Thursday, April 23, 2009

U.S 'extremely concerned' about Taliban in Pakistan

WASHINGTON :The United States expressed extreme concern on Thursday about advances by the Taliban in Pakistan and said the issue was taking up a significant amount of President Barack Obama's time.

"I think the news over the past several days is very disturbing, the administration is extremely concerned," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, noting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "candid" comments on the issue on Wednesday.

"We are extremely concerned about the situation and it is something that takes a lot of the president's time," he said.

"What is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan is the central foreign policy focus of this administration.

China, Pakistan laud parliamentary ties, agree to boost co-op

China and Pakistan Wednesday praised the ties between their parliaments and both agreed to raise inter-parliamentary cooperation to a higher level.

In his meeting with visiting Speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly Fahmida Mirza, Chinese top legislator Wu Bangguo noted that China always conducted its ties with Pakistan taking a strategic, long-term perspective and was committed to pushing forward bilateral relations.

Wu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature, highlighted the growth of bilateral relations and expressed appreciation for Pakistan's support for China on issues relating to Taiwan and Tibet.

China will firmly back Pakistan's efforts for national stability and development, Wu added.

Wu said the NPC and Pakistan's National Assembly had forged friendly legislative ties.

"I hope to see the two parliaments continue to cement cooperation at various levels and through various channels in a bid to expand mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples," Wu said.

Mirza said relations with China were always at the top of the agenda in Pakistan's foreign policies.

Pakistan hoped to expand cooperation with China in fields such as transportation, energy and free trade, Mirza said. She also urged both countries to develop exchanges among female members of their legislatures.

She also reiterated firm support for China's principle and position on issues relating to Taiwan and Tibet.

Mirza's visit to China from April 21 to 27, her first, was made at the invitation of Wu. She will also visit the western city of Xi'an and the economic powerhouse of Shanghai.

No more promises, go after militants: Clinton asks Pak

WASHINGTON: Pakistan is beginning to recognize the severity of the threat posed by an extremist insurgency that is encroaching on major urban areas, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.Clinton told a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee that the Obama administration is working to convince the Pakistani government that its traditional focus on India as a threat has to shift to the Islamic extremists.``Changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy, but I do believe there is an increasing awareness of not just the Pakistani government but the Pakistani people that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat,'' the secretary of state said.On Wednesday, Clinton told another House committee that in her view the Pakistani government is ``basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists.''She said Thursday that the administration's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has had ``painful, specific'' conversations with a wide range of Pakistanis about the need to act more effectively against the insurgents.``There is a significant opportunity here for us working in collaboration with the Pakistani government to help them get the support they need to make that mindset change and act more vigorously against this threat,'' she said, adding: ``There are no promises. They have to do it.''One measure of progress in Pakistan, she said, is the extent to which the Pakistani military is shifting its troops from the Indian border to the Afghan border, where the Taliban threat has been expanding.Clinton was appearing before the appropriations panel that is reviewing the administration's request for $7.1 billion in additional money for the State Department this budget year.Clinton said that local job creation is a key purpose of the $980million in extra funds the State Department is requesting for its work in Afghanistan.She told the panel that a main goal is to improve security at the local level in Afghanistan by putting more people to work. And she said the Obama administration believes that many in the Taliban insurgency who are fighting against American and Afghan forces are motivated more by money than by ideology.

Militants attack Nato fuel trucks near Peshawar

PESHAWAR: Suspected militants attacked at a terminal at Grand Trunk Road and torched five oil tankers supplying fuel for Nato forces in Afghanistan in the early hours of Thursday, police said.

As a result of intense firing a security guard was wounded, while two others narrowly escaped. They said that several attackers entered the Pakistan Oil Terminal and opened fire.

The guards also said that the attackers had come through a broken boundary wall from the rear side. They said four explosions were heard and later the attackers opened indiscriminate firing at the oil tankers.

A fire brigade official said that 10 fire tenders of city fire station, Cantonment Board Peshawar and civil defence took part in the rescue operation but the tankers couldn’t be saved.

It was the second attack at the oil tankers in the past about two weeks. Many oil tankers carrying fuel for Nato forces to Afghanistan had been torched by suspected militants at the GT Road.

The police said a case against unidentified miscreants had been registered at the Chamkani Police Station.

Pakistan must act against Taliban threat: Gates

CAMP LEJEUNE: Pakistani leaders must act to stop Taliban militants who are posing a threat to the country's stability, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

Gates told reporters that in his discussions with Pakistani leaders, the government appeared to grasp the threat posed by Taliban militants, but he stressed the leadership needed to take action.

