Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thousands welcome Turkish PM in Istanbul on his return from Davos

Thousands of people gathered in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport to welcome Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on his return from Davos early on Friday. (UPDATED)

Erdogan had stormed out of an angry debate on the Gaza war with Israel's President Shimon Peres at the Davos forum on Thursday. Erdogan said his reaction targeted the moderator who, he said, did not give him floor to speak.

Turkey harshly criticized Israel over its Gaza operation which left more than 1,300 people killed.

People chanted slogans and carried banners read as "The Leader of the World", "Turkey is proud of you," in a bid to extent support to Erdogan's reaction. The crowd carried Turkish and Palestinian flags.

Erdogan's plane has landed in Istanbul Ataturk Airport. He addressed the crowd and held a press conference after his arrival.

Istanbul Mayor, Kadir Topbas from Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), arrived in the airport to extent his backing to the prime minister.

The road in front of Erdogan's residence in Istanbul was covered with red carnations.

The Istanbul Municipality had extended the operation hours of underground until 3.00 a.m. and the line to the airport is free for the passengers.

EU anti-terrorist chief urges EU help for Pakistan police

BRUSSELS: The European Union's anti-terror chief urged E.U. nations Thursday to help bolster Pakistan's police force and justice system, which he said was a key to defeating terrorism there.
"This country is faced with very, very serious security problems," the E.U.'s counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, told members of the European Parliament.
"The government needs our support, economic support of course, but also in terms of security," he told the assembly's security and defence subcommittee in Brussels. "The needs for this are huge."
He said the security problem was most acute in the largely lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but also in the Punjab region, whose militants he described as even "more sophisticated".
De Kerchove, who recently returned from a visit to Pakistan, said that while the army could capture extremists, it had trouble stopping them returning to action.
"The military are not trained for that," he said. "They really need to move toward a law enforcement approach."
"Most of the terrorists arrested last year have been released for lack of evidence," he said. "The justice aspect should not be overlooked, and I hope to convince member states to increase assistance to actively help Pakistan."
The European Commission is to send an expert mission to Pakistan, in the late European spring or summer, to examine what the E.U. can do to help improve police forensics and crime scene analysis.
The E.U. is also debating how it can help Pakistan better confront security problems through the possible use of European development funds and assistance to the media.

DIG survives attack as Taliban spread tentacles to Saidu Sharif

MINGORA: A day after Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani visited troubled valley and issued directions to troops for surge in operation against local Taliban, militants attacked a top police administrator as thousands of people fled to safer places from the troubled areas.
DIG Malakand Shaukat Hayat was presiding a high level meeting at his office situated in Saidu Sharif, district capital, when militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah unleashed a barrage of rockets on the office.
"Besides DIG Malakand, DPO and SP investigation were also present at the high level meeting in Chinar Inn building when Taliban attacked the venue," police sources told the Statesman.
The building was badly damaged in the attack, however, luckily the top police officials remained unhurt, sources added.
This was the firstever attack in Saidu Sharif, considerably peaceful area till now, sources added.
For about two years there were no attacks in the district capital despite the fact that Taliban had spread all over the district.
After the attack the law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area and launched search operation.
Reportedly 14 suspected militants were arrested and huge cache of arms were recovered from their possession in the operation on Thursday from Chel Shagai area of Saidu Sharif.
Meanwhile five people were killed and 10 others wounded across the valley during shelling by the security forces on the hideouts of suspected militants.
Two men were killed when security forces opened firing on a suspected vehicle in Sperdad, Matta tehsil.Three persons including a woman were killed and 10 others hurt during shelling in Aligrama, Manglawar and Charbagh.
After surge in military operation thousands of people of troubled areas including Qambar, Manglawar and Charbagh have shifted to safer places, locals of these areas said.
"Every day dozens of families shift from the Qambar, Manglawar and Charbagh areas," witnesses said.
Due to curfew people prefer to travel on foot and use mountainous ways to reach their destinations, they added.
Meanwhile, militants targeted two security forces convoys with remote-controlled bombs in Charbagh and Kanju on Thursday, however no causalty was reported.
Sources said remote-controlled bombs hit security forces convoys in Charbagh and Kanju areas of tehsil Kabal.
An unannounced curfew has been imposed in Kanju after the attack.
Security forces pounded militants' hideouts in upper parts of tehsil Matta and Charbagh overnight.

