Pakistanis expect ties with U.S. to remain tense after Obama win

PakistanISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Like the rest of the world, Pakistan watched keenly the electrifying finish to the U.S. presidential election that culminated in President Obama’s victory. But for most Pakistanis, the enthusiasm stops there.

Any change in Pakistan’s caustic relationship with the U.S. in the next four years is likely to be viewed through the prism of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region -- two war-ravaged places where Washington and Islamabad desperately want lasting stability but disagree sharply about how to achieve it.

Both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney touted similar Afghanistan-Pakistan game plans that involve commitments to a U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and a continued reliance on drone missile strikes to cripple Al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Pakistanis remain deeply skeptical of Washington’s withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan. They worry the U.S. will maintain a strong presence in Afghanistan long after 2014, principally as a perch from which to ensure extremist groups do not gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. And a continuation, at least for now, of the drone campaign — seen by most Pakistanis as a blatant encroachment of their country’s sovereignty — will perpetuate the intense animosity many Pakistanis have for Washington’s policies.

“The perception here is that U.S. policy is not going to undergo a major change, in terms of the Af-Pak region,” said Raza Rumi, an analyst with the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad think tank. “U.S. troops will withdraw in 2014. ... But the security establishment—the military, intelligence agencies, defense analysts—feels the U.S. won’t disappear from the region. It will be watching Pakistan closely. More importantly, it will keep Pakistan’s nuclear assets under scrutiny.

“So the Pakistani state is slightly edgy as to what the U.S. wants once Afghanistan is over,” Rumi added. “How will the U.S. observe Pakistan, and what steps will it take?”

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Alleged Pakistani militant leader offers to help storm-stricken U.S.

SaeedISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a Pakistani hard-line cleric with a $10-million bounty placed on him by the U.S. because of his alleged links to militancy, says he wants to help Americans on the East Coast broadsided by Hurricane Sandy.

Saeed, who founded the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s and now heads up its social welfare wing, Jamaat ud-Dawa, issued a statement Tuesday saying his charity was prepared to provide doctors, rescue experts, food and medicine to victims of the storm, which has ravaged the East Coast and left millions without power.

“Regardless of what the U.S. government propagates about us, including their announcement of bounties, we look forward to acting on the traits of our prophet Muhammad ... and serving adversity-struck American people,” Saeed said in a statement posted on Jamaat ud-Dawa’s Facebook page.

Earlier this year, the U.S. announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed, widely viewed in the West and in India as the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people.

The U.S. and India have long regarded Jamaat ud-Dawa as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s militant activities. In 2008, the U.S. and the United Nations declared Jamaat ud-Dawa as a terrorist organization, a label the Americans gave to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which it links to Al Qaeda, in 2001.

Saeed formed Lashkar-e-Taiba with the help of the Pakistan’s main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, to fight Indian rule in a portion of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The U.S. and other Western governments are concerned that the militant group has broadened its agenda to include Western targets.

Despite Washington’s announcement of a bounty on Saeed, Pakistani authorities have refused to take him into custody, contending they have no evidence to build a case against him.

Saeed has strongly denied maintaining links with any Pakistani militant group, saying Jamaat ud-Dawa focuses solely on humanitarian work and has no relationship with Lashkar-e-Taiba or any other extremist organization. His offer is likely to be viewed in Washington as a public relations stunt.

“We consider this a humanitarian issue,” Saeed said in the statement. “Wherever and whenever humanity is at stake and needs urgent help, Islam orders us to help them without discriminating between religion, caste or creed.”

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--Alex Rodriguez

Photo: Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, addresses demonstrators at a protest in Lahore on Sept. 30 against an anti-Islam movie made in California. Credit: Arif Ali / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images


Pakistani girl shot by Taliban being moved to Britain for treatment

Supporters of Malala Yousafzai
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The 14-year-old Swat girl shot by Taliban gunmen because of her advocacy for girls' education is being flown to Britain for treatment likely to include surgery to repair damage to her skull and neurological rehabilitation, the Pakistani military said Monday.

