Monday, August 31, 2009

Pak-Afghan border reopens after two days

QUETTA : Pakistan-Afghanistan border has reopened for traffic after closure of two days. The border was closed due to disagreement between Pakistani and Afghan forces over checking procedure.More than 1,000 Nato-supply vehicles and other commercial vehicles piles up as result of closure. Unknown attackers fired rocket at these vehicles last night and opened fired caused a blaze in Nato-supply trucks. One FC personnel injured in the firing whereas two attackers wounded in retaliatory fire of security forces managed to flee.According to sources, over 25 containers, oil tankers, trailers and the vehicles mounted on trailers were all destroyed in the incident.

BENAZIR BHUTTO was no security risk.

LAHORE: Former premier Benazir Bhutto was no threat to national security, former chief of army staff Mirza Aslam Beg told Daily Times Editor-in-chief Najam Sethi on Dunya TV on Sunday.Beg said that Benazir remained “rock solid” in 1990 amid reports of conspiracy against Pakistan.Attacks: He said when reports surfaced in 1990 that the US, the Israelis and Indians were planning to attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, then PM Benazir had asked Pakistan Air Force to be ready to attack India’s nuclear facilities in case Pakistan was attacked.
Money: The former army chief said Saudis had given bags full of money to Mahmood Haroon to woo politicians to join the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), which was constituted to ensure that Benazir did not return to power, and fund IJI’s election campaign.He said Haroon had claimed that the ‘money-bags’ were so heavy that his “shoulders hurt for days”.Rift: Beg also said former army chief Asif Nawaz and former PM Nawaz Sharif had been at odds because of former ambassador to US Abida Husssain.
He said Abida had complained to Nawaz that Asif had met some American leaders during his US visit, but had not included her in those meetings.She had told Nawaz that Asif was conspiring against him with the US leadership.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Japanese Opposition Wins Elections in Landslide

The Democratic Party of Japan won the Lower House election by a landslide Sunday, grabbing more than 300 seats in the 480-seat chamber.

The victory by the main opposition party will end more than half a century of almost uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. It will also usher in DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, 62, as the new prime minister by mid-September.

The DPJ-led opposition camp secured 340 seats against just 140 for the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc. In the opposition camp, the DPJ alone had 308.

Flush with victory, DPJ executives started full-fledged preparations for launching a new administration in the evening, party sources said, adding that talks were also planned with its two allies — the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) — on forming a coalition government.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Taro Aso said he will step down as LDP president to "take responsibility" for his party's defeat. An election to pick his successor as LDP chief will be held soon, he said.

LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda also said on NHK the party's top three executives have all told Aso they plan to resign.

"We'd like to straightly face the severe results. We will search our souls and start preparing for the next election," Hosoda said, adding that the LDP will overhaul its policies to gain more support.

The LDP also lost some big names in single-seat races, including former Foreign Ministers Nobutaka Machimura and Taro Nakayama, as well as Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano and former Finance chief Shoichi Nakagawa.
However, Machimura and Yosano regained their seats in proportional representation.

New Komeito suffered even worse, with party chief Akihiro Ota and heavyweights Kazuo Kitagawa and Tetsuzo Fuyushiba all defeated in their single-seat districts. They didn't "insure" themselves by putting their names on the party's list of proportional-representation candidates.

DPJ deputy chief Ichiro Ozawa declined comment before the poll results were complete but said "there is nothing (for voters) to worry" about concerning an impending change in government.

"We'd like to steadily implement what we have promised to the nation," Ozawa told NHK.

Pre-election media polls showed the DPJ leading the LDP thanks to strong populist tail winds propelled in part by frustration with years of stagnation and mismanagement under the LDP.

As many as 1,374 candidates, including a record 229 women, competed for seats in the 480-member chamber — 300 in single-seat districts and 180 in the 11 proportional representation blocks nationwide.

Due to strong voter interest, voter turnout was estimated to have reached 69.29 percent, exceeding the 67.51 percent in the previous general election in 2005.

A record 13.98 million people, or 13.4 percent of all eligible voters, cast early ballots.

Most of the nearly 51,000 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.

The DPJ, which had just 115 seats before the election, secured 308.

The LDP, in contrast, captured as few as 119, a shocking decline from its 300 seats before the race. New Komeito won 21 seats, far short of the 31 seats it had before the election.

The LDP's fall from power was only its second since it was founded in 1955. It was out of power for about 11 months between 1993 and 1994.

After campaigning officially began Aug. 18, Aso made clear his priority was to stimulate the economy, saying the economy is only halfway through its recovery.

He argued against giving a popular mandate to the DPJ on the grounds that the opposition party tends to waver on national security matters, and that his LDP is the only party responsible enough to govern.

The DPJ's Hatoyama promised to up support to households, saying a DPJ-led government will "cut waste created in bureaucrat-reliant politics and reorganize the budget in such a way as to spend money on what's really important."

The change in the Lower House will clear the legislative deadlock in the Diet, which has plagued the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc for the past two years, when the less-powerful Upper House came under control of the opposition.

Campaigning effectively began July 21, when Aso, 68, dissolved the Lower House. Since then, parties had pitched their policies to voters based on their campaign platforms.

In its platform, the DPJ pledges to cut wasteful spending, offer cash to households and keep the 5 percent consumption tax intact for the next four years, the duration of the term for new Lower House lawmakers.

But its big-budget policies, like the monthly child allowance to families, have been criticized as lacking specifics about sources of funding.

Aso was widely expected to call the poll soon after taking office last September after two of his immediate predecessors quit after about a year in office each. But as the recession deepened, he vowed to focus on reviving the economy and delayed dissolving the lower chamber.

In the general election of September 2005, the LDP captured a whopping 296 seats as then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi painted the race as a contest between those for his postal system privatization initiative and those against it.

Pakistan illegally modified US-made missiles: White House

WASHINGTON: The US government has accused Pakistan of illegally modifying US-made anti-ship missiles to make them capable of striking land targets and thus creating a new threat for India, The New York Times reported late on Saturday.

Citing unnamed senior administration and congressional officials, the newspaper said the accusation was made in an unpublicized diplomatic protest delivered in late June to Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

At the center of the row were Harpoon anti-ship missiles that were sold to Pakistan by the administration of former US president Ronald Reagan as a defensive weapon during the Cold War in the 1980s, the report said.

US military and intelligence officials say they suspect that Pakistan has modified the missiles in a manner that would be a violation of the Arms Control Export Act, the paper said.

Pakistan has denied the charge, saying it developed the missile itself. But according to the report, US intelligence agencies detected on April 23 a suspicious missile test that appeared to indicate that Pakistan had a new offensive weapon.

The missile would be a significant new entry into Pakistan's arsenal against India, The Times said. It would enable Pakistan's navy to strike targets on land, complementing the sizable land-based missile arsenal that Pakistan has developed.

That, in turn, would be likely to spur another round of an arms race between the nuclear-armed rivals that the United States has been trying to halt, the paper noted.

‘The potential for proliferation and end-use violations are things we watch very closely,’ The Times quotes an administration official as saying.

‘When we have concerns, we act aggressively.’

The United States has also accused Pakistan of modifying US-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions, another violation of US law that the administration of President Barack Obama has protested, the report said.

Suicide attack in Mingora kills 12

MINGORA: A militant blew himself at a police station in Pakistan's northwestern Swat Valley on Sunday killing 12 cadets in the second such attack in the area in recent weeks, a senior government official said.

The military went on the offensive in the region northwest of the capital in late April and has killed or driven out many Taliban militants in what has been widely seen as a successful operation, but the attacks show the militants can hit back.

‘Training was going on when a suicide bomber disguised as a recruit walked into the building and blew himself up,’ Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of the North West Frontier Province where Swat is located, told Reuters.

‘We have reports that 12 were killed’ in the attack in the main town of Mingora, he said.

Pakistan's military push had allayed fears among its allies, in particular the United States and other countries with troops in neighbouring Afghanistan that the nuclear-armed country was failing to get to grips with spreading militant violence.

A suicide bomber killed 22 Pakistani border guards on Thursday in an attack at the main crossing point into Afghanistan at the west end of the Khyber Pass.

It was the first big attack in Pakistan since Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike on August 5 and raised fears that the militants, who officials say have been in disarray, were hitting back.

Five soldiers were killed in a suicide attack at a security checkpoint in the Swat valley on August 15.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

British PM pays surprise visit to Afghanistan

(CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, thanking his nation's fighting forces for a job "well done."

