Friday, July 31, 2009

Musharraf faces exile in UK after court says emergency rule illegal
Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf faces an extended exile, possibly in Britain, following a court ruling that has paved the way for a possible – although unlikely – treason prosecution.

Celebrating lawyers danced on the steps of the supreme court after a 14-judge bench ruled that Musharraf acted illegally when he suspended the constitution and imposed a six-week period of emergency rule on 3 November 2007.

At the time, the rule was seen as a gambit by Musharraf to strengthen his grip on power. After a long struggle, he was forced from office a year ago.

The court ruling was delivered by chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whose attempted removal by Musharraf in March 2007 sparked a protest movement that eventually led to the general's downfall.

The court did not say whether Musharraf should be tried for treason but the trenchant ruling left him legally exposed to a prosecution. However, analysts said that was unlikely, at least for now, because any move would have to be initiated by the government, which is keen to avoid confrontation with the powerful military.

Hailing the ruling, government officials and lawyers preferred to stress how the decision would deter future military coups. Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, described it as a "triumph of the democratic principles, a stinging negation of dictatorship".

Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the lawyers' movement that helped oust Musharraf, said the ruling would "lock the door to future adventurism".

Neither Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, nor his lawyers attended the court hearing. The retired general left Pakistan for Britain two months ago, reportedly at the urging of the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who wanted to remove all political distractions as the army fought the Taliban along the Afghan border.

Since then Musharraf has given media interviews and reportedly bought an expensive apartment in London, the funding of which has been the subject of much speculation in Pakistan.

Talat Masood, a retired general and former Musharraf confidante, said it was unlikely he would return to Pakistan soon. "He will stay away and the army will advise him to stay away," he said. "I hear he's on a luxury cruise. I think that might be extended for some time."

Analyst Cyril Almeida said a treason trial was more a political matter than a legal one. "My gut feeling is that Musharraf isn't a guy to live in exile permanently. He will return at some point but right now the political heat is too much. His presence in the country is seen as being too destabilising." The ramifications of the historic ruling were unclear, exposing the complicated legal tangle that clouds Pakistan's constitution following decades of alternating military and democratic rule.

According to the ruling, all judges who swore allegiance to Musharraf will now be sacked. Also, some 37 laws passed during the emergency period will be subject to review by parliament.

"It is open to the courts to condone all or any of them," said Saeed-uz-Zaman, a former chief justice, speaking on Dawn television.

The decision which came at the end of a tense five-hour deliberation, was a symbolic victory for Chaudhry, who was reinstated as chief justice last March thanks to the vigorous protest movement.

The army is believed to have played a role behind the scenes, with Kayani urging Zardari to reinstate Chaudhry for the sake of political stability.

The world went silent . . . being blown up was too quick to be frightening'
Spurts of dust kicked up in the field to the left of the US Marines and the clatter of gunfire grew louder. The Marines began to run, their bodies taking on the hunched and wary posture of troops under fire. Shouting into radios, officers were struggling to catch up with the ambush that was beginning to envelop them.

More regular, disciplined shots sounded close by. A pall of ugly brown smoke hung in the clear dawn air several hundred metres away, marking the spot where a bomb explosion had initiated the Taleban ambush. It was 6.45am.

I was in the middle of the first squad of Marines. We pounded headlong towards a mud compound ahead. As we got to about 10ft of the corner of the building, the world went suddenly and inexplicably silent and everything turned white.

Being blown up was too quick to be frightening. Instead, the sensation was one of odd detachment.

The bomb — it was, we later discovered by looking at the debris, two devices strapped together — was buried at the base of the wall on the corner of the compound. As they went off the blast wave completely stopped my hearing, lifted me into the air and spun me through 180 degrees.

Time slowed. I landed staggering, half off my feet, and blinded by a pall of dust; much of it seemed to be in my mouth. Blast-proof protective glasses had saved my eyes from damage and after a period of time that I couldn’t measure but which must have been a few seconds, sound began to return, distorted by a shrill ringing.

Someone was shouting “casualty”. Someone else was yelling with what sounded like pain. As the dust began to thin I realised I was now facing the way I had come. I looked down and found all my limbs still attached — a heavy bulletproof plate covered my chest and Kevlar my abdomen and neck. To my right someone was on the ground. I wondered if he was dead.

When Fox Company of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine had set out from their base an hour earlier they had already been briefed that a fight was a near certainty. They were on the second day of a three-day operation named Kapcha Kafak — Cobra’s Squeeze — designed to strengthen the Afghan Government’s hold in what, in theory, was newly taken territory south of the town of Garmsir. But in truth they knew that the area they were going to had had a minimal Nato presence and all previous forays had met fierce resistance. While their brief was to support Afghan National Army (ANA) units searching compounds and to engage with local people, the strength of the force they took with them was clearly in expectation of a fight. Forty Afghan soldiers and 70 Marines were supported by two attack helicopters and a pilotless drone.

As the events of the day would show, however, firepower can become meaningless when the enemy makes skilful preparation of the ground and has no scruples about cloaking itself with the lives of the local population.

For the first hour all was quiet. Cockerels crowed and the long, loose lines of soldiers passed a group of boys being taught to recite the Koran in a garden of roses. They watched the Marines’ passage without expression.

By 6.45am the Marines were occupying three positions around their goal, named “Objective Victor”, ready for the ANA to begin their search. It was then that the ambush began.

The thump of the first bomb detonating and sound of enemy small-arms fire was quickly followed by a call for casualty evacuation. Two men were badly injured: one, a Marine with shrapnel injuries to his face and hands, would survive; the other, an Afghan interpreter, would later die.

As they began to run towards the firing the Marine’s commander was already sensing a trap. “Watch right, we could be being baited for another IED [improvised explosive device],” shouted Captain Junwei Sun, 31, Fox Company’s commander.

He was right. The second explosion, the one that would catch the squad I was moving with, had been buried in anticipation of the way the force would move. As Sergeant Tom Williams led his men forward, his instinct was to seek the cover of the corner of the building. When the second detonation occurred it enveloped the whole of 1st Squad of 2nd Platoon — they call themselves the Helter Skelter Squad — and sent a plume of smoke rolling skyward.

The men behind were horrified. With a direct radio link to the helicopters above Captain Brian Hill, 32, the unit’s forward-air controller, called to the Huey helicopter circling above: “Did you see that explosion?” he asked. “I think I’ve got multiple friendlies badly injured in there. Can you be ready to put down for an immediate casualty extraction?”

Behind us the platoon commander, Lieutenant Sam Oliver, 23, lay on the ground, flattened by the blast. “I heard someone yell for a medic,” he said later. “I was thinking, ‘not like this, please God, not like this’ . . .”

As the smoke cleared, 1st Squad was still there and men were clambering to their feet. A piece of shrapnel was embedded in one man’s helmet. As the fact that we were still alive began to sink in we stood and laughed, clapping one another on the back, shaking a little. The battle was still unfolding around us but the world seemed a greener and more beautiful place.

There was a reason for this survival. The Taleban bombers had made several mistakes in the way they had made and buried their devices, the result being to channel their force upward rather than outward. They had also incorrectly wired what was to have been a third bomb. Discovered and destroyed by US combat engineers some minutes later, it was 30lb of fertiliser-based explosive that sat directly under the commanders of Fox Company. Had all three blown correctly it is likely that a dozen or more soldiers would have died or been badly injured.

But despite Fox Company’s escape, the advantage now lay squarely with the Taleban. Somewhere close by we were being watched by the insurgents with what was clearly a spider’s web of bombs stretched around us.

Among some of the Marines there was something like panic. “Get away from the roads, the whole place is f***ing rigged!” screamed one young officer as men moved out into the exposed fields rather than take cover.

The unit’s bomb disposal engineers began to sweep methodically with metal detectors, standing exposed as they did so. They quickly began to find naked, hair-thin copper wires in the soil, trailing towards the treeline and a compound 100 metres away.

The Americans prepared to advance on the compound with ANA soldiers. “If we take contact, peel right — I’m going to light it up,” Lieutenant Oliver said as they prepared to advance. But at the same moment they were forced to halt the attack. A group of women and children were moving into the middle of the unfolding battle and making for the same compound.

There were other signs that the Taleban were using the cloak of civilian innocence as cover. A man suddenly stood up in the treeline; as American soldiers fixed him in their sights he ostentatiously slung a shovel over his shoulder. A minute earlier there had been yet another blast from a bomb buried near the corner of the wall the Marines had begun to move along. It missed its target. “Of course he’s carrying a f***ing shovel,” one soldier spat as the man strolled nonchalantly away. Prevented by the rules of the battlefield from shooting him, the soldiers began to push through the lines of compounds ahead.

As the Afghan Army began to question one middle-aged man, those searching his house found pictures of the man and several others all carrying machineguns and rocket launchers and wearing the bulky white turbans associated with the Taleban. The picture had been taken in the front room of the compound.

The Afghans and the Marines were incensed. “Get your f***ing AK and I’ll put a cap between your eyes,” snarled one furious American soldier. “Do you want to go to jail?” he asked, eyeballing the man from a range of a few inches. “As you wish,” replied the man with a shrug.

“Who planted these bombs?” another American demanded. “I have no idea,” he replied — to derision.

