Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Troops struggle to regain Buner

ISLAMABAD - Director-General ISPR Maj-Gen Ather Abbas on Wednesday said foreign militants arrested by Pakistan security forces in the military operation in Malakand Division had been identified as Arabs, Afghans and Afghan Uzbeks.
“They have been arrested from different parts of Malakand Division and are being interrogated,” Gen Ather said while talking to TheNation.
He said security forces had killed 1,057 miscreants in Swat, Dir and Buner since April 27, while 58 security personnel had embraced martyrdom and 187 got injured.
Earlier, in his Press briefing, he said security forces had successfully cleared Taliban stronghold of Sultanwas, a small town in the northwest of Buner district, on Tuesday night after intense battles that resulted in killing of 80 miscreants. He said the troops had been fighting against militants in Sultanwas for some time.
Six vehicles belonging to militants and seven bombs were destroyed during the operations, he said, adding that the security forces were investigating the source who provided police-like vehicles and police uniforms to the militants. He said the security forces had also removed several landmines laid by the militants.
Answering a question, he said Pakistan was facing threats from two fronts, one from militants and other from country’s Eastern border, and Armed Forces of the country were being prepared and trained to tackle these threats.
To another question, the DG ISPR said it was still not confirmed whether Taliban leader Fazlullah had been killed during the operation, adding that the forces had targeted his hideouts.
He said that 10 to 15 per cent civilian population of Swat was still residing there and declined to unveil a time frame of the completion of the ongoing Rah-e-Rast Operation. He said the insurgency in Swat and other parts of Malakand division had started before 2007.
To yet another question, Gen Ather Abbas said all necessary steps had been taken to stop militants from fleeing to other sensitive areas, including Hazara division.
Agencies add: The government has still fully to assert control in the district of Buner, military officials told a visiting team of BBC journalists on Wednesday.
The army is conducting a big offensive against Taliban militants in Buner.
The BBC said fighting is continuing in two villages and the area is effectively a war zone. Many areas are deserted and remaining residents are shaken by curfews and power cuts.
Three weeks into the assault, the BBC says that it is clear that the Army is not in full control even if there also is little overt sign of any militant presence.
While some of Buner’s residents are starting to return in trickles - mostly farmers fearing that their crops will die - the main town of Daggar is mainly deserted, with vehicles and a fuel station destroyed.
Hospitals have remained open but power is erratic following recent fighting with the Taliban.
According to the BBC, the Army is not manning checkpoints in Buner, preferring instead to position themselves in the hills and fire warning shots at people who try to pass through during the hours of the curfew.
Meanwhile, the ISPR confirmed that the security forces have successfully secured the Binai Baba Ziarat, near Shangla, a stronghold and a main terrorist den in the area. During the operation, the terrorists suffered heavy causalities.
In Matta, the security forces after crushing stiff resistance by militants, fanned them out and took over the portions in the town.
The Army spokesman said operation was successfully underway in Peochar, Takhtaband and Kanju.
In the Piochar area, the search and destroy operations by the security forces were underway while clearance of compounds and houses in Matta is also in progress.
Search and cordon operation also continued at Kanju where three soldiers were injured during the operation.
In Takhtaband, clearance operation of the village is in progress where one soldier embraced shahadat while six others were injured.
According to a private TV channel, after encircling Mingora, the forces are advancing on the town from three directions and it is expected that soldiers would soon enter the town. Forces bombed militants hideouts in Qambar area on the outskirts of Mingora, leaving over a dozen of them dead.
In Brakot tehsil, militants attacked security forces and seven of them, including their commander, were killed in the ensuing battles. Sporadic clashes were continuing between the forces and militants in Kanju and Kozabandi areas.
Entire Swat Valley was under curfew, which is adding to the miseries of over 200,000 people still present there.
After clearing many Taliban strongholds and supply depots in Swat’s mountains, soldiers are battling militants in its towns where many thousands of civilians are believed to be hiding.
Abbas said clashes had erupted in three towns in Swat as soldiers conducted search and cordon operations.
The military wanted to finish the offensive as quickly as possible and minimise casualties among civilians who had been warned to stay away from the militants, he said.

The world needs peace, social justice and health in the face of the crisis

GENEVA— Cuba stated today at the World Health Assembly that the crises currently affecting the world require a system of peace based on social justice and the guarantee of access to health as a fundamental right for all.

Speaking in this Swiss city at the 62nd session of the annual forum, José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, Cuban minister of public health, also emphasized the importance of solidarity and harmony with Mother Nature.

