Georgia Blast Kills 2 During Putin Visit

Georgia Blast Kills 2 During Putin Visit

By VOA News
13 August 2009

Russian news reports say two people were killed and several others wounded in a bomb blast in Abkhazia during Wednesday’s visit by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin’s one-day trip to the Georgian breakaway territory was the first by a top Russian official since Moscow last year recognized Abkhazia’s independence after the five-day Russian-Georgian war.

The reports quote authorities as saying the blast in the resort town of Gagra killed a 52-year-old woman and wounded four others. A second victim died later in a hospital.

Authorities say no one was hurt in the second blast, which occurred in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, shortly after Mr. Putin departed the city and returned to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Obama’s One-sided “Democracy”

Roadblocks Devised to Push Back Against Health Care Town Hall Protesters

Supporters of health reform say they are simply pushing back against opposition that is disruptive and designed to shut down debate while opponents say the tactics are underhanded and intended to undermine democracy in action.

FOXNews.com

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Americans who want to express their opinions on health care reform at town halls across the country are encountering a host of roadblocks, ranging from fake schedules to a demand that they show their driver’s licenses or photo identification.

Supporters of President Obama’s plan say they are pushing back against opposition that is disruptive and designed to shut down debate. But opponents say the supporters’ tactics are underhanded and designed to undermine democracy in action.

In Texas, Rep. Gene Green’s office is requiring town hall attendees to present a photo ID that proves they live in his district.

On his Web site, Green says “due to a coordinated effort to disrupt our town hall meetings, we will be restricting further attendance to residents … and verifying residency by requiring photo identification.”

Greene’s spokeswoman, Brenda Arredondo, told FOXNews.com that the Democratic congressman enacted the policy after she and other staffers overheard attendees saying they were going to keep disrupting the town halls. After the policy went into effect at the fourth town hall Green hosted this month, she said eight out of 10 attendees were found not to be constituents.

They were allowed to stay, she said, leading to the same outbursts seen at the other three. But they won’t be allowed to attend the fifth one, she said.

“Those people are welcome to call their members of Congress and voice their opinions,” she said, adding that Green is trying to listen to his constituents.

She said the policy is not intended to block opponents of health care reform. “If you want to come yell and scream and are constituents, we obviously more than welcome your voice,” she said. “It’s not to silence anyone’s voice from the district.”

In Illinois, two Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Obama this week complaining that Democratic organizers scheduled meetings between them and their constituents without ever notifying them, misleading their constituents into going to town halls on the wrong day.

Illinois Reps. Mark Kirk and Judy Biggert wrote that their constituents had apparently signed up for meetings to discuss health care reform with them after receiving an Aug. 9 e-mail from BarackObama.com urging them to do so.

“However, the names of our constituents and the times they wished to visit were never communicated to us,” the letter said.

As a result, the lawmakers claimed more than 20 constituents came to their district offices on Monday.

“When they learned neither the White House, the Democratic National Committee nor Organizing for America had passed their request to our offices, they were understandably confused and upset with the BarackObama.com e-mail they had received,” they wrote.

They urged the organizers not to keep them in the dark in the future.

In response, Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse issued a statement saying that the OFA members were not told to go to offices unannounced.

“They are mischaracterizing this — which is not surprising if you look at the falsehoods Republicans are spreading on this issue,” he wrote. “OFA sent an e-mail to all its supporters asking them to sign up for drop bys with every House and Senate office — Democrat and Republican — to drop off a flyer in support of heath insurance reform.”

Woodhouse said the e-mail advised supporters that “they should call ahead to make sure the office was open and that if they wanted to do more than drop by the office they should schedule a meeting on their own.”

Health Care for America Now, a coalition group organizing support for Obama’s proposal, e-mailed a four-page memo to activists across the country on how to provide “cover” to lawmakers at the town halls. The group, whose members include ACORN, the Service Employees International Union and the National Council of La Raza, urged activists to contact lawmakers before the town halls to plan ways to preempt opposition.

“Ask the member’s staff what would be most helpful and talk through a strategy for making sure the right messages don’t get drowned out by chaotic protesters,” field director Margarida Jorge wrote.

