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  Nation World  


 

Pakistan floods kill more than 400

Rescue workers and troops in northwest Pakistan were Saturday struggling to reach thousands of people affected by the worst floods in living memory as the death toll rose past 400.
Hundreds of homes and vast swathes of farmland were destroyed in the northwest and Pakistani Kashmir, with the main highway to China reportedly cut and communities isolated as monsoon rains caused flash floods and landslides.
“This is the worst ever flood in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the country’s history,” provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said Friday.
“At least 408 deaths have been confirmed in floods and rain-related incidents across the province,” he said.
Another 150 people were missing in the northwestern province, where impoverished families live in remote mountain villages.
At least 600,000 people have been affected and the number was likely to escalate as river levels continue to rise, the minister said.
Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, and the districts of Swat and Shangla were cut off from the rest of country as roads and highways were submerged in water, he said.
The army said it had sent boats and helicopters to rescue stranded people and miliary engineers were attempting to open roads and divert the waters from key routes.
The death toll dwarfed the 152 killed when a Pakistani passenger jet crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad on Wednesday and capped a week of tragedy for the nation of 167 million people.

 

WikiLeaks ignites war debate

By Thanapathi
“I’m not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.” - JFK
Freedom of information at a time of war has been a hotly debated topic for many years. At the time President John F. Kennedy uttered the above words in an address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association in 1961, the United States was embroiled in a bitter war in Vietnam. Though this speech is celebrated to date as a profound expression for the freedom of the media, even at times of conflict, in reality, the right to information is by no means considered as equally important by those who claim that national interests, especially its security, should take precedence above everything else.

Can of worms
Last week, the debate over the media’s freedom for expression, the general public’s right to information and the necessity to protect State secrets in the greater interests of national security, took a dramatic turn, with the website WikiLeaks.com publishing over 90,000 classified documents on the conduct of US troops in Afghanistan.
On July 25 WikiLeaks published classified US military documents which, some analysts claim, have evidence of US troops committing war crimes in Afghanistan. One particular elite Special Forces unit called Task Force 373, that had been assigned to hunt down and kill enemy combatants in Afghanistan, is attributed with over 200 incidents of civilian deaths. Elsewhere, WikiLeaks appear to identify no less than 150 different incidents in which, Afghan civilians, including children, were killed by coalition troops. More troublingly, there also seems to be evidence that these incidents were covered up by the responsible troops and their commanders, without the relevant information reaching the media.

Enemy within
In a more damaging revelation, the “leaks” have given evidence of the Pakistan military directly abetting Taliban forces. The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s equivalent of the American CIA, has long been suspected of training and arming the Taliban, an organisation the ISI help create in the 1990’s . On many occasions, US leaders, including President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, had hinted that the ISI was covertly supporting US enemies in Afghanistan, even without the full knowledge of the Pakistani government. While the US has been nudging Pakistan regarding its own security forces being involved with the Taliban, the WikiLeaks documents have placed the administration in a somewhat embarrassing position, since it publicly claims Pakistan to be the most vital ally in its war against terror. In addition, the US has been providing billions of dollars of aid, both economic and military to Pakistan since 2001, when it commenced the war in Afghanistan. Continuation of this aid will be a difficult sell to the American people, especially the Congress which authorises the outflow of public funds, if there is damning evidence that the Pakistan military is aiding US enemies, while receiving billions of dollars in aid at the same time.
Meanwhile news agencies in India picked up on the indictment on the ISI to prove what New Delhi has long claimed to be Pakistan support of militants and terrorists in its own territory. Indians have, for decades, accused its arch foe of arming and training Kashmir militants, while recently stating that the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai were planned and carried out with the full knowledge of the ISI. The accusation that the Pakistani military is similarly supporting the Taliban, which is fighting Afghan government and coalition troops in that country, has strengthened India’s demand for action.

Passing the buck
As expected, there was intense criticism of WikiLeaks in Washington, for what many politicians and military leaders called an irresponsible act. President Barak Obama expressed concern about the consequences that the “leak” may bring, but at the same time, he said that the documents “don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.” The issues indicated in the documents covered the time period prior to President Obama’s announcement of his administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan.
A Washington Post search of the 76,000 reports released by WikiLeaks, turned up at least 100 instances dealing with Afghan informants. In some of the reports, the informants’ names and villages are listed along with the names of the insurgent commanders that they had discussed with US and Afghan officials. The secret reports also include the name of at least one US intelligence operative.

