Friday, January 2, 2009
Taking a Break From War With a Game Anything But Gentle
By DEXTER FILKINS(NYT.COM)
PUSHTESURKH, Afghanistan — Not every sport can boast referees who cradle assault rifles, or winners who eat the animal carcasses they have spent the afternoon fighting over.
But as the buzkashi match unfolded on a valley floor here north of Kabul, the vectors of politics and play seemed, for a moment, to intersect.
On the field, 15 horsemen, many of them wearing traditional Uzbek hats and robes, beat and savaged one another for control of the beheaded goat that is the object of the game. Men whipped their horses. Men whipped other men’s horses. Men whipped one another. Horses trampled spectators, stood on their hind legs, galloped with eyes bulging.
A crowd — men, warlords, boys — looked on, following the strange game with a sophistication handed down from the time of Genghis Khan, and which, in the madness, allowed them to discern victory from defeat.
“Bravo! Bravo!” cried the announcer into a bullhorn, a rifle strapped to his back in case things got of out hand, as they sometimes do. “Another goal for Isok!”
And Mr. Isok, show-off that he was, trotted his white stallion over to a man named Noor, one of the warlords presiding over the day’s match. Commander Noor was seated in a sort of throne at midfield, fingering a bowl of candy-coated almonds. He handed the horseman a wad of bills.
“Well done,” Commander Noor said. “You’re the best.”
Mr. Isok galloped back onto the field, right arm held high, horsewhip in hand.
Afghanistan may be in the midst of an interminable war, but buzkashi is eternal, too. The world has grown up, but the game lives on.
Buzkashi may be brutal, but as even a novice can see, it requires remarkable horsemanship and strength. The game in Pushtesurkh began as any other: a group of men, divided into three teams, rode atop their horses onto a wide flat field. At one end of the field lay a small chalk circle, six feet across. At the other, 75 yards away, a small post.
On the ground between them lay a large black goat, beheaded, disemboweled, and soaked overnight in cold water — to make it especially stiff.
And then the men went at it. The object of buzkashi is to grab the goat, gallop round the pole with the carcass in hand, race back toward the circle and drop the goat inside. Imagine polo played with a dead animal.
Of course, it was more complicated than that. For starters, there was the backdrop to the match itself. Three teams squared off: one from the nearby town of Jabal-us-Siraj, another from Kapisa and the last from Salang. At various times between 1996 and 2001, parts of these areas were under the control of the Taliban, which banned buzkashi, along with other games like marbles and kite flying.
The horses for two of the teams were owned by a pair of warlords, ethnic Tajik commanders who had fought the Taliban. They sat together, eating their almonds, on a small bluff that overlooked the field.
Most of the match took the form of a giant scrum that formed around the chalk circle, with the players for one team struggling to drag the carcass into the circle and players for the other two trying to keep it out. The goat was twisted and turned, stretched this way and that. (Buzkashi means “goat pulling” in Dari; jockeys are known as “palawans,” or “wrestlers.”)
Within minutes, the scrum became a brawl. The sound of a dozen whips striking a dozen hinds rose above the tumult. Crack-crack-crack! The sound of a dozen fists striking a dozen heads rose, too. Thwack-thwack-thwack!
“Let go of that goat’s leg!” yelled a jockey from inside the scrum.
The stallions snorted and grimaced, champed on their bits, pranced forward and back.
And then, in a flash, a horseman escaped, sprinting away from the scrum at a furious gallop, holding the 70-pound carcass in a single hand.
Other jockeys galloped in pursuit, grabbing and pulling at the goat. The crowd let out a cheer, and the horseman with the goat swung his stallion around for another run at the goal. It was Mr. Isok, the star. Other horsemen galloped in close, trying to swipe the carcass.
“Go!” cried a young man watching from the bluff. “Go in there and grab that goat.”
Hazards abound. A jockey, crouching low in the saddle to scoop up the goat, slipped from his horse, crashed to the dirt and was trampled by a horse. Another horseman, his stallion rearing up, fell on his back.
And then, Mr. Isok, the horseman from Salang, galloped away from everyone else in a grand sweeping maneuver, taking his horse directly into the crowd; in buzkashi, the field has no boundaries. Spectators scattered and screamed as the horses thundered close. The referee reached for his Kalashnikov, then thought better of it.
“Run!” a boy squealed. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Run!”
After three hours, the team from Salang led with 30 goals, ahead of Jabal-us-Siraj with 20 and Kapisa with 16. Mr. Isok was the high scorer with 10 goals.
As the match wound down, an old man named Abdul Bashir looked on. His face glowed. The best part, he said, was still to come. After the game, the winning team would roast the bedraggled goat over an open flame.
“I love that meat,” Mr. Bashir said with an old man’s smile. “All that pulling and stretching makes it very tender.”