"This has been the most difficult summer in Afghanistan because the Taliban have tried to prevent the elections taking place and I think our forces who I've been meeting today have shown extraordinary courage during this period," Brown said in a televised interview, taped in Afghanistan and aired in Britain.

Brown dropped by Camp Bastion in Helmand province, where the country's service members are based in Afghanistan. Brown was returning to Britain on Saturday.

The troops have been fighting Taliban insurgents in volatile Helmand province. Like their American counterparts, they have suffered many deaths this summer.

In one 10-day stretch in July, 15 British troops were killed, and the casualties have sparked an intense debate in Britain about the country's military role in the war-ravaged country.

The British military last month said an operation it led to clear the Taliban from parts of Afghanistan has succeeded. It was called Operation Panther's Claw and it was designed to flush the Taliban from parts of southern Helmand Province before Afghan elections, which were held last week.

"They know that the reason why we're here and the reason why we're continuing to be here is that our security at home depends on a stable Afghanistan and no return of the Taliban, and no role for al Qaeda in the running of Afghanistan," Brown said in the interview.

In the interview, Brown was optimistic about training about 50,000 Afghan soldiers over the next year.

"Stepping that up means that the Afghans take more responsibility for [their] own affairs," Brown said. "They're backed up by partnering and mentoring done by the British forces and you can see behind you the new equipment we're bringing into the field to back this up."

Brown will not be attending the funeral of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy as had been anticipated. Brown's office said the prime minister wanted to attend the funeral but couldn't "because of government business. He has sent his apologies and condolences to the family."

Kennedy Laid to Rest After Day of Honor

Thousands of mourners both great and ordinary bade farewell to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday, remembering him as the beloved youngest child of a dynasty who grew to be its patriarch, a man who left his mark on millions of Americans through the laws he shepherded over more than four decades, during which he became one of the most powerful political figures in the country. Mr. Kennedy’s 77-year journey through history concluded with a funeral Mass in Boston, a brief ceremony at the Capitol in Washington and his burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday evening.A military guard carried his coffin to the grave site as rose-colored sky grew dim, just before 8 p.m. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, presided over the traditional Catholic burial as Mr. Kennedy’s family and a select group of close friends — including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator John Kerry — looked on, enduring the last in a day-long series of ceremonies.
“They called him the lion of the Senate and indeed that was what he was,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “His roar and his zeal for what he believed made a difference in this nation’s life.”The cleric also revealed some of the content of a letter Mr. Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, hand-delivered by President Obama during a recent trip to the Vatican.“I’m writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my health declines,” Cardinal McCarrick read from Mr. Kennedy’s letter. “I’m 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.”Mr. Kennedy wrote that his Roman Catholic faith “has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours,” and though “I have been an imperfect human being,” he wrote, his faith helped “right my path.”The pope responded with an assurance of “his concern and of his spiritual closeness,” Cardinal McCarrick said. Friends, family and colleagues braved relentless rain to attend the funeral in Boston, where Mr. Obama gave the eulogy in a hushed church before 1,400 mourners.“Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy,” Mr. Obama said. “The world will long remember their son Edward as the heir to a weighty legacy, a champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party, and the lion of the United States Senate — a man whose name graces nearly 1,000 laws, and who penned more than 300 laws himself. Mr. Obama owes Mr. Kennedy an inestimable debt for his endorsement in last year’s primary campaign battle for the Democratic presidential nomination against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Obama repaid it in part with eloquent words of praise, saying Mr. Kennedy had suffered more pain and loss than most people will ever know, yet he never succumbed to self-pity or abandoned his dreams and principles.“The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy’s shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became,” the president said. “We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy — not for the sake of ambition or vanity, not for wealth or power, but only for the people and the country that he loved.”The funeral was at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Roxbury section of Boston, a 130-year-old Romanesque church known as a place of healing. Mr. Kennedy prayed there every day when his daughter Kara was being treated for lung cancer several years ago at a nearby hospital.Mourners began gathering at 7 a.m. for the 10 a.m. service as a steady rain fell. Many storefronts and taverns in the neighborhood, known as Mission Hill, displayed blue and white signs reading, “Kennedy, Thanks.” Mourners arriving at the church also saw a billboard on Tremont Street with a large picture of Mr. Kennedy and the words, “The dream lives on.”President Obama arrived in Boston on Friday night from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. Shortly before 7:30 a.m. he walked from his hotel across the street to the Fairmont Copley Plaza, where he had a private 10-minute meeting with Mrs. Kennedy.As the church filled Saturday morning, Mrs. Kennedy greeted dozens of members of Congress and other dignitaries at the John F. Kennedy Library, where Mr. Kennedy’s body lay in repose. Mrs. Kennedy and family members accompanied the flag-draped coffin in somber procession to the church, arriving at 10:45 a.m. in a bobbing sea of black umbrellas as the church bell tolled. The flag was removed and folded, replaced by a white shroud.Former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter attended the service. The other living former president, George Bush, did not attend for health reasons, an aide said. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former Vice Presidents Al Gore, Dan Quayle and Walter F. Mondale also attended.Fifty-eight senators, 21 former senators and dozens of members of Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended. Also present were Sarah Brown, the wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain; Shaun Woodward, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland; and Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister for the Northern Ireland Assembly.The neighborhoods around Mission Hill became a kaleidoscope of American flags, Kennedy-themed signs and the umbrellas held by the thousands who lined the streets.They testified to both Mr. Kennedy’s common appeal and his lineage. One man, David Higgins, was an Irish immigrant who credited Mr. Kennedy with helping him get a visa. Another, Maureen McQuillen, volunteered as a greeter at Mr. Kennedy’s wake on Thursday. Members of a health-care union stood in purple jackets and said Mr. Kennedy had helped labor in “innumerable ways.”

Supply for Nato stops after row with Afghans

QUETTA: Fuel and other supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan were stopped as traffic on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border remained suspended on Saturday because of a row over search of goods trucks coming from Afghanistan.

Hundreds of trailers carrying fuel and other supplies, including food, military equipment and vehicles, were stuck up in the border town of Chaman.

According to sources, about 300 vehicles are stuck in the Pakistani border area. A large number of vehicles loaded with fruit and other goods are also stuck on the Afghan side of the border.

The sources said that the row broke out on Friday after Pakistani border officials asked Afghan drivers of trucks carrying grapes and other fruit to unload their goods for search.

The drivers refused to do so, saying the unloading would spoil the fruit.

The officials said they would not allow entry of trucks without checking. ‘We cannot change our method of checking,’ a senior border security official said.

The Afghan drivers alleged that the border officials demanded money for clearing the trucks. Pakistani officials denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Afghan traders stopped entry of trucks and other vehicles carrying Nato supplies into Afghanistan in protest against the Pakistan government’s decision.

The Chaman Chamber of Commerce of Industry expressed concern over the issue and said that traders would suffer huge losses if the dispute remained unresolved.

Suicide Bomber Training Camp Destroyed

Pakistan's military says it has destroyed a training camp for suicide bombers in the Swat Valley.The army said in a statement that reports from intelligence sources and local residents led them to the location in northwest Pakistan.They said six militants were killed in the operation and several others were wounded.Pakistan's government has been fighting a Taliban insurgency in the northwest.Friday Britain pledged $1 billion in aid to help stabilize Pakistan's violent border regions and to address the underlying causes of extremism.British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed the pledge during a meeting in London with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.A spokesman for Mr. Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, also called for better access to European Union markets to help boost Pakistan's economy.

Unemployment, poverty main causes of terrorism: Bilour

PESHAWAR: The NWFP Senior Minister and Parliamentary Leader of ANP, Bashir Ahmad Bilour has said Pukhtoons are hospitable and human friendly that fully supported and work side by side with the international community for the cause of human welfare. However, he regretted that we once again being left alone today like that in the past and despite rendering numerous sacrifices of lives and properties in war against terror, we are faced with uncertainty at our own soil. Main cause of the terrorism, law and order and crimes in this region is the ever-increasing poverty and unemployment while we made clear to our central government and world community to focus on these issues to ensure peace and stability in the region as well as on the entire globe", he added. He was talking to Ms. Candas Patnum, the newly appointed Principal Officer of US consulate, who called on him at his residence here on Friday and discussed matters of mutual interest including the regional development and solidarity. Bashir Bilour said a sense of deprivation was emanating among the people here due to immense level of poverty, backwardness and unemployment in the otherwise rich of resources province. On the other side he said, Pukhtoons were being trapped by terrorist and anti social elements besides indulging in the religious, sectarian and linguistic differences. He lamented that most of poor families due to lack of educational and health facilities sent their wards to religious seminaries where children were given free education, dress and food. Similarly, he said plight of water supply, food, other basic facilities and even infrastructure was also unsatisfactory while the provincial government had very meager resources for improving it. The Senior Minister said the people of this region offered matchless sacrifices right from cold and Afghan war to present war on terror, so much so that millions of the IDPs from various districts of Malakand had to migrate and face immense difficulties of weather and society. He said we were able to win war on terror due to these sacrifices but the people here did not get its fruit and instead faced numerous social and economic hardships. He said our industries were closed increasing the joblessness ratio while our trade routes from Afghanistan to central Asia provide us sufficient resources to ensure peace, stability and prosperity as well as promote goodwill on national and international level. The US Diplomat agree with the Senior Minister and assured all out assistance of her country by appreciating steps of provincial government on war on terror and welfare of the masses.

