(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's government sought to distance itself Monday from a government minister who offered $100,000 of his own money to anyone who would kill the maker of a vitriolic anti-Islam video, produced in the U.S., which has sparked violent protests across the Muslim world.
The remarks on Saturday by Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the nation's minister of railways, put President Asif Ali Zardari in an awkward position and have been disavowed by government leaders, but they were welcomed by many Islamic hardliners in Pakistan, highlighting the deep divide in the south Asian country.
Just hours after Zardari landed in New York to represent Pakistan at the annual United Nations General Assembly, a statement by the foreign ministry in Islamabad made it clear the bounty offer reflected Bilour's "personal view and had nothing to do with the official policy of the government of Pakistan."
Embarrassed government officials said Bilour's remarks isolated him from other politicians in his Awami National Party (ANP) - a nationalist group with a long history of pursuing secular causes.
"The minister's statement wasn't a well thought out policy statement. It was made in a state of rage," Naveed Chaudhary, an aide to President Zardari, told CBS News.
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - Pakistani authorities blocked cell phone service in at least 15 cities Friday as protests continued in the south Asian nation against a vitriolic anti-Islam video that has offended Muslims worldwide.
The move was made, according to Pakistani officials, to prevent terrorists from using cell phones to detonate bombs remotely, but there are indications the government is actually trying to quell the violent protests by blocking communications between the conservative Muslim organizers of the rallies.
Protesters took to the streets again on Friday, meanwhile, and a Pakistani television reporter covering the unrest said his driver had been shot and killed by police firing to try to disperse the crowd, according to The Associated Press. No further information was immediately available.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A teenaged Christian girl arrested in Pakistan on a controversial charge of blasphemy was ordered released on bail by a judge Friday, but there are concerns that her life may still be in danger even after seemingly dodging the allegation - which could technically have brought the death penalty.
Judge Azam Khan ordered her release on about $10,000 bail after hearing competing arguments from the defense and prosecution lawyers. CBS News is withholding her identity as she is a minor.
"Our position has been vindicated. My client is now free on bail," Tahir Chaudhary, the girl's lawyer told CBS News. The rare legal victory for an individual targeted with Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws followed a tumultuous three weeks for the teenager who, according to a medical report, is 14 years old, but not intellectually developed to a level typical of her age. Chaudhary told CBS News his client suffers from "mental ailments that have hindered her mental development," without specifying her condition.
She was arrested after someone from her low-income neighborhood in Islamabad's suburbs complained of seeing her carrying burned pages of the Koran - the Islamic holy book. Desecration of the Koran is considered blasphemy in Pakistan - an offense which can bring the death penalty, though it has never been meted out in court.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has ordered Save the Children's foreign staff members to leave the country within two weeks - a decision apparently taken over the government's suspicions that the global charity facilitated a false vaccination program that may have helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden in the northern city of Abbottabad last year.
"I can confirm that the Pakistani government has asked our expatriate staff to leave the country within two weeks. Altogether, this decision will affect six of our non Pakistani colleagues", Ghulam Qadri, the group's head of program and planning in Islamabad, told CBS News. Qadri said Pakistani authorities had given his organization no explanation for the expulsion.
A senior Pakistani government official who deals with security affairs, however, told CBS News on condition of anonymity that the decision was prompted by, "the reluctance of Save the Children to cooperate with the Pakistani government" in the case of Doctor Shakil Afridi.
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani judge postponed Tuesday a bail hearing for a Christian girl jailed on charges that she desecrated the Muslim holy book after an official medical review concluded that she is only 14-years-old and likely suffers from some mental disability that makes her less well developed than others of her age, the girl's lawyer tells CBS News.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhary, a Christian politician and the lawyer representing the girl's family, tells CBS News the bail hearing was postponed until Thursday so the court could fully consider the new evidence.
"The medical evidence has concluded that her mental age is below her chronological age, and the doctors also believe she is 14 years of age," said Chaudhary. "Our contention is, she is a child and as a minor cannot be prosecuted on the grounds that have been presented in the blasphemy case," added Chaudhary, saying he will seek to have the case dismissed.
Her parents have claimed through a local priest that she suffers from Down's syndrome, though that claim has not been confirmed by medical examinations thus far.
The girl's status as a minor will see the case shifted to Pakistan's juvenile court system, but her fate remains unclear, and the case continues to highlight to the world the intimidation minority Christians can suffer as Muslim extremists influence the country's courts and law enforcement.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A teenage girl in Pakistan has been arrested after furious mobs surrounded her house, accusing her of violating the nation's strict blasphemy laws - an offense which can, but rarely does, lead to the death penalty - by allegedly burning pages of a Koran. The case has highlighted the tremendous sway radical Islamic groups hold over society in many parts of Pakistan.
Much remains unconfirmed about the girl, a member of Pakistan's Christian minority from the impoverished outskirts of Islamabad, including her exact age and whether she suffers from a severe mental or physical disability. Various reports say she is anywhere between 11 and 16, and there has been one claim that she suffers from Down's Syndrome.
The case has evoked fears that Pakistan's radical Islamic factions might try again to use the blasphemy laws to target the country's religious minorities - to the extent that President Asif Ali Zardari has intervened, asking the Ministry of Interior to examine the circumstances of her detention.
"The president is very disturbed over this case and wants it to be thoroughly re-examined," an official who works with Zardari tells CBS News. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says it remains unclear what ailment the girl might suffer from, but her age alone is cause for an investigation into the case.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A senior U.S. general on Friday concluded a trip to Pakistan a day after two major terrorist attacks, a powerful reminder of a growing security challenge to the south Asian nuclear-armed country.
