Sunday, April 19, 2009

Situation dangerous in Pakistan: Holbrooke

WASHINGTON: US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke warned on Sunday that no other place in the world today faced a more dangerous situation than Pakistan.In an interview to CNN, Holbrooke said that Pakistan also faced a ‘very difficult economic situation’ and needed immediate help.‘This is a really dangerous situation in Pakistan today and we are focused on this very heavily,’ said Holbrooke.
Asked if the terrorist threat could cause Pakistan to collapse, the US envoy said that President Asif Ali Zardari and other Pakistani leaders too conceded that it was a very dangerous situation.‘Swat is not in the tribal areas. It is only 100 miles from Islamabad … it is like East Hampton and Manhattan … people from Islamabad went to Swat for holidays … it is really an extraordinary situation.’‘Pakistan mattered to the national security of the United States; ‘These are the people who can attack Mumbai, who attack Islamabad, Holbrooke said.David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, told ‘CBS Face the Nation’ that Pakistan needed to ‘really focus in on what is a threat to their own stability and what is a threat to the security of the world.’White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, however, told ABC News that the Obama administration had put ‘in place a policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan area that will change that area’ and bring stability to the region.Axelrod said the biggest threat confronting Pakistan was the ‘growing hegemony of the Taliban and allies of Al Qaeda’ and urged Pakistanis to realise how serious this threat was.Ambassador Holbrooke termed the current situation in Pakistan as ‘very perilous’ and claimed that the militants operating from Swat and Fata had already increased their reach to Punjab. ‘There can be more terrorist attacks in cities like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi,’ he warned.He said the Swat truce always seemed like a confused deal to him.
The Pakistani military, he said, felt that it was ‘stretched thin’ and that’s why it concluded this deal.Holbrooke pointed out that if the Pakistani military wanted to persuade the militants to lay down their arms by concluding this deal, it did not succeed in doing so.The chief spokesman for the Swat Taliban ‘publicly renounced the part of the deal that requires the militants to lay down arms,’ he said.‘You cannot deal with these people by giving away territory. They are now getting closer and closer to Islamabad and Punjab.’Ambassador Holbrooke said he was witnessing a ‘very dangerous phenomenon’ in Swat which had equally dangerous consequences for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.The US envoy, however, acknowledged that ‘hitting the militants hard” will not help.‘First of all, we need to do deal with economic and social roots,’ he said, adding that more economic aid was needed to do away with the breeding grounds for the kind of rebellions witnessed in Swat more than once.Holbrooke said Pakistan also needed to strengthen its military, particularly the Frontier Corps, to deal with the terrorists and also needed to win the propaganda battle.Asked who ran Pakistan, President Zardari or Gen Ashfaq Kayani, Holbrooke said: ‘The clear answer is that Mr Zardari is the president, and Gen Kayani is the army chief.’The Pakistani constitution, he said, gave more powers to the president but the army had played a very powerful role.Gen Kayani, he said, was a ‘sincere, intelligent and decent person,’ who has said ‘does not wish to get involved in political issues and we believe him.’

Fears for Pakistan grow as Taliban make gains

ISLAMABAD- Pakistan has repeatedly vowed action to stop militants but analysts say denial and dithering and a seething resentment of the United States among the Pakistani people have stymied effective policy.

Escalating violence by militants and the consolidation of their grip in some places, and infiltration into others, have raised fears about the spread of Taliban influence.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan falling under the sway of al Qaeda-linked militants is a nightmare scenario for the United States and Pakistan's neighbours, and would doom U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

"There's a great sense of angst, a sense of unravelling," said Adil Najam, professor of international relations at Boston University.

"It seems that everyone has lost control, including the military, of where things are going. I don't think they've given up the fight, it's just they don't seem to know what they can do," he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari secured more than $5 billion in aid last Friday after telling allies and aid donors in Tokyo he would step up the fight against militants. (For a related story, double-click on [ID:nSP426094])

The pledges pushed up a stock market .KSE that has gained 33 percent this year.

But elsewhere the mood is grim.

Audacious militant attacks in the eastern city of Lahore and blasts elsewhere over recent weeks have sapped confidence. A suicide car-bomber killed 25 soldiers and police and two passers-by in the northwest on Saturday. [ID:nISL238803]

As well as across the northwest, the Taliban are infiltrating into Punjab province and Karachi city, analysts say. The release on bail of a cleric who used to run a radical Islamabad mosque has added to a feeling that the militants are on a roll. [ID:nISL422025]


Rumours of attacks on schools have spread panic and embassies have warned citizens of the danger of attacks and kidnapping. Members of Pakistan's moderate Muslim majority say they feel intimidated by a vocal and aggressive minority.

Compounding the unease is a sense that the government has been distracted by political wrangling and is in denial.

"The general impression and perception at this stage is the government lacks the will to assert itself," analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Dawn television. "They are denying the threat that is moving towards Islamabad."

Policy has been flip-flopping between inconclusive military offensives and peace deals that critics say embolden the militants.

The International Crisis Group think-tank says responsibility for counter-insurgency has to be transferred to civilians from a military that continues to have links with some militant groups it sees as tools in its confrontation with India.

"It's inept in the way it conducts operations, it suffers huge losses, and then it signs peace deals, it appeases the militants," said the group's Pakistan director, Samina Ahmed.

