Saturday, May 23, 2009

PPP restores Aitzaz’s CEC membership

KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has restored the Central Executive Committee (CEC)’s membership of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan here on Saturday.According to sources, the Senator and the leader of PPP Islamuddin Shaikh told Geo news that the President Asif Ali Zardari and the Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan held talks lasting three hours yesterday wherein all the conflicts and complaints were settled.Following the successful talks, the co-chairman of PPP Asif Ali Zaradri announced the endorsement of the restoration of PPP’s CEC membership of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, sources added.

Why break the habit of a lifetime?

PESHAWAR: The Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees (CAR) staff has arrested four officials deputed at the Jalozai camp on charges of stealing items meant for the IDPs, stated a press release issued here.

The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the NWFP government has taken strict notice of complaints by IDPs about misuse of relief items being provided by various donor agencies and philanthropists, and directed the security agencies to arrest all those found guilty of selling food and other items intended for the displaced families.

On the instructions of Provincial Relief Commissioner and In charge of ERU, Muhammad Azam Khan, the CAR officials arrested Sub-Inspector Attiqur Rehman, two storekeepers Inayat Khan and Musa Khan, Food Constable Murad Khan and Junior Clerk Nawabzada, stealing 36 steel plates, 3 tarpaulins, 60 packets of biscuits and 20kg of sugar. They were carrying the stolen items in the car of Attiqur Rehman when the security officials intercepted them. Clerk Nawabzada reportedly fled the scene.

The ERU chief has issued instructions of zero tolerance for corruption and dereliction of duty by officials deputed in the IDPs camps in various parts of the province.

A strict vigil will be kept on the authorities discharging duties at the IDPs camps. The ERU has been set up by the NWFP government for monitoring the relief operation for the IDPs from Malakand division where the security forces have been carrying out a big operation against miscreants.

School blown up in Mohmand

Suspected Taliban blew up a government high school in Ambar tehsil of Mohmand Agency, a private TV channel reported on Saturday. According to the channel, the Taliban had planted explosives in the school building in Moosa Kaur area of the tehsil and detonated them late on Friday. The explosion destroyed the campus, it said, but no casualties were reported. daily times monitor

Children deal with the trauma of living in refugee camps

YAR HUSSAIN CAMP: Nabila Bibi sits in a tent in the blistering heat thinking about the dolls she left behind at home in the Pakistani mountains where the army and Taliban rebels are killing each other.

Rosy-cheeked Nabila understands nothing about Islamist insurgents and Pakistan's latest military offensive against them, which the United Nations said has displaced around 1.5 million people this month alone.

She is more concerned about her ‘lonely’ dolls. ‘I am very upset to be here. I feel all alone because my dolls are not with me. Is there someone who can bring these dolls from my house?’ Nabila asks her elder sister.

Nabila, 12, and her family were living outside the town of Mingora in the northwest Swat valley until they fled to the Yar Hussain camp in fear of their lives.

The dusty camp was set up by the government in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with the help of the UN refugee agency on the outskirts of the town of Swabi, sheltering about 1,200 families in the same number of tents.

‘It is very hot here. I have no friends nor is there any proper playing field like the one I had in front of my house,’ said Nabila, who is taking classes at a temporary school in the camp.

The UN children's agency UNICEF, deeply concerned about the psychological toll on children displaced by the operation to flush out the militants, said it was providing education and recreation in 13 camps where families are holed up.

‘It is vital for children to cope with the trauma of displacement,’ UNICEF spokeswoman Antonia Paradela told AFP.

She said counselling services for women and children are available in all those camps, with trained staff identifying children who have been damaged mentally and helping them cope with a predicament which is none of their doing.

‘Children have also been provided toys, pencils and drawing paper to help them regain confidence,’ Paradela said.

But for all these initiatives, many youngsters in Yar Hussain look unsettled and some plain unhappy.

‘I miss my friends with whom I used to play cricket. I am a big fan of leg spinner cricketing hero Shahid Afridi,’ said Nauman Ali, 16, a carpenter from Mingora, Swat's main town.

‘I wish he would visit me in this camp. I like him because he is also a good batsman. He has a lovely style of hitting sixes.’ Nauman looked sceptical when asked if he thought he would go home soon.

‘I really don't know when I will be able to go back home and play cricket with my friends.’ Jawad Khan, a third grade pupil, said he wanted to become a doctor.

‘How can I continue my studies in an area where bombs and grenades explode daily? Stories about a group of people who slit the throats of their brothers scare me a lot,’ said Jawad, apparently referring to Taliban rebels.

‘I have a few friends from my area in this camp and we all agree these are dirty people,’ he added while carrying his half-naked infant sister.

Six-year-old Nadia Khan, meandering with her mother through the camp, where long queues of men and children formed at lunch time, repeatedly begged to be let out the camp.

