military installation for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

US tones down rhetoric

The United States appeared on Thursday to have adopted a new approach for dealing with the alleged presence of terrorist outfits in Fata, taking legal action against militants without further escalating tensions with Pakistan.

As the US Treasury Department blacklisted seven people from the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba as terrorists, the State Department continued to stress Washington’s close ties with Islamabad.

“The US and Pakistan have a very clear and direct relationship … I don’t think that the US and Pakistan need a third country to mediate between them. We are working directly,” said the department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland when asked if the Obama administration had contacted other countries for deescalating tensions with Islamabad. Also on Thursday, one of the original authors of the aid to Pakistan bill, Senator Richard Lugar said the US effort to aid Pakistan had not had enough time to achieve its goal: dispel Pakistani mistrust of the United States. Senator Lugar told the US media that one reason the Kerry-Lugar-Berman programme had not yet had a chance to work was that very little money had actually been spent.

That’s due in part to disagreements between the US and the Pakistani government about how programmes would be administered, he said. The US Congress is re-evaluating a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan following allegations that Islamabad has links to anti-US militant groups. The five-year aid package, known as Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, was passed in 2009 but in the last three years, Pakistan has only received less than $500 million.

Last week, US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen told a Senate panel that Pakistan was helping the militants and that the Haqqani network was “a veritable arm” of the ISI. However, the White House and the State Department have refused to endorse the admiral’s claim while US media reports, attributed to official sources, said that Mr Mullen’s assertion was based on faulty intelligence. Since then the Obama administration also has launched a diplomatic offensive to reduce tensions and on Thursday Pakistan’s Ambassador Husain Haqqani was invited to the State Department for consultations.

The legal sanctions announced on Thursday target a powerful commander of the Haqqani network, Abdul Aziz Abbasin. An Afghan native, Abbasin is the network’s “shadow governor” in Orgun district of Afghanistan. Four other figures with links to Taliban and Al Qaeda activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan were named in the sanctions, which aim at putting pressure on financial links to the groups. Treasury listed Afghanistan natives Haji Faizullah Khan Noorzai and Haji Malik Noorzai as Taliban financiers who helped the militant group invest money in various businesses. It also named Pakistan national Abdur Rehman, who operates a religious school in Karachi, as aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda logistically and financially. The fifth person named was Fazal Rahim, called a financial facilitator for Al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Rahim had helped the IMU send foreign fighters to Pakistan for training. “These financiers and facilitators provide the fuel for the Taliban, Haqqani network and Al Qaeda to realise their violent aspirations,” Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence David Cohen said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the US had blacklisted two Lashkar-e-Taiba officials for their alleged link to terrorism. The official US statement identified Zafar Iqbal or Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhuttavi as the Lashkar’s co-founders. In Congress, where sentiments against Pakistan are high, Senator Lugar broke away from other lawmakers in calling for continuing US assistance to Islamabad. Senator Lugar told the US media he believed that American development aid could help change perceptions about the United States in Pakistan. “It could and would have, but it won’t unless the money is spent,” he said. “I think it’s a good approach, but the question is what our overall relationship will be” with Pakistan, he added.

Congressman Howard Berman, another co-author of the aid to Pakistan bill, however, was reluctant to endorse him. He told the media that he believed Americans were “right to be frustrated with Pakistan” but he also warned against a blanket cut-off.

This “may make us feel good in the short term, but will only harm our long-term interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of South Asia,” he said.

Pakistani Politicians Reject Mullen’s Charges

Even as it revealed growing skepticism toward Pakistan’s powerful military, an extraordinary national security conference ended here late Thursday with a statement rejecting as “baseless” allegations from America’s top military official that Pakistan was facilitating militant attacks in Afghanistan.

Military leaders and more than 50 politicians representing 32 political parties gathered at the residence of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to discuss the charges made by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Last week, Admiral Mullen told a Senate panel that the Haqqani network, a potent part of the insurgency battling American forces in Afghanistan, was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy agency. He also accused the agency of supporting an attack this month by Haqqani militants on the United States Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

The statements reopened a rift between the nominal allies and set off a furor in both countries, with the White House on Wednesday seeking to temper the remarks. In an interview with National Public Radio on Thursday, however, Admiral Mullen stood by his testimony, revealing a divide within the Obama administration that has, unusually, placed Admiral Mullen publicly in the hard-line position toward Pakistan. He has been the American official leading the effort to improve cooperation.

