The South Asia Channel

135 feared dead in Kashmir avalanche

135 feared dead in Kashmir avalanche

Missing on the mountaintop: An avalanche on the Siachen Glacier buried 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians posted at a military complex in northern Kashmir on Saturday, and hope dwindles for finding any survivors as three days of digging have yet to reveal any sign of life (LATCNNETNYTAPAFPAJEReutersMcClatchyDawnPost). The United States sent a team of experts to Pakistan on Sunday to help with the rescue operation, but severe weather has kept them in Islamabad and hampered Pakistani search efforts (ET).

A top Pakistani counterterrorism official told Reuters on Friday that purported militant leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has actually agreed to help Pakistan de-radicalize former jihadists, and pledged the support of his organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) (Reuters). The United States last week offered up to $10 million for information leading to Saeed’s arrest or conviction, and he is suspected to have masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

Pakistani helicopter strikes killed 14 suspected militants in the northwestern tribal agency of Orakzai on Sunday (ReutersET). And around 20 militants attacked a military post in Lower Kurram Agency Sunday night, sparking a gunfight that left two soldiers and four militants dead (ETAFP). The AFP reported Friday on the estimated 250,000 people who have fled the conflict between the Pakistani military and insurgents in Khyber Agency since January (AFP).

And the judicial commission investigating the "Memogate" scandal has ordered Pakistan’s foreign and interior ministries to ensure the presence of former Pakistani ambassador to the United State Husain Haqqani at a hearing on April 12 (ETDawnDT).

Warming up

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari traveled to India on Sunday to visit a Muslim Sufi shrine in the first trip to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005 (CNNDawnBBC, PostWSJETLATAPDTNYTReuters). Zardari also had lunch with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for "fruitful" talks on bilateral relations, during which Singh accepted Zardari’s invitation to take his first trip to Pakistan since becoming prime minister in 2004.

Pakistani business leaders will host the first Lifestyle Exhibition in New Delhi from April 12-15 in the first Pakistani event of its kind in India, in which companies will showcase clothing, furniture, textiles, and other goods (DawnETThe NewsDT). The event follows an Indian exhibition held in Lahore a few months ago, and is designed to boost bilateral trade between the two countries.

Pakistan will reportedly sign an agreement with Turkmenistan on April 18 to finalize plans for the $7.6 billion TAPI gas pipeline, which has been encouraged by the United States in place of the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline (The News). Meanwhile, plans for the IP pipeline move ahead, too, with Russian energy giant Gazprom reportedly considering investing in the project (DTET).

Take the reins

The United States and Afghanistan signed an agreement on controversial night raids on Sunday, resolving a key sticking point in efforts to formulate a long-term strategic partnership agreement (PostNYTAPWSJReutersLAT). The agreement gives Afghan Special Forces unique authority to carry out night raids, with help from U.S. troops provided "only as required or requested." Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator on the strategic partnership agreement, Jawed Ludin, told Reuters on Saturday that support is building in Afghanistan for a peace deal with the Taliban but Pakistan’s role in the peace talks — and its help providing access to Taliban leaders believed to be based in Pakistan — is crucial to their success (Reuters).

NATO officials said Saturday that in partnership with Afghan troops, their forces captured a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan suspected of financing attacks on Afghan and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan (AP). The unnamed militant was detained on Friday during a firefight in the northern Afghan province of Faryab. And Al Jazeera reported Monday morning that former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef has fled to the United Arab Emirates because of safety concerns after U.S. troops purportedly tried to search his Kabul home twice for evidence of his connections to an international terrorist plot (AJE). U.S. officials denied any knowledge of the search operations, which were prevented by Zaeef’s government-provided guards.

The Attorney General of Montana on Friday ordered the author of Three Cups of Tea,  Greg Mortenson, to pay his charity $1 million for mismanaging funds and charging "substantial personal expenses" to the organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI) (LATReutersTelAPCNN). Mortenson has come under intense criticism for fabricating stories in his book about building hundreds of school in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Energy woes

Speaking at the second national energy conference in Lahore on Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised that his government is doing all it can to resolve the country’s debilitating energy crisis (ET). Unfortunately, his claims were colored by a power outage that struck the conference soon after it began.


 Jennifer Rowland