Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zardari meets Libyan president Gaddafi

TRIPOLI: President Asif Ali Zardari has met with the Libyan president Colonel Muammar Gaddafi here on Friday, Geo news reported.The meeting discussed the issues of mutual interests besides extending cooperation in various other sectors from both countries.
The President Zardari and other Pakistani officials, accompanying him, received welcome honoree party hosted by President Gaddafi himself while Libyan senior army officials and ministers also attended the party.Earlier, President Zardari was accorded warm welcome at airport in Tripoli and his daughter Asifa was also present on the occasion.

State within a state

Editorial:THE NEWS
The Taliban in Orakzai Agency are reported to have occupied three homes and ten businesses belonging to Sikhs, to press for their demand that 'jaziya', a tax imposed non-Muslims, be paid. The militants had previously demanded a sum of Rs50 million, which they later reduced to Rs15 million. This of course is extortion. There is no other name for it. Over the past weeks it has become obvious the Taliban are engaged in a game of plunder. This too is how they inspire desperate young men to join them. The motive is base greed and not religious zeal. In Swat there are already stories of Taliban members who have -- almost overnight -- accumulated enormous amounts of wealth. Rugs, chandeliers and other items taken away from the homes of wealthy families forced to flee now adorn the homes of militants everywhere. This then is what the struggle is all about. Extortion is of course not new to the Taliban. For years, Maulana Fazalullah was reported to have collected money and jewellery from women in Swat to fund 'jihad'. Threat and coercion underlay these efforts.

The tiny Sikh community still based in our tribal areas has often done well in terms of business and trade. The action against them is just another means to amass money. It is sad our legislators have not spoken up for the rights of the minorities who live in Taliban-controlled areas. Even in cities still outside Taliban rule, they have been targetted for violence and victimized. These most vulnerable of citizens need to be protected. The Taliban's efforts to create a state within a state, to set up their own rules that deviate from state laws, work against the interests of many not able to defend themselves. The question is if anyone will move in to help them and prevent the kind of abuse to which a peaceful community has been subjected to in Orakzai.

School blown up by ignorant Taliban

BANNU: An explosive device planted at a girls’ school in Nurar area went off early Thursday, completely destroying three rooms of the building. Sources said unidentified miscreants had planted the explosive at Government Girls Primary School, Kotka Attaullah in Nurar area that went off at 4 a.m. completely destroying three classrooms while other rooms also suffered partial damage. The security forces rushed to the scene and cordoned off the area. The explosive planted in two rooms of the school were defused. The miscreants targeted the school for the second time. Five girl schools have faced terror acts in the district so far.

Next two weeks critical to Pak govt’s survival: Petraeus

Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen David Petraeus has told US officials the next two weeks are “critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive”, FOX News reported on Thursday. “The Pakistanis have run out of excuses ... [and are] finally getting serious” about combating the threat from the Taliban and Al Qaeda, said the general. But Petraeus also said wearily that “we’ve heard it all before” from the Pakistanis, and he was looking to see concrete action aginst the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining America’s next course of action. According to Fox News, Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistan Army is ‘superior’ to the civilian government.

Elimination of poppy cultivation key to defeat menace of terrorism in region: PM

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday urged the Nato and ISAF to effectively deal with the issue of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and drug trafficking which still remains the main source of funding for extremists and terrorist elements.

This has led to exporting numerous problems to Pakistan and stressed that the elimination of poppy cultivation is the key for defeating the menace of terrorism in the region, he added.

The prime minister was talking to an eight-member delegation of the British Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons headed by Mike Capes which called on him here at the PM House on Thursday.

The prime minister said that “the UK Policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Way Forward” announced by the British Prime Minister yesterday has many aspects which require careful examination and further clarifications.

He said that the policy acknowledges Pakistan’s position that military option alone cannot resolve the problems of insecurity, insurgency and terrorism while placing emphasis on the development dimension which his government has been advocating since long.

He however stressed that the policy must also recognize that the problems faced by Pakistan today are rooted in decades old conflict in Afghanistan; that Pakistan and Afghanistan have distinctly different political and institutional traditions and hence they must not be bracketed together for finding solutions of the problems faced by them.