Iceland, facing economic meltdown, tries to help neighbor Britain stay warm

LONDON (AP) — Icelanders are shipping warm woolen clothing to their needy North Atlantic neighbors in Britain.The tiny island nation has severe economic troubles of its own. But after a popular morning radio show in Reykjavik broadcast an item about elderly people in Britain unable to pay heating bills and dying as a result of the cold, they decided to do something about it.A container full of 3,000 items made from unique Icelandic wool should be in Britain by the end of next week.Neil Duncan-Jordan, who speaks for an organization representing the elderly, on Thursday called it a generous act of compassion.Iceland's banks collapsed in the fall sparking a deep economic crisis, with spiraling inflation and unemployment.

Russia, China Slam U.S. Economic System, Blame Capitalism

The premiers of Russia and China slammed the U.S. economic system in speeches Wednesday, holding it responsible for the global economic crisis.Both focused on the role of the U.S. dollar, with China's Premier Wen Jiabao calling for better regulation of major reserve currencies and Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calling over-reliance on the dollar "dangerous."Speaking on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they both urged more international cooperation to escape the downturn. They also talked up the abilities of their own economies to ride out the recession. Wen said he was "confident" China would hit its 8 percent growth target for this year even though that was "a tall order."The Russian and Chinese leaders also called for cooperation with President Barack Obama, but it was a chilly reception for the new administration that reflected growing anger in economies that are now getting hit hard by a financial crisis that began with subprime mortgages sold in the U.S.Putin was characteristically blunt. He called for the development of multiple, regional reserve currencies in addition to the dollar. "Excessive dependence on a single reserve currency is dangerous for the global economy," Putin said.The Russian leader mocked U.S. businessmen who he said had boasted at last year's Davos meeting of the U.S. economy's fundamental strength and "cloudless" prospects. "Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist," he said.Earlier, Wen called for an expansion of regulatory "coverage of the international financial system, with particular emphasis on strengthening the supervision on major reserve currencies."While Wen never named the U.S., his critique of its failings was as sweeping as Putin's. The financial crisis, he said, was "attributable to inappropriate macroeconomic policies of some economies and their unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption; excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit" — and other excesses."The entire economic growth system, where one regional center prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional centre manufactures inexpensive goods … has suffered a major setback," Putin said.Wen's comments came just days after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner accused China of manipulating its currency for economic gain. The Chinese premier gently, but firmly warned that if Washington and Beijing chose confrontation, both would be losers.