A Marine “accidentally” put his foot through the glass of the empty picture frame on the floor and stormed off. But what proof did the pictures represent? There was no telling their date, and from 1996-2001 the Taleban were the Government. As for the weapons, they are found in every Afghan home. There was little the Americans could do but upload the man’s fingerprints and iris scan on to a biometric data machine and tell him he was being monitored. From the other rooms came the sounds of Afghan soldiers kicking down doors and breaking things. At another compound people told the Afghan soldiers that groups of Taleban fighters patrolled the area every day on motorbikes.

By now the temperature was around 52C (125F) and the Marines were fighting the elements. As they moved forward again the engineers found a fourth bomb, buried in a wall. It was defused. Intelligence reports suggested that the Taleban were massing fighters for an attack. Many of the soldiers were relieved that, at last, they might be able to shoot back.

But if the Taleban were still around they remained hidden, wary of the Cobra helicopters overhead. Instead, the Americans were advancing on to the fifth and largest bomb of the day.

Again, luck and keen eyes would come to their aid. As they traversed a field Private Joseph Helmick, 25, spotted something odd — two stakes buried in the ground. They were a marker for a watching bomb triggerman. The unit halted and as Fox Company’s explosives experts moved forward with their minesweepers, they found a command wire and two separate 40lb cylinders of explosive. These were detonated, scattering earth over a 100m area.

As they pulled up the wire they discovered it appeared to lead to the village mosque. As had been the case all day, none of the locals appeared to know why.

Shangla becomes new Taliban base

PESHAWAR: Taliban militants fleeing Swat and Buner are increasingly seeking refuge in the Shangla district and making their presence felt by attacking government installations and pro-military politicians and elders.

“I am hearing reports that there are now 1,500 militants in parts of Shangla’s Puran Tehsil bordering Buner. They pose a threat to all of us,” said Fazlullah, the young Member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Shangla and a relation of former federal minister and PML-Q NWFP President Amir Muqam.

On Wednesday night, Fazlullah’s cousin Haji Khalil Khan, the PML-Q President for Shangla who had been mobilising the people against the Taliban, was killed when a large group of militants attacked his house in Chogha Makhozai village. “The NWFP Chief Minister, Ameer Haider Hoti, who visited Shangla on Thursday to offer his condolences on Haji Khalil’s death also asked me about the militants’ strength in the area. I told him that I haven’t seen the Taliban myself but am aware of their growing presence in parts of Puran Tehsil,” recalled Fazlullah.

Fazlullah’s father Pir Mohammad Khan was killed in a suicide bombing at Amir Muqam’s house in Peshawar’s Hayatabad locality in early 2008. Shangla’s headquarters, Alpurai, was overrun by the Taliban militants, who had mostly come from Swat in 2007. The entire civil and police administration had fled the town. A military operation had to be launched to evict the militants from Shangla at the time, but as has been the case elsewhere, the Taliban gradually returned to parts of the district, particularly to Puran area which is adjacent to Buner. Due to the recent military action in Buner, militants from there have moved to Shangla.

Many militants from Swat, particularly its Charbagh and Khwazakhela Tehsils, have also sought refuge in Shangla.

After gaining strength in Shangla, the militants were reported to have set up roadside checkpoints at certain places, including Shaheed Sar, Hindwano Kandao and Sar Qalla on the Puran-Buner Road. They were patrolling the area and had already blown up a telephone exchange in Puran and fired at a security forces convoy in Martung.

Fazlullah said reports of militants’ attack on his house and that of Amir Muqam weren’t true. “Firing took place near Amir Muqam’s house in the village but it wasn’t attacked,” he clarified the reports appearing in the press.

According to Fazlullah, his family was a target of the militants due to its support for the military operation in Shangla and the rest of Malakand Division. “We are peaceful people. We are against militancy and terrorism. But if a known political family like us isn’t safe, then how could the common people feel confident while living in Shangla,” he argued.

He said security forces should take action against the militants in Shangla but care must be taken to avoid civilian casualties and the use of artillery guns to shell long distance targets be avoided. “We don’t want our poor people to suffer,” he stressed.

On Thursday, the two Taliban militants who were killed in the attack on Haji Khalil’s house were identified. Haji Khalil and his men had fought the militants and killed two of them.

Both were local and hailed from Dheray village in Puran Tehsil. One was Khurshid Ali and the other was identified as Adil. The police arrested Khurshid’s father, named Subedar, along with his brother. Adil’s family members weren’t arrested as they had already disowned and disinherited him for refusing to quit the Taliban.

Taliban arrival in Shangla in growing numbers is a pattern that would be repeated elsewhere in the NWFP in future. They would retreat from areas that are under military attack and move to places where the civil administration and police are weak and the Army has little or no presence. The militants’ strategy is to wage a guerrilla war, create fear among the people and destabilise the area.

Bajaur, Mohmand IDPs to return home soon

PESHAWAR: As the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Malakand continue returning to their areas in Mingora and Buner district, the government is going to firm up plan for the departure of IDPs from Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in the days ahead.

Chairman of the army's Services Support Group Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmad said Matta tehsil of Swat would be cleared of militants and IDPs would start returning to their homes in the coming few days.

Addressing a news conference, he said Kabal and Kanju tehsils of Swat would also be declared safe and people would start returning there soon, however, he did not specify the time period. He said 162,000 families had returned to their areas in Buner and Swat so far under the government's voluntary repatriation programme. Of those, 65,000 families had gone back before July 13, while nearly 100,000 returned to their areas after the said date.

Dispelling the impression about forced return of IDPs, Nadeem said the process was purely voluntary as 81 per cent people returned to their areas through public transport while only 19 per cent used the officially provided transport facility.

About the total number of IDPs, he said 755,000 families were registered by different government and international agencies, however, after completion of scrutiny 329,000 families found genuine.

Expressing satisfaction over the situation in Buner and Swat, Nadeem said markets were opened, hospitals and other government offices were operational and life was smoothly returning to routine.

What has been most encouraging is the cooperation of the returning population with the security forces, said the official, adding that people were providing information about the troublemakers. He ruled out presence of Taliban in large numbers in some areas near Malam Jabba or Manglawar or Chagharzai tehsil and some villages of Buner as reported in a section of Press.

Ruling out return of the Taliban, he said Shah Dauran had been killed and Fazlullah critically injured. "They are no more effective and capable to run their activities in the area," said the military official.

The official said the next important steps would be reconstruction and rehabilitation. The whole process would need 2 to 2.5 billion US dollars, however, exact figures would be revealed after proper assessment, he added.

He said the process also depended on the response from donors and the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, who were going to meet on August 24 in Turkey. He said they were expecting generous assistance from the friends for the reconstruction process in Malakand. He said economy of Swat was based on agriculture, trade, mining and tourism. Agriculture and trade had already been revived while the mining and tourism sectors would need sometime for revitalisation.

About the return of IDPs from Bajaur and Mohmand, the official said he was going to hold a meeting with Fata and FC officials to draw modalities like security, transportation, food, etc for their return.

To a question about the displaced families from Waziristan, he said a total of 5,512 families were registered in DI Khan and Tank, however, only 3,371 were found genuine after scrutiny. He said the federal government had sanctioned Rs180 million to provide Rs5,000 to each family for food on a monthly basis.

China Military reshuffle not likely

Chinese experts yesterday refuted a report that the country's seven military command regions would be reshuffled into four “strategic zones,” saying the major reform remains at the discussion level because of impracticality and concerns of national stability.

The latest issue of The Mirror, a Hong Kong-based journal, reported that the Chinese military is preparing to reform the system of military regions, as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) marks its 82nd anniversary tomorrow.

According to an unnamed military source, the seven current military regions of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu will be replaced with four strategic zones in the north, east, west and south, the report said.

Each strategic zone would be under the command of a military commission, formed by a joint command of different armed forces and several provincial secretaries in the zone, the source said, adding that the heads of the four military commissions would be assigned by the central authority in Beijing, responsible for the military actions and defense mobilization in the zones under their jurisdiction.

However, a military source who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times that it was impossible for the Chinese military to carry out such a major reform this year, as maintaining stability is the top priority.

“The main tasks for the Chinese military so far are to maintain stability along the borders and prepare for the military parade on National Day in October,” he said. “Whether and how to carry out the military reform has been discussed among the academics for almost 30 years, but no answers have been reached yet.”

Li Daguang, a military expert at the University of National Defense, ruled out the possibility of any immediate adjustment in the allocation of military regions.

“Relevant discussions have been ongoing for several years. But none of the proposals are mature enough,” Li told the Global Times, citing the complexity of reforming the system.

“The existing system has been in accordance with the national defense situation of China, which pursues a national defense policy that is purely defensive in nature,” Li argued.

The 2.3 million-strong PLA, under the top command of the Central Military Commission, oversees seven military regions nationwide as administrative headquarters responsible for making plans for troop development, commanding joint operations of different armed forces and guaranteeing joint logistics in several provinces.
Chen Zhou, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, noted that the division of China's military regions is based on administrative divisions, geographic locations, directions of strategic campaign and combat missions.

“The allocation of military regions usually changes with the troops' development and domestic and external environments,” Chen noted.

In private talks, military personnel were often heard talking about the urgency of a reform, as the current divide of seven military regions “appears to be redundant,” and “not up to the demand of modern military mobilization or deployment.”

