Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chaos prevails as protesters, police clash in Iranian capital

Wounded protesters seek treatment at embassies, rights group says
Iran's system "going to the slaughterhouse," Moussavi's Facebook page says
Hospitals say 19 killed; unconfirmed reports put toll as high as 150
Police use water cannon and batons on crowds of demonstrators.

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Thousands of defiant protesters swept again Saturday into the streets of the Iranian capital, where they clashed with police armed with batons, tear gas and water cannons.
A stream of videos posted on social networking Web sites depicted scenes of chaos -- the sound of gunshots and helicopters whirring overhead and graphic images of wounded men and women being carried away.

Unconfirmed reports put the death toll as high as 150 on the seventh day of post-election protests. Sources at one Tehran hospital confirmed 19 deaths Saturday.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said numerous protesters who had been beaten and injured by security forces were arrested and detained when they sought medical treatment in hospitals. It said fear of arrest had reportedly driven injured protesters, some in serious condition, to seek care at foreign embassies.

One woman, Shahnaz, said riot police used batons and water hoses to keep her and about 300 other people from reaching Revolution Square in central Tehran. She said she saw helicopters hovering and then she saw tear gas.

Shahnaz is being identified only by her first name for safety reasons.

Verifiable information was hard to come by. The Ministry of Culture on Saturday banned international media from reporting on the demonstrations unless they receive permission from Iranian authorities. A freelance journalist said it was "very dangerous" to take pictures.
At midnight, a stretch of a main avenue near Revolution Square was littered with rocks, street signs and burned tires and trash, witnesses said. Windows were shattered and hundreds of uniformed riot police lined the streets.

In wealthy neighborhoods, reports surfaced late Saturday of raids by the Basiji militia, a paramilitary security force loyal to the government.

The demonstrations unfolded as opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi reportedly declared he was ready for "martyrdom."

That was the message posted on Moussavi's page on Facebook, the social networking Web site that has proved to be a key source of information in the absence of international media coverage.

The message urged Moussavi's supporters to "protest" and "not go to work."

The authenticity of the information could not immediately be established, but its posting coincided with growing unrest by demonstrators, who complain that hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory was rigged.

The protests were held in open defiance of warnings issued Friday by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the country's Security Council. Those authorities had said that protest organizers -- specifically Moussavi -- would be held accountable if the protests led to bloodshed.
Moussavi seemed to be encouraging demonstrators to continue their protests with messages posted on his page on Facebook, the social networking Web site that has proven to be a key source of information in the absence of international media coverage.

"Today you are the media," said one message. "It is your duty to report and keep the hope alive."

Iran's ruling system is "going to the slaughterhouse," a post on the site said.

The post, attributed to Moussavi, reasserted his call for a new election to be overseen by an independent council.

Earlier in the day, Moussavi declared on Facebook that he was ready for "martyrdom." That message urged his supporters to "protest" and "not go to work."

CNN could not determine the authenticity of the messages.

One video showed a woman trying to protect a man being beaten and kicked by protesters near a motorcycle in flames.

Another showed that the unrest had spread beyond the capital -- police clad in riot gear dispersing a crowd at a university in the southern city of Shiraz, beating screaming women with their batons.

Witnesses in Tehran said crowd members were chanting "Death to Khamenei!" and "I will kill whoever killed my brother!" The latter phrase dates to Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.

The chants from rooftops of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) grew longer and louder.

In a story posted Saturday on the Web site of the government-run Press TV, Iran's deputy police commander said 400 police personnel had been wounded since the opposition rallies began last weekend.

"Families of those killed or injured in the events since June 12 have filed 2,000 complaints so far," acting Police Chief Brigadier Gen. Ahmad-Reza Radan told Iran's Fars news agency.

Radan said 10,000 complaints had been filed by people asserting that their daily lives had been disrupted, adding, "They have called on the police to deal with rallies firmly."

Demonstrators gathered in major cities in France, the United States and Germany to condemn the crackdown. Watch demonstrators in New York demand change »

In Washington, President Obama urged the Iranian government to stop the violence.

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching," Obama said in a written statement. "We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."

"If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion," the statement said.

