Thursday, August 5, 2010

David Cameron drafts in Muslim Cabinet minister to calm Zardari

Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor

The government moved to calm the row with Pakistan today as Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi prepared to meet President Zardari for private talks on security, trade and flooding.

The Pakistan-born peer, the first Muslim Cabinet minister, was deputed by David Cameron to smooth relations before crunch talks at Chequers this Friday.

Mr Zardari faced further pressure over his five-day trip to Britain as critics claimed he should be at home helping to co-ordinate its flood relief efforts.

Former cricketer Imran Khan said that the president should have postponed his "lavish" visit, during which he has stayed at a family chateau in France and a five-star hotel in London.

British diplomats also privately pointed out that Mr Cameron's remarks about terrorism were "nothing" compared with President Zardari's own criticism of his country's ISI intelligence service.
When his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Mr Zardari "all but accused Pakistan and its intelligence agencies of colluding with the terrorists", said one source.

"He's an even harsher critic than we are. The Foreign Office is running around in a panic apologising to everyone, when actually the PM meant what he said."

No 10 is also bemused by criticism from shadow foreign secretary David Miliband because this weekend he admitted that it was "an open secret" that the ISI had links to the Taliban.

The Cabinet Office refused to comment on Lady Warsi's talks, except that they would be about "bilateral relations". Amid security concerns, even the location and timing of the talks was kept secret.

Her links to Pakistan are deemed so important that Foreign Secretary William Hague last month sent her to Islamabad.

During the trip, she praised President Zardari for his efforts to combat terrorism, remarks that were well received. She and British High Commissioner Adam Thomson said at the time that they appreciated the efforts of the Pakistan government and its security forces against militancy.

It is understood that Mr Thomson was not given a dressing down in Islamabad, contrary to reports from within the country.

Asked why he believed Mr Zardari should have stayed in Pakistan, Mr Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain, who is in the US raising money for a cancer hospital and the flood victims, told GMTV: "Him, as the head of state, should be in Pakistan. Any talks can be postponed surely the priority should be your own people. And then to go on this lavish tour. This money could be used on the victims.

"Remember Pakistan is bankrupt right now so the government doesn't have enough money. So he should be mobilising people to help these victims of the floods."

US airstrikes 'kill Afghan civilians'

Dozens of civilians have been killed and several others injured in Afghanistan after US warplanes bombarded the country's east, according to witnesses.

The American forces launched two airstrikes in Nangarhar province on Thursday morning, witnesses told Press TV.

One of the attacks left at least 30 people dead and injured. The other strike, which hit a funeral procession in a separate area, killed 13 civilians including two children.

Thursday's incident came after another US airstrike killed at least 52 civilians, including several women and children, in the city of Sangin in southern Helmand province last month.

US-led forces in Afghanistan regularly launch attacks on alleged militant hideouts, but the strikes usually result in civilian casualties.

In a new statement, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus emphasized on Wednesday that protecting the Afghan people was the top priority in the nine-year war.

"We must continue -- indeed, redouble -- our efforts to reduce the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum," said Petraeus.

Despite a promise by the commander of international forces in Afghanistan to reduce civilian casualties, the civilian fatalities are on the rise.

Pakistan braced for more floods as death toll stands at 1,500

• Food shortage fears as Punjab crops affected
• Boats and helicopters evacuate stricken villagers

Associated Press in Kot Addu

Flooding ravaged hundreds of villages in Pakistan's main province of Punjab today, destroying homes, soaking crops, and threatening more lives. Aid workers warned that bloated rivers would surge south soon, affecting more areas.

This year's monsoon season has caused the worst flooding in Pakistan in living memory and has already killed more than 1,500 people.

The UN has been scrambling to provide food and other assistance to approximately 3.2 million affected people in a nation already struggling with Islamist militancy and a poor economy.

After causing huge destruction in Pakistan's volatile north-west, floodwaters deluged villages and some urban centres in Punjab, the richest and most populous province. The army has been using boats and helicopters to help move stranded villagers to higher ground.

