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WASHINGTON: Advocating a strong linkage between lasting security and economic opportunity, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Congressional support for continued economic assistance for both Pakistan and Afghanistan and noted that reconciliation in Afghanistan offers the best hope for stability in the region.

In a status report on Afghanistan and Pakistan Civilian Engagement, submitted to Congress, the chief American diplomat said assisting the two allied countries would secure American interests in the region.

“We will continue supporting an Afghan-led peace process that meets our red-lines.This won’t be easy, but reconciliation is still possible and is the best hope for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” Clinton said in a statement on release of the report.

“We will continue to build capacity and opportunity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across the region, because lasting stability and security go hand in hand with greater economic opportunity,” she added.

She told the lawmakers that the civilian surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan that President Obama launched in 2009 to accompany the military surge in Afghanistan has helped advance American goals of defeating al-Qaeda, reversing the Taliban’s momentum in key areas, and bolstering the economy and civil society of both countries.

“As US troops begin a phased drawdown in Afghanistan as part of the larger plan for transition, our civilian initiatives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are assuming new importance.”

The report provides a thorough review of our civilian efforts, identifies significant challenges and areas of progress, and outlines the way forward.

It places the work of our diplomats, development experts, and other civilian specialists within the framework of the “fight, talk, build” strategy.

“We will continue the fight, as coalition and Afghan forces increase the pressure on the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other insurgents.”

In Afghanistan, “build” means supporting Afghans in laying the foundation for sustainable economic growth in the run-up to 2014, while also shifting from short-term stabilization projects to long-term development programs, Clinton noted.

In Pakistan, it means leveraging the resources provided by the landmark Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation to address major economic challenges that threaten Pakistan’s stability, Clinton remarked.

And across the wider region, it means pursuing a broader, long-term vision for regional economic integration, a New Silk Road, that will lower trade barriers, create jobs, and reinforce political stability, she added.

“Our civilian efforts were never designed to solve all of Afghanistan’s development challenges or to completely turn around Pakistan’s economy. But they do aim to give Afghans and Pakistanis a stake in their countries’ futures and undercut the appeal of insurgency.

This strategy is rooted in a lesson we have learned over and over again, all over the world, lasting stability and security go hand in hand with economic opportunity. People need a realistic hope for a better life, a job, and a chance to provide for their family.

It recognizes the vital role of women and civil society in building more stable and prosperous countries, and in achieving lasting peace and reconciliation. And it puts accountability and transparency at the heart of all our efforts.”

The top American diplomat underscored to skeptical legislators on the Capitol Hill that    “as our commanders on the ground will attest, it is critical to our broader strategy that civilian assistance continue in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Disengaging now would undermine our military and political efforts and the national security interests of the United States.”

“We know that there will be hard days ahead, but we believe that this strategy    “fight, talk, build” offers the best way forward. As we proceed, the support and advice of Congress will be crucial.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with members of both chambers and parties to ensure that our diplomats and development experts have the resources and support they need to advance our goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan and our national security around the world.”

 
Justin Bieber has hit out at "crazy" claims he has fathered a baby son with a fan revealing he has never even met the woman.

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Speaking in detail for the first time about Mariah Yeater's allegation that she took the teen idol's virginity in a 30-second backstage romp, Bieber said: "None of it is true. Never met the woman."

The 17-year-old told NBC's Today show: "I'd just like to say, basically, that none of those allegations are true.

"I know that I'm going to be a target, but I'm never going to be a victim."

Online court records show Mariah Yeater filed a paternity lawsuit against Bieber, 17, on Monday in San Diego Superior Court.

California law keeps paternity matters confidential but Radar Online posted a copy of the lawsuit on its site.

Ms Yeater said she had sex with Bieber after one of his concerts at the Staples Centre in October 2010, according to the posted suit.

However, Bieber explained: "It's crazy. Every night after the show I'm gone right from the stage right to the car, so it's crazy that some people want to make such false allegations."

 
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A US military policeman assigned to a unit in Anchorage, Alaska, was being held Wednesday on suspicion of spying and was expected to face military court charges within days. Spc. William Colton Millay, 22, likely will be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice by the end of the week, a spokesman for US Army Alaska told the Army Times. Millay, from Owensboro, Ky., is part of a unit known as the Arctic Enforcers. The unit recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan. He was arrested Oct. 29 after a joint FBI and US Army Counterintelligence investigation. The US Army Alaska spokesman would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Millay's arrest.

