Archive for the ‘National Assembly’ Category

Taliban Welcome Pakistan’s PM Talks Offer

March 29, 2008

By Muhammad Khurshid
Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas, Pakistan
March 29, 2008

Taliban fighters, who engaged the Pakistan army being considered one of the best armies of the world, have welcomed the offer of talks made by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. From the offer and response one thing becomes clear that Taliban are actually the men of these politicians and they had used them against President Pervez Musharra.

There are many people, who have been raising the questions. Is there any justification for talks with criminals as now most of the people are considering Taliban militants criminals?

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan Saturday welcomed the announcement of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani he made in his first speech in the National Assembly after securing vote of confidence about scrapping the Frontier Crime Regulation through which tribal areas have been governed since independence.

“This is the demand of whole tribesmen that Shariah should be enforced in the tribal areas as the areas cannot be run through FCR enforced by the Britishers for keeping the tribesmen subjugated,” said a purported spokesman of Taliban movement Maulvi Omar while talking to local newsmen by phone from undisclosed location.

The Taliban spokesman also welcomed the offer of prime minister for talks with Taliban saying that peace could only be restored through talks. “The prime minister’s announcement creates a ray of hope for peace in the tribal areas,” he added.

It merits a mention here Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani urged militants to renounce violence and offered to hold talks with those who give up arms and join the new democratic era. Addressing the parliament after wining a unanimous vote of confidence, Gilani said terrorism was the biggest threat undermining Pakistan’s stability. “Our first priority will be restoration of law and order and elimination of terrorism from the country,” said Gilani.

Maulvi Omar demanded of the prime minister to abandon the war on terrorism launched by President Pervez Musharraf on the instruction of the United States. “Taliban are ready to respond positively to the initiatives of the present government for restoration of peace in tribal areas and other parts of the country,” he added.
“our only demand of the Taliban movement is the withdrawal of Pakistan from the US-led coalition against terrorism,” he added

Pakistan: New PM To Be Named Tonight

March 22, 2008

By Muhammad Khurshid
Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas, Pakistan
March 22, 2008

Political games being played in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan have entered a decisive phase. According to a report, the husband of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, who was gunned by terrorists before the elections, Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a person from Pubjab province to become the prime minister.
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There are also reports of serious differences that have erupted in Pakistan People’s Party as most of the members of National Assembly think that Amir Fahim, president of Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians is the right person to lead Pakistan at this critical time.
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Reports said that Pakistan Peoples Party would likely to nominate Yousuf Raza Gillani as the new prime minister of the country, sources said.
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According to Geo News, PPP has completed consultations with coalition partners about the prime minister and the allies have endorsed the nomination.
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The formal announcement of the name of prime minister is expected tonight. Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would announce the name.

Muhammad Reports From Pakistan, 21 March 2008

March 21, 2008

Dear John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom

Dear Sir,

I hope you and your team at the Peace and Freedom will be alright. I have been passing through a severe depression as I have been seeing with my own eyes that officials of Pakistani administration has been providing protection to terrorists.
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The terrorists have been given free hand to kill the soldiers and innocent people. Like me thousands of tribesmen have been losing the hope. Officials of the United States posted in Pakistan may be aware of the situation, but they have also been keeping complete mum.
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Terrorists and Taliban have destroyed schools in the tribal areas, but the officials are taking no action. They are just sitting in their offices enjoying the life.

Believe me Sir, sometime my heart tells me to take up the arms and kill all these terrorists who have been playing havoc with the lives and properties of the masses. But I can do nothing as I am helpless. Terrorists have been abusing and threatening me, but I can do nothing. I want to kill all these evil forces.

You are my brother you will certainly help me.

I have been talking in this way as I have already told you that I am depression. Political situation in Pakistan is also fluid.

President Musharraf has summoned the National Assembly to elect prime minister on March 24. I just placing a report of a newspaper for keeping update you and your readers.

President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday called a special session of the new National Assembly for Monday to let his political opponents elect their first prime minister after eight-and-a-half years as a parliamentary momentum seemed to leave his own office at their mercy.

An apparently swift action on a proposal from caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro came only a day after the National Assembly elected its first woman speaker and her deputy by more than two-thirds majorities, which showed the anti-Musharraf camp could muster enough numbers in a joint session of the two houses of parliament to impeach the president if they so wanted.

