Israel primed for strikes on Iran nuclear sites: daily

LONDON, April 18: Israel’s military is preparing so it could launch major aerial attacks on Iranian nuclear sites if ordered to by the new government, a British newspaper said Saturday, quoting Israeli defence and intelligence sources.

An unnamed senior defence official told The Times: “They are making preparations on every level for this eventuality. The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words.”

Israel, widely considered to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear armed power, suspects the Islamic Republic of using the programme to develop atomic weapons, a charge that Tehran has repeatedly denied.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took power on April 1 at the helm of a right-wing government, has repeatedly made clear that his priority is confronting Iran.

In his inaugural address, Netanyahu said the biggest threat Israel faced was the possibility of “a radical regime armed with nuclear weapons” — an apparent reference to Iran.

Israeli officials quoted by The Times said more than a dozen targets could be envisaged, including Tehran’s main nuclear sites at Natanz, Isfahan and Arak.

“We would not make the threat without the force to back it,” an official from Israel’s intelligence community said. “There has been a recent move, a number of on-the-ground preparations, that indicate Israel’s willingness to act,” the official said. He added it was unlikely Israel would strike without at least tacit approval from the US.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Obama administration could drop a long-held US insistence that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment in the early stages of any negotiations on the issue.

One analyst, Ephraim Kam of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told The Times he thought it unlikely the US would approve an attack.—AFP


FBI agents to testify at Kasab’s trial

MUMBAI, April 18: More than 100 witnesses, including FBI agents, would testify at the trial of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, Indian prosecutors said on Saturday.

Five foreign experts would present evidence against Kasab, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told the court on the second day of the trial.

Kasab is accused of being one of 10 gunmen who killed 166 people, including several Americans, in a three-day rampage through the city that targeted a train station, two luxury hotels and a Jewish centre.

Nikam said the FBI had analysed four global positioning devices found on the dead gunmen after the attacks and these would be instrumental in proving the men had come from Pakistan.

On Friday Nikam had said that Kasab had a direct hand in the deaths of 72 people and was part of “a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan” which could not have been undertaken without training from “intelligence professionals”.

Kasab and his co-defendants — two Indians accused of helping plot the attack — have been charged with 12 criminal counts, including murder and waging war against India. If convicted, all could face death by hanging.

“FBI investigators have played a vital role in disclosing the truth in this case… and exposing the nexus between (Kasab) and the deceased accused,” said Nikam.

He said in his opening remarks that the FBI and other specialists had discovered a number of clues that strengthened the prosecution case.

They include:

— A fingerprint from Kasab’s left hand on a glass door of the MV Kuber, an Indian fishing vessel the gunmen allegedly hijacked to take them to Mumbai from Karachi.

— DNA on a number of items found on board that exactly matched that of Kasab and his fellow attackers.

— A diary written in Urdu detailing all the gunmen’s names and what arms and ammunition they had been given.

The FBI examined the inflatable speedboat that took the gunmen from the fishing vessel to the Mumbai shoreline and found that the Japanese-manufactured engine had been shipped to Pakistan, Nikam said.

Five Nokia mobile phone handsets recovered from three locations after the attacks were found to have been made in China and shipped to Pakistan for sale, he said.

“This evidence can be relied upon. This is strong evidence,” even if Kasab now claims he was forced to sign a “confession” and had been tortured in police custody, he said.

Eyewitness testimony, CCTV footage and even press photographs would place Kasab at the scenes of the crimes, Nikam added.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.—Agencies

Obama urged not to interfere in Pakistan politics

WASHINGTON, April 18: The US administration should not interfere in the domestic politics of Afghanistan and Pakistan despite the temptation to do so, the Washington Post said on Saturday.

A senior Post columnist Jim Hoagland noted that one of US President Barack Obama’s senior analysts had been telling think-tanks that “President Asif Ali Zardari should step aside and let Nawaz Sharif, his chief rival, take power”.

Mr Hoagland also noted that “muttering about ditching Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai was rampant at the White House” while the administration was reviewing its policies for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the writer advises Mr Obama to resist such temptations and not to “play power chess on a global scale, bypassing or replacing national leaders who balk at grand US designs”. The journalist warns that such intervention would be particularly disastrous for Pakistan as it “would open Pandora’s box for the rest of your presidency — especially since Mr Sharif seems no more capable or honest than Mr Zardari.”

He urges President Obama not to emulate John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in South Vietnam, or Jimmy Carter in Iran. “Micromanaging leadership changes abroad becomes all-consuming,” he adds. “So be economical with your personal investment in volatile situations. You have a capable secretary of state in Hillary Clinton. Give her more of the spotlight and the authority.”

The comments followed newspaper reports that Admiral Mike Mullen and Richard Holbrooke met Mr Sharif last week and assured him that he would be acceptable to the US as a future president or prime minister.

Swat deal to remain intact if peace lasts, says Gilani

KARACHI, April 18: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Saturday that Pakistan would coordinate with the United States its policy to combat terrorism during talks in Washington next month.