Witch hunting
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates announced that he would request the FBI to assist in the probe into the leak and publication of classified military documents. Gates said intelligence sources and methods as well as military tactics will become known as a result of the leak. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, the highest ranked serving officer in the US military, called the leak a criminal act. He said that he was appalled and outraged that the documents were leaked and published and lashed out at WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange.
“Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing,” said Admiral Mullen. “But the truth is they may already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”

The Right to Know
With allegations of criminal acts committed by US led coalition forces, and counter allegations that the released information can harm troops and civilians in Afghanistan, the debate continues as to whether or not the public has a right to know about the conduct of its military during a time of war. It is no doubt that wars concerning western nations are fought not only in the devilish battlefields in far off lands, but also in the living rooms of those who endorse them in their own countries. It is nearly impossible for a developed country, especially with a functional democracy, to execute a war without public support. The greatest danger of the recent publication on WikiLeaks may not necessarily be the sensitive military information that may or may not harm coalition troops in Afghanistan, but the loss of credibility for the war that is being fought in the name of fighting terrorism. If civilians are being killed indiscriminately, atrocities covered up and little progress is been made to show for all this, then public opinion in the West is bound to change regarding their endorsement of what already is considered a war that cannot be militarily won. .

When President John F Kennedy made his famous speech at the American Newspaper Publishers Association, he may not have foreseen the considerable role mass media would eventually play in determining future US policies on the costly war in Vietnam. When anchor and newsman Walter Cronkite, called the most trusted man in America, reported from Vietnam in 1967 that the war cannot be won, JFK’s successor, President Lyndon Johnson famously remarked to an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.” The WikiLeaks revelations may not have a similar effect on the war in Afghanistan, but it would surely make the task of victory, or even honourable withdrawal, even more difficult for the United States and its coalition partners.

Pakistan searches for doomed plane’s black box

(AFP) A woman’s torso was recovered Friday from the site of Pakistan’s worst aviation disaster, adding to a grim harvest as bodies are returned to families and investigators seek the crucial black box.
The Airblue passenger jet slammed into forested hills overlooking the Pakistani capital in heavy rain and poor visibility on Wednesday as it came into land after a morning flight from Karachi, killing all 152 people on board.
The search and recovery operation has been hampered by torrential monsoon rains and low cloud, but resumed Friday as the weather cleared, allowing teams to trek from the road to the debris on the hillside.

Abdul Jalil, a rescue worker, told AFP that the upper portion of a woman’s body had been recovered, adding to a collection of charred flesh and remains from at least 115 of those on board.
“It was lying on the hill,” Jalil said. Other small pieces of body had also been recovered Friday, he added.
Zulfiqar Ghori, spokesman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, said about half the victims had been identified so far.

Zamurad Khan, head of the state-run charity Baitul Maal, told AFP that at least 88 bodies had been handed over to relatives following identification.
Other relatives have been angered after being told they may have to wait as long as a week for laborious DNA tests.

But investigators are now focussing on the aircraft’s black box, hoping the flight data recorder will provide valuable clues to the fate of the 10-year-old Airbus 321, which was piloted by an experienced captain.
Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said it had a team pursuing every avenue of inquiry. It said it was too early to apportion blame and warned that the outcome of the investigation could take time.

Pakistan searches for doomed plane’s black box

Questions about the crash have focused on why the pilot was flying so low over the craggy Margalla Hills in a restricted flight zone.
“They are gathering all the details, documented evidences, wreckage samples, conversations and interviews of the witnesses and officials,” said deputy director general Riaz-ul-Haq.
“Representatives of Airbus are conducting a separate inquiry. But the two teams will collaborate whenever and wherever it is deemed necessary.”

“We can’t blame and hold the pilot responsible for the crash at this stage. We don’t know what the actual cause could be.... Weather conditions have so far prevented us from finding the black box, but we hope we’ll find it today.”
The crash was the worst aviation tragedy on Pakistani soil, piling more woes on a country that is on the frontline of the war on Al-Qaeda and where Islamist militant bombers have killed more than 3,570 people in the past three years.

Pakistan came under fire from British Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai this week after the leak of thousands of secret US files accused the country of double dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Another 200 people have been killed by torrential rains, and on Monday eight people died when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted the mourning rituals for a cabinet minister’s only son in the northwest.
Two Americans, an Austrian-born businessman, five children and two babies were among the 152 people on board flight ED 202.
The only deadlier civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet occurred when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside as it approached the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in 1992, killing 167 people.

