Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Army says 21 more militants killed, 18 nabbed in last 24 hours

ISLAMABAD :Army said on Tuesday it had killed 21 militants in the past 24 hours of its offensive to crush Taliban extremists in pockets of the northwest, while three soldiers martyred.

In a statement update, the army said: "In the last 24 hours, 21 miscreants-terrorists were killed and 18 apprehended in various areas of Swat, whereas three soldiers martyrdom."

As most of the conflict zone is cut-off to media and aid groups, there is no way to independently verify military death tolls. The number of civilian deaths in the fierce five-week offensive also remains unknown.

Most of the suspected militants were killed on the outskirts of Charbagh, a Taliban stronghold about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Swat's main town Mingora, which the government has said it has already cleared of Taliban.

"Security forces have successfully secured Alam Gunj, Waliabad and Gulibagh (north of Charbagh). Fourteen miscreants-terrorists were killed and 18 apprehended in Charbagh and Alam Gunj areas," the statement said.

One soldier was martyred near Charbagh, while the other military and insurgent deaths occurred in other areas of Swat and nearby districts.

Army has said that more than 1,300 militants and around 85 soldiers have died since the operation was launched at the end of April.

UNHCR opens two new camps for the displaced

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday it has opened two new camps in Pakistan’s north-west to house thousands of people who took advantage of the lifting of a curfew over the weekend to leave the conflict zones in the Swat Valley.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that most of the families fled the Mingora and Char Bagh areas in Swat district to seek refuge in Mardan, Swabi and Charsadda districts of the province, according to a transcript issued at UN Headquarters in New York.’

‘To respond to this new influx, UNHCR, its partners and NWFP authorities have established two new camps in Charsadda and Peshawar districts. Sugar Mill camp, in Charsadda, received 400 families, or 2,400 individuals, yesterday and more people are expected to arrive today,’ Redmond said.

‘Some families who arrived in Sugar Mill yesterday told our teams that they had been living in their basement for a month. They said they were about to run out of food when the curfew was finally lifted last Saturday and Sunday and they were told to evacuate the area. One family said they ate spinach and bread for 25 days before they were finally able to leave their home for safety,’ he stated.

‘The displaced cited shortages of food and medicine as major problems for those who remain stranded in the conflict zone,’ Redmond added.

On Monday, the UN said the number of people displaced by the conflict in NWFP has risen above 2.5 million, and a shortage of funds could cut relief services there.

More than two million people have been driven from their homes by clashes between the Government and militants in the past month, in addition to the 400,000 already displaced in fighting last year.

Redmond said UNHCR provided relief kits for 850 families, including mats, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, jerry cans, and blankets in the Sugar Mill camp. The local government provided tents and labour to clear the site, he said, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping to install latrines.

Clinton hails Pakistani resolve in battling Taliban

SAN SALVADOR — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday she's impressed by the Pakistani army's assault on Taliban militants who had captured much of Pakistan's Swat Valley.
"I am incredibly heartened by the resolve shown the Pakistani people, government and military," Clinton said in an interview with USA TODAY. She was in El Salvador for the inauguration of President Mauricio Funes.

Pakistan's army has attacked Taliban strongholds throughout the Swat Valley.

Members of the Taliban, the fundamentalist Muslim movement that ruled Afghanistan until its ouster in 2001, had moved into the Swat Valley and gradually taken control.

In April, Clinton told a congressional committee that the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari "is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists."

Since then, Pakistani troops have attacked the Taliban throughout the region and will have cleared them from major cities and towns in a matter of days, said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a Pakistani army spokesman.

The military has recaptured Mingora, the Swat Valley's main urban center. Abbas said clearing rural areas could take months.

