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U.S. Tries to Calm Pakistan Over Airstrike

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WASHINGTON – The Obama administration scrambled to halt a sharp deterioration in its troubled relationship with Pakistan on Wednesday, offering Pakistani officials multiple apologies for a helicopter strike on a border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week.

Militant gunmen in Nowshera, Pakistan, attacked a convoy of NATO oil tankers that were headed to Afghanistan on Wednesday.

But even as the White House tried to mollify Pakistan, officials acknowledged that the uneasy allies faced looming tensions over a host of issues far larger than the airstrike and the subsequent closing of supply lines into Afghanistan.

American pressure to show progress in Afghanistan is translating into increased pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups. It is also running up against Pakistan’s sensitivity about its sovereignty and its determination to play a crucial role in any reconciliation with the Taliban.

American and NATO officials said privately that the Pakistani government’s closing of a crucial border crossing might have made it easier for militants to attack backed-up tanker trucks carrying fuel through Pakistan to Afghanistan to support the American war effort.

Still, the unusual apologies, officials and outside analysts said, were intended to clear away the debris from the explosive events along the border, in hopes of maintaining Pakistani cooperation.

“We have historically had astonishing sources of resilience in our relations with Pakistan,” said Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One should not too quickly assume we’re in a breakpoint. But having said that, the time we’re in right now, the intensity of anti-American feeling, the antipathy of militants, all of these things make new crises a little more complicated to get through than the old ones were.”

The overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has been pulling out all the stops – aggressively using the American troop buildup, greatly expanding Special Operations raids (as many as a dozen commando raids a night) and pressing the Central Intelligence Agency to ramp up Predator and Reaper drone operations in Pakistan.

He has also, through the not-so-veiled threat of cross-border ground operations, put pressure on the Pakistani Army to pursue militants in the tribal areas even as the army has continued to struggle with relief from the catastrophic floods this summer.

The fragility of Pakistan – and the tentativeness of the alliance – were underscored in a White House report to Congress this week, which sharply criticized the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and other insurgents and noted the ineffectiveness of its civilian government.

American officials lined up to placate Pakistan on intrusions of its sovereignty. General Petraeus offered Pakistan the most explicit American mea culpa yet for the cross-border helicopter strikes, saying that the American-led coalition forces “deeply regret” the “tragic loss of life.”

Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Pakistan, quickly followed suit, calling “Pakistan’s brave security forces” an important ally in the war. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a private, but official, apology to Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a telephone call on Wednesday afternoon.

Both American and Pakistani officials said that they expected that Wednesday’s apologies would be effective, at least in the short term, and that Pakistan would soon reopen the border crossing at Torkham, a supply route for the NATO coalition in landlocked Afghanistan that runs from the port of Karachi to the Khyber region. The Pakistani government closed that route last week to protest the cross-border strikes.

“It’s obvious that the situation right now ain’t good,” said a senior NATO official, who agreed to speak candidly but only anonymously. “The best thing we could do is to strip away as many of the relatively smaller things as possible so we can focus on the big issues. And crazy as it may seem, the border crossing is a relatively small issue, compared to the others.”

Those other issues were flagged in the latest quarterly report from the White House to Congress on developments in the region. The assessment, first reported in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, takes aim at both the Pakistani military and the government.

For instance, “the Pakistani military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the report said. It also painted Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, as out of touch with his own populace, a disconnect that the report said was exacerbated by Mr. Zardari’s “decision to travel to Europe despite the floods.” The overall Pakistani response to the catastrophic floods this summer, the report said, was viewed by Pakistanis as “slow and inadequate.”

Frustration with Pakistan is growing in the United States in part because “we’re living in the post-Faisal Shahzad era,” said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Pakistani-American who was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for the attempted Times Square bombing.

Mr. Markey said that tensions among counterterrorism officials had also mounted because of the unspecified threats of terrorist attacks in Europe. “Frustration has really mounted, so the drumbeat is getting louder,” he said.