Militancy makes Torkham-Peshawar Road dangerous

KABUL: Taimoor Khan, a young and educated Pakistani working in a private firm in Kabul, was making no bargain over taxi-fare as he wanted to reach Torkham border as early as possible to be in Peshawar before dusk.For Taimoor and hundreds of other Pakistanis and Afghans either living in Kabul or Peshawar, the Torkham-Peshawar Road is more dangerous these days than the newly built 225 kilometers long road, lying between Kabul and Torkham, owing to the recent incidents of kidnapping and alleged presence of the militants in Khyber Agency.“In the morning, I am ready to pay a maximum of 400 afghanis (Afghan currency) as fare but after 10:00 a.m., I am not ready to take any risk,” the 35-year-old Pakistani told this scribe while travelling in a luxury car from Kabul to Torkham on Thursday. An average fare of motorcar, carrying four commuters from Kabul to Torkham, is between 400 to 450 afghanis but the Afghan drivers are exploiting the situation when the intended passengers reached in or before the noon. A coaster charges 175 afghanis per passenger while Hiace and 8-seaters are charging between 200 to 250 afghanis per passenger from Kabul to Torkham.
The security situation on Peshawar-Torkham Road improved after the security forces carried out operation against kidnappers, criminals and alleged militants in Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency some two weeks back.A beeline of light and heavy vehicles at least at daytime shows that movement between Afghanistan and Pakistan has increased significantly but fear and uncertainty of the drivers and passengers are yet to be removed.Owing to newly built road from Kabul to Torkham, the eight-hour long distance had been reduced to 3 and half hour provided that traffic is not blocked for the safe passage of the US-led military convoy on the same road.The whole traffic is jammed when the military vehicles escorted by Afghan police and army are plying the road. Even the car-owners and drivers of passengers’ vehicles are bound to off-road and stop movement of their vehicles until the bunker-typed trucks and military jeeps of the US-led force are passed. The 75-kilometers long Jalalabad-Torkham Road was built by Pakistan as part of Afghanistan’s reconstruction after 9/11 but the removal of painted flag of Pakistan and slogan of ‘Long live Pak-Afghan friendship’ on the top of the toll plaza is definitely a sign of embarrassment for Pakistanis when they enter the road built at the cost of million of dollars.The heavy presence of Afghan police and frequent checking of passengers vehicles from Torkham to Jalalabad and Kabul by the Afghan security officials are also one of the major concerns for Pakistani nationals most of them travelling on legal documents to Afghanistan.
However, one should not hide the excesses and corruption of Pakistan security officials and staff on Torkham border, who are openly receiving bribe from the Afghans while entering Pakistan and in case they have nothing to grease their palms, they are being thrashed and disgraced. A Pakistani taxi-driver, who was hired by this scribe from Torkham to Peshawar, said the border security staff and Pakistan police had been taking bribe from Afghan nationals until they entered Peshawar city via Jamrud check-post. The driver, belonging to Afridi tribe, claimed he witnessed the excesses and corruption of Pakistani officials deputed on Pak-Afghan border and many checkposts on Jamrud checkposts.He fears that Pakistanis might be treated in the same manner in Afghanistan if the Pakistan officials continued their dirty practice.

More NATO Troops To Afghanistan

US soldier with NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
More than 3,000 additional U.S. troops have been deployed to Logar and Wardak provinces, in central east Afghanistan to increase security so that reconstruction can move forward and the Afghan people can improve and expand governance.

These troops serve as part of the 50,000 strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in the country. By improving security for the Afghan people in those 2 provinces, U.S. troops will facilitate reconstruction and assist the Afghan government to extend services to the population and provide infrastructure such as roads and power.

Logar and Wardak are key provinces along Afghanistan's major highway routes, and these provinces have been victimized in recent months by criminal and insurgent activity.

The increasing deployments of troops to Afghanistan demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. to work with its NATO Allies to extend the reach of the central government and to further secure the people of Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama has said the U.S. is committed to allocating more resources to winning the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the U.S. may send 2 more brigades to Afghanistan by late spring and a third brigade by mid-summer.

Currently, there are more than 60,000 international soldiers, including roughly 33,000 U.S. troops, in Afghanistan. It is the highest number since the Taliban were ousted from power.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO Secretary General, said the mission in Afghanistan “is one of the most challenging tasks NATO has ever taken on, but it is a critical contribution to international security."

The goal of NATO's International Security Assistance Force is to help establish the conditions in which Afghanistan can enjoy a representative government and self-sustaining peace and security – after decades of conflict, destruction and poverty.

Holbrooke Plans First Trip as Afghanistan-Pakistan Envoy

The Obama administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is preparing for his first foreign trip in his new role. Holbrooke, a former Assistant Secretary of State and United Nations Ambassador, will visit South Asia after attending an international security conference in Germany late next week.

Officials here provided no details of Holbrooke's itinerary but said he will visit Pakistan and Afghanistan, and probably other countries in the region, in a fact-finding trip as the new administration reviews its policy on the Afghan conflict.