Clinton disagreed Monday with Zardari's complaints in a recent interview that the United States has not delivered on its promises of aid to Pakistan. "We have no money to arm the police or fund development, give jobs or revive the economy. What are we supposed to do?" Zardari said in the interview in The New York Review of Books

"I certainly understand the anxiety of anyone in Pakistan; they have taken on this really important challenge of trying to take on the Taliban, but we've been providing aid. We already disbursed $110 million for the displaced people. We've got that out very quickly," Clinton said. "So I think it may be moving more quickly than perhaps the president knows, but there's a lot more to be done, and we're going to try to tee it up and get it delivered as quickly as possible."

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will travel to Pakistan this week to meet with officials, said Robert Wood, State Department deputy spokesman.

Today, Pakistani troops rescued dozens of students, teachers and staff from a boys school who had been taken captive by militants in the northwest, the Pakistani military said.

Abbas said 80 people, 71 of them students, were found by forces in the Goryam area.

"An exchange of fire took place, but the miscreants-terrorists fled the scene when they saw the strength of the armed forces," he said.

US rejects Zardari’s complaint about aid

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has rejected President Asif Ali Zardari’s complaint that the United States has not delivered on its promises to help Pakistan deal with the aftermath of the Swat operation.

‘I certainly understand the anxiety of anyone in Pakistan; they have taken on this really important challenge of trying to take on the Taliban, but we’ve been providing aid,’ she said. ‘We already disbursed $110 million for the displaced people. We’ve got that out very quickly.’

In an interview to The New York Review of Books, President Zardari said that Pakistan did not have enough funds to deal with the consequences of the military operations in Swat.

‘We have no money to arm the police or fund development, give jobs or revive the economy. What are we supposed to do?’ he said.

The president had also criticised the United States for its slow response to the humanitarian crisis.

‘So I think it may be moving more quickly than perhaps the president knows,’ said Secretary Clinton while responding to Mr Zardari’s interview.

‘But there’s a lot more to be done, and we’re going to try to tee it up and get it delivered as quickly as possible,’ said the top US official in an interview to USA Today.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, left for Pakistan on Tuesday to assess the situation and to accelerate international relief efforts for more than three million people displaced during the military operation.

Also on Tuesday, the State Department announced that almost 6,000 US citizens had responded to Secretary Clinton’s appeal to contribute $5 each through text-messaging.

Although the amount raised — $135,000 — was not large, the campaign does play a major role in raising awareness about the situation in Swat.

In her interview to USA Today, Secretary Clinton said that like other Americans she too was impressed by the Pakistani army’s assault on Taliban militants who had captured much of the Swat valley.

‘I am incredibly heartened by the resolve shown the Pakistani people, government and military,’ she said.

The newspaper noted that the praise marked a major change in the US attitude towards Pakistan’s efforts to combat extremists.

In April, Secretary Clinton told a congressional committee that the Pakistani government of President Zardari ‘is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.’

Since then, Pakistani troops have attacked the Taliban throughout the region and will have cleared them from major cities and towns in a matter of days. The military also has recaptured Mingora, the Swat valley’s main urban centre.

81 Razmak students, teachers rescued, 37 still missing

BANNU / TANK / MIRAMSHAH: Security forces rescued on Tuesday morning 81 students and teachers of the Razmak Cadet College after an exchange of fire with militants in Garyom area of North Waziristan, according to a senior government official. But, 35 students and two teachers are still missing.

There were conflicting reports about the number of students and teaching staff kidnapped by the Taliban in Bakkakhel of the Bannu Frontier Region when they were going home on Monday.

Bannu police put the number at 540, basing their claim on statements by students and teachers who had managed to escape the militants’ dragnet. But a senior official of the tribal administration told Dawn that 300 students and 50 teachers and members of their families had left the college.

‘This confusion was because of the unknown number of family members who were accompanying the faculty members. Our guess is that the total number was 400 plus,’ Additional Chief Secretary of Fata Habibullah Khan said.

He said that in the melee, many cadets and teachers had managed to escape and reach home. ‘It took us the whole day to call homes and try to locate individuals in Peshawar, Bannu and other places. Many of them managed to reach home on their own.’