Water was so high only treetops and uppermost floors of some buildings were visible in large tracts of Kot Addu and the nearby area of Layyah in the south of the province.

Military spokesman Major General Nadir Zeb told reporters that at least 30,000 people had been rescued from flood-hit zones in Kot Addu and other areas over the previous 72 hours. He warned of more flooding, with more heavy rain forecast for the next few days.

"People must co-operate with us, and they must leave those areas where floods are going to hit," he said.

Monsoon season in Pakistan usually lasts about three months. In a typical year the country gets an average 137mm (5.4 inches) of rainfall during the monsoon season.

This year it has already received 160mm (6.3 inches), said Muhammad Hanif, head of the National Weather Forecasting Centre in Islamabad.

Rain was falling at 25%-30% above normal rates, Hanif added. The north-west was experiencing "once-in-a-century" rains, hitting it the hardest.

Rain is expected there in coming days, although at normal levels, which should allow for some recovery. The vast majority of deaths have been reported in the region.

Punjab in the country's east and Sindh province in the south, however, should expect significant rainfall, Hanif warned.

At least 47 people had been killed in Punjab flooding since late July, Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said.

Nearly 1,000 villages have been affected and some 25,000 houses destroyed in the province, according to the UN.

The rush of muddy water over river banks in Punjab threatened to destroy vast stretches of crops that make the province Pakistan's breadbasket. Numerous crops have also been lost in the north-west.

The loss of farm produce has led to UN warnings of serious food shortages, and the World Food Program estimates that 1.8 million people will need to be fed over the next month.

Rescue workers have struggled to deliver aid because of washed-out bridges and roads, while communication lines have been destroyed.

Several foreign countries, including the United States, have stepped in to help. But many flood victims have complained that aid is not reaching them fast enough or at all, expressing anger that could grow as flooding spreads to new areas.

Tajikistan jails 10 suspected Islamist militants

* Sentences from three to 15 years
* Crackdown has jailed over 100 people in 2010

By Roman Kozhevnikov

DUSHANBE, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Tajikistan jailed 10 followers of a banned Islamic group on Wednesday on charges of inciting anti-government activities, reinforcing a crackdown on religious radicalism that has imprisoned more than 100 people this year.

Governments in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are clamping down on what they see as growing radicalism in the predominantly Muslim, though secular, region after a rise in clashes between security forces and armed gangs.

Tajikistan, which shares a porous, 1,340-km (840-mile) border with Afghanistan, has jailed 115 people this year alone on charges of belonging to banned groups, the Supreme Court's press service said.

The latest case occurred in Khujand, the largest city in the north of Tajikistan, where the accused were jailed from three to 15 years. All of those sentenced, including a 70-year-old man, belonged to the Hizb ut-Tahrir group, the Supreme Court said.

It said in a statement the accused had called forcibly to change the constitution, a charge that is often levelled against members of banned groups.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, argues it uses only peaceful methods to achieve its goal of establishing a worldwide caliphate -- a theocratic Muslim state.

Human rights groups have accused Central Asian governments of using the Islamist threat as an excuse to crack down on political dissent in a region where, as in Soviet times, alternative views are often branded as extremist.

However, security analysts say radical groups are gaining strength in the region, emboldened by people's growing frustration with economic hardship.

Tajikistan has jailed 36 Hizb ut-Tahrir members this year, as well as 25 members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and more than 50 people affiliated to other outlawed groups. (Writing by Robin Paxton)

List sent to terror chief aligns peaceful Muslim groups with terrorist ideology

• Quilliam Foundation's list 'not for public disclosure'
• File for counter-terror boss branded 'McCarthyite'
Vikram Dodd, crime correspondent

A secret list prepared for a top British security official accuses peaceful Muslim groups, politicians, a television channel and a Scotland Yard unit of sharing the ideology of terrorists.

The list was drawn up for Charles Farr, the director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a directorate of the Home Office. Farr is a former senior intelligence officer.

It was sent to him in June by the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism thinktank which hasreceived about £1m in government funding.

