India slams Pakistan
“denial” over Mumbai sea link
NEW DELHI (AFP) –
India rejected Friday a claim by Pakistan’s naval chief
that the lone surviving alleged gunmen in the Mumbai
attacks did not enter India from Pakistani waters.
Naval Chief Noman Bashir said that Pakistan had “no
evidence whatsoever that (the gunman) Ajmal Kasab had
gone to India from Pakistani territorial waters.”
But Pakistan was engaging in “multiple speak, duplicity
and denial” and had “created this confusion”, India’s
junior foreign minister Anand Sharma told reporters in
India blamed the attacks, which killed 165 people last
November, on the Pakistan-based militant group
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the siege soured a five-year
peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
Sharma said Pakistan had earlier acknowledged that
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman -- also known as Kasab -- and
nine other gunmen had arrived in India by sea and that
Pakistan was speaking “in different voices”.
Indian police have charged Pakistani national Kasab with
murder and “waging war against India”.
Kasab was the only alleged member of the 10-man Islamist
commando-style unit captured alive during the November
26-29 siege. Pakistani foreign office spokesman Abdul
Basit said in Islamabad on Thursday investigators from
the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were due to
visit Pakistan on March 4 to help probe the Mumbai
FBI director Robert Mueller will head the team, which
Basit hoped would “assist Pakistani officials by
providing further intelligence information”.
Both LeT and Pakistan have denied any involvement in the
attacks but the government in Islamabad admitted this
month for the first time that the strikes were partly
planned on its soil.
PANDI, Philippines: Heavily armed police stops a jeep
from entering the site where 6,000 Ebola-Reston infected
pigs are to be slaughtered in Pandi, north of Manila, on
February 28, 2009. The Philippine government will
slaughter 6,000 pigs on a farm where the Ebola-Reston
virus has been found in the animals and its antibodies
in humans, health officials said (AFP)
uneasy deal with the Taleban
Pakistan last week entered into a truce with the Taleban
which the government hopes will quell the surge of
violence unleashed by the fundamentalist, extremist
elements within the country.
According to the deal, Pakistan – considered as a
moderate Muslim country which does not subscribe to
suppressive Muslim laws – agreed to implement strict
Islamic law, or Shari’a law in at least certain regions
of the country. The agreement with the Taleban will
allow the organisation to implement Shari’a in parts of
North West Frontier Province.
The Taleban has been terrorising the North West Frontier
Province, which borders Afghanistan, for many months
with its ‘hit and run’ attacks on the Pakistan Army,
kidnappings and numerous beheadings. The Taleban which
opposes female education has also set fire to several
girls’ schools and issued orders for women to totally
As part of the deal the Taleban in Pakistan agreed not
to target Pakistani troops within the country. Maulvi
Faqir Mohammad, a militant leader of the Taleban
announced this week that his men would no longer attack
Pakistani Army forces which have maintained a
devastating aerial bombing campaign against his
Pakistan’s allies fear that the truce by the Taleban
would allow the organisation that was ousted by the
United States from power in Afghanistan in late 2001,
would now focus its total attention to fighting the NATO
and US troops in Afghanistan.
The Taleban, which was originally armed by Pakistan’s
intelligence agency in the late 90s to fight against
other factions in Afghanistan, turned its guns on its
patron after 2001 when Pakistan was firmly on the side
of the US in its fight against terror in Afghanistan.
Many Taleban and al Qaeda militants escaped the US led
war in Afghanistan to find refuge in the tribally
controlled North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
The North West Frontier has been, firstly an autonomous
region, which only accepts the authority of the central
government in Islamabad as a courtesy at best. The
mainly Pashtun people of the province share ethnic and
cultural affinity with their brethren on the Afghanistan
side of the border. For these people the international
border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is of no
significance. The Province was a natural launching pad
for covert missions by the US into Afghanistan during
the Soviet occupation of the country. When the soviets
left in 1989 after a decade of disastrous engagement in
Afghanistan the country disintegrated into factional
fighting. In the latter part of the 90s Pakistan’s Inter
Services Intelligence which is the primary intelligence
organisation in the country funded and trained a young
group of militants that overthrew the shaky Afghan
Government and gained power. The Taleban followed a
strict form of Shari’a law which even prevented men from
shaving their beards and listening to music. Though the
Taleban regime played havoc in Afghanistan all was well
for Pakistan with an ally in power in Kabul.