Mr Habibullah said that 37 people remained unaccounted for and the administration believed they were held somewhere on the border between North and South Waziristan. ‘We think that they have not yet been taken to Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan,’ he added.

The authorities have asked tribal elders in Janikhel, Bakkakhel and North Waziristan to hold talks with the militants and ensure early recovery of the hostages.

Mr Habibullah said the government had also warned of action under the Frontier Crimes Regulation against Janikhel and Bakkakhel tribes if they failed to get the students and teachers freed.

Bannu Commissioner Sardar Abbas told reporters that the recovered students and teachers, including principal Javeed Iqbal, had been brought to Bannu by a helicopter and handed over to their parents and relatives.

(According to AFP, Mr Abbas said that troops intercepted the gunmen before dawn at a military checkpost, about 20km from the college.

‘There was an exchange of fire after which the militants fled. All students and teaching staff members were rescued,’ he said.

But the principal of the college said a handful of students remained unaccounted for. It was unclear whether they were in Taliban hands or had escaped elsewhere in the region.)

A senior security official said that intelligence and intercepts of militants’ phone conversations prompted a high-alert on the road used by the militants to transport the hostages.

According to a student, security forces fired at the militants escorting the abducted persons in Garyom at about 3.30am.

‘The firing continued for some time. One of the shells hit a militant vehicle and we took cover behind a rock. One militant was hit by a bullet and fell. We ran towards the military fort, raised our hands and shouted we are the cadets,’ Ataul Haq, a student of grade-10, told Dawn.

He said the Taliban continued to lurk around the fort and demanded that the cadets be handed over to them, but the army refused. He said the militants had managed to take two vehicles carrying the cadets through the blockade.

A senior paramilitary official said that security forces had blocked the escape routes by attacking the militants from the front and the rear.

However, Brig Zahid Abdullah, who led the rescue operation, told reporters in Bannu that 124 cadets and eight teachers had been rescued in a joint operation by the army and Shawal Rifles in Kakarwam area of Razmak subdivision. No one was injured in the operation. Seven vehicles were seized.

Snakes in the grass

The Frontier Post(EDITORIAL)
The Razmak Cadet College students' kidnapping was a grieving episode, no doubt. But no lesser was it a damning demonstration of intrinsic baseness of the thugs, prowling the country's northwest, defiling it with their meanness, vileness and thuggery. But much more reflective is it of the reality that the military campaign in Malakand is succeeding as had it earlier in Bajaur and that the thugs are now on the run, desperately trying to throw the state's military power off balance, fearing it would otherwise catch them wherever they are. By every consideration, they are presently starkly disoriented, dispirited and in a state of disarray all over. These scums of the earth are definitely looking in a sure demise, with the state's military power pressing ahead with its advantage intently and unrelentingly. But for the military to succeed it is imperative that these thugs' fountainheads of sustenance be mothballed. Unless those wellsprings are dismantled, it is a sheer wishful thinking that these wicked characters would ever go out of their vile business. For the time being, they may stand badly mauled. But with their lifeline of cash and arms supply staying intact, they surely will revive and stage a comeback vindictively. Hence that sustenance pipeline has to be snapped at any rate. But that is where the Islamabad establishment has been found wanting so far. It is not unknown that it is in Afghanistan where from originates the murderous lifeline of these thugs. Yet this establishment has made no issue of it the way it should have so far, at least publicly. According to our officialdom's own accounts, American, Indian and Russian weapons have been found from the hideouts of Fazlullah's thug brigade. Who had supplied these to them? Certainly, it can't be Pakistan's army or its intelligence agencies. The suppliers have to be others. Who are they? Surely, our state security apparatus cannot be ignorant of this. It definitely knows all about them. But regrettably it is so loath, indeed so fearful, of naming them. Why indeed is this establishment so furtive when the masterminds, financiers and handlers of these thugs are playing havoc with our innocent people's lives and limbs, with our polity's stability, security and cohesion, and with our country's solidarity and integrity? Now for quite a time, we are hearing from the Americans that our tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan have become the epicentre of global terrorism, where another 9/11 strike is being planned on America and its western allies. The British are also saying so. The Indians, too, have joined the chorus, cunningly and willfully. But does Baitullah Mehsud send his suicide bombers to America or Europe? Doesn't he send them to our own cities alone to kill only our own children, our sisters and mothers and our own men folks? And where was Swati thug employing for slaughtering the innocent and beheading the security personnel? In America, Britain or Afghanistan? Weren't his bandits killing our own people alone? Who indeed are the godfathers of these thugs who lately have been increasingly attacking our security establishments and personnel? Doesn't this sound diabolical and sinister in intent? Then why is the Islamabad establishment just keeping mum and fearing speaking up the truth? After all, what are those Indian consulates in Afghanistan sitting on the periphery of our western border doing? By no diplomatic canon can their locations be justified? Why have the Americans who are Afghanistan's real rulers taking no notice of it, and are rather all praise for India's role in Afghanistan? And where have the hundreds of thousands of foreign-supplied weapons, mostly American, disappeared unaccountably from the armouries of the Afghan defence ministry and of the coalition forces? Wherefrom are Baitullahs, Fazlullahs and the thugs of their ilk getting mountains of arms along with money for their thuggery? Who is running this mammoth terrorist network from behind-the-scene against Pakistan and its people? The ISI chief recently on an official visit along with a Pakistani delegation was grilled on every American forum tendentiously on one accusation or the other. But isn't the right candidate for this grilling the CIA chief? Shouldn't he be grilled here in Pakistan on every forum for his agency's patently dubious role in waltzing terrorism afflicting this country? The Islamabad establishment must insist on it. We are nobody's slave, or a client state.
Saved from: http://www.thefrontierpost.com/News.aspx?ncat=ed&nid=109&ad=03-06-200
Dated: Wednesday, June 03, 2009, Jamadi-us-Sani 09, 1430 A.H.

