Sunday, May 24, 2009

Refugees survive on food 'cows won't eat'

PPP-S, ANP slam ban on IDPs entry

PESHAWAR: The Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (PPP-S) and the Awami National Party (ANP) have resented the decision by the Sindh and Punjab governments to ban entry of displaced persons from the troubled areas of NWFP.

The PPP-S staged a protest rally Sunday, which was led by the party provincial president MPA Sikandar Sherpao, general secretary Bakht Baidar, Muhammad Ali Khan, Fazal Rahman Nono, Malik Zawar and Alamzeb Umerzai.

The protesters were carrying banners and placards inscribed with slogans expressing solidarity with the displaced persons and condemning Sindh and Punjab governments for banning the IDPs entry into these provinces.

Meanwhile, provincial culture secretary of the ANP Hameedur Rahman Mohammadzai criticised the decision of the Sindh and Punjab governments. In a statement, Mohammadzai said banning the entry of IDPs from the conflict zones into Punjab, Sindh or the federal areas was a violation of the 1973 Constitution and human rights.

“Being the free citizens of Pakistan, the displaced people have the right to go and live anywhere in the country,” said the ANP leader, who added that under articles 15 and 25 of the Constitution, movement of the citizens could not be restricted in the country.

He said the decision would create bad feelings among the IDPs as well as people of NWFP that could prove harmful for the unity of the federating units.Mohammadzai demanded of the president and prime minister to take notice of the step-motherly treatment with Pakhtuns who were passing through a critical phase and fighting on the front line to save rest of the country.

Nightmare of war grips Pakistan's children

Pakistan, Iran finally sign gas pipeline accord

ISLAMABAD: After fourteen years of delayed negotiations over the Iran–Pakistan–India (IPI) gas pipeline project, Pakistan and Iran have finally signed the initial agreement in Tehran on Sunday.

The project, termed as the peace pipeline by officials from both countries, has been signed by President Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran on the sidelines of the tripartite summit on Afghanistan security in Tehran.

However, talking to the Iranian official news agency IRNA the Iran’s Oil Ministry had said that negotiations on the ‘Peace Pipeline’ project were still underway between Iranian and the Pakistani delegations, which would allow Iran’s gas to be exported to Pakistan.

The Pakistani delegation negotiating the project was led by the advisor to the prime Minister on Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain, who is accompanied by petroleum ministry officials and a technical team headed the managing director Inter State gas Systems (ISGC), Syed Hasan Nawab.

The ISGS is a semiautonomous body looking after Pakistani interests in the international gas pipeline projects to import gas from Iran and Turkmenistan.

The federal cabinet had earlier agreed to allow the import of one billion cubic feet of gas at the rate of 80 per cent of the price of crude oil.

‘The next phase was to sign the gas sales purchase agreement with Iran,’ member of the delegation told Dawn.

Official sources said that soon after signing of the gas sales purchase agreement work would start at the designing of the project.

‘Pakistan has already appointed a German designer is ‘ILF’ for the pipeline,’ petroleum ministry sources said, adding that the pipeline would enter Pakistan from its border near Gwader area to Nawabshah, which is the hub of gas pipelines in the country.

The IPI project was conceived in 1995 and after almost 13 years India finally decided to quit the project in 2008 despite a severe energy crises in that country. Pakistan is also facing severe criticism from the US over any kind of economic deal with Iran.

Official sources say that the sudden change of stance from the Pakistani government and the pace of developments at the project suggest that the strong US opposition has softened.

According to the initial design of the project, the 2,700 kilometre-long pipeline would cover around 1,100 kilometres in Iran, 1000 kilometres in Pakistan and around 600 kilometres in India, and the size of the pipeline was estimated to be 56 inches in diameter.

‘We are still hoping that India would join the project but in other case the size of the pipeline would be reduced to 42 inches as initially estimated,’ an official of ISGS said.

However sources in the ISGS said designing and finalising the reports of financial consultants would take up to one year and the work over the project can be started by mid of 2010.The estimated project completion time is between five years.

Sources in the petroleum ministry said that despite cabinet approval Pakistan would negotiate to get the gas prices lowered.

The official report prepared by the petroleum ministry and the ISGS said that the gas would be purchased for power generation and it would enable Pakistan to generate 5,000 megawatts (MW) power.

The petroleum ministry also said that power generation and usage of imported Iranian gas by heavy industries would result in annual saving of up to $1 billion in furnace oil imports, if the crude oil prices are at $50 per barrel.

The reports and calculations forwarded by the ISGS further said that there would be an annual saving of $735 million, compared to if the equivalent quantity of LNG was imported for power generation, and the saving will increase in line with the hike in global crude oil price.

Pakistani troops retake 'bloody intersection'

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani troops battling the Taliban have captured several points in the Swat Valley's main town, the army said Sunday, including a spot nicknamed "bloody intersection" because militants routinely dumped the mutilated bodies of their victims there.