Malala Yousafzai is being transported in an aircraft equipped with specialized medical equipment and supplied by the United Arab Emirates. Pakistani doctors in consultation with international medical experts concluded that “Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma that she has received,” according to a statement issued by the Pakistani military.

Malala’s family was consulted before the decision was made to transport her to Britain, the statement said.

PHOTOS: Malala Yousafzai

The bullet pierced her left temple, causing damage to her skull, and lodged near her spine, Pakistani military officials have said. Doctors told Pakistani media last week that she did not suffer any significant brain damage. They have described her condition as serious but improving. Last week, surgeons removed the bullet from her neck.

“It was the view that if Malala was going to be transferred overseas to a center which could provide the required integrated care, then it should be during this time window, while her condition was optimal and before any unforeseen complications had set in,” the statement said.

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Arrests made in attack on Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai

Pakistan-protest
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As pressure mounted on Pakistani police to track down militants behind last week’s assassination attempt of Malala Yousafzai, authorities confirmed Sunday the arrests of three brothers suspected of involvement in the attack on the 14-year-old Swat Valley girl.

Authorities have rounded up more than 100 people and detained them for questioning, though almost all were later released. Police took the three brothers into custody early Saturday after a raid on their house in Akbarpura, a small village outside of the northwest city of Peshawar.

The three men, Qari Inamullah, Obaid Ullah and Abdul Hadi, are originally from the Swat Valley, a picturesque tourist haven that was under control of Taliban insurgents until summer 2009, when the Pakistani army launched a large offensive to retake the territory. Authorities do not believe any of the three men were the gunmen who tried to kill Malala, but they would not discuss what role the men may have played.

“Investigations are in the very early stage,” said Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the province where Swat Valley is located.

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Car bomb kills 16 at crowded market in northwest Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A powerful car bomb tore through a crowded market in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing at least 16 people in an attack that local authorities said was meant for the offices of an anti-Taliban militia.

The blast occurred in Darra Adam Khel, a town on the edge of Pakistan’s volatile tribal region and known as a major hub for illegal arms trafficking. No one was inside the anti-Taliban militia office at the time of the attack. Instead, the dead and wounded were shoppers and merchants at a nearby bazaar, local officials said.

At least 33 people were injured in the attack. There were conflicting reports on whether the blast was detonated by a suicide bomber or by remote control. Authorities said they suspected that the Pakistani Taliban, the insurgent group behind the assassination attempt on 14-year-old education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai last week, was behind Saturday’s attack in Darra Adam Khel. A local Taliban spokesman denied any responsibility for the car bomb blast.

In 2010, the Pakistani Taliban dispatched a suicide bomber to a mosque in Darra Adam Khel, killing 65 worshippers. At least 300 worshippers were inside the mosque at the time of the attack. The Taliban have maintained a presence in the small town since 2008.

Yousafzai remained in critical condition at a military hospital in Rawalpindi, though doctors say her condition has improved. After the attack, she underwent successful surgery to remove a bullet that had struck her temple and lodged in her neck. Officials say she is still on a ventilator, but there is no indication that the teenager suffered any brain damage.

On Tuesday, two Taliban gunmen on a motorcycle boarded the school van Yousafzai was traveling in and shot her and two of her schoolmates. One of the girls is in critical condition. The other was not seriously hurt.

In recent days, there have been conflicting accounts of whether key arrests have been made in connection with the attack, with some officials telling local media that three or four people have been formally arrested, and others saying dozens of people have been detained for questioning only. Authorities have said they have yet to track down the two gunmen who carried out the attack or the Taliban commanders who masterminded the attempt on Yousafzai’s life.

-- Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, and staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad.


Pakistani teen shot by Taliban undergoes surgery, out of danger

Pakistan-teenISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Outrage swept across Pakistan on Wednesday over the Taliban’s attempt to kill a 14-year-old girl who had spoken out against militants’ attempts to ban education for girls.

Malala Yousafzai was recovering from surgery to remove a bullet that had lodged in her neck and appeared to be out of danger, doctors said.