‘It is important they not only recognise it (the threat), but take the appropriate actions to deal with it,’ said Gates, when asked about the Taliban's recent move beyond the Swat Valley.

In a bid to expand their control, the extremists have now moved into the Buner district from the Swat valley, where President Asif Ali Zardari recently signed a deal allowing the implementation of strict Islamic law.

Pakistani paramilitary troops were deployed to the northwestern districts infiltrated by Taliban militants on Thursday amid global concern over Islamabad's ability to rein in the Islamists.

Officials and witnesses said the extremists were patrolling the streets of Buner, about 100 kilometers outside Islamabad, warning residents not to engage in ‘un-Islamic’ activity and barring women from public places.

‘The stability and the longevity of democratic government in Pakistan is central to the efforts of the coalition in Afghanistan,’ Gates warned.

‘And it is also central to our future partnership with the government in Islamabad. It is important they recognise the real threats to their country,’ the US defense secretary added at a press conference in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The Taliban have regrouped and regained strength from hideouts in the Pakistani border areas since they were ousted from power in Afghanistan by a US-led coalition in 2001.

During their brutal five-year reign, they implemented one of the strictest forms of sharia law ever put into practice, barring Afghan girls from school, stopping women from working, and banning music and dancing.

The government lost control in Swat, a former ski resort and jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, after a violent two-year militant campaign to enforce strict sharia law.

It agreed to allow sharia courts in Malakand, a district of some three million people in North West Frontier Province that includes the Swat valley, in order to halt the violence.

‘Pakistan ... has one of the largest armies in the world,’ the country's ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, told CNN. ‘The military is capable of dealing with the insurgency.’

Taliban takeover puts Islamabad on red alert

A senior Pakistani official says Islamabad will not allow Taliban insurgents to cross the Margala hills surrounding the capital.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Asadullah Faiz said late Thursday that government security forces will not allow the Margala hills to be crossed.

Also, Islamabad Police Chief Tahir Alam said all possible steps were being taken to ensure the security of the people in the capital city.

Troops and extra rangers have been deployed at Margala hills and the checkpoints around Islamabad.

The developments come after Taliban militants armed with heavy weapons reportedly took control of a district near the capital of the nuclear-armed country.

The armed militants entered the Shangla District on Thursday. Shangla is the third district after Swat and Buner where the Taliban have entered without any resistance by the government forces.

The captured districts are located only 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from Islamabad.

Over 30 Taliban enter Shangla

SWAT: More than 30 armed Taliban have entered Puran area of District Shangla, eyewitnesses said on Thursday.

Taliban have started patrolling around Loch Bazaar, causing tension and fear among the locals.

Shangla is third territory after Swat and Buner where Taliban made entry.

Where were you, dear sisters?


Much has been said about the shameful performance of our parliament on April 13 when it approved the controversial Nizam-i-Adl Regulation without much of a murmur.

The two members who protested, MQM’s Farooq Sattar and the PML-N MNA from Chakwal, Ayaz Amir, have received much-deserved accolades — albeit given grudgingly to the MQM. But why did the others lose their voice? What happened to the women?

Why could not there be a full-fledged debate on an issue that promises to have a profound impact on the future of Pakistan? Its devastating implications for women have already started manifesting themselves, as demonstrated by reports from Karachi of men walking up to women demanding that they cover themselves ‘properly’. A woman even complained of having been threatened with a gun. These incidents vindicate the fears that have been expressed in women’s circles about the tidal wave of Talibanisation sweeping the country.

It was the failure — or helplessness — of our parliamentarians that was disturbing. It is now clear that military rule and pseudo democracy under the patronage of the army have wrought untold ravages on Pakistan’s political institutions over the years, undermining democratic structures so badly that even the restoration of democracy has not revived their working fully.

The failure of their representatives to articulate public concern on that fateful day has upset women all over the country. It has prompted an angry email from Lila Thadani of the Sindh Adyoon Tehrik, Sukkur, charging Bushra Gohar and Nafisa Shah (MNAs from the ANP and the PPP respectively) of acting for the sake of party ‘loyalty and transitory power.’

She says, ‘Remember dear sisters, your parliamentary slots will not remain for life. You will have to climb down and be with the rest of us. How will you be able to face us and the true reality after selling your soul to power? … Speak up or ship out, now. You are better outside than inside that pointless white cube of a parliament on Constitution Ave.’