The views were reflected in heated discussions among military aficionados on the Internet. A Web user wrote on a military forum that the army has been the main decision power in each military region, while the navy and air forces were always sidelined, which the user said isn't good for the military modernization of China.

Some Web users also doubted the efficiency of the division system, as the coordination among several regions is quite inconvenient.

However, military insiders told the Global Times that a major reform is hard to formulate, as the combination of some regions will mean the move of too many personnel and facilities, which might cause problems.

There have been several adjustments in the division of military regions since the foundation of the People's Republic of China.

Originally, six military regions were established in 1950. That number rose to 13 in the late 1950s and was reduced to 11 in 1968. Mao Zedong, the former leader of China, decided to exchange the positions of commanders in eight military regions in 1973. The current divide of seven regions dates back to 1985 when the country initiated a major demobilization of a million servicemen.

In another development, the official bilingual website of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) is expected to launch tomorrow, on the Chinese Army's 82nd birthday. The site is meant to be a channel for China to express and elaborate its military policy and release information of activities.

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the US forces in the Pacific region, praised the move Tuesday.

“This goes with our desire for more transparency and better understanding of Chinese military intentions,” Keating said.

On Tuesday, the military also offered 90 foreign journalists a visit to its Third Guard Division, a motorized infantry force that safeguards Beijing. The move was interpreted by Reuters as China's military cautiously trying out new openness.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi, a senior military expert at the University of National Defense, said the army is displaying increased confidence, transparency and openness by a series of military exchanges and diplomatic activities.

“It is conducive for China to convey its message of peaceful development and gradually dispel concerns about its military intentions from its Asian neighbors and Washington,” Yang said.

Pakistani boys recall ordeal at suicide training centre

ISLAMABAD: Four boys from Swat in Pakistan's restive northwest who were kidnapped by militants to be trained as suicide bombers have narrated harrowing tales of their ordeal in captivity, saying they were told to target their families if prevented from joining the jihad against security forces.

They said militants had taken them by force from their villages to training camps in different parts of the Matta sub-district where a large number of other boys were being trained as suicide bombers, Dawn reported on Friday in a dispatch from Swat's largest city of Mingora.

On Thursday, security forces presented them before a team of reporters in Mingora. Two of them, who were in a camp named Fazal Banda, said at least 250 boys, most of them in their teens, were being trained for terrorist acts and suicide bombings.

One of them said he was working in the field when armed men forced him into a car. "They blindfolded me and told me that I would get training for suicide bombing."

"The gunmen took me to the Fazal Banda camp where militants were training a large number of boys. They told us that security personnel were infidels and we should wage jihad against them. If our own families stopped us from joining jihad, we should target them as well."

Another boy said he was in his village when a group men sought his help to load luggage onto a vehicle. "When I went to help them, some masked men bundled me into the vehicle and drove away. They put a mask on my face and removed it at a training camp inChuparyal."

He said some 150 boys were being trained at the camp. Some of them had voluntarily joined the militants while some had been kidnapped, he added.

One of the boys said the Taliban had kidnapped him and told him he would be trained for the jihad. "They trained us and gave us little food. Three to four boys would get one chapati and some green tea. They warned us that anyone trying to escape would be slaughtered," he said.

The boys said they escaped from the training camps after four days and managed to return home.

"On our fourth morning at the camp, we got up along with other Taliban for prayers. We went out of the barracks for ablution and ran away," said two boys.

The Pakistani security forces had April 26 launched a major offensive against the Taliban in the Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province after they reneged on a controversial peace deal with the provincial government.

Under the deal, the militants were to lay down their arms in return for the imposition of Sharia laws in Swat and six other districts of the Malakand division. Instead, they moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner district that is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah. The operations, which have now all but concluded, later spread to Buner and Swat.

Some three million civilians were displaced by the fighting. Large numbers of them have now begun to return home.

The military says over 1,500 Taliban were killed in the fighting.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Four leaders urge world community to fight against drug threat

DUSHANBE, July 30 (Itar-Tass) - In their joint statement on Thursday, the Russian, Afghan, Pakistani and Tajik leaders urged the world community to take additional measures in fight against the drug threat from Afghanistan.

The document emphasized concern in connection with “the growth of an illegal drug trafficking as one of the main sources of financing the terrorist activity”. “The parties urge the international community to take additional measures in cooperation with the Afghan government for a resolute fight against the drug threat,” the statement said.

Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan welcomed Tajikistan’s bid to take part in joint work whose main directions were fixed by the foreign ministers of these states at the end of June. “The parties welcome readiness expressed by the Republic of Tajikistan to take part in work on the main directions fixed in the statements of foreign ministers” of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia, it said.

The document said that at a meeting held in the atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding the four leaders had discussed the main directions of four-way cooperation.

The four leaders acknowledged “particular importance of expanding and strengthening mutually advantageous economic cooperation” of their states and marked “a need to consistently implement agreements” reached at the previous meeting in Yekaterinburg.

They welcomed the statement of foreign ministers of their countries made in Trieste on June 26. They also marked the importance of commissioning the Sangtudin hydroelectric power station to solve energy problems of the region.

The presidents “put much emphasis on the development and strengthening of trade and economic relations between the four states and support activity at the national and international level aimed at contributing to the social and economic restoration and development of the region,” the document said.

It also marked “a need of four-party economic cooperation, including as concerns work on ways and means to contribute to regional trade, to increase the flow of foreign investments and implement projects in the sphere of hydraulic power industry, laying of power transmission lines and development of transport infrastructure, as well as the importance of measures for setting up a favourable investment climate in their states, encouraging direct contacts between the business communities” of the four countries.

The presidents stressed “the expedience of an active involvement of Afghanistan in processes of economic cooperation in the region in the interests of restoring the economy and normalizing the situation in the country on the whole”.

Besides, they expressed “interest in participation in economic cooperation under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” and urged “the World Bank and other international financial institutions to boost assistance in the implementation of regional economic projects, including studying the possibility of rendering such aid in the CASA-1000 project”.

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan expressed gratitude to Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon for a warm welcome and emphasized the importance of their meeting.

Afghanistan's bravest woman speaks out

Five assassination attempts have failed to silence "the bravest woman in Afghanistan" as she vows to continue to defend Afghans from oppression - whether from the Taliban or occupying forces. Malalai Joya became Afghanistan's youngest Member of Parliament when she was elected aged just 27 to the 249-seat National Assembly in September 2005. She has been suspended since 2007 on charges of insulting the parliament.
Joya is in the UK to promote her new book, Raising My Voice, but also to deliver a message to Britain: "We do not accept foreign occupation - three times a British government have occupied my country faced with the opposition of my people."
"Foreign governments are wasting their money and their blood in Afghanistan by supporting Karzai. After this election, the result will be the same donkey, only with a new saddle."
During the Soviet invasion, Malalai was four years old when her family fled Afghanistan in 1982 to the refugee camps of Iran and then Pakistan.
She finished her education in Pakistan and began teaching literacy courses to other women at age 19.
Joya returned to Afghanistan in 1998 during the Taliban's reign. She established an orphanage and health clinic, was soon a vocal opponent of the Taliban and was named a director of the non-governmental group, Organisation of Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities.

China delivers first warship to Pak Navy

China on Thursday delivered the first of four state-of-the-art frigates commissioned by nuclear-armed Pakistan from top ally Beijing, a naval spokesman said.
“The first F-22P Frigate constructed for the Pakistan navy at the Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai was delivered to Pakistan on Thursday,” said Lieutenant Commander Shakeel Ahmed.
In keeping with contracts signed between China and Pakistan in 2005, the frigates will be equipped with anti-submarine helicopters, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and other defence systems.
“The F-22P frigates will not only enhance the war fighting potential of the Pakistan navy but will also strengthen the indigenous ship-building capability of the country,” said Ahmed.
The announcement came two days after Pakistan hit out at India, branding its rival’s first nuclear-powered submarine “detrimental” to regional peace and vowing to take “appropriate steps” to maintain a “strategic balance”.
Relations between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have plummeted since gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai last November, attacks that New Delhi blamed on banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
India on Sunday launched the first of five planned submarines by naming the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies), powered by an 85-megawatt nuclear reactor that can reach 44 kilometres an hour (24 knots).
China is Pakistan’s strongest ally and Islamabad relies heavily on Beijing for its defence needs.
Many Chinese companies operate in Pakistan and China is involved in the construction of a deep-sea port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.

U.S. shifting drones' focus to Taliban

Kabul, Afghanistan — U.S. military leaders have concluded that their war effort in Afghanistan has been too focused on hunting Al Qaeda, and have begun to shift Predator drone aircraft to the fight against the Taliban and other militants in order to prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy.

The move, described by government and Defense Department officials, represents a major change in the military's use of one of its most precious intelligence assets. It also illustrates the hard choices that must be made because the drones are in short supply.

Senior government officials say that defeating Al Qaeda remains the overriding U.S. objective. However, they have determined that the best way to do that is by strengthening and stabilizing Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, rather than endlessly looking for important Al Qaeda figures.

But a shortage of drone aircraft could limit the effectiveness of the thousands of additional troops being sent as part of the Obama administration's new focus on Afghanistan, officials say. A preliminary review has concluded that the command in Afghanistan requires up to four times as many Predators as it currently has.

