Monday, May 25, 2009

Taliban rob a child of his will to play

Daily Times
KARACHI: Mudassir Khan, aged nine, is playing with his cousins on a street in Sultanabad. Though his cousins seem to be enjoying each and every moment of the game, Mudassir’s face paints a different picture.

His movements lack the freedom visible in the other children. When asked why he is not enjoying the game, he murmurs, “I don’t want to play games.” Khan is one of the thousands of children forced to migrate to Karachi after the military operation was initiated in the area.

His father, Muzammal Khan, steps in to better explain Mudassir’s lack of interest in games. Taking the boy aside, he asks Mudassir to narrate his experiences of the Taliban but the child remains silent. “Once he was playing gulli danda, which was his favorite game, when a Talib slapped him and his friends,” reveals Muzzamil Khan, who used to run a medical store in Mingora.

“My son was not like this at all but the tormenting experiences of the past few months have scarred him deeply,” he adds, still trying to coerce the little boy to share his experiences. Mudassir’s eyes start to well up but casting an annoying look at his father, he manages to murmur, “He was very bad, very bad.”

“I was playing gulli danda when a man with a Kalashnikov and a stick in his hand came up to us. He slapped us because we were playing games of infidels,” he narrates, “The Talib said that infidels have created these games in order to deviate the attention of Muslim children and youth from jihad.” He adds that then the Talib forcefully took him to the mosque and since that day, he has never dared to play a game again.

However, the hatred for the Taliban that Mudassir now harbours was not always present. “They would teach me about religion and prayed five times a day,” he says. However, all that changed when the Taliban started beating up people.

He stated that his madrassah teacher once took his 13-year old schoolmate for jihad training. “Maulana sahib would give sermons on jihad, focusing on stories of the glorious past. That friend of mine wanted to be Muhammad Bin Qasim,” says the green-eyed Mudassir.

It may be noted here that after establishing themselves in the area, the Taliban are forcefully sending children to religious seminaries and mosques. Moreover, though the Taliban are against the modern education system and have destroyed many schools in the area, the son of Taliban spokesperson, Muslim Khan, is enrolled in the pharmacy department of the University of Peshawar, which is a co-education university. More interesting was the reply of Muslim Khan when this was pointed out, as he stated that “the study of medicine is allowed in Islam.”

“He is always nervous and jittery all the time,” Waqma, 28, Mudassir’s burqa-clad mother said, adding that the Mudassir’s face was red for quite some time after that slap.

When contacted for an expert’s opinion over the child’s ordeal, Psychologist Haleem Shah said that the child would not be able to recover any time soon. “If the situation is as the parents describe, it will take months for him to recover and possibly play again,” reckoned Shah.

As the children once again run towards the ground, Mudassir remains with his parents, softly whispering, “I don’t want to play.”

Taliban seeking money, men and weapons

PESHAWAR: The Taliban are seeking money, men and weapons from the residents of the conflict-hit areas, urging them to “live and die together” fighting against the security forces, a resident of Kanju town in Swat district said Monday.

“The Taliban appear to have been running short of money, men and weapons to fight the army for long as they are seeking a fighter from each family, a Kalashnikov, or a Rs 50,000 donation,” said Bakht Rawan, whose original name has been withheld for security reasons.

Kanju is strategically located south of Mingora and has access to the Kabal and Matta tehsils. The Taliban held the town before the security forces took it back on May 22.

Rawan said the Taliban held a jirga with residents of Hazara area (in Kabal tehsil) at a mosque on Saturday and told them they were running short of ammunition and also needed Kalashnikovs. They urged the people not to leave for safer places. “Let’s live and die together,” the Taliban commanders told the villagers who have however decided to migrate.