 
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The WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has lost his high court appeal against extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations. Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Ouseley on Wednesday handed down their judgment in the 40-year-old Australian's appeal against a European arrest warrant issued by Swedish prosecutors after rape and sexual assault accusations made by two Swedish women following his visit to Stockholm in August 2010. Assange, who was wearing a navy blue suit, pale blue tie and a Remembrance Day poppy, remains on bail pending a decision on a further appeal. The judges ruled the issuing of the warrant and subsequent proceedings were "proportionate" and dismissed arguments that the warrant had been invalid and descriptions of the alleged offences unfair and inaccurate. Assange gave no sign of emotion as the judges gave reasons for the decision.

 
Stop squabbling over Greek bailout terms and act to prevent domino effect through eurozone, IMF tells European Union
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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed its growing concern about the deepening crisis in Greece, stressing that a failure by the European Union to take decisive action could lead to a domino effect through the single-currency zone and result in a second global financial meltdown.

In its starkest warning yet that Greece has the potential to replicate the system-wide shock triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the IMF told Europe's policymakers to stop squabbling over the terms of a bailout and act immediately to prevent contagion.

"While courageous attempts have been made to address the crisis, policymakers are yet again facing uncomfortable dilemmas, raising uncertainty about the final outcome," the fund said in its annual health check on the eurozone.

"With deeply intertwined fiscal and financial problems, failure to undertake decisive action could rapidly spread the tensions to the core of the euro area and result in large global spillovers."

The warning from the IMF was issued by acting managing director John Lipsky, who has been in charge since the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn last month. It came as Europe's finance ministers said the price of a fresh €12bn (£10.5bn) bridging loan to Greece was agreement by the parliament in Athens to fresh austerity measures. George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, is currently trying to secure agreement for a package of measures that would involve deep wage cuts and sweeping privatisation.

A team of officials from the IMF has been studying the eurozone economy and concluded that continued financial support for Greece from the other 16 members of the single currency was needed.

It said a "more cohesive and co-operative approach is needed to manage the crisis in the periphery" – the group of nations including Greece, Ireland and Portugal that have needed financial help from the IMF and the EU over the past year. The IMF fears that without decisive action there is a risk of the crisis spreading to other heavily indebted eurozone countries such as Spain and Italy.

Despite strong opposition to the austerity measures imposed as a condition of bailout funds, the IMF said it was vital that Greece and the other struggling nations embrace deep structural reform. "Crucial is a determined commitment to adjustment in the programme countries, including immediate and far-reaching structural reforms and an ambitious drive to open up the economy to foreign competition and foreign ownership along programme commitments. Privatisation will contribute to these objectives beyond helping to establish debt sustainability."

The fund added: "Rapid implementation of the commitment to scale up the European financial stability facility and a further extension of its potential uses would sent a much needed signal that member countries 'will do whatever it takes to safeguard the stability of the euro area'. In this context, it will be essential to bring the unproductive debate about debt reprofiling or restructuring to closure quickly, and avoid and impression that the European stability mechanism will be conditional on debt restructuring."

In its report, the IMF said the sovereign debt crisis threatened the "broadly sound" recovery in the euro area, adding that "much remains to be done to secure a dynamic and resilient monetary union".

The IMF also said: "A strong core is pulling ahead of a periphery facing daunting challenges, with very high debt levels, severe competitiveness problems, and fragile banking systems. Strong policy action by national authorities is a prerequisite, but should be backed by a truly cohesive approach from all euro area stakeholders."


 
WASHINGTON: The surest way to reduce world hunger is to help poor nations grow more food, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday before a global meeting that will discuss food reserves and how to calm volatile markets.
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In a commentary released by the Agriculture Department, Vilsack said an emergency stockpile would not be needed if information about crop production and supplies was shared more widely. Agreement for better monitoring of crop information is one of the goals by host nation France for next week’s meeting of agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 wealthy nations.

Decades of food aid have not erased widespread hunger, Vilsack said, so a better approach was to help food-short nations boost their farm and ranch production.

