Tuesday, January 20, 2009

UN deplores attacks on girl schools

UNITED NATIONS: A top UN official has strongly condemned the increasing number of attacks claimed by Taliban militants and other armed groups, using and targeting the children. In a statement released in New York, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said she was particularly appalled by recent incidents, including the blowing up of five schools in northwestern Pakistan. she also expressed concern over the increase in the number of child victims of the attacks on schools by Taliban, who deny children the right to education. The throwing of acid to prevent girl children and female teachers from going to school was deplorable, she stressed.

Déjà vu: Foreign hand involved in NWFP, Fata situation

PESHAWAR: People from various walks of life suspect foreign involvement in the poor law and order situation in the Frontier province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), with many pointing finger to an international conspiracy to isolate and separate the region from the rest of the country and the world.

Each and every dweller of the NWFP and Fata is concerned over what has been happening in this part of the world for the past many years. The disturbing situation has badly affected the local industry, trade, education — especially that of girls — media and politics. The entire political scenario has changed and the prime focus of the rulers is no more development of the area under their jurisdiction, but to struggle against the elements bent upon disturbing law and order.

“I think the situation worsened after the army was involved at a time when there was no need for it. The issue of militancy in some parts of Fata should have been settled politically and not by force,” remarked Senator Haji Mohammad Adeel, the senior vice president of the Awami National Party (ANP) that shares coalition governments in the Centre and NWFP.

The senator also said the area inhabited by Pakhtuns had attraction for the international powers, including the United States, China, Russia, Arab countries, India and Iran. “It is up to the government in Centre to decide whether to fight or settle the issue through dialogue. We, the politicians, believe in negotiations but the situation is complex,” he opined.

Situation in the Frontier and Fata is alarming as people are migrating to safer places. The insecurity, uncertainty and the government failure to deliver have resulted in utmost disappointment among around 23 million people of Frontier and Fata.

“It is not clear whether the government is deliberately silent over whatever is happening around or it has failed to address the issue of militancy properly. The fact is that each and every citizen of the Frontier and Fata believes the situation has isolated them from the rest of the country,” Ali Kamran, a student of the University of Peshawar, expressed himself.

Bomb blasts, suicide attacks, explosions at educational institutions and threats to others and kidnapping for ransom have made life a hell for commoners in the tribal belt and Peshawar, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Hangu, Kohat, Nowshera, Mardan, Charsadda, Swat, Buner and Dir districts.

Asif Luqman Qazi, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), blamed the previous federal government for the turmoil in Fata and Frontier. He, however, added that the situation deteriorated after the rulers declared Pakistan as front-line state against “war on terror”.

“The people of Pakistan consider it a war against Islam and Muslims, but the government acted against the sentiments of the public. The incumbent regime replaced President Musharraf but the policy has not been changed because they have come into power under a deal with the Americans and Pakistani establishment,” stated the young Qazi.

“There are foreign conspiracies, and clearly Indian and American hand behind it, but the responsibility for the country’s security rests upon our own government,” the Jamaat-e-Islami Nowshera district chief added.

Asif Luqman Qazi said, however, it was the Pakistan government that provided opportunity to the enemies to take advantage of the situation. “We condemn the sabotage acts and killing of innocent people and consider it against the teachings of Islam and Quran. Even in the military operations, innocent people, and not militants, are killed and their houses demolished,” he said.

The Jamaat-e-Islami leader offered that his party could play its role and mediate if the government showed sincerity and willingness to resolve the issue. It was because of the area situation that for the first time in history a Federal Minister, Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, assured the NWFP business community to take up the issue of declaring Frontier a war-hit province. It is a fact what has been happening in Peshawar and other parts of the Frontier and Fata is worse than many war-hit countries. Peshawar has been rated one of the most dangerous towns of the world, given its two-year history.

“Many know about a map issued by an American think-tank that had a different look of the region, with a divided Pakistan. If there is really an international conspiracy to separate and isolate the region, then the question is what our rulers and our institutions are doing to counter it,” opined Sharafat Ali Mubarak, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz provincial vice president and the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industries (SCCI) president.

The SCCI president also accused the previous rulers of unwise policies on two important occasions: When Russia invaded Afghanistan and again after the 9/11 incident. “All the stakeholders and representatives from various walks of life need to be consulted over the issue. The people of the province should be taken into confidence and talks held with militants for restoring peace in the region and country,” concluded Sharafat.

