Sunday, May 31, 2009

Continuous curfew, power suspension

PESHAWAR: People stranded in Mingora city said they were living without food, water and medicines for the previous two days. Asking for emergency assistance, particularly food and water, the besieged people said the continuous disruption of power supply had rendered them without drinking water.

Engr Siddiq Akbar is head of one of the trapped families, who managed to establish a contact with his family members who left Mingora 15 days ago to take refuge with relatives in Mardan. He said the people were under virtual siege and they could not come out of their houses because of the continuous curfew.

Requesting for immediate assistance from the government to ensure their survival, Engr Akbar said the militants had fled and they could be seen nowhere in the city now. He said the hospitals were closed because the staff had already left and the sick and injured people were facing serious problems in getting treatment. “We’re applying homemade medications to cure our sick children and elderly people,” he said.

About the provincial government’s claims regarding sending truckloads of food items to Mingora, the stranded person said not a single morsel of food had reached the people stuck up in the city. “We tried to offer the Juma prayers at the Allah-o-Akbar Mosque in our mohallah, but we were not allowed to go there because of the curfew,” said the man, whose half family had migrated to Mardan and put on with a relative.

He said they could not leave their houses to get food or water because three people had so far been killed for violating the curfew. “I request the elected representatives from Swat as to when would they visit us and extend a helping hand in this hour of trial. We’re awaiting a silent death, but those elected to the assemblies by the people of this unfortunate land can’t move from their offices or fortified houses to bail us out,” said the aggrieved man.

People from Islampura village, also known as the craft village for its unique handicrafts, also complained about the acute shortage of food items, medicines and potable water. Located in the neighbourhood of Saidu Sharif, dwellers of Islampura village said they were without food, water, medicines and electricity. The villagers had even run out of fodder for cattle and many animals had so far died.

Both the villagers and their animals would die if emergency assistance were not provided, said the villagers in a telephonic conversation. They said their children were extremely terrified and could not sleep all the night.

The villagers asked the government to relax the curfew and allow transportation of food items and medicines to avoid an eminent human catastrophe in the city of Mingora and adjacent villages.

Security forces had launched operation in Swat on May 8 while curfew was imposed in the city of Mingora and other parts of the restive valley on May 4. More than 500,000 people managed to flee the valley, but thousands are still stuck up or stayed back to guard their houses.

Soldiers hunt Taliban fighters as Pakistan says victory near
PESHAWAR: Pakistan's defence secretary said on Sunday that a month-long offensive to crush Taliban fighters in northwest Swat could end within days, as fierce fighting spilled into a nearby tribal area.

Swat valley's main town Mingora is back in government hands, the military announced on Saturday, and security officials said they were now pursuing the top leadership of the hardline Taliban movement into the nearby mountains.

Secretary of Defence Syed Athar Ali told a security forum in Singapore that three targeted northwest districts were almost clear of Taliban rebels.

"Operations in Swat, Buner and adjoining areas have almost met complete success," he said.

"Only five to ten percent of the job is remaining and hopefully within the next two to three days these pockets of resistance will be cleared."

However, chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP that it was impossible to estimate when the offensive would end.

"The operation is continuing in all of the areas and at this stage we cannot give any timeframe," he said.

The army remains locked in battle in some areas, but the fall of Mingora was a critical milestone in an offensive launched after the Taliban thrust to within 100 kilometres of Islamabad in April.

Pakistan's military also reported that 25 militants and seven soldiers were killed in clashes in South Waziristan near the Afghan border, a bolt-hole for Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants south of the current army bombardment.

"Miscreants attacked a security forces checkpost last night (Saturday) in Spinkai Raghzai, South Waziristan agency. The attack was repulsed successfully, inflicting heavy casualties on militants," it said in a statement.

Fifteen militants and three soldiers died in the clash in Spinkai Raghzai, while elsewhere in the semi-autonomous tribal area 10 insurgents and four troops including a lieutenant died when rebels attacked a military convoy.

Civilians have started fleeing the area fearing a fresh military onslaught, but the army has denied an imminent assault on Waziristan, where militants branded by Washington as the greatest terror threat to the West are holed up.

The United States, which is firmly backing the current military drive, had warned that the rebels threaten Pakistan's very existence.

Officials have said that lower-ranking Taliban leaders had been killed but it was harder to get to the top leaders, who had a network of hardcore militants around them and had slipped into the rugged mountain terrain.

