Monday, June 1, 2009

Swat refugees facing dire hardships

Millions of civilians displaced by the fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley are facing a dire humanitarian situation, International Red Cross officials say.

Arriving in Swat for the first time since fierce fighting broke out between government forces and Taliban militants, Red Cross officials said the 2 million refugees need urgent help, CNN reported.

"The people of Swat need greater humanitarian protection and assistance immediately," Pascal Cuttat, head of the organization's delegation in Pakistan, told the U.S. broadcaster. "The ICRC will do its utmost to meet those needs without delay. Given what we have already seen on the ground, we are mobilizing additional resources, but safe and unimpeded access to the area remains essential for our teams to deliver."

Relief officials said many of the refugees fled their homes on foot without shoes and have fallen ill from exposure to heat and sun, with children and infants particularly hard hit.

"People have been blocked for weeks," the ICRC's Daniel O'Malley told CNN. "There is no running water, no electricity, and food is scarce. There is no fuel left for generators and most medical facilities in the district are no longer functioning."

US not to abandon Pakistan, says Blair

ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has called for enhanced, credible and actionable intelligence sharing as well as defence cooperation between Pakistan and United States for the success of the war against militancy and terrorism.
Talking to Director US National Intelligence Dennis C Blair, who called on him at the PM House Monday evening, Yousuf Raza Gilani said that Army operation had been undertaken to eliminate militants from Pakistan’s territory. He said the government was faced with a gigantic task of coping with the large number of displaced persons and there was an urgent need for the US and the world to fulfil their pledges of providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced people. He noted that the world’s response in this regard so far had been far below Pakistan’s expectations.
The PM underlined the fact that around 80pc of the displaced people were given shelter by the local population. The people of Pakistan hence, as per their tradition of hospitality, have borne the major brunt of the present crisis. However, their resources were already overstretched. Even for a small number of people in relief camps, the available funds were not likely to last for more than a few weeks. Pakistan and its people, he said, had offered unprecedented sacrifices in terms of losses to life and property. It is, therefore, imperative for the rest of the world to discharge their responsibility by doing more in order to mitigate the sufferings of the displaced people, he added.
Blair assured the PM that the US and Nato forces would fully cooperate with Pakistan in sharing required intelligence, strengthening the existing tripartite mechanism for better cooperation between the forces on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and in ensuring that militants do not cross over to Pakistan’s side over the newly deployed US forces in Afghanistan.
He agreed with the PM that more than the relief efforts, the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases were crucial to win the hearts and minds of the displaced people and the international community must come forward quickly to assist Pakistan in this regard.
Blair termed Prime Minister’s leadership as exemplary in uniting the whole nation behind Pakistan’s military operation against militants and commended him for his statesmanship in building the consensus on this as well as other issues of national importance.

Next phase in Buner?

Dawn Editorial
As more villages, towns and cities in Malakand division are cleared and held by the security forces, the NWFP and federal governments are gearing up for IDPs to return to their homes in some areas and begin to piece together their lives. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that 90 per cent of Buner has now been cleared of militants and told the IDPs from the area that it is safe to return home.

Crucially, NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain announced on Sunday, 'The leave of NWFP government’s employees except teachers in Buner district has been cancelled and they have been directed to report for duty [from June 1].' Additionally, staff handling the local electricity, telephone and gas networks and officers of the town municipal authorities have also been asked to return to duty. What this means then is that the local administration in Buner, as has already been promised in Mingora, Swat, is to be reactivated quickly and the area made habitable for the local population once again. If the plan is carried out as efficiently as possible, it will undoubtedly be a tremendous boost to the beleaguered people of Buner — and would offer hope to the IDPs from other areas that the state will help them resettle in their homes in due time.

Perhaps most critical to the resettlement phase is the revival of the local police forces. A primary target of the militants, the police have been decimated and demoralised. Yet, security at the local level can best be ensured by a police force with sufficient numbers and resources. From this point of view, it is welcome to see that the police force in Buner has returned to conduct joint operations with the army. Given the knowledge that a local police officer would have of neighbourhoods and the local population, the police are a vital cog in the house-to-house searches that are necessary to flush out the remaining militants trying to hide among the population. And from the perspective of sending a positive signal to a frightened population that normality is being restored, the sight of local police officers patrolling neighbourhoods is infinitely more reassuring than soldiers armed to the teeth and brought in from outside areas.

