Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Controversy over Bilour’s remarks continues

PESHAWAR: Senior NWFP Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour has been caught in a controversy following his remarks at a function in Abbottabad but his supporters insist he (Bilour) never made the statement attributed to him.

Sections of the press, particularly the newspapers published from Hazara, had reported him as saying that those opposed to the renaming of the NWFP as ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ should leave the province and shift to Punjab.

Reporters, who attended the function that was held in connection with the death anniversaries of freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or Bacha Khan, and his son and late ANP head Khan Abdul Wali Khan, at Jalal Baba Auditorium in Abbottabad, maintained that Bashir Bilour did utter the words.

However, the supporters of Bilour and officials in the ANP-led provincial government are adamant that he never spoke those words. They stressed that Bilour at no stage asked the people of Hazara to accept ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ as the new name of the NWFP or move to Punjab.

Some reports said two ANP office-bearers from Abbottabad in their emotional speeches made comments to this effect and asked all the people in the NWFP who opposed the name ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ to migrate to Punjab. They claimed Bilour and the two other provincial ministers, Qazi Mohammad Asad and Nimroz Khan, did not make any such comment.

It was learnt that Bilour did do some tough talking while referring to the track record of most politicians from Hazara. He argued that a number of such politicians changed loyalties and joined the government. He felt some of the lawmakers from Hazara would join the ANP-led provincial government if offered berths in the cabinet.

The District Council Abbottabad and some PML-N politicians came down hard on Bilour and condemned the comment attributed to him. They pledged to oppose the renaming of the NWFP. District Council Abbottabad while condemning Bashir Bilour also passed a resolution.

Though the office of Bilour subsequently issued a clarification and denied reports that he had made the said comment, the controversy has refused to go away. Rather, it has intensified with more people joining in and expressed their views on the subject.

Peshawar traders to extend protest against lawlessness

PESHAWAR: Traders have announced expansion of their ongoing protest drive against poor law and order, particularly growing incidents of kidnapping for ransom, and have asked the provincial government to either rein in criminals or stand down.

“We are going to spread our protest campaign to the entire province against the current ugly conditions for which a line of action would be evolved in the first week of February,” Tajir Ittehad’s provincial President Haleem Jan told The News on Monday.

Haleem Jan said later traders of the entire country would be taken on board. He said the Tajir Ittehad, a conglomeration of five trade unions of Peshawar, had already set up protest camps at Chowk Yadgar, University Road and Peshawar Cantonment against government’s inability to control criminal activities. Similarly, he said a protest camp would be set up at Qissa Khwani Bazaar on Tuesday.

He said banners with black background had been displayed across the city with slogans of ‘quit power’ for government’s failure to protect the people. “The protest campaign has been launched to condemn increasing incidents of kidnapping. The drive has no political dimension. We don’t do politics rather are concerned about our businesses,” Haleem declared.

In the prevailing circumstances, he added, poor law and order had seriously affected business environment in the province besides creating a sense of fear among people. The traders’ alliance leader went on to say a large number of businessmen were seriously contemplating migrating to other places in the country or abroad, adding shifting of investment from the NWFP would have an adverse impact on the economy of the region.

Because of poor law and order, he said, the Peshawar market had witnessed a sharp fall of up to 70 per cent in profit margin of various businesses. “Kidnapping for ransom has made life miserable for the people but the Chief Minister’s House, Governor’s House and homes of security forces personnel are being raised only to protect them.” In such a situation, he said, investment in the province was out of question, adding the federal and provincial governments should at least curb kidnapping incidents.

19 people kidnapped for ransom from Peshawar this month


PESHAWAR: At least 19 people have been kidnapped from the provincial metropolis since the beginning of the current month, Daily Times learnt on Tuesday.

The increasing cases of kidnapping for ransom and other street crimes are a blow to tall claims of the provincial government and security agencies to protect lives and property of the people.