"They will be eliminated wherever we find them," said one military official, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media, adding: "We believe that they are somewhere in the mountains."

Pakistan has slapped a 600,000-dollar price on the head of firebrand Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah for masterminding the nearly two-year uprising in the valley to enforce sharia law.

The government has also offered rewards for 21 rebel chiefs - wanted dead or alive - from Swat. The military claims to have killed 1,244 militants since the offensive began, although the numbers are impossible to verify.

As the government ups its campaign to stamp out the militants, fears are growing of a wave of revenge attacks.

The northwestern capital Peshawar and the eastern cultural centre of Lahore have both been rocked by deadly explosions in the last five days, killing a total of 39 people and wounding hundreds more.

A spokesman for Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has claimed Wednesday's suicide bombing on a police building in Lahore, and warned of more "massive attacks" to avenge the Swat military operation.

Nearly 2.4 million people have fled the current offensive, and the military relaxed a curfew Sunday in most parts of the northwest including Mingora to allow people trapped on the roads to return home or leave the region.

Senior Red Cross officials said Sunday they were "gravely concerned" over the situation in Swat Valley, after an ICRC team reported problems with running water, food, electricity and communications.

"The people of Swat need greater humanitarian protection and assistance immediately," said Pascal Cuttat, head of the organisation's delegation in Pakistan.

"Given what we have already seen on the ground, we are mobilising additional resources, but safe and unimpeded access to the area remains essential for our teams to deliver."

Obama Sends Envoy to Pakistan Refugee Camps

WASHINGTON — President Obama is dispatching his Afghanistan-Pakistan adviser, Richard C. Holbrooke, to Pakistan this week to visit the refugee camps in the northeast region of the country, where thousands of people have flooded to escape the conflict areas where government troops have been battling Taliban insurgents.

Mr. Holbrooke will be taking an inter-agency team of American officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and Usaid to look for ways to speed up the relief effort, and to help mobilize international support, a senior administration official said. The team will also hold talks with the Pakistani government on ways to help solve the growing refugee problem in the country.

More than one million Pakistanis are believed to have fled the conflict areas of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir since tensions exploded in recent months. The mass migration of Pakistanis is now the largest since the country was partitioned from India more than 60 years ago, and it has added to concerns over security and the government’s capacity to provide immediate relief to the displaced.

The American team will leave on Tuesday morning, the official said.(NYT)

US weapons in TTP hands

The Frontier Post
In an interview with the CNN army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas has claimed that many of the Pakistan Taliban’s arms are coming from Afghanistan. He replied in the affirmative when asked whether that included NATO weapons as suggested in recent reports. He said Washington was too focused on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal whereas the US should stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan. A US government report last month warned that the Pentagon did not have “complete records” for about one-third of the 242,000 weapons the United States had provided to the Afghan army, or for a further 135,000 weapons other countries sent. “The Afghan army cannot fully safeguard and account for weapons”, the Government Accountability Office had stated. The US has to understand that those weapons are landing in the hands of Pakistani Taliban, and it is happening under the US/NATO watch. It is in fact their responsibility to stop smuggling of arms to Pakistan. ISPR spokesman Athar Abbas also stated that Taliban fighters in Pakistan were getting weapons and support from foreign intelligence agencies; he however did not mention the names of the countries. People of Pakistan do not understand that despite Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting the war on terror and having lost many members of the security forces the US and India are accusing Pakistan of aiding and abetting Taliban. On the other hand, Pakistan government has at number of times claimed that it has incontrovertible evidence that India is funding and supplying arms to Balochistan rebels and militants in FATA but it does not expose India and its strategic partner the US. Recently, Times of India reported that Baitullah Mehsud is working for the ISI, which is travesty of the truth. In fact, he is in cahoots with India and the US, which is why the US has not seriously tried to take him out. In a recent report, the ISI had provided information to the military commanders about Baitullah Mehsud’s exact location but CIA-operated drones refrained to knock him down. This is reflective of CIA/RAW’s involvement in creating disturbances in Pakistan with the help of people like Baitullah Mehsud. Unfortuately, Pakistan is feeling shy in exposing both India and the US. On the other hand, India concocts stories to malign Pakistan. Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor has alleged that women terrorists are being trained at camps inside Pakistan and along the border with Afghanistan for executing subversive activities. Given the social set up and structure of Pakistani society, can any one even imagine that Pakistan would indulge in such activities? In fact it is India and Israel that can stoop so low to achieve their pernicious designs. After the army started Swat operation, the US has taken some ‘respite’ in accusing Pakistan that it has links with the militants, otherwise earlier the CIA has been trying to make Pakistan/ISI a scapegoat for their failures in Afghanistan. Now, US generals and other government functionaries are appreciating military operation in Malakand division, which they should not do because that conveys an impression that Pakistan has taken the decision at the US’ behest. Whatever the reasons behind the increase in insurgency and whose war it was, the fact of the matter is that now it is very much Pakistan’s war and it has to be won to rid the people of thugs and their thuggish activities.