Quilliam was co-founded by Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz, former activists in the radical Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir. Critics of the foundation accused it of McCarthyite smear tactics and branded its claims ridiculous. The foundation declined repeated requests for comment.

The document sent to Farr is entitled "Preventing terrorism; where next for Britain?" It lists alleged extremist sympathisers, including the Muslim Council of Britain, the main umbrella group in Britain for Islamic organisations. It also claims that a Scotland Yard counter-terrorism squad called the Muslim Contact Unit is dominated by extremist ideology.

Other groups include the Muslim Safety Forum, which works with the police to improve community relations, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and even the Islam Channel, which provides television programmes for Muslims on satellite.

The briefing document says: "The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics.

"These are a selection of the various groups and institutions active in the UK which are broadly sympathetic to Islamism. Whilst only a small proportion will agree with al-Qaida's tactics, many will agree with their overall goal of creating a single 'Islamic state' which would bring together all Muslims around the world under a single government and then impose on them a single interpretation of sharia as state law."

The document adds that if local or central government engages with such groups "it risks empowering proponents of the ideology, if not the methodology, that is behind terrorism".

The report was addressed personally to Farr and says it is not to be seen by civil servants, only by him, ministers and their special advisers. Nonetheless, it was leaked and posted on the web.

Also listed in the document are the Muslim Association of Britain, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the Cordoba Foundation, and Muslim Welfare House, based in north London, which was instrumental in forcing the extremist cleric Abu Hamza out of the Finsbury Park mosque where he preached.

The Finsbury Park mosque, now under new management, is also declared extremist, as are Birmingham Central mosque and the East London mosque.

Politicians described as "Islamist backed" include Salma Yaqoob, who stood for the Respect party in Birmingham, and the former MP George Galloway.

The government has made public efforts to woo British Muslims by promising reviews of disliked policies such as stop and search and the Prevent programme, which aims to tackle extremism.

Fatima Khan, vice-chair of the Muslim Safety Forum, said: "[Quilliam's] attack on the MSF is yet another example of their McCarthyism and desperation to ensure government funding. We deplore such tactics that seek to slander, divide and discredit genuine organisations that work within the grassroots of the Muslim communities for the purpose of our safety."

The Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, said: "I think it's very dangerous to be drawing up lists of this kind. I am concerned and will be writing to the home secretary to ask if the government requested this list, what is the status of this list, and why it is being considered in this way."

Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4Uk and a former MCB spokesperson, said: "This is just like something straight out of a Stasi manual. The advice from Quilliam is frankly appalling and incredibly self-serving.

"This is a truly shocking document, and it is little wonder that the Quilliam Foundation marked it as being not for public disclosure. In effect, Quilliam - a body funded very generously by the government through Prevent - are attempting to set themselves up as arbiters of who is and is not an acceptable Muslim. Their document specifically contains a McCarthy-type list of large and established Muslim organisations that they regard as suspect and smears them as being 'Islamists'."

Robert Lambert, who co-founded and led Scotland Yard's Muslim Contact Unit, said: "The list demonises a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism."

He said he had never seen such a list before, warned that it could damage Muslim confidence in the government, and said the meaning of the list was clear: "They are arguing these are either witting or unwitting fellow travellers, providing the mood music for the terrorists."

Quilliam's argument is that the government cannot merely tackle those advocating terrorist violence, but also has to target those who have the same views, even if they advocate peaceful means.
Senior Tory party figures are sympathetic to such views. One source with knowledge of Conservative thinking on security issues told the Guardian that the briefing document is "quite in line with what Quilliam and the Conservatives have been thinking for years". Critics say such an approach is ill-founded and risks branding vast swathes of Muslim Britain as extremist. Supporters say it is necessary to tackle the roots of terrorist violence.

The briefing document from Quilliam also addresses the Prevent programme, which the Conservative coalition has criticised.

Asked to comment, the government concentrated its response on this aspect.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We believe the Prevent programme isn't working as effectively as it could and want a strategy that is effective and properly focused - that is why we are reviewing it."