Friday, August 28, 2009

US wants 20,000 more troops to fight Taliban
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.

The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.

'Furious' Karzai and Holbrooke row over election fraud fears

Hamid Karzai flew into a rage when the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan raised concerns over alleged election fraud at a meeting in Kabul.

Details have emerged of an angry exchange between the country's president and Richard Holbrooke when they met the day after last week’s election. Mr Holbrooke had lunch with Mr Karzai at the presidential palace, and also met with his main rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, at the US embassy on August 21, according to diplomatic sources.

The three-hour meeting with Dr Abdullah went smoothly, the sources said, but Mr Karzai became angry when the US envoy - dubbed the “Bulldozer” for his negotiating style in the Balkans - raised concerns about alleged fraud and urged him to accept the results even if he did not win in the first round.

“Karzai accused the Americans of trying to push the election into a second round,” said one of the diplomatic sources. “He was furious.” The two men are said to have promptly finished their desserts, and shaken hands, before parting company.

A US embassy spokeswoman denied reports that there had been a shouting match, and that Mr Holbrooke had stormed out.

But the exchange illustrates the growing tension between the United States and Mr Karzai, who swept to power with American support after a US-led invasion toppled the Taleban government in late 2001.

Since the last presidential election in 2004, US officials have grown increasingly frustrated with corruption in Mr Karzai’s government, and with persistent allegations that some of his key allies, inclduing his half-brother, are involved in the drugs trade. They were also angered in the run-up to last week’s poll by Mr Karzai’s surprise approval of a law that critics say condones marital rape, and his alliances with several notorious warlords, who are also suspected war criminals.

They now fear that his allies may have tried to rig last week’s election, undermining the credibility of international efforts to defeat the Taleban and build democracy in Afghanistan.

With just over 17 per cent of the results released, Mr Karzai leads Mr Abdullah by 42.3 percent to 33.1 percent, but is still short of the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off after results are finalised next month.

Dr Abdullah and other opposition candidates have accused Mr Karzai and his allies of rigging the vote in the south - his main support base - where turnout was severely depleted by Taleban threats and attacks.

Mr Karzai’s supporters have already claimed that he won more than 68 per cent of the national vote - even though he won just 55.4 percent in 2004, and the last opinion polls before last week’s election put him on less than 50 per cent.

Michael Semple, a former EU official in Afghanistan who was accused of spying and expelled in 2007, said that the disagreement appeared to have been over Mr Holbrooke’s suggestion that it was in Afghanistan’s interests to have a second round run-off.

“That’s the point that we understand that Ambassador Holbrooke made; however we also understand that President Karzai disagreed with that fervently,” he said.

“And some of his supporters have been deliberately leaking the information about the 68% or 72%, which is why there probably was a battle royale in the presidential palace on the 21st.

US warns Karzai on fraud, corruption, militia ties

WASHINGTON: US envoys and lawmakers have bluntly warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that American patience is running out, citing concerns about allegations of fraud and corruption and attempts to prejudge the outcome of last week's election, participants said on Thursday.

Karzai met twice with US President Barack Obama's envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, after the Aug. 20 presidential election, including a private lunch in Kabul that turned "tense" when the US envoy raised the possibility of a run-off.

After that confrontation, the two finished dessert and shook hands, officials said.

US tensions with Karzai, in meetings with Holbrooke and a visiting delegation of US senators, reflected both election-time stress and growing discord in American relations with the man who has been leading Afghanistan since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.

Endemic government corruption and his close ties with former militia leaders have eroded Karzai's support, both with the Afghan people and with Washington policymakers.

The Obama administration was particularly disturbed by Karzai's last-minute alliance with Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, officials said.
"He (Karzai) has hurt himself in the eyes of a lot of people," a Western observer close to US deliberations explained of Dostum's role in Karzai's campaign.

US officials say Dostom, who fought for Afghanistan's Soviet-backed Communist government and later switched sides repeatedly during years of factional civil war, may be responsible for war crimes.

Karzai justified the move to Washington, telling officials he believed Dostum, who enjoys the overwhelming backing of ethnic Uzbeks in the north of Afghanistan, delivered key votes that could put him over the top.


Karzai would need more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off, but partial tallies so far show a close race with his leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

Tensions flared the day after the election, when Karzai's campaign drew Washington's ire by declaring victory even though none of the results had been released by the independent election commission.

Washington fears such declarations undercut the commission and cast doubt on the election's legitimacy.

At their lunch meeting, Holbrooke urged Karzai to respect the election process, particularly given the possibility of a run-off. Karzai, who has told Washington that a run-off risks igniting ethnic violence, became angry, officials said.

Holbrooke has said Washington would make the fight against corruption a central focus after the election, a move that could further stoke tensions with a Karzai administration.

US officials fear allegations of fraud will undermine Afghan public support for whatever government emerges after the election.

"There's been wholesale fraud to the benefit of Karzai in the past but there is no evidence that he was personally involved in fraud," a US State Department official said after the vote.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed most Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting and only a quarter say more troops should be sent there.

"It's the last chance," Senator Sherrod Brown said, describing the message his congressional delegation delivered to Karzai last week during a post-election visit to Kabul.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Loss of 4 relatives traumatises Swati student

PESHAWAR: A young MBA student traumatised by the death of four members of her family due to the violence in Swat is finding it difficult to continue her education.Razia, a student of Qurtuba University Peshawar, living in a private hostel, said she was unable to concentrate on her studies due to unbearable loss. “After enduring all those sufferings, it isn’t easy to focus on my studies,” she told ‘The News’.
Hailing from Matta tehsil, Razia lost her 13-year-old brother Mehran Khan, her uncle Muhammad Nisar, and cousins Kashif and Arif Khan. Her father, Yousaf Khan, a trader, was seriously injured, while the rest of her family moved to her grandfather’s home at Sumbat Cham, Matta, and later to Peshawar.Razia is the eldest daughter of Yousaf Khan. She has four sisters and three brothers enrolled at various educational institutes in Swat. She said their schools had been destroyed as a result of militancy and military operation.“My younger brother, Imran, developed a psychological disorder while my father is still hospitalised,” she added. Razia shared her tale with ‘The News’ how her family suffered and her life turned tragic. She said: “Following the launch of the military operation in Swat in the first week of May 2009, the Taliban occupied our mosque named Masjid Sidiqqia. On May 7, the security forces started pounding our area with mortar guns. Four of our family members died in the shelling and our market, dealing in cement, bricks and iron bars, was also destroyed.Our two trucks and two cars parked there were buried under the falling debris of the buildings due to the shelling.” Razia has fond memories of her hometown, Matta. “It was a beautiful town and in summer tourists would come to enjoy the scenery and pleasant weather. Now the infrastructure has been destroyed due to Taliban attacks and the subsequent military action. People live in fear and there is uncertainty and hopelessness,” she opined. She pointed out that most of the government-run educational institutions for females were already closed due to fear of militants’ attacks. She said that many parents were convinced that it would be unsafe to send their daughters to schools. She said female teachers too are worried while performing their duties at the schools. “I think people of Swat have been pushed back by 20 years due to the militancy and military operation. The economy has been damaged, tourism is finished and educational institutions, markets, hotels, banks, etc have suffered irreparable damage,” she added.