Holbrooke, a key figure in peace negotiations that ended the 1990s Balkans conflict, was named to the post last week along with former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who has already begun his first mission as a special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said Holbrooke, like Mitchell in the Middle East, will be on what amounts to a listening tour in South Asia before reporting back to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"He wants to go and touch base with leaders in the region, and also to hear what they have to say in terms of what needs to be done to improve the situation in that region," he said.

Wood said he expects Holbrooke to leave Washington in the middle of next week for Europe to attend the three-day Munich Conference on Security Policy opening February 6 before flying on to South Asia.

He said the Munich gathering, also known as the Wehrkunde conference, will be an opportunity for the envoy to discuss the Afghan conflict and related border unrest in Pakistan with U.S. European allies as part of the administration policy review.

President Obama is widely expected to announce a major increase in the 36,000-member U.S. troop commitment to Afghanistan.

But a senior U.S. diplomat said Thursday that Secretary Clinton is convinced that the United States and NATO cannot be succeed there without the proper mix of developmental, political and military action, and ultimately a political solution to the conflict.

Vice President Joe Biden and White House National Security Advisor James Jones will also be attending the Wehrkunde conference, which is expected to be the new administration's first major foray into international politics.

Cuban leader tastes Russian hospitality prior to talks

In 1963 Fidel spent 45 days traveling throughout the USSR. He secretly arrived in Murmansk and checked on Soviet nuclear forces, continued to Lake Baikal and received a brown bear cub as a present and did a little bit of shopping in Tashkent. Pictures of the Comandante on a train were on the front pages of all Soviet newspapers.

Raul often followed his older brother, but this time he is in Russia by himself and now he is the Cuban leader.

Raul Castro will be in Russia until February 4.

On Thursday he decided to stay in accommodations outside of Moscow so he could enjoy the Russian winter. And that is something Russia is ready to provide in abundance.

Castro arrived at the presidential residence wrapped in a warm coat and wearing an ushanka – a traditional Russian hat, which all tourists bring from Moscow. Medvedev met him as an old friend although they have an era in between their ages.

“I am very glad to see you here in Russia and especially in this place which – as I know – you visited many years ago,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

In the 1960s, Nikita Khrushchev hosted Raul and his brother at the same residence. Then, Fidel was feted to a full Russian experience including a Russian hunt and shots of vodka.

“I have been missing Russian forests. The moments when I was frying a lard spit on a twig to eat with rye bread I held dear to my heart. Over 25 years have passed, filled with this feeling of nostalgia. I don’t know if I will be so lucky to have the chance to taste it again, but I am here,” Raul Castro said.

Medvedev got the hint. After talks, they went outside for a dinner by the fire –pickled vegetables, barbecue, rye bread and a samovar – the self-boiler traditionally used in Russia’s tea-drinking – were on the menu.

“This is ‘salo’ or bacon fat - something you should have come for,” President Medvedev said.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union it seemed relations with Cuba collapsed as well. Located right at the U.S. doorstep, Cuba was the largest ally of the USSR and considered a true brother-in-arms. In 2002 Russia shut down its military base in Cuba.

Two months ago, Medvedev landed in Havana along with a contingent of the Russian Navy. Many expect the current talks to focus on civil cooperation, with energy topping the agenda.

Recession lands immigrants in 'Devil's Cave'

PLAINFIELD, New Jersey (CNN) -- Enter the "Devil's Cave" by pulling aside the wooden grate beneath the porch of the abandoned suburban New Jersey home. Crawl inside to see the filthy, mismatched blankets and the garbage and empty soda and alcohol bottles strewn about. Catch your breath against the smell.

In a better time, the 8-by-12-foot cubby hole with the four-foot ceiling might have been the pride of an 8-year-old, a place to share with closest friends, a secret hideout from the neighborhood bullies.

For a group of Latin American men, the "Devil's Cave" was home for several months as they tried to find work in tough economic times. In it, they shared their misfortune and propped up one another's dignity.