US worried over release of more secret documents

(Reuters) U.S. officials are worried about what other secret documents the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks may possess and have tried to contact the group without success to avoid their release, the State Department said on Friday.
The shadowy group publicly released more than 90,000 US Afghan war records spanning a six-year period on Sunday. The group also is thought to be in possession of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables passed to it by an Army intelligence analyst, media reports have said.
“Do we have concerns about what might be out there? Yes, we do,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a briefing, adding that U.S. authorities have not specifically determined which documents may have been leaked to the organization.
He said the State Department could not confirm the longstanding reports that WikiLeaks is in possession of a large set of U.S. diplomatic cables.
But the fact that the documents released on Sunday contained a handful of State Department cables suggests that other secret diplomatic messages may have been included in data transmitted to WikiLeaks, Crowley said.
“When we provide our analysis of situations in key countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, we distribute these across the other agencies including to military addresses,” Crowley said. “So is the potential there that State Department documents have been compromised? Yes.”
Both Crowley and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs urged WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, not to release further classified government documents.
Gibbs, noting WikiLeaks claims to have at least 15,000 more secret Afghan documents, told NBC’s “Today” show there was little the government could do halt the release of the papers.

China disapproves sanctions against Iran

(AFP) China said Friday it opposed tough new sanctions imposed by the European Union on Iran over its contested nuclear programme, again calling for more talks to resolve the standoff.
“China disapproves of the unilateral sanctions put in place by the EU against Iran,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.
“We hope the relevant parties will adhere to diplomatic means on the issue, and properly resolve the issue through talks and negotiation,” she said.
The spokeswoman welcomed Iran’s announcement that it was ready for immediate talks with the United States, Russia and France over an exchange of nuclear fuel, saying she hoped talks would begin “as soon as possible”.
European foreign ministers on Monday formally adopted measures targeting Iran’s oil and gas industries, going beyond a fourth set of UN sanctions imposed last month over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

 

 

 

CIA erred on Iran’s nukes

(The Wall Street Journal) - In 2007, US intelligence said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons programme. Analyst policy bias and disinformation from Iranian double agents may explain the mistake (The Wall Street Journal) In a stunning departure from a decade of assessments, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran declared: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme,” including “nuclear weapon design and weaponisation work”, and covert uranium enrichment. Even more astonishingly, it attributed this change to “increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.” In other words, the threat of sanctions had ended that country’s surreptitious effort to obtain nuclear weapons.

This assessment suggested that further action against Iran was unnecessary. Unfortunately, as the Obama administration has now acknowledged, the NIE’s conclusion was dead wrong, costing us precious time in dealing with a serious threat.

The question remains, what caused such a disastrous mistake?
In 2007, there was still much the same mountain of evidence that led US intelligence to conclude in the 2006 NIE, with equally “high confidence”, that Iran was secretly engaged in a nuclear weapons programme. This evidence included verified reports that Iran had experimented with Polonium 210, a key ingredient in the trigger of early-generation nuclear bombs. And documents recovered from a stolen Iranian laptop described its efforts to fit a warhead in the nose cone of its Shahab 3 missile that would detonate at an altitude of 600 meters, which is too high for anything but a nuclear warhead to be effective. The CIA had learned that Iran had most likely acquired a digital copy of a Chinese nuclear warhead design from the A.Q. Khan network. It also had monitored Iran’s crash programme at Natanz to build a nuclear enrichment plant that could house up to 50,000 centrifuges.

Taken individually, these secret activities may have a non-nuclear explanation. For example, Iran claimed the purpose of its Polonium 210 experiments was merely to find a power source for an Iranian spacecraft (though Iran had no known space programme at the time). Taken together, however, these efforts added up an inescapable conclusion: Iran was going nuclear.

What helped change this conclusion, in addition to the reorganization of US intelligence, following the report of the 9/11 Commission, was the receipt of new secret intelligence from Iran. This intelligence included convincing evidence that the facilities of the weapons-design programme (code named “Project 111”) revealed on the stolen laptop had been closed down in 2003. Satellite photographs showed that buildings involved in the programme had been bulldozed, communications intercepts indicated that scientists were no longer at the location, and a high-level defector from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Ali-Reza Asgari, reported that Project 111 had stopped functioning.

