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Islamic World News ( 23 Dec 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Saudi Casualties Climb In Border War With Rebels

Kingdom gives ultimatum to Yemeni intruders

300-year-old gold-leaf Quran to be displayed at museum

Stoning law reignites Indonesia's sharia debate

Bomb targeting historic church in Iraq kills 2

30 delegates to attend Intl. congress on hijab in Iran

Muslims part of US social fabric

National consensus needed for Muslim reservation: Indian PM tells MPs

Muslims slam UK pledge to reform war crimes law

Jharkhand assembly election returns 5 Muslim MLAs

Jeddah lashed by more rains

Swiss envoy claims Minaret ban not rejection of Muslim community

Israel to demolish 8 homes, mosque in East Jerusalem

Israel ‘ready’ for Gaza’s prisoner swap deal

Terrorist attack feared after Jackson arrest

Ghalib haveli party: Govt files FIR

Pakistan makes into top10 crises-hit countries

KOHAT: 18 militants killed in Orakzai Agency

ISLAMABAD: leader of the lawyers unhappy over SC verdict on NRO

Balochistan becomes target in war against Taliban

Christmas Preparations Remain Peaceful in Pakistan

Pakistan court orders a nose for a nose

ISLAMABAD: Graft amnesty deal was a mistake, rues Musharraf

Osama Bin Laden Children Under House Arrest in Iran, Al-Awsat Says

Police, protesters clash in southern Iran

Iraqi police: Gunmen storm checkpoint, kill 4

Isfahan: police and protesters clash, at least 50 arrested

Iran fires opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from state-funded post

Iran nuclear trigger report fabricated: Ahmadinejad

Karzai to keep half his Cabinet

The West’s writ in Afghanistan

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

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Saudi Casualties Climb In Border War With Rebels

Dec 23, 2009

Saudi officials say at least 73 soldiers have been killed in fighting against rebels along its border with Yemen.

Assistant Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan said on state television there were, as he described them, "73 martyrs and 26 missing" since the conflict began in November.

Saudi Arabia launched its assault against Yemen's Shiite Muslim rebels, known as Houthis, last month after the insurgents staged a cross-border incursion that killed two Saudi border guards.

Rebel leaders dispute the Saudi's assessment that the war is nearly over and accused the Saudi air force of attacking civilian targets.

Analysts worry that a prolonged war might complicate efforts to prevent al-Qaeda militants based in Yemen from infiltrating into the country.

Stability in the Gulf state is of global concern because the kingdom controls more than one fifth of the world's crude oil reserves and is a major holder of U.S. assets.


Kingdom gives ultimatum to Yemeni intruders

Muhammad Humaidan

December 23, 2009

AL-KHOBA/JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has given Yemeni infiltrators still hiding in the southern border village of Jabiriya 24 hours to vacate the area or face death. “They have 24 hours to surrender, or we will destroy them,” Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant minister of defense and aviation, warned Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters in this border town, Prince Khaled said 73 Saudi soldiers have been killed, 470 wounded and 26 missing since fighting broke out in November between Saudi forces and Yemeni infiltrators. “We believe that 12 (of the missing soldiers) were killed, while we do not know about the fate of the remaining 14,” the minister said.

He said the number of wounded had reached 470, adding that the majority of them had been treated and had left hospital, while 60 still remained in hospitals. He said the enemies had suffered heavy losses during the military operation.

This is the first time the Kingdom has given a death toll for the fighting between Saudi forces and Yemeni intruders, which began more than a month and a half ago. On Nov. 3, rebels killed a Saudi border guard and occupied two villages inside Saudi territory.

The following day, Saudi military jets began bombing enemy positions. Prince Khaled said that the main operation is now over. “The southern border is now under the complete control of Saudi forces.”

Informed sources told Arab News that the southern border area was calm on Tuesday.

Prince Khaled said Saudi forces would remain in the area until the last of the intruders are expelled.

“What we are doing now is bringing things to normal. We have also made arrangements to prevent infiltration and other crimes,” the minister told reporters.

He indicated that the infiltrators were backed by foreign parties. “It seems that their allegiance is not to their country.”

He praised Saudi forces for their bravery and their efforts in driving away the intruders.


300-year-old gold-leaf Quran to be displayed at museum

2009-12-23 12:00:00

A 300-year-old ancestral 'Golden Quran', with its pages in the shape of gold leaves, the most prized possession of a Muslim family, may soon become the centrepiece of a national museum. But the family is not complaining about 'losing' the valuable document.

The Congress MP, who is scheduled to arrive here later Monday by a chartered plane, will go straight to Ghisauli village, barely 10 km from this city in the backward Bundelkhand region, the sources said.

Expressing their happiness, Sajid Hamid, 55, the eldest in the family living in Jaunpur district, some 250 km from here, told IANS on telephone: ''I take pride and feel privileged as our ancestral Quran has been identified as a valuable manuscript and may get a place in a national museum.''

'Recently, officials of the National Mission for Manuscripts set up by the union tourism and culture ministry and district authorities, visited my home and told me that my 'Sunheri (golden) Quran' has a unique heritage value and that it could be acquired to enrich the manuscript wealth of the country,'' he added.

The main attraction of the Quran is its pages that are in the form of gold leaves. The holy scripture's cover and back cover are also made of gold and the intricate designs embossed on them are one of the major attractions of the book.

According to the family, the 'Sunheri Quran' has been with them for the last five generations.

'My father used to tell me that the Quran was prepared by a group of artists, who worked mostly for rich people or those belonging to royal families as they used to charge a hefty amount for their work,'' said Hamid, a resident of the Ruhatta colony in Jaunpur who teaches at a school there.

'My ancestors got this Quran prepared after one of their wishes came true. Though they did not have enough money, they decided to get it prepared by mortgaging several valuables, which I believe were later permanently acquired by the moneylenders when the ancestors could not pay back the loans,'' he added.

The 'Sunheri Quran' has become a centre of attraction for the people in not only the Ruhatta colony but across Jaunpur and its adjoining districts. Though Hamid permits everyone to see the Quran, he doesn't allow anyone, including the family members, to touch it.

'It's not that I don't want people to touch the holy scripture...The Quran is an ancient one and even a slight carelessness can damage it. As I don't want to take any chances, I don't allow anyone to read or touch it,'' he said.

Hamid's neighbours don't feel bad about it. 'We know the significance and importance the 300-year-old Quran holds for Hamid. We want that the Quran should get a place in a museum and become a national pride,'' Abdul Ateeq, owner of a mobile phone shop in Ruhatta, told IANS.

Ahmad Raza, another local, said, 'Specially during religious festivals, Muslims of the locality line up outside Hamid's residence to get a view of the holy Quran.''

India has a Muslim population of about 155 million, the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan.


Stoning law reignites Indonesia's sharia debate

December 23, 2009

Presenter: Katie Hamann

Lawmakers in the Indonesian province of Aceh recently passed a law which would allow for the stoning to death of adulterers. Supporters of the law say it is unlikely that it will ever be applied, but it is necessary as a deterrent to would be adulterers.

Speakers: Moharriadi Syafari, Prosperous Justice Party member; Eva Zain, director, Aceh Human Rights NGO Coalition, Muslim Ibrahim, head of the Aceh Ulema's Council

HAMANN: A call to prayer soars above Banda Aceh's majestic grand mosque. Islam's journey into south-east Asia began here eight centuries ago. And its here today that the forces of conservative Islam seek the establishment of full sharia law. In September Aceh's outgoing lawmakers used their final days in office to force through a bill allowing the stoning to death of Muslim adulterers. Prosperous Justice Party member Moharriadi Syafari was one of the laws key sponsors. He says implementing Sharia is the will of the people.

SYAFARI: [TRANSLATION] I don't expect people in the West to understand this. This is the character of Acehnese people and also what we believe in Islam. We also do not understand why in America there is death by injection and in China execution by shooting. This is our belief. That when we implement our religion we will get blessings and our security will be guaranteed.

HAMANN: Do you think injecting people is cruel?

SYAFARI: [TRANS] Yes, it is cruel because that's not what is ordered by God.

HAMANN: But Eva Zain, director of the Aceh Human Rights NGO Coalition says, extreme interpretations of Islam are not compatible with Aceh's culture.

ZAIN: Creating of the law is the conservative parliament. I think they have been going to several states in the world, not for learning, only for shopping. And they still thinking [sic] Aceh is living in the stone age. They are creating a regulation with what they thought, not what is the context today, what is the philosophy, what is the psychology, that people in Aceh needed.

