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At a briefing, the department’s Deputy Spokesman Robert A. Wood confirmed earlier reports that Pakistan had denied visa to hundreds of US officials and citizens.

“Well, it is true. Hundreds of visa applications and renewals for US officials and contractors are awaiting issuance by the Pakistani government. The cause of the delays is unclear. But we are working with our Pakistani counterparts to try to resolve these issues. And we’re working very hard,” he said.

“In terms of what kind of an impact it may have, I would suspect, if this continues, it will indeed have an impact on our ability to do the work that we want to do to help the Pakistani people, in terms of fighting terrorism; in terms of economic development, and a whole range of issues.”

In an unusually harsh expression of public indignation from an official platform, the official said while the US administration was trying to work these issues with the government of Pakistan, “but indeed there are cases that are — that we’re concerned about”.

Asked if it’s a deliberate campaign to harass US officials and US operations in Pakistan, Mr Wood said: “I don’t think I can call it a deliberate campaign” but “certainly, if any of our officials feel that they are being harassed, there are appropriate channels to go through in order to file complaints about that sort of thing”.

Yet, he said, he would not “make a general comment that there’s an official harassment campaign”.

Explaining how the US administration was trying to resolve this dispute with a country it regards as a key ally in the war against terror, Mr Wood said: “We have raised these issues with Pakistani officials at very senior levels. And we’ve expressed our concern about the delays and the impact that this could very well have on our programmes and activities.”

The Pakistani authorities, he said, were well aware of America’s concerns. “I can’t give you any reason why they’re being delayed. But these issues are important.”

He said that while only Pakistanis could explain why they were doing so, for the Americans it was a big concern and they had raised it at very senior levels.

“We’re committed to trying to work with Pakistan to make sure that we can get these visas and get on with the business of what we’re trying to do in Pakistan.”

“In terms of raising it at senior levels, how far does this go back? Did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raise it on her recent trip?” he was asked.

“Let me just say this: We’ve raised it at very senior levels. I don’t really want to get more specific than that,” said Mr Wood.

Asked if the delay was already having an impact on US-Pakistan relations, Mr Wood said: “It’s hard for me to characterise how — would I want to stand up here at the podium and say it’s having a real impact right now. I don’t — I can’t really say that. I just don’t know. But I think, should this continue, it indeed will have an impact.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court verdict on NRO will bring the 11-year-old SGS corruption reference against President Asif Zardari and late Benazir Bhutto to public glare once again, legal circles say.
In the reference, Ms Bhutto, Asif Zardari and their agent Jens Schlegelmilch were alleged to have received $60 million in kickbacks from SGS in exchange for the award of a pre-shipment inspection contract to the Swiss company in 1994.

The reference was filed in 1998 by the second government of Nawaz Sharif in the Lahore High Court and before a Swiss magistrate. The couple were convicted by the LHC in the case, but the decision was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2001 because of the partisanship of the sentencing judge.

In 2003, Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari were convicted of simple money laundering by a Geneva investigating judge who handed down a six-month suspended sentence. Ms Bhutto, who personally appeared in the Geneva court, filed an appeal against the magistrate’s decision, only to face more serious money laundering charges.

The case was pending in the Swiss court when then president Pervez Musharraf promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the government dropped the case in April 2008.

At that time, Swiss lawyers reportedly said the lack of a criminal prosecution against Mr Zardari in Pakistan and the government’s withdrawal as a civil party in the case had greatly weakened the chances of convicting Mr Zardari under the Swiss law.

Political and legal experts say it will be interesting to see if the Swiss authorities will be ready to reopen the case against Mr Zardari in the light of Wednesday’s Supreme Court judgment.

A spokesman for the prime minister said on Thursday that the government had “started consulting legal experts for the implementation” of the verdict, while President Asif Ali Zardari convened a meeting of PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) on Saturday to discuss the judgment’s fallout.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told journalists that President Zardari and MQM chief Altaf Hussain had discussed the political situation over phone.

The MQM chief and other senior members of his party were among the beneficiaries of the NRO.

The government gave a cautious response to the judgment, saying that it “respects” the verdict and was awaiting the detailed judgment.

The Minister of State for Law, Afzal Sindhu, told DawnNews that there was no imminent threat to the Presidency because under Article 41 of the Constitution a presidential election could not be challenged in any court.

Political experts believe that besides President Zardari, the situation has also brought Prime Minister Gilani under pressure.

The SC verdict had heightened pressure on Mr Gilani to remove the NRO-tainted ministers from his cabinet, they said.

The dilemma for the prime minister is that if he asks these ministers to quit, the pressure will shift to President Zardari, who is also his party’s co- chairman.

The prime minister has been striving for the past six months to cut the size of the cabinet and is likely to raise the issue in the CEC meeting.

Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, will attend a CEC meeting for the first time since the restoration of the deposed judges in March.

His membership was suspended by President Zardari because of his role in the judges’ movement in violation of the party policy. It was restored this month after a demand by some members in the last CEC meeting.

It will be interesting to see what advice Mr Ahsan gives to the party leadership. Sources told Dawn that the ‘dissidents’, though in minority, were set to criticise the policies of the government and the party.

In the CEC meeting held last month, some members who were close to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto but had been sidelined by the present leadership criticised party policies.

They called for action against those who had brought it to a position where no “genuine” leader was ready to defend the government and the PPP leadership.

Senator Dr Safdar Abbasi, MNA Nawab Yusuf Talpur and a member from Gujrat, Ghazanfar Gul, indirectly criticised President Zardari’s aides and called for bringing veteran party leaders and activists to the forefront.