On Saturday night, the Iranian state-run news agency IRINN said an attacker had been killed earlier in the day outside Tehran at the entrance to the mausoleum that holds the body of Ayatollah Khomeini. The agency said the man "carrying the bomb" was killed, and there were no other casualties.

Press TV was reporting that the bomber was the sole fatality, and that three other people were wounded at the shrine to Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution that swept the shah of Iran from power in 1979. Khomeini is regarded as the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

With international journalists restricted from covering events in the capital, Iranians were again using cell phones and social networking sites to get news out. CNN was told that many protesters removed the SIM card, or memory chip, from their cell phones to prevent the government from tracing their calls.

Witnesses reported that cell phone service was cut off in the area after 5:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government said Saturday it is ready to randomly recount up to 10 percent of "ballot boxes." The government agency that oversees elections, the Guardian Council, said it had received more than 600 complaints of irregularities from the three candidates.

Help us or we'll grow opium, say Afghan villagers

TALBOZANG, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Fifty-year-old Abdul Wadud walked for two hours across Afghanistan's remote northern mountains to hear a police commander give yet more promises of aid for those who turn their backs on growing opium.

Wadud does not grow drugs. But if no money comes soon, he will.

"The government told us several times they would help us and they didn't," he said, crouching barefoot on the ground in traditional Afghan loose shirt and trousers and explaining he feeds a family of 15 on occasional work as a day laborer.

"If the government or the aid organizations don't help us -- yes we will have to start growing opium," he said.

"If they build us schools and roads we promise never to grow opium."

Wadud and around 30 other village elders from the area had gathered on a hillside deep inside the Hindu Kush mountains, to attend a "shura," or meeting, organized by provincial authorities to dissuade the men from growing the drug.

Their Badakhshan province in remote northern Afghanistan has been a showcase for government efforts to battle the drugs trade, which accounts for nearly all the world's heroin.

Until 2006 Badakhshan was one of the main opium growing areas in Afghanistan, producing the country's second biggest crop.

But last year its output fell by 95 percent, to a mere 200 hectares under cultivation, close to being declared 'poppy free' by the United Nations, which credited government information campaigns and eradication programs for the success there.

The United Nations has warned, however, that last year's improvement may not hold without more aid for poor farmers.

"Badakhshan may bounce back to opium cultivation if the government fails to deliver promises made to farmers for alternative development activities," the U.N. drugs agency said in its opium survey report last August.


Sayed Musqin Wafaqish, a police commander sent in from Kabul to head counter-narcotic efforts in the area, told the bearded men seated on rolled-out plastic carpets that the aid is coming, as long as they do not revert to growing opium.

"We know you are poor and because you are poor you want to grow poppy," he said. "It is bad for Afghanistan. It is a disgrace. It gives a bad name for Afghanistan because we are growing poppy. I promise you in the near future you will get some help. Your village is on the top of the list."

Despite a marginal drop in production, Afghanistan last year still produced more than 90 percent of the world's opium, a thick paste from poppies which is processed to make heroin. But the overall numbers hide wide variations from province to province.

As a result of improvements in areas under government control in recent years, most of the production is now concentrated in southern provinces such as Helmand, in areas partly or wholly controlled by Taliban militants.

Fighters use the trade to fund their insurgency, and it also breeds corrosive government corruption. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this year Afghanistan was in danger of becoming a failed "narco-state."

The government and its Western backers say the drop in production in northern provinces under their grip, like Badakhshan, is a sign they can fight drugs in areas they control.

Afghan and Western anti-narcotics officials tout "alternative development" projects such as providing wheat seeds to farmers. But locals at the shura say they have yet to see the benefits.

Sayed Amir, 60, an elder from the village of Talbozang, shook his head when asked if he has received any government help.

"No, no, no. Never," he said. "The government promised us seeds but we never received them."

Officials in the peaceful north say they have received far less international aid than in the violent south, where donors spend money to win over hearts and minds from insurgents.

"We hear in radio broadcasts that the international community is helping our country. Where is the help?" said Sayed Ayub, head of Talbozang's development council, as U.S. military and State Department officials who traveled to the shura looked on.