However, all this changed after 9/11 when the Bush
Administration didn’t give Pakistan much of a choice to
join its fight against the Taleban and al Qaeda.
Pakistan became the launching pad for the US which
considered Pakistan the main ally in its fight against
terror. Due to the pressure of the US, Pakistan launched
its own military operations against the Taleban on its
side of the border. This ignited a wave of extremist-led
violence which brought the country to its knees.
The truce that has been now reached with the Taleban is
expected to give some respite for the Pakistan
Government. However, Pakistan’s allies have shown a more
cautious optimism over the consequences of the truce.
Many believe the truce will only pave the way for more
attacks by the Taleban in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s
previous leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, reached a
ceasefire deal with militants in South Waziristan in
2006 which was widely blamed for giving al Qaeda and
Taleban a stronger foothold in the region.
Pakistan’s traditional rival, India has expressed its
concerns over the alleged deal between the Government of
Pakistan and the Taleban. India believes that the al
Qaeda and the Taleban support anti-Indian militants in
Kashmir while also supporting terrorist organisations
such as Lashkar-e-Taiba which carried out the
devastating Mumbai attacks in November.
NATO, which has 55,000 troops in Afghanistan, took a
tougher line to the announcement of the deal. The truce
between Pakistan and Taleban in Swat Valley “is
certainly reason for concern,” NATO spokesman James
Appathurai said in Brussels. “We should all be concerned
by a situation in which extremists would have a safe
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s main ally, the US was also
cautious over the developments. Though it is assumed
that the deal would have been sanctioned by the US
considering its enormous influence over Pakistan, it is
not clear whether it was the preferred choice of the US
that Pakistan broker a deal with the Taleban given the
option that the militarily weakening Taleban in Pakistan
would help to fight the organisation in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan-Taleban deal came just a day before
President Barack Obama announced plans to boost the US
military presence in Afghanistan by 50%, which would
send an additional 17,000 troops to a 30,000 force
contingent already there.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met with Pakistani
Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin D. Spanta, who were in
Washington leading delegations for a strategic review of
US policy to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan. The
tripartite discussions were a clear indication that the
new Obama Administration has identified Afghanistan and
Pakistan as the “centre of gravity” in the war against
terror. What effect the latest truce between the Taleban
and the Pakistanis will have on this crucial region will
only be decided by time. For the moment at least
Pakistan seems a bit safer than what it was weeks or
months ago. That security and safety, however, might
have come at an enormous cost to its neighbours and
after Tibetan monk reportedly shot in China
BEIJING (AFP) – Tensions were high in a town in
southwest China Saturday after police shot a Tibetan
monk who set himself on fire in protest against Chinese
rule, activist groups and residents said.
The alleged incident comes ahead of an ultra-sensitive
few weeks in Buddhist Tibet and neighbouring provinces
of western China, with March 10 the 50th anniversary of
a failed uprising that led to the Dalai Lama fleeing to
The monk, in his late 20s, was shot after dousing
himself with petrol and setting himself alight in the
Tibetan-populated town of Aba in Sichuan province on
Friday afternoon, the London-based group Free Tibet
It was not known whether he had died as he was
immediately surrounded by police and taken away after
being shot, according to the International Campaign for
Tibet (ICT), another activist group based in the United
The monk held an image of the Dalai Lama, Tibetans’
spiritual leader, as he embarked on his protest, the
activist groups said, citing unnamed witnesses and
residents of Aba.