Karachi Fashion Show

Pakistani Villagers Come to the Aid of Refugees

Washington Post

MADHEY BABA, Pakistan, -- When Khalil ul-Rahman's houseguests arrived in this northwestern Pakistani village, they brought with them the clothes on their backs, two cows and little else.

That was a month ago. Since then, Rahman, a 43-year-old donkey-cart driver, has been solely responsible for sheltering and feeding the 22 distant relatives who have chosen his home as their haven from the fighting that rages between the army and the Taliban in their native district of Dir.

"Yes, it's a burden," said Rahman, who earns a little more than $50 a month hauling crates of produce and bundles of wood. "But they came to my home. There was no other option. As a Pashtun, I couldn't say no."

Approximately 3 million people have fled the fighting in Dir, Buner and the Swat Valley over the past month, marking the largest migration in Pakistan since the country's partition from India in 1947. With room for only a small fraction of them in government-run camps, the vast majority have had to turn to charities or private individuals.

Because of the culture of extreme hospitality that prevails here, few have lacked for a place to stay. Pashtuns, who predominate in Pakistan's northwest, live by an ancient, unwritten honor code known as Pashtunwali, which dictates that a host must provide shelter, food and water for his guests, no matter how many there are or how long they stay.

In many ways, Pashtunwali has been the refugees' salvation. But it has also become a curse for their hosts, who are silently buckling under the strain.

As civilians continue to flee the scenes of the fighting, aid groups and government officials are concerned that the host communities could also become destabilized as they run out of money and resources trying to help their guests.

"We're basically seeing host community populations more than double in some of these areas. The local infrastructure just can't cope," said Graham Strong, country director for World Vision, an international aid group trying to alleviate the strain.

The areas where the displaced families have congregated are generally poor and rural, with families needing robust wheat and tobacco harvests just to get by. Now, some are giving up their animals or their land to avoid committing what would be, under Pashtunwali, a grave offense.

"It's extremely shameful for host families or communities to start asking people to leave," Strong added. "So people are selling their assets just to continue hosting."

