15 July 2012

Gunmen kill 7 in Pakistan army camp attack

July 9: Gunmen have killed seven security personnel at an army camp close to Islamabad, officials said, hours after a protest march against the resumption of NATO supply convoys passed through the area.

The encampment was attacked from a bridge over the river Chenab, close to the industrial city of Wazirabad, less than 100 miles southeast of the capital.

Hours earlier, thousands from the Defence Council of Pakistan coalition of right-wing and hardline Islamist groups crossed the bridge on a ‘long march’ from Lahore to Islamabad to protest against the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

Pakistan is battling an Islamist insurgency in its lawless northwest tribal region, but attacks in the prosperous and generally peaceful province of Punjab are unusual.

‘At least seven security personnel including a police official embraced shahadat (martyrdom) and five others were injured due to firing by unknown assailants near Wazirabad,’ the military said in a statement.

A military rescue party had camped by the Chenab to look for the body of a pilot missing in a helicopter crash in May, the statement said, and the camp came under attack from a bridge.

The attackers ‘came by motorbike and sprayed bullets on the troops from the bridge’, a senior security official said. ‘It is highly likely that [they] belonged to a banned religious outfit, which is a hand in glove with Taliban.’

The official added: ‘Nobody has so far claimed responsibility of the attack but if we follow the pattern of the attack, it looks similar to assaults that these outfits have been carrying out in different cities.’

The Defence Council of Pakistan bitterly opposes the country’s ‘war on terror’ alliance with Washington and the reopening of overland routes for trucks supplying NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Apply pressure to Haqqani network, America urges Pakistan

TheUnited Statesis urgingPakistanto pressurise the Haqqani network, which it blames for attacks on US targets inAfghanistan, into talks.

During a recent meeting,USSecretary of State Hillary Clinton urgedPakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to put pressure on the Haqqani network, said a seniorUSofficial, who acknowledged that it was unclear whetherPakistanwould step up its counter-terrorism efforts.

Speaking after she met Khar, Clinton said both were encouraged they had ‘put the recent difficulties behind us’, while acknowledging the difficulties and challenges that remained in the US-Pakistan relationship, despite the reopening of Pakistani land routes to resupply US troops in Afghanistan.

‘I have said many times that this is a challenging but essential relationship… And I have no reason to believe it will not continue to raise hard questions for us both,’ she told a news conference in Tokyo, where both officials attended an Afghan donors’ conference. ‘But it is something that I think is in the interests of theUnited Statesas well as in the interests ofPakistan.’

Clintonsaid that the top issue she discussed with Khar was ‘the necessity of defeating the terror networks that threaten the stability of bothPakistanandAfghanistanas well as the interests of theUnited States’ and its allies.

She recently apologised for a November NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers; Islamabad responded by reopening the overland supply routes that are crucial to the US-led war in Afghanistan. The supply route deal removed one headache, but ties are likely to remain strained by other differences.

After their bilateral talks, Clinton and Khar both met Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul, smiling and laughing as they staged a three-way handshake for photographers.

The three issued a statement that emphasised their desire for terrorists to lay down their arms and enter reconciliation talks with the Afghan government.

India’s radicalised youth find refuge in Pakistan

In what could spell more trouble for intelligence and security agencies, an increasing number of highly radicalised youth fromIndiaare finding a safe haven inPakistan. Worse, they are under the patronage of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which is culprit-in-chief for fomenting terror inIndia.

26/11 planner Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, has revealed that he was not the only Indian operating inPakistanunder the wings of LeT. He has listed a dozen such youths, who were a part of the outfit’s key operations and have been visiting Saudi Arabia, among other countries, to forge modules to attack India.

After the Mumbai attacks, international pressure mounted onPakistanand seven people – all ofPakistanorigin – were arrested in March 2009.

However, Jundal continued to work for LeT, managing its websites and online ‘jihad’ spewing venom onIndiaand theUS. In March 2011, he was sent to Saudi Arabia on a Pakistan passport under the name of Riyasat Ali. Indian agencies have so far ruled out money as an incentive for these youths, who have been ideologically radicalised following the 2002 anti-MuslimGujaratcarnage.

So far, the youths are not involved in any terror-related incidents inIndia, but they could emerge as future planners and executors of attacks, sources say. Unlike in the past, when fugitives on the run found a safe haven in Pakistan, these youths are not wanted in India, making it all the more difficult to gather details about them, their operations and contact points. If they get caught, it will be easier forPakistanto wash its hands of any blame.

Conversely,Indiawill find it impossible to blame its western neighbour for aiding and abetting terrorists, as it did in the 26/11 attacks.

Like Jundal, these boys are likely to be living under assumed names with fake IDs. Very little is known about their backgrounds. After Jundal’s interrogation, special teams of the Delhi Police and Central agencies have fanned across India to gather information on them and their contacts.