HAMANN: When you say they go shopping, what do you mean? What other countries, where do they go?

ZAIN: To Kelantan, Malaysia, to the Arab [sic] for example. they are taking that and bringing it to Aceh. Aceh is not Arab, Aceh is not Kelantan. Aceh is not an Islamic country. Aceh is Indonesia.

HAMANN: Aceh's governor Irwandi Jusuf has openly opposed the regulation, but it passed into law in October without his signature. Objections have also been raised in the capital, Jakarta, where the central government has called for a review of the law. Proponents concede it is unlikely that an adulterer will ever be stoned to death in Aceh. But they say the code is necessary to prevent people from violating their marriage vows. Muslim Ibrahim is the head of the Aceh Ulema's Council. He says the requirement of four witnesses to acts of adultry will mean convictions are almost impossible. And he acknowleges the punishment is cruel.

IBRAHIM: [TRANSLATION] This is a way for us to return to our religion and we are in the process of forming our society. Right now if we are not overshadowed by the law, we will take things for granted. Yes, I think it is cruel, but the cruelty must be understood so that it is scary. If it is scary people will not commit the crime.

HAMANN: The law has exposed divisions within the Acehnese community. Civil society groups say they are determined to fight it. But many see it as part of their commitment to Islam. Ade is married with two children. She says she supports the law, because it comes from the time of the prophet. 38-year old Anwar is less certain.

ANWAR: [TRANSLATION] Well in Islam that's the rule: when someone commits adultery then he or she deserves stoning. But if we talk about Aceh and Indonesia, I don't really know what it should be. I suppose at the end we will support it.

HAMANN: 28-year-old Romi has a different concern. He says people with connections to the government have already escaped punishment by caning.

ROMI: [TRANSLATION] I don't agree with it. We live in the modern era. There are other alternatives. As a Muslim adultery is forbidden. But I am afraid that this punishment will not be implemented properly, that it will only be applied to ordinary people.

HAMANN: Eva Zain says Acehenese are afraid to voice their opposition and lawmakers and Ulemas are manipulating Islam for their own political agendas.

ZAIN: In Aceh we have been facing too much pressure already. We are just transitioning from the conflicts [of the] past and the tsunami. Because of that we are confused, when the regulation is creating more wars, we don't know how to speak out because if we do not agree with the Sharia Islam, they are blaming us as a Kaffir. But the Islam that I understand, that people understand, gives blessings to the people.


Bomb targeting historic church in Iraq kills 2

By Hamed Ahmed (AP)

Dec 23, 2009

BAGHDAD — A bomb targeting a church in northern Iraq killed two men and damaged the historic building Wednesday, a day before Christmas Eve services that will be heavily guarded for fear of more attacks on the country's Christian minority.

The bomb in the city of Mosul was hidden under sacks of baking flour in a handcart left 15 yards (meters) from the Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas, a police officer said.

The officer said the two men killed were Muslims and that five other people were injured. A hospital official confirmed the casualties.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to news media.

"Instead of performing Christmas Mass in this church, we will be busy removing rubble and debris," Hazim Ragheed, a priest at the church, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The blast damaged the wooden doors, windows, some furniture and one of the walls of the church, which is more than 1,200 years old, Ragheed said. Services will be moved out of the church, but Ragheed did not say where they would be held.

"We demand that the government put an end to these repeated attacks," Ragheed said.

The blast occurred in an area where streets have been closed to cars and trucks to protect Mosul's dwindling Christian population.

Iraqi defense officials warned earlier in the week that intelligence reports pointed to attacks during Christmas, leading the government to step up security near churches and Christian neighborhoods.

Most of the increased security will be in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.

Christians have frequently been targeted since turmoil swept the country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, although the attacks have ebbed with an overall drop in violence. Still, tens of thousands of Christians have fled; many who stayed were isolated in neighborhoods protected by barricades and checkpoints.

A coordinated bombing campaign in 2004 targeted churches in the Iraqi capital and anti-Christian violence also flared in September 2007 after Pope Benedict XVI made comments perceived to be against Islam.

Churches, priests and businesses have been attacked by militants who denounce Christians as pro-American "crusaders." Paulos Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found dead in March 2008 after being abducted by gunmen after a Mass.

Also Wednesday, Iraqi forces increased security around the Shiite religious observance of Ashoura, which coincides with Christmas.

Insurgents have routinely targeted pilgrims on their way to the southern holy city of Karbala during Ashoura, which marks the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein.

More than 25,000 Iraqi police and soldiers have been assigned to protect pilgrims, said Karbala police Capt. Alaa Abbas Jaafar, a media spokesman.

Elsewhere, gunmen stormed a checkpoint Wednesday in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, killing four Iraqi police officers, two police officials said.

A bomb planted on a minibus killed two people and injured five in a Shiite neighborhood in north Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. Another bomb in Fallujah targeted an Anbar University professor but missed and killed the man's brother, police said.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the information to media.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press


30 delegates to attend Intl. congress on hijab in Iran

December 23, 2009

KHORRAMABAD -- People from 30 countries from around the world have expressed interest in participating in the International Congress of Successful Muslim Women Who Wear Hijab, the director of the art and cultural center of Lorestan Province announced in Khorramabad on Tuesday.

Organized by the province’s culture and Islamic guidance department, with the cooperation of the art and culture center, the congress is being held to promote the culture of hijab and virtue, Leila Bigdelu said.

Muslim women from France, Romania, Lebanon, Tanzania, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Thailand, and China are among the participants of the event, Bigdelu added.

A website on Muslim women will also be launched during the one-day congress, she stated.

Khorramabad, the capital of the western province of Lorestan, is to host the congress on January 6, which is Iran’s National Hijab Day.

The early 20th century Iranian ruler Reza Shah banned all variations of the headscarf in 1935. He ordered the police to arrest women who wore the hijab and to remove their headscarves by force. This policy outraged pious Muslim women, so they gathered at the Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad wearing headscarves to protest against the hijab ban on January 6, 1936. That day is now observed as National Hijab Day in Iran.


Muslims part of US social fabric

By John L Esposito


The recent arrest of five young Northern Virginia men in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorist activities has precipitated dire warnings.

Some charge that there is now an emerging pattern which challenges long-held assumptions that European Muslims are more susceptible to radicalisation than better-assimilated Muslims in the US.

This charge clearly leads us in the wrong direction. While there must be zero tolerance for terrorists, it is important to remember that the American Muslim community is a valued and much needed partner in countering extremism.

Just as Muslim countries differ significantly from each other and in their relations with the US so too do Muslims in Europe and America differ markedly.

The majority of European Muslims have been labourers and blue collar workers, educationally and economically disadvantaged, and often socially marginalised. In contrast, the vast majority of American Muslims came to the US with an education and skills or acquired the degrees and abilities they needed to become more integrated.

American Muslims reject extremism

While some pockets of poverty exist in the US, unlike Europe, there are no "Muslim ghettos" in America. A 2007 Pew Research Center study found that most Muslim Americans are "decidedly American" in income, education and attitudes, rejecting extremism by larger margins than Muslim minorities in Europe.

Similarly, a 2009 Gallup report found that 70 per cent of American Muslims have a job compared with a national average of 64 per cent. Muslim men have one of the highest employment rates of religious groups; Muslim women are as likely as Catholic women to say that they work.

After Jews, Muslims are the most educated religious community in the US. Muslim women (unlike their Jewish counterparts) are as likely as their male counterparts to have a college degree or higher. Forty per cent of American Muslim women have a college degree as compared to 29 per cent of Americans overall.

American Muslims are as concerned about extremism and terrorism as other citizens. Their families and friends in "the old country" have been the primary victims of terrorist attacks. Like other Americans, Muslims were also victims; they too lost loved ones and friends in the 9/11 attacks.

Moreover, they have seen their religion, not just the terrorists, vilified and as a result those in the mainstream majority have been victims of profiling, discrimination and hate crimes.

Major civil liberties organisations have identified a host of serious abuses including racial profiling; overzealous and illegal arrests and detentions, surveillance, and wiretapping of Muslims, undercover infiltration of Muslim civic and religious organisations and trials using "secret evidence".

Yet, despite these extreme measures, as the FBI and Homeland Security have stressed, the majority of Muslims remain an integrated part of the American mosaic; many of their religious and community leaders and organisations work to fight extremism by co-operating and continuing to work with government agencies.

Families turn in suspects

It is important to stress that the families of the five men accused in Virginia were the ones who reported them to the authorities.

What about the four other cases reported in the media in the past year?