“Address the [member of Congress] directly with a positive message: Remember, these members need cover and they are getting beaten up by right wing zealots in these meetings.”

Jacki Schechner, a spokeswoman for HCAN, told FOXNews.com that the group sent the memo after many of its 120 field organizers in 44 states encountered screaming and shouting at the town halls.

“Not that the opposition caught anyone off guard,” she said. “The level of screaming and shouting and lack of intelligent discourse caught people off guard.”

Schechner noted that the memo does not emphasize any one tactic, but rather coordination with lawmakers to facilitate the town hall. She rejected the notion that the memo is designed to undermine democracy.

“We would love to have more conversation,” she said. “What undermines democracy is the screaming and yelling and not allowing people to talk.

“There’s a very important detail being lost here. There are details of health care not being explained because no one can get a word in edgewise,” she said, adding that the town halls are intended for lawmakers to explain those details. “That legitimate conversation is not happening because there’s such an angry din of noise.”

Schechner said the memo has already helping lawmakers like Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who was rushed by protesters at earlier town halls where one held a sign showing Doggett with devil’s horns. But now the town halls are more orderly, she said.

Myths And Facts About al-Qaeda

Myths And Facts About al-Qaeda
By Karin Friedemann
8-12-9
The media myth of a global Islamic conspiracy never got much traction in America before 2001 because the minority Muslim American population simply did not seem like much of a threat, because Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States are loyal US allies, and because Americans generally have a positive attitude toward wealthy investors. After 9/11 pro-Israel propagandists exploited public ignorance and created a nightmarish fantasy of al-Qaeda in order to put the US and allies into conflict with the entire Islamic world. What is al-Qaeda? What do they believe? What do they actually do?
Osama bin Laden first used the term “al-Qaeda” in an interview in 1998, probably in reference to a 1988 article written by Palestinian activist Abdullah Azzam entitled “al-Qa`ida al-Sulba” (the Solid Foundation). In it, Azzam elaborates upon the ideas of the Egyptian scholar Sayed Qutb to explain modern jihadi principles. Qutb, author of Social Justice in Islam, is viewed as the founder of modern Arab-Islamic political religious thought. Qutb is comparable to John Locke in Western political development. Both Azzam and Qutb were serious men of exceptional integrity and honor.
While Qutb was visiting the USA in 1949, he and several friends were turned away from a movie theater because the owner thought they were black. ‘But we’re Egyptians,’ one of the group explained. The owner apologized and offered to let them in, but Qutb refused, galled by the fact that black Egyptians could be admitted but black Americans could not,” recounts Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower. Qutb predicted that the struggle between Islam and materialism would define the modern world. He embraced martyrdom in 1966 in rejection of Arab socialist politics.
Azzam similarly rejected secular Palestinian nationalist politics as an impediment to moral virtue. He opposed terrorist attacks on civilians and had strong reservations about ideas like offensive jihad, or preventive war. He also hesitated to designate any Muslim leader as an apostate and preferred to allow God to make such judgments. Inspired by the courage and piety of Afghan Muslims struggling against the Soviets, Azzam reinterpreted Qutb’s concept of individual and collective obligation of Muslims in his fatwa entitled “Defense of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation after Iman (Faith).” Qutb would have prioritized the struggle of Egyptian Muslims to transform Egypt into a virtuous Islamic state while Azzam argued that every individual Muslim had an obligation to come to the aid of oppressed Muslims everywhere, whether they are Afghan, Kosovar, Bosnian, Thai, Filipino, or Chechen.
John Calvert of Creighton University writes, “This ideology would soon energize the most significant jihad movement of modern times.”
At Azzam’s call, Arabs from many countries joined America’s fight against Communism in Afghanistan. No Arab jihadi attack was considered terrorism when Azzam led the group, or later when bin Laden ran the group. Because the global Islamic movement overlapped with the goals of the US government, Arab jihadis worked and traveled frictionlessly throughout the world between Asia, Arabia and America. Azzam was assassinated in Pakistan in 1989, but legends of the courageous sacrifices of the noble Arab Afghans energized the whole Islamic world.
After the Soviets left Afghanistan, bin Laden relocated to Sudan in 1992. At the time he was probably undisputed commander of nothing more than a small group, which became even smaller after he lost practically all his money on Sudan investments. He returned to Afghanistan in 1996, where the younger Afghans, the Taliban welcomed him on account of his reputation as a veteran war hero.
There is no real evidence that bin Laden or al-Qaeda had any connection to the Ugandan and Tanzanian embassy attacks or any of the numerous attacks for which they have been blamed. Pro-Israel propagandists like Daniel Pipes or Matthew Levitt needed an enemy for their war against Muslim influence on American culture more than random explosions in various places needed a central commander. By the time the World Trade Center was destroyed, the Arab fighters surrounding Osama bin Laden were just a dwindling remnant living on past glories of Afghanistan’s struggle against Communism. Al-Qaeda has never been and certainly is not today an immensely powerful terror organization controlling Islamic banks and charities throughout the world.
Al-Qaeda maintained training camps in Afghanistan like Camp Faruq, where Muslims could receive basic training just as American Jews go to Israel for military training with the IDF. There they learned to disassemble, clean and reassemble weapons, and got to associate with old warriors, who engaged in great heroism against the Soviets but did not do much since. Many al-Qaeda trainees went on to serve US interests in Central Asia (e.g. Xinjiang) in the 1990s but from recent descriptions the camps seem to currently provide a form of adventure tourism with no future enlistment obligations.
Although western media treats al-Qaeda as synonymous with Absolute Evil, much of the world reveres the Arab Afghans as martyr saints. Hundreds of pilgrims visit Kandahar’s Arab cemetery daily, believing that the graves of those massacred in the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan possess miraculous healing powers.
Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women. Joachim Martillo contributed to this article.

