Political institutions in Pakistan must be authoritative: Biden

WASHINGTON: On the occasion of his briefing to President-elect Obama on Pakistan’s recent visit, U.S. Vice President-elect Joseph Biden said, for the swift progress of Pakistan it in indispensable that the political institutions in Pakistan should be authoritative instead of individuals or personalities.

VP-elect said I went to read Pakistan stance over various issues instead of delivering our policy. “I did not reveal the policy of new U.S. government instead my visit was meant for hearing from Pakistani government ”.

Briefing Obama, Biden also informed that he had left some of US governments’ reservations with Pakistani government. Biden said that government and the people of Pakistan have extended their good wishes for president-elect Obama for his tenure as U.S. president.

Talking to media after briefing President-elect said Al-Qaeda and Osam Bin Ladin are still the chief threat to United States’ sovereignty.

He added to take all actions necessary to wipe out Al-Qaeda bases.

India razes slums, leaves poor homeless

NEW DELHI, India... Hanso Devi moved to New Delhi from Rajasthan with just one hope -- to make a better life for herself and her family.She, her husband, five children and other relatives erected a hut to live in --- a home that provided shelter and a base for her husband's streetside blacksmith business.The problem is that the land they built on belongs to the government. And the government has decided to take it back.In a matter of minutes bulldozers level the place, leaving Devi and her family perched on a bed atop a sea of rubble. They have nowhere to go."They did it so fast that there was no time to take out anything. And the bulldozer broke everything on the way," Devi said."It's like we were picked up and thrown away," she said.Bulldozers razed the makeshift home and hundreds of others earlier this month as the Indian government moves to improve New Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Officials say the land is for a road and the demolitions are simply part of a master plan to clean up the city and move slum-dwellers to proper housing.But, the government says, there will be no relocation for families like Hanso Devi's because they do not meet relocation requirements.The government says they are squatting too close to the road, and are located in a major development zone."You see they have encroached on the specific project lengths -- there will be no notice, no relocation projects for them," said New Delhi Mayor Arti Mehra, who says she and the city are worried about those who have been left homeless.About 3 million people live in New Delhi's slums, the government estimates. Mehra says New Delhi is slated to build 100,000 new apartments, though only 6,800 are under construction.Critics say demolishing housing that has been here for years and relocating some residents but not others will hurt many who live on the margins of society."They'll be pushed to the brink," said A.K. Roy of the Hazards Centre Sanchal Foundation, a non-governmental organization."Eventually I think what the planners are doing, they are not realizing they'll be building up a pool of violence."The people who live in New Delhi's slums are some of the city's maids, drivers, street vendors and day laborers. Roy argues the city could not survive without the services that the slum dwellers provide.The slums may not have looked like much to outsiders, but to families who had lived there for years, they were everything. Their businesses, homes and temples were there. Now they are lost.Some huts are still standing, for now. Among them is the home of Sheila Naurang Lal, built more than 20 years ago by the family who still lives there.But that is little comfort for Lal as she sees what has happened to the homes a few yards from her house."I came to the road yesterday after being scared seeing the bulldozer," Lal says. "You must have seen the front part has been broken."
It has been two days since the latest slum eradication, but families are still eking out a living amid the ruins. A mother cooks for her children, a 90-year-old woman with a walker sits on her bed and someone's pet goat is tied up at a shrine, waiting for its owner.Hanso Devi looks around as night falls. She will spend another night in the open with nothing to keep her warm but a small fire."We are going to sleep right here. There is no place other than this."