To try to meet the demand, the military has shifted about eight Predator drones assigned to special operations forces in Afghanistan to conventional forces. It is refocusing them on major insurgent strongholds rather than on scouring remote mountain ranges for suspected terrorists.

In addition, the U.S. military's Central Command is planning to send about a dozen more drones to Afghanistan, representing about a 25% increase. Among them are aircraft being reassigned from Iraq, despite resistance from the U.S. command there.

The sweeping redeployment means that insurgent groups that have carried out ambushes and roadside bombings will for the first time be tracked by dozens of drones capable of remaining over a target for hours undetected, identifying key individuals, and firing missiles within a matter of seconds.

A focus on hunting Al Qaeda reflected priorities set early in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. A move away from that strategy could invite protest from U.S. politicians and experts who believe that it could allow the organization to rebuild strength.

Osama bin Laden and the most senior Al Qaeda leadership planned the Sept. 11 attacks from Afghanistan, which was ruled by the Taliban until a U.S.-led invasion ousted it. The Al Qaeda leadership is believed to have reestablished itself across the border in Pakistan. U.S. military and intelligence services are also using drones to attack Al Qaeda figures and their Taliban allies there.

U.S. military officials believe mid-level Al Qaeda figures remain in Afghanistan, where special operations forces have been directed to hunt them down. The military also has long hoped it could learn clues to Bin Laden's whereabouts by spying on his former associates.

Despite the shift, the special operations forces retain a substantial amount of Predators. But officials say they are working to ensure that unconventional missions are more closely aligned with the new counterinsurgency strategy of the overall force.

But top military officials have concluded that they need to keep Afghanistan from sliding further into chaos in order to keep Al Qaeda from rebuilding there. Doing so will require a campaign to build confidence in the government and make the population feel more secure.

"We have been overly counter-terrorism-focused and not counter-insurgency-focused," said one U.S. official.

Senior government officials said Bin Laden remained a prime target but that they needed to focus on fighting the Taliban.

"We might still be too focused on Bin Laden," the official said. "We should probably reassess our priorities."

Although military officials emphasize that the drones will be used primarily as spy planes, the aircraft are armed. Predators carry two Hellfire missiles. Reaper drones, which are also being sent, are armed with Hellfires and precision-guided bombs.

Airborne attacks carry their own set of risks for the war effort. Afghan officials have repeatedly complained about civilian deaths resulting from airstrikes, and the Taliban seeks to make maximum use of such incidents' propaganda value.

A new directive from the top commander in Afghanistan is forcing the military to be more careful about airstrikes. But with up to 20 more drones dedicated to the task, the military may have more chances to attack key Taliban leaders.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, made it clear in a recent interview that protecting the Afghan population, not hunting suspected terrorists, was his priority.

"I don't think there is enough focus on counter-insurgency. I am not in a position to criticize counter-terrorism," he said. "But at this point in the war, in Afghanistan, it is most important to focus on almost classic counter-insurgency."

Under McChrystal's order, the command has been doing an extensive review of how it uses its reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft. Rather than spread the drones throughout the country so that all regional commands get the use of the planes for a little while each day, McChrystal wants to use the predators in a more concentrated fashion.

Top commanders are ending the practice of blindly trolling for information with the Predators. McChrystal said the best way to use intelligence aircraft is to watch a single target for days, even weeks.

The preliminary review found that the command in Afghanistan could use as many as 40 to 45 combat air patrols of Predators -- as many as 180 individual drones. That total is more than the military has in its inventory.

The shift of assets from Iraq is sensitive. Military officials said that U.S. generals in Iraq resisted, arguing that intelligence assets will be needed even after the U.S. drawdown speeds up next year.

But the Obama administration's primary military effort is now clearly Afghanistan. And a senior Defense official said Central Command, which has operational control over both wars, made its moves to shift Predator drones in consultation with McChrystal and the commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray Odierno.

In addition to the drones, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of Central Command, has ordered combat engineer units, road-clearance teams, helicopters and other equipment to move from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The military also plans to increase the number of U2 flights.

The advanced camera on the U2 is useful in spotting locations where roadside bombs have been placed, but only if the planes fly over the same area every 24 hours.

In addition, all of the Air Force's unmanned Global Hawks are going to be shifted to Afghanistan, officials said.

US unsure of Swat offensive success, says Holbrooke

WASHINGTON: It is still unclear if Pakistan’s offensive in Swat has killed off the Taliban or simply scattered them, US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke said on Wednesday.

“We don’t know exactly to what extent the Pakistani army dispersed or destroyed the enemy,” the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying. “The test of this operation is, of course, when the refugees return. Can they go home? Are they safe? And we’re just going to have to wait and see,” he told a State Department press conference.

He said that Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Kabul, and his military counterpart, General Stanley McChrystal, have consulted “fairly regularly” with Pakistani officials. They want to keep in touch with Pakistan’s government and army so “this time around, as the [NATO] offensive picks up steam, the Pakistanis are ready for it, so the Pakistanis know where the military operations are happening - and they can prepare for any spillover effects,” he added. Likewise, the US officials wanted to be fully apprised of Pakistani army offensives, he said.

Holbrooke said Afghanistan needed to expand the size and capabilities of its own security forces. Meanwhile, after a meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Phuket, Thailand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Pakistan’s efforts in the war against the Taliban. agencies


WASHINGTON - With mugs of beer and a few minutes of conversation, President Barack Obama tried to pull himself and the nation beyond an uproar over race, sitting on his big back lawn with the black professor and the white policeman whose dispute had ignited a week of fierce debate.

Under the canopy of a magnolia tree Thursday evening, a shirt-sleeved Obama joined the other players in a story that had knocked the White House off message: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley. Vice President Joe Biden was also with them on a Rose Garden patio.

The men were seen chatting with each other, each with a mug of beer. The media were stationed far away, out of earshot.

Swatis seek return of elected representatives

MINGORA: A large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who returned to their areas now want their elected representatives back in their home constituencies to share electorate’s sufferings.

No MPA, MNA or any district or tehsil nazim has yet returned and this could be detrimental to the success of the military operation “Rah-e-Raast”. People interviewed by The News in various parts of Mingora said army was not supposed to remain in Swat forever but gradually it had to hand over the area to police and civil administration and the pubic representatives must come to Swat to boost the morale of the locals.

They said it had officially been accepted that the Swat valley was not totally cleared of miscreants and there were some pockets of militants. “The beheading of a police official in Sanghota, located some three kilometre from Mingora, on Tuesday triggered fear among locals who had come back to Swat hoping that their hometown has been purged of militants,” an owner of a CNG station said, wishing anonymity.

Muhammad Qasim Khan, 28, a resident of Kanju, said such incidents might continue in Swat, but he hastened to add that the elected representatives should be here to share the miseries of the electorate.

Rasool Khan said, “Army has done its job and now it is the duty of the public representatives, Khans and influential persons to come back to their homes and play their role in sustaining the process of peace. You know the Army men are not locals...they cannot identify the Taliban who have camouflaged by mixing with the non-combatant civilians. Now it’s the responsibility of the MNAs, MPAs, district, tehsil and union council nazims and public figures to help Army flush out remaining militants by identifying them,” he said.

Nevertheless, Swat DPO Sajid Khan Mohmand said that scores of militants had already been rounded up on the tip-offs by locals. “Cooperation of the locals after the military operation is encouraging,” he acclaimed.

Some security personnel deputed on road leading to Khwazakhela from Mingora said that no doubt the Army inflicted colossal loss on the militants’ network but they could not be totally eliminated and they might re-launch attack on civilians as well as security personnel. “It’s very easy to fight an overt enemy but very difficult to fight mice (militants). They hit you and hole up in their hideouts,” said another soldier.

Inter Services Public Relations representative in Swat, Major Nasir, said there was no chance of re-grouping of militants. “We’ve broken their back. They do exist but not in an organised network. Presently, they’ve fled to Dardial (a remote area in Swat abutting Lower Dir) where they’ve regularly been monitored by Army as well as tribal lashkar. They’ve not the potential to re-unite their scattered force,” he asserts.

It would be a hard decision for the public representatives to come back to Swat in the near future because they have suffered not only heavy financial loss but also lost their relatives in the Taliban insurgency. The militants brutally killed two nephews and a brother of MPA Waqar Khan besides gunning down the brother of NWFP Minister for Forests Wajid Ali Khan.

Xinjiang refutes Kadeer's '10,000 missing' claim


The claim by Rebiya Kadeer that more than 10,000 Uygurs disappeared in the wake of the July 5 riots, believed to have been arrested or killed, is groundless, a spokeswoman of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region told the Global Times yesterday in reaction to the World Uygur Congress (WUC) leader's speech during her visit to Japan.

Kadeer, accused by the Chinese government of being a separatist and masterminding the riots that left about 200 people dead and more than 1,600 injured, told a Tokyo press conference yesterday during the second day of her visit to Japan that nearly 10,000 people “disappeared in one night” following the riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

“If they are dead, where are their bodies? If they are detained, where are they?” she said.

Hou Hanmin, spokeswoman of the regional government, said the claim was so groundless that it was “not even worth a counter reaction.”

“If there were more than 10,000 missing, how many more of them would have taken part in the riot?” Hou asked.

