Nation World

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 New Delhi.
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 attacks.

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)


Pakistan enters uneasy deal with the Taleban

By Thanapathi
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 cover themselves.

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 fighters.

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 haven.

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 allies.


Tensions high 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 India.

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 reported.

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 States.

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 strike Israel

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 ceasefire.

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 territory.

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 Israelis.


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 Soviets.

“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.



KUALA LUMPUR: 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 (AFP)



ASEAN to sign discounted oil deal

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 official said.
“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 6.2%

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 in sight.

Russia launches military satellite

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia successfully launched Saturday a military satellite from its Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian news agencies reported.
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, Alexei Zolotukhin.
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 military talks

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.