In addition to the Northern Virginia case, four previous arrests last year are cited: Najibullah Zazi, the Denver airport shuttle driver charged with testing explosives for an attack; Bryant N Vinas, an Hispanic American convert, who pleaded guilty to receiving training from al-Qaeda in Pakistan; David C. Headley, a suspect in the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai; and the Minnesota American Somali youths accused of joining an Islamist insurgency in Somalia.

Each of these cases is unconnected to other cases; each involves a very small number of radicalised individuals with no apparent connection to domestic al-Qaeda networks.

It is useful to remember that a leaked February 2005 FBI internal memo admitted that the FBI had not identified a single al-Qaeda sleeper cell in the US. Almost nine years since 9/11, no al-Qaeda related terrorist networks have been discovered in America.

Moreover, in a Muslim population estimated at 4-6 million, the number of arrests and convictions for terrorism has been very small. Of course, this does not detract from the ongoing need to remain vigilant and guard against potential domestic terrorist attacks.

Seeds of radicalisation

Home grown extremism must be aggressively contained by law enforcement agencies, but done without brush-stroking local Muslim communities that notify and co-operate with them. In addition, the conditions that contribute to radicalisation and recruitment must also be addressed.

Like other American ethnic and religious groups, many Muslims do identify with unjust or oppressive conditions in their ancestral land or with the plight of other Muslims globally in Bosnia, Kosovo, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Chechnya and China (Uighurs).

A critical distinction has to be made between those that are nationalist struggles and those that are terrorist, between those that constitute a direct threat to the US and those that do not. In recent years, Irish and Jewish Americans have supported and some even fought in wars in Northern Ireland and Israel. Few if any have been prosecuted.

We must also distinguish between what are seen as struggles against injustice versus acts of terrorism. Most American Muslims, like their fellow citizens, express opposition non-violently.

A very small minority, like some Somali American youths, may be attracted to fight against what they perceive as illegitimate, oppressive governments and their supporters: whether they are Ethiopian, American, British, Russian or Nato forces.

The primary target of the accused in all of these cases has not been the US; their focus has been international.

Not surprisingly, foreign struggles and the US' extended presence (now and possible permanent bases in the future) are exploited by jihadist ideology and jihadist Internet sites.

But as we have seen so far, the end product is not a well trained and equipped warrior with broad support at home but naive and misguided wanna-be jihadists.

John L Esposito is a professor of Religion and International Affairs, professor of Islamic Studies and founding director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

He is the editor-in-chief of the six-volume The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, and has written more than 35 books, including 'Who Speaks for Islam?', 'What a Billion Muslims Really Think', and 'The Future of Islam'.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


National consensus needed for Muslim reservation: Indian PM tells MPs

Dec 23, 2009

New Delhi Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday told a group of Muslim MPs, who met him with a demand for reservation for the community, that a broad national consensus was needed for a decision on the issue.

A 12-member delegation of Muslim MPs, led by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan, met Singh with a charter of demands which included early finalisation of the Waqf Bill,immediate implementation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations and early action on Haj reforms.

Interacting with the MPs, Singh assured that his government was committed to do its best to address the issues and concerns of Muslims.

Singh assured the members that he would take up the issue of setting up a separate Parliamentary Standing Committee on Minority Affairs with the Presiding Officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in consultation with the Parliamentary Affairs Minister.

While the Waqf Bill would be brought before Parliament in the ensuing Budget Session, the External Affairs Ministry would be requested to bring a comprehensive Cabinet note on Haj reforms within a month, Singh told the MPs.

"The Prime Minister heard and discussed various issues and assured to look at possible steps that can be taken," Minister of State for Railways E Ahamed, who was part of the delegation, said.

Besides Khan and Ahamed, members of the delegation comprised Mohsina Kidwai, Asaduddin Owaisi, Tariq Anwar, Maulana Mahmood Madani, Ejaz Ali, Ahmad Mazihabadi, Mohammad Shafi, Sabir Ali, Mohammad Adeed and Shafiqur Rahman Barq.

On the issue of increase in flow of credit to minorities, particularly Muslims and the proposal for introducing Islamic banking in the country, the prime minister indicated that he would hold discussions with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

On concerns over the Foreign Currency Regulation Act, Singh said two Group of Ministers have been set up for the proposed amendments to the Act and for the Equal Opportunity Commission.

The members had highlighted the problems faced by the minority institutions which face difficulties in getting the required sanctions and recognitions.

The regulatory mechanism for educational institutions should be simplified and the government should see that the recognition procedures to the institutions, particularly to the Muslim educational institutions are simplified, they said.

They also demanded release of a large number of terror suspect detainees who have been jailed for a very long time without proper trial.


Muslims slam UK pledge to reform war crimes law

Dec 23, 2009

Britain's flagship Muslim organization has attacked the government's pledge to reform a war crimes law used to try to arrest visiting Israeli dignitaries.

Britain's principle of universal jurisdiction allows UK judges to order the arrest of visiting politicians and military officers suspected of committing atrocities anywhere in the world.

But when such a warrant was issued for former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni this month, embarrassed British officials promised to reform the law.

The Muslim Council of Britain says it is disappointed that the government appears to have caved in to Israeli demands that the law be thrown out.

The group said Wednesday that the move was "manifestly partisan" and smacked of double standards.


Jharkhand assembly election returns 5 Muslim MLAs

23 December 2009

Ranchi: Jharkhand elections again produced a hung assembly with JMM and RJD emerging key player. Congress-JVM(P) alliance is turned out to be the largest alliance followed by BJP-JD (U) alliance.

This result bring the tally of Muslim MLA in assembly to 5 which is a huge improvement from 2 Muslim MLAs in the last assembly. Improved representation of Muslims is due to multi-corner contest in most of the seats. Out of 5 MLAs, two each won on Indian National Congress tickets and Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and one was Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) candidate.

In Gandey, Sarfraz Ahmad of Indian National Congress defeated Salkhan Soren of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha by margin of 8000 votes. Salkhan Soren name was proposed by JMM as compromise Chief Ministrial candidate before President’s rule was imposed in January 2009.

Aquil Akhtar of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha became victorious defeating senior Congress leader Alamghir Alam in Pakhur. Alamghir Alam was Speaker of Jharkhand Assembly Speaker.

In Dhanbad, the Coal Capital of India, Congress president of Dhanbad district unit Mannan Mallick defeated Raj Kumar Sinha of BJP.

In Dhanwar, Nizamuddin Ansari of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) defeated Raj Kumar Yadav of CPI-ML by margin of around 5000 votes. Ansari, a mass leader who contested last election on JMM ticket before joining JVM (P) in November 2009

Hussain Ansari, a seasoned politician, earlier had won from the seat in 2000 and 1995 sealed victory in Madhupur. In a multico rner fight, Ansari contesting on JMM ticket defeated Shiv Dutt Sharma of JVM (P) by margin of more then 20,000 votes.

Among Muslim runner ups, in Rajmahal seat Md Tajuddin of JMM lost to Arun Mandal of BJP by margin of 10,403 votes.

In Jamtara, Furkan Ansari of Congress lost to Ishnu Prasad Bhaiya of JMM by 13,000 votes

Ramgarh sent Chandra Prakash Choudhary of All Jharkhand Student Union defeating Shahzada Anwar of Congress.

In Tundi, Saba Ahmad of JVM(P) lost to Mathura Prasad Mahato of JMM by margin of less than 900 votes.

In the industrial town of Bokaro, Md. Izrail Ansari of Congress lost to former minister Samresh Singh of JVM (P).

Jharkhand has 13.84% Muslim population.




Muslim Winners

Votes poled by





Indian National Congress

Sarfraz Ahmad




Jharkhand Mukti Morcha

Aquil Akhtar




Indian National Congress

Mannan Mallick




Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik)

Nizamuddin Ansari




Jharkhand Mukti Morcha

Hussain Ansari



Jeddah lashed by more rains

December 23, 2009

Muhammad Humaidan & Marriam Mossalli

SLOW TREK: Motorists plow through a waterlogged road after showers in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AN photo by Salman Marzouki)      

JEDDAH: Rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, lashed Jeddah for the second time in nearly four weeks as the authorities and residents took precautions to avoid another flood-related tragedy like the one that hit the city on Nov. 25.

With the cloudburst drenching various parts of the city, certain areas were waterlogged and motorists rushed to reach the safety of their homes.

In the process, the wet, slippery roads and the logjam at various traffic points led to a lengthy wait for many in the rain. The heavy showers, which came down for half an hour, eased up and so did the anxiety level of the residents. Traffic soon returned to normalcy as people braced themselves for more rains as predicted by the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment.