In the past, Pakistan-based groups and even its spy agency, the ISI, have provided refuge to those accused of the 1993 Mumbai blast, underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his henchmen. The ‘founders’ of the Indian Mujahideen, the Bhatkal brothers – Riyaz and Iqbal – have also found a safe haven in Pakistan.

‘Parliament has right to close Strait of Hormuz’

Iran’s Majlis speaker Ali Larijani has confirmed reports that some parliamentarians have presented a plan calling for the Strait of Hormuz to be closed in response to the European Union’s oil embargo on Iran.

MP Ebrahim Aqa-Mohammadi said that the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee had put forward a proposal to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz to prevent the passage of tankers that carry oil for the countries that have imposed sanctions on Iran. The proposal had been signed by 100 MP, he added.

Speaking to reporters, Larijani said, ‘Some representatives in the Majlis have prepared a plan, but it has not been reviewed yet.’ He stated that MPs can express their views on all domestic and international issues and present plans and that is ‘part of their rights’.

Larijani added, ‘Now we should see what will happen if the plan is officially presented’, though he made no further comments with respect to the plan. Meanwhile, Major Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, Chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran would only close the strait if the country’s security were threatened.

The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most strategic shipping channels, connecting the vast majority of the world’s countries with the crude oil that fuels their economies. On average, 14 supertankers sail through the strait every day.

Lords reform showdown for coalition

Britain’s Tory rebels are confident they can inflict the coalition government’s first major Commons defeat as MPs begin to discuss House of Lords reform.

The two-day debate, which could have far-reaching consequences for the coalition, will culminate in a vote on a programme motion designed to speed up the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

The House of Lords Reform Bill should receive its second reading because it is supported by Labour but a programme motion limiting debate to ten days could be defeated.

Up to 100 Tory rebels could join forces with the Opposition to defeat the timetable, which would mean the legislation could be ‘talked out’.

Tensions between the coalition partners over the reforms have arisen after a senior aide to Deputy PM Mr Clegg warned the Lib Dems could block boundary changes in retaliation if the vote is lost.

Some Tories have accused the junior coalition partner of ‘blackmail’ following the threat, which if carried out could cost the Conservative Party 20 seats at the next general election.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has insisted the party is not issuing any threats or contemplating quitting the coalition. The team behind the deal were ‘committing both coalition parties…to deliver on House of Lords reform…nothing more than was in both of our manifestos,’ he said.

Former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd said it was an ‘outrage’ to attempt to limit debate on such an important constitutional shift, and Richard Harrington, MP for Watford, said that while he did not believe the current system of the Lords is fair, ‘replacing it with a further level of elected political hacks will not necessarily bring about a more democratic process’.

The legislation, which is central to the Lib Dems’ agenda in the coalition, would introduce an 80 per cent elected upper house and slim down membership from 800 to 450. It would finally complete the removal of hereditary peers and replace them with members elected under a form of proportional representation for a single 15-year term.

Castro meets Hanoi top brass

Cuban President Raul Castro has met with Vietnamese leaders following a visit to China, as Havana looks to old communist allies while it attempts to push through historic economic reforms.

Castro, on his first visit to Hanoi as head of state, is in the country to ‘consolidate and reinforce relations’ between the two states, Vietnam foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.

The Cuban leader was given a guard of honour as he embarked on a series of talks with the top three figures in the autocratic regime – Communist Party secretary general Nguyen Phu Trong, President Truong Tan Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

His appearances in China and Vietnam, two of a handful of remaining communist countries left in the world, come as Havana seeks to emulate their achievements in incorporating elements of capitalism into economic reforms.

During Castro’s earlier four-day visit to China, he met President Hu Jintao and secured pledges from Beijing for financial aid, among other measures, to help the country in sectors such as technology and healthcare.

Vietnam, which launched its own economic transformation to incorporate capitalism 25 years ago, will present an ‘economic model’ for Castro to study, according to a Vietnamese diplomat, who declined to be named.

Morsi annuls dissolution of parliament

Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi has annulled the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament, setting the stage for a possible confrontation with the military.

‘President Morsi has issued a presidential decree annulling the decision taken on June 15, 2012 to dissolve the people’s assembly, and invites the chamber to convene again and to exercise its prerogatives,’ the MENA news agency said.

His move risks heightening tensions with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over after the ouster last year of long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak, following a popular revolt.

The news agency said the SCAF convened an ‘urgent meeting under the chairmanship of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to discuss the presidential measures’.

MENA said the recent decree stipulates ‘the organisation of elections for the chamber, 60 days after the approval by referendum of the country’s new constitution and the adoption of a new law regulating parliament’.

No date has yet been set for the drafting of the post-Mubarak constitution. The 100-member commission tasked with drawing it up met for the first time on June 18 and appointed a respected judge, Hossam al-Ghariani, as its head.