Elsewhere, it is reassuring to see the federal government has not taken its eye off the ball and is trying to keep its focus on the operation in Malakand division. President Zardari chaired a meeting of top political, administrative and security officials on Monday, indicating that the government at least understands the need for the various arms of the state to stay informed about each others’ actions. We have said it before and we’ll say it again: a counter-insurgency can only be successful if the full force of the state — political, administrative and military — is brought to bear against the militants.

Air France jet missing over Atlantic

PARIS/RIO DE JANEIRO- An Air France jet disappeared after hitting stormy weather over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday and all 228 people on board were feared dead.

France and Brazil sent military planes and ships to scour a vast area of ocean where the Airbus A330 may have come down during the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. But officials said there was little chance that anyone could have survived.

"It's a tragic accident. The chances of finding survivors are tiny," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport after meeting passengers' relatives.

If no survivors are found, it would be the worst loss of life involving an Air France plane in the carrier's 75-year history. An Airbus A330 has never been lost during a commercial airline flight and it is extremely unusual for an airliner to be brought down by storms.

The plane was carrying 216 passengers of 32 nationalities, including seven children and one baby, Air France said. Sixty-one were French citizens, 58 Brazilian and 26 German. Twelve crew members were also on board.

Brazilian carrier TAM Linhas Aereas said the crew of one of its planes saw "bright spots" in the ocean about 1,300 km (800 miles) from the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, which is located some 545 km (388 miles) off the South American country's northeastern coast.

The Brazilian air force said it was trying to verify if the spots were debris from the Air France plane.

The Air France jet flew into storms and heavy turbulence four hours after taking off from Rio and 15 minutes later sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults, the airline said.

There was no sign that the crew had sent a mayday message or any indication that signal-emitting emergency locaters had activated on impact as is normally the case in crashes.

The company said a lightning strike could be to blame and that several of the mechanisms on the Airbus 330-200, which has a good safety record, had malfunctioned.

"It's too early to tell what went on and what caused this tragedy," Isabelle Birem, Air France's general director in Brazil, said at a news conference in Sao Paulo.

"We need to study the technical results from the black box," she added, referring to the cockpit recorder.

Sources with access to flight data sent to the World Meteorological Organization said two Lufthansa jets passed through the same area of turbulence on Monday without incident. Aviation experts said lightning strikes on planes were common and could not alone explain a disaster.


They said the plane could have suffered an electrical failure, effectively leaving the pilots "blind" and making the plane more vulnerable in an area notorious for harsh weather.

Senior French minister Jean-Louis Borloo ruled out a hijacking.

Tearful relatives were led away by airport staff in Paris to a private area where psychologists assisted them. In Rio, relatives rushed to the international airport early in the morning seeking information about the flight.

Vazti Ester Van Sluijs, 70, said that at the last minute she had changed plans to see her 40-year-old daughter Adriana at the airport, where the plane's number was displayed for hours as simply "delayed."

"Just before boarding, she called me asking where I was. I only had time to tell her that she was the best daughter in the world," she said, adding she still had hope for her survival.

One of the Brazilians on board was Pedro Luis de Orleans e Braganca, a direct descendant of Dom Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil, a spokesman for the royal family told Reuters.

Executives from French tire company Michelin, the Brazil unit of German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp, and Brazilian mining giant Vale were also among the passengers, said company officials and family members.

Brazil's air force, which last had contact with the plane at 9:33 p.m. Sunday EDT when it was 565 km (350 miles) from Brazil's coast, sent six jets and two helicopters to look for it and the Brazilian navy dispatched three ships to help in the search.

The navy said the ships would not arrive at the last known position of the aircraft, 800 km (500 miles) northeast of the city of Natal, until Tuesday night, and aviation experts said it could take a long time to locate the black box.

France sent one of its air force planes from West Africa and several ships. Sarkozy said Spain was helping in the mission and Paris had asked the United States to assist in locating the crash site using U.S. satellite data.

"It seems the zone has been identified down to within 10 nautical miles," Borloo said on France 2 state television.