"We are ready for any cooperation with the government. If the government asks us not to grow poppy, they should help us."

43 militants killed during last 24 hours: DG ISPR

RAWALPINDI :Director General ISPR Major Ather Abbas said during last 24 hours, 43 terrorists were killed and six were apprehended, while six soldiers including an officer embraced Shahadat; 17 soldiers including a Junior Commissioned Officer were injured in Malakand and South Waziristan Agency.

Swat security forces successfully secured Kotlai, Chungai, Zara Khela and commenced operation towards Dagai. During exchange of fire with terrorists, 1 Security Forces personnel was injured.

Terrorists ambushed security forces vehicle at road Udigram- Akhun Kalle, resultantly three soldiers embraced Shahadat and seven soldiers were injured.

Security forces commenced clearance operation from Malakand to Thana. one soldier embraced shahadat during exchange of fire with terrorists.

Security forces carried out search operation around Peochar, during exchange of fire with terrorists, three terrorists including brother of local terrorists commander Yousaf were apprehended.

Security forces cleared villages Babu, Shakardarra, while three terrorists were apprehended.

Clearance operation by security forces progressing well at Sakhara, Kharakai, Wanai and Lilbant.

In Dir Local elders Jirgas held a meeting with security forces on security situation of the area and expressed their support for the Government and security forces.

Security forces cleared area around in Bajaur village Asghar.

Security forces party was ambushed at Hilal Khel, during heavy exchange of fire with terrorists, an officer Major Afzal and one soldier embraced shahadat and six soldiers were injured.

In South Waziristan Agency terrorists had blocked the road between Tanai to Sarwaki. Road opening and road clearance operations are being conducted from Tanai to Sarwaki. 32 terrorists were killed in Sarwaki in retaliatory fire by Security Forces.

Meanwhile, all the roads in Mingora city and Takhtaband by pass have been repaired for two way traffic by army engineers. Damage was caused to roads by terrorists. Malakand Mingora road has also been repaired.

Sui Gas repair work in city and surrounding villages has been completed except Kabbal and Rahimabad.

Peshawar security put on red alert

PESHAWAR: The security in Peshawar has been put on high alert in the face of unsatisfactory law and order situation in the provincial capital on Saturday while the suspected vehicles and persons are being strictly checked, Geo news reported.

According to police sources, all the entrances and exists of city, in a bid to step up security measures, are being strictly monitored.

The Peshawar Problem
Working on the International Crisis Group's recent report on Pakistan's internally displaced persons, our team met with Western officials at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar. Had it not been for my trip to Washington to speak with U.S. officials about their Af-Pak strategy, there is a good chance that I would have been there last Tuesday, June 9, when terrorists blasted a hole through the building, killing more than a dozen people.
The attackers had a sophisticated, carefully orchestrated strategy. They gunned down the civilian police guarding the hotel's perimeter, which enabled them to drive past the cement barriers and overtake the private guards within the hotel. Once inside, they blew themselves up and much of the hotel with them. It looked just like the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad last September, just like the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident hotels in Mumbai last November, and just like the attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul in January 2008, which I witnessed from my hotel room there.

The similarities are no coincidence. All the targets have been luxury hotels frequented by foreigners. Every attack has taken advantage of weaknesses in the local infrastructure. Nor was the timing of the attack on the Pearl Continental an accident. Employees from the United Nations, the World Food Program, and numerous aid organizations were staying there. Many of them were charged with helping the 3 million people who have been displaced in the last month alone. These now internally displaced people (IDPs) fled on just a few hours notice -- before a military offensive meant to "flush out" the terrorists in the North-west Frontier Province's Malakand district unleashed heavy artillery, helicopter gunships, and jetfighters against their homes and crops. They left without possessions, and these usually mountain dwellers arrived unprepared for the scorching plains climate. The attack on the Pearl Continental forced international agencies to withdraw their international staff from Peshawar, disrupting assistance to the hundreds of thousands now living in government-run camps.