He would not change a word of his testimony, Admiral Mullen insisted, saying, “I phrased it the way I wanted it to be phrased.”

Since his remarks last week, an atmosphere of crisis has gripped Pakistan, and the meeting on Thursday was called to address fevered speculation among politicians and in the media that the United States was preparing to attack Haqqani havens, which American officials have said are in North Waziristan, a part of Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the politicians issued a 13-point resolution saying that Admiral Mullen’s “assertions are without substance and derogatory to partnership approach.” They extended full support to the country’s armed forces “in defeating any threat to national security.”

The meeting of top officials here was addressed by Mr. Gilani and the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar. The Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne, also attended the meeting, which lasted more than seven hours.

Most notable was a briefing by Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of the spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI.

Various accounts provided by participants and news networks, which cited unnamed sources, quoted General Pasha as saying that while Pakistan “did not want to take relations with the United States to the point of no return, it also was capable to defending itself in case of an attack.”

“Any U.S. attack against Pakistan in the name of extremists would be unacceptable,” he said.

He also denied that the Haqqani network was even in Pakistan or that contacts with the group were significant. Instead, he said, it operated inside Afghanistan and along the porous border, echoing what has become a familiar refrain among top Pakistani officials.

General Pasha “told the participants that Haqqani network has three wings and ISI does not maintain contacts with Haqqani’s militant wing,” said Imran Khan, an opposition politician, talking with reporters after the meeting.

Mr. Khan, who has been advocating against military operations in the restive tribal regions, said that the participants agreed to “give peace a chance.”

“There is no military solution,” said Mr. Khan, a former cricket star. “It has failed in Afghanistan. It has failed in our tribal regions.”

The military leadership also faced some skepticism, however. GEO, the country’s leading television news network, reported that during the meeting, one participant, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a Pashtun politician who has a reputation as a straight-shooter, put General Pasha on the spot by saying, “Peace can be attained in Afghanistan within a month if you want.” It was not clear how the general responded.

The leading opposition politician, Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled in a military coup in 1999, also criticized the role of the ISI and the army. “There must be something that the whole world is pointing its fingers towards us,” Mr. Sharif was quoted as saying by local news networks.

The head of the army, General Kayani, rose and said that he could answer Mr. Sharif’s concerns, though it was not clear how he attempted to do so.

Earlier, in an opening address that was televised live, Mr. Gilani also rejected the “assertions” and said that “Pakistan cannot be pressured to do more” to fight militants. The “blame game is counterproductive,” he said. “This should end and Pakistan’s red lines and national interests must be respected.”

President Asif Ali Zardari did not attend the meeting. Instead, he met with Sania Mirza, an Indian tennis star, and her husband, Shoaib Malik, a Pakistani cricketer. Mr. Zardari had met with the army chief and prime minister Wednesday, according to a presidential spokesman.

Pakistan paying heavily for its mistakes in the 1970s


Pakistan is ''paying heavily'' for its mistakes in the 1970s when it started mixing religion with politics and promoted extremism, said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"I think Pakistan is paying a heavy price for the mistakes of 1970s by linking religion with politics and developing religious schools which are, in some cases, dangerous sources of extremism," Blair was reported telling a news channel.
The former British Prime Minister was responding to queries relating to the role of ISI in spreading terrorism and its links with the Haqqani group in Afghanistan.
When asked if the US, after eliminating Osama bin laden, should also go after the Haqqani faction, Blair said it was something which the Americans have to decide.
"If ISI is engaged in such activities, in the end it will not merely affect US, UK, Afghanistan or India, it poisons the atmosphere in Pakistan also," Blair said.
The former British Prime Minister said that if there was any linkage between the ISI and terror groups, such as the Haqqani group and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, "it is a mistake."
Blair said there was a need to engage "modern and open-minded" Pakistanis who are involved in a struggle against the extremists.
"We have to see how we can engage elements in Pakistan who believe that this was a mistake. The best way is to allow Pakistan to change and evolve and there are a lot of decent people in Pakistan," he said.

Confrontation not in interest of US, Pakistan

Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi

has said confrontation is neither in the interest of Pakistan nor US and solution to Pakistan-US relations lies in political rather than military means.
Talking to a private TV channel, Qureshi said Pakistan had reservations for not being taken into confidence by US despite the fact it was ally of US in the war against terrorism.
He went on to say situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating day by day and peace process had been affected due to assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani.
He said that allegations levelled by US against institutions of Pakistan were baseless and added that US had charged Pakistan with using terrorism as a policy. “We will have to present our stance”, he stressed. US allegations shocked Pakistani nation, he underlined.

