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Sunday, 15 March 2009

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Army on standby, long march on
Tribune News Service & Agencies

Islamabad March 14
Pakistan Muslim League on Saturday rejected the government's offer to move a review petition on the supreme court verdict debarring Nawaj Sharif and his brother from holding public offices. " We do not recognize the court; it is unconstitutional," said a PML ( N) spokesman. Mounting pressure earlier had forced the Pakistan President to seek a reconciliation.

The climb-down followed dramatic developments. High-profile Information Minister, Sherry Rahman, was reported to have resigned late last night after differences with Zardari and his advisors. Rahman had objected to the blocking of Geo TV and plans to crack down on the media. When she was blamed for failing to control the media, she apparently put in her papers. The resignation has not yet been accepted, however, claimed government sources.

Reports also indicated that backroom discussions continued to make even more conciliatory moves. Following US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's telephonic talk with Zardari, sources spoke of the possibility of the Punjab provincial assembly getting re-convened so that legislators could elect a new chief minister.

PML(N) is believed to have demanded the replacement of Punjab governor and a Zardari loyalist, Salman Taseer who carried out the dismissal of the popularly elected PML(N) government in Punjab.

It is not clear if Zardari has offered too little and too late. Defiant lawyers braved manhandling and arrests and have shown no sign of backing off from the long march to Islamabad, where they plan to converge on Monday. "The long march can't be stopped," declared Ali Ahmed Kurd, president of the supreme court bar association.

US 'Extremely Concerned' about Worsening Situation in Pakistan
By Arun Kumar

The US is "extremely concerned" by the political crisis in Pakistan but doesn't believe there is a "high probability right now" the situation will prompt the military to intervene.

The situation "continues to deteriorate very, very slowly under a political leadership which is very challenged because of the totality of the crisis," Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen, said in an interview with PBS.

But the Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, is "committed to a civilian government" and doesn't want to take over as his predecessor Pervez Musharraf did in 1999, he said.

"Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons," Mullen said. "It's 165 million people and should we move to a point where somehow there is a theocratic government there with nuclear weapons... that's something that keeps me up."

The US is obviously watching the unfolding crisis "very carefully", he said.

"And I know that there are people ... concerned that this could degenerate into a situation that could very possibly generate a crisis, which may cause actions to be taken on the part of the military."

But "I don't think that possibility is out there as a high probability right now, but certainly it's a concern."

Kayani in Mullen's view "does want to stay out of politics. He also wants to do the right thing for Pakistan. And he's in a very, very tough spot".

"He also knows his country well, and so obviously he's paying a lot of attention to this as well, as we all are. And I'm just hopeful that this doesn't turn into another crisis in Pakistan."

Mullen said he is also "pessimistic" about Afghanistan, where US and NATO-led troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency as "militants there have generated a significant rise in the level of violence, and they're starting to turn people back toward them".

"I think Afghanistan is a relevance issue for NATO," said Mullen. "If NATO doesn't succeed in Afghanistan, I don't think NATO has much of a future."

Pakistan army on standby as protests refuse to subside

Press Trust of India

Saturday, March 14, 2009, (Islamabad)

Pakistan put its army on standby and placed barricades on the boulevard leading to the Parliament House as the confrontation between country's two main parties PPP and PML-N showed no signs of abating despite frantic mediation efforts.

As the government asked the troops to be deployed in all sensitive areas in the capital, sealed of all highways leading to it, protesting lawyers and opposition parties said they will go ahead with their mass sit-in outside the National assembly.

"The troops will remain on alert and will be deployed only if the situation warrants it," chief military spokesman Major Gen Athar Abbas told Dawn News channel.

Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik warned that the protesters, who are seeking reinstatement of judges sacked in 2007 emergency, will not be allowed to come anywhere near Parliament House, which has been barricaded.

Malik said that extra-ordinary security measures were being taken as intelligence agencies have warned that terrorists could take advantage of the protest to carry out "target killings" and a "series of bombings", including suicide attacks.

Key installations were facing a threat and "enemies of Pakistan" too could strike during the long march to "destabilise the country", he said without giving details.

The deployment of the army came after it received a request from the government to deploy troops at sensitive locations to maintain law and order during the long march launched by lawyers and opposition parties.

More than 1,200 protesters have so far been rounded up in connection with the long March. Police on Saturday halted more than 1500 activists near Multan as they headed for Islamabad.

This was the third procession of lawyers and protesters to be blocked. Earlier, police had stopped
motorcades of opposition groups heading from Quetta in Balochistan and Karachi in Sindh towards Islamabad.

The lawyers and opposition parties, including former premier Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party, launched the long march on Thursday to pressure the ruling Pakistan People's Party to reinstate judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf during the 2007 emergency.

The PML-N backed the protest after accusing President Asif Ali Zardari of influencing a Supreme Court verdict that barred party leaders Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif from contesting polls and holding elected office. Zardari imposed Governor's Rule in Punjab

province, which was ruled by the PML-N, after the court gave its judgement last month.

A small group of lawyers assembled initially near the office of the Multan Bar Association and the number of the protestors swelled when they were joined by political workers.

Eighty people, most of them lawyers, were rounded up in Multan in overnight raids.

India remains Pakistan's primary target'

Columnist: Bharat Verma

March 12, 2009

Today, India is ringed by turbulent states -- Pakistan (land boundary with India 3,310 km in the northwest), Nepal (land boundary with India 1,751 km in the north), Bangladesh (land boundary with India 4,095 km in the southeast) and Myanmar (land boundary with India 1,463 km in the northeast).

Turbulence has percolated through India's porous borders in the form of arms and narcotics to finance insurgents, militants, terrorists and religious fundamentalists.