The announcement came also when the country waited with bated breath for the majority coalition of the winners of Feb 18 election to name their candidate for prime minister to end a bitter controversy that has robbed a historic transition of some of its lustre.

The candidate, under the coalition agreement, must be from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has added a high drama to a prolonged suspense by calling its boy chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from a studies break in Britain to name the person for the office that his mother, Benazir Bhutto, would have taken without question for a historic third term if she had not been assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack in Rawalpindi on Dec 27 soon after she addressed a campaign rally.

The selection of the candidate, to be made by the 19-year-old Bilawal’s father and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, has led to an unprecedented controversy in the party after one of its senior-most figures, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who is also the president of its electoral arm PPP Parliamentarians, found his candidacy being blocked by a mysterious propaganda campaign against him and the talk of an alternative being sought from the most populous Punjab province rather than from the hopeful’s Sindh.

The National Assembly secretariat said in a statement the session for what the Constitution calls “ascertainment of the member who commands the confidence of majority of the members of the assembly” would begin at 4pm on Monday, while it would remain open on Sunday to receive nominations of candidates by 2pm and their scrutiny by the Speaker at 3pm.The election will be held through what is called division” in parliamentary parlance, in which members go to different lobbies to record their votes for candidates in accordance with the direction of their respective parties as required by an anti-defection clause of the Political Parties Act that forbids floor-crossing.It will be the fourth prime ministerial election in a little more than five years and the first time President Musharraf will find himself unable to stop an opponent from taking that office since he seized power in an Oct 12, 1999 coup that toppled then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

After the previous October 2002 election, the president kept the anti-defection law suspended to inspire defections mainly from the PPP to help his hand-picked Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of the formerly ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) get elected prime minister in November by only a one-vote majority for a tenure that lasted only 20 months.Mr Jamali’s two successors to complete the remainder of his five-year term — PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain for a transitional two months and Shaukat Aziz for more than three years — were elected with comfortable majorities.

Now, whoever is nominated as the PPP candidate, possibly on Saturday or Sunday, will face only a token contest from Mr Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement as the joint candidate of the new PML-led opposition alliance.

Wednesday’s election of Dr Fehmida Mirza as the first woman to become the National Assembly speaker and Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, both of the PPP, by more than two-thirds majorities of the 342-seat house — securing 249-70 and 246-68 votes respectively against the opposition rivals — served as a stark warning to a strong but an isolated president whom his opponents want to be out of their way to restore full parliamentary democracy.

The vote, which at least two of its members missed, showed the coalition could impeach the president on the oft-repeated charge of violating the Constitution as well as “gross misconduct” as it would have the required two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the 342-seat National Assembly and 100-seat Senate with the help of a six-member anti-Musharraf “like-minded” group formed in the Senate last month and independents.

The Senate is presently left with 96 members because three members have opted to take National Assembly seats they won on Feb 18 and the death of one PML member from Balochistan.

While the coalition can hope to bag all these four seats to be filled through by-elections, the present Senate strength leaves the pro-Musharraf camp with 50 members (minus the six rebels) and his opponents with 46, whose addition to its 251 supporters in the National Assembly takes the total to 297, which will be one vote more than the 296-vote two-thirds majority of the total 443 members of both houses needed for the passage of an impeachment resolution.But the new would-be ruling coalition, which had dismissed an impeachment move against the president in the recent past on the ground of not having the required numbers, does not seem to be seeking such a course immediately in order to allow itself to settle down in power.

It still remains short of a two-thirds majority in the Senate to be able to pass constitutional amendments passed by a two-thirds majority in each house, such as one to clip the president of his controversial powers to sack a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly and appoint provincial governors and armed forces chiefs at his discretion.

Dear Sir, just pray for our safety. You are nice brother and a honest and lovely man.

Thank you very much,

Yours sincerely,

Muhammad Khurshid
Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas, Pakistan

Pakistan Elects 1st Female Speaker

March 20, 2008

(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) — Legislators elected Pakistan’s first female speaker of parliament Wednesday, seating a follower — and lookalike — of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Newly elected speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly Fehmida ...
Newly elected speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly Fehmida Mirza presides over a session after her election at Parliament House in Islamabad March 19, 2008. Pakistan’s National Assembly elected its first woman speaker on Wednesday, a member of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which won the elections last month.REUTERS/Stringer (PAKISTAN)

Fehmida Mirza’s elevation reflected the air of liberalism blowing through the country’s politics since voters delivered a resounding defeat to backers of President Pervez Musharraf, the former general who has been a close U.S. ally.