The IDP situation matters for more than its very real status as a humanitarian crisis. Between 80 and 90 percent of the IDPs are not in the camps; they are bunking with overstretched relatives and friends who receive no outside aid whatsoever. If the international community responds to their needs, these IDPs could present a potentially powerful constituency of civil opposition to extremism. They fled their homes because they reject the militants' worldview. If and when peace returns, they, as a resident living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas told Crisis Group, will be the robust civil society that is so badly needed in the conflict zones.

If Pakistan and its international partners don't meet the needs of those taking refuge, the jihadists will. For a taste of what could happen, just take the October 2008 earthquake in Quetta. To this day, jihadi organizations are winning support by posing as relief groups, offering food, shelter, education, and salvation in one fell swoop. For many IDPs, these services will be their only option. It is not surprising that the terrorists have been so effective in Pakistan.

There are other vulnerabilities that militants exploit here, too. Aid and assistance is one; policing is even more important. Local police forces in the area of the attacks were and remain completely ill-equipped to contend with insurgents. They lack training, barriers, vehicles, modern weapons, and even guns. The underfunded police could do far more with all of these missing resources in hand. As proof, police forces have more frequently intervened and prevented more deadly attacks than their well-funded Army colleagues. If they were trained in counterinsurgency tactics and evidence collection, police could rightly treat and try militants as criminals. Today, the country's criminal prosecution rate stands at only 10 percent.

If the Peshawar attacks teach us anything, it is that, while the foot soldiers may be local militants, the brains behind the terrorist attacks are not. In 2009, there have been more terrorist attacks and more suicide bombings in Pakistan than in Iraq. For the masterminds behind the brutal violence, Pakistan is just the latest frontier in a global campaign.

Their broader goal is clear: terrorize and demoralize the public and the security agencies, and prevent vital services from reaching those who need it most. Al Qaeda and the Taliban's foothold on the tribal belt enables them to do just that. When the state fails to provide the services that civilians desperately need, the jihadists fill the void. The way that Pakistan, the United States, and other partners approach relief for the latest victims will determine what will emerge from the rubble: a strong civil society that stands in opposition to extremism, or a population beaten into compliance with the very forces tearing their country apart.

Reporters Escape Taliban Captors

Washington Post

NEW YORK, June 20 -- A New York Times reporter kidnapped by the Taliban and held for seven months in the rugged mountainous region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border escaped Friday, along with a local Afghan reporter, by climbing over a wall and finding a nearby Pakistani army base, according to the newspaper, U.S. officials and the journalist's family.

David Rohde, 41, was taken captive Nov. 10 along with local reporter Tahir Ludin, 35, and their driver while Rohde was researching a book on Afghanistan. News organizations, including The Washington Post, did not report on the abduction at the request of the Times and Rohde's relatives, who feared that publication of the news could endanger the lives of the captives.

Rohde was kidnapped after he, Ludin and their driver, Assadullah Mangal, 24, set out by car for a prearranged interview with a local Taliban commander. Rohde, described by friends and colleagues as a brave but cautious reporter who always measured risks before traveling, told colleagues at the Times' Kabul bureau that he expected to be fine. But as a precaution, he left instructions on whom to call if he did not return.

The reporter, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, was beginning work on a book about the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He had been held captive in 1995 in Bosnian Serb territory while reporting for the Christian Science Monitor on mass killings at the height of the Bosnian war.

Rohde was apparently planning to journey to the eastern province of Logar to meet with a top commander linked to the insurgent network controlled by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network, believed to control large swaths of eastern Afghanistan, has emerged in recent years as a powerful antagonist to U.S. efforts to stabilize that country and root out insurgent havens in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. The Haqqani network is suspected of launching a number of spectacular attacks in recent years, including a deadly suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed more than 50 people in July 2008.

Ludin, the local reporter, has worked with several Western news organizations and arranged other high-level meetings with Taliban commanders for journalists over the years, and he arranged the meeting at Rohde's request.

The Times reported on its Web site Saturday that at the time of their escape, Rohde, Ludin and Mangal were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. The paper said it was unclear why the driver did not escape with the others. The Times initially reported that Mangal opted to stay behind.

The Times said Rohde and Ludin escaped by climbing over a wall of the compound where they were being held. They walked until they came upon a Pakistani soldier, near Miran Shah, the main town of North Waziristan. The soldier escorted them to a nearby Pakistani military base.

Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic and security concerns, have confirmed that the abductors initially demanded a multimillion-dollar ransom and the release of several insurgent commanders in exchange for Rohde's safe return. State Department officials at U.S. embassies in Islamabad and Kabul have been aware of the kidnapping for months.

According to sources, the FBI worked closely with the Times in Afghanistan to negotiate his release. There were intermittent communications with the kidnappers, who also provided several "proof of life" videos confirming Rohde was alive. But sources said the family insisted on using private security consultants to resolve the case, and it was those consultants who insisted on an absolute news blackout.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, and Rohde's family declined to discuss details of the efforts to free the captives except to say that no ransom was paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released. "Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world," Keller said. "As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers."

A senior Pakistani official said that "Pakistan released no Taliban prisoners" and that "no concessions were made to the kidnappers."

Rohde's family issued a statement saying: "It is hard to describe the enormous relief we felt at hearing the news of David and Tahir's escape and learning they were safe. Every day during these past seven months, we have hoped and prayed for this moment. During this time, we received the generous support of many people at The Times, in the media, in the U.S. State and Defense Departments and other parts of our government as well as the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere."

In Maine, Rohde's father, Harvey Rohde, said by telephone that he had not yet heard from his son and that he had no information other than what he read on newspaper Web sites. "We're obviously delighted," he said.

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement: "We are very pleased to see that David Rohde is now safe and returning home. This marks the end of a long and difficult ordeal for David's family, friends, and co-workers." Gibbs added that the FBI had been "the lead agency on his case." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was "pleased and greatly relieved" at Rohde's release.

Law enforcement officials said the long and complex case involved FBI agents in Kabul and Pakistan; the bureau's field office in Boston, which made the initial contact with Rohde's family in Maine; and eventually the FBI's New York field office, which has experience in counterterrorism cases, kidnapping and the Taliban.

The officials said hostage negotiators and behavioral scientists from the bureau's Critical Incident Response Group in Quantico, Va., worked with Rohde's family and the Times. New York-based agents traveled to Pakistan and worked leads for many months. Some had worked on the 2006 kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll in Iraq.

A senior Pakistani official and a Western journalist, both of whom had knowledge of Rohde's kidnapping and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Rohde and the other captives were moved constantly between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to several locations in the North Waziristan area. North Waziristan is a remote tribal region along the border that is a longtime haven for an array of allied Islamist insurgents including Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda members from other countries.

There was some concern among those looking for Rohde that increased military pressure and intensified U.S. drone attacks -- begun under President George W. Bush and continued by the Obama administration -- had forced his captors to move him around. The American military, as well as other U.S. government officials, were actively looking for Rohde, but reporters who were aware of the case said there had been few updates lately. "His case went cold. We hadn't heard anything about him," the reporter said.

Rohde set out for Logar province by car only days after another Western journalist -- kidnapped four weeks earlier -- had been released. Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung was working on a story about Afghanistan's growing population of displaced people for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. when she was abducted near a refugee camp at the edge of western Kabul by Taliban gunmen in October. She was apparently held in chains in a cave in neighboring Wardak province for about four weeks before her release was negotiated.

Some Canadian media reported that a ransom was paid, but the Canadian government and the CBC denied it.

Fung's kidnapping, like Rohde's, was kept secret by news organizations at the request of the CBC.

Sources in Afghanistan told a Washington Post correspondent Saturday that tribal elders and other leaders in Logar worked over a long period to negotiate Rohde's release and that this may have helped keep him alive. Law enforcement officials reportedly told his family and co-workers that the longer Rohde was alive, the less likely he was to be killed.

At one point, people familiar with the case said, Rohde refused an offer to be released because it did not include Ludin.

Kidnapping of journalists and aid workers has become a major industry in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Westerners increasingly taken for ransom rather than for political reasons. Local residents have been angered by what they see as a double standard in resolving the cases. When an Italian journalist was kidnapped two years ago in Afghanistan, a public outcry followed when the reporter was released after ransom was paid, but his Afghan interpreter was killed.