60-year old Swat maid walked 32 hours to safety

PESHAWAR: Sixty-year old maid Zarsanga walked 32 hours to reach a safe place after she abandoned her native area extremely scared amid the Taliban reign of terror. Being single and orphan, Zarsanga was a maid at the house of a well-known doctor since her childhood. She migrated from Saidu Sharif to Mardan after the doctor along with his family left for America because of the alarming security situation. The story of Zarsanga, one of the hundreds of thousands of Swati people who left their homes in quest for peace, is a tale of misery and trauma. Zarsanga was among a large number of those non-registered displaced people who luckily found shelter with some well-off and kind hearted local people. They have remained unnoticed unlike those living at relief camps who had their stories projected by the media to the world. After covering a long journey on foot and with little or no food and water "I fell unconscious on the road in Mardan with swollen feet and high fever," Zarsanga told APP in an interview. "A good human being named Jamil took me home after I was able to tell him my story," she said. "I will probably find no one beside my grave when I leave this world," Zarsanga said with tears trickling down her wrinkled cheeks. Zarsanga said she was now living with the hope that peace would return to Swat one day and things would become normal again paving way for the return of the displaced people. "I love every nook and corner of Swat. I hope to return home someday. I have no children or relatives to miss me but I greatly miss the surroundings where I spent my entire life." Describing the ordeal of Swatis, she said that people became mentally sick due to the "insurgency and cruelties perpetrated on innocent and fear stricken people in the valley by the Taliban." "They have been through horrible time." She affectionately praised the man who has given her shelter "Kind hearted Jamil is looking after me like I am her real mother." Like Zarsanga, hundreds of women at the IDP camps yearn for peace in their native land enabling their dignified return. "We don't need anything from the government except honorable return to our places as soon as possible", Zarsanga said. She hoped that the military operation would lead to establishment of peace in the bleeding valley. "We are praying for the success of operation and an end to our agony."

U.S. appeals to China to help stabilize Pakistan

Beijing, which is hesitant to get more deeply involved, is asked to provide training and even equipment to help Pakistan counter a growing militant threat.
The Obama administration has appealed to China to provide training and even military equipment to help Pakistan counter a growing militant threat, U.S. officials said.

The proposal is part of a broad push by Washington to enlist key allies of Pakistan in the effort to stabilize the country. The U.S. is seeking to persuade Islamabad to step up its efforts against militants, while supporting the fragile civilian government and the nation's tottering economy.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, has visited China and Saudi Arabia, another key ally, in recent weeks as part of the effort.

The American appeal to China underscores the importance of Beijing in security issues. Washington considers China to be the most influential country for dealing with isolated, militaristic North Korea. Beijing also plays a crucial role in the international effort to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

China traditionally has been reluctant to intervene in the affairs of other countries. However, Chinese officials are concerned about the militant threat near its western border, fearing it could destabilize the region and threaten China's growing economic presence in Pakistan.

A senior U.S. official acknowledged that China was hesitant to get more involved, but said, "You can see that they're thinking about it." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the subject.

U.S. officials believe China is skilled at counterinsurgency, a holdover of the knowledge gained during the country's lengthy civil war that ended with a communist victory in 1949. And with its strong military ties to Pakistan, U.S. officials hope China could help craft a more sophisticated strategy than Islamabad's heavy-handed approach.

The Pakistani military has used artillery and aircraft against Taliban extremists in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas in its ongoing offensive. "They're very focused on hardware," the senior U.S. official said of the Pakistanis. But the fighting has forced more than 2 million civilians to flee, United Nations officials estimate, and a humanitarian crisis looms.

The tide of displaced people could set off a backlash against the campaign among ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom already see the fight as driven by American, rather than Pakistani, interests.

China's strategic alliance with Islamabad dates to the 1960s. Beijing has sold Pakistan billions of dollars' worth of military equipment, including missiles, warships, and tanks.

China also has a huge economic presence in Pakistan. China's ambassador, Luo Zhaohui, said in a speech this month that there are an estimated 10,000 Chinese engineers and technicians working in the country.

But Beijing is increasingly concerned about the Pakistani insurgency, in part because Muslim separatists from the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang inhabited by Uighurs have trained in Pakistani camps and then returned to China.

Officials in Beijing also are concerned because of recurrent kidnappings and killings of Chinese workers in Pakistan. China has repeatedly pressed the Pakistani government to better protect its citizens.

Analysts say the Pakistani government launched an attack on radicals in the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007 in part because of pressure from China after several of its citizens were briefly kidnapped by militants. More than 100 people died in the assault, and Islamic militants say it represented a turning point in their struggle against the government.

Pakistani officials in Washington acknowledged a lengthy alliance with China.