Pakistan closes Afghan border route after bombing

Pakistani authorities have closed one of the two border crossings used by trucks carrying Nato war supplies into Afghanistan after a bomb hit an oil tanker.

Police officer Mohammad Tayab said the Chaman border crossing was closed ”for security reasons” after an explosion on Thursday killed a bomb disposal expert who was trying to defuse the device.

Tayab didn’t elaborate on the bombing attack.

Pakistan sometimes closes the border temporarily after attacks, though earlier this year the other, busier route in Torkham was closed for 10 days in protest against the killing of two Pakistani troops by a Nato helicopter nearby.

Relations between US and Pakistan are currently strained because of US allegations Islamabad supports Afghan insurgents.

US 'threat' of military action unites Pakistan

U.S. accusations that Pakistan is supporting Afghan insurgents have triggered a nationalist backlash and whipped up media fears of an American invasion, drowning out any discussion over the army's long use of jihadi groups as deadly proxies in the region.
The reaction shows the problem facing the United States as it presses Pakistan for action: Strong statements in Washington provoke a negative public response that makes it more difficult for the army to act against the militants — even if it decided it was in the country's interest to do so.

Pakistan's mostly conservative populace is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions a decade after Washington forged an alliance with Islamabad. Many people here believe the U.S. wants to break up Pakistan and take its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and America is very unpopular throughout the country.
By contrast, Pakistanis lack unity against Islamic militants. Politicians and media commentators are often ambiguous in their criticism of the Pakistani Taliban, despite its carrying out near weekly bombings in Pakistan over the past four years.
One small private television channel has aired an advertisement that features images of Adm. Mike Mullen, America's top military officer, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta along with scenes of the Pakistani army fighting and raising the country's flag.
Each time the Americans appear, a shrill voice sings: "Enemies, you have challenged a nation which has a growing knowledge of the Quran and the support from Allah. Our task in this world is to eliminate the name of the killers!"
Mullen's comments on Capitol Hill last week set off the storm.
He said the Haqqani network, the most deadly and organized force fighting American troops in Afghanistan, was a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's premier spy agency, the strongest public statement yet by U.S. officials on Pakistan's long suspected duplicity.
He and other U.S. officials suggested that the U.S. would use any means necessary to defend itself. That raised speculation here that America might deploy troops in Pakistan's North Waziristan territory, the Afghan border region where the Haqqanis are based.
Most analysts view that scenario as highly unlikely because of the risks it entails for U.S. interests in the region. But it has not stopped right-wing politicians and retired generals that are well represented on TV talk shows from speculating on the threat of American boots on Pakistani soil.
On Thursday, the leaders of the country's feuding political parties will put aside their differences to sit under one roof to discuss the issue. In announcing the meeting, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the lawmakers will discuss "the security situation in the wake of threats emanating from outside the country."
The Sunni Ittehad Council, an organization representing the country's Barelvi sect, often referred to as the most moderate among Pakistani Muslims, issued a statement saying it was obligatory on all Muslims to wage jihad against the United States if it attacked Pakistan.
"The Pakistani government and the armed forces should start preparing to counter any possible American attack as Islamic law suggests 'keeping the horses ready' to counter any sort of foreign aggression," the statement said.
There have been a few small street protests since Mullen's comments, but nothing major.
In some respects, the situation mirrors the atmosphere after the May 2 American helicopter raid on Osama bin Laden, which was carried out without the knowledge of the Pakistani army. There was outrage then over the infringement of the country's sovereignty by the U.S., but little on how bin Laden had been living in the army town of Abbottabad for so long.
Now, the focus is on Pakistan's public humiliation at the hands of a supposed ally — and the threat of American action.
There appears to have been little debate on whether Pakistan is right to allow the Haqqani network free reign in parts of the country. Nor has there been much discussion of Pakistan's historical use of militant proxies in India. This is all the more striking because the Haqqani network and other militants are allied, at least ideologically, to the Pakistani Taliban, who carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
The dominant right-wing narrative in Pakistan following Mullen's comments has been that the United States is losing the war in Afghanistan and wants to pin the blame on Islamabad. The threat posed by the Haqqani network is seen as exaggerated, and tackling them now is thought not to be in Pakistan's interest.
The anger this week at America coincided with the visit of Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, allowing the media and politicians to peddle another populist trope: that Beijing will be able to replace the United States as a source of funds if and when Pakistan chooses to sever its ties with Washington.
"American allegations and threats have extremely endangered our country's security and sovereignty. It is high time ... we should consult our friendly neighbors and other countries out of this region and get their support," said an editorial in the right-wing mass circulation paper, Nawa-i-Waqt.
Most analysts say this hope is misplaced, noting that Beijing shares international concerns about Pakistan as a breeding ground for terrorism and has shown little sign it wants to prop up the government. The hope also fails to address how China would replace American influence on institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was already rife and growing, following the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by CIA operatives in Lahore in January and the raid on bin Laden. Both events were portrayed here as further evidence of the malign intentions of the United States.
The Pakistani media tend to focus on the supposed American threat because that's what Pakistanis want to read and hear about, said Cyril Almedia, a liberal political analyst and columnist. But he said there were signs that those who wanted to see the alliance with the United States break down may be disappointed, noting that the army — which receives billions from the United States in aid — had been relatively muted in its reaction.
"Emotions are running high, but there are indications the military is performing a delicate balancing act," Almedia said. "On the one hand, it is trying to give a response that satisfies a paranoid, conservative population and the rank-and-file, yet also a feeling that this is not the moment to cause a complete rupture with the United States."