Pakistan unrest world's flashpoint

As world attention remains intensely focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict, a similar but far more serious situation with implications way beyond the Middle East may be closer than most people think.Israel's Gaza action has diverted attention away from the fallout of November's carnage by Islamist gunmen in Mumbai that left nearly 200 dead. Indian authorities have submitted dossiers on investigations linking the planned, co-ordinated attacks to Pakistani nationals and their Pakistan-based sponsors. The reports have gone to the Pakistan Government and Western countries.
After more than a month of consistent denials, Pakistan has grudgingly begun to acknowledge evidence of the involvement of individuals and organisations in that country, despite the FBI, European and Russian investigators having established these links.Both the outgoing Bush Administration - rather too late in the day - and Obama's regime have acknowledged that the key to making headway in the war on terror lies in dealing with the Pakistan situation first.The biggest foreign-policy challenge awaiting President-elect Barack Obama is not Iraq or Afghanistan but Pakistan, Stephen Hadley, United States national security adviser told the Wall Street Journal last week."Pakistan's increasingly turbulent border region poses threats not just to the US mission in Afghanistan, but also to neighbouring India, as evidenced by the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks, as well as to urban areas of Pakistan itself - and the world beyond. If extremists succeed in destabilising Pakistan, the resulting chaos will threaten the entire region. That's why I think Pakistan is at the centre," he said.What he left unsaid is the intelligence agencies' fears this might already be happening. The increasingly porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border has waves of Taleban militants making inroads into Pakistan. A month ago, militants bombed a Nato depot destroying dozens of trucks and communication infrastructure besides killing three workers. As a result the Western coalition's operations in a crucial area around Peshawar were temporarily suspended.Amid rumours of possible military action by India after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani Army threatened to move 100,000 troops from its Afghan frontier to its border with India to the East - causing consternation through the Western countries' camp. India assured the world it was not contemplating military action but the Pakistani Army's alacrity in announcing a troop withdrawal from the western front was an emphatic signal about its priorities.The Taleban considers India one of its main enemies along with Western nations but unlike them India is within easy striking range. It is a soft target and a great one for global exposure.There is no doubt Pakistan's announcement to move troops emboldened the Taleban to infiltrate further into Pakistani territory. In fact, the Taleban leadership even issued media statements that it would fight India alongside Pakistani forces.Indian media have consistently carried reports of the increasing Talebanisation of Pakistani villages where women are barred from being seen in public and schools for girls are being razed. Men have to wear beards and recruitment into their armies continues.The legal system is being replaced by the Taleban's own brand of brutal, instant justice.Not containing the Taleban's slow, but what appears to be steady, eastward foray into Pakistan immediately puts the country's nuclear hardware and infrastructure within its greater reach with each passing month. As things stand, Taleban activity is less than 200km from some of Pakistan's nuclear installations.There is no knowing how safe and secure the country's nuclear chain of command is, what with poorly defined demarcations between the Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which world intelligence agencies know is teeming with highly placed officials, many of them retired army brass, that are partial to radical Islamist causes and the nuclear establishment.It's more a question of when, not if, the Taleban infiltrates the Pakistan's nuclear defence system. Not that the Western countries are unaware of this - but the question is how to deal with the situation.While the West needs to do everything it can to keep President Asif Ali Zardari's democratically elected fledgling Government alive, the Mumbai attacks have pointed to the Government's progressive marginalisation with each passing week. The West is painfully aware that nothing can be achieved without the Army's help.It can't deal with the Army directly so long as a civilian government is in place and the Army won't listen to its own Government (its reversal of the President's assurance to send the intelligence chief to India after the Mumbai carnage is a case in point).Instead of the Gaza situation for a moment consider a scenario involving Western nations (with India included). And rather than Hamas they are dealing with a far more geographically widespread and nuclearised Taleban.
Instead of the 30-60km range rockets that Hamas has been using on Israeli targets, the scenario in Pakistan could involve dozens of 700-2000km nuclear-capable missiles ready to fly at the push of a button. What you might have is a scenario that will leave the Middle East situation looking like a bar brawl.

Chavez Turns Into Palestinian Hero

Venezuelan flags and portraits of President Hugo Chavez have been flying high during protests in the West Bank against Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip.
The Venezuelan president's decision on January 6 to expel Israel's ambassador from Caracas -- the only country apart from Mauritania to take such a step -- has made the left-wing South American leader a hero to Palestinians.Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls Gaza, has welcomed Chavez's "courageous decision," while Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, urged Arab states to follow the Venezuelan president's example.Chavez on Saturday accused Israel of being the "murder arm" of the United States and said the solution to the Gaza crisis was in the hands of Barack Obama when he becomes US president later this month.Mohammed al-Lahham, an MP for the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said Chavez was "a symbol of the struggle for liberty, like Che Guevara. This distinguishes him from the world's other presidents."His opposition to Washington, Israel's loyal ally, over the invasion of Iraq and to the Israeli offensive against Lebanon in 2006 have made Chavez a symbol for all peoples who "are resisting and fighting against occupation," he said.Venezuelan flags and portraits of Chavez could be seen lofted by demonstrators in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron during rallies last week.Al-Jazeera television ran an interview with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro in which he slammed "the criminals who govern Israel" and who have "carried out a holocaust against Palestinians for 60 years.""I would like to be able to give Chavez a Palestinian passport so he could become a Palestinian citizen. Then we would elect him and he would become our president," said Mahmud Zwahreh, mayor of Al-Masar, a community near Bethlehem where 8,000 people live in poverty."This is the right reaction" to American domination, said the mayor, who is printing out as many portraits as he can of the Venezuelan president to hand out to protesters."Everyone here knows about him. More and more people are coming to ask me for photos to carry during the demonstrations," Zwahreh said.Mohammed Brijeh, who heads an action group in the Bethlehem area against the security wall between Israel and the West Bank, said: "Chavez's response is worth more than the UN's."The United Nations "only does what Israel wants," he said."If only we had leaders as strong as Hugo Chavez," Brijeh said, while Zwahreh said: "We have no leader with a clear strategy and mission."
Abbas and his moderate Fatah movement have been weakened by rivalry with Hamas and by the ever-present memory of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, whose portraits still adorn many public buildings and homes.Iyad, who runs a shop near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, has no doubt: "Chavez is the best president. He always supports the Palestinians.""He is better than Arab leaders. Jordan and Egypt should have also expelled their ambassadors (from Israel). It is a real shame that we have no leaders like him," said Assem, another shopkeeper.