However, many Pakistanis are warily watching the victorious elitist parties, worried over whether politicians whose civilian governments in the 1990s were tainted by corruption and ineptitude will be able to deal with Islamic militants and economic hardships.

In a first sign of trouble, the new leaders are struggling to agree on who should be prime minister. There was less of a problem in picking the speaker.

Read the rest:
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1723872,00.html?xid=rss-topstories

Journalists Under Attack In Pakistan

March 19, 2008

By Muhammad Khurshid
Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas Pakistan
March 19, 2008
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Journalists were thrashed by the security officials in front of National Assembly of Pakistan as they were covering the proceedings of the assembly.

Police guard the main entrance of the National Assembly during ... 
Police guard the main entrance of the National Assembly during the election of its speaker in Islamabad March 19, 2008. Pakistan’s National Assembly elected its first woman speaker on Wednesday, a member of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which won elections last month.
REUTERS/Mian Khursheed (PAKISTAN)
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Journalists working in tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border have also been receiving threats from Taliban and terrorists, who have been ruling the areas nowadays.

So far several journalists were either killed by the terrorists or the security agencies in the troubled tribal areas. Situation in other parts of the country is not different as there the journalists have been facing immense pressure.

The journalists started protesting outside the Parliament House, when the security personnel cut off cables of their cameras.

The journalists from various news organization including news channels came to cover the proceedings of the 13th National Assembly on the occasion of election of speaker.

Law and order situation in Pakistan has been going from bad to worst. According to a newspaper comment, rising street crime in Karachi has touched new heights. While official figures of crime in the city tell one story, the reality seems to be something much different.
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Police officials and senior government functionaries would have us believe that all is well and under control but incidents of mobile phone theft, mugging and burglaries in the city have shot up in the past couple of months. Particularly affected are the commercial areas of the city as well as the business districts where men on motorcycles accost pedestrians, motorcyclists and motorists in broad daylight and rob them of their valuables.
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The slightest resistance can lead to death for some as the robbers seem desperate and ready to kill if their demands are not met. In the past week, there have been several cases where people were stopped in broad daylight in full public view and robbed. In most instances, people do not bother to register cases as this is another ordeal for them.
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Pedestrians have been mugged in dark street corners, women have seen their earrings snatched from their ears and purses stolen, motorists have seen their cars broken into — and yet the police seem helpless in controlling this surge in street crime.

What is worrying is the fact that the government seems to be pumping considerable amount of money and resources in law-enforcement in the city but much of this does not end up in fighting crime. A high percentage of police resources are dedicated for VIP duties as well as protecting the high and mighty.
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The lack of professionalism and accountability in the police forces has also meant a rise in corruption and unprofessional behaviour amongst men who are supposed to enforce and uphold the law. As a new political government takes office in Sindh later this month, it would be a good idea to examine the role and performance of the city’s police force and other law-enforcing agencies like the Rangers.
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It is time long-term reforms were introduced in the police force to change the way the force is run. At the same time, the terms and conditions of service of policemen should be improved so that they are less prone to fall for corruption.
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All this, however, requires political commitment and resolve. The new chief minister must work according to the peoples’ expectations, otherwise people will continue to suffer while the police look the other way.

Commentary: Momentous day for Pakistan, Bhutto’s legacy

March 18, 2008
By Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari is the co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party and widower of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Pakistan in December.

In this handout photo released by Pakistan Parliament House, ...
In this handout photo released by Pakistan Parliament House, Asif Ali Zardari, left, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party waves as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif looks on during the National assembly’s first session at Parliament House in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, March 17, 2008. Pakistan inaugurated a new parliament on Monday dominated by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf who have vowed to crimp his powers and review his U.S.-backed policies against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
(AP Photo/Pakistan Parliament House, HO)

(CNN) — Monday was a momentous day for the people of Pakistan, but a bittersweet day for me.