Air France said the plane, which was powered with General Electric engines, had 18,870 flight hours on the clock and went into service in April 2005. It last underwent maintenance in a hangar in April this year. The pilots were also very experienced, the airline said.

The last incident with major loss of life involving an Air France plane was in July 2000 when one of its Concorde supersonic airliners crashed just after taking off from Paris, bound for New York. At least 113 people died in the disaster.

Moon concerned over rehabilitation of IDPs

UNITED NATIONS: The Secretary General United Nations Ban ki-Moon has said that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan could become a big ‘Humanitarian Tragedy’ if not helped urgently and properly.

In a meeting held here in United Nations, UN chief said Pakistan need urgent help and the humanitarian crisis of IDPs could become worse if world nations do not come to assist Pakistan.

He said Pakistani government alone is not capable of rehabilitation of IDPs in Pakistan, as this migration of 2.5 million IDPs is an unprecedented example in the last 15 years.

Zardari satisfied with successes achieved in war

ISLAMABAD :President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the war against militancy is a total war and each and every section of the society must rise to the occasion to "defeat the mindset that creates and nurtures militancy." He said this while presiding over a high level meeting along with the Prime Minister in the Presidency on Monday to review the law and order situation.

The meeting was attended by the Federal Ministers for Information, Interior, Chief Ministers, NWFP Governor, Army Chief, the chiefs of intelligence agencies, Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Chief Executive of Northern Areas, the Chief Secretaries and IGPs of all the provinces, Secretary General and senior officers of the relevant ministries of the Federal government.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the President expressed satisfaction over the successes achieved in the war, and said that the day was not far off when the militants would be crippled and they would pose no threat to the people and the country.

He said that half of the war was to subdue and defeat the militants militarily and half of the war was to win the hearts and minds of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). The President said the international community was more than willing to help Pakistan as was demonstrated in the recent meetings of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) forum and leaders and law-makers of the US, Britain and France during his recent visit to these countries.

He said the people of Pakistan also, through the political parties, supported the ongoing operation against the militants in Swat and other areas of Malakand division as had been demonstrated by the unanimous resolution adopted by the parliament against militancy and the decisions of recently held all parties conference (APC) by the Prime Minister.

The combination of favourable domestic public opinion and the willingness of the international community to help had placed in the hands of the government a great opportunity to eliminate the militants, change the mindset once and for all, he quoted the President as saying.

President Zardari said the nation could not afford to lose this war for the sake of its own survival. He said that while the government was determined to pursue fight to the finish and it was working on a plan to strengthen the capacity of law-enforcement agencies to win this war.

The President advised the government to step up implementation of the plan to strengthen the law-enforcement. According to some reports, the installation of scanners at all the entry points of all major cities was also discussed. The Interior Ministry was told to work out a comprehensive plan in this regard.

The President also underlined the need for strengthening the prosecution so as to bring the militants and criminals to speedy and efficient justice within the bounds of the existing legal framework and laws. President Zardari said that the present fight against militants was also for the fight of ideas.

"For winging this battle of ideas, we need to carry out necessary reforms in the education system, particularly in the Madressah education so as to produce tolerant, moderate and forward looking youth, who naturally detested militancy, extremism and intolerance."

The President also praised Armed Forces and the law-enforcement agencies for the courageous fight they had put up against militants and for the sacrifices they had made. He also praised the Prime Minister and the government for taking the militants' head on.

The President said that an exit strategy with clear objectives be also devised that enabled the civil administration to take over the administration of the areas where the writ of the government had been established and from where the militants had been driven out.

The Big Question: Do Pakistan's gains in the Swat valley mean it is overcoming the Taliban?
Why are we asking this now?

Over the weekend, the Pakistani army announced that it had taken control of Mingora, the main town in the country's Swat Valley, which has been the location of a major operation to counter and kill Taliban fighters. Capture of the town was both a considerable strategic gain and a major morale-booster. Such was the sense of excitement that a defence official, Syed Athar Ali, predicted that the entire valley could be cleared of militants in just two or three days.

Most experts believe he may have been a little too optimistic, but having secured Mingora the army is now pushing further into the valley. Some of the Taliban are apparently trying to escape through the mountains to the neighbouring Kalam valley. Officials admit it will take some time to restore essential services in Mingora, but they are hopeful that some of the town's 300,000 residents forced from their homes will start to return if they have confidence in the security situation.