Under the latest peace pact, authorities have virtually handed over the northwestern Swat region to the Taliban to end violence. But the militants have already pushed out and taken over a new area 100 km (60 miles) from the capital. [ID:nISL324854] [ID:nSP457439]

"The implications of appeasement are obvious," said Ahmed. "Peace deals have been signed from a position of weakness and the militants have gained ground. It is quite frightening."


Optimists had hoped the end of military rule with a general election last year would see public support coalescing around a strong stand against the militants.

But while the Taliban have been taking advantage of grievances against corrupt courts and greedy landlords to win support, they have also been able to capitalise on widespread resentment of the United States exacerbated by its attacks on militants with missiles launched from pilotless drones.

"I'm not sure the drones have actually done anything to reduce militancy but they have strengthened the Taliban argument more than any other thing," Najam said.

"The Taliban have cornered the anti-American message."

Victory over the Taliban hinged on public opinion, he said.

"If ordinary Pakistanis can turn against the Taliban then we can win this. If they don't, if they continue to be lukewarm because the Taliban are supposed to be anti-American and all that, then there's no way you can win this," Najam said.

"The battle is in the hearts and minds of Pakistani society and I think we're losing."

Swat Deal Grave Threat to Rights

The Pakistani government should swiftly reverse its decision to cede de-facto administrative control of the Swat valley in Pakistan's tribal areas to the Taliban and affiliated groups, Human Rights Watch said today. The move presents a grave threat to the rights of women and other basic rights in the troubled region, Human Rights Watch said.

On April 13, 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari signed an ordinance imposing Sharia law in the Swat valley and effectively empowering the Taliban and other groups, there and in surrounding areas of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). Human Rights Watch called for the details of the February 15 peace deal with the Taliban, part of which included an agreement to impose Sharia law on the area, to be made public and said that any agreement must ensure the basic human rights of the population.

"The Taliban are taking Swat back to the Dark Ages and the Pakistani government is now complicit in their horrific abuses," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Tossing out the rights of the people in the tribal areas reflects abysmally on both the government and the Pakistani military's ability to protect Pakistan's citizens."

The Pakistani armed forces, police, and administration have effectively abandoned most of the Swat valley and adjoining areas, leaving the Taliban in de-facto control. While the full details of the peace agreement have not been officially released, the new legal framework is seen by the Taliban and affiliated groups as formal acquiescence by the Pakistani government to their administrative control of the region.

The Taliban have imposed their authority in Swat and adjoining areas through summary executions - including beheadings - of state officials and political opponents, public whippings, and large-scale intimidation of the population. Girls' schools have been shut down, women are not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male family members, polio immunization programs have been halted, and nongovernmental organizations have been expelled. Music and film have been banned and stores trading in them have been destroyed. All men have been required to grow beards.

Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about the likelihood of increased abuses against women and girls in Taliban-controlled areas. The public airing in April of an undated but recent mobile telephone video of the public flogging of a woman by the Taliban in Swat caused outrage across Pakistan and internationally. The two-minute video showed a veiled, screaming woman face down on the ground as two men hold her arms and feet and a third man whips her repeatedly.

"The government defends this ordinance by saying that the officials implementing the law are still appointed by the provincial government and that they will respect the rights of women and others," said Hasan. "But the reality is that any official in Swat who does not follow the dictates of the Taliban may be signing his or her own death warrant."

President Zardari signed the "Nizam-e-Adl" (system of justice) ordinance after Pakistan's parliament unanimously passed a resolution recommending the measure. The ordinance followed the peace deal signed by the government of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with the Taliban to end hostilities in the area between Pakistan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, which have been ongoing since the summer of 2007. The provincial government, led by the ostensibly secular Awami National Party (ANP), concluded the agreement with Sufi Mohammad, leader of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-Mohammad (TNSM), a Taliban affiliate.

Although the text of the agreement has not been formally released, it is known to call for the withdrawal of the Pakistani military from the Swat valley, the release of all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of Sharia in the Malakand Division, a region that covers over one-third of the province, including the Swat valley.

Sufi Mohammad has repeatedly stated that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Addressing a rally in Swat on February 18, Mohammad told the crowd: "We hate democracy. We want the occupation of Islam in the entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or election."

Human Rights Watch said that the Taliban and their affiliates are not only violating international human rights standards, but also acting in contravention of fundamental rights as enshrined in Pakistan's constitution. The Nizam-e-Adl law also violates the fundamental rights provisions of the Pakistani constitution and seeks to provide a legal framework for abusive administration by the Taliban.

"It is mind-boggling that any elected, rights-respecting government would seek to partner with and cede control to entities and individuals so brazen in their rejection of human rights and constitutional rule," said Hasan. "Instead of being feted as allies, Sufi Mohammad and his allies should be held accountable for their crimes."

Three dead in suspected US strike in Pakistan: officials

PESHAWAR: Three people were killed Sunday in a suspected US missile attack targeting a militant hideout in Pakistan’s tribal area bordering Afghanistan, officials said.

‘It was a drone attack,’ local administration official Shahab Ali Shah told AFP. He said two missiles hit a house in Gangi Khel town in the tribal South Waziristan district.

Another official speaking on condition of anonymity said the attack targeted a militant hideout where three people were killed. He gave no details.

A security official confirmed that death toll, saying that five other people were wounded. The targeted house, belonging to a local tribesman, was ‘destroyed in the strike,’ he said.

Three people were killed in a similar attack in the area earlier this month.