Struggling to earn a crust in Swat
MINGORA- People living in and around Swat Valley's principal city of Mingora are facing tough economic choices as a direct result of the recent clashes between government forces and militants in northwestern Pakistan. "There is a curfew in many places outside Mingora. People cannot work or move freely, and this means they cannot earn," said Shaukat Salim, a Mingora-based lawyer and human rights activist. Many people were being forced to sell household goods, jewelry or any other belongings to survive. "Soon they will have nothing left to sell," he said. Others say they have lost their livelihoods because of the damage caused to infrastructure by over two months of fierce fighting.
"I used to earn around Rs 200 [US$2.40] per trip by transporting goods to the market for farmers or those who manufactured small items of various kinds. But now the roads are so badly damaged only donkeys or other animals can move along them, and my van is useless," said local trader Daud Ali. "I was terrified my vehicle would be destroyed during the fighting. Now I wish that that had happened. It serves no purpose for me," he said, adding that checkpoints were also restricting movement. The destruction of shops, schools and offices has led to income loss for many others. "My husband was a cleaner at a local clinic. But it has been closed as the building was damaged and the owner has gone to Peshawar for good. Now we beg from our neighbours," Azra Bibi, a local resident, told IRIN. She said local shops had stopped giving her and others credit for fear they would not be able to pay it back.
Restoring livelihoods
Sebastien Brack of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been active in conflict-hit areas for many weeks, said: "Livelihood is a key concern, as many people used up their savings during the time of displacement and had to borrow large sums." Food packages were being distributed so that "people don't have to spend more and build up more debt," Brack said. Despite such efforts, people who have returned to Mingora and other conflict-hit zones after weeks of displacement are struggling to manage. "Our land has been destroyed; we have no stocks of food and it will take a year before we can grow vegetables to sell," said Karimullah Khan, a farmer from a village on the outskirts of Mingora. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, minister of information in the North West Frontier Province government, said: "We are aware of the problems people face in Swat and are doing everything we can." Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani earlier this month announced a development plan for Swat which included programmes to increase access to livelihoods.
High cost of food
Meanwhile, food prices remain higher in Mingora than in places outside the conflict zone and supplies are erratic. A 20kg sack of wheat flour costs US$10-20 in Mingora, but under $7.40 outside the conflict zone. "There is a need for food assistance in Swat, especially for people who remained stuck there through the weeks of conflict and received no help at all," Amjad Jamal, a spokesman for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan, told IRIN, adding that WFP would be carrying out an assessment to ascertain exactly what help was needed.

Fraud claims cloud growing Karzai lead
The head of Barack Obama's team monitoring Afghanistan's election said yesterday that he was "extremely concerned" about persistent reports of fraud and that he would press for the claims to be fully investigated.

Timothy Carney made the comments during a meeting with Pashtun tribal chiefs and and the presidential candidate they had supported, Sarwar Ahmedzai, after the chiefs threatened to stage a protest against alleged attempts by President Hamid Karzai to steal the election.
Meanwhile, a second partial release of election results showed Mr Karzai widening his lead over his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

The latest count showed that the incumbent president had boosted his lead over his former foreign minister from just over 10,000 to 91,000. The latest returns lift Mr Karzai's share of the vote to 44.8 per cent, with Mr Abdullah now at 35.1 per cent. The count is based on returns from 17 per cent of polling stations nationwide.

The announcement of the latest count was interrupted by another candidate, Ramzan Bashardost, who claimed that the public tallying of the votes before more than a thousand complaints of electoral malpractice had been investigated was unconstitutional. Mr Bashardost had run a poorly funded but suprisingly well-supported campaign on an anti-corruption ticket.

The tribal leaders from Paktiya in the southern Pashtun belt descended on the capital, Kabul, to hold a protest rally against what they claimed was the theft of their votes by representatives of Mr Karzai. The protest, organised by the candidate from their area, Mr Ahmedzai, was called off after an appeal by Western officials who thought it might spark violence in the current atmosphere of public anger and disillusionment over the elections.

One Pashtun elder, Mir Ali, said to Mr Carney: "We will take to the mountains and fight as we have done in the past if this election is decided by fraud. Karzai may call himself a Pashtun but he has sold himself to the warlords."

Mr Carney said: "Our view is that all evidence of fraud should be given to the investigators and thoroughly examined in deciding the result [of the election]. The US and the international community are very concerned that this takes place."

Mr Ahmedzai said: "Karzai has surrounded himself with corrupt people and his brothers are corrupt. We reserve the right to take any action necessary if the fraud is not dealt with. More of our people are coming to Kabul and they are not going to tolerate the election being stolen."

Five presidents to mourn at funeral for Edward Kennedy

Five American presidents are due to attend the funeral mass as Senator Edward Kennedy is laid to rest on Saturday.President Obama will read the eulogy, breaking off his holiday on Martha's Vineyard once more to pay his respects to his "dear friend", and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. Bush and Jimmy Carter are expected to be among the mourners.The private Catholic mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope in Kennedy's home town of Boston will be the climax of three days of mourning for the head of the Kennedy clan and patriarch of the Democratic Party, who died of brain cancer on Tuesday night at the age of 77.The solemnities begin at noon today (1600 GMT), with a private Mass for family members at Kennedy's sprawling home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.An hour later a motorcade will leave the compound for a slow journey to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where the Senator's body will lie in state until late Friday.On the journey the hearse will pass milestones in Kennedy's life — St Stephen's Church, where his mother Rose was baptised and buried; the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenaway Park in Boston, which Kennedy helped to create; and the site of Kennedy's office in his first job as an assistant district attorney for Massachusetts from 1960-62.As the motorcade drives past historic Faneuil Hall, the Mayor of Boston will ring a mourning bell — one of innumerable tributes to the departed politician.All government buildings across the country have lowered the Stars and Stripes to half mast, and last night the Lightship Nantucket, which has marked the dangerous shoals off the Massachusetts coast for 150 years, steamed in alongside Kennedy's house and illuminated his schooner.The Senator's body will lie in a closed casket at the library, while a military honour guard and members of his family, friends and staff stand vigil.Thousands of members of the public are expected to file through to pay their last respects, past enlarged photographs of Kennedy at different stages of his life.On Friday night, an invitation-only memorial service will be held at the library during which Joe Biden, the US Vice-President, and Senator John McCain, last year's defeated Republican presidential candidate, are both expected to speak.The family chose Our Lady of Perpetual Hope a cavernous 19th-century building that seats 1,300, for Saturday's funeral Mass because it was the church where Kennedy went every day to pray while his daughter, Kara, was being successfully treated for lung cancer in a nearby Boston hospital."Over time, the Basilica took on a special meaning for him as a place of hope and optimism," said a statement released by the Senator's office.
After the service Kennedy's body will be transported to Virginia, where at 5.30pm (2130 GMT) it will be laid to rest alongside the graves of his brothers, John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery, on a hillside overlooking Washington.John F. Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and baby son Patrick, who died aged just two days, are also buried nearby.Kennedy is eligible to be buried at Arlington because of service in Congress and his two years in the Army from 1951-53, as a military policeman stationed in Paris.As the arrangements are made for Kennedy's obsequies, other moves are being made to adapt to the void he has left in American political life.Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, has thrown his support behind a proposal to change state law to allow the Governor to nominate an interim senator until a fresh election can be held.Kennedy himself made the request in a letter to Governor Patrick last week, writing that it was wrong for Massachusetts to go without a senator "at such a critical time" — a reference to the epic congressional battle over Mr Obama's healthcare reforms. Since his death, the state only has John Kerry in the Senate."I'd like the legislature to take up the Bill quickly and get it to my desk and I will sign it," said Governor Patrick.Meanwhile Democrats in Congress appear to be using the death of Kennedy, known as a liberal lion who championed social reform, as an extra weapon in their battle to get Mr Obama's legislation through.Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, has argued that the healthcare reforms should be passed in Kennedy's name and spirit.Republican Rush Limbaugh has said that any such sentiments would make him "vomit".But the tactic has been used successfully before. Two years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson invoked the Kennedy name to pass the Civil Rights legislation, as well as the welfare state laws Medicare and Medicaid.

About 90% IDPs in Pakistan's Swat return home
Around 90 percent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to the military operations in northwestern Pakistan's Swat have so far returned to their homes, a UN humanitarian official said here Thursday.

"Around 90 percent Swat displaced have returned back to their homes. The figure so far stand at 1.6 million out of total 2.3 million IDPs from different areas," said Martin Mogwanja, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan.

"During past week, average 500 families returned to their homes daily. Earlier, the return rate was faster as 1,400 families use to return their homes every day," Mogwanja said at a news conference.

He said as large number of IDPs have returned to their homes, now only 454 school buildings are under their use out of total 4,700 school buildings.

"All the rest buildings have been vacated by the IDPs and hopefully will be used for educational purposes with the start of the educational session," he said.

Revealing the findings of the recent mission to Swat area, Mogwanja said, due to scattered attacks by independent groups, still there are some security concerns. Secondly, he said, check points and barricades are causing significant delay in movement of IDPs and relief goods. Thirdly, he said, early recovery activity for provision of basic facilities was urgently required as 600,000 IDPs were on their way back home.