Aba residents whom AFP reached by phone on Saturday were
extremely fearful of discussing the issue but admitted
police had fired shots, although they would not comment
on who these were aimed at.
|Five Gaza rockets
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Palestinian
militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired five
rockets at Israel on Saturday, according to the Israeli
military, further straining a fragile month-old
No one was killed or wounded in the attacks, with two of
the rockets striking near the Israeli town of Ashkelon,
around 21 kilometres (13 miles) from the impoverished
Palestinian militants have fired more than 100 rockets
and mortar rounds at Israel since the fragile January 18
truce that ended Israel’s massive military offensive on
Gaza, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13
|Obama pledges no
long-term Afghan designs
WASHINGTON (AFP) –
President Barack Obama promised Friday that the United
States has no long-term designs on Afghanistan as his
administration switches focus to the war-torn country
with its pullout from Iraq.
Obama, who on Friday announced an 18-month timeline to
end combat operations in Iraq, is planning to send
another 1,700 US troops to Afghanistan as part of a
fresh push to fight Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.
The new US president made clear he was well-aware of the
sentiments of the Afghan people, who have fiercely
resisted foreign invaders from the British to the
“One of the things that I think we have to communicate
in Afghanistan is that we have no interest or aspiration
to be there over the long term,” Obama said in an
interview with PBS public television.
“There’s a long history, as you know, in Afghanistan of
rebuffing what is seen as an occupying force and we have
to be mindful of that history as we think about our
strategy,” he said.
The Obama administration is conducting a review of its
“war on terror” strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan and
this week held three-way talks in Washington with
foreign ministers of the South Asian neighbors.
Obama, who opposed his predecessor George W. Bush’s
invasion of Iraq, defended the US involvement in
Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda extremists who carried out
the September 11, 2001 attacks were holed up.
“Our bottom goal in the region is to keep the American
people safe,” Obama said.
But he declined to set a timeline on when US troops
would exit Afghanistan.
“Until we have a clear strategy, we’re not going to have
a clear exit strategy,” he said.
Malaysian riot police use water cannon on
ethnic Indian protesters during a protest
outside a police station in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian police fired water cannons over
400 ethnic Indian protesters who gathered to
protest the mistreatment of Internal
Security Act (ISA) detainee P. Uthayakumar
ASEAN to sign discounted oil
HUA HIN, Thailand (AFP) – Southeast Asian nations
are to sign an energy security agreement on Sunday
that will allow their members to buy oil at a
discounted price during times of crisis, a senior
“Under the agreement, oil exporting states will
supply petroleum to a country that is facing a
shortage at a lower price,” said S. Pushpanathan,
deputy secretary-general of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The high price of oil is not an issue now, but
should there be a crisis in the future, ASEAN can
provide self-help,” he told AFP Saturday.
US economy shrinks stunning
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US economy contracted a
stronger-than-expected 6.2% in the fourth quarter,
government data showed, highlighting the stunning
meltdown in activity late last year.
The Commerce Department reading on gross domestic
product (GDP), the broadest measure of output, was
far worse than the negative 5.4% annual rate
expected by most analysts.
The grim number underscored the challenges facing
President Barack Obama, who took office nearly six
weeks ago amid the most severe economic crisis since
the Great Depression, with no clear sign of recovery
Russia launches military
MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia successfully launched
Saturday a military satellite from its Baikonur
cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian news agencies
The satellite was put into orbit by a Proton-K
rocket, the Interfax news agency cited as saying the
spokesman for the Russian military space forces,
The satellite, which was launched at 0710 Moscow
time (0410 GMT) was due to be placed in orbit at
1346 Moscow time (1046 GMT), Zolotukhin added.
China, US begin day two of
BEIJING (AFP) – China and the United States began
their second day of sensitive defence talks Saturday
after warnings from Beijing that US arms sales to
Taiwan were a major obstacle to easing tensions.
The defence contacts – the first between the world
powers for five months after China cut military
exchanges over a proposed US arms package to Taiwan
– raised hopes of an easing of lingering tensions.
But the head of the Chinese delegation signalled
from the start of the talks that Beijing would be
taking a tough stance, saying there were problems
between the two sides and it was up to the United
States to fix them.