Sitting in the gallery watching a democratically elected National Assembly headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party and its coalition partners, I thought of the terrible price paid for this moment of liberty. I thought of the many jailed, beaten, tortured, and exiled. I thought of all of those who had their reputations assaulted. I thought of the undermining and dismantling of Pakistani civil society. I thought of the attacks on the independence and autonomy of the judicial system. I thought of the censorship of the press, emergency rule and martial law.

But of course more than anything else, I thought of my beloved wife, Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, who sacrificed her life for her beliefs and her country. This was the day of her triumph, the vindication of her long battle for the restoration of democracy. For my country, this was a day of celebration. But for me and our children, this day was also a day of tears. Democracy had come to Pakistan, but at a terrible, terrible price.

Last week, the two largest political parties in Pakistan agreed to form a coalition government that would restore democracy and bring stability to our country. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which I lead after the assassination of my wife, has joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to form a broad-based, democratic, liberal government in Pakistan — an umbrella of reconciliation and consensus. The new prime minister, from the PPP, will be announced within the next few days.

In agreeing to form a coalition government Mr. Sharif and I have responded to the mandate given by the people of Pakistan in the February 18 election. Pakistan’s people no longer want to live under the thumb of a dictator. They want an end to terrorism and violence and wish to join the rest of the modern world in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. They want to restore the supremacy of the people’s house, the National Assembly, and free it from the sword of Damocles of a marginal presidency with inflated, unconstitutional authority.

Pakistan’s political leaders and people have suffered from the politics of personal destruction; we have been battered by dictatorship; we have seen civil society taken apart and a free and independent judiciary destroyed. We have seen international assistance, secured in the name of fighting terrorism, diverted towards making Pakistan’s affluent few richer. We have seen progress on education, health and women’s rights stopped and reversed. But now, with renewed confidence in democratic parties like the PPP and PML-N, it is time for the rebirth of a democratic, vital and progressive Pakistan.

Some fear a coalition government would lack the necessary strength to tackle Pakistan’s myriad problems. But cooperation between the country’s biggest political parties, representing an overwhelming majority of the people, would bring greater stability than one-man rule. Together, the PPP and PML-N will be able to build a strong civil society. That would go a long way to erasing the scars of militarism and militancy. We will focus on providing education and employment at the grassroots levels so the country’s youth can play an integral role in building a strong national economy.

Under the rule of Pervez Musharraf, extremists were allowed to thrive along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The key to improving security there is not to make citizens in Pakistan’s tribal areas feel like second-rate citizens kept under lock and key, caught between the threats of violence from militants and the military. Rather, we must let all of our citizens, including those in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, know they are part participants in the growth of Pakistan’s economy and civil society.

Fostering a better level of trust and understanding among the people in the border areas, and delivering on their key needs, is essential to enhancing security in the FATA and throughout Pakistan. While immediate steps must be taken to hunt down identified terrorists, the long-term solution to extremism lies in respecting the will of the people and in providing them with a means of livelihood at every level — food, clothing, shelter, jobs and education. By talking to and respecting our people, we will be able to isolate the extremists and terrorists.

Those of us who are now in a position of leadership seek, in my wife’s words, “a tomorrow better than any of the yesterdays we have ever known.” We see a Pakistan where all children, regardless of their socio-economic standing or their gender, are guaranteed compulsory and quality primary and secondary education. We see a Pakistani educational system of quality teachers, who receive decent salaries, and teach in modern classrooms with state-of-the-art computers and technology. We see a Pakistan where political madrassas that teach hatred are closed, and educational institutions that focus on science and technology flourish.

The PPP has a vision to build a nation that is one of the great capital markets of the world; a revitalized nation that will generate international investment. We look forward to the complete electrification of all of our villages, the purification of our nation’s drinking water, the privatization of the public sector, the expansion of the energy sector, the development of our export industries, the modernization of our ports and the rebuilding our national infrastructure. All of these elements are essential to a Pakistan where a democratically elected government, with the mandate of the people, confronts and marginalizes the forces of extremism and terrorism wherever they may exist in our nation. In other words, I see the Pakistan for which my wife lived and died.

Pakistan’s democracy has not evolved over the past 60 years because the generals believed they should intervene in politics and run the country. The army’s misperception of itself as the country’s only viable institution, and its deep-rooted suspicion of the civilian political process, has prevented democracy from flourishing. The PPP and its allies will reverse the current regime’s suppression of civil society and free speech. We will establish a Press Complaints Commission similar to that of the United Kingdom and stand up for the democratic rights of citizens to freely establish television and radio stations, subject to the basic legal framework.