"They will also be needing basic facilities, infrastructure and livelihood. Four distribution hubs have been set up for providing them food and non-food items," he said.

Adding to Mogwanja, the WHO Country Representative Khalif Bille Mohamud said, 25 health facilities were partially and five were totally damaged during the operation.

Mohamud said after recovery five facilities out of these 25, have started functioning and he mentioned the shortage of human resource, especially lady medical workers.

Girls victimized by Taliban find safe haven to learn

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- In Pakistan's combustible Swat Valley, some girls refuse to wear uniforms so they can make it to school without being harmed.Other girls hide textbooks in their shawls to escape harassment.School-age girls are among the victims in the fierce fighting between government soldiers and Taliban militants in the Swat Valley. The Pakistani government said it has flushed much of the Taliban out of the area, but some fighting persists.Many girls remain banned from schools. Dozens of their schools have been bombed, and militants have burned books.A new program has taken 26 girls out of the battle-scarred region to Islamabad for a 10-day retreat, where they can learn in safer surroundings.A group of college students of Pakistani background is helping the girls. Among them are Shiza Shahid, 20, from California's Stanford University, who organized the program called Shajar-e-llm, or Tree of Knowledge.Shahid said she was moved to help after hearing about how the girls struggled to get an education."I think we were so angry, upset and emotional that we decided we have to do something," she said.Though well-intentioned, the program sometimes seems disorganized."We need support. We need unfortunately more organization, more of the bureaucratic nitty-gritty that you don't want to do, but you have to," Shahid said. "We are young, and that does come with the burden as not being equally trusted or seen as capable."Nonetheless, the group has ambitions for a boys' learning retreat as well.The lessons are simple enough -- confidence-building exercises, critical-thinking lessons -- all framed in the context of Islamic values.
The girls -- ages 11 to 14 -- spoke about their dreams. One wants to meet a poet; another wants to learn calligraphy. Another wants to grow up to lead Pakistan.
"I want to become president and rule this country in a good way," said 12-year-old Malila.One day during the retreat, the girls were taught a song about freedom of speech. As a guitarist strummed, the girls sang that God gives everyone the right to free speech and no one can take it away.Free speech seemed to end with the song, however. The girls could not risk talking about Taliban harassment, because the militants' version of Islamic law lingers. Such Islamic law, or shariah, also keeps females from going to school or going outside without their husbands.The United Nations estimates that 375,000 Swat Valley residents fled their homes during fighting that started in April. In all, 2.5 million Pakistanis were displaced in what was said to be one of the largest human migrations in recent history.Many residents have returned to their homes, but peace has not been completely restored to the region.
And soon, the girls at the learning retreat will return home to the Swat Valley as well.Organizers said they hope the girls will carry a new love for education.
"There were tears and there were tough moments," said Madihah Akhter, a volunteer with the program. "But the girls surprised me. They were really resilient. They were beyond their years."

Afghanistan Election Results On Hold for at Least Two Days

Afghanistan's voters are going to have to wait a bit longer to receive further results of ballot counting from last week's presidential election.

Results from Afghanistan's disputed presidential election are in a further state of limbo. The organization tabulating the votes says no further returns will be made public until Saturday, at the earliest.

The Independent Election Commission has announced no reason for the delay. But one official with the IEC acknowledges the counting is proceeding slower than expected because of computer software glitches.

The senior project officer for the team in Kabul from Democracy International, Bill Gallery, tells VOA News this should not be a cause for alarm.

"We are not super concerned about a couple days delay," he said. "We have been looking at the numbers released so far and there is some information there to use. We would be worried if they delayed any further. But I think this could just be an administrative issue."

It has been one week since the election. Results from only 17 percent of the polling stations have been released. Those returns show incumbent President Hamid Karzai with 43 percent of the vote. His closest rival among a long list of challengers, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, has 34 percent.

Mr. Karzai will need more than 50 percent of the total to avoid a run-off election next month.

A number of the contenders have alleged widespread irregularities. The Election Complaints Commission, partly appointed by the United Nations, says it is prioritizing dozens of serious allegations for investigation.

Violence involving Taliban insurgents who vowed to disrupt the election is continuing.

Officials in Paktika province say a regional Taliban commander and five of his followers have been captured following a fierce six-hour gun battle at a hospital there.

The Taliban leader, named as Mullah Muslim, had gone to the medical facility to seek treatment. Provincial officials say the commander had been wounded during election-day violence.

U.S. and Afghan forces, tipped off that the Taliban had entered the hospital, responded with troops and a helicopter gunship.

Officials say 12 insurgents and one soldier with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force died in the clash.

At Least 22 Dead in Pakistan Bombing

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide attacker pretending to offer food to a group of Pakistani police officers detonated his explosives among them on Thursday, killing at least 22 people as they gathered to break the Ramadan fast on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials and witnesses said.

The attack in or near Tokham, a post on the main route for moving supplies to NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, took place just before dusk, as the men prepared to eat on the lawn outside their barracks. Because the attacker offered food, he was welcomed to join the gathering in accordance with local tradition during Ramadan, said Sajid Shinwari, a policeman who witnessed the attack.

A militant group affiliated with the Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, and a spokesman for the group called a local reporter to warn of further strikes against security forces if Pakistan did not stop NATO supplies from passing through its territory.

Medical workers described a chaotic scene at the hospital and blast site.

“So far, we have 22 bodies brought here, but there are many others so we don’t know the exact casualty figures,” said Dr. Zar Alam Shinwari, a local doctor. “We have asked for ambulances from other towns. The situation is bad.”

It was unclear how many of the dead were police officers.

The group that claimed responsibility for the attack, the Dr. Abdullah Azzam Brigade, is based in the Orakzai tribal region and is named after a fiery Palestinian scholar who was a mentor to Osama bin Laden and was killed in a car bomb in Peshawar in 1989.

In another episode, at least four people were killed earlier Thursday in the South Waziristan tribal region in a missile strike by a remotely controlled United States aircraft aimed at a meeting of local Taliban militants, according to local news reports.

The attack took place in the town of Kanigurram, in an area considered to be a stronghold of Waliur Rehman, the man the Taliban chose as its regional leader after Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, died from injuries sustained in another drone attack earlier this month.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the number of dead from the strike could rise and that some foreign militants might also have died.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy dead at 77

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy died late Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. He was 77. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," a family statement said. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," a family statement said. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice."

President Obama learned about Kennedy's death at 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to a senior administration official. Obama later called Kennedy's widow to offer condolences.

In a statement, Obama says: "An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time."

Kennedy, nicknamed "Ted," was the younger brother of slain President John F. Kennedy and New York Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was gunned down while seeking the White House in 1968. However, his own presidential aspirations were hobbled by the controversy around a 1969 auto accident that left a young woman dead, and a 1980 primary challenge to then-President Jimmy Carter that ended in defeat.
But while the White House eluded his grasp, the longtime Massachusetts senator was considered one of the most effective legislators of the past few decades. Kennedy, who became known as the "Lion of the Senate," played major roles in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, and was an outspoken liberal standard-bearer during a conservative-dominated era from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
"He was probably best known for the ability to work with Republicans," said Adam Clymer, Kennedy's biographer. "The Republican Party raised hundreds of millions of dollars with direct appeal to protect the country from Ted Kennedy, but there was never a piece of legislation that he ever got passed without a major Republican ally."

NWFP, Fata turn into abattoir for journalists

PESHAWAR: The NWFP and Fata have turned into the most insecure areas in the world for media men, many of whom have been killed while several others have either been kidnapped or their families were attacked and houses demolished.

Janullah Hashimzada, an Afghan journalist based in Peshawar, proved to be the latest victim when he was shot in head in Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency while returning in a passenger coach from Afghanistan on August 24.

He was associated with an Afghan television, a local Pashto daily ‘Wahdat’ and various international media organisations.

Around 12 other journalists were killed. Many others came under attack, kidnapped, their houses demolished and their family members murdered. Musa Khankhel, correspondent of The News and Geo in Swat, was killed by unidentified people after he was picked up while returning home after covering a march by the activists of Tanzim Nifaze Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in February last.

Another journalist of Swat Mohammad Shoaib was shot dead by the security forces for reported violation of curfew. He was taking his daughter to hospital when met the tragedy. Abdul Aziz Shaheen, a journalist in the scenic Swat valley, was caught by shelling on a Taliban base camp where he had gone to get his vehicle back snatched by Taliban.

