Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Balochistan settlement to benefit all provinces

KARACHI: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira has said the government was making ‘sincere efforts’ to address Balochistan’s grievances.

Speaking at a meet-the-press programme of the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday, he said the constitutional committee was also striving to find a solution to the issue along with constitutional amendments.

In reply to a question, he said that there were political, constitutional and financial aspects of the issue and its solution would not benefit Balochistan alone, but all provinces.

The minister said the committee would finalise its recommendations about constitutional amendments, including the 17th Amendment and Article 58-2(b), in a few weeks.

‘The PPP believes that survival of Pakistan depends on democracy and all its decisions are aimed at strengthening democratic institutions,’ Mr Kaira observed.

He said the government had already constituted the Council of Common Interests and decisions would be taken by parliament, and not by an individual.

Answering a question, he said the government would not protect former president Pervez Musharraf, but it would honour the Supreme Court’s decision.

In reply to another question, the minister said the Indus River System Authority was an autonomous body and taking decisions about water distribution independently.

The government could be held responsible only if an indent of the Sindh government was lying with Irsa.

According to his information, there was no deviation from the 1991 water accord, he added.

Mr Kaira said that Pakistan had not handed over to India any proof of its involvement in Balochistan, but expressed apprehension about the unrest in that province. Pakistan and India had agreed to work for sustainable peace in the region, instead of hurling accusations at each other, he said.

The minister recalled the challenges being faced by the government and said some unpopular decisions had been taken in larger interest of the country. The policy of reconciliation pursued by the government had helped overcome the challenges, he added.

Inflation had come down to 13 per cent from 23 per cent because the government’s policies had revived the economy, Mr Kaira claimed.

The information minister said the government had to import three million tons of wheat last year, but now it had a stock of 10 million tons — two million tons more than the country’s requirement. Rice and cotton crops were also very good this year, he said.

The minister said the setting up of the Eighth Wage Board for newspaper employees had been announced and asked owners of print and electronic media houses to pay dues of the Seventh Wage Board Award to their employees before receiving their outstanding dues from the government.

The minister assured journalists that he had taken up the issues of allotment of plots to journalists and registry of the KPC building with the Sindh government.
He gave a cheque of Rs1.5 million to the Karachi Press Club.

Pakistan's landowners still in exile From Unstable Area

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Even as hundreds of thousands of people stream back to the Swat Valley after months of fighting, one important group is conspicuously absent: the wealthy landowners who fled the Taliban in fear and are the economic pillar of the rural society.

The reluctance of the landowners to return is a significant blow to the Pakistani military’s campaign to restore Swat as a stable, prosperous part of Pakistan, and it presents a continuing opportunity for the Taliban to reshape the valley to their advantage.

About four dozen landlords were singled out over the past two years by the militants in a strategy intended to foment a class struggle. In some areas, the Taliban rewarded the landless peasants with profits of the crops of the landlords. Some resentful peasants even signed up as the Taliban’s shock troops.

How many of those peasants stayed with the militants during the army offensive of the last several months, and how many moved to the refugee camps, was difficult to assess, Pakistani analysts said.

But reports emerging from Swat show that the Taliban still have the strength to terrorize important areas. The army continues to fight the Taliban in their strongholds, particularly in the Matta and Kabal regions of Swat, not far from the main city, Mingora, where many refugees have reclaimed their homes.

In those regions, the Taliban have razed houses, killed a civilian working for the police in Matta and kidnapped another, worrying counterinsurgency experts, who fear that the refugees may have been encouraged by the Pakistani authorities to go back too soon.

The rebuilding of Swat, a fertile area of orchards and forests, is a critical test for the government and the military as they face Taliban insurgencies across the tribal belt, particularly in Waziristan on the Afghanistan border.

In a sign of the lack of confidence that Mingora was secure, the Pakistani military declined a request by the Obama administration’s special envoy to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, to visit the town last week.

There was nervousness, an American counterinsurgency expert said, that the plans by the Pakistani authorities to build new community police forces in Swat would not materialize quickly enough to protect the returning civilians, who are also starved of basic services like banks and sufficient medical care.

“There is no apparatus in place to replace the army,” said an American counterinsurgency official. “The army will be the backstop.”

About two million people have fled Swat and surrounding areas since the military opened its campaign to push back the Taliban at the end of April. The United Nations said Monday that 478,000 people had returned to Swat so far, but it cautioned that it was unable to verify the figure, which was provided by the government.

Assessment trips by United Nations workers to Swat scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were canceled for security reasons, and the United Nations office in Peshawar that serves as the base for Swat operations was closed Monday because of a high threat of kidnapping, a spokesman said.

The landlords, many of whom raised sizable militias to fight the Taliban themselves last year, say the army is again failing to provide enough protection if they return.