It was, therefore, seen as a weak and belated rescue attempt when a female voice was raised in the house the next day. Sherry Rehman, the PPP MNA who recently bowed out as the information minister, made a spirited speech on a point of order expressing strong reservations about the implementation of the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation 2009 in Swat. Conceding that this system had been in force in the valley in the 1990s, she pointed out that circumstances were different then.

The state had executive control over the land unlike today when the writ of the ANP government doesn’t run there. She had a point when she said angrily, ‘I ask the ANP, which pressured the government to pass the regulation in the National Assembly, to tell us who will protect the rights of women in Swat now.’

Sherry also asked for a debate on the flogging incident, saying this act had been in clear violation of the laws of the land and pointed to the danger of people being subjected to Taliban vigilantism and public brutality. Yes Sherry’s fear is spot on — for this is exactly what worries people, mainly women, today, but not the parliamentarians who have yet to debate the flogging incident. Why the delay?

This question is to an extent answered by Aurat Foundation’s report, Performance of Women Parliamentarians in the 12th National Assembly, launched recently. It sheds some light on the attitudes of our lawmakers and confirms the non-role of the National Assembly in Pakistan’s system of governance. Sifting through a mountain of National Assembly records to collect data and statistics, Naeem Mirza and Wasim Wagha, the authors of the report, have made a monumental contribution to the recording of parliamentary history.

No analysis is needed to show the shoddy performance of the Assembly that functioned in 2002-2007. Figures speak louder than words. Here is some striking statistical information taken from the report: The assembly held a total of only 43 sessions in five years and met on 608 working days. It failed to fulfill the minimum requirement of 130 days in the final year when it met on 83 days.

This information does not reveal the entire truth for each day’s session on an average lasted for less than an hour in the first year and two hours in the following years. Sixty-eight times the quorum was not complete and only 50 bills were passed in five years (mostly without a debate) of which 38 became acts. The 12th assembly may have operated under the shadows of a military dictatorship but this does not exonerate parliamentarians for their indifferent performance.

The report focuses on women and their efforts to preserve the public space they have created for themselves in politics. It sheds light on the grit of a handful of women parliamentarians (60 on reserved seats and 13 on general seats) in a house of 342 who took bold initiatives and struggled against heavy odds to make their presence felt. The assessment of women parliamentarians is purely in quantitative terms.

They emerge as an active lot who spoke prolifically (3,698 interventions), questioned sensibly (2,724 questions) and took their responsibilities seriously. But who were these women? The report grades the first 25. And is it surprising that of these 22 were from the opposition parties? Now that the boot is on the other foot their parliamentary activism has been muted. The MMA women who continue to sit on the opposition benches admit that they do not believe in challenging the male public space.

What is needed is an analysis of the role of women parliamentarians in the context of the freedom allowed to them. Evidently at the root of the problem is the flawed mode of election of women legislators on reserved seats. Appointed from party lists, they are denied a constituency while their fate is in the hands of the party leadership, predominantly male. Since women parliamentarians are unwilling to join hands across party lines on issues concerning women there is no hope that their problems will be resolved through political processes.

Two policemen killed in ambush after troops deployed in Buner

PESHAWAR: Two policemen were killed Thursday when suspected militants fired at their vehicle in Pakistan's Buner district, police said.

Taliban fighters are patrolling streets and markets in the district, 110 kilometres away from Islamabad.

‘Unknown gunmen fired at a police vehicle escorting a convoy of paramilitary forces in Totali area of Buner,’ local police official Syed Azhar told AFP.

Azhar would not say who the attackers were, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Residents said the incident took place just after a meeting of a peace committee comprising Taliban, local people and administration officials in which the militants agreed to remain peaceful.

Earlier, eight platoons of paramilitary troops were sent to the district, sources said on Thursday.

The Frontier Constabulary platoons arrived Wednesday to protect government buildings and bridges in Buner, Syed Mohammed Javed said.

A platoon typically has 30 to 50 troops.

Javed would not confirm Thursday whether the Taliban presence in Buner spurred the deployment.

The militants’ presence is reportedly restricted to Pir Baba, Sultanwas and Zaga bases and there is little movement on the roads, local residents told DawnNews earlier.

Meanwhile, militant concentration increased toward Totali village, near Swabi.

Militants from the Swat Valley entered Buner in large numbers in recent days after a government-backed peace deal imposed Islamic law in Swat and surrounding areas.

The militants' movement has sparked concerns the deal merely emboldened insurgents to expand their reign.