PESHAWAR: The shortage of compressed natural gas (CNG) and petrol has deepened in the provincial metropolis, with no imminent relief in sight. Most petrol stations had set up the banners inscribed with “petrol not available,” while people continued to drive from one fuel station to another in the hope of finding the fuel.
A few petrol pumps were seen operational but they only allowed motorcyclists to purchase not more than two litres of petrol, as they feared the possibility of hoarding and wanted to facilitate as many people as possible with the limited petrol they had.
The CNG filling stations also wore a deserted look because of supply-drop due to severe winter and power loadshedding, while some stations that remained open were offering gas at a very low pressure, which was why the consumers had to purchase it in small quantity.
A large number of vehicles remained off the roads due to the unavailability of fuel and gas, compelling them to use public transport or taxis. On the other hand, the public transporters - consuming diesel - seized on the situation by increasing the fares and fleecing the public.
As soon as the CNG stations were closed, petrol consumption increased while the filling stations and POL traders decreased their supplies due to small profit ratio. The experts are of the view that the government should take steps and make sure smooth supply of oil. They said the basic reason behind the non-supply of the commodity was closure of oil depot by the multinational companies in Pakistan.
The situation angered consumers who criticised the PPP-led government for its failure to ensure smooth supply of fuel. They said it had failed on all fronts. “Whenever oil prices are increased, the filling stations waste no time to revise their rates but adopt a different strategy after fearing any decrease in prices and stop selling the commodity to force consumers into buying oil at a much higher rate,” Mohammad Rizwan, a motorist wandering here and there to find fuel, told The News on Friday.
“The shortage of petroleum products has brought things to a standstill because I cannot drive my car out of my house, which is heavily affecting my business,” stated Malak Zaman, a businessman.
Khaista Meer Khan, an attendant of a patient at the Lady Reading Hospital, said that due to the current shortage of gas and petrol, it had become difficult for them to travel in a taxicab as the drivers had doubled the fare.
Abdus Sattar of Gulberg said the government could easily solve the gas problem by realising the plan about pipeline expansion to Peshawar through Darra Adamkhel, which would solve the CNG shortage problem. He went on to say that the government needed to explore more gas fields in the province as the Frontier province was blessed with resources, saying it would address the problems of the people of the country in general and province in particular.
PESHAWAR: The people of NWFP were left in the lurch when the scheduled four-day match of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy National Cricket Championship was shifted to Islamabad due to security reason. The champion was to be played between Peshawar and Islamabad at Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium from January 2 to 5 next. The venue would now be Margazar Cricket ground at Islamabad. The change in the venue was effected when the President of RCA Wisal Durrani was kept in dark by the Manager of Peshawar Team Hussain Ali and coach Akhtar Sarfaraz when they painted a grim situation of the law and order in Peshawar. Since Wisal Durrani is in Sukkar for the last one month to attend his father admitted in a hospital for cardiac ailment and knows little about the ground reality, therefore he ordered the shifting of the venue from Peshawar to Islamabad. An official of the match on request anonymity, informed The Frontier Post that decision to this effect was taken soon after the announcement of the operation in Badaber and Khyber Agency, the areas situated on the outskirts of provincial capital Peshawar. He also disclosed that the officials of both Peshawar and Islamabad had sent a request to PCB (domestic cricket management) for shifting of the match from Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium. When President of the Regional Cricket Association Peshawar Region Wisal Durrani, was contacted, he confirmed that the manager of the team Hussain Ali and coach Akhtar Sarfaraz informed him about the curfew and operations in the Badabir and Khyber Agency so he asked them to send a written request to PCB for shifting of the match. “Before shifting of the match, PCB officials also contacted me to ascertain the situation so what the Peshawar team officials told me regarding security situation in provincial capital I passed on the same to PCB,” Wisal added. Wisal said that he was out from Peshawar since Eid-ul-Azah and now is in Sukkar at the moment due to his father illness so what the team officials told me, I conveyed the same to PCB. When asked about the fate of other matches, Wisal said that he would be coming back by January 5 and hopefully the other matches would be played at Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium provided the security situation was normalized. He also confirmed that now the match would be played on Saturday (January 3) at Margazar Stadium, Islamabad. “The team officials informed me verbally about the closing of the government school, curfew and operations,” he added. But when asked that the government schools were only closed because of the Moharrum, Wisal said that he was not aware of that. PCB after dissolving Regional General Manager and Regional Development Officers, there was no one to look after the matches scheduled in the provincial capital. No official of the Directorate of Sports or the NWFP Minister for Sports available for comment about the shifting of the scheduled event.