But senior Pakistani government officials and Western diplomats who spoke to CBS News said the visit by Gen. James Mattis, commander of the Florida-based U.S. Central Command, should be seen for its relevance to an upcoming anti-militant campaign by Pakistan's armed forces.
"The contacts between the highest levels of the U.S. military and the Pakistani military at this time are very important," one senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "A deeper U.S. engagement with Pakistan will only help to improve their coordination ahead of the new campaign."
In the past fortnight, Western diplomats and Pakistani officials have said the Pakistani army will soon launch a new military operation across the rugged north Waziristan region along the Afghan border.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A veteran Pakistani politician who was tapped by the country's leading political party on Thursday to replace ousted Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and who is considered close to President Asif Ali Zardari, now faces arrest on allegations he was involved in pharmaceutical smuggling.
A government official confirmed to CBS News reports on local TV stations which said a judge presiding over an anti-narcotics court had issued an arrest warrant for Makhdoom Shahabuddin - nominated only hours earlier by Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) as its candidate to replace Gilani, who was stripped of his title earlier this week when the Supreme Court declared him unfit for office.
The Pakistani Supreme Court found Gilani in contempt of court on Tuesday, forcing him out of his job, and forcing the PPP to put forward a replacement for prime minister.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A senior Pakistani official says his country has "scaled down" the amount it is demanding as a per-vehicle charge on future NATO supply shipments as Islamabad and the U.S. continue to negotiate an end to the dispute surrounding the closure of a land supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. defense chief Leon Panetta says the detour around Pakistan and through Central Asia is costing the American government $100 million every month.
A senior Pakistani security official confirms to CBS News that the two sides are continuing to "actively negotiate" a solution, in spite of the impression given on Monday when U.S. officials confirmed an American team which had tried for more than a month to reach a deal to reopen the supply route, was returning home from Islamabad.Continue »
(CBS NEWS) ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday faced fresh pressure surrounding his rule, when a high-powered judicial commission appointed by the government concluded that a former ambassador to Washington asked U.S. officials to rein in the country's influential military just last year.
The commission's findings, confirmed to CBS News by a Pakistani official, concluded that Husain Haqqani, Zardari's hand picked former ambassador to the U.S., approached American officials in Washington in the tumultuous days following a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden in the northern city of Abbottabad.
The Pakistani government official who spoke to CBS News after seeing the findings of the commission said "the members of the commission have concluded that Ambassador Haqqani had approached the U.S. government, asking for U.S. assistance to put pressure on the Pakistan army."Continue »
That judgment could further complicate U.S. arguments that he should be released.
The case against Dr. Shakil Afridi has attracted widespread attention in the U.S. after his arrest on charges that he conspired against the state. Pakistani officials had previously said Afridi's arrest was tied to a fake vaccination program he ran in the months leading up to bin Laden's killing in May 2011, which obtained blood samples from some of bin Laden's family members to establish the presence of the world's most notorious militant at a sprawling compound in the northern city of Abbottabad.
The subsequent U.S. Navy SEAL raid that ended in bin Laden's death caused a deep rift between the two countries, with Pakistani officials angry at being kept in the dark about the operation and U.S. officials questioning how bin Laden could have been living in the country for years, apparently undetected.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter will leave his post this summer, ending his tenure after just two years - a year less than the typical ambassadorship - as tension between the two nations lingers.
"It's a personal decision" U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Stroh tells CBS News. "It's not because either the Pakistani government or the U.S. government is dissatisfied with his performance."
While the Pakistani foreign ministry says a successor has yet to be formally named, an official at the ministry says Pakistani authorities have been informally told that a senior diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Afghanistan will likely take the position.
"We understand that Richard Olson, who is a senior U.S. diplomat in Kabul and is looking after U.S. aid and economy related matters, is being actively considered for the job," added the Pakistani foreign ministry official.Continue »
(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - Osama bin Laden's three wives and 11 children were cleared to leave Pakistan Thursday night, having spent the past year in the south Asian country after U.S. Navy SEALs tracked and killed the world's most hunted terrorist in the northern city of Abbottabad, the family's lawyer told CBS News.Continue »
Gilani was given a symbolic jail term lasting for less than a minute, but the verdict made it possible for him to lose his job as prime minister, according to analysts and legal experts.
"For reasons to be recorded later, the prime minister is found guilty of contempt for willfully flouting the direction of the Supreme Court," said Supreme Court Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk in announcing the verdict. The judge ordered Gilani to serve time "till rising of the court" - a term which means for the duration of the brief court hearing.
(CBS NEWS) ISLAMABAD - A bold jailbreak on Sunday by the Taliban in Pakistan's embattled northwestern province prompted fresh warnings over security conditions deteriorating rapidly in an area bordering Afghanistan.
The objectives behind the jailbreak in the city of Bannu, in the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, appeared to include freeing a notorious Islamic militant involved in an assassination attempt targeting Pakistan's former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf.
Altogether, approximately 400 inmates - including at least 30 men with previous record of association with the Taliban - escaped the prison early on Sunday, according to accounts given by Pakistani officials.
A senior Pakistani intelligence officer who spoke to CBS News from Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, confirmed reports of the escape of Adnan Rasheed, in custody in connection with the assassination attempt on Musharraf.
"He was a very notorious militant. His escape is a big breach in security arrangements" said the security official who asked not to be named.Continue »
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