On Tuesday, gunmen in the Swat Valley city of Mingora stopped the school bus she was riding in and shot her in the head. Two other girls were also shot but not seriously hurt. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for the girl's advocacy against the group.

While Pakistan has grown accustomed to years of suicide bombings and other terror acts by Islamic militants, the attempt on Yousafzai’s life sent shock waves through the country, largely because this time the target was a young girl admired for her defiance of a movement bent on denying girls the chance to go to school.

Yousafzai emerged as a national figure in 2009 when she contributed diary entries to a blog published by the BBC Urdu Service. Those missives described the trials of trying to attend classes at a time when Taliban fighters had taken control of her Swat Valley homeland and were bombing schools and issuing edicts barring girls’ education.

On Wednesday, Pakistani commentators and columnists denounced the attack on Yousafzai as a barbaric act and expressed hope that it would galvanize the country against Islamic extremism. One newspaper, the News, wrote in an editorial that Pakistan was “infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out, we will slide even further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies.”

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Gunmen in Pakistan shoot teenage advocate for girls' education

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Gunmen in Pakistan’s Swat Valley opened fire Tuesday on a 14-year-old girl who won national acclaim for championing the cause of girls’ education in the country’s troubled northwest, injuring her and another girl as they sat in a school bus.

Malala Yousafzai has been hailed across the country as a symbol of defiance against the brutality of Taliban insurgents who had overrun Swat before a Pakistani military offensive retook the region in 2009.

Before the offensive, Yousafzai spoke out against Taliban destruction of girls’ schools in Swat and atrocities committed by the insurgent group’s fighters. In December, then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani awarded her the country’s National Peace Award for Youth.

Local authorities and witnesses said she was inside a school bus that was taking her and other girls home from their school in Mingora, Swat’s largest city, when gunmen on a motorcycle approached. The assailants stopped the bus, opened fire at Yousafzai, injuring her in the head and neck, and sped off.

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Pakistan bars anti-drone rally from reaching South Waziristan

Anti-drone rally in PakistanTANK, Pakistan — Pakistani cricket legend Imran Khan emerged as a powerful political force late last year by engineering massive rallies in big cities. On Sunday, he tried — and failed — to take his people power campaign to the unlikeliest of venues — South Waziristan, a perilous tribal region that remains a viable stronghold for the deadly Pakistani Taliban insurgency.   

Khan held his rally anyway in Tank, 25 miles outside of the Waziristan border, an event trumpeted as a demonstration protesting the CIA’s drone missile campaign against Islamic militants in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas. But among analysts and most political commentators, the rally was criticized as a poorly disguised attempt at revving up support for Khan’s campaign ahead of national elections in 2013.

Criticism was particularly intense, given the risk involved in trying to lead thousands of supporters into South Waziristan, where pockets of militancy still thrive. That risk was aggravated by the inclusion of more than 30 U.S. citizens who are members of an anti-drone group called CODEPINK, and who flew to Pakistan to join Khan’s rally.

Led by Khan, demonstrators in a long caravan of vans and cars left Islamabad on Saturday morning and stayed overnight near the western city of Dera Ismail Khan before making their bid to reach the originally scheduled rally venue at Kotkai, a small village in a relatively peaceful section of South Waziristan.

At one point, it appeared Khan was on the verge of achieving his goal. At two locations on the road to South Waziristan, demonstrators got out of their cars and moved out of the way large freight containers placed by police to block the path. Dozens of police manned those locations, but stood idly as demonstrators plowed their way through.

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Imran Khan leads drone protesters into volatile Pakistan region

MIANWALI, Pakistan — Led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, a large caravan of demonstrators, including more than 30 U.S. anti-war activists, embarked on a two-day journey Saturday to Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas to rally against the CIA’s drone missile campaign, a protest that triggered warnings of possible militant attacks on demonstrators.

The caravan had more than 100 vans and cars when it left Islamabad, the capital, Saturday morning, and steadily grew in size as it made its way across western Punjab province toward South Waziristan, where demonstrators were scheduled to stage a rally in the village of Kotkai on Sunday.