PESHAWAR: The residents of Khyber Agency took a sigh of relief when the authorities on Friday reopened the main roads linking agency with Peshawar and other settled areas for few hours. The roads were closed for the last three days owing to the operation launched by the security forces in tehsil Jamrud of the Agency to wipe out the militants from the area. Curfew was also been clamped on Jamrud and surrounding areas and the shopkeepers were ordered not to open the markets. The measures, according to concerned Political Authorities, were taken to counter the possibility of the escape attempts by the miscreants against whom the operation was initiated which was supported by the local population. The situation however affected the local residents as well as the people, who use to travel in and out side the area for various reasons, like traders employees of the public and private sector organizations etc. Because of the closure of Jamrud and Bara roads, the two main rods leading to Khyber Agency from Peshawar, life was almost at a stand still in the Agency. Long rows of the vehicles carrying goods and essential commodities to the tribal area and onward to Afghanistan were visible along the sides of the two roads near the entry points. Same was the situation with the passenger vehicles, while the commuters had to travel for miles by foot to reach their destinations. The patients, under these circumstances suffered a lot, as it was very difficult to bring them to the hospitals located in Peshawar. The state of affairs also created shortage of food items and the medicines inside the cordoned-off tribal area. As the roads opened on Friday morning after the announcement of a pause in the curfew, the containers, trucks, busses and cars rushed to the Agency. The people travelling in and out side the area were happy to see the roads open. Some of them while talking to the Frontier Post expressed satisfaction over the development. They supported the operation clean up against the miscreants but at the same time they showed resentment over the sufferings of the residents of the Agency. "The main objective of the operation was to clear the area of the militants for giving safe passage to the NATO supplies and it was not aimed at providing relief to the local population however the residents of the area too want an end to militancy", they said. They condemned the losses occurred to the innocent people of the tribal areas during the action taken by the authorities and demanded that curfew should be withdrawn from the cordoned-off area and the authorities should not compel the local population to face difficulties by closing the roads and other actions like these.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit China on January 7 and 8, the foreign ministry said here Friday, in her last scheduled trip before the Bush administration leaves office.
The announcement came as China and the United States marked 30 years of diplomatic relations, with US President George W. Bush exchanging congratulatory messages with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
"US Secretary of State Rice will visit China January 7-8 to attend activities related to the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-US ties," a statement on the ministry's website said.
Rice had earlier told AFP she planned to visit China shortly after the New Year to mark the anniversary, saying she thought it was "important" to do so, but the exact dates had not been released.
The United States switched its diplomatic recognition to communist-ruled China on January 1, 1979, ending decades of US support for Taiwan's Nationalist government, Beijing's rival since the civil war that ended in 1949.
However, with the Bush administration making way for President-elect Barack Obama's on January 20, Rice indicated earlier that little else of substance appeared likely to emerge from her visit to China.
"We are looking at what else I might do on that trip" besides the anniversary activities, she had said.
Friday's statement from Beijing said Rice and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi would "exchange opinions on bilateral ties and issues of mutual concern," giving no details.
The United States and China, an emerging world power, often meet to discuss North Korea's nuclear disarmament, Iran's nuclear ambitions, international terrorism, human rights and other issues.
Last month China chaired talks with the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia that failed to agree with North Korea on ways of determining whether the reclusive Stalinist state was telling the truth about its atomic weapons.
That failure left a new impasse in the six-party negotiations aimed at scrapping Pyongyang's nuclear weapons under a landmark 2007 agreement.
The NATO and US-led operation, against the Taliban has been a success.
`Operation Daraghlam' against the Taliban and criminals in the Khyber Agency achieved `80 percent' of its target," the Daily Times quoted Khyber Political Agent Tariq Hayat Khan, as saying.
Worried by the regular attacks on NATO supply convoys in the region, NATO and US forces launched an offensive to root out the Taliban.
Frontier(PAKHTUNKHWA) and FATA remained open field for terrorists as the worst year for Pakistan in terms of terrorism ended with witnessing 62 suicide blasts, almost half of which ripped through cities of the NWFP and a quarter in tribal areas.
At least 576 people were killed and 1304 wounded in 475 terrorist attacks in Frontier during the last year (2008). As many as 154 policemen were killed and 284 sustained injuries in 133 attacks on police, which include suicide bombing, Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) blasts and rocket attacks.
The presentation by a senior official of the Frontier Police before the provincial government authorities disclosed that 290 people were killed and 711 other wounded in 30 suicide bombings in Frontier during the previous year.
At least 337 people were killed and 585 wounded in 28 suicide bombings in the province last year.
The Frontier Police claimed to have killed 738 ‘miscreants,’ wounded 578 and held 1717 others during different raids. The force maintained to have thwarted 158 terror plots by arresting 66 alleged terrorists and recovering 52483 kg of explosives, 34 suicide jackets, 650 hand-grenades and over 300 bombs, missiles, rockets and mortar shells.