They called for taking those to task who had “embarrassed” the party and the government on issues ranging from judges’ restoration to the NRO.

ISLAMABAD, Dec 17: After the Supreme Court verdict on the NRO, Defence Minister Ch Ahmed Mukhtar had to shelve his important China visit due to the inclusion of his name on the Exit Control List (ECL).
The defence minister was scheduled to go to China along with Naval chief Admiral Nauman Bashir to participate in a ceremony of taking over Frigate-22 from Chinese authorities. The visit had been finalised three months back but owing to the ECL restriction for the minister, the admiral had to leave without his political boss. He was seen off at the airport by China’s ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui.
According to reports, the protocol staff of the minister did reach the airport to confirm the latest situation and accordingly informed Mukhtar, who then decided against turning up at the airport.
Talking to The News, a visibly perturbed Ahmed Mukhtar said that it was unfortunate that the country’s defence minister was stopped from participating in a very important defence cooperation meeting with a critical ally at a time when the country was in need of friends.
He termed it unfortunate that despite the fact that he had already challenged the wrongful placement of his name on the NRO list in the court, he was stopped from carrying out his official responsibilities.
Responding to a question, he said that he was acquitted of the baseless corruption cases by a court of law and not under the NRO. “If I were an NRO beneficiary, how could I have challenged the wrongful inclusion of my name before the high court?”

WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s ambassador in USA Hussain Haqqani said there is no coup being hatched in Pakistan against President Asif Ali Zardari and his government.
Talking to journalist Wolf Blitzer on a US-based news channel by phone, he said he hoped there is no coup being cooked up in Pakistan, adding the past coups have turned out to be greatly detrimental to the country.

Everybody including Pakistan’s high military leadership have achieved consensus that the Army should focus on guarding the national borders and elected government should run the national affairs in accordance with the Constitution and the courts should deliver verdicts on criminal and constitutional matters in the light of law, he maintained.

Haqqani further said he hopes that everyone in Pakistan would function his own constitutional role and the country would not be set on the path to coup, as past coups have always proved disastrous for the country.

The lashkar comprising the local tribesmen narrowed the noose around the extremists in Upper Dir and took control of the Shotkas, sources said Monday.

There are reports that at least 13 extremists have been killed in gunship helicopters bombardment at the hideouts in Doogdarra.

According to sources, the lashkar comprising thousand of volunteers from the local tribes have taken in their cordon the 300 extremists.

The lashkar sealed the roads linking Swat to Upper Dir and now making advance towards other areas.

The number of extremists killed in the area rose to 29.

The locals rose in protest against the militants on the suicide attack at the Jamia Mosque in Upper Dir area of Hayagai Sharqi.

Both the sides are employing modern and heavy weapons.

By Kamran Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Villagers in northwest Pakistan have attacked Taliban militants killing seven of them in revenge for a bomb attack on a mosque that killed at least 40 people, a top government official and residents said on Sunday.

It was the latest in a series of instances of people turning their guns on the Taliban in recent weeks and trying to force them out of their areas and will encourage the Pakistani government which needs public support to defeat the militants.

Rehman said the village militia had cleared the Taliban out of three villages and had surrounded a group of militants.

“This is better than military action because they know their hideouts,” Rehman said. “The fighting is going on and hopefully the rest of the villages will be cleared in two or three days.”

Separately, police and intelligence officials said an Afghan Taliban commander Anwarul Haq Mujahid had been arrested in the northwestern city of Peshawar last week.

Pakistan rejects U.S. and Afghan complaints that Afghan Taliban operate on the Pakistani side of the border but say some Afghan Taliban do slip through.

Pakistani and Afghan Taliban area allied although Afghan Taliban tend to oppose fighting Pakistani security forces, saying all factions should concentrate on expelling foreign forces from Afghanistan.

The United States, which needs sustained Pakistani action to help defeat al Qaeda and cut off militant support for the insurgency in Afghanistan, will also be heartened by the move.

The Pakistani military has been battling Taliban in the Swat valley, northwest of the capital, for more than a month after the militants took advantage of a peace pact to gain new ground.

The army offensive has broad public support even though many in Pakistan are ambivalent about the Taliban and are wary of the government’s close alliance with the United States.

Taliban militants have also launched a string of bomb attacks in response to the military offensive and are suspected of being behind a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in the Upper Dir region, near Swat, that killed about 40 people on Friday.

After the blast, enraged villagers formed a militia, known as a lashkar, of about 500 men to expel the militants from the area, said the top government official in the region.

“They are standing up against the militants themselves as they consider them troublemakers,” the government administrator, Atif-ur-Rehman, told Reuters by telephone.

Alarmed by the prospect of nuclear-armed Pakistan drifting into chaos, the United States had criticised a February peace pact with the Taliban in the former tourist valley of Swat as tantamount to abdicating to the militants.

“THEY HAVE TO GO”

One resident of Upper Dir said the militia had demolished houses where Taliban were known to stay.

“We are Muslims, we pray regularly and read the Koran. We don’t want them, they have to go,” resident Samiullah Khan said by telephone. “Attacking a mosque is not Islam. They’re not Muslim.”

Ethnic Pashtun tribal elder Mohtabar Khan said letting the Taliban stay was asking for trouble.

“It means inviting a military offensive which we don’t want. We know how to defend our land,” Khan said.

The military says it has snuffed out “organised resistance” in Swat and would conduct operations on a “limited scale” to destroy militant hideouts and run their leaders to ground.

The military says more than 1,200 militants and about 100 soldiers have been killed since the army began the offensive. There has been no independent confirmation of the casualties.


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