The government formed in the Centre and province after last year’s general elections was the last hope for the NWFP residents, who have been bearing the brunt of the poor law and order. Though the performance of the federal and NWFP governments during the last 10 months has not been up to the public expectations, hopes are still alive that peace would be restored in the region provided the rulers made sincere efforts.

With Palestine in limelight, Swat Valley burns silently

PESHAWAR: One could not differentiate between two pictures in Tuesday’s papers showing the widely scattered rubble of the destroyed buildings in Gaza and blown up schools in Swat valley until reading their captions.

The valley is replete with such scenes, as more than 170 schools have been bombed or torched besides other government-owned buildings. Also, more people have been killed in violence and military operations in the valley than the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, but the people have been unfortunate not to get due attention of the government, politico-religious parties and civil society, who have been crowding streets to protest the killing of Palestinians.

The blowing up of five schools on Monday in the heart of Mingora city belied the tall claims of the provincial and federal governments vis-‡-vis ensuring security to schools in Mingora in particular and rest of the valley in general. It added to the worries of the people and girls students and pointed towards the vulnerability of schools.

The federal and provincial governments insisted that they were capable of providing security to schools against the militants’ threat. “Education is the basic right of every citizen and the government will ensure it. We will provide security to schools. The militants are not capable to materialise their threat, but have been spreading propaganda to blackmail the government,” NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the other day.

Federal Minister for Information Sherry Rahman has also expressed the same resolve. However, their words proved to be hollow meant to give a false solace to the worried countrymen, particularly Swatis. “No special security was provided to schools. Protection to schools is impossible until improvement in the overall security situation. It’s writ of the government that ensures security to schools and all other installations, which is non-existent at the moment,” an officer of the administration said. However, he said that patrolling had been started to secure the city and more steps were afoot to block entry and exit points of the city during nights.

Interestingly, incapable to stop militants from destroying schools, Iftikhar still claimed that the schools would be reopened on March 1 despite militants’ threat. “We have requested donors to provide finances to re-build and reopen the ruined schools,” he added, declaring as he usually does, to take militants head-on.

It has also been learnt that after the refusal of 600-800 officials of the Elite Police force to perform duty in the militant-teemed valley, the military is also in trouble to provide security to schools. So the girls of the valley seem to be destined to face a bleak future.

Maulana Fazlullah-led militants had asked the administration of all schools to stop imparting female education by January 15, or else the buildings would be blown up. It led private schools management to announce closure of female classes in 400 schools. The government came under heavy flak for failing to check the militants in the valley, where more than 120 girls schools have been destroyed, and ensuring female education there. The private schools refused to trust the government and security forces against the militants, saying they could not risk the lives of students and would open institutes only after restoration of peace in toto or go-ahead after assurance from the powerful militants.

Commenting on their failure in the valley, a member of the NWFP cabinet said while requesting anonymity that they were serious in not only protecting schools but also restoring peace to the entire valley.

About accelerating the operation, he said the government was satisfied with the operation in the valley and had passed a resolution to ask the army make the operation effective. “Democratic governments convey acts in this manner but here resolutions by legislatures mean nothing, unfortunately.”

He said ANP had been rendering sacrifices for the sake of peace but it could quit government if conspiracies hatched to fail the ANP efforts for peace. “Power is not indispensable for us,” he made it clear.

Pakistan tells powers to stop demanding more

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's military issued a blunt call on Tuesday for outside powers to stop demanding it do more and prove its sincerity in the campaign against militancy as the U.S. regional military chief visited.

Pakistan has been a close ally in U.S.-led efforts against terrorism since the September 11 attacks on the United States although it has never been able to dispel suspicion in some quarters that it had maintained links to some militants.

Such suspicion has been renewed by Indian accusations that some Pakistani state agencies were linked to November's militant attacks on Mumbai.

Western powers have not supported those Indian accusations, although they often call on Pakistan to do more in fighting Taliban and al Qaeda militants, especially those on the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan.

The chief of the Pakistani armed forces, General Tariq Majid, bemoaned "repetitive rhetoric by some of the external players asking Pakistan to do more and prove sincerity."

"Such unhelpful statements must stop," Majid said.

He did not refer to any country or to U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus, who arrived in Pakistan earlier for talks with government and military leaders.

British Defence Secretary John Hutton was also in Pakistan this week. Britain has the second largest contingent of soldiers in Afghanistan, behind the United States, and is also worried about militant infiltration from Pakistan.