Pakistan in peril of succumbing to Iran-style Islamic revolution: Study

WASHINGTON: Pakistan is in peril of succumbing to an Iranian-style Islamic revolution, an official US study has warned, saying that mushrooming fundamentalism in the nation is finding support from the army and intelligence.

Pakistan slipping into an Iranian-style Islamic revolution is described as one of the biggest threat to the world, the Quadrennial Defence Review Independent Panel has told the US Congress in its final report submitted last week.

It has expressed serious concern over increasing Islamic fundamentalism in the country that has its support in its army and the intelligence.

"Some 'associated movements' will pursue lesser and more local goals, with the biggest danger to Pakistan, where the ruling elite (including the army and intelligence services that helped create--continue to tolerate and aid--such groups) is vulnerable to an Iranian-style revolution that Islamists would exploit," the report said.

Appointed by the Congress, the Quadrennial Defence Review Independent Panel is charged with conducting an assessment of the assumptions, strategy, findings, and risks described in the Department of Defence's Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR).

The QDR, a report required by law and provided by the Defence Department to Congress, is intended to assess the national security environment over the next 20 years and identify the defence strategy, forces and resources required to meet future challenges.

After the Department of Defence issued this year's QDR on February 1, 2010, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Congress constituted an independent panel to review the report as part of the National Defence Authorisation Act of 2010.

Former Secretary of Defence William J Perry and former National Security Adviser Stephen J Hadley served as co-chairs on the Panel, and the Department of Defence asked US Institute of Peace to facilitate the Panel's work.

"Salafist 'jihadi' movements, wedded to the use of violence and employing terror as their primary strategy, will remain both an international threat to the global system and a specific threat to America and its interests abroad.

"This remains true even as current al-Qaeda leaders age and their goal of a restored caliphate becomes ever more impractical," it said.

According to the report, some of these groups will set their sights on the United States, as recent attacks linked to Yemen prove.

"The greatest risk to the United States is that weapons of mass destruction or the materials and expertise to produce them will find their way into the hands of fanatical, murderous jihadists," it said.

Iran claims to own S300 surface-to-air missiles


Iran has obtained four S-300 surface-to-air missiles despite Russia's refusal to deliver them to Tehran under a valid contract, a semiofficial Iranian news agency claimed Wednesday.

The Fars news agency, which has ties to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, Iran's most powerful military force, said Iran received two missiles from Belarus and two others from another unspecified source.

Fars didn't elaborate, and there was no immediate official confirmation of the report.

Russia signed a contract in 2007 to sell S-300 missiles to Iran, a move that would have substantially boosted the country's defense capacities. Israel fears that supplying S-300s to Iran would change the military balance in the Middle East.

" Iran possesses four S-300 PT missiles "

Fars news agencyThe S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system is capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 90 miles (144 kilometers) and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet (27,432 meters).

Russia said in June that the new tough U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran prevent Russia from delivering the missiles to Iran but Iran has insisted that Moscow is under an obligation to carry out the contract to provide the S-300 missiles to Tehran.

"Iran possesses four S-300 PT missiles," Fars reported.

The agency said Iran's possession of the missiles was revealed for the first time last year by Al-Menar TV, which is affiliated the Iranian-backed Islamic militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Fars said Iranian government officials never denied the report.

It added that Iran may try to start building the missiles itself.

Russia is in a difficult position in the international standoff with Iran, in part because it does not want to jeopardize decades of political and trade ties with the Islamic republic. Still, Moscow has lately shown increasing frustration with Iran, and last month backed the new sanctions.

Moscow has delivered other anti-aircraft systems to Tehran, such as the Tor-M1, which can hit aerial targets at up to 20,000 feet.

Japan imposes sanctions against Iran

" The government will push ahead with studying measures our country should take so that we will have a conclusion as soon as possible, by the end of August "

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku In the same time, Japan imposed sanctions against Iran over its contentious nuclear program on Tuesday in line with a U.N. resolution and said it plans to announce additional punitive measures later this month.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced the steps as the U.S. State Department's special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control Robert Einhorn was headed for Tokyo as part of an East Asian tour.