The military dissolved parliament last month after Egypt’s top court made its controversial ruling, a day before the second round of the presidential poll that saw the Islamist Morsi become Egypt’s first democratically elected head of state.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi stood down after his election, at the time described the move as a ‘soft coup’, accusing the military of seeking to monopolise power and demanding a referendum.

Election observers give thumbs-up to Libyan vote

International observers have declared Libya’s landmark national assembly election a success, concluding that violent incidents and anti-vote protests in the restive east failed to stop Libyans from turning out in large numbers.

The UN, US and other Western backers of last year’s uprising that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule have already given good marks to what was the North African state’s first free national election in six decades.

‘It is remarkable that nearly all Libyans cast their ballot free from fear or intimidation,’ Alexander Graf Lambsdorff of the European Union Assessment Team told a news conference.

‘These incidents do not put into question the national integrity of the elections as a whole,’ he said, alluding to cases of thefts and burnings of ballot boxes and protests by demonstrators seeking more autonomy for the east of the country.

The EU team toured half a dozen major cities including the capital Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi, the fount of the uprising, but did not go to the desert south, where security remains precarious because of tribal clashes.

The US-based Carter Centre said its 45-strong observation team was also absent from the south and acknowledged that its operation for the July 7 election had been somewhat limited. But ‘Libyans determined to continue with the voting process is what gives us hope for the future,’ said John Stremlau, Carter Centre vice-president of peace programmes.

Nearly 1.8 million of 2.8 million registered voters cast their ballots, a turnout of around 65 per cent, authorities said.

Mexican leftist rejects election result

Mexican leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he does not accept the July 1 election results in which he placed second.

According to official counts issued by election authorities, Lopez Obrador finished second with 31.59 per cent of the vote. The final election tally placed Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) first with 38.21 per cent, a winning margin of 3.3 million ballots. Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) finished in third place with 25.4 percent of the vote.

‘We cannot accept those results…’ Lopez Obrador said. ‘We have evidence to support this and when the time is right we are going to prove that around 5 million votes were bought.’

He also said he was the victim of voter fraud when he failed to win the Mexican presidency in 2006 and staged weeks of protests that blockaded parts of Mexico City. In addition, he has accused the PRI of excessive campaign spending and voter fraud.

Mexico’s election tribunal has until September to rule on any wrongdoing.

Leader-in-waiting says no need to fear China

China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, has insisted that Beijing would never impose its will on the rest of the world and instead wanted to ‘abandon the old mindset’ and strive for global peace.

Speaking at a forum in Beijing, Vice President Xi sought to reassure other countries that the rise of China, which in 2010 became the world’s second largest economy, was not something to be feared.

‘Even when China becomes developed in the future, it will never seek hegemony,’ Xi told the World Peace Forum. ‘China is always committed to economic development, world peace and common development of mankind.

‘We must abandon the old…approach that has been rendered obsolete, we must keep pace with the times, forge ahead with innovation and foster a new security concept,’ he added.

China has been pushing for emerging powers to take a bigger role in international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund where Beijing is playing a leading part, and Xi said this trend would continue.

‘China will actively participate in the reform of the international system for governance with a view to move toward a more just and equitable international political and economic order.’

Besides its growing economic power, China’s increasing military might has also irked other countries, especially its regional neighbours and the United States, which has realigned its forces to address Beijing’s build-up.

Xi is widely expected to be named head of the ruling Communist Party later this year and become president next March in the country’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition, replacing Hu Jintao.

Annan and Assad: ‘new approach’ to Syria peace

International envoy Kofi Annan has raised hopes of a revived peace effort in Syria, saying he has reached a framework with President Bashar Assad and would hold talks with rebel leaders.

He was travelling to Damascus key ally Iran later on July 9 for talks with leaders there.

Mr Annan is the architect of an international plan to end Syria’s 16-month-old crisis, which started with largely peaceful protests calling for reforms but has since transformed into a bloody insurgency to topple the Assad regime.

With violence growing increasingly intense and diplomatic efforts faltering, Mr Annan has said Iran must be a part of a solution to a conflict that activists say has killed at least 14,000 people.

‘We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition,’ Mr Annan told reporters following a two-hour meeting with President Assad which he described as ‘candid and constructive’.

Greek deputy minister resigns over bailout stance

In a setback to the conservative-led coalition, Greek Deputy Labour minister Nikos Nikolopoulos has resigned, saying the government was not forceful enough in pushing lenders for changes to a bailout plan, the state-runAthensnews agency has said.

‘The sole reason for my resignation is my personal conviction that the issue of renegotiating with the troika, as well as the correction of significant distortions in labour, pension, social security and welfare issues, should have been emphatically put on the table from the start,’ an excerpt from his resignation letter read, according the news agency.

A labour ministry official confirmed the minister had submitted his resignation but government officials could not confirm whether it had been accepted.

After demanding a long list of changes toGreece’s latest rescue package when it took power last month, the three-party coalition has struck a more conciliatory tone towards lenders in recent days by promising to carry out a host of reforms before asking for a renegotiation of the package.