As a precautionary measure, most residents living to the east of the Haramain Expressway had left their homes on Tuesday. Arab News toured Quwaiza and Jamia districts, the worst-hit areas during the Nov. 25 floods, and found that things were normal at the time of going to press. Many residents in the area, however, said they would not be leaving their homes. “We don’t have any other place to go,” they said.

People in Ajwad and Al-Samir neighborhoods contacted the Civil Defense to ask about evacuating their homes. But an official said they had no plan to evacuate residents of those districts for the moment. “We’ll do it if necessary,” he said.

Jeddah residents became anxious early in the day as threatening dark clouds hovered over the city. Everyone from the Civil Defense to schools and universities began taking precautionary steps.

Most universities, including the King Abdulaziz University (KAU), issued emergency advisories to their students and faculty to evacuate campuses before the official end of the school day in anticipation of rain. Dar El Hekma was the first to cancel afternoon classes, instructing students to leave early. Effat University soon followed, advising students to leave as soon as possible to avoid heavy traffic.

“This was a voluntary evacuation that was carried out only as a precaution,” said KAU’s Head of Security and Safety Dr. Abdul Kadr Tankar. He added that all extracurricular activities that were scheduled for after-school hours were canceled. KAU also stopped evening classes and preparatory courses for its part time students following the Met. office warning of more rains.

“We have informed students about this precautionary measure,” said Tankar. He said no students would be allowed to enter the campus after 5 p.m. Currently more than 6,000 students attend preparatory courses in the evening. “We have also taken measures to prevent flood water from entering the compound.”

Dr. Sami Badawood, director of Health Department in Jeddah, said all hospitals and health facilities in the city have been instructed to be ready to receive patients in the event of rains.

Many near the Musk Lake, where residents feared the possibility of the dam bursting, contemplated fleeing to safer areas. Their concern intensified following a 15-minute blackout that affected areas to the east of the Haramain Expressway.

Residents started calling the Civil Defense to inquire about the condition of the lake and the possibility of it overflowing in case of rain. The Director of Civil Defense in Jeddah Brig. Abdullah Jeddawi said four teams were monitoring the water level at Musk Lake round-the-clock. Jeddawi noted that in the past three weeks, the water level at the lake has decreased from 15 to 9 meters.

He said 20 rescue teams have been deployed in areas, including valleys and areas where water pools had formed on account of last month’s rains and floods. He added that early-warning teams were stationed about 30 km to the east of Jeddah to warn residents to evacuate their homes in case of floods.


Swiss envoy claims Minaret ban not rejection of Muslim community

Dec 23, 2009

The Swiss Ambassador to the UK has claimed that the recent ban on building mosque minarets in his country does not represent rejection of the Muslim community living in Switzerland.  Responding to a protest letter despatched by the UK-based Association of Pakistani Lawyers (APL) on the recent referendum, Ambassador Alexis P. Lautenberg reaffirmed Swiss Government’s respect for the Muslim community in the country as well for the faith of Islam and for Muslims all over the world.

“The Swiss Government has never claimed that the ‘ban improves integration and helps fight terrorism. To the contrary the Swiss Government stresses on numerous occasions its position that such links between the ban of minarets and the fight against extremism did not exit. Both, Government and Parliament rejected the initiative and recommended the electorate to do the same. The Swiss people decided otherwise,” he stated in his letter to APL Chair Barrister Amjad Malik.

The Ambassador noted that vote concerns the construction of new minarets while the existing ones will not be affected nor will any of the already existing 150 mosques or prayers houses.

“Moreover, Muslims in Switzerland have the right to construct mosques, as well as religious or cultural centres. The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the ban on minarets is not a ban on religion. The free expression of religious beliefs remains guaranteed for all religions. Therefore, the Muslim community is under no circumstances,  denied the rights and facilities to practice their faith,” he said.

According to Ambassador Lautenberg, Switzerland is a globally-oriented, multicultural society which has the highest proportion of foreign nationals in Europe and, at 4%, the proportion of Muslims is higher than in the UK.

“The decision of the Swiss people is an expression of fears and uncertainties in a globalized world, in a world of economic crisis, outside pressure and large migration flows,” he further explained.

In its letter of December 9, APL expressed dismay over the ban on minarets in Switzerland and termed it as a blatant disregard shown to the sensitivities of 300,000 Muslims living in the landlocked country and two million British Muslims and millions others in Europe.

Malik also stated the UK Muslims as well as those in the western World are already subject to victimization via various heavy handed laws and at this junction ‘minaret ban’ will contribute to widen the gulf between two cultures and will alienate the mainstream Muslim community.


Israel to demolish 8 homes, mosque in East Jerusalem

Mohammed Mar'i

December 23, 2009

RAMALLAH: The Israeli authorities handed notification to a Palestinian family in East Jerusalem, warning that their eight houses and a mosque are to be demolished since they lack the required building permits, a Palestinian foundation said on Tuesday.

The Al-Maqdisi Foundation said in a statement that the Israeli authorities informed the Joma'ah family that its houses and a mosque in the Jabal Al-Mukaber neighborhood are slated for demolition within 10 days. The foundation said that 51 citizens, including 33 children, are living in the houses.

Mo'ath Al-Za'tari, the director of the foundation, said that the Israeli authorities told the Joma'ah family that their houses are close to the separation wall Israel erected in the area in 2004.

Al-Za'tari added, "The demolition orders are part of Israeli efforts to transfer the Palestinians from Jerusalem to Judaize it." He called on Arab and Islamic countries "to intervene to stop the Israeli massacres against the Palestinians in Jerusalem."

The policy of house demolitions and settlement building in East Jerusalem are being used by the Israeli authorities and Jewish-dominated Jerusalem municipality to increase Jewish presence and manipulate the composition of the population in order to gain more control over the city prior to final status talks with the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of their future state but Israel says the city is its eternal capital.

Palestinians say more than 2,000 houses in East Jerusalem have been demolished since its occupation by Israel in 1967, and several hundreds more are slated for demolition.

According to various estimates, Jerusalem has some 20,000 unauthorized buildings, home to around 180,000 people. The demolition of each house requires considerable legal efforts and a heavy police presence, amid fears that protests by residents and housing activists can escalate into riots.

The EU foreign ministers in early December urged Israel and the Palestinians to make Jerusalem their shared capital, prompting a swift, angry reaction from Israel.

On Monday, the Israeli Army issued an order banning the head of the northern branch of Islamic Movement inside Israel, Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, from entering Jerusalem for three weeks.

Salah is facing four indictments due to his participation in the Jerusalem clashes of 2007, which broke out in response to Israel's archaeological dig at the Al-Magharebah Gate near the Western Wall (Al-Buraq Wall).

He was arrested in 2003 and indicted on charges of contact with a foreign agent, for which he received a two-and-a-half year prison sentence. Over the years, Salah made numerous fiery comments to Arab news agencies regarding Israel's restriction on Muslims prayer at the holy site.


Israel ‘ready’ for Gaza’s prisoner swap deal

Amy Teibel

December 23, 2009

Israel would approve a proposed prisoner swap deal with Gaza’s Hamas rulers if they agree to the deportation of some Palestinian prisoners selected as part of a trade for a lone Israeli soldier, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.

Israel relayed its response to the proposed swap and handed over a list of Palestinians it wants exiled, Israeli radio stations and news websites said without naming the sources of their information.

A senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to release details of the talks, confirmed receipt of the Israeli answer.

The Hamas Government was scheduled to hold its weekly meeting later on Tuesday, and the deal was likely on the agenda. A whirlwind of activity at top levels of the Israeli Government had suggested a deal to swap 1,000 Palestinians for 23-year-old Sgt Gilad Schalit could be close.

Prisoner exchanges are controversial in Israel because of their potential to encourage militants to take more hostages. A deal perceived as favouring Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers would also seem to run counter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for an uncompromising war on Palestinian violence.

But many Israelis have taken the plight of Schalit to heart and fervently want him freed after 3 1/2 years of captivity, even if the price is high.

Should Israel agree to Hamas’ demands, the Islamic militants could receive a hefty boost in their rivalry with the Western-backed Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank. Hamas also hopes an Israeli-led blockade of Gaza would be relaxed because Israel vowed to keep the restrictions as long as Schalit was a captive.

Israeli leaders ended debates on the latest proposal early Tuesday without announcing a decision.

An Israeli Government official declined to confirm the Israeli media reports but said the question of whether certain prisoners would return to the West Bank or be deported was ‘clearly’ an issue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release details of the talks.