Rohde is known by his colleagues as an intrepid reporter willing to work in some of the world's most dangerous places, and he has won numerous awards for his war coverage. He won a Pulitzer Prize while with the Christian Science Monitor for his coverage of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 and was part of another Pulitzer-winning New York Times team this year for work in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Before joining the Monitor, Rohde was a freelance journalist in the Middle East and the Baltic States. He wrote a book based on his war reporting in Bosnia. But colleagues said he was no "cowboy," the term journalists use for colleagues who take careless risks. He was described as a cautious risk-taker who carefully calculated whether the story warranted the danger involved.

Rohde worked on the Times' Metro staff until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when he joined the team of reporters dispatched to cover the war in Afghanistan. He grew deeply interested in the country and the region and later became the newspaper's South Asia co-bureau chief.

Rohde, a 1990 Brown University graduate, married Kristen Mulvihill in September in Maine. They honeymooned in the Asian subcontinent, until Rohde returned to Afghanistan to begin researching his book.

"We've been married nine months," Mulvihill told the Times. "And seven of those, David has been in captivity."

Pakistan says it's wrapping up Swat campaign

CHUPRIAL, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan could wrap up the main phase of its anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat Valley within 10 days, a senior commander said Saturday, as the military confirmed the first kills in a new operation in the nearby tribal zone.
Pakistan is shifting the focus in its fight against militancy from the northwestern Swat Valley where troops have been pushing Taliban fighters back for almost two months to a new and much tougher battleground in the Afghan border region.
Washington supports both operations, and sees them as a measure of nuclear-armed Pakistan's resolve to take on a growing insurgency after years of failed military campaigns and faltering peace deals. The battle in the tribal region could also help the war in Afghanistan because the area has been used by militants to launch cross-border attacks on U.S. and other troops.
Maj. Gen. Sajjad Ghani, the commander of some 20,000 troops in the northern part of Swat where the area's top Taliban leader was based, told The Associated Press that some of the final strongholds were being cleared and that "high intensity" operations would end in a week to 10 days.
But stragglers could be expected to keep launching attacks on troops "for some time," he said.
"This area is the center of gravity for the terrorists," Ghani said, standing on a ridge overlooking the Piochar Valley where the Taliban leader in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, once made his base.
"As of now, there are only pockets of resistance left. The terrorists are on the run. Command and control is in disarray. They are unable to organize an integrated response" to the army, he said.
The battle zone is strictly controlled, making it almost impossible to verify the military's description of events. Ghani spoke during a trip by a small group of journalists who were flown into the remote area by the army.
The military says it has made steady progress against the militants in Swat and surrounding districts since launching the operation in late April. Roads and some towns in the southern parts of the valley have been secured and some of more than 2 million residents displaced by the fighting will be allowed to return starting late this month, officials said.
In nearby South Waziristan, shelling and bombing of suspected militant targets has been stepped up and ground troops have been moving into position in the past week since the government announced the military would go after Pakistan's Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud.
South Waziristan is Mehsud's tribal stronghold, a chunk of the remote and rugged mountainous region along Pakistan's northwestern border with Afghanistan where heavily-armed tribesmen hold sway and al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding.
Although the army has not announced a formal start of full-scale operations in South Waziristan, officials said troops are already occupying strategic positions. Jet fighters flattened two abandoned militant-linked seminaries and a training facility Friday — a further sign the operation was ramping up.
Two intelligence and army officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said there was heavy fighting Saturday in the villages of Barwand and Madijan and about 50 militants were killed — the first confirmed militant casualties of the offensive in South Waziristan.
A military statement said 37 extremists died when troops retaliated after they tried to block the main South Waziristan road near the town of Sarwaki. There was no way to reconcile the differing death tolls due to restrictions on media access to the region.
Refugees would go first to Mingora, Swat's main city, where natural gas supplies and more than 500 phone lines have been hooked up, the military said. Residents would be allowed to go home in "phases," as power and civic facilities are restored, said Fazal Karim Khattak, a senior local government official.
Refugees staying in camps south of Swat worried about what they will find when they get home.
"Of course I am happy, but I don't know whether our home is safe or it has been destroyed," said Khadija Bibi, 45, a mother of four who left her home in Kanjua near Mingora in May.
Ghani said 95 percent of the 3,860-square mile (10,000-square kilometer) area under his control has been cleared of militants and most resistance now is coming in Biha, a short valley that backs into snow-covered mountains that are limiting the Taliban's efforts to flee.
He said about 400 militants have been killed in the area during the six weeks of fighting, but that many top commanders have managed to escape, including Fazlullah, and some were possibly headed toward havens in Afghanistan or South Waziristan.
Overall, the army says it has killed nearly 1,500 militants since April in Swat.
In Bajur, another trouble spot on the border with Afghanistan, the army shelled militant hide-outs and killed seven insurgents including a local commander, Gul Zarein, government official Jamil Khan said. The military declared victory over extremists there in February, but violence has flared again.