China calls halt to Gwadar refinery

[The price of Pakistan’s surrender to US demands.  The drama in FATA and Balochistan are obviously enough to convince China that the country is unsafe.   The American price for potential investment will be the dismemberment and dissolution of the Nation that will be “formerly known as Pakistan.”]

China calls halt to Gwadar refinery

By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

QUETTA, Pakistan – Cash-strapped Pakistan, which has had to accept more than US$11 billion from the International Monetary Fund

, is threatened with the loss of a huge foreign investment

after China said it had shelved its multi-billion dollar coastal oil refinery project at Gwadar, in southwest Balochistan province.

China has formally informed the Pakistani authorities that the refinery project has been deleted from the list of financial

development plans agreed with Islamabad for the financial year ending next June as there has been no progress on the project, according to a Business Recorder report.

The decision, which follows suspension in January by the

United Arab Emirates state-run International Petroleum Investment Company

(IPIC) of work on the $5 billion Khalifa Coastal Refinery (KCR) project at Hub, also in Balochistan, creates uncertainty about the future of the planned $12.5 billion mega oil city project in Gwadar, of which the refinery there was to be a key element.

It also casts doubt over plans for a corridor carrying energy pipelines and refinery products the length of Pakistan from Gwadar onto western China.

The global recession was a factor in forcing the Chinese and UAE governments to shelve their refinery projects, the Business Recorder report said, citing sources in Pakistan’s Petroleum Ministry. Local analysts, however, believe that security concerns were also an important factor.

The province has battled with a low-level insurgency for the past five years. Most recently, a security forces’ checkpoint was attacked on Wednesday in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital, killing four people and injuring five others.

The United States is also turning its attention to the province, which borders Afghanistan to the north, as part of its battle against Taliban insurgents in the region.

Many Chinese nationals have been attacked, kidnapped and killed in the country since May 2004, when three Chinese engineers were killed in Gwadar.

While its nationals are under threat in Pakistan, China is also concerned about Islamist militants operating in China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It says some have been trained in Pakistan’s unruly tribal areas to the north of Balochistan. Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region, was the scene of riots last month in which 197 people were killed. Beijing claimed Uyghur separatists were responsible for the violence.

Great United Petroleum Holdings Company Limited (GUPC) of China started work on the Gwadar petrochemical city project in December 2006. Under a memorandum of understanding signed between Pakistan and China that year, GUPC was committed to conduct a feasibility study and preparation work. The GUPC was also to build 1,000-2,000 service stations in the country.