‘I want to go home and play with my friends, please take me back,’ she pleaded with her mother in broken Urdu.

Despite severe irritation in her eyes caused by a dust storm, Nadia was hungry—even if the dish of spicy rice with chickpeas was hardly mouth-watering.

To help alleviate their suffering, Pakistani charity Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) plans to create special play areas.

‘It is a major disaster. Children in the camps need our help to come out of the psychological stress,’ spokesman for SPARC, Kashif Mirza, told AFP.

‘We plan to create play areas and organise painting competitions in the camps for displaced children,’ he added ahead of a SPARC fund-raising campaign.

Shahid Khan, an eighth grade student, said the fighting had ‘shattered’ his dreams. But he was resolute nonetheless. ‘I want to become an army officer. I like their uniform, I like their discipline,’ he said.

‘I am determined to continue my studies. If this is not possible in Mingora, I will ask my father to send me to another city where I can complete my studies and join the army.’

Anti-drug effort in Afghanistan a failure: US admiral

WASHINGTON (Agencies): NATO has failed to stem the vast opium trade in Afghanistan that helps finance Taliban insurgents despite an eight-year effort, the top US military officer said. Countering narcotics networks is crucial to weakening the Taliban and allied insurgent groups, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing. “Strategically my view is it has to be eliminated,” Mullen said. “We have had almost no success in the last seven or eight years doing that, including this year’s efforts,” he said. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw material for heroin across Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East while cash from the trade helps insurgents buy weapons, according to officials. The Taliban, ousted from power seven years ago by a US-led coalition, has been reaping close to 100 million dollars (77 million euros) a year from the opium trade. A key element in tackling the problem was to offer Afghan farmers alternatives to the opium crop, the admiral said. “We’ve got to have a concerted effort, not only the United States, the international community, to displace it (opium crop) and to do it in a way that makes sense,” Mullen said. Officials in President Barack Obama’s administration say they want to emphasize alternative crops and avoid aggressive eradication operations that could alienate Afghans. Mullen said NATO-led forces have stepped up operations against drug networks after the alliance last year eased rules for targeting narcotics rings. “Recent rules of engagement have allowed us to go after labs, people associated with labs,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “That’s a step in the right direction but until we are able to execute a comprehensive agricultural strategy, it’s going to be very difficult to really have a strategic impact on that.” The bulk of Afghanistan’s opium production is based in the south of the country, which is also the heart of the Taliban-led insurgency. Obama has ordered more than 21,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, with most of the extra troops deploying to the south.

Troops enter Mingora, fierce street fights erupt

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani security forces entered Mingora, the Swat Valley's main city, on Saturday and killed at least 17 Taliban militants as a new phase of their offensive against the militants began, the military said.

Chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said parts of Mingora had already been cleared and that 17 militants, including an important commander, were killed during the most recent fighting of Pakistan's northwest offensive.

The ground assault on Mingora, a city with an estimated population of around 300,000 - of whom many have fled - marks the most crucial part of the military's blistering offensive against the Taliban in the scenic valley.

'Today the most important phase of operation Rah-e-Rast, the clearance of Mingora, has commenced,' the military said in a statement on its website.

'In the last 24 hours, security forces have entered Mingora; 17 miscreants-terrorists, including important miscreant commander were killed,”added the statement, written in English.

The military reported intense exchanges of fire and said one would-be suicide bomber was shot dead and that another 'suicide vehicle' rigged with explosives had been destroyed.

Pakistani troops had been slowly tightening their encirclement of the city for days and Abbas said Saturday that militant supplies had been cut off.

'Mingora was surrounded from four directions and militant supplies were cut off,' Abbas told a news conference.

The prospect of an assault on Mingora, which has loomed for days, has raised fears of a bloody battle and the possibility of civilian casualties.

US-based Human Rights Watch earlier this week quoted residents as saying the Taliban had mined Mingora and 'prevented many civilians from fleeing, using them as 'human shields' to deter attack.'

The group also said Pakistani forces 'appeared to have taken insufficient precautionary measures in aerial and artillery attacks that have caused a high loss of civilian life.'

Pakistani commanding officers have stressed that soldiers are under top-level orders to avoid collateral damage and not to use either artillery or air strikes in built-up areas.

Army commences operation in Mingora

Pakistan Army has commenced the operation for the clearance of Mingora, chief town of Swat, besides claiming of killing more 17 miscreants in last 24 hours of ongoing operation in the area, report said. Briefing the newsmen here Saturday along with Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira, Director General ISPR Maj. Gen. Athar Abass said that the security forces have been cordoned off Mingora city while the troops are engaged in battling with the militants in the streets of city’s outskirts. He said that the forces have cleared the area of Mingora from Circuit House to Matkan. He said that the land route between Matta and Peochar have also been restored as the forces have assumed control of the only bridge connecting the two valleys, known as Vinnay bridge.