“I believe that the solution to global food security lies in innovation, arising from research and development,” Vilsack said in the commentary. “As we have done here at home, we should help other nations of the world embrace science in their pursuit of greater productivity.”

Some 925 million people, many of them subsistence farmers, are chronically hungry. Food production will have to rise by 70 per cent by mid-century, experts say, with the population expected to climb by one-third.

Earlier this week, Vilsack called for adoption of “the latest seed technology,” up-to-date land, water and animal management and appropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides.

US farmers rely heavily on genetically modified seeds. Europe is wary of the GM crops.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made stronger regulation of commodities markets, especially agricultural ones, a priority for G20 action. He has suggested that cash deposits should be required on all derivatives transactions and for regulators to have power to limit market share by investors.

Vilsack has not mentioned commodities regulation in his discussion of the G20 focus. U.S. futures regulators are midway through implementation of a financial reform law.

Before joining the G20 session, Vilsack plans to go to the Paris Air Show to talk about the U.S. development of biofuels for aircraft. He has said biofuels can promote food and energy security by generating income in rural areas. Skeptics blame biofuels for driving up food prices.


 
First lady Michelle Obama’s upcoming five-day goodwill tour to sub-Saharan Africa, designed to highlight HIV/AIDS projects and inspire young adults there, is billed by the White House as an important next step in the administration’s outreach to the continent.

But the trip also has resurrected criticism among a vocal subset of Africa advocates — including President Obama supporters — who say they are disappointed that the first American president with African roots has not personally focused more on the region.

 
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CONGRESSIONAL REPORT Nation-building efforts in peril, investigation finds

The hugely expensive U.S. attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan has had only limited success and may not survive an American withdrawal, according to the findings of a two-year congressional investigation to be released Wednesday.

Small parachutes bearing food supplies for U.S. Marines are dropped from a plane outside Forward Operating Base Edi in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The report calls on the administration to rethink urgently its assistance programs as President Obama prepares to begin drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this summer.

The report, prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff, comes as Congress and the American public have grown increasingly restive about the human and economic cost of the decade-long war and reflects growing concerns about Obama’s war strategy even among supporters within his party.

The report describes the use of aid money to stabilize areas the military has cleared of Taliban fighters — a key component of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy — as a short-term fix that provides politically pleasing results. But it says that the enormous cash flows can overwhelm and distort local culture and economies, and that there is little evidence the positive results are sustainable.

One example cited in the report is the Performance-Based Governors Fund, which is authorized to distribute up to $100,000 a month in U.S. funds to individual provincial leaders for use on local expenses and development projects. In some provinces, it says, “this amount represents a tidal wave of funding” that local officials are incapable of “spending wisely.”

Because oversight is scanty, the report says, the fund encourages corruption. Although the U.S. plan is for the Afghan government to eventually take over this and other programs, it has neither the management capacity nor the funds to do so.

The report also warns that the Afghan economy could slide into a depression with the inevitable decline of the foreign military and development spending that now provides 97 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The “single most important step” the Obama administration could take, the report says, is to stop paying Afghans “inflated salaries” — often 10 or more times as much as the going rate — to work for foreign governments and contractors. Such practices, it says, have “drawn otherwise qualified civil servants away from the Afghan government and created a culture of aid dependency.”

Even when U.S. development experts determine that a proposed project “lacks achievable goals and needs to be scaled back,” the U.S. military often takes it over and funds it anyway, the report says.

It also cites excessive use and poor oversight of contractors. Although the report provides some examples of successful projects, it is critical overall of what one senior committee aide called the U.S. focus on a rapid “burn rate” of available funding as a key metric for success. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the report before its release.

Debate has begun within the White House and in Congress over how quickly to begin withdrawing the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with senior Defense Department figures cautioning against a precipitous drawdown this summer. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has called for a “modest” decrease that would avoid jeopardizing recent combat gains.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he would like to see a minimum of 15,000 U.S. troops withdrawn by the end of the year. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the committee’s ranking Republican, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying that he thought the number should be no more than 3,000.

But an increasing number of lawmakers on both sides have called for a more wholesale reconsideration of Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan, saying that the war’s cost cannot be sustained at a time of domestic economic hardship. They point as well to changing realities on the ground, including signs of growing extremist violence in Pakistan and the killing last month of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I’m personally for changing the military strategy to some degree,” Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee, said in an interview. Because the military and civilian components are tightly intertwined in Afghanistan, Kerry said, both have to be considered at the same time.