That could create an opening for the Taliban, which already has a nascent presence in this area and tends to do best in areas where economic conditions are worst.

Khalid Khan Umerzai, commissioner for Mardan and Swabi, two districts where displaced families nearly outnumber residents, said the tide of refugees has forced authorities to shutter schools so they can be turned into makeshift camps. It has pushed hospitals to the breaking point, as refugees demand care for diarrhea-stricken children and elderly parents whose hearts failed on their arduous journeys. Now, Umerzai said, the local government worries that police won't be able to keep up with so many unfamiliar faces.

"We are very much concerned about law and order. The militants could have come here in the garb of the internally displaced persons," he said. Already, he said, police have arrested 42 militants who had trimmed their beards, hidden their Kalashnikov rifles and tried to blend with the refugees.

The battle began a month ago, when the Taliban rolled into Buner and Dir, violating the terms of a peace deal with the government. Under the agreement, the militants were supposed to lay down their arms in exchange for the implementation of Islamic law in the Swat Valley.

Since then, a military force of 15,000 has retaken large sections of all three districts, including Swat's main city, Mingora. The operation has pleased Obama administration officials, who were looking for signs that Pakistan was willing to take a tougher stand against rising militancy.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said recently that the next target would be South Waziristan, home base for the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. Any effort to reclaim that territory could unleash another flood of refugees.

Already, the fighting in Swat, Buner and Dir has come with a heavy price for civilians. Analysts say that unless the government does a better job meeting the needs of displaced families and their hosts, it may be creating a new generation of militants.

Cash-strapped government agencies, working with aid groups, have been able to provide camps for only about 200,000 of the roughly 3 million refugees, according to government figures. A U.N. appeal for $543 million in international assistance, meanwhile, has elicited a sluggish response.

As a result, responsibility for caring for displaced families has been felt most acutely at the local level, in areas just beyond the battle zone. Attempts to spread the burden more widely have largely failed: In two of Pakistan's four provinces, Sindh and Punjab, groups have launched efforts to ban the refugees, citing fears they could be a destabilizing influence.

Rahman, the donkey-cart driver who shares his home with 22 refugees, is not expecting any help. He has resigned himself to the idea that his guests may be staying a while and that he, his wife and their 11 children will have to manage with even more crowded conditions than usual in their three-room, mud-brick home.

Rahman's guests said they have no idea how long they will stay or if they have a home in Swat to go back to. Their house was severely damaged by a Pakistani army shell that came crashing through their roof, said family elder Shah Naseem Khan, 59. Ironically, Pashtunwali was to blame, at least in part: Taliban militants had been sheltering at the home of a neighbor who felt he could not turn them away.

For the foreseeable future, Rahman will have to stretch his lowly salary to buy three times the normal amount of bread, vegetables and milk.

"They have women with them. They have children with them. They have old people with them. How can I send them away now?" Rahman asked, his weather-beaten face making him look far older than his 43 years.

Some hosts have no ties to their guests, familial or otherwise.

Mohammed Ihsan, 27, was minding the counter at his family's small general store in this village when he heard the wailing of mourners. He followed the sounds and came upon the funeral of a woman who had died of a heart attack soon after arriving from her native Swat. After the service, Ihsan invited the woman's family and some of her other relatives to stay. Three weeks later, his 17 guests are still with him. In addition to providing a roof and beds, he gives them a daily share of the milk from his water buffalo.

"It's a little hardship for us. But these people have been displaced. We had to do something for them," said Ihsan, who was recently married and who sells sacks of rice and wheat for a living. "I am a Pashtun, and we have a code for helping each other in times of trouble."

The generosity has not gone unnoticed by his guests. "We haven't seen anything from the government. But these local people have done their best to provide us food and facilities. They are very kind to help us," said Itbar Mohammed, 49. "And when the government tells us we can go back to our homes, we will go."

Dozens of Pakistani Cadets Are Rescued

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Dozens of students and teachers from a military college who were abducted by the Taliban in the mountains of western Pakistan were freed Tuesday morning, the Pakistani Army said.