Venezuela's Chavez shifts gears in leftist revolution

CARACAS (Reuters) - Undaunted by a slowing economy, Venezuela's still popular President Hugo Chavez is picking up the pace of his left-wing revolution with a relentless raft of nationalizations and an offensive against opponents.

Hot on the heels of nationalizing dozens of oil service companies in the OPEC nation earlier this month, Chavez ordered the takeover of several large iron makers last week, then snapped up a large bank and vowed to further limit the private sector.

"We are not subordinated to the bourgeoise elite but to the interests of the people," Chavez said on Saturday. "We are proceeding and will continue to proceed with nationalizations of strategic sectors."

In separate moves that erode democratic credentials earned with a string of election victories since he first won office a decade ago, Chavez has also stripped power from opposition mayors and governors this year and harassed an opposition TV station.

His government has already taken over oil projects, along with telecoms, power and steel companies, and there are numerous sectors including food, health and education that could yet feel his hand through tight regulation or nationalizations.

Oil drillers including Halliburton are also potential targets of Chavez's push to build what he dubs "21st Century Socialism" in one of the most Americanized corners of Latin America, where he is popular for spending on the poor.

Despite record oil prices, 2008 was a tough year for the anti-American leader, who lost support following the defeat of a proposed new constitution that would have given him broader powers.

But Chavez has found his stride again this year, winning a referendum that lets him stay in power as long as he wins elections. He has 60 percent approval ratings even as the economy slows and his government struggles to pay bills in the vital oil sector where income has fallen.

He is operating on two fronts, increasing state control of business through takeovers and heavier scrutiny while battering critics with everything from tough policing of marches to threats to punish the fiercely critical Globovision television station.

The government has opened a number of corruption probes, including one against leading opposition voice Manuel Rosales, who fled charges and was granted asylum in Peru.

"I've said it before and I repeat, we must keep up the offensive, bulldozing the counter-revolution," Chavez told party activists in April. "We can no longer be the idiots we were."


Chavez started his nationalization drive in 2007 during a five year oil boom, when bulging state coffers allowed him to buy majority stakes in oil projects run by foreign companies such as Total and worth billions of dollars.

With oil revenues so far this year at half what they were in 2008, Chavez has warned companies that he may pay for new takeovers with government bonds.

Putting profitable ventures in state hands is a way to bolster financing for social projects, and Chavez recently said his government has recovered its investment in telephone company CANTV two years after buying a $572 million stake from U.S.-based Verizon Communications.

The government agreed last week to pay $1 billion for a unit of Spanish bank Santander, and intends to use its purchase to facilitate credits to farmers and poor families.

Major oil service companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger Ltd are perhaps the largest interests now at risk of takeovers, since state oil company PDVSA has fallen behind in payments worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Chavez's critics accuse him of trying to establish himself as a dictator, although he has repeatedly won elections and some of his opponents' own democratic credentials are poor after trying to oust him in a 2002 coup. They also closed down the oil industry for months, and then sidelined themselves by boycotting legislative elections.

Still, Chavez has clearly clamped down following opposition wins in major cities and states in regional elections last year, stripping Caracas's new mayor of power over half the capital and naming his own unelected representative.

Chavez, who has a taste for fiery rhetoric and military uniforms, first tried to take office in a 1992 coup, but he denies he is power hungry.

"The bourgeoise accuses me of accumulating power. I am not accumulating power, I want nothing for me, everything is for the Venezuelan people," he said.

Swat operation to conclude in 2 to 3 days: official

The counterinsurgency operation in Swat valley will be completed within two to three days, Pakistani defence official said. Federal Secretary of Defence Syet Athar Ali speaking at Asian defence officials moot here said that the militancy has been flushed out mostly in Swat except a few groups adding that the remaining militants will be wiped out within two to three days. “The operation will conclude with eradication of remaining five to 10 percent militants,” the secretary defence said.