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Pakistan seeks benefits from US cooperation

North Korea, Afghan hearings fall prey to US health fight
Washington (AFP) March 24, 2010 - US President Barack Obama's Republican foes, angry over his historic health overhaul, derailed Senate hearings Wednesday on Afghan police training and North Korea's nuclear drive. Democrats denounced the maneuver, with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin declaring: "Our national security should not be held hostage to Republican pique over health care." Republicans, waging a parliamentary guerrilla war against a package of House-passed fixes to the health law, blocked a routine waiver of an arcane Senate rule forbidding committee meetings after 2:00 pm. The maneuver forced key panels to scrap plans to examine embattled efforts to train Afghan police and to question top military commanders charged with US forces in Asia, the combined US-UN force in South Korea, and cybersecurity.

"Lives are at stake here. American lives and Afghan lives," said Levin, who would have led the hearing on US national security in Asia. "It's unconscionable." "Stopping these hearings does nothing for his country," said Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who had been set to chair the Afghan hearing. "You just want to throw up your hands." Defiant Republicans rolled their eyes, with one leadership aide asking "Do they really believe that a hearing is the difference between life and death? Seriously?" Levin told reporters he was working with the Pentagon to reschedule his hearing and bemoaned that the setback had taken key US military commanders thousands of kilometers (miles) away from the forces they lead.

Levin's committee had been set to question the head of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Robert Willard, and General Kevin Chilton, the head of the US Strategic Command that oversees US missile defense and nuclear deterrence. The Michigan lawmaker said he had hoped to question them about "pressing national security topics such as North Korea's nuclear program, Chinese military capability and the threat of cyber-warfare." Earlier, Levin had implored his colleagues on the floor of the Senate to let the hearing occur, noting that the top Republican on the panel, Senator John McCain, supported his request. "We have three commanders scheduled to testify this afternoon. They've been scheduled for a long time. They've come a long, long distance. One of them has come from Korea. One of them has come from Hawaii," said Levin.

Republicans objected, and under Senate rules even one senator can block such a waiver. Earlier, they had granted waivers to two Senate panels. Democrats denounced the Republican tactic, with a spokesman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accusing the minority of acting in "retaliation" for losing the fight over Obama's historic health care plan. "These political games and obstruction have to stop -- the American people expect and deserve better," said the spokesman, Jim Manley. The Republican maneuver also disrupted a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the estimated 100,000 US veterans who are homeless on any given night, said that panel's chairman, Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 23, 2010
The United States is hoping Wednesday to show Pakistan the benefits of its cooperation against extremism, but it looks set to disappoint Islamabad on its ambitious goal of a civilian nuclear deal.

President Barack Obama's administration has cautiously welcomed what it sees as a shift in Pakistan and is looking to convince the country's public, where anti-Americanism runs rife, that it is committed to a long-term partnership.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the powerful army, will hold a first-of-a-kind "strategic dialogue" with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday.

Pakistan has come with a detailed wish-list in areas from improving access to water and energy to securing lethal drones.

"We have a relationship that goes back 60 years, but I'm here to build a partnership," Qureshi said Tuesday at the Pakistani embassy. "And when you build a partnership, it has to be built on trust."

Pakistan would like to forge an agreement to cooperate on civilian nuclear energy. A deal could help the developing country curb chronic blackouts -- and tacitly recognize Pakistan as the Islamic world's sole nuclear power.

The United States forged a landmark nuclear agreement in 2008 with Pakistan's historic rival India. The two South Asian powers stunned the world with nuclear tests in 1998.

"India and Pakistan, we have been in this together in South Asia, so what is good for India should be good for Pakistan," Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told reporters.

US officials have publicly sidestepped the issue. Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said only that "we're ready to listen to anything."

Asked by Pakistan's Express TV if nuclear cooperation could assuage the country's energy crisis, Clinton said there were "more immediate steps that can be taken" including upgrading power plants.

Unlike in India's case, US officials have concerns about Pakistani proliferation. The father of Pakistan's bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has admitted to leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, although he later retracted his remarks.

Pakistan is also seeking unmanned attack drones. The United States has so far only given Pakistan surveillance drones.

The United States has launched more than 90 drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, killing more than 830 people, according to local sources. US officials say they have killed top Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, but the Pakistani government bristles at the undercutting of its sovereignty.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell downplayed expectations for major announcements, saying it was a mistake to see the dialogue as "a discussion of requests and replies."

Qureshi and Kayani met Tuesday with Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, who authored last year's bill that promised 7.5 billion dollars in aid over five years to build Pakistan's infrastructure and democratic institutions.

Many Pakistanis are distrustful of the United States, remembering how it distanced itself in the 1990s after teaming up with Islamabad to arm Islamic guerrillas who ousted Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Holbrooke said that the dialogue -- which will include working groups on Thursday and further rounds in Islamabad -- was part of a "strategic vision" by the United States.

"That is that Pakistan is important in its own right. We don't view it simply as a function of its giant neighbor to the east or its war-torn neighbor to the west," Holbrooke said.

Bashir said many Pakistanis had grown irritated by US calls for the country to do more against extremists.

"Pakistan has done much more. We are doing it for our own sake," he said. "So I think it's perhaps best not to get into that argument."

Pakistan in recent months has launched a major military offensive against homegrown Taliban and arrested prominent militants.

But some have questioned Pakistan's motivations. The former UN envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said Pakistan's arrest of one top Taliban served to close secret communications aimed at reconciliation between the militant group and the Afghan government.

"The main problem is that the United States and Pakistan are still far apart in terms of how they perceive the situation in Afghanistan," said Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation think-tank.

"The US is of course seeking to ensure the Taliban cannot return to power, while Pakistan is mainly interested in limiting Indian influence."

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US missile strike kills six in NW Pakistan: security officials
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) March 23, 2010
Missiles fired from US drones Tuesday killed at least six militants in a restive Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan, security officials said. "US drones fired two missiles on a militant vehicle parked outside a compound. At least six militants were killed and three others were wounded," a senior security official told AFP. "The compound, being frequented by militants recently, w ... read more

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