Terrorist attack feared after Jackson arrest

Dec 23, 2009

New York: Police concerns that media-hungry terrorists would attack Michael Jackson's trial as a "soft target" led to a request for federal help, according to FBI files kept on the late pop star. The documents also show that the FBI helped facilitate interviews in the Philippines by California authorities investigating Jackson over allegations that he had sexually abused boys.

The FBI monitored Jackson for more than a decade, but the files contain no major revelations about his private life and the bureau apparently never developed any solid evidence against him.

In 2004, the Santa Maria Police Department in California asked for FBI "involvement" after Jackson was arrested for child molestation. Police, according to the FBI, said they believed the court case would be a "soft target" for terrorism because of the "worldwide media coverage" the trial would attract.

The FBI concluded there were no threats, but did note the presence in an early court appearance of "The Nation of Islam, represented by its security unit Fruits of Islam," and of a New Black Panther Party member whose name was left blank in the files. Jackson used Nation of Islam bodyguards during the legal proceedings.

Back in September 1993, an investigator from the Los Angeles Police Department and another from the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office arrived in Manila to speak to two former employees of Jackson's Neverland ranch who claimed they saw the singer fondle young boys.

Their trip came after the LAPD had asked the FBI if it wanted to work a possible case against Jackson for transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes. The FBI checked with the U.S. Attorney's Office, which declined.

The files say an FBI agent accompanied the California officials to the first interview to make sure there were no problems.

The documents, dating from 1992 to 2005, were made public Tuesday through a Freedom of Information Act request from a news agency and other media after Jackson's death June 25, at age 50. The FBI initially said it had about 600 pages in its files but released 333 pages, citing privacy rules and the desire to protect investigative techniques.

In March 2004, the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office reached out to the FBI, seeking help in developing a strategy to prosecute Jackson for molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor in the singer's home. Jackson was acquitted of all 14 counts against him in what was one of the most widely followed cases in history.

The FBI reviewed case notes from local authorities and examined 16 computers taken from Jackson's home. Nothing notable was described as being found on the hard drives, though parts of the files are redacted.

Tom Mesereau, who was Jackson's lead defense attorney during his trial, said the FBI documents provide further proof the singer did nothing wrong.

"He was not a criminal and he was not a pedophile," Mesereau said. "The fact that so many agencies investigated him and couldn't find anything proves he was completely innocent."

A message left for Ken Sunshine, spokesman for the Jackson family, was not immediately returned.

The Santa Barbara case was the most recent time the FBI was asked to investigate Jackson but records show the agency had been looking at his alleged involvement with younger boys for more than a decade.

In September 1993, an FBI agent in London told colleagues in Los Angeles that the British press was reporting that a man was making allegations he had held a sexually charged phone call with Jackson in 1979, when the man was 13 and Jackson was 20. Aside from asking the information be passed on to local authorities in Los Angeles, the FBI agent in London noted that no further action was being taken.

In October 1995, the U.S. Customs Service asked the FBI to review a VHS videotape labeled "Michael Jackson's Neverland Favorites An All Boy Anthology" as part of a child pornography investigation. The recording was of such poor quality that investigators appear to have been unable to determine what was on it.

The files include death threats against Jackson, then-President George H.W. Bush and mob boss John Gotti that led to the 1993 sentencing of Frank Paul Jones, who allegedly was obsessed with Janet Jackson, Michael's sister.

A letter obtained by the FBI, dated July 6, 1992, states: "I decided that because nobody is taking me serious, and I can't handle my state of mind, that I am going to Washington D.C. to threaten to kill the President of the United States, George Bush."

The letter also says, "Michael (Jackson) I will personally attempt to kill, if he doesn't pay me my money." One of the documents, written by the L.A. City Attorney's office, indicated on June 22, 1992, that the author of the letter "arrives in Calif." and "Threatens to kill." The FBI includes an interview with an unidentified "victim," whose name is redacted but presumably Michael Jackson, who states that he was aware of the threats and took them seriously.

According to a 1992 story, Jones was arrested June 22 and held on $15,000 bail for investigation of trespassing in the driveway of the Jackson family compound in Encino, Calif. The following year, he was sentenced to two years in prison for "mailing a threatening communication," according to a 1993 press report included in the FBI files.


Ghalib haveli party: Govt files FIR

Richi Verma

23 December 2009,

NEW DELHI: The TOI report on a wedding reception held at Mirza Ghalib's haveli in Ballimaran on Sunday spurred an embarrassed Delhi government to file an FIR of criminal trespass at Hauz Qazi police station on Tuesday. An inquiry has been ordered into the incident.

Amidst widespread outrage and condemnation, Delhi government's department of archaeology said it would take action not only against the people who allowed the party to be hosted but also those who entered the haveli without permission after it had been officially closed. A senior official of the department said: "It's obvious that there is something fishy going on there and there is connivance of several people. We will suspend the chowkidar who has the keys and keep a close eye on the haveli in the future."

There was, however, no official reaction from Delhi government.

The department is obviously in a bind because the haveli is still to be notified. "We have lodged a case of criminal trespass as the haveli is partly government-owned and entry without permission is an offence," explained a senior cop. "Had the monument been officially notified, we would have lodged a case under Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act."

The haveli is one of the 92 monuments identified to be protected by the state archaeology department and will be notified soon. Sources said only the authentication part was left and the process would be completed very soon.

Besides accusing the government of dragging its feet on the process, heritage lovers said it could not absolve itself of its responsibility. "The government's department of archaeology has been looking after the acquired portions of the haveli since 2000. Though the final notification is pending, the archaeology department is still accountable as it has been maintaining it for years and they're the ones running the museum for almost 10 years now. The notification would just mean that the 50m prohibition rule related to construction kicks into place, which anyway does not apply in this case," pointed out an expert.

Police sources blamed the government for not keeping an eye on the watchman. Interestingly, when TOI visited the haveli on Tuesday, a different watchman, Ranjit Singh, was found at the place. "I am not aware of any other watchman here. I have been posted here for a few years. The keys to the museum are with me and I am not aware of any function that has been held here on Sunday night. I locked up that evening and went home and have come here only on Tuesday morning," he said. The watchman was evasive when questioned about the presence of another guard at the site on Sunday, claiming he had no knowledge.

Heritage lover and activist Firoz Bakht Ahmed, who raised an alarm over misuse of the haveli, said it appeared that several people were involved in the incident. "The haveli should be turned into a live monument linked with the local community by running a small reading room and library and an office that can sell translations of his work," he said.


Pakistan makes into top10 crises-hit countries

By Khawar Ghumman

Wednesday, 23 Dec, 2009

ISLAMABAD: As ill-luck would have it, Pakistan made into top ten humanitarian crises of the world this year, an independent global organisation reported.

The Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is coming up with a list of top ten humanitarian crises since 1998 and it is the second consecutive year that Pakistan is in the list of leading crises-hit countries.

The list is drawn from MSF’s operational activities in about 70 countries, where the organisation’s medical teams witnessed some of the worst humanitarian conditions.

According to the report, three distinct patterns dominated in crises-hit areas of the world. 1) governments blocked lifesaving assistance to trapped populations including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Sudan, where aid groups including some MSF teams were expelled; 2) respect for civilian safety and neutral humanitarian action further eroded such as in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia where people, in some cases aid workers, were either indiscriminately or directly attacked; 3) people suffering from a host of largely ignored diseases were again neglected by the international community and those living with HIV/Aids saw their chances of receiving life extending therapy further diminished.

Difficult living conditions in Pakistan’s more remote regions were made even worse by violence, which has escalated over the last two years. Insecurity and travel restrictions limit provision of medical services to people most in need.

The MSF was unable to provide medical support during fighting in Kurram, Swat, and South Waziristan.

The report critically observed that in a region where western powers were involved in counterinsurgency operations, provision of humanitarian aid had largely been linked with political objectives.

In Pakistan, the MSF does not accept funding from any government relying solely on private donations from the general public.

“There is no question that civilians are increasingly victimised in conflicts and further cut off from lifesaving assistance, often deliberately,” said MSF International Council president Dr Christophe Fournier.

Earlier, in February, two MSF medical workers, Riaz Ahmad and Nisar Ali, were shot and killed while driving in a marked ambulance en route to retrieve civilians injured in fighting in the town of Charbagh, it said.

Over one million people reportedly fled Swat during the military operation against militants. Thousands of them were treated by MSF teams at relief camps in Mardan, Malakand, Peshawar and Lower Dir, it said.