The prime minister assured the British delegation of his government’s steadfast and unwavering commitment to fight the menace of extremism and terrorism but highlighted the urgency of capacity building of Pakistani Law Enforcing Agencies and Armed Forces as promised by important countries like US and UK.

The prime minister apprised the British MPs of the sense of anxiety generated amongst the people of Pakistan in and outside the country because of the arrests of Pakistani students in UK and urged them to play their role in ensuring that the people of Pakistani origin are not discriminated against in any way.

He added that since no evidence was found against the arrested Pakistani students, they should not be deported and be allowed to complete their studies.

He welcomed the heightened exchanges between Pakistan and UK in all levels and underlined the importance of people to people contacts and parliamentary exchanges for eliminating any possible misperceptions and misunderstandings in otherwise cordial relations between the two countries.

The British delegation expressed their understanding of the ground realities and the challenges being faced by Pakistan. They agreed with the prime minister on the need of evolving mechanism to check cross border movement of undesirable elements from both sides.

The leader of the delegation appreciated Pakistan’s role and sacrifices in the campaign against terrorism and assured that the British government will extend full support in this regard.

Pakistan army pushes Taliban back

BUNER VALLEY, Pakistan- The Pakistan army battled through mountain passes on Thursday in a third day of fighting to evict Taliban fighters from a strategic valley, after U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed its newfound resolve.

The militants were still controlling parts of Buner valley, just 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad, though troops had secured the main town of Daggar on Wednesday after helicopters dropped them behind enemy lines.

Obama told a news conference in Washington on that Pakistan's army had begun to realize that homegrown militants and posed a bigger current threat to the Muslim nation's stability than India, despite three wars between the two old rivals.

"On the military side, you're starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally," Obama said.

"And you're starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists."

The Taliban's creeping advance from their stronghold in Swat valley, unnerved many Pakistanis and raised fears in Washington that its nuclear-armed ally was becoming more unstable.

Obama said he was confident about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.


On Thursday troops used helicopter gunships and artillery to target militants hideouts in Buner, and hundred of families were seen streaming out of the valley, their vehicles laden with whatever belongings they could carry, including cattle.

"We are leaving but we don't know where we will be going. There was shelling over my village the whole night," said an old woman, her head and face covered, as she sat on the back of a pick-up truck.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said security forces has won control of at least two passes on Thursday, but were having to move carefully because of roadside bombs.

He also delivered a warning to the Taliban in Swat for failing to keep their side of the bargain after the government accepted demands to establish Islamic sharia courts across the Malakand Division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, Buner and several other districts.

"The terrorism, terrorizing of people of the area is continuing unabated and this we consider a gross violation of peace deal," Abbas told a news conference in Rawalpindi, the garrison town neighboring Islamabad.

Abbas said the militants had refused to disarm, had abducted security forces personnel and killed policemen and civilians.

U.S. officials have urged Pakistan to follow through on this week's offensives in Dir and Buner rather than let the enemy regroup, and speculation was mounting that once the army has secured Buner it will turn its attention to the Taliban in Swat.

Abbas gave no casualty update from the fighting in Buner and Lower Dir, where an operation began on Sunday, but as of Wednesday more than 120 militants had been killed.


Before the military offensive in Buner, Western allies, who need Pakistan's support to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize neighboring Afghanistan, were worried the government seemed too willing to appease militants.

"I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan," Obama told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.

"I'm more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people."

Mounting insecurity in Pakistan was underlined by ethnic violence in the southern city of Karachi, where paramilitary troops were given orders to "shoot on sight" to restore order.

At least 27 people were killed in clashes on Wednesday, many of them ethnic Pashtuns, illustrating another strand of the tensions between the people of the northwest and those from other parts of the country.

Obama is due to meet Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington on May 6-7.

U.S. lawmakers said they planned to accelerate the flow of more than $400 million in aid to Pakistan to help with counter-insurgency operations. The U.S. is also giving $1.4 billion in economic aid for Islamabad.