مینگورہ کی گلیوں میں دست بدست لڑائی‘ 24 عسکریت پسند جاں بحق ۔۔۔ شدت پسندوں کو قاضی کورٹس میں پیش کریں گے : ترجمان سرحد حکومت

سوات میں جاری آپریشن کے دوران سکیورٹی فورسز مینگورہ کے شہر میں داخل ہو گئی ہیں جہاں اب گلیوں میں دست بدست لڑائی ہو رہی ہے۔

Elsewhere in the northwest, helicopter gunships pounded alleged militant hide-outs in a tribal region, killing at least 18 people, while police said they had captured an important militant commander and six other Taliban fighters.
Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters have long had hide-outs in Pakistan's northwest. The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to use force to root out the insurgents, who are often involved in attacks on U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The operation in Swat has strong support from Washington, and retaking Mingora, the valley's main commercial hub and urban center, is considered critical to its success.
A military statement Sunday said forces moving from street to street secured eight crossings while encountering at least 12 roadside bombs. One secured spot is Green Chowk, which earned the "bloody intersection" tag due to the terrifying spectacle of the Taliban victims.
Five suspected militants were killed in various parts of Mingora while 14 others were arrested, the army said. Overall in the valley, 10 militants were killed in the past 24 hours while three security troops died, it said.
The army has said 10,000 to 20,000 residents are still stranded in the town, which normally has a population of at least 375,000.
One trapped civilian told The Associated Press via phone Saturday night that gunshots were ringing through the air, first continuously then at intervals. He said he had tried to flee the city twice but failed due to the fighting and lack of transportation.
"I will try to leave again whenever I get another chance," said Fazal Wadood, a local leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party. "It is like inviting death to stay here anymore."
The army also said that its forces had entered Piochar village, a hub in a remote part of Swat that is considered the rear base for Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah. A large cache of arms was recovered from suspected militant hide-outs and a bomb-making factory was unearthed, the military statement said.
Officials have downplayed reports that the army would soon expand the offensive to the lawless, semiautonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. However, violence has continued to flare in those areas.
On Sunday morning in the Orakzai tribal region, helicopter gunships pounded suspected militant targets in multiple locations, including a religious school, local government official Mohammad Yasin said.
At least six civilians were among the 18 dead, he said, adding that the targeted spots were strongholds of Hakeemullah Mehsud, a deputy to Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Hundreds fled the area amid the fighting, he said.
Also Sunday, police in nearby Charsadda district said they caught seven Taliban militants during a raid on a religious school. They included Qari Ihsanullah, a Taliban commander suspected in attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Charsadda police Chief Riaz Khan said.
"We recovered three suicide jackets, explosives and assault rifles," he said of the Saturday night raid.
The military says about 1,100 suspected insurgents have died so far in the monthlong offensive in Swat and neighboring districts. It has not given any tally of civilian deaths, and it's unclear how it is separating regular citizens killed from militants. Residents fleeing the region have reported dozens of ordinary Pakistanis killed in the fight.
Some 1,500 to 2,000 hard-core insurgent fighters remain in Swat, the army says. Information provided by the military and civilians is nearly impossible to verify independently because of limited access to the area.
The offensive has also triggered an exodus of nearly 1.9 million refugees, more than 160,000 to relief camps. Some fear the generally broad public support for the military campaign could drain away if the refugees' plight worsens or if the army gets bogged down too long.

Iran hosts regional summit on war against drugs, extremism

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a summit with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts on Sunday aimed at finding ways to combat extremism and drug smuggling in the region.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari both headed high-level delegations.

The summit came after Afghanistan's largest-ever drugs seizure in an operation that ended on Saturday in a Taliban stronghold and opium-production centre in the south of the country, in which troops killed 60 militants.

‘Today the three nations are suffering from drug and human trafficking which has put pressure on the three countries,’ Ahmadinejad told the gathering.

He said the region also faced other problems such as ‘intervention and extremism’ which have been ‘imposed on us from far away.’

‘They have been imposed by people who have no close historical or cultural proximity to us... and the foreign troops in the region who came here under the pretext of bringing security have also not succeeded,’ Ahmadinejad said referring to US-led forces in Afghanistan.

The Afghan foreign ministry said on Saturday that the summit aimed to create a ‘mechanism’ for regular high-level consultation between the three neighbours.

It would underline a shared commitment to ‘eradicating extremism, terrorism and drugs which run counter to Islamic beliefs and morals, and the culture and traditions of the three Islamic countries’, a ministry statement said.

The three governments also want to forge closer cooperation in the fields of agriculture, commerce, transport, health and energy, it added.

Ahmadinejad, Karzai and Zardari met less than three months ago in Tehran along with leaders of other neighbouring states for a regional economic summit that pledged to help rebuild war-shattered Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the source of 90 per cent of the world's opium, most of which is converted into heroin inside the country and smuggled out through Pakistan and Iran, where drug use is growing.

The Afghan military announced on Saturday that it had used air strikes to destroy 92 tonnes of drugs, heroin-processing chemicals and bomb-making materials in the southern province of Helmand.

The Tehran summit comes as the administration of US President Barack Obama has been working towards engaging Tehran in efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

Iran also attended a US-backed international conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31.

Engaging Iran is part of Obama's strategy to secure the help of all Afghanistan's neighbours in reconstructing the Muslim country which has been battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency boosted by rising militancy across the border in Pakistan.

Iran has not had diplomatic relations with the United States for nearly three decades, and was included in former president George W. Bush's so-called ‘axis of evil’ along with North Korea and Iraq.

Despite their rivalry, Washington and Tehran are both sworn enemies of the Taliban who ruled in Kabul from 1996 to 2001.

Shia Iran, which has close ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan, has long suffered from the effects of opium production in its eastern neighbour, with easily available heroin fuelling a big rise in drug use at home.