Why is the battle for Swat so important?

Before it fell under the mounting influence of the Taliban two years ago, the stunning, rugged valley was a popular tourist destination for middle-class Pakistanis and – unlike the tribal areas – was seen a part of "Pakistan proper". But after militants took effective control of the valley and then, in April, spilled into several neighbouring areas, including Buner and Lower Dir, no more than 60 miles from Islamabad, there was mounting pressure on the government to act.

The Obama administration considers the operation a test of resolve for President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistani military following years of claims that the army has been reluctant or unable to go to war against the militants. In turn, the Pakistani leadership has pitched the operation as nothing less than a fight for the survival of the country. As such, to this point, it appears to have a fair degree of popular support – even if Mr Zardari himself does not.

Had the government tried to do a deal with the Taliban?

Among the population of Swat - which until 1969 was a so-called princely state and not fully incorporated into Pakistan – there was mounting frustration with the official justice system. People complained about corruption and bureaucracy. The valley had a tradition of Sharia or Islamic law and the Taliban seized on the people's desire for speedier justice to push for the establishment of Sharia. The militants' version of this code, however, was overwhelmingly brutal; girls schools were burned, people were flogged or beheaded and women were banned from appearing in public.

Despite this, the government brokered a ceasefire deal in February that involved the establishment of official Sharia courts. But the Taliban failed to meet its end of the deal and lay down its weapons. In April, as the Taliban started to extend its grip into surrounding areas, the military launched its operation.

But is everything going as well as the army says?

While the army has certainly made considerable gains and claims to have killed 1,200 militants, analysts say the senior figures within the local Taliban – people such as Maulana Fazlullah – have not yet been dealt with. In recent days, however, the military raised the reward for information leading to Fazlullah's capture to 50m Pakistani rupees (£375,000). It has also published the names and photographs of several Taliban fighters, again with rewards for their capture, dead or alive.

Observers say that targeting the militant leadership is vital if the local Taliban network is to be crushed. "I think the tide is turning. I think that people are hopeful," said journalist and activist Zubair Torwali. "So far it's only the second or third tier of people who have targeted – they have yet to get the leadership." And just because the army has taken Mingora, driving the militants from the rest of the valley – particularly in those areas where they can fight a more classic guerilla warfare – may not be so easy. At the same time, the army will need to retain a substantial and visible presence in places such as Mingora both the build pubic confidence and to prevent the militants returning. Expecting home-grown militia or lashkars to maintain security – especially after such groups were previously abandoned by the authorities – is not feasible.

What has been the cost of the operation so far?

Perhaps the most obvious fall-out has been the flood of around 1.9m people who have fled their homes because of the fighting. Around 500,000 had already left last summer during a similar military operation in the Bajaur tribal area, bringing to 2.4m the likely total of displaced people. Around 200,000 are in camps, with the remainder squeezed into the homes of relatives or extended family members. More perilous, however, is what might be the start of a series of revenge attacks.

Last week, at least 30 people were killed and hundreds injured in a gun and bomb attack in Lahore, which militants claimed was carried out in direct response to what is happening in Swat. The following day, around 14 people were killed in a series of blasts in Peshawar. A spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, a senior Taliban leader based in South Waziristan, urged the residents of the country's major cities to leave as more attacks were planned.

Is there anything else the Taliban could to to put pressure on the Pakistan government?

There are a number of options available to the militants. Last night it was reported the Taliban had captured a convoy of up to 400 students, teachers and their families in North Waziristan who were driving away from a cadet's school Details of what happened were initially unclear but negotiations were under way for their release. Meanwhile, there is also concern that militants could strike again at an Indian target, thereby creating fresh strain between the two countries and furthering Pakistan's isolation. This is what happened following the assault by Pakistani militants on Mumbai last year in which more than 165 people were killed.

Is the Pakistan army going to expand its operation further?

In the last week there have been reports of clashes between militants and troops in South Waziristan, raising speculation of the opening of a new front. Certainly a quick victory in Swat might encourage the military, but there may also be a genuine danger of over-extending itself. Washington would no doubt be supportive of an operation in the tribal areas that targeted militants responsible for cross border attacks.