Making things worse, the administration is expected to brief Congressional officials on an Internet video, which surfaced last week, that showed men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes, underscoring concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the United States.

A prominent House Democrat warned on Wednesday that American aid to Pakistan could be imperiled. “I am appalled by the horrific contents of the recent video, which appears to show extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military,” Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“The failure of Pakistani officials to punish those responsible could have implications for future security assistance to Pakistan,” he said.

A joint Pakistan-NATO inquiry on the helicopter strike concluded on Wednesday that Pakistani border soldiers who initially fired on NATO helicopters were “simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, a NATO spokesman, in a statement.

“This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistani military,” he said.

32 schoolchildren die as van falls into Jhelum River

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By Syed Abbas Gardezi

MUZAFFARABAD: At least, 32 schoolchildren were feared dead and four others sustained serious injuries when a school van fell into the Jhelum River at Garhi Dopatta on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Road, about 25 kilometres from here on Tuesday morning at 9:10 am, a police spokesman said.

The severely injured van driver and four children were rescued, while 18 bodies were recovered from the river by the divers of Pakistan Army, Rescue 1122 and the locals, Senior Superintendent Police (SSP), Muzaffarabad, Ch Ghulam Akbar, told The News. The search for the remaining bodies was in progress, he added.

Giving details of the tragic accident, the SSP said that the school van (Mazda No NWFP-8871), with about 30-38 children on board, was on way to a human concern school in Garhi Dopatta town to attend an ‘Eid Milan’ party when it plunged into the river.

He said the van met the accident after getting out of control of the driver, Muhammad Shafi, s/o Maskeen, due to overspeeding. The schoolchildren belonged to different localities of Garhi Dopatta.

The police rescue team, led by the AJK Secretary Khawaja Muhammad Saleem Bismil, SSP Ch Ghulam Akber, Rescue 1122 and rescue teams of the Army, as well as Secretary Transport AJK Zia Ahmed Khawaja and officials of Muzaffarabad district administration rushed to the scene immediately after the accident.

The four injured children and the van driver were rushed to hospital. The wreckage of the van was recovered from the river. The parents of the children demanded of the government to take strict action against the school administration because the accident occurred due to their negligence.

Mohammad Ramzan, father of four ill-fated children, told this scribe that so far body of none of his four kids, including three daughters and a son, could be taken out. When the mother of four ill-fated children came to know that her children had died in the accident, she rushed to the scene and plunged into the river and was killed, said eyewitnesses.

Meanwhile, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan expressed profound grief over the accident and directed the rescue teams to continue relief work in the area. He also directed concerned authorities to provide compensation to the families of victims within 24 hours.

The children who died in the accident include Noor Ramzan, Daud Ahmad, Hira Ramzan and Arooj Ramzan (children of Mohammad Ramzan), Sajid, s/o Ghulam Rasool Mughal, Sadia, d/o Jamil, Amana Iftikhar, d/o Mohammad Iftikhar, Saher, d/o Mohmmad Shabbir, Nouman, s/o Nazeer, Nazeer, s/o Abdul Rehman, Tayyba, d/o Saddiqui, Sariya, d/o Khursheed, Faisa Siddiqui, d/o Mohammad Siddiqui, Shahzad, s/o Munawar Khan, residents of Kanina, Hamid, s/o Muhammad Saeed, and Nabeel, s/o Ghulam Rasool Qureshi, residents of Khad pura. The names of two children could not be ascertained.

APP adds: President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday expressed their deep grief and sorrow over the tragic deaths of young schoolchildren in a road accident in Azad Kashmir.

HEC chief ‘unwilling’ to continue in office

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ISLAMABAD: Higher Education Commission chairman Javed Leghari on Tuesday met President Asif Ali Zardari and updated him on the fake degree issue, sources in the Presidency told Dawn.

Javed Laghari had called on PM Gilani at Prime Minister’s House on Monday and presented him the report.-Photo by Online

No official press release was issued because it was said to be a one-on-one meeting for which media coverage was not allowed.