"I am a victim of the economic crisis," said Demisio Flores, 44, of El Salvador. "I am not homeless, because if I could get a job I would pay my rent and continue sending money to my family."

Flores, a former member of the Salvadoran military, was supporting a wife, a daughter and three grandchildren in El Salvador with money he earned at two jobs, one at a beverage packing company. But the men he shared the Devil's Cave with -- as many as 10 at some times -- became a new family.

"We were like brothers," he said of those with whom he camped beneath the porch. "Whoever got something was for everybody and everybody was getting something for whoever."

The nation's economic downturn has hit northern New Jersey hard. Unemployment jumped in the state to 7.1 percent in December, according to federal statistics.

Plainfield, a city of just over 47,000 where minorities are the majority -- 62 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic -- was faring even worse. The city's jobless rate was 7.9 percent in November, an increase of 2.8 percentage points from a year earlier.

Downtown Plainfield, walking distance from the space below the porch, shows the strains of recession. Stores try to lure customers with sales, others have shut down already or are preparing to do so.

With New Jersey struggling, the low-wage jobs that sustained the men disappeared.

Flores said of 300 people who worked with him, only 10 kept jobs when one company cut back four months ago. With the jobs gone, so was prosperity.

"My life was happy. I used to get a home with food and heat... pay my rent and send some money to my family in El Salvador," he said.

As work dried up, the men joined other immigrants on Plainfield's street corners, hoping to be chosen for day work. But they said they were lucky to get one day of work a month, not even near enough to cover rent on the small rooms they used to occupy.

Shelter became a dire need. Israel Rodriguez Melendez, a Salvadoran who has spent six years in the U.S., spotted the cubby hole beneath the porch. He and a friend opened the abandoned house above and got blankets, towels and clothes for him and others in the cave.

Other basics were more difficult to come by.

"Some times we went to garbage Dumpsters looking for food," Rodriguez, 42, said.

Deliverance from the Devil's Cave came at the holidays.

"In December, we were planning a Christmas party," said Carmen Salavarrieta, an activist in the Hispanic community. "In the list people that wanted to attend they were putting their names, some of them wrote 'I live in the Devil's Cave,' and I asked myself, 'What is this?' and then they explained to me."

Salavarrieta is a member of El Centro Hispanoamericano, a nonprofit group that provides emergency, immigration and educational services to Latinos in northern New Jersey. Cobbling together support from churches, businesses and other members of the community, she found temporary quarters for the men.

"I came to take them out of the cave and put them in a shelter. They were allowed to stay there only for three days. So we gave them clean clothes, food and they looked like honorable people. But the three days were over and I did not know what to do, I can not let them out in the street again," she said.

She was able to put some of the men in a small apartment she owned. Others found places with friends. Plainfield's mayor even chipped in, Salavarrieta said, footing the bill for some hotel rooms.

The men couldn't be more grateful.

"Now we live like kings, we have hot water, we get to eat and we have a place to sleep and we can get to change our clothes," Rodriguez said.

Flores showed off a new haircut. A friend had shorn the tangled, dirty mat that was part of his days below the porch.

"With this haircut I look nice," he said. "And I am very grateful to the community that is helping us so much."

Taliban to be flushed out of Swat applying full force: Rehman

ISLAMABAD: Advisor to Prime Minister for Interior Affairs Rehman Malik schemes will soon be started for rehabilitation of the people affected by the wave of terrorism following 9/11.

Wrapping up the discussion on Swat law and order situation in Senate, Rehman Malik said militants continued to disturb the peace in a number of agencies in tribal areas. The government fought with them and succeeded in restoring peace in these areas.

“Had the action not taken in time, the Taliban could have spilled over to Islamabad,” he asserted.

He pointed out that a total of 451 schools were destroyed in Swat, of which 123 were of girls.

The Interior Advisor said he could give an in camera briefing to the House on who supports the militants in Swat and what their links are.