NKorea holds more talks with US military

(AFP) North Korea and the US-led United Nations Command held military talks Friday, a Command spokesman said, the third round since the sinking of a South Korean warship that was blamed on the North.
Colonels from the two sides met at the border truce village of Panmunjom, to try to arrange higher-level talks on the issue.
Cross-border tensions have risen sharply since South Korea and the United States accused the North in late May of torpedoing the ship near the disputed inter-Korean border, with the loss of 46 lives.
US and South Korean forces Wednesday wrapped up a four-day naval and air exercise -- the first in a series -- which they said was intended to warn the North against further attacks.
South Korea’s military will hold its own anti-submarine exercise in the Yellow Sea next week. The August 5-9 drill will involve the army, navy, air force and marines, said a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Seoul and Washington have also held talks about staging a joint military exercise in the Yellow Sea in September, the spokesman said.
North Korea vehemently denies any role in sinking the Cheonan corvette in March, but agreed to hold talks with the UN Command about the incident. It fiercely denounced this week’s war games and threatened military retaliation.
At a previous meeting at Panmunjom, the North demanded to send a high-level team to the South to inspect evidence dredged from the seabed, including what Seoul says is a part of a North Korean torpedo.
South Korea has rejected its neighbour’s demand to send investigators, saying the UN Command should handle the case as a serious breach of the armistice.
When the talks were last held on July 23, the two sides discussed forming a joint group to assess the circumstances of and evidence on the sinking.
Mexico drug kingpin killed: Official

(AFP) A top leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug gang has been killed while resisting arrest in a military raid, the defence ministry said, in a rare victory for authorities battling the country’s brutal drug cartels.
The army launched the raid in a suburb of the western city of Guadalajara against kingpin Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who “tried to escape” and opened fire on soldiers who shot back and “killed the drug lord,” deputy defence minister Edgar Luis Villegas told a press conference.
He said Coronel fired on the soldiers, killing one and wounding another in the operation, which also netted Francisco Quinones, considered Coronel’s chief lieutenant.
Coronel, 56, “controlled the mafia group’s cocaine trafficking along the so-called ‘Pacific route,’” said Villegas, adding that the intelligence sources believe Coronel directed the vast drug-running operations from western Mexico, largely across the northern border into the United States.
In addition to his cocaine empire, Coronel -- who was a close partner of Mexico’s most wanted man Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman -- was also known as the “King of Crystal” for his dominance of crystal methamphetamine production and trafficking.
The US and Mexican governments both had outstanding arrest warrants for him, while US authorities had offered a $ 5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Serbia for new talks on Kosovo

(AFP) Serbia submitted a resolution to the United Nations Wednesday which, in an apparent concession to international pressure, called for new negotiations on Kosovo, but did not insist on status talks.
Belgrade wants the UN General Assembly to call on both sides “to find mutually acceptable solutions for all outstanding issues through peaceful dialogue in the interest of peace, security and cooperation in the region.”
The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, makes no mention of reopening talks on the status of Kosovo, which Belgrade had previously insisted on.
Serbia had insisted that it would not hold talks on any outstanding practical issues, as the EU and the US have called for, if the question of status was not dealt with.
Pristina however, quickly condemned the Serbian proposal as a confrontational move that “does not contribute to dialogue”.
“This is a political game pursued for the (Serbian) public in order to show that the battle (for Kosovo) is continuing,” Kosovo’s deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci’s told AFP by phone.
“It also aims at misleading the international community.”
According to some observers, Pristina believes that by insisting on talks on “all outstanding issues”, instead of just technical issues, as Kosovo would like, Belgrade is trying to sneak in status talks through the backdoor.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, a move that Belgrade refuses to recognise, as it still considers the territory its southern province. However, the draft that Belgrade wants adopted asks the General Assembly to take “into account the fact that unilateral secession cannot be an acceptable way to solve territorial issues”.
The resolution was submitted following last week’s non-binding opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Pristina’s declaration of Independence did not violate international law.
It was drafted “after consultations with a wide circle of international factors, including all permanent members of the UN Security Council,” the foreign ministry said in the statement.
Political analyst Predrag Simic told B92 radio that the draft resolution showed that Belgrade had received “the message from Brussels... that status talks were not possible any more after such an outcome at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).”
 

Why are French women killing their babies?