According to an AP report shortly after the riot, “police showed up to disperse a crowd of between 1,000 and 3,000 demonstrators,” which is close to the estimates of reports by other media organizations, both Chinese and foreign.

Urumqi police yesterday announced that they had arrested 253 more suspects allegedly closely connected to the riots, following the initial arrests of 1,434 suspects by July 7, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Police said most of the latest arrests were made from tip-offs provided by local residents, including one report in which a family of five burned to death after rioters locked the door of their store selling grain and edible oil and set it on fire.

“I felt uneasy for at least two nights. Once I closed my eyes, I would picture the scene of the raging fire shrouding the store,” a Uygur man who did not give his name told the police July 7. “I would never find peace if I didn't inform the police of it.”

Some of the suspects arrested earlier have been released after police found they did not commit serious crimes, Hou told the Global Times.
In response to a Global Times' inquiry as to how Kadeer set the number of disappeared at 10,000, Dilshat Rashit, spokesman for the US-based WUC, said the organization has been following the situation in Xinjiang via foreign reports.

“When Uygur women were interviewed by foreign media, they said more than 1,000 Uygurs were killed and nearly 10,000 were arrested,” he said. “As far as we know, the arrest of Uygurs is continuing, so there are definitely more than 10,000 arrested.”

Howevr, he didn't explain how those “Uygur women interviewed by foreign media” put the total number of those arrested.

He suggested that the United States, which “has always been concerned with China's religious and human rights issues,” take tougher measures against China, including economic sanctions.

Earlier in July, Mu-Card Deiss, a member of the WUC, circulated online a video clip of a “Uygur girl” being beaten to death.

“It was actually a piece edited from footage of a CNN video showing a girl killed in Iraq on April 7, 2007,” Xinhua pointed out.

Kadeer's remarks also backfired among Uygur residents in China. Rustan, manager of a Muslim restaurant at the Beijing Language and Culture University said, “When I was young, I just thought she was a very rich woman, and I admired her a lot. But I never expected that she would attack China with ridiculous remarks while staying overseas.”

He said he doesn't understand why Kadeer does all these “evil things” to China.

“We're all Chinese, and I don't want to follow what she's talking about,” he said.

Tuson Nizam, a Uygur from Kuqa County, Xinjiang, who now sells jade in Beijing, expressed his indignation at the riots, saying the Uygurs who participated in the riots are nothing but “lazy bones.”

“I treat all Han and Uygur people equally well, so they will treat me well in return,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry summoned Japan's ambassador in Beijing, expressing its “dissatisfaction” with Japan's treatment of Kadeer, believed to be a “criminal” by China.

Kadeer's visits to Australia and Japan have put those countries' ties with China to the test.

Yang Bojiang, a researcher at the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said: “Kadeer's ‘separatist activities' would have an impact on the overall situation of China's relationship with the US, Japan and European countries.”

Liang Chen, An Baijie and Zhou Min countributed to this story

PM Gilani allocates Rs1.2bn for IDPs

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani allocated Rs1.25 billion for internally displaced people on Wednesday and asked the agencies concerned to make a comprehensive plan for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

He was presiding over a meeting of the Strategic Policy Committee on IDPs at the Prime Minister’s House.

He said that since 50 per cent of the displaced families had already returned to their homes, it was imperative that they were provided with full security, basic amenities and administrative support.

The prime minister also asked the ministry of finance to release Rs180 million for the cash-for-food programme for 6000 displaced families of Waziristan.

The prime minister said that arrangements should be made for early return of displaced people of Bajaur and Mohmand agencies where the situation had become normal.

Commending the hard work done by the provincial government and Special Support Group, the prime minister said he hoped that after the successful military operation, the process of safe return of the displaced people would be completed soon.

He said more than 80 per cent of the people were using their own transport to go back to their homes and the rest were using transport arranged by the government.

The prime minister said the successes achieved by the military operation had been welcomed not only by the local people, but also by the entire nation, political parties and the international community.

“We acknowledge the sacrifices made by the Pakistan Army in re-establishing the writ of the state in the conflict zone by eliminating extremist elements,” the prime minister said.

The meeting was informed that around Rs5 billion had been distributed among affected families and all essential services had been restored in Shangla, Dir, Swat and Buner.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Balochistan settlement to benefit all provinces

KARACHI: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira has said the government was making ‘sincere efforts’ to address Balochistan’s grievances.

Speaking at a meet-the-press programme of the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday, he said the constitutional committee was also striving to find a solution to the issue along with constitutional amendments.

In reply to a question, he said that there were political, constitutional and financial aspects of the issue and its solution would not benefit Balochistan alone, but all provinces.

The minister said the committee would finalise its recommendations about constitutional amendments, including the 17th Amendment and Article 58-2(b), in a few weeks.

‘The PPP believes that survival of Pakistan depends on democracy and all its decisions are aimed at strengthening democratic institutions,’ Mr Kaira observed.

He said the government had already constituted the Council of Common Interests and decisions would be taken by parliament, and not by an individual.

Answering a question, he said the government would not protect former president Pervez Musharraf, but it would honour the Supreme Court’s decision.

In reply to another question, the minister said the Indus River System Authority was an autonomous body and taking decisions about water distribution independently.

The government could be held responsible only if an indent of the Sindh government was lying with Irsa.

According to his information, there was no deviation from the 1991 water accord, he added.

Mr Kaira said that Pakistan had not handed over to India any proof of its involvement in Balochistan, but expressed apprehension about the unrest in that province. Pakistan and India had agreed to work for sustainable peace in the region, instead of hurling accusations at each other, he said.

The minister recalled the challenges being faced by the government and said some unpopular decisions had been taken in larger interest of the country. The policy of reconciliation pursued by the government had helped overcome the challenges, he added.

Inflation had come down to 13 per cent from 23 per cent because the government’s policies had revived the economy, Mr Kaira claimed.

The information minister said the government had to import three million tons of wheat last year, but now it had a stock of 10 million tons — two million tons more than the country’s requirement. Rice and cotton crops were also very good this year, he said.

The minister said the setting up of the Eighth Wage Board for newspaper employees had been announced and asked owners of print and electronic media houses to pay dues of the Seventh Wage Board Award to their employees before receiving their outstanding dues from the government.

The minister assured journalists that he had taken up the issues of allotment of plots to journalists and registry of the KPC building with the Sindh government.
He gave a cheque of Rs1.5 million to the Karachi Press Club.

Pakistan's landowners still in exile From Unstable Area

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Even as hundreds of thousands of people stream back to the Swat Valley after months of fighting, one important group is conspicuously absent: the wealthy landowners who fled the Taliban in fear and are the economic pillar of the rural society.

The reluctance of the landowners to return is a significant blow to the Pakistani military’s campaign to restore Swat as a stable, prosperous part of Pakistan, and it presents a continuing opportunity for the Taliban to reshape the valley to their advantage.

About four dozen landlords were singled out over the past two years by the militants in a strategy intended to foment a class struggle. In some areas, the Taliban rewarded the landless peasants with profits of the crops of the landlords. Some resentful peasants even signed up as the Taliban’s shock troops.

How many of those peasants stayed with the militants during the army offensive of the last several months, and how many moved to the refugee camps, was difficult to assess, Pakistani analysts said.

But reports emerging from Swat show that the Taliban still have the strength to terrorize important areas. The army continues to fight the Taliban in their strongholds, particularly in the Matta and Kabal regions of Swat, not far from the main city, Mingora, where many refugees have reclaimed their homes.

In those regions, the Taliban have razed houses, killed a civilian working for the police in Matta and kidnapped another, worrying counterinsurgency experts, who fear that the refugees may have been encouraged by the Pakistani authorities to go back too soon.

The rebuilding of Swat, a fertile area of orchards and forests, is a critical test for the government and the military as they face Taliban insurgencies across the tribal belt, particularly in Waziristan on the Afghanistan border.

In a sign of the lack of confidence that Mingora was secure, the Pakistani military declined a request by the Obama administration’s special envoy to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, to visit the town last week.

There was nervousness, an American counterinsurgency expert said, that the plans by the Pakistani authorities to build new community police forces in Swat would not materialize quickly enough to protect the returning civilians, who are also starved of basic services like banks and sufficient medical care.

“There is no apparatus in place to replace the army,” said an American counterinsurgency official. “The army will be the backstop.”

About two million people have fled Swat and surrounding areas since the military opened its campaign to push back the Taliban at the end of April. The United Nations said Monday that 478,000 people had returned to Swat so far, but it cautioned that it was unable to verify the figure, which was provided by the government.

Assessment trips by United Nations workers to Swat scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were canceled for security reasons, and the United Nations office in Peshawar that serves as the base for Swat operations was closed Monday because of a high threat of kidnapping, a spokesman said.

The landlords, many of whom raised sizable militias to fight the Taliban themselves last year, say the army is again failing to provide enough protection if they return.

Another deterrent to returning, they say, is that the top Taliban leadership, responsible for taking aim at the landlords and spreading the spoils among the landless, remains unscathed.

If it continues, the landlords’ absence will have lasting ramifications not only for Swat, but also for Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, where the landholdings are vast, and the militants are gaining power, said Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Mr. Holbrooke, the American envoy.

“If the large landowners are kept out by the Taliban, the result will in effect be property redistribution,” Mr. Nasr said. “That will create a vested community of support for the Taliban that will see benefit in the absence of landlords.”