Like other events from which the Presidency tried to keep media away, the meeting between the president and the HEC chief took place inside the president’s residence.

Insiders said Mr Leghari presented a report on fake degrees and the names of politicians whose cases might be sent to the Election Commission for further action.

The HEC chairman had called on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at Prime Minister’s House on Monday and presented him the report.

It has been learnt that the HEC chief has expressed his inability to work for the commission because of reported pressures and threats he had been receiving since he had started scrutiny of education degrees of lawmakers on a Supreme Court order.

However, President Zardari asked him to continue for some time because his resignation would generate a new controversy and ultimately the government would be blamed for it.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said he could not comment because it was a one-to-one meeting.

Meanwhile, a leader of Pakistan Muslim League-N, Abid Sher Ali, told a private TV channel that the HEC chairman was being harassed by Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza to keep the issue under wraps.

The man who filed case against Rehman Malik

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By Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: New York-based businessman Syed Raza says Rehman Malik and some other Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials had raided his Lahore residence and implicated him and his close relatives in a false visa racket and drug cases in 1994 as a set up in collusion with his adversaries in the United States.

His brother, Hashim Raza, also living in New York, is the complainant in a reference sponsored by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against Rehman Malik and his confidant Sajjad Haider in which both had been sentenced to three year terms in absentia by an accountability court the which sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on May 17. But they were instantly pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari. However, the corruption reference, accusing Malik and Haider of taking away Rs700,000 in cash, American passports and 20 tolas of gold from Raza Shah’s residence, is pending disposal in a Rawalpindi accountability court.

“I am prepared to pay any amount of fee to a lawyer to get the accused punished for the hell I and my family had faced at their hands,” Raza Shah, 65, told The News in a fairly lengthy telephonic conversation from New York.

He himself wants to pursue the case and would not send the complainant, Hashim, to Pakistan saying that the boy was not shrewd enough to deal with such tricky matters. “I, Hashim and my son were tortured by the FIA raiders by holding us incommunicado for many days,” he charged.

Recalling the episode, he said that his wife insisted to hold the marriage ceremony of their son in Pakistan in August 1994. He said although he was too busy in New York, he had to come to Pakistan in connection with the wedding.

“On Aug 21, 1994, when I landed in Germany on my way to Lahore from New York, Rehman Malik and others raided my house in Lahore. They had come from Islamabad and stayed in a five-star hotel before carrying out the raid,” he said.

Raza Shah said when he landed at the Lahore airport, the FIA personnel picked him up from the stairs of the plane. “For some time, I thought I have been kidnapped. But I realized that I have been taken into custody by the FIA only when I was taken to its office at the Temple Road. I was made to sit the whole night despite the fact that my name did not appear in any complaint.”

He said that Rehman Malik and others then planted US visa stickers and green cards on his son and brother and charged that they belonged to a gang. “The FIA personnel also got a statement scribbled in Urdu signed by my son, 21, who did not even read or write the language for having been born and brought up in New York.”

Raza Shah said when he was arrested from the Lahore airport and brought to the FIA office, he did not know that his brother and son had already been taken into custody and their house had been raided by the FIA. “I had come to Pakistan after three and a half years. I had been in the United States for the last 27 years.” At the FIA centre, he said, Sajjad Haider came to investigate him.

He added that as he was passing through a corridor of the office, he happened to see one Haji Ramzan, who had been sentenced to five years on drug charges in the United States but had since been released and deported to Pakistan.

“Since I knew him during his days in New York, I shook hands with him there. At this, the FIA personnel accused me of having been involved in the drug business as well.” Raza Shah said he was also later shifted to Rawalpindi where another case was registered by the FIA against him. He said when all these cases proved false, he got a case registered against Rehman Malik and Sajjad Haider in 1997 in the name of his brother Hashim and came back to New York.