The measures include an asset freeze on 40 Iranian entities and one individual suspected of being involved in nuclear and missile development.

The U.N. Security Council in June slapped its fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment work, part of a nuclear program which many nations fear masks a drive for nuclear weapons.

The United States, European Union, Canada and Australia have also announced additional sanctions, which have been opposed by Russia and China, now Iran's closest trading partner, with major energy interests in the country.

Japan is also considering its own additional sanctions, the top government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku said.

"The government will push ahead with studying measures our country should take so that we will have a conclusion as soon as possible, by the end of August," Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku told a press conference.

"We believe we need to address the issue sternly to reach a diplomatic, peaceful solution," he said.
European foreign ministers last week adopted measures targeting Iran's oil and gas industries, going beyond the latest U.N. sanctions.

The EU measures include a ban on the sale of technology and services to Iran's energy sector, hitting activities in refining, liquefied natural gas, exploration and production, and a ban on investments in the energy sector.

Iran insists its nuclear work is only for generating power and other peaceful uses. The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons.

Gaza girls go fishing to beat poverty


Every morning the two girls wake up before dawn, row their wooden skiff out into Gaza's heavily-patrolled waters, and try to catch enough fish to feed their family.

They are perhaps the only women in the territory of 1.5 million people who make a living from fishing, and are a rare sight in Gaza's conservative society where women rarely venture into the sea even to swim.

But Madeleine Kulab, 16, and her sister Reem, 13, have had few other options since their father was struck with palsy 10 years ago, and like many women in Gaza have had to work for wages once earned by men.

" How are we supposed to survive without catching fish? My father has palsy in his feet and cannot work "

MadeleineFor the last four years Israel and Egypt have largely sealed the borders of the Palestinian enclave, ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement since June 2007, pushing the local private sector to the brink of collapse.

Gaza's unemployment rate hovers around 40 percent, with 80 percent of the population, including the Kulab family, relying on foreign aid.

"How are we supposed to survive without catching fish? My father has palsy in his feet and cannot work," Madeleine said as she and Reem plucked tiny fish from their nets on Gaza's sandy shore.

The girls wear jeans, long-sleeve shirts and headscarves, even while swimming, in keeping with Gaza's conservative customs.

"Life is hard, so girls like us have to work as fishermen despite the dangers," she said as she tossed the fish into a bucket and her father, Mohammed, decided which ones they would eat and which would go to market.

The medium-sized catch of three kilograms of fish will sell for around eight dollars (six euros), and will have to support the family of five until the following morning.

The two girls and their brother Kayed, 14, fish up to a nautical mile (two kilometers) off shore and often dive into the deep waters to check their nets.

Larger boats can go further, but as they approach the three nautical mile (5.5 kilometer) mark Israeli warships turn them back with warning shots and occasionally seize the vessels as part of a naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled coastal strip tightened after the 2008-2009 Gaza war.

The vast majority of profits come from sardines and adult fish, which mostly swim further out. In recent years Gaza has started importing growing numbers of fish from Israel and Egypt, further squeezing the fishermen's livelihoods.

Last month Israel said it would start allowing all purely civilian goods to enter Gaza but the naval blockade remains in place and the economy is hamstrung by the lack of virtually any export channels.
The girls' father learned to fish from his father and grandfathers, who lived near what is now the Israeli city of Ashkelon before they fled during the 1948 war that attended the creation of the Jewish state.

" I taught Madeleine and Reem how to swim and fish so they could support themselves "

Mohammed"I taught Madeleine and Reem how to swim and fish so they could support themselves," Mohammed, 52, says. "The priority should be for them to finish their studies, but what can I do?"

The children are only able to fish for a couple of hours before school on weekdays, but sometimes they go back out in the evenings.

"I work for an hour or two and then I go to school. I always have my uniform and my school bag with me so I am ready to go," Reem said as the family lit a cooking fire to make breakfast.

She loves the ocean but hopes one day to finish her studies and become a journalist. "I want to focus on the suffering of people like us, because life has been really unfair to us," she said as she stoked the fire.