While the tasks ahead are not easy, the Pakistan Peoples Party plans to work in good faith with its fellow democratic parties and our coalition allies to achieve our goal of building a new, progressive Pakistan. Everything will not come at once. The reformation of Pakistan — politically, economically and socially — will be a long and complex process. But we are determined to begin and we are determined to succeed.

We did not come this far, we did not sacrifice this much, to fail.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

Pakistan’s new leaders declare ‘last day of dictatorship’

March 18, 2008
By Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers 

ISLAMABAD, PakistanPakistan‘s newly elected National Assembly met for the first time Monday and delivered an immediate rebuff to Pervez Musharraf , setting up a head-on clash between the elected assembly and the unpopular U.S.-backed president.

With the incoming government committed to restoring the judges who were fired by Musharraf and stripping the powers of the presidency, a battle seems inevitable in which Washington may find itself on the losing side. Critics said Musharraf is unwilling to retreat to the figurehead role prescribed for the president in Pakistan’s original constitution.

“The conspiracies of the (presidential) palace will be fought with the strength of parliament,” said Ahmed Mukhtar , a possible candidate for the post of prime minister from the Pakistan People’s Party , just before the assembly met. “We have the numbers to do whatever we want.”

The People’s Party , which won the most seats in the Feb. 18 election, plans to form a government in the next few days with its traditional rival, Nawaz Sharif‘s Pakistan Muslim League-N , in a grand anti-Musharraf alliance. Together, along with two smaller parties, the new government would control two-thirds of the National Assembly. According to Mukhtar, the coalition also will soon control two-thirds of the Senate , due to the defection of Musharraf backers, which would mean that it could impeach Musharraf.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20080317/wl_
mcclatchy/2882291_1

Pakistani policemen gather around an injured colleague at a ...
Pakistani policemen gather around an injured colleague at a hospital after the suicide attack in Mingora. A suicide bomber blew himself up at a police barracks in Pakistan’s violence-plagued northern Swat valley on Monday, killing two policemen and injuring six others, police said.
(AFP/Chand Khan)

Muhammad Gives Eye Witness Account from Pakistan, March 14, 2008

March 14, 2008

Dear John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom

Dear Sir,

I hope you and your team at the Peace and Freedom will be alright. Believe me that you kind cooperation has been bringing some positive impact on the life of tribesmen living near Pak-Afghan border.

I want to bring in your kind notice that Pakistan has deployed army troops in Bajaur Agency as it seems that an operation may be launched against terrorists any time. Some dreaded terrorists have been hiding in Bajaur Agency, therefore, I shall suggest the Peace and Freedom should supervise the operation. There is possibility that the terrorists may take advantage of the choas and may leave the area for a safer place.

Some of the officials have still been providing support to terrorists as they have been getting huge money from them. Giving more time to terrorists will be dangerous.

Situation in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan is also critical as there is race among the politicians for getting the coveted post of prime minister. I want to bring in your kind notice that President Pervez Musharraf has secured himself.

Speaker National Assembly Chaudhry Amir Hussain Friday said MNAs elect would take their oaths in accordance with the constitution of 1973 and hoped that the new National Assembly will give exemplary performance by establishing better practices.

Talking to Geo News in an interview, he said oath will be administered to the MNA’s elect on March 17 during the inaugural NA session and it will be prorogued till March 19 after the oath taking.

Chaudhry Amir Hussain said in order to make the NA session an impressive event, prior consultations will be held with the representatives of all the parties.

Nomination papers of speaker would be received on March 18 till 12 noon. Polling for slot of Speaker NA would be held through secret ballot on March 19. Same day the new elected speaker will take over the charge of the custodian of the august House.

He said the election of deputy speaker would be conducted by newly elected speaker. Then the session would be prorogued sine die. The election of the leader of the House or Prime Minister will be held in the NA session called later.

To a question, he said the President can call this session whenever he wants but normally it is not delayed for long and it is called within two to four days.

The MNAs elect for 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997 and 2002 elections took the same oath under1973 Constitution, he said in reply to another question. Only the words  “Khuda Aap Ka Haami-o-Nasir Ho” (May Almighty Allah be with you) were added to the statement of oath in 1985, he added.“

This time also the members will take oath under the 1973 Constitution,” Amir Hussain said.