He advised the extremists to lay down their weapons. “Soon there will be peace in Swat,” he hoped.

Rehman Malik said lawyers long march is not an issue and it will be dealt with when that time comes.

Later, talking to media he said report of investigation into Mumbai attacks will soon be received.

Afghanistan delays presidential election

KABUL-- Afghanistan is postponing its presidential elections until August 20 due to security and logistical concerns, the country's election commission said Thursday.Afghan President Hamid Karzai's five-year term is coming to an end this year.The balloting was originally scheduled for late May, but the independent election commission laid out several reasons for the delay.Security is a factor, the commission said. It also cited a lack of trained staff, incomplete voter registration and the weather.It is difficult to campaign or distribute ballots during the rough winter months in the rugged landscape.The elections are a critical moment for Afghanistan as President Hamid Karzai's five-year term ends. He was elected in December 2004 in largely peaceful polling.But since then, the Taliban militant movement has regrouped, international troop deaths have increased and there has been an increase in terror attacks, mostly in eastern and southern Afghanistan.Afghanistan has already registered 3 million voters and is holding voter drives to register more.
The United States will deploy additional troops in coming months to provide much-needed security in the run-up to the election.The country expects to hold parliamentary elections in 2010.Meanwhile on Wednesday coalition forces fighting in southern Afghanistan killed four militants, the U.S. military said.Coalition soldiers were targeting a Taliban leader in the Zabul province when militants fired on them, according to a military statement. Soldiers returned fire, killing the four militants. Soldiers then searched their compound and confiscated several assault rifles.This operation comes as the U.S. military is contemplating adding three brigades to the war effort in Afghanistan.Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that the troop build up could happen by this summer.

UN to organize effort to help stabilize Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan says the United Nations will help organize an international effort to overcome the country's massive security and economic problems.Pakistan faces a dangerous combination of rising Taliban militancy and slowing economic growth, raising concern about the security of its nuclear weapons.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Thursday that the U.N. has agreed to help organize programs to be funded by countries including the United States and Germany.
Donors formed a group called the Friends of Pakistan last year to boost Pakistan's security, economic and social development and energy supplies. Pakistan also took a $7.6 billion bailout last year from the International Monetary Fund.
Qureshi said a donors' conference may take place in Tokyo, but announced no date.

Security forces put on high alert in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: In a bid to deal with any untoward situation, Peshawar police have put forces on high alert besides sealing the city from all around, police sources said.

According to sources, there are security threats in and around Peshawar likewise other parts of country, however police has been put on high alert to take on any unexpected situation.

Troops have been provided with advanced artillery besides increasing nonstop patrolling by forces across city to ensure flawless security measures to public, sources added.

Police said it has deployed special Frontier Corps troops with police as a part of strict security plan.


[Swat Valley, Pakistan] Taliban militants have responded to a unanimous resolution passed this month by the Pakistan parliament to fight terror with renewed zeal and to protect women’s rights and educational institutions in the violence-hit Swat Valley, by destroying some more schools and summoning 40 politicians to appear before Taliban court or face retribution.

The announcement summoning the politicians made by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric turned militant commander, live on his illegal FM Radio, sent shockwaves throughout the district. The names he mentioned are senior members of different political parties, mainly the Pashtun Nationalist Awami National Party that currently rules the volatile North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

The warning came immediately after Ayub Ashari, a provincial minister from Swat, along with two members of the Provincial Assembly, visited Swat last week to boost the morale of the security forces and the people.

Addressing a press conference, the provincial minister pledged that all steps would be taken to establish government control in the region.

Locals say the visit of the provincial officials was a serious blow to Taliban's reign of terror, as after the visit people in Swat, particularly the youth, gained enough courage to openly criticize Taliban for their actions.

"We feel really encouraged to see some senior officials of the provincial government in Swat after a break of seven months,” said Ahmad Ali Khan, a resident of Mingora Swat. “Such moves must continue to bolster people’s morale and to put the militants on the defensive."