At two major meetings with the landlords, the Pakistani military and civilian authorities requested that they return in the vanguard of the refugees. None have agreed to do so, according to several of the landowners and a senior army officer.

“We have sacrificed so much; what has the government and the military done for us?” asked Sher Shah Khan, a landholder in the Kuz Bandai area of Swat. He is now living with 50 family members in a rented house about 60 miles from Swat. Four family members and eight servants were killed trying to fight off the Taliban, he said.

At one of the meetings, Mr. Khan said he had asked the army commanders to provide weapons so the landlords could protect themselves, as the landowners had in the past.

The military refused the request, he said, saying it would fight the Taliban. Yet Pakistani soldiers had failed to protect his lands, he said. Twenty of his houses were blown up by the Taliban after the army ordered him and his family to leave their lands on two hours’ notice last September, he said.

A letter he sent last month to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of the Pakistani military, asking for compensation has gone unanswered, he said. In the meantime, one of his tenants called asking if he could plant crops on Mr. Khan’s property. He refused but had little idea what was happening back home, Mr. Khan said.

Other landlords are equally frustrated. The mayor of Swat, Jamal Nasir, fled after his father, Shujaat Ali Khan, regarded as the biggest landlord in Swat, narrowly avoided being killed by the Taliban. Mr. Nasir, a major landowner himself, now stays in his house in Islamabad.

The top guns of the Taliban are still in Swat, or perhaps in neighboring Dir, Mr. Nasir said. “These people should be arrested,” he said. “If they are not arrested, they are going to come back.”

Another landlord, Sher Mohammad, said he was still bitter that the army refused to help as he, his brother and his nephew fought off the Taliban last year for 13 hours, even though soldiers were stationed less than a mile away. Mr. Mohammad was hit in the groin by a bullet and lost a finger in the fight.

At one of the meetings with the military in Peshawar, Mr. Mohammad, a prominent politician with the Pakistan Peoples Party, said he told the officers that he was not impressed with their performance.

“They said, ‘We will protect you,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘We don’t trust you.’ ”

Mystery of Taliban funds

Editorial: DAILY TIMES

The US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Richard Holbrooke, says that Taliban militants are receiving more funding from their sympathisers abroad than from Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade. This statement contradicts the sole Pakistani source that has been forthcoming on the subject: Governor NWFP Mr Owais Ghani thinks that the Taliban in FATA and other tribal areas are spending a budget of Rs 14 billion annually, and the money comes, primarily, from drugs smuggling from Afghanistan.

Mr Holbrooke says: “More money is coming from the Gulf than is coming from the drug trade to the Taliban”. He didn’t say it but he must mean: Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. He is clearly relying on what NATO military officials in Afghanistan think: the Taliban raise USD60-100 million a year from the trade in illegal narcotics. He says: “What I believe happens is that the Taliban fund local operations in the Pashtun belt out of drug money, but the overall effort gets massive amounts of money from outside Afghanistan”.

He thinks the governments in the Gulf are not involved, but that sympathisers from all over the world are — “with the bulk of it appearing to come from the Gulf”. When a Pakistani representative says the Taliban are getting drug money there are layers of meaning in it. First of all, it is a matter of record that during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the militia had successfully curbed poppy cultivation in many parts of the country under their control. The arrival of the Americans in Afghanistan has strengthened the warlords and their “business” of poppy cultivation in the country. What is also on record is the fact that the family of the Afghan president Mr Karzai is involved in the drug trade.

The fact is that the insurgency is very likely to have multiple sources of funding, not just one. Not even one source which caters to the bulk of funds being used to sustain the insurgency and terrorist operations across the region. It is difficult to estimate how much of the money is coming from what source. What makes eminent sense though is to have more than one channel to ensure that the supply doesn’t dry out if one particular source is detected.

Also, we may be forgetting Al Qaeda in all this. Al Qaeda has its old “gold stream” coming into Pakistan and Afghanistan from the UAE in general and Dubai in particular. It started with the purchase of gold and diamonds all over the world — Aafiya Siddiqi was allegedly a part of that network — and then converting them into whatever currency was needed in the area of operation. The half a million dollars supposed to have been spent on the 9/11 operation had allegedly gone to the US from Dubai via Pakistan. Carrying large amounts of currency on flights to and from the UAE is more dangerous than carrying gold. And the institution of hawala is not dead yet.

One cannot ignore the “income” the Taliban count on through criminal activities. Not only do they allow criminal groups to kidnap people for huge ransoms, they levy their own taxes and “protection money” in the areas where they have replaced the writ of the state. And that includes Peshawar itself where the Governor NWFP has his residence. One reason the “emirate” took shape under Baitullah Mehsud was the need to create his own source of revenue through taxing the transporters of the area. Warlord Fazlullah was tolerated by the Taliban and Al Qaeda even when he became “excessive” — which finally led to his ouster from Swat — because he had a good source of revenue from the state-owned emerald mines he had taken over.

Opposition to the Taliban among the local influential groups in Pakistan has grown because of the need of the Taliban to extort money from them to make up the funds for the purchase of weapons and explosives, paying off its foot-soldiers and compensating the families of the “martyr” Taliban.

Pakistan and Tajikistan pledge to fight Taliban

DUSHANBE:Pakistan and Tajikistan on Wednesday pledged to step up efforts to fight the Taliban at a regional summit amid concerns about the spread of violence from neighbouring Afghanistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari pledged to work with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon on stemming the flow of weapons and ammunition to Taliban in the region.

The two states “condemn terrorism and extremism in all their forms and manifestations and express their readiness to cooperate closely, bilaterally ... in combating these twin threats”, said a memorandum signed by the leaders. Zardari spoke bluntly about the deteriorating security situation in the region.

“It (terrorism) threatens my brother’s country, it threatens my country and it threatens the neighbourhood. So once again, I reiterate that we will stand together against this threat of the 21st century,” Zardari told reporters. Tajikistan has been battling Taliban suspected of having fled security operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just hours after the meeting between Zardari and Rakhmon, police said they had killed Nemat Azizov, a key member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Rakhmon told Zardari that more needed to be done to maintain stability in the region.

Pakistan and Tajikistan also agreed to launch strategic dialogue on regional peace, security and development, and energy cooperation. agencies

Afghan Imams being replaced to check militancy

Peshawar : Government of NWFP(PUKHTUNKHWA) has decided to remove the Afghan prayer leaders (Imams) from the mosques and replace them with the local religious scholars in a bid to control the growing militancy and extremism in the province. The District Coordination Officers have been asked to formulate the lists of Afghan clerics acting as Imams in various mosques districts after which the community would be asked to appoint a Imam in order to replace the foreigners. “We are collecting information about the Afghan clerics appointed as prayer leader in various mosques. As soon as the list will be finalized the process of their replacement with local prayer leaders will be started however action will be taken against the responsible of the local community if they will not comply the orders,” DCO Peshawar Sahbzada Anees told PPI. DCO informed government has given the task to finalize the list of the Afghan clerics appointed as prayers leader and soon these list will be handed over to the government after which further action will be taken. There are hundreds of Afghan clerics who are working as prayer leader and they deliver sermons on loudspeakers at every important occasions besides delivering Friday sermons, DCO informed. The decision of replacing the Afghan clerics was taken in high level meeting chaired by Commissioner Peshawar Division who instructed the DCO Charssda, Nawshera and Peshawar to finalize the list and submit their report about the exact number of the Afghan clerics appointed as prayer leader in mosques. Hundreds of Afghans, who studied in seminaries of NWFP, are performing as prayer leader and teachers in different Madaris of NWFP. Having no place to reside majority of them are also using the mosque as residence. Usually the prayer leaders are being paid with very meager amount therefore the local clerics are not ready to accept the job however Afghan seminary graduates having no other option accept the jobs against the payment of Rs 1000-1500 with two time free meal incentives. Well off families of the society also help these Imams with charity fund.

Pakistan’s Air War Against Taliban Grows More Precise

New York Times
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Air Force is improving its ability to pinpoint and attack militant targets with precision weapons, adding a new dimension to the country’s fight against violent extremism, according to Pakistani military officials and independent analysts.

The Pakistani military has moved away from the scorched-earth artillery and air tactics used last year against insurgents in the Bajaur tribal agency. In recent months, the air force has shifted from using Google Earth to more sophisticated images from spy planes and other surveillance aircraft, and has increased its use of laser-guided bombs.

The changes reflect an effort by the Pakistani military to conduct its operations in a way that will not further alienate the population by increasing civilian casualties and destroying property. But they are also dictated by necessity as the military takes its campaign into areas where it is reluctant to commit ground troops, particularly in the rugged terrain of Waziristan, where it had suffered heavy losses.

Military analysts say the airstrikes alone, no matter how precise, cannot ultimately substitute for ground forces or for better counterinsurgency training, something Pakistan has been reluctant to accept from the United States. But they say the airstrikes have become a valuable tool for Pakistan in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in sometimes inaccessible terrain.

Since May, F-16 multirole fighter jets, the Pakistani military’s aerial workhorse, have flown more than 300 combat missions against militants in the Swat Valley and more than 100 missions in South Waziristan, attacking mountain hide-outs, training centers and ammunition depots, Pakistani military officials said.