If the military decided against such a move, the US might decide to step-up its deeply unpopular drone attacks in Waziristan. Meanwhile, the military is still trying to consolidate its victory in Bajaur, the tribal region bordering eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban were defeated after a seven-month campaign in March, and keep a lid on militants in Khyber, where truck convoys serving US and Nato forces in Afghanistan have periodically come under attack.

So has the tide turned?


*The Swat valley is an important and symbolic gain for the military

*In countering the militants, much is about public confidence. The recapture of Mingora will help that

*The force of the military's operation surprised many. Taliban action was a 'wake-up call' for the authorities


*The military had previously captured Swat only to allow the militants back in

*Countering the militants in places such as South Waziristan is likely to be far harder than in Swat

*More terror attacks will undermine public support for the military operation

Govt employees from Buner reluctant to return

SWABI: Despite repeated announcements by the government asking the displaced public sector employees from Buner district to return to their hometowns and resume duty, majority of them are still reluctant to return.

The NWFP government declared on Sunday that all government employees should reach their respective departments and resume duty as peace has been restored to the Buner district.During a visit to the IDPs camp here, a number of government employees told The News that some of their colleagues had gone to Buner but soon returned to camps because of unpredictable situation there.

Ameer Zada, a primary schoolteacher, said: “I went to my village on Sunday to assess the situation, but it will be very difficult for us to leave for homes and resume our duty.”Sardar Ali, an employee of the Health Department, said that those belonging to Daggar and Chamla areas had returned and resumed their duties but dwellers of Pir Baba region were yet to decide about their repatriation. He also said that his colleagues had advised him not to come there in the existing situation.

Besides government servants, common displaced persons were also not ready to return to home because of uncertainty and volatile situation in the area. Some displaced persons also said that their womenfolk were not ready to go back due to Taliban phobia. They said that there was a tremendous psychological pressure on them and they were being haunted by the fear of militants’ terror. It was, however, witnessed that some of the dislocated residents of Buner, where peace has been restored, were on their way homes.

Sher Zamin Khan, a resident of Palodhand area, which connects the Buner and Swabi districts, said he had seen a few trucks, pickup vehicles and tractor-trolleys carrying Buner IDPs and their belongings on way to their villages.

Taliban kidnap over 500 Cadet College students

PESHAWAR: Tribal militants kidnapped over 500 students of the Razmak Cadet College from the Bakkakhel Frontier Region, Bannu, adjacent to the North Waziristan tribal region, on Monday, according to government and police officials.

‘This is a serious development and will have far-reaching repercussions,’ a senior security official said.

Details were sketchy but the official said that 33 vehicles had started off from Razmak, with 540 cadets, teaching staff and their families after the principal of the college ordered its closure amid apprehensions about an impending military operation against militants.

Officials acknowledged that in accordance with an agreement with the government, local militants affiliated with Commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur in Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, had escorted the vehicles, along with Khasadars, till the tribal region’s boundary with F.R. Bannu.

‘The vehicles were waylaid by armed militants in the Bakkakhel area and commandeered towards Marwat Canal,’ the official said.

Police said that some women and children were later freed. But, the militants carrying rockets, grenades and automatic machine guns boarded the vehicles and commandeered them to some unspecified place.

Another coach, carrying 17 people, including 10 students, a librarian and a doctor, managed to reach the Miryan police station in Bannu. They were later escorted to the Cantonment police station for their onward journey to their destinations, the police official said.

The number of those kidnapped varied, but one official put the figure at close to 518, including cadets and members of the teaching staff.

District Police Officer of Bannu Iqbal Marwat, however, said that 67 cadets had managed to reach the police, while over 400 were missing.

‘The Taliban are behind the kidnapping,’ Mir Sardar, Assistant Sub-Inspector of the Miryan police station, told The New York Times by phone from Bannu.

Marwat Canal leads to South Waziristan’s Spinkay, through Frontier Region Tank, linked up by a nullah frequently used by militants to bypass security checkposts.

Gul Bahadur, leader of the Ittehad-i-Shura Mujahideen, North Waziristan, has wide influence in Bakkakhel and some officials believe that the kidnapping could not have taken place without his blessing.