Developing Story

The number of confirmed cases of swine flu has jumped to 236 cases worldwide, the World Health Organization said today.cnn

Pakistan army: Taliban holding town hostage

ISLAMABAD — Troops sent to repel a Taliban advance toward the Pakistani capital killed 14 suspected militants, the army said Thursday, and accused insurgents of holding an entire town hostage.
In another development that sent a shudder through Pakistan, officials said gun attacks in the mega-city of Karachi killed at least 34 people and threatened to ignite ethnic tension.
President Barack Obama said he was "gravely concerned" about the nuclear-armed country's stability, while Pakistan's president urged the public to support the army offensive so that the Islamic nation would remain under "a moderate, modern and democratic state."
Security forces backed by warplanes began pushing into Buner, a district some 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Islamabad, on Tuesday after Taliban militants from the neighboring Swat Valley infiltrated the area under cover of a peace pact.
On Thursday, troops ousted militants from the Ambela Pass leading over the mountains into Buner and were inching toward the north, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.
Soldiers opened fire on four suspected suicide car bombers who drove toward them near the pass, Abbas said. Two vehicles exploded while the other two managed to drive away. No troops were hurt, he said.
Troops also destroyed four militant vehicles in Dir, a district to the west, Abbas said. At least 14 militants were killed, and one soldier was injured in the previous 24 hours, he said.
Abbas also said militants, who have kidnapped dozens of lightly armed police and paramilitary troops, had burned a police station farther north and sealed off the town of Sultanwas.
"The people of Sultanwas are in great distress," Abbas said at a news conference. "Nobody is being allowed to move out of Sultanwas,"
A Taliban spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.
Security forces barred some reporters from entering Buner and telephone connections were cut, making it hard to verify the army's account of the fighting.
U.S. leaders sharply criticized Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's decision to sign a law imposing Islamic law in Swat and the surrounding Malakand region in an attempt to halt two years of bloody and inconclusive fighting.
Defenders of the pact say the Islamic law concession will isolate hard-liners bent on destabilizing the country and bolster thin public support for a crackdown. Officials said Thursday the Islamic courts will be up and running within days.
The "time has come for the entire nation to give pause to their political differences and rise to the occasion and give full support to our security forces in this critical hour," Zardari said in a statement late Wednesday.
"This is the only way to demonstrate our will to keep Pakistan as a moderate, modern and democratic state where the rights of all citizens are protected," he said.
The Obama administration, determined to stop militants from using Pakistan as a base for attacks in Afghanistan, is asking Congress for more money to aid the Pakistani army.
In a news conference Wednesday marking his first 100 days in office, Obama said Pakistan was potentially unable to deliver basic services to its population such as health care and education.
Obama expressed confidence that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal will be secured because he said he believes Pakistan's army will do the job. But he left the door open for U.S. action if necessary.
Pakistan's stability is complicated by deep ethnic and sectarian tensions that are likely to grow as a result of a marked slowdown in economic growth.
Competition for jobs and political power is sharpest in Karachi, a teeming southern port with a history of ethnic violence where Wednesday's shooting broke out.
Much of the tension has been between the Pashtun population, who dominate the violence-plagued northwest, and Urdu-speaking Mohajirs descended from migrants from India.
The main Mohajir political party that runs the city, the Muttahida Quami Movement, has been outspoken against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and has warned that the militants represent a growing threat in Karachi, Pakistan's 16-million strong commercial hub.
The city was largely crippled Wednesday after two MQM activists were gunned down by unknown shooters, sparking street violence that had abated by dawn.
Paramilitary rangers roamed the city's trouble spots Thursday, as hospital doctors and police said the death toll had reached 34, with about 50 others injured.

Karachi tense after fresh wave of ethnic violence

KARACHI: Karachi remained tense on Thursday, a day after at least 29 people were killed and over 42 others were injured in a fresh wave of ethnic violence in the city's different areas. About 20 vehicles were torched during the unrest.

Rangers were on the patrol on Thursday and shoot-at-sight orders were in place in the city.

Tension and panic gripped parts of the city as unidentified attackers went on a shooting spree, killing most of the victims at point-blank range.

City police chief Wasim Ahmed told Dawn that 20 people had been killed in the violence across the city, including ‘16 Pathans and three Urdu-speaking people.'