Mohammed hopes his children can keep up the family tradition. He has a larger boat that in better times could make for a profitable business, but the engine needs a $ 500 (380 euros) part which he cannot afford.

"I hope when my kids grow up they can use it," he said.

The girls defy traditional roles in Gaza's conservative Muslim society, but the residents of their poor seaside neighborhood, who share their predicament, have been supportive.

"There is no shame in work," says Mohammed Jahjuh, 19, another fisherman. "We live with more dignity than beggars."

Hassan Siyam, 20, a friend of the family who has helped the girls from time to time, understands their struggle.

"There is nothing here for young people," he said. "My father is unemployed, and that's what forced me five years ago to go to the sea and fish in order to support my family."

The girls know their trade is risky, and at times they have had to ditch their nets and race back to shore at the sound of Israeli gunfire. Both know of fishermen who have been shot and wounded out at sea.

"Sometimes I get really scared," Reem said. "But I am not ashamed around my friends at school because I help my father and my siblings, and I am reducing the burden on my mother."

Pakistan floods trigger mass exodus

Thousands of people in Pakistan's Punjab province are fleeing their homes as the worst floods in the country's history threaten more areas in the south.

Floodwaters have submerged numerous villages and begun to pour into major urban centres like the city of Kot Addu in Punjab.

UN and Pakistani officials say 3.2 million people are affected by the floods along the Indus River, and that at least 1,500 people have died in the past week.

"We have been able to see a mass exodus of people in south Punjab and the water is still rising", Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder said on Wednesday.

Hurried evacuation

"People are evacuating in a hurry, complaining that they have not received any help from the government," he said.

At least 47 people had been killed in Punjab, Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said.
Nearly 1,000 villages have been affected and some 15,000 houses destroyed in the province, according to the UN.

The rush of muddy water over river banks in Punjab threatened to destroy vast stretches of crops that make the province Pakistan's breadbasket.

The army used boats and helicopters to move stranded villagers in the area to higher ground.

Water levels were so high in large tracts of Kot Addu and the nearby area of Layyah in the south of the province, that only tree tops and uppermost floors of some buildings were visible.

A military spokesman told reporters that at least 30,000 people have been rescued from flood-hit zones in Kot Addu and nearby areas over the previous 72 hours.

He warned that more flooding was expected as weather forecasts predicted more rains in the next few days.

"People must co-operate with us, and they must leave those areas where floods are going to hit," he said.

This year's monsoon season has prompted the worst flooding in Pakistan in living memory.

The northwestern region of the country was the worst hit, until flood waters flowed downstream to inundate large areas in the south.

Food crisis

The UN is scrambling to provide food and other assistance to millions of people affected in the water-soaked nation, which was already struggling with violence and a poor economy.


It has warned of serious food shortages following the loss of farm produce in the floods. The World Food Programme has estimated that 1.8 million people will need to be fed over the next month.

"People [in the flood areas] are literal fighting to get food aid", Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from the capital, Islamabad, said.

Rescue workers have struggled to deliver aid because of washed-out bridges and roads and downed communication lines.

Several foreign countries have stepped in to help, including the United States, which announced on Tuesday that it was sending six large military helicopters from Afghanistan to help with the relief effort.
But many flood victims have complained that aid is not reaching them fast enough or at all.

Flood survivors hit out at Pakistan’s president


 Anger erupted among survivors of Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years on Monday as destitute farmers asked why their president was visiting the UK even as his country braced for more rains

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, is due to begin a trip to Britain on Tuesday as outrage boils over at his response to floods that have killed more than 1,100 people and remarks by David Cameron, the UK prime minister, linking Pakistan to terrorism.

Forecasts of more rain have raised fears that fresh downpours could unleash more torrents in flood-hit areas of north-west Pakistan, where raging waters have forced at least 1m people to abandon their homes. Some may be able to return relatively quickly if the waters recede, but others come from villages that have virtually ceased to exist.

Several hundred people are feared to have been killed by rising waters in other parts of Pakistan, and many thousands more forced to move to higher ground. One government official in Islamabad estimated the nationwide death toll at 1,400 and said the figure could be much higher.