The fourth journalist of Swat killed during the ongoing violence was Sirajuddin, who was killed while attending the funeral prayer of DSP Javed Iqbal. The DSP was killed in a remote-controlled blast in Lakki Marwat. A suicide bomber blew himself up in the funeral of the DSP at his hometown, Mingora, to kill over 60 people and injured hundreds of others in February 2008.

Mohammad Ibrahim Jan of Bajaur Agency was returning home after interviewing Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar when ambushed by armed men. Another media person of the area Dr Noor Hakeem fell victim to a roadside bomb that hit his car while accompanying a polio vaccination team on June 2, 2006.

The Darra Adamkhel Press Club leader Naseer Ahmad was shot dead by unidentified people in the nearby tribal town in December 2005. The murder of Hayatullah, a journalist based in North Waziristan was the most complex matter as he remained missing for over six months before his handcuffed and chained body was recovered in June 2006.

He was kidnapped on December 5 after covering a demonstration against the US. The first case of attack on journalist in South Waziristan was reported on February 7, 2005 when Allah Noor Wazir of AVT Khyber and Ameer Nawab of APTN were ambushed by gunmen while returning to their offices after attending a peace agreement between the local militants and government.

Two journalists of Dera Ismail Khan, Tahir Awan and Mohammad Imran, both associated with local newspapers, also fell victims to the violence during last year. They were killed during a suicide blast in the town last year.

The house of a senior journalist and correspondent of the Geo News, Behroz Khan, was also torched two months back in Buner, a few days after militants damaged the house of another media man, Rahman Buneri. The houses of Islamuddin Sajid, Shanawaz Tarakai were also partially damaged in different incidents. The house of Sherinzada was attacked in Swat in which his sister was killed.

There are still threats to the lives, properties and families of several journalists of NWFP and Fata who are discharging their duties in a war zone without any protection by the government or their media organizations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Abdullah's supporters threaten to take up arms over 'rigged' election

With the results of Afghanistan's presidential election expected later today, supporters of the opposition leader, Abdullah Abdullah, delivered a grim message last night, threatening violence if their candidate loses.
Standing by the black marble grave of their fallen leader Ahmed Shah Masoud, two former mujahedin fighters said they still had their guns and warned that they had not forgotten how to use them.
Like most of Afghanistan's Tajik community, they had voted for Mr Abdullah, a former foreign minister of Tajik and Pashtun ancestry, who fought alongside their beloved Commander Masoud against the Soviet invaders and then the Taliban.
If the election is "stolen" by Hamid Karzai, the reaction would be violent, the former guerillas declared. Mohammed Amin, 51, said: "We have heard Karzai is saying he has already won. We have also heard there has been a lot of fraud in the south. The election cannot be decided like this. The international community should correct this and have these votes taken again. If they do not, people will resist. This is Afghanistan, and we have all got arms. If people are angry, we will use these arms."

The last time they waged war, under the charismatic command of Masoud, was to keep the Pashtun Taliban at bay when they had already conquered the rest of the country. Supporters of Mr Karzai are claiming a landslide victory in the election, which would give him outright victory without having to go to a second round.

Mr Abdullah, in turn, has further raised the temperature by accusing the President of being personally involved in organising of "ballot stuffing". But he has also urged his supporters to stay calm while the electoral commission investigates his concerns. Faced with repeated reports of fraud and intimidation, international monitors who at first declared the ballot a success have been forced to acknowledge there has been serious and worrying malpractice.

Kai Eide, the head of the United Nations mission in the country, said yesterday: "There is no doubt there were irregularities on polling day. I appeal to the candidates, their campaigns and also to the voters to demonstrate the patience and calm required while these are investigated."

But here in the spiritual home of the Northern Alliance, patience is wearing thin. "Look up there," said Mr Amin, pointing to the mountains rising above the verdant valley of the River Panjshir. "That is where we made a stand with Ahmed Shah Masoud when the Russians attacked us. We must make a stand again if wrong is being done at the election."

His companion, Abdul Dosht, 47, added: "No one wants to fight fellow Afghans. We are all the same. But why should people accept their votes being ignored? If people on the other side are not being democratic what choice have we got but to fight? But if that happens we won't be fighting just for Tajiks, we'll be fighting for all Afghanistan."

During his campaign, Mr Karzai privately raised the spectre of ethnic violence and a return to civil war. Dr Abdullah's team, meanwhile, has threatened that there will be disturbances of the type which followed the disputed Iranian elections – "only worse" – if victory is corruptly obtained by the President.

There is much talk of a backroom deal being done between Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah. But there is a sense of a very personal enmity and grievance between the two candidates. Dr Abdullah, who studied ophthalmology at Kabul University, says he proposed Mr Karzai, a Pashtun, as the new leader of Afghanistan as the Taliban were being driven out in 2001.

A few months later, on becoming President with Dr Abdullah as his foreign minister, Mr Karzai came to pray at the grave side of Commander Masoud, who was murdered by al-Qa'ida in the run up to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Later, Dr Abdullah and Mr Karzai fell out amid mutual acrimony.

There is now a mausoleum at the site on "Chief of Martyrdom Hill" with a montage of photographs, many showing Dr Abdullah in the company of Commander Masoud. Work is under way to construct a complex with a Masoud Museum and a mosque. The Iranians who backed Commander Masoud against the Taliban are providing much of the funding. Karzai's camp has privately warned that Dr Abdullah is "too close" to the regime in Tehran.

Habib Rahim, one of the financial officers for museum project, said: "Yes, President Karzai came here and he said he would unify the country and work for all the people. But what has happened since?

"We don't have a proper president, there is violence, unemployment, the economy is bad. People want change and that is why so many of us voted for a change.

"This change cannot be stopped by corruption. If that happens there is a real danger of a conflict."

Afghanistan to Release Partial Election Results Tuesday

Afghanistan's election commission says it will release partial results from last week's presidential elections Tuesday, but complete nationwide preliminary results will not be known for another 10 days.

As people await the official results, the country's finance minister, Hazrat Omr Zakhilwal, claimed clear victory for incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

Zakhilwal said Monday the president received 68 percent of the vote.

A spokesman for Mr. Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, rejected that claim.

On the political front, the United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has appealed for patience as Afghan officials investigate accusations of voter fraud.

And, on the security front, the top U.S. military officer says the situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said in a television interview Sunday that the Taliban insurgency has become more sophisticated in its tactics.

He also expressed concern about waning American public support for the Afghan war.

In Washington Monday, Democratic Senator Russell Feingold called for a "flexible timetable" for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Feingold said it is time to start discussing such move. He said after eight years, he is not convinced that pouring more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy. He also expressed concern that sending more troops could destabilize the region.

The Obama administration expects to receive an assessment from its commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, within two weeks.

First death anniversary of Ahmed Faraz observed

ISLAMABAD : The first death anniversary of poet of love and revolution Ahmed Faraz was observed across the country on Tuesday.

The Hindko-speaking Faraz, who was born on January 14, 1931 in Kohat, died in Chicago last year.

Known as a contemporary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Faraz exemplified a simple but profound style and preferred the language of ordinary people, a private TV channel reported.

He was preoccupied with politics and wrote against dictatorship and even declined the presidential Sitara-e Imtiaz award from former president Pervez Musharraf.

"My conscience will never forgive me if I stay silent spectator of the sad happenings around us," he once said.

"The least I can do is let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped. I am doing this by returning the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (civil) forthwith and refuse to associate myself in any way with the regime."

Faraz was exile during the Zia-ul Haq regime after he was arrested for reciting certain poems at a mushaira criticizing the military rule.

He lived outside Pakistan for six years, in the UK, Canada and Europe before returning to Pakistan where he was initially appointed as the chairman of the Academy of Letters and later Chairperson of the National Book Foundation for several years.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pakistan briefs ‘friends’ on Malakand rehabilitation project

ISTANBUL: Pakistani officials on Monday briefed senior officials from the Friends of Pakistan forum on the ‘Malakand Pilot Project’, a report on the next summit of the forum and public-private partnerships to boost trade in Pakistan.

Minister of State for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke and representatives of 20 countries and six international organisations participated in the meeting.

After the first session, Pakistan tabled the Malakand project. The participants were also briefed on a business leaders’ meeting held on the sidelines of the senior officials’ meeting.

Complete rehabilitation: Following the first session, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said that Pakistan was trying to engage the private sector of “friends” for a greater inflow of investment and to boost trade activities.

“We presented the Malakand project at the meeting, and told the member countries that the complete rehabilitation of internally displaced persons would take five years,” he said.

He said that socio-economic development was sustainable in Pakistan, and “we have made a comprehensive project which has drawn considerable support from the forum friends”.