Police said that the trouble began early in the morning when armed men who had taken position on the hills in North Karachi fired volleys of bullets upon Zarina Colony, a shanty town in the foothills. A worker of the Muttahida Quami Movement was killed at around 10:30 a.m. when he came under fire.

Police said a sub-inspector and a constable were shot and wounded when law-enforcement personnel went to fetch the body.

The SP of North Karachi, Dr Farooq Ahmed, told Dawn that police and Rangers returned fire, forcing the gunmen to retreat. ‘Later, police and Rangers conducted a siege and search operation on the hills, arrested 16 people and seized some weapons,’ he added.

Witnesses said special commandos from Rangers also reached the troubled hills and flushed the armed men out of the area. They said a Rangers man was shot and wounded in the action.

Most of the violent incidents took place in Khawaja Ajmair Nagri, Surjani Town and New Karachi Industrial Area. The violence-hit areas wore a deserted look as shopkeepers pulled down their shutters and vehicular traffic disappeared.

An MQM worker was shot dead in Shah Faisal Colony. His body was first taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and then to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital for post-mortem.

Police surgeon Dr Hamid Padhiar told Dawn that 12 people were brought dead to the Abbasi Hospital. ‘Five bodies were later shifted to the JPMC,’ he added.

The director at the emergency centre of JPMC, Dr Seemin Jamali, told Dawn that 11 bodies and 18 wounded people were brought to the hospital. ‘Four wounded victims later died,’ she added.

Civil Hospital’s medico-legal officer Dr Sarwat Channa said that a man was brought dead from North Nazimabad and another man from Teen Hatti.

‘A man with a bullet wound was brought to the facility from Gulistan-i-Jauhar,’ he added. Vehicles were torched in North Karachi, Landhi, Malir and Al-Fallah.

The dead were identified as Zahoor Shah, Sanubar Khan, Din Mohammed, Javed, Jalil, Amjad, Mehmood, Shahid, Juma Khan, Sanwal, Dost Ali, Jameel, Sarfaraz, Khalid, Shah Khalid and Hanif.

Sources said that two bullet-riddled bodies were found at a post office in Sachal area. The bodies were taken to the JPMC late in the night.

WHO confirms 148 swine flu cases in nine countries

GENEVA -- A total of 148 laboratory-confirmed human cases of swine flu A/H1N1 infection have been officially reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) as of 19:00 GMT Wednesday, the UN agency said. Those cases were reported from nine countries, including 91 from the United States, with one death, and 26 from Mexico, with seven deaths, the agency said in a latest update.

The other seven countries that have reported laboratory-confirmed cases with no deaths include Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and Britain (5), the agency said.As the swine flu situation continues to get worse, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday raised the pandemic alert level to Phase 5, indicating that a full pandemic is imminent.

"I have decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from Phase 4 to Phase 5," announced WHO Director-General Margaret Chan at a teleconference for the media late Wednesday, following close consultations with international experts.The number of confirmed human swine flu cases in the U.S. has risen to 91, including five that need hospitalization, with a Mexican toddler becoming the first fatality from the deadly disease in the country, Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.

According to data posted on the CDC's website, the U.S. states with confirmed cases are: Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New York city, Ohio and Texas.

Mexico Limits Many Activities as Flu Alerts Are Increased

As the swine flu virus spread to new locations as far apart as Peru and Switzerland on Thursday, Mexicans braced for a national shutdown of offices, restaurants, schools, museum and even the stands of soccer stadiums in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

In a nationally televised speech Wednesday night, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that, as of Friday, many public services would be closed through Tuesday, encompassing a long holiday weekend. Most federal offices will be closed, restaurants, schools and museums will remain shuttered, and spectators will be barred from all professional soccer matches.

Churches are expected to be nearly empty on Sunday.

Officials in Asia and Europe also scrambled to confront the sickness, but Hong Kong’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, that “pandemic flu will continue to spread and Hong Kong is very likely to be affected.”

Senior European health officials prepared for emergency talks Thursday in Luxembourg to mold their own response, and governments in Asia stepped up preparations for a potential pandemic.