Dialogue with terrorists no more an option: Gillani

Peshawar: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said on Friday that there is no space for dialogue with the militants at this time when decisive battle has been launched against them to wipe them out so they would never challenge writ of the government.
"Dialogue at the time when army and security forces have been engaged in decisive gunbattle against the militants will be disastrous therefore there will be no dialogue with those who have challenged writ of the government. They will be followed everywhere.
Security agencies have effectively targeted the militants strongholds therefore they are now attacking in cities."
Gillani told media on his first visit to Peshawar to meet with elected leadership of ANP and PPP and apprise himself about the overall security situation of the province and Fata.
The premier said government had used the option of dialogue but the militant gave a negative response and challenged writ of the government in other places as result of the dialogue offer from government side for resolving issues through negotiations. "We did not consider military action as a solution but there was no other way with the government therefore per force army has been called out to fight the militants and clear the areas they occupied," Gillani replied to a question.
Improving law and order in the trouble-hit parts was prime responsibility of the government therefore capacity building of the police, Frontier Corps and other security agencies will start as soon the operation ends in Malakand division, the prime minister informed.
"NWFP government will be provided 24 billion in four phases to purchase latest security equipment for police, levies, and FC to further build their capacity to fight against terrorism. In the first phase Rs6 billion will be provided to improve law and order and provide the people relief," the prime minister informed, adding that people of NWFP must be praised for their courage against terrorism and hospitality they offered to the IDPs.
When asked when the government was going to target Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the defunct TTP, prime minister said forces will follow every militant causing threat to the nation's security and challenging writ of the government.
"We are not willing to start military operation everywhere but still we will not spare those who will challenge writ of the government," PM said.
When asked is there any timetable for the completion of military operation in Malakand division, Gillani said government was willing to end the operation as soon as possible and start rehabilitation and reconstruction process in the war-damaged areas of Malakand however no clear-cut deadline could be given in this regard.
Prime minister ruled out the possibility of the return of internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) during this month, saying that it was not possible that the affected people will return in June. Government, he said, was well aware of the feelings of IDPs therefore they will be rehabilitated once the operation will completed. "We have reserved an amount of Rs50 billion for the IDPs irrespective of the pledges of international donors. It is our responsibility and we will fulfil it," he maintained.
Prime minister announced formation of Trust for the martyred journalists families and promised to release Rs2 million for the trust so the families of the martyred journalists could be compensated and they are provided some relief.
"I pay tribute to the army, police, FC and journalists who rendered sacrifices for the sake of the nation," Gillani remarked.
Replying to a question regarding the meeting of National Finance Commission (NFC), PM assured that soon NFC will be called and the issue of Net Hydel Profit will be resolved in the meeting. On this occasion Prime Minister also announced Rs1.5 million grants for the Peshawar Press Club.
Earlier Gillani was briefed about the law order situation in NWFP and Fata and he was informed about the steps taken for the relief of IDPs. He was also briefed about the reconstruction and rehabilitation strategy to be adopted following the operation. Chief Minister Amir Haider Hotti, Governor Awais Ahmad Ghani and other members of the policymaking committee on Malakand also took part the briefing.

Balochistan’s ghost schools

Dawn Editorial
Balochistan’s education minister has disclosed that there are approximately 3,500 ghost schools in the province. This means that nearly 25 per cent of educational institutions for children exist only on paper.