With the start of military operation in South Waziristan, about 300,000 people reportedly fled towards the neighbouring district of Dera Ismail Khan.

MSF teams identified significant needs in hospitals but authorities were still refusing to authorise presence of international staff. Fighting in Fata’s Kurram Agency has led to the ‘near-collapse’ of the local health system.

Conflict and suffering also continued in Balochistan where residents have long been neglected and marginalised.

Healthcare capacity of the region is minimal at best; infant and maternal mortality rates are very high. Up to end of Nov, MSF treated over 3,509 malnourished children.

The MSF also provided healthcare to Afghan refugees and locals near Quetta and the Afghan border, supporting mother and child healthcare – between 100 and 150 babies delivered each month.

“The tremendous resources devoted to the H1N1 pandemic in developed countries illustrates the response capacity for global health threats when the political will exists,” said Dr Fournier.

“Regrettably, we fail to see the same commitments made to combat diseases claiming millions of more lives each year.”

Right now, international assistance to fight malnutrition amounts $350 million while the World Bank estimates $11.2 billion to adequately combat disease in 36 high burden countries.


KOHAT: 18 militants killed in Orakzai Agency

By Abdul Sami Paracha

Wednesday, 23 Dec, 2009

KOHAT, Dec 22: Eighteen militants, including a local leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, were killed in security forces’ shelling and a clash with a tribal lashkar in lower and upper Orakzai agency on Tuesday.

Officials said that Ehsanullah, a militant leader and brother of TTP Orakzai agency chief Akhunzada Aslam Farooqui, was killed along with his six accomplices in a gunbattle with a tribal lashkar.

Helicopter gunships pounded suspected militant positions in Dabori and Ghaljo areas of Upper Orakzai Agency, leaving 11 militants dead.


ISLAMABAD: leader of the lawyers unhappy over SC verdict on NRO

By Iftikhar A. Khan

23 Dec, 2009

ISLAMABAD: Ali Ahmed Kurd, the firebrand leader of the lawyers’ movement and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who has been keeping quiet for quite some time, surprised a lot of people on Tuesday with his blunt criticism of the way the Supreme Court was behaving. Judges should “behave like judges”, he said.

Speaking during a talk show on “Challenges facing the judiciary”, he said that people had reservations about the verdict handed down by the Supreme Court on petitions challenging the National Reconciliation Ordinance.

According to him, the judgment appeared to be based on newspaper headlines and talk shows of private TV channels.

Mr Kurd said that an independent judiciary had been restored after a great struggle, adding that the country would become stronger if the judiciary acted in the manner expected by the nation during the struggle. “If it does not happen, it will cause a blow to national security.”

He said he had been invited by various bar councils after the restoration of the judiciary, but he preferred to keep quiet. He said he did not attend functions where the chief justice had been invited and quit his practice as a lawyer in the Supreme Court. It was astonishing to see judges visiting bar councils, he added.

Mr Kurd described the National Judicial Policy as detrimental to the judicial system. He pointed out that a deadline of Dec 31 had been set for courts to decide cases. He said the maxim of ‘justice hurried is justice buried’ would turn out to be true in many cases because these, including cases of murder and dacoity, and the rights of defence and the practice of producing evidence of many people would be compromised due to paucity of time.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson Asma Jehangir also criticised the Supreme Court’s judgment on the NRO and said it appeared to be a decision pronounced by a ‘jirga’.

She was of the opinion that the NRO could have been declared null and void by merely declaring it as repugnant to Article 25 of the Constitution, but a Pandora’s box had been opened by the court. Syed Iqbal Haider and Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood also spoke on the occasion.


Balochistan becomes target in war against Taliban

December 23, 2009

LAHORE: Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area, is a prospective heaven for mining companies eyeing its untapped reserves of copper, natural gas and possibly oil and criminals envisaging the world’s heroin superhighway, but the province may soon be lost in the war against the Taliban, as the US is mounting pressure to act against the so-called ‘Quetta shura’.

A report published in British Guardian newspaper said that in a report to US President Barack Obama in September, the US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said the 15-man war council led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, his deputy Mullah Baradar and his military commander Abdullah Zakir was dictating the pace of the war in Afghanistan from the provincial capital.

It poses the greatest threat to western troops, and was already planning for the 2010 fighting season, McChrystal had said. “Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. The ‘Quetta shura’ conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the following year.”

As international forces face an increasing Taliban insurgency across Afghanistan, NATO generals allege that the fighting is being directed from Balochistan.

The Guardian claims that the Afghan Taliban operated without fear or hindrance, in Balochistan, which borders Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand, where almost 10,000 British troops are stationed.

But the situation might turn around with the increased US pressure on Pakistan to act against the Taliban in Balochistan, reports which Islamabad has rubbished several times.

US officials, including CIA director Leon Panetta and military chief Admiral Mike Mullen, have urged Pakistan to act forcefully, especially against the Sirajuddin Haqqani network in North Waziristan, while they demand extending the drone campaign to target the Quetta shura in Balochistan.

Focusing on Balochistan: “It makes perfect sense to focus on Balochistan, which has been largely neglected until now,” Art Keller, a former CIA case officer who worked in Pakistan in 2006 told Guardian. “The question is how.”

The paper said the new US approach to Balochistan was battlefield realities, as by next summer, “30,000 western soldiers – a third British, the rest mostly American – will be based across the border in Helmand”.

Seth Jones, a civilian adviser to the US special forces commander in Afghanistan, said this month that the US must “target Taliban leaders in Balochistan” through an expanded drone strike campaign. Pakistani officials trenchantly oppose the idea.

“We can’t fight everyone, everywhere. We need to be pragmatic. And we will not be dictated to,” a senior official with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), told Guardian on condition of anonymity.

The official admitted that insurgents “do come and go” in Balochistan, but insisted the ISI was already cooperating with the CIA in the province.

He said drone strikes in densely populated Quetta would be “disastrous” both in terms of civilian casualties and anti-American hostility.

“I think this is just pressure tactics, the Americans aren’t stupid enough to [extend drone strikes]. But if their objective is to destabilise Pakistan, that would be a good way to do it.”\12\23\story_23-12-2009_pg7_13


Christmas Preparations Remain Peaceful in Pakistan

By Imdad Hussain

Dec 23, 2009

Preparations of Christmas are going on with zeal and fervor peacefully in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, a Muslim country.

The local Christians have started illuminating their homes and churches while shopping of Christmas gifts is in full swing.

Churches in different parts of the capital city have been decorated with colorful lights and illuminated Christmas Trees.

Programs like tableaux and carols have been prepared by various educational institutions run by Churches to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Father Rahmat Michael Hakim, parish priest of Our Lady Fatima ( Catholic), said that they have no hurdles in their celebrations and people as well as the government are cooperating with them.

The government is not only providing moral support but also financial assistance as well, he added. The priest said that the Capital Development Authority (CDA) hosted a dinner in respect of the Christian community in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi in connection to the approaching Christmas while an interfaith Christmas dinner was hosted by the government at Serena hotel, the priest said. He said that CDA also decorated trees in the blue area, a downtown commercial center.

Regarding preparations Hakim said that preparations for Christmas get momentum in the last week of November and remain continue till the last week of December.

Christian leader in Islamabad J. Salick said, "We all are Pakistanis and we celebrate Christmas with happiness and love for humanity."

A local Muslim resident said that Islam propagates tolerance and respects for others' religions, so all Pakistanis respect the day of celebrations of Christmas and all share love and happiness with the Pakistani Christians as well as others in the world.

There are 2.3 million Christians in the country out of which 48 percent are Protestants and 52 percent are Catholics.

The government of Pakistan has extended financial assistance to needy members of the Christian community to celebrate the event. The government of Punjab, the biggest province in Pakistan, has notified that all Christian government servants and pensioners will receive their pension and salaries for the month of December on 19th because of Christmas.

Spokesman of the ministry of minority, while talking to reporters, said that his ministry earmarks about 2.5 million Pak rupees (29,000 U.S. dollars) for religious festivals of the minorities, which take place round the year.

He said that apart from these festivals, the ministry distributes 50 percent of the total allocated amount every year among the deserving people through a transparent process.

Meanwhile this year activities of foreigners in Islamabad was noted as contrasting to the Pakistani Christians. Unlike past, few foreigners were visible in Kohsar Market, frequently visited by foreigners, and other public places as the Christmas is approaching.