In Hong Kong, where health checks are being conducted on passengers arriving at the city’s airport, janitors put up fresh sheets of plastic film over elevator buttons so that any sick people pressing the buttons would not share their germs with too many people who pressed the same buttons later.

In China, the official Xinhua news agency reported that Vice Premier Li Keqiang had toured the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing on Wednesday and had called for manufacturers to produce more face masks, sterilization chemicals and flu medicines.

Mr. Li said that China still did not have any confirmed cases of swine flu, according to Xinhua.

The measures came after the World Health Organization raised its alert level on swine flu to Phase 5 on Wednesday, based on the flu’s continuing spread in the United States and Mexico. Phase 5, the next-to-highest level in the worldwide warning system alert system, has never been declared since the system was introduced in 2005 in response to the avian influenza crisis. Phase 6 means a pandemic is under way.

Worldwide, at least 12 countries have confirmed cases of swine flu. Switzerland became the fifth European country to report a case of the disease in a 19-year-old student, while in South America, Peru reported its first case, according to news reports.

“All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the W.H.O. director general, said at a late-night news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. While she emphasized the need for calm, at times she spoke as if a pandemic had already begun, saying, for instance, “W.H.O. will be tracking the pandemic.”

Governments around the world sought to balance precaution against panic, offering a raft of wildly differing responses.

In Britain on Thursday, authorities launched an advertising campaign urging people to sneeze into tissues and to wash their hands after doing so. The campaign was called “Catch it, bin it, kill it.”

But in Mexico, the epicenter of the disease, Mr. Calderón urged much broader precautions. People should stay inside their homes during the holiday hiatus, he said, and the shutdown and restrictions could possibly be extended further into next week.

The Mexican minister of health, Jose Cordova, said all nonessential federal services will shut down, and Mexico City extended the federal ban to include health clubs, gyms, museums and movie theaters.

Police stations, airports, bus stations and the capital’s subway system were to remain open under the federal plan, along with banks, food stores, pharmacies and gasoline stations.

Some 2,500 Mexicans have been sickened since the swine flu outbreak began last week in the town of La Gloria, 110 miles east of Mexico City. Mexico has reported just 99 confirmed cases of swine flu to the W.H.O., along with eight deaths, although as many as 168 people are suspected to have died from the disease there.

The only death from swine flu outside Mexico was reported Wednesday in the United States — a 23-month-old child from Mexico who was being treated in Houston.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 91 confirmed cases from 10 states, up from 64 cases in 5 states on Tuesday. The number of confirmed cases was almost certain to grow as laboratories completed further tests on cases now termed “likely” or “probable.”

The first infection in Switzerland was confirmed Thursday morning as health ministers from the European Union gathered in Luxembourg to coordinate efforts in how to manage the flu outbreak on the continent. Cases of swine flu have already been confirmed in Germany, Spain, Britain and Austria, and some of the ministers expected the flu to spread in the coming days.

Dr. Chan, in her remarks, emphasized that flu epidemics tended to take much higher death tolls in poor countries than in rich ones, and said her organization and others would need to make special efforts to help poorer nations.

She called for global solidarity, saying, “After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.”

President Obama, terming the outbreak “cause for deep concern but not panic,” took the unusual step Wednesday of using a prime-time televised news conference, convened to mark his 100th day in office, to deliver a public health message to the American people.

“Wash your hands when you shake hands, cover your mouth when you cough,” he said from the East Room of the White House. “It sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, take them out of school. If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don’t get on an airplane.”

With public health officials recommending that schools close if there are more confirmed or suspected cases, Mr. Obama urged parents and businesses to “think about contingency plans” in case of such closings. Government preparedness plans may include steps like ensuring that laboratories can test for the disease and that health systems can identify and treat cases, track an outbreak and prevent the virus from spreading in hospitals and clinics. Governments should also decide on measures similar to those already taken in Mexico, such as closing schools and discouraging or banning public gatherings.

“The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S.,” the C.D.C. said on its Web site. More hospitalizations and deaths are expected, the site said, because the virus is new and most people have no immunity to it.

The outbreak has caused such concern because officials have never seen this particular strain of the flu passing among humans before, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“There is no background immunity in the population, and it is spreading from human to human — all of which has the potential for a pandemic,” Dr. Fauci said.