China had expressed interest in building the refinery during a visit to China in February 2006 by Pakistan’s then-president General Pervez Musharraf, who also offered a “trade corridor” that would carry imported Middle East oil and refined products from Gwadar to Kashghar, in western China.

China had planned to build a refinery and petrochemical complex with an initial 10 million tonnes per year (200,000 barrels per day) capacity, later expanding to 21 million tonnes. Pakistan has allocated 5,000 hectares of land for the proposed oil city.

Gwadar is close to the entrance to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, China’s biggest source of crude, and a pipeline to western China would greatly reduce the time and distance required to transport the fuel, while cutting out the congested seaways around Singapore.

The earlier halted UAE-built Khalifa refinery was originally planned for Gwadar, before being moved east to Hub district. In 2007, the UAE signed an implementation agreement with Islamabad to establish the $5 billion refinery, which Abu Dhabi’s IPIC was to build with a target refining capacity of 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day. So far the UAE government has not started work on the project, which was scheduled to be completed by 2012.

In March, Pakistan told the UAE government that if work did not start within 60 days, Islamabad would seek other investors or expand the capacity of the Pak-Arab Refinery (Parco), in central Pakistan, by 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

It was not possible for the UAE to immediately start work on the refinery, with a huge investment, due to the global economic meltdown over the past year, according to a report published in The News on March 30. In view of the expected delay in initiating the Khalifa project, the government would ask Parco, the country’s largest refinery, to start increasing capacity, the report said, citing Asim Hussain, adviser to the prime minister on petroleum.

China is playing an increasing role throughout Pakistan’s economy, from sales of consumer goods to developing natural resources, with several mining projects underway in Balochistan. It has been the biggest foreign investor and partner in the development of Gwadar port for commercial shipping as well as an energy hub.

The port was officially declared functional last December, yet the outlook there is also uncertain. The government is in dispute with the Pakistan navy, which is reluctant to vacate 582 hectares of land it is using at the port and which is wanted for development. Ports and Shipping Minister Babar Khan Ghauri said late last month that the port may be shut down if the navy did not vacate the land, the Daily Times reported.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider, sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com, is a Quetta-based development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of six books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004).

ISI and Friends Block Iran/Pakistan Progress

The politics of pipelines

By Tariq Fatemi

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) greets President Asif Ali Zardari before the start of a trilateral summit in Tehran. — Reuters

Some 10 years ago, the federal cabinet was examining the possibility of selling surplus power to India. Today, thanks to the Musharraf regime’s criminal neglect of this sector, we are facing a crippling power shortage.

Islamabad has little to show for its efforts to secure energy sources over the years, apart from signing numerous memorandums of understanding.

As far back as 1993, an MOU was signed to construct the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project that India later wanted to join. It envisaged a 2,670km land pipeline with a 3,620 mmcfd gas transmission capacity.

A year later, an MoU was signed to bring gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan. In 2002 an agreement envisaging a pipeline over 1,271km up to Multan was also signed. It enjoyed US support, but continuing turmoil in Afghanistan, coupled with Turkmenistan’s inability to provide convincing proof of its gas reserves, is preventing progress. Then there is the Qatar-Pakistan pipeline under consideration since April 1992.

Many experts are convinced that it is only the IPI project that is technically viable and economically attractive. But US opposition has prevented any concrete movement on it. In the past year or so, India has lost some of its ardour for it, partly because of the US civilian nuclear deal and partly because of the high price demanded by Iran.

The Pakistani leadership claims to be committed to it, pointing to the presence of Presidents Zardari and Ahmadinejad at the signing ceremony of the gas sale agreement earlier on.

However, a recent controversy is causing concern. The petroleum adviser has resigned a couple of weeks after his startling disclosure that two countries, one western and the other in the Middle East, were applying pressure on Pakistan to abandon the project.

This had come as a rude shock to those who were reminded that the Indian petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had been eased out soon after his public defence of the project. No less significant was a news report that the country’s premier intelligence agency had expressed its reservations with the project, suggesting that Pakistan look for other options. Now we hear that the entire issue may be placed before parliament where it could be lost in debate for years.