Both the United States and Britain are major donors of aid to Pakistan, including help to tackle terrorism.

"International players must come out from the coercive mindset and instead start delivering on the promised capacity assistance," Majid said in a statement.

The thinly veiled criticism of the United States follows Pakistani anger over about 30 U.S. air strikes on militants on the Pakistani side of the border last year.

Pakistan says the attacks violate its sovereignty and are counter-productive. Support for the U.S. campaign against militancy is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.


Pakistan has in the past used Islamist militants to further foreign policy objectives and it was the main supporter of the Taliban until the September 11 attacks.

But Majid said Pakistan did not need to prove its sincerity considering the sacrifices it was making "which cannot be matched by any of those players making these demands."

About 1,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in fighting against militants in the northwest since 2001.

Petraeus met President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani for talks that included Pakistan's response to the Mumbai attacks, which India and the United States said was carried out by a banned Pakistani-based militant group.

"It is clearly in the interests of all countries involved that Pakistan succeed in dealing with its internal problems," Petraeus told reporters.

He did not refer to Majid's statement.

Petraeus said he had also discussed cross-border movement of militants and U.S. reinforcements in Afghanistan. The United States has about 32,000 troops in Afghanistan but that number is expected to go up considerably this year.

Petraeus has been credited with helping pull Iraq back from the brink of civil war with a strategy that brought a "surge" of 30,000 extra U.S. troops. President-elect Barack Obama has said he would put more focus on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.

'Fighters killed' in Pakistan raid

Mohmand, a mainly ethnic Pashtun region on the Afghan border, is a known al-Qaeda stronghold
Pakistani government and paramilitary officials say security forces backed by aircraft have killed 38 Taliban fighters in an offensive in the Mohmand region on the Afghan border.A paramilitary official was quoted by the AFP news agency on Tuesday as saying that "60 hardcore militants" were killed in the last 24 hours, including local field commanders.Mohmand is a known al-Qaeda stronghold.The reports of fighting came as General David Petraeus, the US Central Command chief, arrived in Pakistan for talks with government and military leaders.He met Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, and General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, for talks on regional security, a spokesman for Zardari said.
'Operation successful
Referring to the fighters, a senior government official in Mohmand, Shahidullah Khan, told the Reuters news agency by telephone: "The operation has been successful. Their power has been reduced, we're facing less resistance."Khan and the paramilitary Mohmand Rifles force said 38 fighters had been killed on Tuesday. The force said 22 fighters had been killed in fighting on Monday.
Khan said there had been no casualties on the government side.
A Pakistani security official said the fighters suffered losses in attacks by "war planes, helicopter gunships and use of artillery and shelling by tanks".
Those killed included two commanders of the Taliban fighters, he said.
"We have confirmation that commander Anwar Sayed and commander Shakirullah were killed in the operation today," a security official said.
Their bases were also destroyed, he said.
He also said that troops demolished or torched at least 27 houses belonging to tribesmen who offered shelter to the fighters.
Five civilians were wounded in the shelling, he said.
A Mohmand Rifles official told AFP on the condition of anonymity: "The operation is going on in Mohmand. The forces have secured a large area in the troubled district and militant strongholds have been destroyed."
The force said two fighters' strongholds had been destroyed and another two were being attacked. Several Taliban commanders had been killed, it said in a release.

Border villages
A spokesman for the Mohmad Rifles said earlier the assault was focused on five border villages controlled by fighters.
Villagers said the soldiers were also using tanks and artillery in the fighting and at least 12 civilians had been wounded in air strikes.

None of the statistics given out by the Pakistani security officials could be confirmed through independent sources.

Last week, more than 600 fighters, many from Afghanistan, attacked a military camp and two checkpoints in Mohmand and six soldiers and 40 fighters were killed, the military said.

Intensified Pakistani efforts against the fighters have led to what some officials call reverse infiltration, with some Taliban coming back into Pakistan to protect their rear bases.

Official released

Separately, Taliban fighters released a senior government official in the South Waziristan region, on the Afghan border to the southwest of Mohmand, after more than a week in captivity, a government official said.

Residents and intelligence officials said that Taliban fighters also shot dead six people and dumped their bodies by a road in the North Waziristan region after accusing them of being US spies.

A note left with the bodies said they were a "gift for Obama, Karzai and Zardari", referring to the new US president and the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

North Waziristan is a known sanctuary for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.