The prime minister told a press conference here, after chairing a meeting of the Sindh cabinet, that it was wrong to think that Pakistan did not have a policy on the war on terror. “Our policy is ready and President Asif Ali Zardari, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the ISI chief will share it with the US administration.”

In reply to a question about the acrimony between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party following the Swat accord, the prime minister said the two parties had different agenda, but it was his government’s endeavour to defuse the tension.

He said the Swat deal was linked to restoration of peace in the valley. “The agreement will remain intact if peace endures,” he said, adding that the president had signed the Nizam-i-Adl regulation only after 80 per cent peace was restored to Swat.

He said the new accord was an improved version of the agreements signed in 1994 and 1999.

He said the government’s reconciliation efforts would strengthen the country’s economy and its institutions and urged political forces to show maturity because the people had voted for a change.

Mr Gilani said Pakistan wanted good relations with neighbouring countries, including Iran, Afghanistan and India.

However, he admitted that the composite dialogue with India had been affected after the Mumbai attacks, but added that efforts were being made to revive the dialogue.

In reply to a question about Sindh government’s demand for announcing the NFC Award before the budget and resolving the issue of GST, Prime Minister Gilani said he would discuss the matter with his Finance Adviser Shaukat Tarin.

The Sindh government has said that GST is provincial matter and it should be distributed on the basis of collection or else the provincial governments should be allowed to collect the tax at their own level. It also sough reimbursement of Rs11.374 billion accumulated since 2000 and resolution of the GST issue on services (Central Excise Mode).

The Sindh Sales Tax Ordinance 2000 empowers the federal government to collect the GST on services on behalf of the province. However, proceeds of the tax are being transferred on the basis of population, resulting in transfer of proceeds collected from one province to another.

According to sources, the ordinance did not empower the federal government to transfer proceeds collected from Sindh to other provinces.

Earlier speaking at the Sindh cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Gilani said the federal government would support infrastructure and social sector development projects in Sindh.

Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan, Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, federal Food Minister Nazar Mohammad Gondal, provincial ministers, advisers and special assistance to the chief minister attended the meeting.

According to sources, the prime minister said his government was working to restore the 1973 Constitution and implement the Charter of Democracy singed by the PPP and the PML-N.

He said the country’s economy was showing a positive trend because of measures taken by the government.

About the unannounced loadshedding by the KESC, he said the issue would be resolved soon and the people of Karachi would get rid of the loadshedding with the help of better management and improved efficiency.

The prime minister expressed satisfaction over the law and order situation in Sindh.

The chief minister briefed the prime minister about law and order, development schemes and other matters.

Criticism of Nizam-i-Adl unjustified: Asfandyar

KARACHI, April 18: The criticism of the recently-concluded agreement in Swat and the enforcement of the Nizam-i-Adl regulation is unjustified, Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan said on Saturday.

Addressing a joint press conference with NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti at the residence of Sindh ANP chief Shahi Syed, Mr Khan said the law was in force in Malakand since 1994, when it was signed by then prime minister Benazir Bhutto and chief minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.

According to him, all stakeholders were taken into confidence on the Swat accord, which had also been approved by the National Assembly.

“My prime interest is Pakistan. We are protecting national interests. In 1998, the ’94 agreement was re-endorsed by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. At that time, Sardar Mehtab Khan Abbasi was NWFP’s chief minister.

“Iqbal Haider, who was federal law minister in 1994, supported the agreement at that time. Surprisingly, he is now opposing it,” said the ANP president.

He said under the Nizam-i-Adl agreement, the Mingora bench of the Peshawar High Court and its appellate bench are required to decide cases in a certain time limit.

The Peshawar High Court also has benches in Abbotabad and Dera Ismail Khan.

Mr Asfandyar said that the NWFP government would appoint the head of Qazi courts in consultation with the high court.

Mr Asfandyar said that Karachi belonged to all nationalities — “Urdu-speaking, Sindhis, Pukhtuns, Baloch, Punjabis. Ninety per cent of population of Karachi is from outside. We believe in peace in Karachi. In Karachi, Pukhtuns are driving rickshaws and working as night watchmen, jobs others don’t do”.

“We oppose a clash of interest and strongly believe in peaceful co-existence by tolerating each other in Karachi. We will never allow peace to be disturbed in Karachi.”—PPI

Zardari links financial crisis to terrorism

“China’s stimulus package has already shown results, the economy has seen positive changes and the situation is better than expected,” Mr Wen said at the opening of the Boao Forum.

He said that progress had been made in several key economic indicators despite the onset of the financial crisis.

“Investment growth has accelerated, consumption has increased quite rapidly and domestic demand continues to rise,” Mr Wen said in the keynote speech.

His comments came two days after China posted growth of 6.1 per cent in the first quarter of the year, the slowest in at least a decade.

Despite his upbeat assessment, Mr Wen said there were still challenges ahead and that “China’s economic and social development faced big difficulties”.