In conjunction with infantry fire, artillery barrages and helicopter gunship attacks, military officials say, the air combat missions have reinvigorated the military campaign in Swat and put increasing pressure on the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, in South Waziristan.

Interviews with Pakistani fighter pilots and senior commanders offered a rare window into this other air war — a much larger but less heralded campaign that runs parallel to the three dozen secret missile strikes carried out this year by Central Intelligence Agency drones in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

The air force’s new tools and tactics have several sources. The air force has without fanfare accepted some American assistance, like sophisticated surveillance equipment and high-grade images.

But sensitive to anti-American fervor in the country, Pakistani officials have refused most outside aid, developing a small corps of ground spotters largely on their own, and occasionally tapping the Internet for online assistance.

Pakistani officials are urging the Obama administration to lease Pakistan upgraded F-16s, until its own new fighters are delivered in the next year or two. This would allow Pakistani pilots to fly night missions, impossible with their current aircraft.

Pakistan has argued that it needs the more advanced versions of the F-16 not only to enhance its capacity against its traditional enemy to the east, India, but also to continue to battle the Taliban insurgency.

In the past, American officials raised concerns that Pakistan’s troop deployments and arms purchases seemed geared mainly to bolstering its ability to fight India, rather than the Islamic militants the United States saw as a greater threat.

“Of course, there is a real threat from India,” Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Pakistan’s air force chief of staff, said in an interview at his headquarters here. “But right now we have to tackle the threat from the militants.”

Nearly every day in the past few months, Pakistani warplanes have pummeled militant targets in the contested Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The campaigns are a big change from operations in Bajaur last fall.

“The biggest handicap we had in Bajaur was that we didn’t have good imagery,” Air Chief Marshal Qamar said. “We didn’t have good target descriptions. We did not know the area. We were forced to use Google Earth.

“I didn’t want to face a similar situation in Swat,” he said.

In advance of the Swat campaign, the air force equipped about 10 F-16s with high-resolution, infrared sensors, provided by the United States, to conduct detailed reconnaissance of the entire valley.

The United States has also resumed secret drone flights performing military surveillance in the tribal areas, to provide Pakistani commanders with a wide array of videos and other information on militants, according to American officials.

In most cases, officials said, the Pakistani Army provides target information to the air force, which confirms the locations on newly detailed maps. Identifying high-value targets through the use of army spotters or, in some cases, a new, small group of specially trained air force spotters, the air force was able to increase its use of laser-guided bombs to 80 percent of munitions used in Swat, from about 40 percent in Bajaur, Air Chief Marshal Qamar said.

Another change was the mass evacuation of civilians. About two million people were displaced, sometimes with only a few hours’ notice, as part of an effort to get civilians out of conflict areas to reduce their casualties.

Some American officials voice skepticism about the Pakistani claims of success. “We don’t have access to battle-damage assessment or the information on the actual strike execution, so we cannot make a qualitative comparison of what the intended effect was versus the actual effect,” said an American adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to avoid jeopardizing his job.

Officials of human rights organizations say the military has not been able to eliminate all civilian casualties from airstrikes and ground fire, but they agree that the numbers are down.

“Certainly, the level of civilian casualties in this phase of the conflict has been lower than in previous operations in the tribal areas,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Lahore, Pakistan.

To be sure, the air force still operates under limitations. Because the F-16s are equipped to fly only during the day, the militants move and conduct operations at night. Indeed, not one of the 21 main militant leaders in Swat has been killed or captured, Pakistani officials acknowledge. In addition, the Pakistani jets cannot be refueled in midair, as American fighter jets can, limiting how long they can remain over a target area.

In South Waziristan, as the army mulls a ground war, the air force continues to attack militants’ hide-outs and training camps as well as storage caves and tunnels with 500-pound and 2,000-pound bombs.

“We’re still developing our plans for South Waziristan,” Air Chief Marshal Qamar said. “We are preparing to ramp up. I think Baitullah Mehsud is getting the message, and the message is, if he keeps doing these things, we’ll hit him.”

Bomb outside court kills 2, wounds 4 in Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — A bomb ripped through the parking area at a court in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing two men guarding a Shiite Muslim lawyer, authorities said.
Troops waging an offensive elsewhere in the region killed at least four suspected Taliban fighters, the military said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in Dera Ismail Khan, but the city has witnessed both Taliban-related violence and sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The lawyer, Mastan Khan, was among four people wounded in the remote-controlled explosion, police official Bawahal Khan said.
Minority Shiites and majority Sunnis generally live in peace in Pakistan, but extremists often target each other's leaders and activists. The schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims dates to the seventh century, centering on the debate over who should succeed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Pakistan's northwest has been pilloried by violence in recent years, much of it due to a spreading Taliban insurgency. The army is battling the militants on multiple fronts, with the most prominent offensive at the moment in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts.
A military statement Wednesday said that in the previous 24 hours, troops had killed four suspected Taliban fighters during search operations in Swat and neighboring areas. Twenty-two suspects were taken into custody, while at least 18 militant hide-outs and homes were destroyed, it said.
The information is nearly impossible to verify independently because access to the conflict zone is restricted.

Rebiya's visit to Japan will spell trouble for China-Japan relations: Chinese ambassador

(Xinhua) -- The visit to Japan of Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the separatist World Uyghur Congress (WUC), may cause trouble for China-Japan relations, said Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cui Tiankai on Monday.

Cui was speaking in a joint interview with Kyodo News and Japanese national broadcaster NHK on the July 5 Xinjiang riot and Kadeer.

The deadly July 5 Xinjiang riot was neither an ethnic nor a religious issue, but was masterminded by the separatist WUC led by Rebiya, said Cui.

"The July 5 riot in Urumqi was a serious, violent, criminal incident, which caused heavy casualties of innocent civilians," he said.

"Evidence showed the well-orchestrated riot was instigated and masterminded by the WUC led by Rebiya," he said.

The WUC called for massive bloodshed "at any cost" before the Sunday riot. And on July 5, the WUC sent out a flood of instructive messages via telephones and mobile phones to the rioters, and Rebiya herself also reminded her family of their safety in case anything should happen, Cui said.

"The riot was not a religious issue, no Islamic clergy were involved, and nor was it an ethnic one as ethnic groups live in perfect harmony with each other in China," Cui said.

On Rebiya's visit to Japan, the Chinese ambassador said China was firmly opposed to her visit to Japan and had made clear its stance to the Japanese side.

"Her tour in Japan is aimed at distorting the facts and advocating her separatist stand," said Cui. Rebiya's separatist activities in Japan would spell trouble for China-Japan relations, he said.

"China and Japan need to make a concerted effort to advance their strategic and mutually beneficial relations and jointly tackle the ongoing international financial crisis as well as regional issues," Cui said.

"China-Japan relations should not be undermined by the issue concerning Rebiya, nor should the two countries' recognition for major common interests and their cooperation," he said.

On bilateral ties, Cui said promoting the sound, stable and long-term development of China-Japan relations was the consensus of mainstream Japanese society.

"It is in the common interests of the two countries and embodies the common aspiration of both peoples (to build relations)," he said, adding he hoped the two sides would work together to achieve that goal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Afghan polling centers in danger

KABUL – Hundreds of polling stations could be closed in Afghanistan's most violent regions, raising concerns that many ethnic Pashtuns will be unable to vote in next month's presidential elections. That could undermine the legitimacy of the election, cause turmoil and possibly deprive President Hamid Karzai of a first-round victory.
Afghan authorities plan to establish about 7,000 polling centers across the country for the Aug. 20 balloting. But security officials are unsure whether voting can take place in about 700 of them, said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission.
At least 500 will probably not open because of security fears, according to a Western official working on the elections. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to comment publicly on the process.
Nearly all those polling stations are located in Pashtun areas of the south and east where the Taliban insurgency is the strongest, the official said. Most are in the Pashtun provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Wardak and Ghazni.
Taliban spokesmen have called on Afghans not to vote in the election but have not explicitly threatened to attack polling stations.
A low turnout in Pashtun areas could cost Karzai support among his fellow Pashtuns, who tend to vote by ethnicity even though many of them are disenchanted with the president because of his ties to the Americans. Karzai's chief rival in the 39-candidate field, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, is popular in northern Tajik areas, which are more peaceful and more likely to have a strong turnout.
Karzai is widely assumed to be the front-runner but if he fails to win more than half the votes in the crowded field, he would face a runoff with the second-place finisher in October. Karzai could be vulnerable if his opponents rally around an alternative candidate in the runoff.
If Abdullah runs stronger than expected, Pashtuns may not accept the outcome. If Karzai claims a first-round victory, it is also uncertain that the Tajiks would believe the results were valid.
Abdullah is half Pashtun but is closely associated with the Tajiks because he was a top adviser to the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, a top Tajik commander. Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
With so much uncertainty, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, called the upcoming ballot "the most complicated elections I have seen."
About 17 million registered voters are eligible to vote for Afghanistan's next president and provincial council members. Even without the threat of violence, the logistics of setting up polling centers in an impoverished country of deserts, towering mountains, few roads and poor infrastructure are challenging.
Authorities plan to use 3,100 donkeys to ferry ballots to some of the country's most inaccessible regions that trucks and even helicopters cannot reach.
Eide said it "is not in the interest of anybody" that a "significant proportion of the population" is unable to vote so that "the result does not reflect the will of the Afghan people."
"It's important for all of us to see these elections reflect the will of the people," he said.
Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said some polling stations may have to be changed but pledged that Afghan security forces would be present at all voting sites.
Nevertheless, fears of violence are running high. On Tuesday, gunmen opened fire on a provincial campaign manager for Abdullah in eastern Afghanistan. The campaign manager was wounded and a driver was killed.
The attack occurred one day after the convoy of one of Karzai's vice presidential running mates, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, came under fire in northern Afghanistan. Fahim, the former commander of the Afghan alliance that ousted the Taliban in 2001, escaped injury but a cameraman working for his campaign was wounded.
Interior Ministry officials say there have been about 20 attacks against politicians or their aides in the past three weeks.
Meanwhile, the NATO-led force said an Afghan civilian was killed and five others wounded Tuesday after its troops clashed with insurgents in Zabul province in the south. It said six civilians were treated at a NATO base but one died.
The issue of civilian casualties has been a constant source of friction between Karzai and the U.S. military commanders. Soon after assuming command of NATO and U.S. forces last month, Gen. Stanley McChrystal ordered troops to limit the use of airstrikes to prevent civilian casualties.

