Sunday, July 19, 2009

IDP'S forced home to the Taliban

THOUSANDS of refugees from Pakistan's troubled northwest are being sent back to Taliban-infested regions as the government rushes to close camps before the monsoon season.

Rations and services within refugee camps across the North West Frontier Province are being slowly turned off to force as many as two million refugees back to the homes they fled in May.

But The Australian has learned that mountain areas in district of Buner are again under the control of Taliban militants who, in one instance, have set up checkpoints just 500m from an army barricade.

"More than 100 Taliban are here right now," one terrified resident of the Buneri town of Malikpur said by phone through an interpreter at the weekend.

"They're checking ID cards and names," searching for members of the NWFP's ruling Awami National Party and anyone associated with a village army formed in late April to try to repel the militants, he said.

Last week three ANP workers were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint in the area, forced out of their cars and executed.

Buner was the first district cleared during the military operation launched in May to repel the Islamic extremists who had begun expanding their control across the NWFP and towards the capital Islamabad.

But as the army continues to repel Taliban from the Swat Valley, militants are being squeezed across mountain passes and back into Buner. Credible reports suggest they are now in control of a cluster of Buner hamlets.

The Malikpur resident said many people from neighbouring villages had fled in the past week. "There's so much fear. You can't speak to your neighbours. Even a husband cannot speak to his wife," he said.

Pakistan military spokesman Athar Abbas yesterday conceded militants had infiltrated some mountain regions in Buner but denied they had seized control of any towns.

"There are a few places where some actions have been reported from militants fleeing security forces, but that doesn't mean they're under Taliban control," he said. "There's no organised resistance, just hit-and-run operations into certain areas."

The Pakistan government earlier this month began repatriating residents to Buner and parts of Swat, assuring them it was safe to return.

It has promised all returning refugees ration cards and 25,000 rupees ($380), but no one The Australian spoke to had yet received theirs.

"We returned to our home in Swat but because I received no money we have come back here," one man at the Chota Lahore camp in Swabi said.

Across that miserable tent city, families told the same story of diminishing water, food and firewood rations.

"Before the government was providing money and rations but for the last 30 days we've been getting no money," Nazir Mohamed Khan said.

The man wanted desperately to return to his Buner mountain village of Diwana Baba with his wife - in poor health after miscarrying in the camp four weeks ago - but had been warned by his brother not to return.

"He called and said don't come back because the Taliban were again in control. I know it's a very dangerous area, but if the government gives permission we would go back because there is nothing in this camp - no food, no water."

In another section Faidah Mansha packed a meagre bundle of possessions in preparation for an early start on a military convoy back to Kalpani.

The village lies within a few kilometres of the Taliban-controlled Pir Baba and Malikpur. But his family is returning just the same.

"They announced that our village was cleared so we're going back," Faidah says. "The whole family is happy and pray to God we will never come back to this camp."

On a trip into Buner at the weekend The Australian found a region slowly coming back to life as military convoys repatriate hundreds of people after months in exile.

Barber shops - banned under the Taliban - were again doing roaring trade and children in school uniforms walked along the roadsides.

A passing truck full of Frontier Constabulary troops signalled the return of the district administration and its law enforcement agencies, chased out by militants just two months ago.

In the pretty agricultural town of Nawagai, police arrested four Taliban sympathisers on Friday.

In early May the Taliban drove into Nawagai in stolen NGO vehicles armed with rocket launchers and AK47s.

"Some thieves and robbers were also with the Taliban," said Israr Ullah, a school teacher and one of five brothers who he Australian visited two days after their happy reunion. There was no criteria for recruitment to the Taliban."

The army sent its air force in to shell a madrassa and other suspected militant hideouts on the outskirts of the village, killing the principal of the local high school and sending terrified villagers fleeing for their lives.

Israr Ullah stayed behind during the shelling to protect his family's cattle and holdings.

Despite the presence of Taliban just 35km up the road, all five brothers said they were relieved to be home.

Four cops shot dead in police van shooting in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: As many as four policemen including a police sub-inspector were gunned down by unknown militants during firing at a police mobile van here in Sarband locality on Monday, Geo news reported.According to police the police mobile van was on routine patrolling near Sarbad area when unidentified militants opened fire at them, subsequently, killing four police cops including a sub-inspector.Two of them embraced martyrdom on the spot while two, critically injured, succumbed to injuries while on way to hospital, sources said adding that no group has claimed responsibility thus far.Those martyred included sub-inspector Riaz, two constables Laiq Shah, Khudadad and a driver Zahir Shah, sources concluded.

U.S. soldier captured by Taliban: 'I'm afraid'

(CNN) -- A United States soldier captured by the Taliban says in a video posted on the Internet he is "scared I won't be able to go home."The soldier was identified Sunday by the Pentagon as Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho. He was captured June 30 from Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan.The Taliban has threatened to kill Bergdahl if foreign troops continue targeting civilians in the name of search operations in Ghazni and Paktika province, Taliban commander Mulvi Sangeen said by telephone Friday after being contacted by CNN at an undisclosed location.