“The main ones are: external demand continues to shrink, there has been a large drop in exports… there is overcapacity in some industries, the pick-up in industrial growth is sluggish, economic efficiency continues to drop.”

He added that fiscal revenue was slowing and that the employment situation was still serious.

The Chinese premier pointed to a 28.6 per cent rise in urban fixed asset investments in the first quarter as an example of this, while calling for closer cooperation between Asian nations and warning against protectionism.

“To counter the financial crisis effectively, Asian countries should each run their own affairs well but also step up cooperation… and make Asia a key engine in reigniting world economic growth,” he said.

The Boao Forum has been an annual event since 2001, bringing together leaders in government, business and academia in Asia and other continents to discuss pressing issues in the region and the rest of the world. Reportedly modeled on the World Economic Forum in Davos, former US president George W. Bush will also be attending this year’s three-day meeting.–Agencies

Former President Musharraf leaves for Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Former President, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf left for Saudi Arabia in a special plane provided by the King of Saudi Arabia, Shah Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz for his performing ‘Umra’.

Before boarding the plane, talking to newsmen at the airport, Pervez Musharraf said that the country was in great danger and advised all to shun looking into the past instead urged upon the nation, especially the media to focus on the current myriad challenges haunting Pakistan.

Bomber eliminates 21 troops in attack on Hangu post

KOHAT, April 18: The country’s security apparatus suffered a devastating blow on Saturday when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a military checkpost in Hangu, eliminating 21 soldiers.

Seven policemen, 10 security personnel and nine civilians were injured in the blast.

“A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into our check-post close to a police station in Doaba,” a security official said. “We suffered the most casualties.”

Some officials said the bomber had rammed his vehicle into a Thall-bound military convoy in Doaba, on Hangu-Parachinar highway. They said 11 vehicles, which were part of the convoy, had been destroyed in the attack, which happened not far from the army camp. The military, however, denied its convoy had been hit.

Eyewitnesses said security forces cordoned off the area and blocked the Kohat-Parachinar highway at Doaba and nobody was allowed to go near the scene of the explosion.

The army called its own bomb disposal squad from Thall Garrison.

The check-post was located on the Hangu-Parachinar road, which remained closed for more than a year when militants blocked the artery to stop food and fuel supplies from reaching Parachinar, the Kurram Agency’s headquarters.

In another incident earlier on Saturday morning, one person was killed and three were injured in a blast in Malikabad area of Hangu bazaar.

The SHO of Doaba police station, Ammal Khan, and constable Asal Murad, who were sitting in a mobile van close to the army camp, were injured.

Police said the bomber had used 100kg of explosives. They blamed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan for the strike, but the banned militant outfit did not claim responsibility for the bombing.

The dead and the seriously injured were taken to the civil hospital in Hangu and the Combined Military Hospital in Thall, a police spokesman for the Kohat region said.

Preliminary reports suggested that the suicide bomber had come to the area on Friday and took up residence in Hangu. “It was in the knowledge of the terrorists that a convoy would pass through the camp on Saturday afternoon,” a local said.

Hangu has seen bloodletting bred by sectarianism over the past two years. A total of 48 people had died in sectarian clashes during Muharram last year.

The military had carried out a major clean-up operation in Doaba in August last year to flush out militants who had infiltrated from nearby Kurram and Orakzai regions.

Helicopter gunships have been attacking suspected militant hideouts in Orakzai during the last couple of weeks.

Agencies add: “Most of the casualties are security forces and some policemen have also been killed,” a security official said.

“The bomber was driving a pick-up truck which he rammed into a convoy passing by a security checkpost,” senior police officer Fareed Khan said in Kohat.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who is in China attending an international economic conference, “condemned the attack and vowed to root out terrorism and extremism from the country”, the presidency said in a statement.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “strongly condemned” the incident, describing the suicide attack as “a cowardly act of terrorism”, his office said in a statement.

Army, Govt. will have to finalize a joint strategy against terrorism: Musharraf

ISLAMABAD: Former President Pervez Musharraf has said that Pakistan army and the government would have to finalize a joint strategy for combating terrorism.

Prior to his departure for Saudi Arabia for ‘Umra’, he told newsmen that the people should get inexpensive and instant justice. He advised evolving indigenous strategy for combating terrorism. He said if the Swat peace agreement was only for peace, then it was welcoming, but if this agreement was against the writ of the government, then it not right.

When quizzed on Lal Masjid incident, Pervez Musharraf said that no child or woman was killed and insisted that not more than 94 persons were killed, while all of them were terrorists and re0-iterated no child or woman was included.

He earnestly urged ending the evils of lies and hypocrisy in the country and said, “We should focus on the dangers facing Pakistan.”

Three dead in suspected US missile strike in SWAT

WANA: At least three persons were killed in a suspected US missile strike in South Waziristan agency.

Sources said that US drone fired two missiles on a house at Gangikhel are aof South Waziristan, which killed at least three persons.

According to a foreign news agency three persons were killed in the incident, while the drones still hovering over the skies of South Waziristan, unleashing fears in the area.