India remains Pakistan's primary target and operating ground for Islamic fundamentalists and terrorist groups who infiltrate through Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Nepal and Bangladesh and carry out anti-Indian activities with impunity.

Nepal is vulnerable to China's influence. Its extremists have linkages with the People's War Group in India. In its bid to expand its influence, the PWG has carved a corridor ringing the states of Andhra Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh-Orissa-West Bengal-Jharkhand-Bihar.

This endless internal turbulence in India is also inter-linked with external factors. To the north, India shares a 3,440-km long border with China, which can pose the entire spectrum of conventional, nuclear and missile threats. It can also influence and use as proxy Indias neighbours to weigh India down in every possible way.

In short, India's 14,058-km long land frontier is impacted by a perpetually hostile or semi-hostile environment. Indian security stands threatened by demographic assault, arms and drug smuggling, and the safe havens that the insurgents have in India.

Fundamentalist-religious groups in Bangladesh under Pakistani tutelage, West Asian finance and China's patronage have synergized sufficiently to add to Indias security headache. The grim reality is that the unending turbulence will continue to afflict our land and sea frontiers and airspace.

Image: A soldier from the Central Industrial Security Force takes up position during a security drill.

Five LeT militants killed in J&K

Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar | March 14, 2009 | 13:47 IST

Five militants of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba were killed across Jammu and Kashmir in two separate encounters on Saturday.

While three militants of the outfit were killed during the day-long mosque siege in the mountainous Kishtwar district of Jammu region, two more militants were killed in north Kashmir's Kupwara district.

Security forces surrounded a mosque in Kishtwar to flush out three holed up militants early today morning.

The three militants took shelter in the mosque after an exchange of fire with Rashtriya Rifles troopers and the police in Sarawan village, nearly 250 km from Jammu.

A senior police officer said efforts were made to persuade the holed up militants "to come out and surrender".

"The militants, however, continued to fire at the surrounding troops. One militant was killed initially, after he jumped out of the mosque to escape the security cordon," the officer said.

The remaining two died later this afternoon in the firing, according to the officer.

Kishtwar district magistrate Gurdev Raj Bhagat said the mosque had been "slightly damaged during the gun battle".

In another encounter, security forces shot dead two LeT militants during an operation at Handwara in north Kashmir's Kupwara district on Saturday.

The police said that arms and ammunition including two AK-47 rifles were recovered from the encounter site.

IAF not to ground MiG-29
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
A day after Russia grounded some 90 odd MiG-29 combat aircraft, the Indian Air Force has decided that it will not ground any of the MiG-29s in its fleet. India has about 55-60 fighters of this class that are deployed in air bases, including one in Punjab, along the Indo-Pak border.

India's MiG-29 fighters - that boast of twin engines - were procured from Russia some two decades ago starting 1986. These are not a part of the upgraded, or the newer version of the aircraft, that was facing problems in Russia, sources in the IAF said today while confirming that there will be no grounding of its fleet.

Only the avionics of the Indian fighters had been upgraded in 2001 and that was functioning without any glitch. There has been no engine or structural frame upgrade or any change in the metallurgy of the plane. India has a licence to manufacture the R-33 engine of the MiG-29 at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facility under a $275 million deal.

Meanwhile, the delivery schedule of the MiG-29-k, the Naval variant of the same fighter, will be surely affected, official sources said today. India was to get 16 of these by the year-end from Russia. These have different variant of the engines and facilitate a vertical thrust needed for take-off at sea.

The first batch was to arrive by the end of the next month. This will be delayed by a few months till the problems are sorted out. Indian Naval pilots are undergoing training on these planes. These will be largely used to augment strike power at sea and will be deployed to operate from the deck of the upcoming aircraft carriers - the INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) and the one under construction at Kochi. Since the price for the Gorshkov was being re-negotiated, delivery of the aircraft was being delayed, the new problem can delay it further.

In Russia, some of the newly built MiG-29s were facing metal corrosion. Last December, signs of metal corrosion showed when a MiG-29 crashed in eastern Siberia. The Russian Defence Ministry Commission has inspected around 200 aircraft, clearing more than 100 for further flights, but found 90 to be defective. Experts are looking into the possible causes of the corrosion.

The MiG-29 that was code-named 'Fulcrum' during the Cold War era, have been of importance to India. The IAF has positioned the same, along with the now-phased-out MiG 23, to counter the F-16 procured by Pakistan in the early 1980's.

Colonel faces disciplinary action for molestation
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 14
While the Army has ordered disciplinary action against a colonel for allegedly molesting a captain in the military nursing service (MNS), the officer has contended that the court of inquiry that held him blameworthy was without jurisdiction on account of several procedural improprieties.

The court of inquiry, presided over by a brigadier, also held the nursing officer blameworthy for consuming liquor while on duty. She was on emergency call duty in the operation theatre in a military hospital the night the alleged incident occurred.

The officer, Col Surinder Singh, an armoured corps officer posted in Delhi, has moved the High Court against the disciplinary proceedings. The High Court on Friday last issued notices to the Army and fixed March 24 as the next date of hearing.

The officer's counsel, Maj K. Ramesh (retd) said that COI held him blameworthy of taking out an MNS officer (impliedly for dinner) against the service norms thus showing unbecoming conduct, and for driving after consuming liquor. Besides being intoxicated on call duty, the MNS officer was also blamed for going out with a married officer against the service norms.

The tentative charge made out against the officer for the Hearing of Charge, was however, committing a civil offence by using criminal force and kissing and biting her lips forcibly, thus outraging the modesty of the lady, and taking her out for dinner ethically against the service norms.

In his petition, the officer has contended that provisions of Army Rule 180, which gives the accused the right to examine witnesses was not complied with. Further, an officer junior to the accused was made a member of the COI, was contrary to army regulations.

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