He said that for two years or so, he pursued the cases lodged against him and his relatives and finally got disentangled. He said he was also kept in Mohmand Agency for 45 days. At the time, he had to file a habeas corpus petition in the Lahore High Court as well.

Raza Shah said the raid was conducted on the charge that he and his family had indulged in fake visa business on the instigation of his adversaries in New York. But the raiders did not even know the name of his son and kept asking where Tipu was during the search of the house whereas the boy’s name was Ahmed Ali Rizvi, he said adding that they came to know about it only after seizing his American passport.

He said the raiders took away Hashim and Ahmed and the valuables from his residence. “When my wife asked for a receipt of the items seized, they refused to give anything in writing.”

The case that Syed Raza got registered against Rehman Malik and Sajjad Haider was transferred from the FIA to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in 2003. It is pending disposal in a Rawalpindi accountability court. A source close to Interior Minister A Rehman Malik rejected all charges against the minister as fabricated and politically motivated. He said the then government instituted several cases against PPP leaders including Malik.

He said the purpose was just to harass them and force them to stay out of the country. He said various individuals and institutions were used by the then rules to implicate Malik in false cases.

148 MNAs, MPAs hold fake degrees, says ex-ECP secretary

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ISLAMABAD: Almost 148 MNAs and MPAs are feared to be holding fake degrees, disclosed Kanwar Dilshad, the former secretary Election Commission of Pakistan.

Dilshad, who retired last year from the Election Commission of Pakistan, and had supervised the 2008 elections, cited intelligence reports as the source of his information. If this is factually true, the dearth of morality at the highest levels of our political culture is stinking, said an analyst.

Talking to The News here on Wednesday, Dilshad said the number of petitions pending wever, far less than what the intelligence reports suggest. The incumbent Secretary Election Commission Ishtiaq Ahmad when contacted said recently the Election Commission had sought the details of such cases from the provincial election commissioners and found that a total of 70 cases of fake degrees came before the election tribunals.

He said the election tribunals have so far decided 24 cases whereas another 46 such cases are still pending before different election tribunals. Ishtiaq Ahmad did not know about the intelligence reports as referred to by his predecessor, but he revealed that the ordinary people had started challenging degrees of the MPs even in ordinary courts.

As a routine, he said, one or two applications are received by the Election Commission daily from ordinary people, seeking copies of the degrees submitted by the MPs at the time of the filing of their election papers for the Feb 2008 elections.

He explained that other than those already challenged in the election tribunals, the degrees of the MPs if found suspicious are also being challenged in a court of civil judge. He said some people opt to directly approach the high courts in such matters.

In the 2008 elections, which were held under the election rules and qualifications as set by General Musharraf during his rule, those interested to contest for national or provincial assemblies were required to be at least graduates (holding Bachelor degree).

However, later before Asif Ali Zardari’s election as the President of Pakistan, the then Dogar court nullified the condition of BA as the minimum qualification required for the members of the provincial assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate.

The issue of fake degrees of the MPs is in focus of the media recently after at least three MNAs resigned from their membership of the National Assembly after their degrees were proved as fake before the apex court.

In order to avoid disqualification, they submitted their resignations in the Supreme Court before any ruling was given by the court. Interestingly, parliament and the government are unmoved on this issue despite reports about growing number of fake degree holders in parliament.

Pakistan: A firmer footing

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By Farhan Bokhari and James Lamont

Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, likes to receive visitors in the library of the prime ministerial mansion in Islamabad, its bookshelves decorated with ceremonial swords, daggers and other armorial objects. On the leonine crest of one small shield, a gift from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, is the motto: “Ponder the improbable”.

Charm offensive: the Pakistani army in South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. Successful campaigns against militants here and in the Swat valley have won Islamabad praise from the US

The words are apt for Mr Gilani, and for the country’s leadership as a whole. The civilian government led by him and President Asif Ali Zardari has defied the odds by staying in power and taking on militant Taliban groups that have struck the country’s main cities and even the army’s high command in Rawalpindi. Pakistanis have held their breath for the past two years, awaiting a regime change orchestrated by General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the powerful army chief. In a country blighted by military rule for most of its 63 years, such a move would not be unprecedented.