Many foreigners, who are working in diplomatic missions and other organizations in the capital city, from western countries are residing in Islamabad. In the past, the foreigners used to go to the local markets for shopping of Christmas gifts but this time the trend was different as foreigners were almost absent in the market places.

A local shopkeeper in Kohsar market said that sale of the Christmas gifts was down by 50 percent this year as compared to last year. Fear is the main factor that keeps the westerns away from the markets, he added.

A U.S. citizen, a 55-year-old lady , who was alone looking at the Christmas gifts for children, said that people, particularly, foreigners are absent from the markets even three days before their religious festivity, probably, because of some unseen mishap and fear.

Another foreign man, who decline to reveal his nationality, said, "I feel joy on this occasions but also wishes for peace in Pakistan." However, I would communicate a message of congratulation and happiness to the Christians in the world and Pakistan, he said.


Pakistan court orders a nose for a nose

22 December 2009

LAHORE: A court in Pakistan's most liberal city ordered two men to have their nose and ears chopped off as punishment for inflicting similar injuries on a woman they abducted, an official said Tuesday.

An anti-terrorism court headed by judge Khalid Naveed Dar handed down the ruling in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday, sentencing them to life in prison and fining them each 700,000 rupees (about 8,300 dollars).

"The court ordered that the nose and ears of Sher Mohammad and Ammanat Ali be chopped off as part of an Islamic punishment of a nose for a nose and ears for ears," court official Azhar Ameen said.

The men were found guilty of kidnapping a woman who had refused to marry one of them, then hacking off her nose and ears.

Pakistani courts have handed down similar punishments in the past but none were actually enacted and they are frequently revoked on appeal.

Pakistan struggles with religious conservatism. Since July 2007, Islamist militants have waged a campaign of bomb attacks killing more than 2,700 people to avenge the government's alliance in the US-led war on al-Qaida.


ISLAMABAD: Graft amnesty deal was a mistake, rues Musharraf

PTI 23 December 2009

ISLAMABAD: Former president Pervez Musharraf has described as a "mistake" his decision to promulgate the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty that was recently struck down by Pakistan's supreme court.

The apex court last week declared the NRO void, sparking the worst political crisis since the Pakistan People's Party came to power in last year's general election. President Asif Ali Zardari and several close aides are among the over 8,000 people who benefited from the graft amnesty.

"The one clarification that I will make is that I committed this mistake on the strong advice of the political leadership at that time who are now blatantly disowning connections with it.

"My interest was only national, with absolutely no personal bias or agenda," Musharraf wrote on his page on the social networking website Facebook. Musharraf — who has been active on Facebook for the past few weeks and has over 60,000 fans, including hundreds from India — was responding to a question


Osama Bin Laden Children Under House Arrest in Iran, Al-Awsat Says

By Glen Carey

Dec 23, 2009

Iran has held six of Osama bin Laden’s children and one of his wives under house arrest since the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Asharq al-Awsat reported, citing Omar bin Laden, the fourth son of the al-Qaeda leader.

The children include Saad, 29, Uthman, 25, Fatima, 22, Hamza, 20, and Bakr, 15, along with Hamza’s mother, Khairiya, according to the Saudi-owned newspaper, which is based in London. Iman, a 17-year-old daughter of bin Laden, escaped and has sought asylum at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, the newspaper said, citing 29-year-old Omar.

The family was living in Afghanistan when the U.S. military began air strikes on the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They crossed the border into neighboring Iran and then were held there, according to the newspaper.

Al-Qaeda, an Islamist Sunni Muslim group, is hostile to Shiite Muslim-majority Iran. Sunnis who follow Wahabbi beliefs, such as bin Laden, don’t consider Shiites to be true believers in Islam.

To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at


Iraqi police: Gunmen storm checkpoint, kill 4

Dec 23, 2009

BAGHDAD - Authorities say gunmen have stormed a checkpoint west of Baghdad, killing four Iraq  (web | news) i police officers. It is the latest in a series of attacks in which gunmen have targeted Iraqi police and army checkpoints.

Two police officials say gunmen stormed the checkpoint Wednesday morning in the Abu Ghraib area to the west of the capital. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the information to media.

Earlier this month, gunmen attacked another checkpoint in Abu Ghraib, killing four policemen. A day later, gunmen killed five members of Sunni anti-al-Qaida (web | news) group manning a checkpoint near Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) - A bomb killed two men and damaged a historic church in a northern Iraqi city on Wednesday, one day ahead of Christmas Eve services that will be heavily guarded for fear of more attacks on the country's Christian minority.

The bomb in Mosul was hidden under sacks of baking flour in a handcart left 15 yards (meters) from the Mar Toma Church, also known as Church of St. Thomas, a police officer said.

The officer said the two killed were Muslims, and that five other people were injured. A hospital official confirmed the casualties.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

"Instead of performing Christmas Mass in this church, we will be busy removing rubble and debris," Hazim Ragheed, a priest at the church, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The blast damaged the wooden doors, windows, some furniture and one of the walls of the church, which is more than 1,200 years old, Ragheed said. Services will be moved out of the church, but Ragheed did not say where they would be held.

"We demand that the government put an end to these repeated attacks," Ragheed said.

The blast occurred in an area where streets have been closed to cars and trucks to protect Mosul's dwindling Christian population.

Iraqi defense officials warned earlier in the week that intelligence reports pointed to attacks during Christmas, leading the government to step up security near churches and Christian neighborhoods.

Most of the increased security will be in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, said Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.

Christians have frequently been targeted since turmoil swept the country following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, although the attacks have ebbed with an overall drop in violence. Still, tens of thousands of Christians have fled; many who stayed were isolated in neighborhoods protected by barricades and checkpoints.

A coordinated bombing campaign in 2004 targeted churches in the Iraqi capital and anti-Christian violence also flared in September 2007 after Pope Benedict XVI (web | news | bio) made comments perceived to be against Islam.

Churches, priests and businesses have been attacked by militants who denounce Christians as pro-American "crusaders." The body of Paulos Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in March 2008 following his abduction by gunmen after a Mass.

Also Wednesday, a bomb planted on a minibus killed two people and injured five in a Shiite neighborhood in north Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.


Police, protesters clash in southern Iran

By Ali Akbar Dareini (Ap)

Dec 23, 2009

TEHRAN, Iran — Security forces clashed with opposition protesters gathered Wednesday for a memorial for Iran's most senior dissident cleric, beating men and women and firing tear gas, reformist Web sites reported.

The gathering at the main mosque in the central city of Isfahan, 200 miles (325 kilometers) southeast of Tehran, was meant to honor Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the spiritual leader of the Iranian reformist movement who died Sunday.

His death set off large memorial ceremonies that turned into pro-opposition protests in defiance of a monthslong government crackdown on protesters rallying against the disputed June presidential elections. Iran has been in turmoil since the vote, which the opposition alleges Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud.

Top opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was declared the loser in the June election, was sacked from his post at Iran's prestigious Art Academy after attending Montazeri's funeral. More than 50 people were arrested Wednesday in Isfahan, including pro-opposition cleric Masoud Adib, who was expected to address the gathering at the mosque, the Salaamnews and Parlemannews Web sites said.

Mourners poured out in thousands into the streets leading to the mosque, although anti-riot police and plainclothes pro-government Basij militiamen had blocked the neighborhood, the Web sites said.

Parlemannews reported that Basij beat people, including women, and used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. It said troops also surrounded the home of Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri, a senior reformist cleric who organized the memorial.

Farid Salavati, an Isfahan resident who tried to attend the memorial, said anti-riot police and militiamen surrounded the Seyed Mosque since early morning.

"They didn't allow anybody to enter the mosque," Salavati told The Associated Press. "Tens of thousands gathered outside for the memorial but were savagely attacked by security forces and the Basijis."

Salavati said baton-wielding riot police clubbed people on the head and shoulders, and kicked men and women alike, injuring dozens. He said sporadic clashes were still going on by mid-day Wednesday. The memorial did not take place, he said.

"I saw at least two people with blood pouring down their face after being beaten by the Basijis," Salavati added.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. The authorities have banned foreign media from covering gatherings in any way connected to the opposition movement.

Taheri, the cleric who organized the service, was quoted by the Web sites as saying that "treating people this way at a memorial service is deplorable."

Taheri was the chief Friday prayer leader in Isfahan until he resigned in 2002 in protest against the establishment, which he said was paralyzing the country in the name of religion to maintain its hold on power.

The ceremonies in Montazeri's honor have became a show of defiance against the country's rulers. Tens of thousands of demonstrators had filled the main boulevards in Qom, the hub of Islamic scholarship and study in mostly Shiite Iran, for his funeral procession Monday.