Have we succumbed to external pressure and abandoned the only ‘doable gas pipeline project? The nation deserves to know. In the meanwhile, the world’s major powers are engaged in a frantic search to secure assured sources of energy by building transmission lines to move gas from the energy-rich Gulf and Central Asia to energy-starved Europe.

The latest to be launched is the Nabucco project, for which many of Europe’s statesmen gathered in Ankara last month. They were joined by US special envoy on Eurasian energy issues, Richard Morningstar, who some 10 years earlier had been instrumental in getting everyone on board the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline project despite Russia’s opposition.

The 3,300km Nabucco project, signed by Turkey, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, is estimated to cost $11bn and is projected to transport Central Asian gas bypassing Russia, going via Turkey to Austria and Germany through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. With four entry points into Turkey, it will ultimately tap gas from diverse sources and pump enough gas to meet five to 10 per cent of the European Union’s needs.

However, it is Iran’s involvement that makes the Nabucco pipeline so intriguing, for it will make it the transit corridor for Turkmenistan gas that will eventually go into the pipeline. For this, Iran has entered into an arrangement with Turkmenistan, with the two agreeing that instead of constructing a pipeline from Turkmenistan along the bottom of the Caspian Sea, they would transport Turkmen gas to Europe via existing pipelines to Turkey.

This means that Tehran has decided that while Washington explores how to rebuild relations with it, it can forge a strategic partnership with Europe, a view confirmed by the Turkish energy minister.

The Nabucco project represents a setback for Russia, as it will enable Europe to diversify its energy supplies. This explains why it had been promoting the South Stream project as an alternative to Nabucco, persuading the Balkan and Central European countries to opt for it. It may also mean that Turkmenistan is moving away from Russia and getting closer to the US, which could transform the Caspian energy sweepstakes.

With Russian gas supplies dwindling and surplus for export shrinking, Gazprom is even more dependent on Turkmenistan which currently produces 80,000mmcfd annually out of which most is sold to Russia. However, in recent months, supplies to Russia have been cut back sharply, because of an explosion on the Soviet-era Central Asia-Centre pipeline.

In the meanwhile, Turkmenistan has also agreed to increase its contracted gas supplies to China via a pipeline nearing completion. In addition, Turkmenistan has agreed to step up gas supplies for the Nabucco pipeline, which means that Turkmenistan intends to reduce its dependence on Russia. This could encourage other Central Asian energy producers to move away from Russia and opt for European markets through pipelines not going through Russian territory.

This means that Turkey is fast becoming the ideal transit country to carry non-Russian gas from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to Europe, thereby assuming the role of an energy hub for Europe. But Turkey is careful not to antagonise Russia, a neighbour, top trading partner and main gas supplier.

Turkey is already linked directly to Russia through the Blue Stream gas pipeline, which runs under the Black Sea. Hoping to attract Russia and Kazakh oil, Ankara is promoting a pipeline from its Black Sea port of Samsun to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean coast, which already serves us a terminal for conduits pumping oil from Azerbaijan via Iraq.

While the world’s powerful states are scrambling to acquire secure sources of energy, we have failed to move on even one pipeline project, which only shows how oblivious our leadership has been to the country’s increasingly desperate need for energy.

‘Discovery of mass graves in Swat’

‘Discovery of mass graves in Swat’

The witnesses to mass burials said at least in some cases the bodies appeared to be those of Taliban militants: HRCP report.—File photo

LAHORE: A fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to Swat has documented accounts of extrajudicial killings by the security forces, discovery of mass graves in the conflict-hit region and the unabated suffering of the civilian population.

The report of the three-day mission says a number of Swat residents have reported having seen mass graves in the area, including at least one at Kookarai village in Babozai tehsil and another in an area between Dewlai and Shah Dheri in Kabal tehsil.

The witnesses to mass burials said at least in some cases the bodies appeared to be those of Taliban militants, it added.

The mission expressed grave concern over the ‘worrying development’ and also over credible reports of numerous extrajudicial killings and reprisals carried out by the security forces.

The mission said: ‘It is vital for the success of the military operation against terrorists that the security forces’ actions are distinguishable from the atrocities committed by the Taliban. ‘Taliban justice’ has been rightly condemned for its brutal and arbitrary nature and was crucial in helping turn the public opinion against the extremists. Treatment of individuals by government must aspire to a higher standard.