However, Gen Kiyani has opted to work with the political leadership rather than against it. Indeed, the Pakistan People’s party administration is on course to become the first democratically elected government to serve a full term for three decades. It has galvanised the nation for a fight against militants. Most recently, Islamabad has basked in the embrace of Washington as both countries tried to rebuild a troubled partnership.

The combination of these three developments puts Pakistan in one of its strongest positions for two decades. The US is left with few choices but to back the country as it seeks to win the war in Afghanistan. But to become a credible and stable American ally for the long haul, Pakistan has to reform its economy, scale back the influence of the army and improve its relationship with India, its mighty southern neighbour. Gen Kiyani, a shrewd tactician, appears to be the man on whom this depends.

Not long ago, civilian rule looked shaky. There was speculation about “Minus One”, a code in Islamabad political circles for the removal of Mr Zardari, husband of slain opposition leader and former premier Benazir Bhutto. A government stand-off with the judiciary and the opposition, which caused protests in Lahore, the second largest city, almost invited the army to step in to restore order in March last year. In addition, the Taliban came within 90km of Islamabad after capturing the Swat valley, a tourist destination.

The civilian administration looks more assured today but internal security concerns, and international engagement over Afghanistan and with India, have propelled Gen Kiyani to its side.

Although once considered a weak understudy for the president, Mr Gilani is now viewed by the military as the more popular politician and has won its support for styling himself a leader of a country on a “war footing”. His ruling party is now poised to reverse vestiges of military rule by shifting powers from the presidency to the premiership, and return Pakistan to the founding vision of a parliamentary democracy.

“We have very ably completed two years with consensus in parliament,” says Mr Gilani. “The biggest success is that we have gathered the whole nation together on one platform for a fight against terrorism and that is the biggest victory ever.”

Bigger battles lie ahead. For the US, Pakistan’s neighbours and many Pakistanis, one of the most formidable challenges is reforming the pervasive security structure, which controls everything from cornflake factories to nuclear missiles. They want a decisive break with militant organisations that continue to sow discord in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and pose an increasingly global threat.

Many inside and outside Pakistan continue to see the army as pre-eminent, and suspect fighting India remains its priority rather than fighting old allies among the Afghan Taliban and Punjab-based militant groups.

Yet the country has won credibility, and praise, for the latter. Its clout has grown rapidly in Washington following successful campaigns against militants in South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border, and the Swat valley, and the arrest in February of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban military chief in Afghanistan, and four other prominent Taliban leaders this year. US diplomats say the relationship has been “transformed” in recent months. “Pakistan has shown its ability to give a direction to future events, and to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” says one.

But there is no doubt that the US and Nato allies want Pakistan to do more. On his visit to Afghanistan last month Barack Obama, US president, said: “We have seen already progress with respect to the military campaign [in Pakistan] against extremism, but we also want to continue to make progress on [civilian assistance].”

At the core of the relationship with America is the endgame in Afghanistan. While Mr Obama is anxious to oversee the return of most of his troops fighting there ahead of the next US presidential election in 2012 and present a successful end to the campaign, Pakistan wants financial help in return for assisting the US, and its role in the country’s future recognised with political power for its former militant allies.

It is the emphasis on the fight against militants that has changed Pakistan’s precarious political balance. His leading role in engagement with Washington, which he visited at the end of last month, has brought the publicity-shy Gen Kiyani a more public role in what Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has called an “integrated” civilian and military leadership. The shift started in February when Gen Kiyani publicly outlined Islamabad’s priorities on its western and eastern borders, addressing goals in Afghanistan and disputes with India.