Montazeri's death came as Iran marks one of the most important periods on the Shiite religious calendar, Ashoura. It culminates on Sunday, the same day mourners will gather for the traditional seven-day memorial for Montazeri, raising concerns of more violence.

Opposition leaders have used holidays and other symbolic days in recent months for anti-government rallies. Montazeri, who died of apparent natural causes on Sunday at age 87, had stunned even hard-core protesters with his scathing denunciations of the ruling clerics and their efforts to crush dissent after the June election.

His open assault on the highest reaches of the Islamic system helped galvanize the opposition and shatter taboos about criticizing the pinnacle of power, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On Tuesday, Iranian state television Web site said Ahmadinejad had appointed a new chief of the Art Academy, removing Mousavi from the post. Salaamnews said Ahmadinejad broke off a tour of southern Iran Tuesday to attend the meeting that sacked Mousavi.

There are also been concerns Mousavi could be arrested and tried, along with hundreds of opposition supporters now on trial for taking part in the protests.

Pro-reform lawmaker Darioush Ghanbari said it was a "politically motivated decision" by the government. "It shows they can't tolerate Mousavi even" as part of the academy.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press


Isfahan: police and protesters clash, at least 50 arrested

Dec 23, 2009

Authorities clamp down on a memorial service for Ayatollah Montazeri in the central Iranian city. Security forces beat women and children with batons, chains and stones. Council for the Cultural Revolution sacks Mousavi as head of Arts Institution.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Police and mourners clashed in Isfahan (central Iran) at a memorial service for dissident cleric Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died on Saturday at the age of 87, the dissident Iranian website reported. Police fired tear gas, beat up women and children and arrested at least 50 people.

“This morning before the ceremony began hundreds of police, security forces and plainclothes [agents] gathered around the mosque which led to severe clashes with people," the webzine said. In addition to a number of arrests, some people were hurt. “Security forces are beating people including women and children with batons, chains and stones," it also said.

The memorial in honour of one of the harshest critics of the clerical regime was held in Isfahan's Seyed Mosque and was to be led by prominent reformist cleric Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri.

Never the less, the reported incidents have not been independently verified because of tight government censorship on local and international media. 

On Monday, thousands of people took part in Montazeri’s funeral in Qom. The ceremony eventually turned into a mass protest against the regime and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who was particularly vilified when people chanted “death to the dictator”.

In the meantime, the Council for Cultural Revolution, a high-level body chaired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday night sacked defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi as head of the Arts Institution, a post he had held since it was set up in 1999.


Iran fires opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from state-funded post

AFP 23 December 2009

TEHRAN: Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was dismissed on Tuesday from his last remaining state-funded position as president of the Academy of Art, the Fars news agency reported.

"Members of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution dismissed Mir Hossein Mousavi as head of the Academy of Art," council member Mohammad Mohammadian told the news agency.

"Ali Moalem Damghani replaced him."

Mousavi, a former prime minister, had headed the Academy of Art ever since its establishment in 1999.

Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose controversial June re-election Mousavi continues to reject, heads the council which dismissed the opposition chief.

The Academy of Art is a state-funded body supervised by the president's office which has a stated mission to "preserve Islamic and national art" and "confront invasive cultures."


Iran nuclear trigger report fabricated: Ahmadinejad

Dec 22, 2009

Washington : A reported confidential Iranian technical document describing Tehran's efforts to design an atomic bomb trigger was forged by Washington, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a U.S. news program on Monday.

Ahmadinejad was asked by ABC News about a Times of London report last week on what it called a confidential Iranian technical document describing a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the part of a nuclear warhead that sets off an explosion.

"They are all fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government," he told the U.S. network in an interview in Copenhagen, Denmark, after he attended the United Nations conference on climate change.

Reports that Iran is working on a bomb trigger are "fundamentally not true," said Ahmadinejad.

The Times of London published on Dec. 14 what it said was the Farsi-language document, along with an English translation, entitled, "Outlook for Special Neutron-Related Activities Over the Next Four Years".

The document describes steps to develop and test parts for a neutron initiator, a device that floods the core of highly enriched uranium with subatomic particles to touch off the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion.

Last week Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the report "baseless ... not worthy of attention, intended to put political and psychological pressure on Iran."

Iran, the world's No. 5 crude oil exporter, says its uranium enrichment program is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more gas and oil. The West believes Iran wants bombs from enrichment because of its record of nuclear secrecy.


Karzai to keep half his Cabinet

December 23, 2009

KABUL—President Hamid Karzai wants to replace the heads of two ministries linked to corruption, but will retain half his current Cabinet, including six influential ministers embraced by the international community, Afghan officials said Friday.

Karzai, who is beginning his second term, also plans to keep on board a legendary warlord who holds political sway in the West, the officials said. Two members of the Afghan parliament unhappy with the new slate say some of the new faces were suggested by Karzai’s political allies or former warlords.

The long-awaited Cabinet list is seen as the first test of Karzai’s willingness to assemble a team of reformists, as demanded by the West. International leaders have threatened to hold back troops and development money unless Karzai tackles corruption and honors his pledge to end a “culture of impunity.”

The U.S. and other nations sending troops and financial aid to the war-worn impoverished nation are also eager to see experienced hands at the helm, and Karzai’s decision to keep some key ministers in their posts appears to be a nod to those concerns. So far, the U.S. Embassy is withholding comment.

“We’re awaiting an official announcement and want to see that the nominations put forward reflect President Karzai’s stated commitment to good governance and integrity and professionalism within his Cabinet,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

However, a senior international official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the Cabinet, said the diplomatic and aid communities likely would react positively to Karzai’s decision to retain the key Cabinet ministers. He stressed that it still needs the blessing of parliament.

The Afghan government officials, who divulged the list on condition of anonymity because it was not being submitted to lawmakers until Saturday, said Karzai wants 12 of the 25 current ministers to stay on their jobs for now. They include the ministers of defense, interior, foreign affairs, finance, public health and agriculture — all who have received kudos from the international community.

Karzai is dismissing the other half, but several of the new nominees come with strong education credentials or government experience and are not likely to provoke overwhelming criticism from the West.—Agencies


The West’s writ in Afghanistan

December 23rd, 2009

In view of the ground realities, the US and other Nato powers have been obliged to accept willy nilly, first, the result of the recent presidential election in Afghanistan which gave the President, Mr Hamid Karzai, a new term, and, subsequently, the Cabinet he chose this week. For well over a year, the internationals have been expressing their unhappiness with Afghanistan’s elected President. The US President, Mr Barack Obama, himself chose to lead the attack from the time he assumed office. This was a signal for an open season on the Afghan leader. The charge against him was that he operated a corrupt and inept government which basked in a culture of impunity and was thus jeopardising the stabilisation process and the fight against the Taliban. The sallies against Mr Karzai commenced when he began to question Western military strategies and tactics — which were taking an unacceptably high toll of civilian lives and causing bitterness in the country — from a nationalist standpoint. He also attracted adverse attention for hitting back on the corruption issue with the suggestion that his government could not be held principally responsible on that count since most of the money that had been spent in the country since the ouster of the Taliban had flowed through the hands of foreigners, mainly US personnel, official and non-official. At the end of the day, when elections came, the people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly endorsed Mr Karzai. But the Western elements cried foul, alleged electoral malpractice and ensured the invalidating of more than a million votes cast for the incumbent President. Even so, he showed that 49.6 per cent of the country was with him. But the internationals then began drawing red lines about the choice of new Cabinet personnel. In the event, Mr Karzai has brought back his key ministers, their portfolios unchanged. He has given ground on corruption and inefficiency charges and dropped two Cabinet colleagues, and removed the mayor of Kabul. But he has stuck to his own plans on consolidating his political network in the country, in the process causing no discomfort to regional Afghan leaders of his choice who are now denounced as “warlords” by Western leaders and opinion-makers but were once lionised for their role in the fight against the Taliban regime before 2001. This is not to the liking of the internationals who are just about being tolerated in Afghanistan because they do the spending. The US and the Europeans, who appear to have done little to atone for their excesses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, are happy to lecture the Afghan political class on human rights at the drop of a hat. The tendency has grown under the Democratic dispensation in the US. Nato countries have not succeeded in imposing their Cabinet preferences for Afghanistan to the extent they would have liked. But this does not mean there will be a let-up in their eagerness to fix personnel in the area of sub-national governance, appointing provincial and district governors in specific regions, and push for changes even at this fragile stage in the direction of weakening the centre in the name of decentralising of authority.

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