He stressed the right of all human beings to medical attention and the importance of recovering the human condition of societies and peoples, in order to avoid them being reduced to simple consumers or to merchandise, Prensa Latina reports.

Backed by Cuba’s position as current president of the Non-Aligned Movement, Balaguer Cabrera stated that the group considers the present economic and financial situation to be one of the most serious threats to the world.

He expressed his condolences over the loss of human lives as a result of Influenza A (H1N1), and particularly to the sister people of Mexico, one of the hardest hit by this virus.

He recalled that regarding the current world financial crisis, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, has affirmed that in addition to this cyclical situation, our world is also threatened by unemployment, ruin and fabulous losses of assets and wealth.

Balaguer, likewise a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba, underlined that despite all the difficulties his country faces, Cuba ended 2008 with an infant mortality rate of 4.7 per 1,000 live births and a life expectancy rate of 77.97 years.

Clinton Says US Losing Media War in Afghanistan, Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is losing the media war in Afghanistan and Pakistan - something she said must be reversed.

She told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday that militants broadcasting from radio equipment on the backs of pickup trucks are threatening and intimidating people.

She says while they are spreading what she called the "worst kind of disinformation" they have been more effective than the U.S. when it comes to strategic communications.

Secretary Clinton says as a result, the Obama administration is revamping its communications strategy - looking at new ways to directly reach people in areas where militants are active - including on their cell phones.

Clinton says the U.S. must not lose the "information war" in the region, and much do a better job at communicating its values and ideals to Afghans and Pakistanis.

She is seeking $48.6 billion in State Department funding for 2010, a seven percent increase over 2009 funding levels. Clinton also says the State Department will work side-by-side with the Defense Department to promote U.S. interests and security in the region.

Humanitarian crisis worsens in Swat

Two million people have been displaced in northwest Pakistan and fears are raised more could be fleeing after the president said the offensive against the Taliban would be expanded to include Waziristan.

The government has set up camps, but a vast majority of the displaced are staying with relatives or in private accommodation.

Asif Ali Zardari, the president, was scheduled to convene a high-level meeting of government and UN officials on Wednesday on relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, said Pakistan was fighting the Taliban on two fronts - militarily in the mountains and in trying to cope with the humanitarian crisis.

For her part, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, pledged $110m in humanitarian aid on Tuesday to Pakistan as part of Washington's new strategy for helping Islamabad counter the Taliban.

Meat and supplies

The funds would be used to deliver tents, FM radios, meat, water lorries, generators and other supplies, Clinton said.

Some of the money would also be spent on buying Pakistani wheat to boost the local economy.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said the amount was not near to enough of what Pakistan needs as fighting between government fighters and the Taliban appears to be spreading.

"People from Matta, who had endured weeks of curfews, are now escaping over the mountains. Families are being separated from each other and it's another humanitarian catastrophe unfolding there," Hyder said.

"If the government offensive will be extended, it will be become a very serious issue to contain."

Hyder said it is unclear how the aid money will be used.

Hyder further said: "In human terms, the catastrophe that is unfolding is unprecedented. The number of IDP is expected to grow larger.

"We have indications from South Waziristan, from the Mehsud area which is controlled by Baitullah Mehsud, supposed to be the commander of the overall Taliban, that he will continue his struggle.

"We do have indications that thousands of people are now leaving the Mehsud area.

"They are not being helped entirely by the government. The people of this country are going out of their way to give them some kind of shelter."

'Horrible speed'

Rashid Khalikov, director of the United Nations' humanitarian office in New York, has said that aid workers are struggling to reach many of those who fled as the number of displaced increased with "absolutely horrible speed."

The UN estimates that about 1.4 million people have been displaced since fighting in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) started at the end of April.

That estimate is in addition to about 550,000 people already displaced by fighting across the NWFP and in other Pakistani regions.

John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, has said only about 20 per cent of displaced civilians are inside about 24 refugee camps at the moment.

Pakistan's military has said up to 15,000 troops are fighting 4,000 well-armed Taliban in Swat.

Gen Kayani chairs meeting to review operation

RAWALPINDI:Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaz Kayani presided over a high level meeting at General Headquarters here on Wednesday.

The meeting discussed the counterinsurgency drive in Swat and other areas and also reviewed the matters related to rehabilitation of the displaced persons.

The army chief lauded the progress in the operation and high morale of the military.

He also directed for providing all possible facilities to the affected persons on emergency basis.