According to official figures, at least 19 people were kidnapped from the provincial metropolis, while 18 cases of kidnapping for ransom were registered in different police stations of the city.

The figures show that at least 59 accused were involved in these kidnappings and nine of them were arrested, while around 50 are still at large. Eight kidnapped persons were recovered, while 11 are still in the custody of kidnappers.

Official sources told Daily Times that increasing cases of kidnapping for ransom from the city and ongoing militancy has deteriorated the security situation in the provincial metropolis.

The officials said that ongoing militancy has facilitated kidnappers and many notorious criminals have joined the ranks of militants and are disturbing the security situation of the city.

The officials further said that the police was showing all good picture, while in reality the situation is deteriorating with each passing day.

The officials said that lack of cooperation among intelligence agencies and security organisations, weak firepower of law enforcement agencies and arrival of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from other parts of the province and tribal areas has also adversely affected the security situation.

On December 28, 2008, an operation code-named Daraghlam (Arriving) was launched in the adjacent Khyber Agency to clear Jamrud from militants and kidnappers and also to ensure safety of NATO supplies, but the kidnappings are going on with the same frequency that casts a shadow over the utility of the operation.

The city traders have hung black banners in all major bazaars and markets, demanding of the provincial government to resign in the face of growing cases of kidnapping for ransom, of which the trader community has been a prime target over the past few months. At the same time, street crimes are also on the rise as the police is engaged in fighting militancy.

Sources in police department said that around 380 incidents of street crimes including dacoities, snatching of motorcycles, cash, cellular phones and other incidents occurred during the ongoing month.

Although Peshawar city had been politically volatile due to prevailing situation in Afghanistan and tribal areas, but was considered to be very safe as compared to other cities even two years back. However, militancy not only sowed the seeds of fear in the minds of citizens, but also unleashed the forces of lawlessness in the provincial capital, other parts of the province and FATA.

Peshawar police has got a new chief, Safwat Ghayyur, known to be very tough and delivering cop, and police also has a new setup including SSP Operations and SPs of Rural, Cantonment and City Circles.

One could only hope for improvement in the situation in the coming days with these changes.

Pakistan extends curfew as army battles Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities on Tuesday extended a curfew in the troubled northwestern Swat valley to the area's main city Mingora, as troops fought militants on its outskirts, officials said.
Pakistan's military is battling extremists loyal to radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah waging a violent campaign to introduce Islamic Sharia law in a valley that once attracted Western holidaymakers to its snow-capped peaks.
"A curfew has been imposed in the main town of Mingora until further notice," military spokesman Major Nasir Khan told AFP.
"People are requested to remain in their houses. We will take extra measures and security forces will patrol the city. Any movement is prohibited during the curfew," said Khan, which he said came into effect at 9:00 pm (1600 GMT).
A security official said that army forces and militants fought a pitched gunbattle in the Kambar area, on the outskirts of Mingora, early Tuesday.
No details of casualties were immediately available.
An indefinite curfew was first imposed on Sunday, affecting a string of named hamlets that are known troublespots.
The move came after Fazlullah -- in a speech on his personal radio station -- released the names of 40 people, including provincial ministers, MPs and local government officials "wanted" by the Taliban.
One local official said Taliban militants destroyed another two boys' schools in the Kabal area of Swat on Tuesday.
"The buildings of the schools were destroyed," an official from the local education department said on condition of anonymity.
Education ministry official Sher Afzal told AFP last week that Fazlullah followers had blown up 173 schools, 105 of them for girls, since security forces launched an operation to crack down on militants in the region in 2007.
A security official said army forces pounded militant hideouts on Tuesday in Matta, about 15 kilometres (eight miles) northwest of Mingora.
Swat, once a popular destination for Pakistani and foreign holidaymakers, has descended into chaos in recent months, with pitched battles between militants and security forces.

Obama reaches out to Muslims.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks to Al-Arabiya about his desire to improve ties with Muslim world.