Taliban militants under the command of Fazlullah dominate 90 percent of the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan, where they publicly administer "Islamic punishments" to government sympathizers, female dancers, school teachers and local influentials.

The approximately 40,000 Pakistan security forces, who have been fighting Fazlullah’s militants since October 2007, have been confronted with a renewed and intensified insurgency that is now spreading to the neighboring districts of Buner, Malakand Agency, Dir and Shangla.

The conflict has displaced half million people from the idyllic valley and resulted in the destruction of more than 180 educational institutions.

Analysts believe the Taliban are a major threat to the integrity of Pakistan and it is the responsibility of all the stakeholders to come together and to devise a comprehensive and pragmatic strategy against terror. Neither the military nor the civilian administration can work in isolation, and there must be more coordination and cooperation between the two to eliminate militancy, they say.

Commenting on the current situation, Khadim Hussain Amir, an Islamabad-based political analyst, says that the Taliban want to perpetuate fear by such actions and it is high time for the political and military leadership to break the chain of terror created, encouraged and perpetuated by the Taliban by killing people and issuing warnings to the local social and political leadership.

“I am viewing this issue in its historical perspective. In 2006, Talibanization in Swat was a localized process. Taliban had no networking with other militant groups in Pakistan tribal areas and they did not have a fully trained and equipped militia,” Amir said.

“In 2007, they not only established contacts with other groups, but they also brought local criminal gangs under the umbrella of the Taliban movement, set up parallel courts and started targeted killings. This created enormous fear among the people. Now they want to silence all voices against them by utilizing this fear factor," Amir added.

After targeted killings and suicide attacks on government buildings and public gatherings that have killed hundreds of people over the last two years, the Taliban in Swat have been confronted with the issue of how to consolidate their control of the area.

At the beginning, to win support from the unprivileged and downtrodden classes of the society, they occupied the fertile lands of local landlords and distributed them among the poor.

In their courts they resolve feuds on an equal basis, and a number of court decisions have gone against the local elite. This process strengthens their position and many unemployed and unskilled youth have joined the Taliban fold.

Once they settled into their bases in different parts of the upper Swat Valley, the Taliban embarked on collecting funds and demanding weapons from the locals and punishing people in public at the slightest suspicion of supporting the government or criticizing their actions.

Meanwhile, security forces have pounded villages and civilian populations, which has resulted in the killing of more than 1,200 civilians.

Recently, ministers in the NWFP government blasted the military for inaction and lack of vision in Swat.

NWFP minister for information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, told the media in Peshawar that the military had been in charge of all the affairs in Swat since the launch of military operations in 2007 and if the military had failed to eradicate militancy, then the people had no option but to pray to God.

The military has its own take on what is happening in Swat. Military officers say it is the responsibility of the government to place efficient civilian administration in the district and provide relief to the people affected by the conflict.

They believe that peace agreements between the provincial government and Fazlullah have only helped the Taliban to regroup and strengthen their position.

When the military operation was launched, it was claimed by the military commanders that the area would be cleared of all militants within three weeks. The fact is that now the militants are knocking on the doors of Mingora, the administrative capital and main urban center of the Swat district.

Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas, Pakistan's military spokesman, says that the army was following a new strategy to clear major urban areas and villages of militants.

"The military will not be static, it will not be reactive. It will be reaching out to people to get their support," he told the Pakistan Daily Dawn.

However, Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan is standing firm and says that the military should leave the area immediately and the government should enforce the Islamic legal system in the region to avoid more violence and bloodshed.

"If there is no Shari’a, there will be no peace," he told The Media Line.

Whatever the result of the ongoing conflict in Swat, the reality is that the Swat Valley will never be the same as when thousands of tourists from all over the world would flood the area every summer to enjoy its fascinating natural scenery, snow-capped mountains and centuries-old cultural heritage in the shape of hundreds of Buddhist archeological sites spreading over every part of the valley.