Residents fleeing washed-out villages in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the north-western province worst hit by the disaster, slammed the government’s response, saying they had received no help since torrential rains caused flash floods last week.

“The president has proven he doesn’t care about ordinary people. When Pakistanis are dying, it is the time for him to have stayed at home,” said Naeem Khan, seeking shelter in Nowshera, which lies 60 miles north-west of Islamabad and is partly underwater. “Last week, I was looking forward to harvesting my three acres of sugar cane but now I have nothing left, absolutely nothing.”

Opponents of Mr Zardari’s weak coalition government have seized upon his absence to accuse him of being out of touch with his people. The prominent role played by the army in the rescue efforts has underscored the authority still wielded by the military, which has ruled Pakistan for decades.

Anger at the government over the floods will pile further pressure on civilian leaders already struggling to prove they can steer Pakistan through a Taliban insurgency, an economic crisis and a chronic shortage of electricity.

Pakistani officials say they are doing all they can to help survivors and have appealed for the US, the United Arab Emirates and other allies to provide helicopters to help the rescue effort. The military says it has already evacuated thousands of people and is using boats and helicopters to reach more than 20,000 people trapped on patches of high ground in the north-west.

Relief workers fear more rain in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, and Sindh, home to Karachi, the commercial capital, could broaden the scope of a disaster they are still struggling to assess. “The scale is larger than we expected,” said Nicki Bennett, a senior humanitarian official with the United Nations. “It could still go from bad to worse.”

The Obama administration has provided rescue boats, water filters, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals to help flood victims, a gesture of support that comes as Washington seeks to win greater Pakistani co-operation to support its struggling military campaign across the border in Afghanistan.

Rescue efforts have been slowed by severe damage to roads in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which has been the scene of fierce fighting between Pakistan’s army and Taliban insurgents in recent years. Officials estimate that about 100 bridges have been destroyed in the region, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province.

One official in Islamabad drew parallels between the scale of the damage inflicted on infrastructure by the floods and the impact of an earthquake in 2005 in parts of northern Pakistan and Kashmir that killed some 70,000 people. “The loss in economic terms could be as much as the earthquake where the preliminary estimates were about $3bn and by some measures even $5bn,” the official said.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said that more than 29,500 houses had been damaged and a key trade highway to China was blocked in several places by the flooding.

Zardari to visit UK as anger at Cameron boils over in Pakistan


Pakistan premier on official visit to Britain as public back home vent fury at Cameron remarks

Pakistan's president, Asif Zardari, arrives for an official visit to the UK on Tuesday with a continuing storm back home over David Cameron's comments about Pakistani attitudes to terrorism.

Amid fears that security co-operation between Britain and Pakistan could be hit by the row, British officials sought today to play down the significance of the spat, insisting "no long-term damage" had been done by the prime minister's remarks in India last week.

In Pakistan, opposition parties united in demanding that the trip be cancelled; Pakistan's powerful military establishment has already demonstrated its anger by cancelling a visit by a delegation of intelligence officials to the UK.

Zardari – who arrived in France for a three-day trip – will "forcefully take up" the remarks when he meets Cameron, according to Pakistan's information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira. Attention is most likely to be focused on a session with the prime minister at Chequers on Friday.

"Any continuation of such a policy stance by the UK government could lead to fissures in the historically sound relationship between the two countries," Kaira said in London. "But we hope that this will not happen because Pakistan's stand against terrorism is based on facts evident to everyone."

Cameron started the storm last week when he said Pakistan could no longer "look both ways" by tolerating terrorism while demanding respect as a democracy.

British officials have denied subsequent reports that the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, had cancelled a visit to the UK because of the row, saying reports to this effect from Islamabad were based on a "misunderstanding". But Pakistan did show its anger by cancelling a visit by a delegation of ISI officers to the UK. Its members were due to hold talks with their opposite numbers from MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, the government's electronic eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham. A visit to Pakistan by a senior British security figure had also been cancelled.

