WRAPUP 1-Foreigners shot in Pakistan, US missiles hit militants
Reuters - Saturday, November 15
By Simon Cameron-Moore
ISLAMABAD, Nov 14 - Militants shot and wounded two foreign journalists on the outskirts of Peshawar on Friday, and U.S. missiles killed 12 people in a strike on a Pakistani Taliban commander's stronghold in tribal lands bordering Afghanistan.
Spiralling violence has raised fears that nuclear-armed Pakistan could slide into chaos unless the 8-month-old civilian government, also faced with a potentially crippling economic crisis, and the army can throttle the militant threat.
The shooting of a Japanese and an Afghan journalist on Friday was the latest incident involving foreigners in Peshawar.
The capital of North West Frontier Province has borne the brunt of attacks in cities by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, and operating out of the tribal lands.
An Iranian diplomat was kidnapped and his police bodyguard killed on Thursday, an American aid worker was gunned down along with his driver on Wednesday, while a suicide bomber killed three people at a sports stadium a day earlier.
Militants are retaliating against U.S. missile strikes in the Waziristan region, at the southwest end of the tribal belt, and an offensive by Pakistani forces in Bajaur, at the northeast end.
The Pakistan army is also fighting insurgents in the northwest valley of Swat, and tribesmen said gunship helicopters struck militant positions in Mohmand, a region neighbouring Bajaur, where an offensive is expected any day. Frustrated by fighters from Pakistan fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and fearful of al Qaeda regrouping, U.S. forces have intensified missile attacks by pilotless drones since early September.
CIA Director Michael Hayden told a Washington think tank on Thursday that U.S. pressure in Pakistan's borderlands aimed to put al Qaeda "off balance", and said the region represented the greatest terrorism threat to the United States.
The latest missile strike hit a house in a remote village on the border between North and South Waziristan, where Baituallah Mehsud, an al Qaeda ally and leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has been bottled up by Pakistani forces since early this year.
"We have reports that 12 people were killed, including five foreigners," a paramilitary official said by telephone from Waziristan.
It was unclear if the dead foreigners included Arabs, who usually signify an al Qaeda presence.
A relative and aides to Mehsud, and Pakistani government and paramilitary officials said the attack happened at around 1:45 a.m. , and up to four missiles were fired.
"There were two drones flying in our area and they fired four missiles," a paramilitary official said. "They were American."
Missile-armed drones are primarily used by U.S. forces in the region, though the United States seldom confirms drone attacks. Pakistan does not have any.
Mehsud, who was accused of being behind the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last December, married a second wife in a ceremony earlier this week in the Makeen area of South Waziristan. Under Islamic custom a man can take up to four wives.
In Peshawar, journalist Sami Yousafzai recounted how he and a journalist from Japan's Asahi newspaper were attacked by three gunmen on foot at the boundary between the Peshawar neighbourhood of Hayatabad and the Khyber tribal region.
"They stopped our car and put a gun to my head. I pushed it away and they opened fire," said Yousafzai as he lay in a hospital bed with two wounds to his hands and one in the shoulder.
Asahi's Islamabad bureau chief Motoki Yotsukura was hit in the leg. "I'm OK," Yotsukura told Kyodo news agency while being transferred from Peshawar to a hospital in the capital Islamabad.
Peshawar is the last city on the road to the Khyber Pass, the main land route to Afghanistan. Militants seized 13 trucks laden with supplies for Western forces on the road on Monday.
GOING TO THE IMF
Pakistan's support is seen as vital to efforts to defeat al Qaeda globally and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it stands on the brink of a balance of payments crisis and needs funds urgently to avoid defaulting on an international bond maturing in February.
The new civilian government is banking on goodwill towards a country undergoing a transition to democracy after more than 8 years under former army chief Pervez Musharraf, who quit as president in August to avoid impeachment.
The government will probably send a "letter of intent" to the International Monetary Fund in coming days, setting out commitments needed to secure a loan package, an official said.
"We are asking $9 billion from the IMF, they are talking about $7.4 billion," a finance ministry official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Officials hope the World Bank and other multilateral lenders along with friends like China, which they say could pitch in with $500 million, will come to Pakistan's rescue.
Tardiness in securing help was cited by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services on Friday as a reason for lowering Pakistan's credit rating on sovereign debt deeper into junk bond territory.
With time running out before a default, S&P cut Pakistan's long term foreign currency sovereign credit rating to CCC from CCC+, putting it eight notches below investment grade.
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