Dear Sir, the main issue of Pakistan is terrorism, therefore, the US must exert more pressure on President Musharraf to show seriousness in war on terrorism. Some of the officials have been chasing me. Several times they have threatened me, but I am not afraid of them. In the presence of brother like you no one can harm me. At the moment I have been needing your support and prayers.

Thank you very much,

Yours sincerely,

Muhammad Khurshid
Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas, Pakistan

US congressional leaders urge Vietnam to match economic progress with political reforms

January 3, 2008

Friday, January 4, 2008 02:37 AM

HANOI (AP) – A high-ranking congressional delegation led by U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer praised Vietnam’s economic reforms on Thursday and urged the communist nation to match them with human rights reforms.”We think that freedom of individuals and free markets go together and complement one another,” said Rep. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and the second-ranking leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hoyer led a 13-member delegation that also included House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

They met with President Nguyen Minh Triet, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai and leaders of Vietnam’s National Assembly.

The delegation arrived as Vietnam begins a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council.

“Vietnam is increasingly important, and our relationship is important,” Hoyer said.

Crisis in Pakistan: Musharraf, Bhutto and Sharif At Odds

November 3, 2007

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) (November 4, 2007)- Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule on Saturday, deploying troops and sacking a top judge in a bid to reassert his flagging authority against political rivals and Islamist militants.Nuclear-armed Pakistan’s internal security has deteriorated sharply in recent months with a wave of suicide attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants, including one that killed 139 people.

State-run Pakistan Television said Musharraf had suspended the constitution and declared an emergency, ending weeks of speculation that the general who seized power in a 1999 coup might impose emergency rule or martial law.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Turkey, criticized the measures as “highly regrettable” and said she hoped Pakistan would have a free and fair election in January as promised.

Witnesses said troops were deployed at Pakistan Television and radio stations, and most phone lines were down. Other troops sealed off the thoroughfare where the presidency building, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court are located.

Shots were heard in several neighborhoods of Karachi, where there is strong support for former opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister.
Television channels said that Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whose earlier dismissal in March marked the beginning of a slide in Musharraf’s popularity, had been told that his services were “no longer required.”

Chaudhry had been reinstated in July.

Musharraf had been awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while still army chief. The court had said on Friday it would reconvene on Monday and try to finish the case quickly.

Chaudhry and eight other judges refused to endorse the provisional constitutional order issued by the president.

LAWYER ARRESTED

Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, told reporters at his home he was being arrested.

“One man has taken the entire nation hostage … Time has come for General Musharraf to go,” he said. Fellow lawyers shouted “Go Musharraf Go” as Ahsan was taken away by police.

The move is expected to put off parliamentary elections due in January, although Pakistan Television said that the cabinet, national and provincial assemblies would continue to function.

A senior security official told Reuters that Musharraf would seek approval for the move from the cabinet later, after which there were expectations he would address the nation.

The cabinet was due to start meeting at 7 pm (1400 GMT).

Musharraf had said he would quit as army chief if he was given a second term, and he had allowed Bhutto back into Pakistan to lead her party into the national elections.

A suicide bombing killed 139 people on Oct 19 when thousands of supporters flocked to the streets to welcome Bhutto when she returned to Karachi from eight years of self-imposed exile. She had flown to Dubai on Thursday.

Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari said she was already on a flight back to Pakistan from Dubai. He described Musharraf’s move as “definitely not pleasant news.”

“We’re hoping to build institutions, not destroy them.”

Exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, deposed by Musharraf in the 1999 coup, described his decision to invoke emergency powers as a form of martial law.

“We are heading towards a chaotic situation, heading towards anarchy,” Sharif told Indian news channel CNN-IBN in an interview replayed by Dawn Television in Pakistan.

Musharraf’s troubles began in March when he suspended Supreme Court Justice Chaudhry on allegations of misconduct.

Critics accused him of trying to put pressure on the court not to block his re-election and Musharraf’s popularity plummeted as lawyers rallied to support the top judge.

In July, after a week-long siege, Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement based there.

At least 105 people were killed in the raid and a wave of deadly militant attacks and suicide bombings followed.

(Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore, Simon Gardner and Zeeshan Haider)