Pakistan torn over how to handle Taliban: experts.

After years allowing Taliban militants to operate in the rugged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan is now torn over how to respond to US calls for decisive action against extremists.
Islamabad is under intense pressure from Washington, other western nations and Kabul to eliminate Taliban and Al-Qaeda havens in the tribal belt, from where fighters are said to stage attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan.
But experts say Pakistan's desire to please the United States, a vital political and military ally, has run up against its own strategic interests in the region and its loyalty to Pashtuns, the predominant ethnicity among the Taliban.
"Pakistan's Taliban policy has suffered from indecisiveness, inconsistency and ambiguity," political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.
"Pakistan's choices will become tougher in the future because its efforts to control the Taliban do not enjoy support throughout society. A good number of ordinary people see India as more of a threat than the Taliban."
The extremist Taliban movement emerged in the mid-1990s from Islamic schools along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and -- with Islamabad's support -- eventually seized power in Kabul in 1996.
At the time, Pakistan's security establishment wanted a pro-Islamabad regime in Kabul that would give the country a foothold in Afghanistan, and much-needed strategic depth in the region to use against its nuclear-armed rival India.
President Pervez Musharraf disowned the regime following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States -- carried out by Al-Qaeda which was being harboured by the Taliban.
However, he allowed thousands of Taliban to enter his country's northwest tribal belt after their ouster in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
"Pakistan did not want to sever all of its links with the Taliban movement, as doing so would have Pakistan totally out of the regional power game in Afghanistan," defence analyst Riffat Hussain told AFP.
Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is still widely believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas.
"Tens of thousands of Taliban poured into Pakistan's northwest and southwest but security forces were under strict orders only to arrest Al-Qaeda members," a senior security official with knowledge of counter-terrorism policy told AFP.
Hussain, head of strategic studies at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, said former military ruler Musharraf, who resigned last year, had two reasons for tolerating the militants' presence on Pakistani soil.
"Musharraf personally believed that there were many good Taliban who should be co-opted in the post-Taliban power dispensation in Afghanistan," Hussain said.
Islamabad also wanted an "insurance policy" against the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which it viewed as hostile, he added.
Another security official said that barring the Taliban from Pakistani soil would have angered ethnic Pashtuns at home, saying: "Antagonising them completely is against our long-term national interest."
But putting up with the Taliban was a risky policy, and security officials say it has backfired, as the extremists formed alliances with other militant groups and started attacking Pakistani targets.
Those militant groups -- such as that of renegade warlord Baitullah Mehsud, believed to have masterminded the assassination of Pakistani former premier Benazir Bhutto -- are now allied with the Al-Qaeda network.
"For years Pakistan targeted Al-Qaeda and tolerated the Taliban, but this policy has failed and resulted in making the Taliban a strong force not just in Afghanistan, but in many parts of Pakistan," a top security official told AFP.
Musharraf's successor Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani now must review Pakistan's role in the US-led "war on terror," which may mean a rethink on the Taliban.
"Pakistan will be asked to become the anvil for the hammer of American special forces operations in the tribal areas," Hussain said, predicting that Islamabad could be asked to stage joint anti-militant operations with the US.
Askari agreed, but said Islamabad would ask Washington to put a stop to attacks on militant targets in the border zone by unmanned CIA aircraft because "they create credibility problems" for the Pakistani government.
"Pakistan faces a double challenge -- controlling the Taliban in the tribal areas and containing militant groups based in mainland Pakistan," Askari said.
"Unless there is a simultaneous development of internal stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the problem may not be addressed."