‘He thinks that he can hoodwink us by escorting these students and teachers to fulfil his commitment not to harm them in his area of influence and then have them kidnapped from Bakkakhel. But we all know whose people operate in Bakkakhel,’ the official said.

He said that three militant commanders -- Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud, Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur -- had forged an alliance to help each other in the event of a military operation.

Citing recent reports, the official said that Maulvi Nazir who didn’t trust the TTP leader, had sent men to fight for him against any possible military operation.

‘They are all one,’ the security official said. He said the kidnapping would have far-ranging consequences since most of those kidnapped belonged to the federally administered tribal regions.

Security officials said that militants from all over the tribal region were converging on the Mehsud part of South Waziristan amid reports that a military operation was imminent.

There has been an increase in clashes between militants and security forces in the Mehsud territory after the military made inroads for what it calls ‘readjustments’ to link up vital communication network.

Baitullah Mehsud warned of attacks if troops do not withdraw from his area, after a jirga failed to mediate between him and the tribal administration.

Officials said that the militant leader would like to use the kidnapped students to secure the release of his comrades under detention and force the government to not only withdraw its forces from the region but also halt the military operation.

The political administration in F.R. Bannu and North Waziristan has tasked a jirga of tribal elders to locate the kidnapped cadets and staff members and secure their early release, the official said.

AP adds: A government official said late on Monday night that police were negotiating with the Taliban to release the kidnapped cadets. Mirza Mohammad Jihadi, who advises the prime minister on tribal regions, said that hostages had been taken to Bakkakhel in North Waziristan, a stronghold of militants.

All must rise against militancy, says Zardari

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday the war against militancy is a total war and each and every section of the society must rise to the occasion to “defeat the mindset that creates and nurtures militancy”.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani were presiding over a high-level meeting at the President’s House to review the law and order situation.

The meeting was attended by the federal ministers for information and interior, provincial chief ministers, the army chief, the chiefs of intelligence agencies and others.

Favourable public opinion at home and the willingness of the international community to help had given the government a great opportunity to eliminate the Taliban once and for all, said the president, adding that the nation could not afford to lose this war.

Jundullah a threat to Pakistan-Iran ties, gas pipeline

LAHORE (The News) - The rising terrorist activities of the Pakistan-based militant organization, Jundullah threatens not only the Pakistan-Iran diplomatic ties but also the future of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which was signed on May 22 by President Asif Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

According to well-placed diplomatic sources in Islamabad, Tehran has lodged a strong protest with Islamabad over the failure of its law enforcement agencies to dismantle the Jundullah network in Pakistan, which has claimed responsibility for the May 28 deadly suicide attack inside the Ali ibn Abi Talib mosque in Zahedan that killed 25 people and wounded 125 others.

The sources said Iranian officials had expressed their deep concern over the failure of the Pakistani authorities to proceed against the Jundullah network in Pakistan despite having been given specific intelligence.

The Pakistani ambassador was told that the Zahedan suicide attack could have been averted had Islamabad acted in time on the Iranian intelligence information. The Iranian authorities had reportedly told the Pakistani ambassador that the three terrorists (Haji Noti Zehi, Gholam Rasoul Shahi Zehi and Zabihollah Naroui), hanged publicly on May 30 in Zahedan for their alleged participation in the mosque bombing, had confessed to illegally bringing explosives from Pakistan into Iran and giving them to the main person behind the suicide attack.

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Tehran’s concern over the growing terrorist activities of Jundullah, across the border in Iran, could be gauged from the fact that its Ambassador to Pakistan, Mashallah Shakeri, had addressed an unusual press conference in Islamabad on March 20, accusing Pakistan of allowing its soil to be used against Iran and demanding concrete steps to contain its activities.

While claiming that the Jundullah network was located inside the Balochistan province, Shakeri had asked Islamabad to curb its anti-Iran activities by taking a decisive action against its leadership. The Iranian ambassador had given broad hints at that time that an Iranian diplomat, who had disappeared in Peshawar in 2008, could also have been kidnapped by Jundullah. In his reaction the same day, a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman had stated that Islamabad was determined that the Pakistani soil would not be allowed to be used by Jundullah in any manner to destabilize the Iranian government.