British counter-terrorist officials make no secret of the importance they attach to security co-operation with Pakistan, although they admit the relationship can sometimes be difficult.

Gordon Brown said that 75% of terrorist plots in the UK had links to Pakistan, though that figure is now said to be down to around 50% as al-Qaida's presence and operational abilities in the region have diminished. British and other Nato forces in Afghanistan were almost entirely dependent on Pakistan for their supply route.

"The message should be clear that intelligence cooperation cannot take place when Pakistan is going to be abused at will by the British leadership. It is time both the US and UK realized that it is Pakistan that supplies the oxygen which allows them to exist and operate in Afghanistan," fumed an editorial Sunday in The Nation, a Pakistani daily.

Pakistan's military is particularly incensed that Cameron chose to make his comments in India, Pakistan's traditional enemy. "We are fighting this war with all sincerity," said an ISI official. "We work with over 50 foreign intelligence agencies but the biggest co-operation is with MI6 and the CIA. Up to now our co-operation [with MI6] has been exemplary."

Numerous terrorist conspiracies, some involving British nationals, have been foiled with UK-Pakistan spy agencies working together, including the 2006 plan to blow up transatlantic airliners.

Britain's High Commission in Islamabad has long included a senior representative from MI6 and more recently from MI5 as well – a change which reflects the growth of domestic UK security concerns since the July 2005 London bombings.

"The ISI is providing much of the information on British nationals, returning from the tribal areas [of Pakistan]. Both on al-Qaida and home-grown terrorism, the ISI has been very helpful," said Hamid Gul, a former head of the ISI who was recently accused in US. intelligence documents published by Wikileaks of aiding the Afghan Taliban

"If you [Britain] believe this, why do you have Pakistan as an ally at all?" said Masood Sharif Khattak, a former head of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, the main civilian intelligence agency. "If we are the exporter of terror, why is it that the maximum terrorism is taking place in Pakistan?" Cameron's statement could help radicalize British Pakistanis, said Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc, a book on the Pakistan army.

Three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam negative for Britain


Muslim organisation calls for efforts to improve awareness as four-fifths of those polled admit to little knowledge of the faith

Three-quarters of non-Muslims believe Islam has provided a negative contribution to British society, according to a new poll, which has prompted calls for Muslims to help improve the perception of their faith.

The study for the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) also found that 63% of people surveyed did not disagree with the statement "Muslims are terrorists" and 94% agreed that "Islam oppresses women". It included qualitative as well as quantitative data. One respondent said: ""If I had my way I'd kick them all [Muslims] out of here."

The results follow an online YouGov poll, published in June, that found 58% linked Islam with extremism and 69% believed it encouraged the repression of women.

Despite the widespread negative perceptions of Islam, iERA believes the fact that most opinions were formed in ignorance of the faith indicates that Muslims can positively influence them.

Four-fifths of those polled said they have less than very little knowledge about Islam, while 40% did not know who "Allah" referred to and 36% did not know who the Prophet Muhammad was.

iERA's senior researcher Hamza Tzortzis said: "We wanted to do something positive with the survey results rather than just say, 'It's so sad'. So, the organisation's strategy is to give a new realm of possibility for people to comprehend Islam, have a proper respect for Islam and see the human relevance of the faith."

The organisation has made a number of recommendations on how to spread knowledge of Islam and the Muslim community through education and audiovisual materials. It also advocates "promoting Muslim women as ambassadors of change" to counter the impression that they are oppressed.

Although the survey indicated people may not be willing to listen – 60% said they preferred not to receive any information about religion, while 77% did not agree in any way that Muslims should do more to teach people about their faith – Tzortzis believes they will if they are shown that religion is relevant.

"We need to show that it [Islam] encompasses all the things in your life whether social or practical," he said.

"We had one of the biggest economic crises and we had no Islamic scholar saying the Islamic [financial] model wasn't as affected and might be relevant."

The study, carried out for iERA out by DJS Research, used face-to face questionnaires to ascertain the views of a "statistically robust" sample of 500 randomly selected non-Muslims.