"Pakistan and China have a time-tested bilateral relationship and Chinese support and cooperation have been crucial for Pakistan at many difficult times in our history," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. "At this moment too, we continue to look to China as a trusted friend and partner while laying the foundations of a more enduring strategic relationship with the U.S."

Chinese officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Stephen Cohen, a South Asia specialist at the Brookings Institution, said China and Saudi Arabia wield more influence with Pakistan than does the United States. As a consultant to the U.S. government, Cohen has urged American officials to try to enlist Beijing's help.

"China can be a positive influence," he said. But he added that there may be divisions within the Chinese government, and that the Chinese military, despite close ties to the Pakistani army, may be reluctant to intervene.

Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy, visited China on April 16, and officials of both countries said then that they had agreed to work together on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We came here to share views on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan because we share a common danger, a common challenge and a common goal," Holbrooke said at the time.

Lisa Curtis, a former congressional analyst now at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, said it would be difficult to persuade China to assume any military role.

But she said the Chinese are concerned about the spillover effects of the Pakistani insurgency.

"The Chinese may try to deal with this privately," she said. "They won't want to make any public statements that might embarrass the Pakistanis."

North Korea conducts 'Successful' underground 2nd Nuclear test

North Korea said it carried out a second and more powerful nuclear test on Monday, defying international pressure to rein in its nuclear programmes after years of six-nation disarmament talks. The hardline communist state, which stunned the world by testing an atomic bomb for the first time in October 2006, had threatened another test after the UN Security Council censured it following a long-range rocket launch in April. The North "successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. "The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology," it said. The United States, Britain, the European Union and others expressed concern about the test, which was confirmed by Russia's defence ministry, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency. "We are gravely concerned by North Korea's claims," a US State Department official said. "We are consulting with our six-party and UN Security Council partners on next steps." South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak convened an emergency National Security Council meeting and both South Korea and Japan announced the formation of government crisis teams. Japan said it would seek an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, which imposed sanctions on the North for its first test. "It is absolutely unacceptable. Japan will take stern action against North Korea," said Takeo Kawamura, the chief cabinet secretary. The KCNA report did not say where the test was conducted. South Korean officials said a tremor was detected around the northeastern town of Kilju, near where the first was staged. The Korea Meteorological Administration said the tremor measured 4.5 on the Richter Scale conmpared to 3.6 in October 2006. Yonhap news agency said the North also appears to have test-fired a short-range missile Monday from its launch site at Musudan-ri near Kilju. There was no immediate confirmation of that report. China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have been negotiating since 2003 to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for energy and security guarantees.
The negotiations led to an agreement signed in 2007, under which the North said it would dismantle its nuclear facilities. The deal bogged down last December over ways to verify the North's declared nuclear activities. In April the North irked the international community with a long-range rocket launch, a move that many nations said was actually a ballistic missile test. After the Security Council condemned the launch and tightened sanctions, the North vowed to conduct a second nuclear test as well as ballistic missile tests unless the world body apologised. It also announced that it was quitting the six-way talks, which are hosted by its closest ally China, and would restart its plutonium-making programme. Analysts believe the North has stockpiled enough plutonium for six to 12 small nuclear bombs. Its first test was seen as only partially successful, with a yield of less than one kiloton. KCNA said Monday's test had resolved "scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology." North Korea has frequently said it needs a nuclear deterrent to prevent any attack. It said Monday's test would "contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the region around it with the might of Songun (the army-first policy)." The North has expressed disappointment at the new US administration of President Barack Obama, calling it no better than its precedessor. "The second test was earlier than expected and reflects the North's growing anger at Washington," said Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul's Dongguk University. "Or some internal problems may be forcing Pyongyang to take a strong attitude." Leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, was widely reported to have suffered a stroke last August, prompting speculation overseas about the succession. The North's position has noticeably hardened since then. Monday's test was staged while South Korea was in mourning for former president Roh Moo-Hyun, who leapt to his death Saturday after being questioned in a corruption probe. Roh had always championed engagement with the North, and Kim Jong-Il sent condolences to his family.

CD center blown up by militants in Peshawar

Unknown militants blew up a CD center near Bahadurkalay- Kohat Road. Police sources told a private TV that miscreants planted explosives outside a CD shop that went off with a loud explosion damaging CD shop and adjacent shops. No causality was reported in the blast. Police have registered the case against unknown miscreants.