Replying to a question, the spokesman said the current meeting was not aimed at raising funds, but to attract investment in short, medium and long term projects for the reconstruction of infrastructure in Malakand.

About investment opportunities, he said hundreds companies from the US, China, the UK, Turkey and several other countries were working in Pakistan and earning “huge profits”. He said not a single company has left Pakistan because of security concerns, as “the overall security situation has improved greatly”.

The spokesman said the meeting of business leaders had shown great interest in Pakistan’s energy sector.

Senior officials attending the meeting praised Pakistan’s strategy to overcome security and development challenges.

The meeting agreed that public-private partnerships would be strengthened within the framework of the forum.

Hamid Karzai 're-elected' by landslide, poll data shows
Early figures from campaign team observers suggest Mr Karzai won 72 per cent of the vote with his closest rival Abdullah Abdullah gaining 23 per cent.
A further 2 million votes from southern Afghanistan have yet to be tallied, but they are in areas where Mr Karzai was predicted to have a strong showing.
The figures were obtained by the The Daily Telegraph from a campaign team which had observers at polling stations. An analyst confirmed: "That's in line with what we are hearing."
If confirmed, the scale of the win will provoke accusations of vote-rigging and electoral officials said yesterday they were already investigating dozens of complaints of fraud on a scale profound enough to sway the result.
The first provisional results are not expected until Tuesday, with final results following weeks later after complaint rulings. Early figures could change as suspect ballot boxes or polling stations are disallowed.
Mr Karzai had needed more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a second round run off against his former foreign minister.
One analyst said the scale of the apparent landslide raised the possibility Mr Karzai had legitimately swung large numbers of voters in the north after deals with strongmen including the militia leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
However it will be hotly contested after the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said it had received 225 complaints since polls opened on Thursday for the presidential and provincial council elections.
Grant Kippen, head of the commission, said some allegations were of irregularities on a scale large enough to alter the outcome of the poll.
He said: "Thirty five have been assigned a high priority and these are ones that we had to deem to be material to the outcome of the election results."
He said the most common complaint among the high priority cases was ballot box tampering and the number was still rising as reports arrived from remote areas.
Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah both said they were headed for an outright victory the day after polling.
Afghan electoral officials called on candidates and the media not to report on estimated results.
Dr Abdullah, the former foreign minister, said his campaign team had received alarming reports of irregularity.
He said: "There might have been thousands of violations throughout the country, no doubt about it.".
His allegations were dismissed by a spokesman for the Karzai campaign, who said it had also filed complaints about Dr Abdullah's supporters' activities.
Waheed Omer said unsuccessful campaigns would file complaints to "try to justify their loss".
The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan said on Saturday that it had recorded instances of multiple voting and underage voting.
But international observer missions including the European Union and International Republican Institute, said despite reports of irregularities, the vote had been "credible" and "generally fair".
Richard Holbrooke, United States envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said complaints of vote rigging were to be expected.
He said: "We have disputed elections in the United States. There may be some questions here.
"That wouldn't surprise me at all. I expect it. But let's not get out ahead of the situation."

Vote fraud allegations increase in Afghanistan

KABUL — Afghan presidential candidate Ramazan Bashardost jumped out of his chair Sunday when he saw the news photographers and started yelling at election officials who were tallying votes in a warehouse."Some documents have no serial numbers," he shouted, pointing at a stack of papers.Soon representatives of another candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, and of President Hamid Karzai entered the fray, screaming and gesturing. Startled workers kept their heads down and continued to examine documents.
There are no hanging chads, but Afghanistan's electoral process is starting to resemble the Florida recount effort in 2000 even before preliminary results are announced Tuesday. Afghanistan's second presidential election since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001 has created political uncertainty as officials attempt to count the votes amid fraud allegations from all sides.Election officials say it will take weeks to sort through the ballots and investigate the allegations before knowing who the next president is.About 225 complaints have been filed with Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission, including 35 serious enough to sway the results if confirmed, the commission announced Sunday. The serious allegations concern intimidation and stuffing of ballot boxes. Many more complaints, from voters and campaigns, are likely to be filed as ballot boxes come in from around the country."We anticipate hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints," Scott Worden, an electoral complaints commissioner, said in an interview Sunday. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, there were 1,500 complaints.Election officials caution that the vote tally and investigation into possible fraud will take time. "What we don't want is there to be confusion," Worden said.Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, said allegations of vote rigging and fraud are to be expected, but it's too soon to question the legitimacy of the vote."We have disputed elections in the United States. There may be some questions here. That wouldn't surprise me at all. I expect it," Holbrooke told AP Television News in the western city of Herat. "But let's not get out ahead of the situation."He said the U.S. and other countries "will respect the process set up by Afghanistan itself."Mohammad Farid Afghanzai, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, said he could not estimate what percentage of the vote would be known by Tuesday when the commission starts releasing results. Some voting materials have yet to arrive in Kabul from remote mountain villages, where donkeys were used to deliver ballots before the election. On Sunday, trucks with tally sheets and ballot boxes rolled into an elections commission compound outside Kabul.In the warehouse, workers entered numbers from handwritten tally sheets into computers. Candidates or their representatives could watch the process but were not allowed to interfere.Complete, unofficial results should be announced in about two weeks, with the vote being certified around Sept. 17 after the commission completes investigating fraud allegations. If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the top two contenders will be in a runoff.Karzai's main challenger, Abdullah, continued to level fraud charges at Karzai's government and said he will use the next several weeks to press his claims with the complaints commission."I'll fight until the last vote," Abdullah told USA TODAY.Turnout was low in many parts of the country, particularly in the south, where the U.S. military is mounting a major offensive against Taliban strongholds.Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry, said the Taliban spent millions of dollars to disrupt Thursday's vote. He said there were about 135 security incidents on election day, about three times the usual level.Azimi acknowledged that the violence and threats dampened turnout. "But it wasn't at the level to undermine the legitimacy of the election," he said.

Pakistan Police Say Arrest of 13 Militants Prevents Terror Attacks

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Police arrested 13 suspected militants in Pakistan on Monday in two separate raids that they said foiled several terrorist attacks.The police chief in the city of Sargodha, Usman Anwar, said the arrest of six militants there prevented strikes that were to take place next week on foreign targets, politicians and two places of worship, The Associated Press reported.In Karachi, police acting on a tip from intelligence sources about an imminent terrorist attack arrested seven suspected militants from the outlawed group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, security officials said Monday.Saud Mirza, a senior Karachi police official, said the raid in Karachi recovered 3 suicide jackets; 4 Kalashnikov automatic rifles; 2 gas masks; 15 kilograms, or 33 pounds, of explosives; and 2 kilograms of heroin. One of the men arrested in a police raid in Karachi on Sunday, Muhammad Shahzad, whose nom de guerre is Phelavan, or the Wrestler, is believed by Pakistani intelligence to have been a close associate of Amjad Hussain Farooqi, a well-known militant leader involved in an assassination attempt against the former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf.
Mr. Farooqi, who was killed in a shootout in southern Pakistan in 2004, also was implicated in the beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
Mr. Mirza said the men were involved in drug trafficking to finance their terrorist activities.Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian group founded in the mid-1990s with close ties to Al Qaeda, has often targeted Shiite Muslims using suicide attacks. More recently, it has been active in the recruiting of suicide bombers in Pakistan and Central Asia. The group was placed on the U.S. State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2003.A report this month from Jane’s intelligence group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi “perhaps the country’s most extreme and feared militant group.”“LeJ members have traditionally assumed new identities and operated in small cells that disperse after completing their missions, making it difficult for the Pakistani authorities to completely eradicate the group,” the Jane’s report said. “However, many of its leaders and members have been killed or jailed in recent years and there is little evidence that it remains a coherent organization with centralized structures.”In a separate incident on Monday, gunmen killed an Afghan television journalist and severely wounded another on Monday in northwestern Pakistan, The A.P. reported. Janullah Hashim Zada, who worked for the Afghanistan-based Shamshad TV, was gunned down as he traveled on a public minibus from Torkham in the Khyber tribal region to the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar, The A.P. reported, citing a Khyber Agency official, Omair Khan.Salman Masood reported from Islamabad.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hamid Karzai accused by rival candidate of rigging Afghanistan election
The main challenger to President Karzai accused him yesterday of rigging last week’s Afghan presidential election as investigators began wading through hundreds of complaints that could leave the country in political limbo for more than three weeks.

However, Abdullah Abdullah told The Times that he would challenge alleged fraud only through legal channels, rather than calling his supporters out in protest, and would accept defeat if it was ultimately confirmed by election bodies.