The total number of suicide blasts in Pakistan since 2002 remained 141 till the end of the last year. Swat topped the list of districts where eleven suicide bombers hit their targets, killing 101 people and injuring 294 others during the year ended yesterday.
Four suicide bombers struck in Peshawar in 2008 to kill 99 people and wounded 226 others.
The last suicide blast of the country was that in Buner district where 43 persons were killed and 16 others wounded inside a polling station last Sunday during the by-election on NA-28.
Punjab witnessed 10 suicide blasts during 2008 with five in Lahore alone. Three suicide bombers hit their targets in the federal capital during the year. In one of these attacks Danish embassy was targeted.
Apart from the killing of three alleged bombers in Karachi, no suicide attack took place in the entire Sindh province.
A single incident was reported in Balochistan when a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed a girl student and injured 22 persons in Quetta on September 23.
As many as 56 bombers struck last year. In one such attack former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in Rawalpindi on December 27.
All the tribal agencies, Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan have witnessed suicide attacks during the year 2008.
Suicide bombings took place during 2008 in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Bhakkar, Attock, Peshawar, Mardan, Parachinar, Swat, Darra Adamkhel, Landikotal, Bannu, Bara, Dera Ismail Khan, Dir Upper, Buner, Charsadda, Hangu, Quetta and Karachi
Pakistan reopens supply route used by Western troops
The crucial land route for supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is reopened three days after being closed because of fighting between the Pakistani army and Islamic militants.
A crucial land route for military supplies to Western troops in Afghanistan was reopened today by Pakistani authorities, three days after being closed because of fighting between the Pakistani army and Islamic militants.
But the reopening of the road through the historic Khyber Pass was unlikely to mark an end to bold attacks by militants that have plagued the route, making shipments of NATO materiel increasingly untenable for the last two months.
About three-quarters of the supplies bound for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. With the expected deployment of as many as 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan in coming months, the security of the supply route is likely to become an even more pressing issue.
NATO officials have acknowledged that they are trying to arrange alternate routes through Central Asia, but insist that the loss of supplies through militant attacks on private transport convoys in Pakistan has not had a significant effect on military operations in Afghanistan.
However, the sight of burned-out flatbed trucks and militants triumphantly raising the Taliban banner over captured Humvees has become emblematic of the fast-deteriorating situation in and near Peshawar, the principal city in Pakistan's troubled northwest. Taliban fighters have gained a solid foothold on the city's outskirts, where girls' schools have been burned, music and video shops blown up and women ordered to veil themselves or face death.
Previous efforts by Pakistani troops to subdue militants in the tribal area known as the Khyber agency have proved short-lived. During a similar offensive earlier this year, militants simply decamped before the troops arrived, and filtered back once the soldiers pulled back.
Pakistani officials said artillery and helicopter gunships blasted militant hide-outs during the operation that began Tuesday. But some locals said there was little sign of any direct confrontation between the insurgents and army troops.
Although the militants have repeatedly struck Pakistani cities with suicide attacks, there is little public support for army operations such as this week's offensive in Khyber. Reflecting the weak civilian government's awareness of the mission's unpopularity, the Pakistani army did not issue announcements about troop activities, leaving that instead to local officials.
The government, led by the Pakistan People's Party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is also facing rising public anger over a wave of missile strikes in the tribal belt, believed to be carried out by unmanned U.S. drones. Dozens of such raids have taken place since August, including back-to-back strikes Thursday and today in South Waziristan.
Today's strike, which hit an abandoned girls' school being used by insurgents, reportedly killed three people.
Militant leaders are the targets of these missile strikes, and officials say scores of insurgents have been killed in the wave of attacks. But no top-level Al Qaeda or Taliban commanders have been among the dead.
Today's reopening of the mountain pass came amid continuing fighting elsewhere in Khyber, well away from the route.
Many of the most damaging attacks have come on the hundreds of trucks that routinely halt for days at terminals on the edge of Peshawar, waiting for permission to proceed. Earlier this month, one particularly brazen strike destroyed hundreds of vehicles parked at truck stops.
Militants had previously taken to hijacking trucks as they slowly transited the winding roads. In November, more than a dozen vehicles carrying military supplies were hijacked in a single incident within view of a post manned by Pakistani paramilitary troops.
In a sign of the continuing danger, the region's top administrator, Tariq Hayat Khan, told journalists in Jamrud, the main town in Khyber, that the route would be open only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Khan said that the Khyber operation had netted several weapons caches that included heavy machine guns and rocket launchers, and that nearly four dozen militants had been captured. But local witnesses said many of the insurgents had fled into the neighboring Mohmand tribal area rather than face the troops.