“Kiyani is clearly driving the agenda of the US-Pakistan engagement,” says Maria Kuusisto of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “In the run-up to the dialogue, Kiyani called the relevant [secretaries], including ministers of foreign affairs, finance and water and power, to his army headquarters for consultations – and during the dialogue, Kiyani has taken the lead in presenting Pakistan’s case.”

While the US has welcomed Gen Kiyani’s participation as reflecting a united civilian and military leadership, his increasingly public role carries risks for Pakistan.

First, if the relationship with Washington falls short of expectations, Gen Kiyani stands to get the blame within Pakistan for the failure of a dialogue he is leading. Pakistan went to to the US with a list of demands, including better trade access, speedy delivery of financial assistance, construction of new power stations and help on disputes with India over the contested territory of Kashmir and water-sharing agreements in a drought-prone region. The government is also pushing for a civil nuclear deal similar to the one struck with India, which gave its nuclear programme global legitimacy – in spite of Pakistan’s record of nuclear proliferation – in the interests of “regional stability”. It came away with little new, in spite of a warm reception from Mrs Clinton.

The talks were “more significant for their atmospherics than any tangible outcome”, says Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US and the UK. “Important, however, were assurances conveyed to the Pakistani delegation that America’s long- term strategic interests were consistent with Pakistan’s security.”

Taking on the Taliban

Pakistan has arrested as many as 20 Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in its territory this year, giving hope to the US and other western allies that a country that once provided shelter to the Afghan Taliban is increasing pressure on militants along its border with Afghanistan. The arrests by the Inter-Services Intelligence military spy agency, including that of the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, are seen as a disruption of the Quetta Shura, a Taliban leadership council.

According to Gen Mahmood Durrani, previously Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and a former national security adviser, “The general’s presence is ‘optical’ to suggest that the army is going under the civil leaders’ [authority].”

Second, a more prominent role for the army is likely to reinforce the notion that the military is the most powerful force in the land, and that the civilian leadership is near irrelevant. This would be a stumbling block for recently restarted talks between Pakistan and India. New Delhi often complains that, with a choice between a weak civilian leadership and a powerful anti-Indian army, it does not know whom to talk to in Islamabad.

Indian commentators view American-trained Gen Kiyani as a chip off the old block. They are mistrustful of his past in the Inter-Services Intelligence, the nerve centre of the security system, and of his role as a commander in the 1990s on Pakistan’s side of the Line of Control in Kashmir at a time when cross-border insurgency increased. India’s diplomats are alarmed by what they see as his calculating introduction of water as a source of dispute. Some more hawkish analysts say water shortages in south Asia, rather than Kashmir, threaten to fuel future jihadi violence.

Gen Kiyani has impressed on the global stage, however. “The bluster that marked Musharraf has been dumped for quiet gravitas,” says Indrani Bagchi, diplomatic editor of the Times of India. She believes he is capable of outmanoeuvring India and Afghanistan at international meetings, such as January’s London conference on Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s role as a partner for the US and Nato in Afghanistan was boosted.

Third, a larger role for the army is unlikely to address some of the country’s gravest issues: the economy and internal administrative reform. Failure to oversee a robust set of economic reforms is risky in a country of 180m, mainly poor, people. Pakistan has made little progress in securing better trade access to European Union markets and larger preferential quotas for entry to the US. Uncertainty is mounting over government promises to the International Monetary Fund to strengthen the economy and a widening fiscal deficit.

“Can [Pakistan’s] policies be taken seriously when we have gone through three international financial bail-outs in the last 12 years and you can still not be certain if another one in the future will be required?” says Abid Hasan, former adviser on Pakistan to the World Bank. “There are long-term issues related to the rule of law, politics, governance and the economy.”

. . .

There is a sense in Pakistan that the military is in the ascendant; and for some this is welcome. “The Pakistani army is a very sophisticated army,” says Khurshid Kasuri, foreign minister under General Pervez Musharraf. “These people have been to defence universities all over the world. They have been to security conferences.”