While the existence of ghost schools has been a national phenomenon for several years now, it is nevertheless distressing that the province which needs schools the most should not have been spared either. With a literacy rate of only 42 per cent — female literacy is barely 22 per cent — the Baloch badly need schools to educate their children. Being the largest province territorially Balochistan can make schooling accessible to all its children only if the number of educational institutions is relatively large, with preferably at least one school in every village. On the contrary, the picture that has emerged from the minister’s statement is a bleak one of inadequate schools, many of which lack basic facilities such as boundary walls, roofs, toilets, etc. The crisis is compounded by the corruption that enables large sums of money to be drained away from the education department for schools that exist only on paper.

The provincial education minister has done well to order ‘missing’ teachers to report to the education department, though unsurprisingly most of them have not responded. It doesn’t have to be emphasised, but they must be dismissed from service after the due process of law has been observed. What is more important is that a strictly independent mechanism should be instituted to inspect schools and ensure that they function normally.

It is obvious that the education department has failed in its duty to see to this and it is futile to expect it to ensure that ghost schools are eliminated. Its functionaries are hand in glove with errant teachers who are offered protection by those whose job it is to keep an eye on them. Wouldn’t it be more effective if an independent system were in place with non-bureaucrats acting as a check at different levels? Meanwhile, the stakeholders, that is the parents of children who need schools, should be encouraged to approach offices that should be easily accessible to register their complaints.

Thirty-two militants killed in South Waziristan: military

CHUPRIAL: Pakistani troops backed by jet fighters and artillery have killed thirty-two militants in a fresh offensive in Mehsud areas of Waziristan, a military statement said Saturday.

They were the first known militant casualties in South Waziristan — stronghold of Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud — since the military started pounding the area with artillery about a week ago

Although the army has not announced a formal start of full-scale operations in this tribal region, officials said troops are already occupying strategic positions in the region.

Jet fighters flattened two abandoned militant-linked seminaries and a training facility Friday in a clear sign that the operation was ramping up.

Two intelligence and army officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, said heavy fighting was under way in the villages of Barwand and Madijan.

A military statement said 32 extremists were killed when they tried to block the main South Waziristan road near the town of Sarwaki.

On Friday, columns of troops, backed by tanks, were seen heading from Wana to Madijan, a locality adjacent to the Mehsud territory. Southwestern parts of Waziristan are inhabited by the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe.

Helicopter gunships bombed Mehsud-dominated areas of Kund Serai, Wara and Serwekai. Two seminaries, a training camp and three houses occupied by militants were destroyed.

Troops fired rockets from the Tanai Fort and dug trenches on hilltops in Madijan and deployed artillery.

An official said troops would first secure the Jandola-Wana road passing through the Mehsud territory and then launch a full-fledged assault on Baitullah Mehsud and his supporters.

The road, which served as the main supply line for troops based in Wana, has been under Taliban’s control for three years.

NWFP Governor Awais Ahmad Ghani, who is representative of the president for Fata, announced last week that security forces had been ordered to launch a decisive action against Baitullah and his associates.

Grouping against Baitullah

Meanwhile, two anti-Baitullah commanders have intensified their activities in nearby Tank district and are raising lashkars for a final showdown.

Turkistan Bhittani and Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, who are reported to have won government’s backing after revolting against Baitullah, started recruiting volunteers in Tank and Jandola.

The government is supporting anti-Baitullah forces in the region to isolate the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader who carries a $5 million bounty announced by the US government.

According to local people, Turkistan Bhittani and Zainuddin have set up recruitment offices in Tank and a large number of people are joining them. ‘Each volunteer is being offered Rs5,000 to Rs8,000 per month and given an automatic rifle and ammunition,’ they added.

Banners praising slain militant commander Abdullah Mehsud and his successor Zainuddin have been put up in different areas of Tank. The armed volunteers are patrolling the streets in Tank and Jandola.

The sources said that Baitullah’s supporters had gone underground after the return of his rivals. According to them, the Taliban left Tank after four supporters of Baitullah Mehsud were shot dead last week. — Dawn Report/Agencies.