Cantaloupe outbreak is deadliest in a decade

Health officials say as many as 16 people have died from possible listeria illnesses traced to Colorado cantaloupes

, the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, are linked to the tainted fruit. State and local officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.
The death toll released by the CDC Tuesday — including newly confirmed deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas — surpassed the number of deaths linked to an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts almost three years ago. Nine people died in that outbreak.The CDC said Tuesday that they have confirmed two deaths in Texas and one death each in in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Last week the CDC reported two deaths in Colorado, four deaths in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and one in Maryland.
New Mexico officials said Tuesday they are investigating a fifth death, while health authorities in Kansas and Wyoming said they too are investigating additional deaths possibly linked to the tainted fruit.
Listeria is more deadly than well-known pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, though those outbreaks generally cause many more illnesses. Twenty-one people died in an outbreak of listeria poisoning in 1998 traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp. Another large listeria outbreak in 1985 killed 52 people and was linked to Mexican-style soft cheese.
Listeria generally only sickens the elderly, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems. The CDC said the median age of those sickened is 78 and that one in five who contract the disease can die.
Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC says the number of illnesses and deaths will probably grow in coming weeks because the symptoms of listeria don't always show up right away. It can take four weeks or more for a person to fall ill after eating food contaminated with listeria.
"That long incubation period is a real problem," Tauxe said. "People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later."
CDC reported the 72 illnesses and deaths in 18 states. Cases of listeria were reported in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The most illnesses were reported in Colorado, which has seen 15 sickened. Fourteen illnesses were reported in Texas, 10 in New Mexico and eight in Oklahoma.
The outbreak has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., which recalled the tainted cantaloupes earlier this month. The Food and Drug Administration said state health officials had found listeria in cantaloupes taken from grocery stores in the state and from a victim's home that were grown at Jensen Farms. Matching strains of the disease were found on equipment and cantaloupe samples at Jensen Farms' packing facility in Granada, Colo.
FDA, which investigates the cause of foodborne outbreaks, has not released any additional details on how the contamination may have happened. The agency says its investigation is ongoing.
The Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.
The recalled cantaloupe may be labeled "Colorado Grown," ''Distributed by Frontera Produce," ''" or "Sweet Rocky Fords." Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA said.
Unlike many pathogens, listeria bacteria can grow at room temperatures and even refrigerator temperatures. The FDA and CDC recommend anyone who may have one of the contaminated cantaloupes throw it out immediately and clean and sanitize any surfaces it may have touched.
About 800 cases of listeria are found in the United States each year, according to CDC, and there usually are three or four outbreaks. Most of these are traced to deli meat and soft cheeses, where listeria is most common.
Produce has rarely been the culprit, but federal investigators say they have seen more produce-related listeria illnesses in the past two years. It was found in sprouts in 2009 and celery in 2010.
While most healthy adults can consume listeria with no ill effects, it can kill the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It is also dangerous to pregnant women because it easily passes through to the fetus. Dr. Tauxe of the CDC said the type of listeria linked to the cantaloupes is not one that is commonly associated with pregnancy-associated illnesses, however. State and federal health authorities have not definitively linked any miscarriages, stillbirths or infant illnesses to the current outbreak.
Symptoms of listeria include fever and muscle aches, often with other gastrointestinal symptoms. Victims often become incapacitated and unable to speak.
Debbie Frederick said her mother knew something was wrong when her father, 87-year-old William Thomas Beach, collapsed at his home in Mustang, Okla. and couldn't get up. He died a few days later, on Sept. 1. The family later learned his death was linked to eating the cantaloupe and sued Jensen Farms.
"First you just kind of go into shock," said Frederick. "Then it settles in that he would still be alive if this hadn't happened. It's a life, for what?"