Those in the wider region are less enthusiastic. Lalit Mansingh, former Indian foreign secretary, says Gen Kiyani is stepping into a more political role, though it is not clear how far he will go. He says a key question will be whether he extends his term as a service chief, a decision that must be taken by Mr Zardari. Gen Shuja Pasha, ISI head and an ally of Gen Kiyani, this year extended his term on grounds that it was not appropriate to replace him in the heat of battle. Other senior generals, such as Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, chief of strategic plans division, have not stepped aside.

Gen Kiyani is due to step down in November but now looks nearly indispensable. “The really substantive, and strategic, exchanges [in Washington] took place outside the formal dialogue process in unpublicised meetings including a dinner hosted by Admiral [Mike] Mullen [the senior US military commander] and attended by Gen Kiyani,” says Ms Lodhi.

With the army at the head of the table and its chief likely to shun retirement, “Ponder the Improbable” may yet prove to be a fitting epitaph for a civilian government once again edged aside by the generals.

Turkey keen to cooperate with Pakistan in all fields

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Both countries to upgrade strategic ties, jointly defeat terrorism; Zardari, Gul have heart-to-heart meeting

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Turkey on Wednesday expressed resolve to upgrade their strategic partnership and intensify political and economic cooperation besides jointly defeating militancy and terrorism that continue to claim scores of innocent lives in Pakistan and Turkey.

The understanding came at a meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Turkish President Abdullah Gul here at the Presidency which reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations.
The one-on-one meeting between the two presidents was followed by a delegation level formal talks which were attended on the Pakistan side by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Minister for Food & Agriculture Nazar Muhammad Gondal, Interior Minister Rehman A Malik, Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Finance Adviser Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh besides other senior officials.

On Turkish side, Minister of State Prof Mehmet Aydin, Minister for Health Prof Recap Akdag, Minister for Agricultural & Rural Affairs M Mehdi Eker, were present besides Turkish Ambassador Babar Hizlan, members of parliament and other senior officials.

During the meeting, President Zardari said the public-private partnership model of development adopted by Pakistan could open new horizons of cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey and lend greater depth and substance to the existing cordial ties between the two countries and transform it into a strategic partnership.

Briefing the media on the meeting, Spokesperson for the President Farhatullah Babar said during talks President Asif Ali Zardari emphasised the need for upgrading communication links to further boost trade, commerce and people-to-people contacts. He said the existing rail link needed to be upgraded so as to open up and connect vast European and Asian markets to the benefit of not only Pakistan and Turkey but also of all people in the region. He suggested that the train may be named after the Turkish President as ìGul Trainî.

The president said the proposed 6,500 km Islamabad-Istanbul rail link would vastly improve regional connectivity. It may be mentioned that as per the decision taken during the ECO Ministerial meeting in Tehran in March last year, the demonstration run of the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul container train was launched on August 14 last year.

During President Zardari’s January visit to Istanbul, the Turkish railway authorities also gave a detailed briefing on the prospects of the Islamabad-Istanbul container train. Turkey also offered to assist Pakistan in upgrading its railway network to facilitate operationalisation of the Islamabad-Istanbul container train.

Farhatullah Babar said the two presidents also witnessed the signing of three bilateral agreements between the two countries in the Presidency at the conclusion of the delegation level talks.

The bilateral agreements signed on Wednesday pertained to MoU for collaboration in the fields of agro-based industries, MoU between the Board of Investment of GOP and Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT) and MoU on cooperation in Planning between the Government of Pakistan and Government of the Republic of Turkey.

After the signing ceremony, the two presidents read out their respective statements to the press. In a joint press talk, President Zardari said Pakistan greatly values its strategic partnership with Turkey which is rooted in shared interests, common concerns and convergence of perceptions on regional and global issues.

“Pakistan is an important country of the region and the world because of its flourishing democracy and strategic location and our bilateral relations are also an example for the entire world,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

President Zardari said Pakistan and Turkey have reiterated the commitment to boost relations in the diverse fields, including economy, trade, investment, agriculture, infrastructure development, defence and people-to-people contacts.