His moderate stance — after talks with US officials — eased short-term fears that the country could split along ethnic lines and erupt in protest after Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah both claimed a first-round victory on Friday.

Western officials already wrestling with a Taleban insurgency fear that political unrest would exacerbate a situation that Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted yesterday was “serious and deteriorating”.

The scale of the alleged fraud now threatens to undermine the entire election process, which is seen as a test of international efforts to defeat the Taleban and build democracy in Afghanistan.

“Widespread rigging has taken place by the incumbent, through his campaign team, and through the state apparatus,” Mr Abdullah, a former eye doctor and Foreign Minister, said. “This has to be prevented. That’s critical for the survival of the process and that’s critical as far as the hope for a better life of the Afghan people is concerned.”

The Times discovered further discrepancies yesterday in figures being reported from Helmand province, where British Forces have been since 2006 and launched Operation Panther’s Claw in June to allow 80,000 more people to vote.

Engineer Abdul Hadee, the local head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), told The Times on Thursday evening that fewer than 50,000 people had voted in Helmand, but changed that figure yesterday to 110,000. He also said that turnout in the district of Garmsir was 20,000, compared with zero as he had claimed on Thursday. In Nawa district his estimate had risen from zero to 3,000.

Mr Hadee also said that 18,000 people had voted in Musa Qala district. He had not given an earlier estimate, but a Western official monitoring the election said that turnout in the district was only 9,000.

Mr Hadee said that his earlier estimates were based on incomplete information. Analysts said that was possible but it was more likely that the ballot boxes had been stuffed in the absence of local or international monitors, who could not be there because of poor security. “There was big fraud in the election here,” a local journalist told The Times. “I think only 10 or 15 per cent of people in Helmand voted.”

British officials declined to comment on the poll in Helmand, saying that they were waiting for the IEC to publish its preliminary results. It is due to start issuing those tomorrow.

It cannot issue official, certified results until the Electoral Complaints Commission has investigated all the most serious allegations of fraud — a process that could take several weeks.

The ECC said that it had received 416 complaints as of last night, of which 46 had been categorised as high priority because they could affect the outcome of the election.

Grant Kippen, the ECC chief, said that the allegations mostly involved ballot stuffing, but also included violence, intimidation and problems with the indelible ink that marked voters’ fingers. “We’re going to look into all of this,” he said, warning that the process might not be completed by September 17, as the IEC had suggested.

Mr Abdullah said that his campaign had filed 100 of the complaints to the ECC, including several about southern provinces. He accused Mr Karzai of rigging the vote to compensate for poor turnout in the south, which is dominated by the Pashtun ethnic majority, from which the President hails. Mr Abdullah is half Pashtun and half Tajik but gets most of his support from the Tajik-dominated north, where Mr Karzai’s aides also allege there was widespread fraud.

Mr Abdullah refused to accept Mr Karzai’s claim that he had secured victory in the first round by winning more than 50 per cent.

But Mr Abdullah backed away from his own claim of a first-round victory, saying that he would be happy to participate in a run-off scheduled for October 1, and ruled out protests, which could easily turn violent in a country awash with weapons.

“One thing which I will avoid is to ask for demonstrations because of the fragility of the situation,” he said.

“I’ll try to control emotions and avoid any violence. From the other side I’ll try to fight it legally in whatever way possible.”

And if his legal challenges fail?

“I’ll accept that, even though I know it won’t work and I’ll try in my position as the opposition to bring it on track as much as possible.”

No Ramazan package yet for IDPs

PESHAWAR: Contrary to their expectations, the uprooted families from Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, particularly living in camps, did not get extra ration for Ramazan.
Living at the makeshift Katcha Garhi camp in Peshawar, the IDPs from Bajaur demanded of the government, UN and other relief agencies for special package for the month of fasting. The IDPs said they were assured of help for Ramazan but nothing had been done so far.During a visit to the Katcha Garhi camp housing over 2,000 displaced families, an official told The News the UNHCR had collected data from the camp residents to know their demand for extra food during the month. No additional aid was, however, coming in despite the beginning of the month on Saturday, he added.The official said the IDPs direly needed additional food, squashes and fruit, the items usually used during Iftar in normal conditions. A similar situation was reported from Jalozai. Although some teams of aid agencies registered the families about a week before the start of the holy month, dwellers of the makeshift camps complained they were getting nothing so far.Ghuncha Gul, inmate of the Jalozai settlement, said no fresh assistance was distributed to them and the camp officials had told them that cooked food would be distributed for Iftar, but nothing was there.According to camp officials, nearly 4,500 families were living at the Jalozai camp. They said all the Swat families had left the settlement. The officials said registration of IDPs was completed before Ramazan, but aid was likely to be distributed in a day or so.

In Pakistan, Taliban Tearing Apart a Culture

Pashtun Residents Say Militants Have Imposed Extremist Views on the Population, Displacing Centuries-Old TraditionsPashtun literature used to be full of romance and praise for the beauty of nature. Now it reflects the death and explosions that have filled the lives of Pakistanis.The literary trend is the lesser-known victim of the "Talibanization" in Pakistan's northwest. Militants imposed their ultraconservative brand of Islam in and around the Swat Valley until the military ousted them this summer, and they continue to hold sway throughout the tribal regions.Residents in these areas say their reign is robbing this predominantly Pashtun area of its centuries-old culture and tearing the social fabric, from poetry to dancing to community centers. Even in Swat, where residents displaced by the fighting are making their way home, many entertainers have not come back for fear the Taliban might.
"This is an attempt to Arabize the Pashtun society by attacking their culture and their highly revered institutions," says Said Alam Mehsud, a leader of the Aman Tehreek, a peace movement recently launched in Peshawar.
The Pashtuns, an ethnic group concentrated in northwestern Pakistan and southern and eastern Afghanistan, live by a revered code of conduct called Pashtunwali. Society has traditionally centered around community centers called hujras, where assemblies of elders and community leaders called jirgas are an important part of the culture.
But the militant brand of Islam brought by the Taliban has displaced the hujra and instead placed the mosque at the center of society, says Raj Wali Shah Khattak, former director of the Pashto Academy at the University of Peshawar. That has reduced the role of the jirga, leaving space for clergy to bring the Pashtun culture under a strict interpretation of religion, says Dr. Khattak, who is not related to the reporter.It has also deterred people from coming forward to organize lashkars (armies of tribal volunteers) against the militants. More than 200 tribal elders have been killed in North and South Waziristan alone since 2004, while many others have fallen victim to the militant attacks in Swat and other districts of northwest Pakistan. Community centers and mosques, often used to organize lashkars, have been targeted by suicide bombers in the past two years.
Music Under Attack
Music has also come under assault. Attacks on stores selling CDs have become common. "Music functions are integral parts of Pashtun marriage ceremonies, and even Islam allows the beating of tambourine in marriage functions, but all these things are rapidly becoming a tale of the past in face of Talibanization," says Khattak.
The wave of militancy has forced many Pashtun musicians, singers, and dancers to leave the tribal areas and Peshawar, the commercial and cultural capital of the Pashtun tribal belt.Last August the singer Haroon Bacha, a star in northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan with more than two dozen albums, fled his homeland for the United States after receiving threats from militants.Singer Gulzar Alam survived an assassination attempt and left Peshawar early this year for Karachi. In a telling sign of Pakistan's decline, he then moved to Kabul, the capital of a country at war  Afghanistan.The famous dancer Shabana was shot in the street in Mingora, in the Swat Valley, by militants after she defied warnings to stop dancing at marriage ceremonies. Since her death, Banr Bazaar, where dancers congregated in Swat, has become vacant as dozens of dancers left for Karachi, Lahore, or other cities.
And in Peshawar, once known for its cinemas, five movie theaters have been closed and converted into commercial shopping plazas. One was attacked with a bomb, killing seven people, in May. The sole theater in Peshawar, 600-seat Nishtar Hall, has been closed since 2003, under threat from the Taliban.
Poetry Reflects Cultural Shift
The clampdown on cultural expression has been reflected in contemporary poetry and music, an important part of Pashtun culture. Young Pakistanis have responded to the trend by composing poems expressing their grief and anger and using Facebook and text messages to spread their work. One young artist recently circulated a poem called "Don't wound Peshawar," which laments:
"As the wound of Kabul is still bleeding,
You're filling a bowl of blood here
While you have yet to drink the blood-filled bowl of Kabul."
"War is going on in [the] Pashtun's land, and changing trend[s] in poetry in such a situation is a natural process," says Khattak. "We can't expect romance ... or songs for spring and flowers when there is bloodshed all around."