The disease centers’ count of 91 confirmed cases in the United States did not include some later reports by states that confirmed cases after the C.D.C. tally was posted. In addition, there were suspected cases in Louisiana and Delaware. Kits being provided to the states and other countries will allow them to test for the virus on their own and obtain results within a few hours.

New York City added five new confirmed cases, bringing its total to 49. All have links to Mexico or St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, where the virus first surfaced in New York, health officials said. The city identified five more probable cases.

The total in Canada rose to 19, from 16. In Mexico, more than 150 people are suspected to have died from the flu, and almost 2,500 are thought to have been infected.

Kathleen Sebelius focused on the outbreak on Wednesday during her first news conference as the secretary of health and human services.

“We’re determined to fight this outbreak and do everything we can to protect the health of every American,” Ms. Sebelius said.

She noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended that schools close only if a student is found to be infected. More aggressive steps are under discussion, Ms. Sebelius said, but officials realize that school closings can cause problems for families.

“What happens to parents? Where do children go?” she asked.

Dr. Besser, who joined the news conference via a video feed, said the most recent cases included patients of a broad range of ages, with two-thirds of all cases occurring in people under 18.

“There have been five hospitalizations so far, including the child who died. But we have a number of suspect cases that have been hospitalized and we expect that number to go up,” Dr. Besser said.

Dr. Besser said that a quarter of the nation’s stockpile of 50 million treatments of antiviral medicines would be distributed to states by Sunday.

The United States has no plans to close international borders because, Dr. Besser said, such closings are not effective in slowing pandemics. When Hong Kong was hit with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, “increased border screening on entry and exit was not an effective way of identifying cases or preventing transmission,” he said.

Nonetheless, Customs and Border Protection agents have stepped up efforts to spot sick travelers and are passing out travel health advisories.

Some elected officials have begun to question the decision to leave the borders open. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was grilled by senators on Wednesday who asked whether her agency was doing enough to stop the virus from spreading from Mexico. The senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, asked several times why the administration had decided against closing the border and banning travel to Mexico.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine urged that customs officials inspect more thoroughly and that the agency consider using heat sensors that allow agents to detect fevers among travelers entering the country.

Pakistan : Help the displaced

Dawn Editorial
Even the conservative estimates are staggering. The UN’s World Food Programme is working with a figure in the region of 600,000 but it is believed that the number of internally displaced persons in the NWFP and the tribal belt could be as high as one million. Poor civilians have been caught in the crossfire between militants and security personnel, and also been used as human shields by the Taliban.

Hundreds of thousands have fled Waziristan, Bajaur, Darra Adamkhel, Swat, Kurram, Orakzai, Mohmand and now Buner and Lower Dir. Those fortunate enough to escape are living in appalling conditions in refugee camps or seeking shelter with relatives, often of straitened means. The government is right in asking for international assistance for these victims of the conflict raging in northern Pakistan. That said, its own track in providing succour to the displaced is anything but encouraging.

Granted that Islamabad and the government in Peshawar have much on their plate vis-à-vis the fight against militancy. But it is imperative that people in dire need are taken care of by the state. Failure to do so will breed more resentment which will be readily tapped by the Taliban. If abandoned by the state, children and youth who have grown up in conflict zones and now have no options may easily choose to side with the militants. That way they will gain an identity and a form of respect in certain circles. And they won’t go hungry either.

Take what happened in Bajaur which is to date perhaps the only real success story in the battle against the Taliban. Residents were promised a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction programme but little activity has been seen on the ground. This inaction could have severe repercussions. Already refugees from Bajaur have turned violent at the Jalozai camp in Nowshera because of the state’s failure to create conditions that would facilitate their return. How can these impoverished people be expected be move back to Bajaur when their houses have been destroyed and little is left of local infrastructure?

The government has to stop dragging its feet on this tinderbox issue. The scale of the problem is only going to increase if the recent operations in Dir and Buner are part of a wider, sustained strategy. Most Pakistanis applaud the government for finally taking a stronger line against the militants. But they do so from the comfort of their homes. The displaced who are forced to flee the theatre of battle may have a different take on the matter.