A convoy of about 30 minivans was ferrying students and teachers Monday from the Razmak Cadet College, in North Waziristan along the border with South Waziristan. The area is a stronghold for several groups of Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. Pakistan’s government, after a month of battling the Taliban in the Swat Valley, has said it is planning an operation in the area.

In anticipation of the military action, the 80 students and teachers had been told by the local governor to leave early for summer vacation, according to an employee in the college who rode in the convoy, but spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety.

The convoy was accompanied by a local Taliban group for protection, but around 5 p.m., when the convoy reached a checkpoint at a place called Khajuri, that group left and armed men with another Taliban group approached, the employee said.

He said four armed men waved over their minivan and got on board, arguing with the driver.

When they began asking men to leave the van, women began to weep, he said, and the gunmen ultimately let the van go.

They reached the town of Bannu, the destination for the convoy, but only 7 other vehicles had made it, leaving about 20 unaccounted for.

The military said Tuesday that the other students and staff members were freed not far from Bannu, on the border of North and South Waziristan.

Pakistani army rescues kidnapped students

ISLAMABA- Pakistani soldiers Tuesday rescued scores of students and staff from a military-run college who were abducted by Taliban militants in the northwest of the country, a military spokesman said.

The abduction took place Monday as the Pakistani army pressed on with an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley, in another part of the northwest.

Separately, a high court ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of an outlawed militant group which was accused of organizing an assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in November, his lawyer said.

India, which urged nuclear-armed rival Pakistan "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism" after the Mumbai attacks killed 166 people, said it was "unhappy" with Saeed's release.

It is also likely to dismay the United States which has been alarmed by deteriorating security in an ally whose help it needs to defeat al Qaeda and subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said the Taliban were taking the kidnapped students to the South Waziristan region, a militant stronghold on the Afghan border, when soldiers challenged them on a road and a clash erupted.

"Under cover of the firing the militants escaped and we have recovered them all," Abbas said, adding 71 students and nine members of staff had been rescued.

College principal Javed Iqbal Piracha, who was among those rescued, said 10 to 15 students appeared to be still missing.

Taliban fighters seized the students' convoy heading home for the summer holiday near the Afghan border in North Waziristan.

There are several Taliban- and al-Qaeda-linked groups based in North and South Waziristan in a loose alliance with the Taliban in Swat. South Waziristan is also the base of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

While the military has not announced any plans for an offensive after Swat is secured, officials have said a South Waziristan operation looked inevitable.

Brigadier Zahid Abdullah, who led the rescue and said he believed everyone had been recovered, said the militants might have wanted to use the students as human shields.


Pakistan launched an offensive against a growing Taliban insurgency in the Swat valley, 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, a month ago, sparking a flood of fleeing civilians.

Officials say an estimated 2.4 million people have been displaced by the conflict, prompting U.N. warnings of a humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations appealed for $543 million last week but just over a fifth has been funded. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged countries to scale up their response.

The United States has welcomed the offensive in Swat but a protracted humanitarian crisis could undermine Pakistani public support for the fight against the Islamist militants. The United States has offered $110 million in aid for the displaced.

Saeed, the Islamist ordered released, was put under house arrest in early December after a U.N. Security Council committee added him and a charity he heads to a list of people and organizations linked to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

His lawyer, A.K. Dogar, told reporters the Lahore High Court had ruled his detention illegal.

Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group in 1990 and for years it battled Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region. The group was banned in Pakistan in 2002.

Saeed heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, which the United Nations said in December was a front for the LeT.

India says the Mumbai assault was carried out by LeT militants who must have had backing from some Pakistani agencies.

Pakistan has acknowledged the attack was launched and partly planned from Pakistan, and the surviving attacker was Pakistani.

Asked about Saeed's release, Indian Home (interior) Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said India was unhappy and Pakistan was not serious about investigating the Mumbai attack.

Pakistan has lodged police complaints against eight suspects but Saeed was not among them.