NATO-led forces in Afghanistan and the U.S. military have repeatedly denied targeting civilians.In the 28-minute video, Bergdahl becomes emotional when he speaks of his family -- his parents, siblings, nieces and nephew -- and the girlfriend he hopes to marry."I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America, and I miss them every day that I'm gone," he says. "I miss them and I'm afraid I might never see them again and that I'll never be able to tell them I love them again. I'll never be able to hug them."He adds that he is "scared. I'm scared I won't be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner." However, he says his captors are treating him "like a guest."It was not clear whether some or all of Bergdahl's remarks were scripted by his captors.The last few minutes of the video show him eating a meal.In a statement released Sunday through the Idaho National Guard, Bergdahl's family said, "We hope and pray for our son's safe return to his comrades and then to our family, and we appreciate all the support and expressions of sympathy shown to us by our family members, our friends and others across the nation. Thank you, and please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers."Asked by his captors if he had any message for Americans, the soldier says, "To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it's like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home. Please, please bring us home so we can be back where we belong and not over here."The Taliban earlier claimed responsibility for Bergdahl's kidnapping, the military said. Last week, the U.S. military distributed pamphlets in eastern Afghanistan in an effort to locate him."As you can see, the American soldier is in good shape and good health, and he is being treated well based on the guidelines of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan regarding war prisoners," said a statement on Islamist Web sites accompanying the video. "Any decision regarding the American soldier will be the specialty of the high order of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, may God protect him."The U.S. military said it believed Bergdahl may have been moved to various locations. In the video, Bergdahl's captor makes reference to his being moved from Paktika to Khandahar. He acknowledges it, saying the move was accomplished "very easily." The claim could not be independently verified. Asked the date by his captor, Bergdahl says it is July 14.
Two versions of the pamphlets were distributed in Afghanistan, written in the Pashto language. They were made available to CNN by U.S. Forces Afghanistan.One shows the image of an American soldier shaking hands in a group of kids with the message, "One of our American guests is missing. Return the guest to his home. Call us at" -- and lists a phone number.The other shows a U.S. soldier kicking down a door, and then an outstretched hand with the superimposed image of a soldier, his head and arms drooping, and the words, "If you do not release the U.S. soldier then ... you will be hunted," the pamphlet says.Days after Bergdahl went missing, a senior U.S. military official said Bergdahl and the Afghan soldiers were captured by low-level militants and then quickly "sold" to the clan and network led by warlord Siraj Haqqani -- believed to be deeply involved in the action.The Haqqani clan operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border and is well known to the U.S. military.Bergdahl apparently left his small outpost on his own on June 30 with no apparent means of defending himself, the official said. Taliban commander Mulvi Sangeen said he visited a military post in the Yousaf Khel district in the Paktika province, got drunk, and was ambushed while returning to his car.Sangeen said the soldier was taken to a safe place. CNN could not independently verify Sangeen's claims.A source with the U.S. military denied the claim that Bergdahl was drunk. "The Taliban are known for lying and what they are claiming (is) not true," the source said.In the video, Bergdahl says he was captured as he was lagging behind a patrol.Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall told CNN Sunday, "Right now, the news is still breaking through town, and as the mayor, I can say this is a community situation."But, he said, "I trust the leadership of this country, the wisdom of the people who are serving and the decisions that led up to the situation."Bergdahl is not a National Guardsman, according to the Idaho National Guard statement, but the organization said it was coordinating with the Department of Defense to provide public affairs duties and other assistance to the Bergdahl family. The family has requested privacy, the statement said.

Power cuts bring people out on Peshawar streets

PESHAWAR: The duration of load shedding in various parts of the city is increasing with each passing day, with the angry residents taking to the streets to protest the frequent power cuts by the Peshawar Electric Supply Company.

On Saturday, the residents of Mattani, Shah Qabool, Mathra, Adezai, Marium Zai, Sherkera and Urmur took to the roads to protest the prolonged power cuts.

They blocked the Indus Highway at Mattani after closing down Mattani Bazaar and attempted to attack the grid station but the police foiled it.

The charged protesters said that they were facing power outages for 14 to 16 hours during the day that was unbearable.

The protesters pulled back after senior police officers rushed to the scene and assured them of the solution of their problem. Power remained suspended from 11:00am to 2:00pm in most parts of the city on Sunday without any notice.

The residents said that the load shedding was not according to PESCO schedule and power supply to the areas was being cut in odd hours. The rural areas are facing over 12-hour load shedding.

Jamil Ahmed, a resident of Regi Village, told Daily Times that the area had no electricity from 4:00am to 12:00pm. He said water supply remained suspended due to power cuts thus multiplying their miseries.

A trader told Daily Times that power cuts had added to their woes, as the business activity had almost come to a full stop, bringing them losses. He said they had no additional money to purchase generators.

Last month, Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti had also expressed his displeasure at the unannounced load shedding in the provincial capital and other parts of province and directed the PESCO authorities to strictly adhere to its load shedding schedule.