‘The human rights violations by security forces can only be discouraged if the State puts in place a transparent mechanism to monitor violations both during and post-conflict and fulfill its obligation of providing justice through due process.’

The HRCP mission also noted serious difficulties faced by the local population and internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to Swat.

‘The IDPs have returned to find a number of houses in the area damaged in the military operation. Shops in most areas are yet to reopen and the ones that are open have scarce supplies. The local people demand that the government ensure the supply of essentials to the returning population, including subsidised edibles for the families that cannot afford to buy them on account of financial losses. Restoration of the devastated infrastructure and provision of safe drinking water must be given top priority to prevent the spread of disease.’

While a massive security operation in Swat seems to have dented the Taliban network in the area for now, the threat still exists. A lack of safety and security remains for the people being sent back to the valley from IDP camps, the mission reported.

‘That the law and order situation is still not completely under control is testified by the continued curfew in the area. Even military officials in the area acknowledge that parts of Swat are yet to be purged of the militants. The beheading of a police official in Sangota (Mingora) on July 28 triggered fear among local residents who had returned to their homes after being assured that the militants have been flushed out of the area.’

It said none of the national and provincial assembly members or district or tehsil nazims had so far returned to the conflict-hit area. Their absence itself is a reflection of the apprehension of lack of security in the region. The government should provide the elected representatives of the area appropriate security to encourage their return, which would also boost public morale. The mission urged a campaign to apprehend local-level Taliban operatives and other terrorists.

The return from the IDP camps must be voluntary and the people should be given accurate assessment of the situation on ground to enable them to make an informed decision.

The HRCP emphasised that security of the displaced population must be the guiding principles in any decision on repatriation.

‘The shifting of IDPs from camps in the NWFP cities to safe places in Swat, and not hurried repatriation or closure of camps for the IDPs, must be the main consideration for the government,’ the mission said.

It further said the government must not send the returning IDPs to areas yet to be cleared of Taliban and should instead move the IDP camps to those areas of Swat that have been secured and are accessible to national and international humanitarian aid agencies.

It would make the displaced population feel more at home in a climate they are accustomed to, the mission said.

It said the IDPs should be expeditiously compensated for the damage caused to their houses and other property during the military operation to allow them to rebuild their lives at the earliest.

The civil society must also come forward to assist the traumatised population as well as demand provision of justice through due process and an end to human rights violations in security operations, the HRCP said.

Seventy killed as Baitullah, Bhittani supporters clash

Seventy killed as Baitullah, Bhittani supporters clash

By Alamgir Bhittani

Militants loyal to Baitullah attacked Bhittani’s men and torched 33 houses.—Photo by AP

TANK: Fierce clashes broke out between supporters of Baitullah Mehsud and rival Turkistan Bhittani in the Frontier Region of Jandola on Wednesday and each side claimed inflicting heavy casualties on the other.

According to sources, militants loyal to Baitullah attacked Bhittani’s men in Soor Gher area and torched 33 houses. They said seven supporters of Bhittani were killed and 15 were captured.

Meanwhile, Bhittani’s men claimed to have killed over 50 attackers. According to AP, at least 70 fighters were killed in the clash.

Two intelligence officials said militants used rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft guns against Turkistan’s men. The officials, who cited wireless intercepts from the area, confirmed at least 70 people had been killed.

Bhittani said 90 fighters were killed and more than 40 houses were destroyed.

There was no way to independently confirm the death toll, as the fighting was taking place in a remote, mountainous area that is off-limits to journalists.

A senior official confirmed the clash but did not give details about casualties. ‘The local administration has no writ in the area and we have no information about the number of casualties,’ he added.

Meanwhile, a BBC Urdu report said that as clashes escalated, spreading to various areas, helicopter gunships could be seen flying over the region.

Helicopter gunships subsequently targeted three vehicles in use of Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters. At least 15 men travelling in those vehicles were killed, the BBC report said.

Commander Bhittani, who enjoys the backing of the government, has emerged as the main challenger to the Baitullah group in Tank and Jandola.

The sources said the Bhittani group had eliminated the Baitullah group in Tank city and adjacent areas.