“We’ve created a . . . wartime economy” that is a “huge distortion” of Afghanistan’s revenue production, he said. “It’s very dangerous, and we have to get a handle on it rapidly.”

Kerry said that the committee’s report was not “a gotcha” but that it was intended to help the administration “think through and analyze” how to proceed. The report was distributed Tuesday to Democratic committee members and to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican.

The administration has requested $3.2 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction projects in the coming fiscal year. The report argued that the foreign aid program must continue because “the goal should be to reduce some of the political pressure to spend money quickly, especially when the conditions are not right.”

All U.S. development projects in Afghanistan should be reexamined, it adds, to determine whether they are “necessary, achievable, and sustainable.”

The report recommends multi-year congressional funding for the aid program that would plan ahead for the increased civilian responsibilities as the number of troops decreases and calls for “a simple rule: donors should not implement projects if Afghans cannot sustain them.”

Last week, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan said in a separate report that billions of dollars in U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in both countries could fall into disrepair over the next few years because of inadequate planning to pay for their ongoing operations and maintenance. That report warned that “the United States faces new waves of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Foreign aid expenditures by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan, about $320 million a month, pale beside the overall $10 billion monthly price tag for U.S. military operations. But Afghanistan is the biggest recipient of U.S. aid, with nearly $19 billion spent from 2002 to 2010. Much of that money has been expended in the past two years, most of it in war zones in the south and east of the country as part of the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by Obama just months after he took office.

The strategy, devised by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, calls for pouring U.S. development aid into areas that the military has cleared of Taliban fighters to persuade the population to support the Afghan government.

But evidence of successful aid programs based on “counterinsurgency theories” is limited, the Senate committee report says. “Some research suggests the opposite, and development best practices question the efficacy of using aid as a stabilization tool over the long run.”

“The administration is understandably anxious for immediate results to demonstrate to Afghans and Americans alike that we are making progress,” the report says. “However, insecurity, abject poverty, weak indigenous capacity, and widespread corruption create challenges for spending money.”

High turnover among U.S. civilians working in Afghanistan, estimated at 85 percent a year, along with “pressure from the military, imbalances between military and civilian resources, unpredictable funding levels from Congress, and changing political timelines, have further complicated efforts,” it says.

The report is gently but unmistakably critical of the “whole of government” approach implemented by Richard C. Holbrooke, who served as Obama’s special representative for the region until his death in December. Control of all civilian operations on the ground were shifted to the State Department from the USAID, the traditional manager of development assistance.

“This new approach,” the report says, “created new levels of bureaucracy, diminished USAID’s voice at the table, and put decision-making on development issues in the hands of diplomats instead of development experts.”


 
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The flight of Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia deprives the United States of a fitful ally in the fight against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate and injects new uncertainty into counterterrorism operations that were already hampered by the country’s bloody internal strife, according to Yemen and security experts.

While Saudi Arabia, with U.S. backing, will almost certainly prevent Saleh’s return to Yemen, it is unclear who will replace him and whether there will be a change in attitude toward American efforts to target Islamic militants in the country.

 
WASHINGTON: Top Pakistani military officials are concerned that their ranks have been penetrated by infiltrators aiding terrorists in a campaign against the state, The Washington Post reported on Friday. The top Pakistani military commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was shaken by the discovery of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden close to a Pakistani military academy, said the newspaper. He told US officials in a recent meeting that his first priority was “bringing our house in order,” the paper reported, citing an unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official. “We are under attack, and the attackers are getting highly confidential information about their targets,” the paper quotes the official as saying. Western officials have long accused Pakistan’s intelligence services of playing a double game by fighting terrorists who pose a domestic threat, but protecting those fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
The United States has put pressure on Pakistan to lead a major air and ground offensive in North Waziristan, the most notorious Taliban and al Qaeda bastion, used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Pakistan has always maintained that any such operation would be at its own time of choosing. It argues that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are too stretched those fighting terrorists who pose a domestic threat.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Pakistan on Friday, said the United States was more committed to Pakistan after the bin Laden crisis. But, she urged the country to take decisive steps to defeat al Qaeda. afp

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