However, the diplomatic circles in Islamabad say the Iranian authorities had warned the Pakistani ambassador to Tehran on May 30 that Islamabad’s failure to act against the Jundullah network in Balochistan could also jeopardize the future of the recently-signed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. They pointed out that the Pakistani and the Iranian presidents had only signed the initial agreement after 14 years of delayed negotiations and the most crucial gas sales and purchase agreement had not yet been finalized.

On the other hand, the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad do not rule out the possibility of a third player aiding and abetting the anti-Iran activities of Jundullah with a view to damage the Pakistan-Iran ties and sabotage the “peace pipeline project”.

Asked about the origin of Jundullah, the sources said the organization ostensibly represents the Baloch inside Iran who are disaffected with the Tehran government. While being interrogated at a Quetta jail, the sources said, Abdul Hamid Rigi, the brother of the Jundullah chief, had maintained that the group was formed to protect the rights of the Baloch in the Iranian Balochistan-Sistan region.

While asserting that the Pakistani authorities are making all possible efforts to dismantle the Jundullah network from Balochistan’s soil, authoritative sources in the Ministry of Interior pointed out that the militant organization in question had actually stepped up its anti-Iran activities following the June 15, 2008 extradition of Abdul Hamid Rigi from Pakistan to Iran.

Highlighting Pakistan’s efforts to recover the Iranian diplomat kidnapped from Peshawar, the Interior Ministry sources said the Karachi Police had raided a Karachi locality in February 2008 to retrieve the Iranian diplomat alive. In the ensuing battle, two policemen died while 35 men belonging to at least two banned outfits, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, were arrested. Yet the Iranian diplomat could not be recovered.

Pakistan vows to wipe out Jundullah: report

TEHRAN: The interior ministry of Pakistan aims to wipe out Jundullah terrorist group, an organisation that has claimed responsibility for an attack on a mosque in southeastern Iran, reports the Fars News Agency (FNA).

Pakistan’s interior ministry has presented all its information on Jundullah to the country’s intelligence services which include the ISI, MI and FIA. The ministry has also urged for the identification of group members and the immediate arrest of the ringleader Abdulmalek Rigi, according to FNA.

The report goes on to say Islamabad has ordered the group be disbanded and wiped out. The chief of the Iranian armed forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, said Iran had located the base of the group and informed the Pakistani government of Abdulmalek Rigi’s position.

According to media reports, the group’s spokesman Abdoulrauf Rigi contacted the Pakistan office of al-Arabiya television network to report a bombing in a mosque in the Sisatn-Baluchestan province last week to claim responsibility for the attack.

The bomb blast occurred in the Iranian city of Zahedan while mourners participated in a ceremony marking the death of the daughter of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Iranian authorities have arrested and executed three men involved in the bombing. The trio was executed in Zahedan city.

So far Jundullah has claimed responsibility for a dozen terrorist operations in Iran, however according to the FNA, they have managed to escape punishment by crossing into Pakistan.

Tehran has warned Islamabad that it has the power and military means to trace and hunt down terrorist groups in Pakistan if such activity is not stopped by Pakistan.

Since the attack, Iran has closed down its border with Pakistan.

Girls school blown up in Mohmand Agency

PESHAWAR :A government girls middle school has blown up in Shewafarash area of tehsil Lakro in Mohmand Agency.

According to sources, militants planted the explosives in school that exploded with a bang and destroyed the building completely. However, no loss of life was reported. Security forces started strict checking after the incident.

CIA equipping tribals with ‘chips’ against militants

PESHAWAR :The CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret electronic transmitters to help target and kill al Qaida leaders in the tribal belt, in a tactic that could aid Pakistan's army as it takes the battle against extremism.

As the army mops up Taliban resistance in the Swat valley, where a defence official predicted fighting would be over within days, the focus is shifting to Waziristan and the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud.

But a deadly war of wits is already under way in the region, where tribesmen say the US is using advanced technology and old-fashioned cash to target the enemy.

Over the last 18 months the US has launched more than 50 drone attacks, mostly in South and North Waziristan. US officials claim nine of the top 20 al Qaida figures have been killed.

That success is reportedly in part thanks to the mysterious electronic devices, dubbed "chips" or "pathrai" (the Pashto word for a metal device), which have become a source of fear, intrigue and fascination.