Cantaloupe outbreak is deadliest in a decade

Pakistani capital bops to American jazz beat

PM Gilani says we should not be asked to do more

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani rejected all US allegations and said that we should not be asked to do more adding that the nation is capable of warding off any challenge.

PM Gilani was addressing the All Parties Conference (APC)and pointed out that the US leveled allegations despite Pakistan's sacrifices. "We are looking forward to international cooperation".

PM Gilani added that national interests should be respected and the armed forces were capable and had never disappointed us.

The All Parties Conference (APC) began here at the PM House, politicians from all shades have gathered here for a brain-storming session to review the serious challenges to national security and will evolve a strategy to counter threats at all fronts.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is hosting the crucial APC to take a threadbare look at the overall security situation, particularly in the wake of serious charges levelled by the US officials against Pakistan and its military establishment.

The APC which holds great significance in the backdrop of strained ties between the US and Pakistan, is attended by 58 leaders of various political, religious and nationalist parties as well as Chief of Army Staff General and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

During the APC Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and DG ISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha will brief the participants on internal and external challenges being faced by the country.

The Prime Minister House on Wednesday confirmed that about the political leaders who have confirmed their participation. These include Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, President PML-N, Senator Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President PML-Q, Syed Haider Abbas Rizvi, Deputy Parliamentary Leader MQM, Asfandyar Wali Khan, President ANP, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman of JUI (F), Haji Khuda Bux Rajar, Minister for Narcotics Control from PML (F), Haji Munir Khan Aurakzai MNA from Fata, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao MNA of PPP (S), Ghulam Murtaza Khan Jatoi MNA of National Peoples Party (NPP), Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri of BNP (A), Syed Munawar Hassan, Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali former Prime Minister, Mehmood Khan Achakzai of PKMAP, Senator Salim Saifullah Khan from PML (LM), Awami Muslim League (AML) Chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Imran Khan Chief of PTI, Hasil Khan Bazenjo NPB, Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi of TJP, Senator Shahid Hassan Bugti of JWP, Akhtar Mengal of BNP (Mengal Group), Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri of Tehrik-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran, Hamid Ali Shah Moosvi of TNFJ, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq of JUI (S), M. Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, President Sunni Tahrik, Haji Muhammad Hanif Tayyab, President Nizam-e-Mustafa Party, Sahibzada Abu Khair Muhammad Zubair of JUP (N), Pir Fazal Haq, President Jamiat Mashaikh, Sahibzada Haji Muhammad Fazal Karim, Chairman Sunni Ittehad Council, Khan Amanullah Khan, PML (Q), Dr. Paul Bhatti Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Harmony, Ameer Hussain Gilani, Mufti Feroze Din Hazarvi, Mutahidda Ulema Forum Pakistan, Abdul Qadeer Khamosh, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman Ulema Council Bait-ul-Aman, Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan, former Prime Minister AJK, Ch. Nisar Ali Khan, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri Leader of Opposition in Senate and Rasul Bux Palejo.

All parties conference begins in Islamabad
The political leadership of Pakistan is meeting in Islamabad today (Thursday) for an all parties conference on the national security situation, which has been called in the wake of serious US allegations against Pakistan.