Powell: Harvard scholar might have reacted quickly

WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was mildly critical Tuesday of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose angry response to a Cambridge, Mass., police officer touched off a national debate involving President Barack Obama.
Powell, interviewed by CNN's Larry King, criticized the way Gates dealt with Sgt. James Crowley, a white officer who responded to reports of a possible break-in by arresting the black professor at his home on a charge of disorderly conduct. The charge was soon dropped.
Gates "might have waited a while, come outside, talked to the officer, and that might have been the end of it," said Powell, one of the nation's most prominent African Americans.
"I think he should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal," he said.
But, Powell said, Gates was just home from China and New York and "all he wanted to do was get to bed."
When asked about the incident at a news conference, Obama said the police acted stupidly. The president subsequently toned down his criticism but not his denunciation of racial profiling generally.
Powell said he was the target of racial profiling many times and he sometimes got mad.
On one such occasion, he said, he tried to meet someone at Reagan National Airport "and nobody thought I could be the national security adviser to the president. I was just a black guy."
Asked how he dealt with the situation, Powell said "You just suck it up. What are you going to do?"
"There is no African American in this country who has not been exposed to this kind of situation," Powell said.
But, he said, "when you are faced with an officer trying to do his job and get to the bottom of something, this is not the time to get in an argument with him. I was taught that as a child.
"You don't argue with a police officer," Powell said.

Help sought for treatment of ailing boy

PESHAWAR: Poor parents of a seven-year-old minor have appealed to the NWFP chief minister and the philanthropists for help in the medical treatment of their son. Shehzad, a daily wager, said doctors had recommended operation for the treatment of his son Faizan who is suffering from a back problem. He said due to abject poverty, he could not afford to pay Rs50,000 for the medical treatment of his son.

The resourceless person appealed to the provincial government and the philanthropists for help in the treatment of his minor son. The patient could be contacted on phone numbers 0333-9373364/0344-9112415/0332-5422491. The donations can be deposited in Account No 63566-7 in HBL Corporate Branch, Peshawar Cantt.

Pakistan committed to combating terror

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is committed to combating terror in all forms and manifestation and this commitment flows out of its own conviction rather than any compulsion, Senate Chairman Farooq H Naik said on Tuesday. He was addressing a group of students from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan – currently on a two-week training programme under the auspices of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation of Germany – at the Parliament House. “The country has made laudable sacrifices in the global war on terror to make the world a more peaceful place to live in,” Naik said. He said the world must acknowledge Pakistan’s pioneering role in the war on terror. Despite a multitude of problems that it is facing, Pakistan’s commitment to combating terrorism remains strong. As a result of our efforts, the tide is turning and the terrorists are on the run, he added.

Donkeys, guns and trucks - elections Afghan-style

KABUL, July 28 (Reuters) - Almost as many donkeys as trucks will be used to take ballot papers to remote areas of Afghanistan for next month's presidential election, which the U.N. chief envoy said on Tuesday was the most complicated he'd ever seen.

U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide visited a massive warehouse in Kabul where Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) is making final preparations for the huge logistical task presented by the Aug. 20 presidential poll.

Afghanistan's 17 million-odd eligible voters will cast their ballots in some 7,000 voting centres or 28,500 smaller voting stations across Afghanistan's 34 provinces and 356 districts.

Many will be set up on mountainsides or by rivers in remote areas where the only access is on the backs of donkeys.

"I emphasise that these are the most complicated elections I have seen," Eide told reporters.

"I mentioned to you how inaccessible the country is, how challenging the whole logistical operation is, and also the fact that the country is a country in conflict," he said.

The election is being staged against the backdrop of increased violence across the country after thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launched major operations in southern Helmand province this month. [ID:nLR336228] The Helmand operations are the first under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilise Afghanistan. Washington is pouring in thousands more troops this year, in part to provide security for the election.

Security is the foremost concern, with attempts made on the lives of two candidates, including President Hamid Karzai's senior vice-presidential running mate, in the past week.


Voter registration was conducted across Afghanistan late last year and early in 2009 except for five districts in Helmand, where poor security meant registration only began last week.

Eide said security was "an issue of concern" and that the IEC and security forces were in the final phases of planning.

"The aim is to make as much of the country as possible secure for elections to take place," Eide said.

Logistics in a country of vast deserts, and high, craggy mountains and valleys were almost as much of a challenge as running an election at the same time as a growing insurgency.

A fleet of 3,500 trucks will carry voting materials to the polling stations, as well as 3,000 donkeys "to get people to the most remote areas", Eide said.

Local and international observers have warned that poor security and rampant corruption mean widespread voter fraud in either registration or the casting of ballots could be possible, but Eide said everything possible was being done to avoid that.

Voters will have their fingers inked before casting ballots. There were complaints in the last election in 2004 that the ink could be rubbed off easily but Eide said that had been addressed.

"I challenge you to try and find a material that will take the ink away without taking my finger away," Eide said.

President Hamid Karzai, seeking re-election after winning Afghanistan's first direct elections in 2004, is a clear front-runner in a field of 38 challengers.

He was widely criticised for pulling out of the first televised debate of the campaign last week against his two main rivals, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

"It has not been perfect but it has been a good and informative campaign so far ... and I hope that that will encourage the Afghan people to come out and vote," Eide said.

"I think it's been a quite vibrant debate where the candidates have, as we urged them to, behaved with dignity."Tue Jul 28, 2009 7:31am EDT
(For full coverage on Afghanistan, double click on [ID:nAFPAK])

By Paul Tait

KABUL, July 28 (Reuters) - Almost as many donkeys as trucks will be used to take ballot papers to remote areas of Afghanistan for next month's presidential election, which the U.N. chief envoy said on Tuesday was the most complicated he'd ever seen.

U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide visited a massive warehouse in Kabul where Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) is making final preparations for the huge logistical task presented by the Aug. 20 presidential poll.

Afghanistan's 17 million-odd eligible voters will cast their ballots in some 7,000 voting centres or 28,500 smaller voting stations across Afghanistan's 34 provinces and 356 districts.

Many will be set up on mountainsides or by rivers in remote areas where the only access is on the backs of donkeys.

"I emphasise that these are the most complicated elections I have seen," Eide told reporters.

"I mentioned to you how inaccessible the country is, how challenging the whole logistical operation is, and also the fact that the country is a country in conflict," he said.

The election is being staged against the backdrop of increased violence across the country after thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launched major operations in southern Helmand province this month. [ID:nLR336228] The Helmand operations are the first under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilise Afghanistan. Washington is pouring in thousands more troops this year, in part to provide security for the election.

Security is the foremost concern, with attempts made on the lives of two candidates, including President Hamid Karzai's senior vice-presidential running mate, in the past week.


Voter registration was conducted across Afghanistan late last year and early in 2009 except for five districts in Helmand, where poor security meant registration only began last week.

Eide said security was "an issue of concern" and that the IEC and security forces were in the final phases of planning.

"The aim is to make as much of the country as possible secure for elections to take place," Eide said.

Logistics in a country of vast deserts, and high, craggy mountains and valleys were almost as much of a challenge as running an election at the same time as a growing insurgency.

A fleet of 3,500 trucks will carry voting materials to the polling stations, as well as 3,000 donkeys "to get people to the most remote areas", Eide said.

Local and international observers have warned that poor security and rampant corruption mean widespread voter fraud in either registration or the casting of ballots could be possible, but Eide said everything possible was being done to avoid that.

Voters will have their fingers inked before casting ballots. There were complaints in the last election in 2004 that the ink could be rubbed off easily but Eide said that had been addressed.

"I challenge you to try and find a material that will take the ink away without taking my finger away," Eide said.

President Hamid Karzai, seeking re-election after winning Afghanistan's first direct elections in 2004, is a clear front-runner in a field of 38 challengers.

He was widely criticised for pulling out of the first televised debate of the campaign last week against his two main rivals, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

"It has not been perfect but it has been a good and informative campaign so far ... and I hope that that will encourage the Afghan people to come out and vote," Eide said.

"I think it's been a quite vibrant debate where the candidates have, as we urged them to, behaved with dignity."