"Everyone is talking about it," said Taj Muhammad Wazir, a student from South Waziristan. "People are scared that if a pathrai comes into your house, a drone will attack it."

According to residents and Taliban propaganda, the CIA pays tribesmen to plant the electronic devices near farmhouses sheltering al Qaida and Taliban commanders.

Hours or days later, a drone, guided by the signal from the chip, destroys the building with a salvo of missiles. "There are body parts everywhere," said Wazir, who witnessed the aftermath of a strike.

Until now the drone strikes were the only threat to militants in Waziristan, where the Pakistani army had, in effect, abandoned the fight. But now, emboldened by a successful campaign to drive militants out of Swat, a region about 80 miles from Islamabad, the army is preparing to regain lost ground in the more remote eastern tribal belt.

For the US military, drones have proved to be an effective weapon against al Qaida targets, although they have done little to prevent militants from attacking targets inside Pakistan.

It is a high-tech assassination operation for one of the world's most remote areas. The pilotless aircraft, Predators or more sophisticated Reapers, take off from a base in Balochistan province. But they are guided by a joystick-wielding operator half a world away, at a US air force base 35 miles north of Las Vegas. Barack Obama has approved the drone campaign, which is cheap and limits the danger posed to US troops. But the strikes have many unintended victims.

A Pakistani newspaper estimated that 700 people had been killed since 2006, most of them civilians, as a result of drone attacks.

Curfews eased in seven Swat towns

MINGORA: The military lifted curfews Monday in seven towns in the Swat Valley in a further sign of confidence that its military offensive against the Taliban there is making progress, though violence flared elsewhere.

The order will allow thousands of people caught in the battle zone to leave their homes and search for food and other supplies that have dwindled, often to nothing, in the past month of fighting.

The loosening of restrictions posed new dangers for residents, however, with one saying he saw soldiers open fire at civilians in Mingora town as they emerged from hiding places, apparently because they suspected they were Taliban.

‘I saw two people who came out to ask for relief goods and they opened the fire on them from the mountains,’ said Gohar Ali, one of many Mingora residents who had been trapped for weeks in his home until a curfew was lifted briefly on Sunday. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said he was unaware of the incident.

The military said in a statement that daytime curfews were lifted Monday in the Swat towns of Bahrain, Madyan, Fatehpur, Khwazakhela, Matta and Alpurai and in the nearby district of Shangla.

Pakistan launched an offensive against militants in Swat and surrounding districts a month ago after they violated the terms of a cease-fire and advanced into a region close to Islamabad.

As a result of the Swat offensive troops have regained large swaths of the region from an estimated 4,000 militants. The fighting has forced up to three million people to evacuate, threatening a humanitarian crisis.

A day after the military declared it had retaken the town, Mingora on Sunday was battle-scarred and an Associated Press reporter who visited say two decomposing bodies lying unburied in a cemetery and a third, charred corpse near a shopping mall.

‘We have been starving for many days. We have been cooking tree leaves to keep ourselves alive. Thank God it is over,’ said resident Afzal Khan. ‘We need food. We need help. We want peace.’

Most of Mingora's at least 375,000 residents fled the offensive. The military briefly lifted a curfew Sunday, allowing some of the 20,000 or so who remained to buy provisions in the few shops that were open.

About 200 families returned to Mingora during Sunday's lull in the curfew, but refugees should not go home yet because the security situation was still unstable and the town has no power, said local lawmaker Haji Mohammad Adeel.

International Committee of the Red Cross officials who visited other parts of the valley Saturday were ‘alarmed’ at what they found.

‘There is no running water, no electricity, and food is scarce,’ team leader Daniel O'Malley said in a statement Sunday. ‘There is no fuel left for generators and most medical facilities in the district are no longer functioning. Phone lines are down, so people have been cut off from the outside world.’

Three killed, 16 hurt in Kohat blast

KOHAT :A bomb device went off at Tirah Bazaar bus stand in Kohat on Monday in which at least 16 persons were killed and four hurt, Aaj TV reported.

Large number of people was gathered at bus station at the time of blast.

The injured and bodies were shifted to hospitals where emergency has been imposed. Officials of bomb disposal squad and security agencies have reached the scene.

Police and the security agencies have cordoned off the area.