The outgoing top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, has accused Pakistan of exporting violent extremism to Afghanistan and called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
In today’s meeting at the Prime Minister House, politicians will prepare a coordinated response to the latest allegations levelled by the United States against Pakistan.
Express 24/7 correspondent Sumera Khan reported that a number of politicians had arrived and that a total of 58 political leaders are expected to attend the meeting.
Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) leader Chaudhry Shujaat, Pakitan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan, Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfandyar Wali, chief of Awami Muslim League (AML) Sheikh Rasheed and other political leaders are currently present at the PM House.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, director general (DG) military operations and Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha are expected to brief the high-profile meeting.
Speaking to the media, Imran Khan said that he was attending the conference because it was a national cause and that he would try to convince the leadership to “come out of a military option.”

Pak-US relationship: Hide and seek


The Pak-US relationship is at an all-time low, with the Haqqani network being the reason behind this latest disruption of relations. The US seems to have had enough of Pakistan’s alleged ‘ties’ to the militant organisation and Pakistan remains unwavering in denying this accusation at any cost. Prominent officials and military authorities are making the rounds and talks are taking place in an attempt to defuse tensions. However, the situation looks bleak. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has not only accused Pakistan’s ISI of supporting the Haqqani network — in the wake of the attack on the US embassy in Kabul — he has now said that even he, a person who had been a ‘friend’ of Pakistan, has been brought to this breakdown point. In this tense imbroglio, the latest statement to come from the militants is quite interesting. The Taliban have claimed that the Haqqani network is being supported — in fact “owned” — by them and not by Pakistan. Such a statement coming on the heels of the accusations that are flying against Pakistan makes this a convenient claim of ownership. The Afghan Taliban have also claimed that none of their bases or fighters are within Pakistan. Instead, they say, they have their own country and they conduct operations inside and outside the country according to their own initiatives. If such a statement by the Taliban is to be believed then it must be asked: who controls the group that claims it ‘owns’ the Haqqani network? Where exactly are these Taliban fighters operating from? Pertinent questions when one considers that the Pakistani establishment has always distinguished the Afghan Taliban as the ‘good Taliban’.

The Americans have, apparently, reached their threshold. This latest statement by the Taliban will be considered as little more than propaganda that serves to back Pakistan’s denials. Too many instances have pushed the US towards the edge: the US sharing intelligence on militant whereabouts in North Waziristan only to receive news that they had run off to Kurram Agency, Osama bin Laden’s peaceful abode in Abbottabad, the deadly siege of the US embassy in Kabul only two weeks ago and other such instances that have cost US soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan. Strong statements about Pakistan’s relations with the Haqqani network are now being made because, obviously, the Americans have our tactics and double-faced strategies figured out. Despite ongoing efforts to ease the confrontation between the US and Pakistan, there is still smoke. The US Congress has moved a resolution to completely cut off aid to Pakistan in the light of the strong accusations against us. The American public is increasingly demanding a stoppage of aid to a country that encourages militants to attack US interests. Without American dollars supporting our economy, we will be in for a very tough time ahead.

The real question remains: what will we do now? Our ‘strategic depth’ policy looks ready to backfire unless we retreat from this position. It is obvious that, in the endgame in Afghanistan, no one really wants to see al Qaeda at the negotiation table, least of all the Americans. If the Afghan Taliban really is supporting the Haqqanis, then it is ardently supporting al Qaeda’s ideology. The Haqqani network, with its violence-prone outlook towards the Americans and its unacceptable links with al Qaeda is not going to be allowed near the negotiation table. The losses incurred by Mullah Omar after 2001 may have rendered him slightly more ready to distance himself from al Qaeda and thus be more acceptable to the Americans once 2014 comes round. However, the Haqqani network will never be allowed to have a place in the future set-up of Afghanistan. Pakistan would do well to think about that.

Slightly high blood pressure also dangerous: study

Even a slightly high blood pressure is considered dangerous to largely increase the stroke risk, a new study found.

The finding was published Wednesday on the online edition of U.S. medical journal Neurology.

In the study, researchers found people who have pre-hypertension, whose blood pressure measured between normal and high, are 55 percent more likely to suffer a stroke compared with normal people.

The study involved data from 12 previous studies on blood pressure and stroke occurrence of some 500,000 adults.

About one in three U.S. adults suffer from pre-hypertension, which is defined at a systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 or a diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89, according to the U.S. Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure.

"People who do fall into the higher range of pre-hypertension should modify their lifestyle as much as possible," suggested Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele, director of the Olive View-UCLA Stroke Program and leading author of the study.

Stroke is the number three cause of death, killing more than 130,000 in the U.S. a year, according to a CBS report.