The Pakistani army has control over large sections of South Waziristan after carrying out a major offensive against militant strongholds there in 2009. However, pockets of Pakistani Taliban militants continue to exist in parts of South Waziristan, and it remains a region extremely dangerous for Pakistanis to venture into and off-limits to foreigners.

South Waziristan is much less targeted by U.S. drone missile strikes than North Waziristan, home to the deadly Afghan Taliban wing known as the Haqqani network, as well as pockets of Al Qaeda militants and other extremist fighters. However, Khan backed off of his initial plans to carry out the anti-drone rally in North Waziristan because of the widespread presence of militants, and instead moved the proposed venue to South Waziristan, where local tribesmen gave their assurances that rally participants would be safe.

The Pakistani government, however, disagreed that a large rally, particularly one including American citizens, could be safely held in South Waziristan, and notified Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, that the caravan would not be allowed to enter the tribal region on Sunday. Khan said last week that he would forge ahead with the rally, but if confronted by police at the Waziristan border and told to turn back, he would not resist and instead hold the event outside of Waziristan.

Factions of the Pakistani Taliban, the country’s homegrown insurgency, have warned that rally participants could be targeted with suicide bombings and other attacks if they proceed to South Waziristan.     

Speaking in Mianwali, a small city 120 miles southwest of Islamabad, Khan told thousands of caravan participants that his “Peace March” will “create a new Pakistan. We are going to tell the people of Waziristan that we did not forget them. We stand with the people of Waziristan as they endure these brutalities by America.”

The rally will focus on the U.S. drone missile program that targets Islamic militants in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border, a campaign hailed by Washington as an effective tool in combating militancy but reviled in Pakistan because it breaches the country’s sovereignty and has resulted in scores of civilian deaths.

“It’s our responsibility as good Americans to come here to Pakistan and show the face of the American people that have a conscience,” Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Code Pink, a U.S. anti-drone activist group, said last week. “To show the face of the American people that believe that the lives of Pakistanis are as valuable as the lives of any American.”

However, many Pakistani observers see the rally as Khan’s thinly veiled attempt to generate a raft of publicity for his campaign to unseat the ruling Pakistan People’s Party in national elections next year. In an editorial last week, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn wrote that the PTI’s anti-drone, anti-war on terror policy was already well-known, and that a “made-for-TV” rally would be “at best peripheral to its electoral success.

“The downsides, however, are very real and potentially serious, for the country if not for PTI,” the editorial continued. “South Waziristan is an area no one, not even the most optimistic military official, would claim is anywhere near an acceptable normal.”

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-- Alex Rodriguez and Nasir Khan. Staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Nasir Khan reported from Mianwali, Pakistan.


NATO investigates killing of U.S. soldier, contractor in Afghanistan

Afghnistan-bradshawISLAMABAD, Pakistan — NATO forces Sunday were investigating whether the weekend shooting deaths of a U.S. soldier and an American civilian contractor in Afghanistan were the result of an insider attack or linked to insurgent gunfire.

If confirmed as an insider attack, it would be the latest in a disturbing surge of so-called “green-on-blue” killings that have threatened collaboration between Afghan and NATO forces ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.

The attack, which occurred late afternoon Saturday in the eastern province of Wardak, came just days after top U.S. military officials had said joint operations between U.S. and Afghan forces were resuming following a temporary halt imposed by the U.S. because of the rising number of insider attacks.

Gen. Abdul Qayuum Baqizoi, Wardak’s police chief, said gunfire broke out between NATO and Afghan army troops at a checkpoint in the province’s Sayedabad district. Three other NATO soldiers were injured in the gunfight. Three of the seven Afghan army soldiers deployed at the checkpoint were killed in the gunfire, Baqizoi said. A “misunderstanding” led to the incident,” Baqizoi added, but he would not elaborate.

On Sunday morning, a short statement issued by NATO described the incident as “a suspected insider attack.” A joint NATO-Afghan security force investigation into the attack was underway, according to the statement.

However, at a news conference early Sunday evening, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, a deputy coalition forces commander, said NATO and Afghan military officials were still trying to determine whether the incident was triggered by firing from insurgents, adding that the “circumstances were somewhat confused.”

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