(TIME) - The question is as horrifying as it is important to ask: Why are a rising number of French women killing their newborn babies? Finding the answer has become a matter of urgency, following the discovery on Wednesday of eight infants allegedly smothered to death and buried by their mother in northern France. And with that case marking at least the fifth instance of multiple infanticide reported in France since 2003, it has become vital for the nation to confront the phenomenon that appears to be behind it all: A mental condition known as pregnancy denial.
This latest case of newborn murder in France was uncovered in the northern town of Villiers-au-Tertre, after eight tiny bodies were found buried in the gardens of two separate homes. Six of the cadavers were unearthed on July 29 by police at the house of Dominique Cottrez, 45, and her husband Pierre-Marie, 47. Investigators searched their home after the resident of a house previously owned by Dominique’s parents, turned up two tiny bodies on July 24, while digging a pool in the backyard. According to the French prosecutor leading the inquiry in the town, a short distance south of Lille, Dominique has admitted to hiding her pregnancies — and the killings of her babies — from her husband, whom police describe as being “dumbstruck” by the revelations. Dominique was charged for the murders; Pierre-Marie has been cleared of wrongdoing and released, but could yet become a subject of investigation.
The case in Villiers-au-Tertre is only the most recent example of a father of slain babies being apparently unaware of his wife’s pregnancies. Four other such cases since 2003 include that of Véronique Courjault, 42, who was convicted in June 2009 of killing three of her newborns — two of whom she hid in a freezer and were later discovered by her husband. And this past March, Céline Lesage, 38, was found guilty of murdering six of her babies after she hid her pregnancies from the men who had fathered them. Both women were sentenced to prison — Courjault for eight years and Lesage for 15.
Experts explained those cases as resulting from pregnancy denial, an often misunderstood and minimised condition. According to Michel Delcroix, a former gynaecologist who served as a court expert in the Courjault trial and others involving pregnancy issues, pregnancy denial is a quasi-schizophrenic condition in which women either don’t realise or cannot accept that they are with child — not even enough to have an abortion. Whether these women are afflicted with the condition before they deliver or as they’re suddenly giving birth, Delcroix explains, the psychological denial is so strong that they refuse to believe they’re pregnant even when the reality confronts them.
“These women are so convinced pregnancy is impossible, that once the child they never wanted arrives, they don’t accept it as real, and get rid of it to restore order to what they believe is non-pregnant reality,” Delcroix says. “However terrible its consequences, pregnancy denial acts in infanticide cases much as a psychotic state that drives someone to kill another person does. Yet, we still try women for what they do during pregnancy denial, when we don’t try psychotic killers deemed not responsible for their actions.” Delcroix and others who are fighting for pregnancy denial to be medically and legally recognised as an illness, argue that improving ways to identify and treat these women, makes more sense than simply punishing the crimes they commit as a result of it.
What causes the condition? Several things, Delcroix says, including previous trauma such as beatings and rape. But other, non-physical factors can also be involved, and denial can kick in even if a woman has already had and raised children without a problem — Lesage has a 14-year-old son; Dominique Cottrez has two grown daughters. And while pregnancy denial has been around for decades or longer, Delcroix says it’s rising in frequency. The probable reason, he says, is changes in wider social factors that have downgraded the value of childhood, parenting and family.

Attacks on Iraqi military kills 21

(CNN) Attacks on military posts and police stations in Iraq claimed at least 21 lives Thursday.
At least three Iraqi soldiers were killed and eight others wounded when a suicide bomber driving a mini-truck loaded with explosives hit an Iraqi military post in the town of Shirqat, police in Tikrit said. The town is located about 300 km north of Baghdad.
Hours later, two parked car bombs targeting Iraqi army patrols exploded within 30 minutes of each other in Falluja. The blasts killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded 10 others, police and hospital officials said. Falluja is a Sunni town, about 60 km west of Baghdad.
In a separate attack, shooting and roadside bomb explosions in northeast Baghdad killed 16 people, including six Iraqi soldiers and three policemen, and wounded 14 others, officials said.
Clashes erupted between Iraqi security forces and insurgents in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya at about 8:30 pm Thursday, wounding 10 people, officials said. Iraqi security forces imposed a curfew in the neighbourhood and searched for the attackers.

China’s Environmental Disasters rise

(TIME) A massive explosion in a southern Chinese city is only the latest in a series of industrial accidents that have hit China in recent weeks. While the country’s economic boom has always been dogged by environmental and safety hazards, the frequency of disasters this summer has raised new questions about whether the country can maintain its pace of expansion without doing catastrophic harm to its people and the environment. “These accidents are happening all over China, and the scale ... has become larger and larger,” says Wen Bo, a senior fellow with the San Francisco–based NGO Pacific Environment. “You see something you have never seen before, and then you see it again on a larger and larger scale.”
The July 28 explosion at a shuttered plastics factory in Nanjing rocked the surrounding neighbourhood, killing at least 10 people and injuring another 300, according to State media reports. Investigators suspect the rupture of a propylene pipeline, possibly caused by workers who were dismantling the factory, triggered the midmorning blast. The explosion collapsed nearby structures, shattered windows in the surrounding area and sent columns of acrid black smoke into the air. “I heard a loud bang that lasted for about one second,” said a teacher at the Nanjing Technical College of Special Education, which is about a kilometre northwest of the factory. “My first reaction was to run downstairs, because I thought it was an earthquake ... As soon as I got outside the building, I saw most of the windows on the first floor were shattered.”