“Keeping in view the huge potential, we have decided to pay special attention to re-energise our trade relations for the mutual benefit of our people and meet the agreed targets,” he added.

President Zardari said the private sector plays a pivotal role in trade enhancement and economic development and to harness potential of the private sector, the two countries had launched Pak-Turk CEO’s forum during the visit of the Turkish prime minister to Pakistan last October.

He said the second meeting of the CEO forum is being held in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon and in Lahore Thursday. The president said both Pakistan and Turkey condemn terrorism and extremism and “we have reiterated our staunch resolve to jointly defeat this menace”.

He said during talks with President Abdullah Gul, he briefed him on Pakistan’s campaign against extremism and militancy which enjoyed full support of the people. He said the remarkable success of the military operations in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan are a result of national unity and immense sacrifices of the people and armed forces.

President Zardari said Pakistan and Turkey hold identical views on Afghanistan and “we will continue to lend our support to Kabul’s national efforts to achieve durable peace, prosperity and sustainable development”.

In his remarks, Turkish President Abdullah said Turkey has long standing and historical relations with Pakistan and efforts will be made to further strengthen these relations in future. He said there should be more delegation level visits and meetings to take the relations to new heights.

Appreciating Pakistan’s role in the war against terror, he said the prevailing environment of reconciliation and harmony in Pakistan will guarantee the success of Pakistan in the fight against the menace of militancy and extremism.

The Turkish president also urged the international community to help Pakistan in the fight against this menace. Responding to a question for promoting trade relations between the two countries, the Turkish president said Pakistan and Turkey enjoy excellent brotherly relations but these have not been translated in the fields of economy, commerce and trade.

He said efforts will be made to take the trade between the two countries to the tune of five billion dollars in the shortest possible time. He described his visit to Pakistan as very important and expressed the confidence that it will give new dimensions to relations between the two countries.

He said the Wednesdayís talks will result in concrete outcome and both the countries will enhance their cooperation in economy, trade and energy. He appreciated Pakistan for its contribution to war on terror and also commended the political parties for joining in to root out the menace.

He urged the international community to express solidarity with Pakistan to win the war. He emphasised the need for improving rail link between the two countries and enhanced trade through train service.

President Gul said the energy cooperation is another important field where both the countries can cooperate to overcome Pakistan’s power crisis. He said during his visit to Lahore on Thursday he looked forward to further promoting cultural relations with Pakistan besides people-to-people contacts.

President Zardari thanked Turkey for cooperating with Pakistan, especially in hosting bilateral meetings with Afghanistan, to bring peace and stability in the region. He said Pakistan enjoys excellent relations with Afghanistan and is cooperating to bring peace in that country.

Answering a question, President Abdullah Gul said both the countries have great potential for economic and trade relations but it is unfortunate that it has not yet enhanced properly.He hoped that his current visit would lead to enhanced trade and economic relations. He was confident that the bilateral trade would touch $2 billion mark in a year or two and ultimately swell to $5 billion a year.

Pak-US partnership welcomed

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By our correspondent

LAHORE: PPP central leader and former Ambassador to the US, Syeda Abida Hussain, has termed Pak-US strategic partnership a window of opportunity for Pakistan and said Pakistan should represent its case and get $30b.

Abida stated this while speaking at a dialogue organised by the TECH Club on the issue of “Pakistan’s internal and external threats” here on Sunday. Abida Hussain said, “We should keep it in view that that America’s strategic partnership was with many other countries and we should present ourselves in an effective manner.”

She said President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari within two years in his office had caused no damage to the interest of the country. She said history of militancy in Punjab or even Jhang wasn’t new. She said she herself had defeated the founder of a banned religious organisation from Jhang in the past and had faced life threats constantly. However, she said she didn’t believe that Sharifs had any liking towards militancy and cited the incident in which the PML-N Quaid had a narrow escape from a bomb blast in Raiwind in past.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 22, 2010 at 8:03 am