Another deterrent to returning, they say, is that the top Taliban leadership, responsible for taking aim at the landlords and spreading the spoils among the landless, remains unscathed.

If it continues, the landlords’ absence will have lasting ramifications not only for Swat, but also for Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, where the landholdings are vast, and the militants are gaining power, said Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Mr. Holbrooke, the American envoy.

“If the large landowners are kept out by the Taliban, the result will in effect be property redistribution,” Mr. Nasr said. “That will create a vested community of support for the Taliban that will see benefit in the absence of landlords.”

At two major meetings with the landlords, the Pakistani military and civilian authorities requested that they return in the vanguard of the refugees. None have agreed to do so, according to several of the landowners and a senior army officer.

“We have sacrificed so much; what has the government and the military done for us?” asked Sher Shah Khan, a landholder in the Kuz Bandai area of Swat. He is now living with 50 family members in a rented house about 60 miles from Swat. Four family members and eight servants were killed trying to fight off the Taliban, he said.

At one of the meetings, Mr. Khan said he had asked the army commanders to provide weapons so the landlords could protect themselves, as the landowners had in the past.

The military refused the request, he said, saying it would fight the Taliban. Yet Pakistani soldiers had failed to protect his lands, he said. Twenty of his houses were blown up by the Taliban after the army ordered him and his family to leave their lands on two hours’ notice last September, he said.

A letter he sent last month to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of the Pakistani military, asking for compensation has gone unanswered, he said. In the meantime, one of his tenants called asking if he could plant crops on Mr. Khan’s property. He refused but had little idea what was happening back home, Mr. Khan said.

Other landlords are equally frustrated. The mayor of Swat, Jamal Nasir, fled after his father, Shujaat Ali Khan, regarded as the biggest landlord in Swat, narrowly avoided being killed by the Taliban. Mr. Nasir, a major landowner himself, now stays in his house in Islamabad.

The top guns of the Taliban are still in Swat, or perhaps in neighboring Dir, Mr. Nasir said. “These people should be arrested,” he said. “If they are not arrested, they are going to come back.”

Another landlord, Sher Mohammad, said he was still bitter that the army refused to help as he, his brother and his nephew fought off the Taliban last year for 13 hours, even though soldiers were stationed less than a mile away. Mr. Mohammad was hit in the groin by a bullet and lost a finger in the fight.

At one of the meetings with the military in Peshawar, Mr. Mohammad, a prominent politician with the Pakistan Peoples Party, said he told the officers that he was not impressed with their performance.

“They said, ‘We will protect you,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘We don’t trust you.’ ”

Mystery of Taliban funds

Editorial: DAILY TIMES

The US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Richard Holbrooke, says that Taliban militants are receiving more funding from their sympathisers abroad than from Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade. This statement contradicts the sole Pakistani source that has been forthcoming on the subject: Governor NWFP Mr Owais Ghani thinks that the Taliban in FATA and other tribal areas are spending a budget of Rs 14 billion annually, and the money comes, primarily, from drugs smuggling from Afghanistan.

Mr Holbrooke says: “More money is coming from the Gulf than is coming from the drug trade to the Taliban”. He didn’t say it but he must mean: Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. He is clearly relying on what NATO military officials in Afghanistan think: the Taliban raise USD60-100 million a year from the trade in illegal narcotics. He says: “What I believe happens is that the Taliban fund local operations in the Pashtun belt out of drug money, but the overall effort gets massive amounts of money from outside Afghanistan”.

He thinks the governments in the Gulf are not involved, but that sympathisers from all over the world are — “with the bulk of it appearing to come from the Gulf”. When a Pakistani representative says the Taliban are getting drug money there are layers of meaning in it. First of all, it is a matter of record that during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the militia had successfully curbed poppy cultivation in many parts of the country under their control. The arrival of the Americans in Afghanistan has strengthened the warlords and their “business” of poppy cultivation in the country. What is also on record is the fact that the family of the Afghan president Mr Karzai is involved in the drug trade.

The fact is that the insurgency is very likely to have multiple sources of funding, not just one. Not even one source which caters to the bulk of funds being used to sustain the insurgency and terrorist operations across the region. It is difficult to estimate how much of the money is coming from what source. What makes eminent sense though is to have more than one channel to ensure that the supply doesn’t dry out if one particular source is detected.

Also, we may be forgetting Al Qaeda in all this. Al Qaeda has its old “gold stream” coming into Pakistan and Afghanistan from the UAE in general and Dubai in particular. It started with the purchase of gold and diamonds all over the world — Aafiya Siddiqi was allegedly a part of that network — and then converting them into whatever currency was needed in the area of operation. The half a million dollars supposed to have been spent on the 9/11 operation had allegedly gone to the US from Dubai via Pakistan. Carrying large amounts of currency on flights to and from the UAE is more dangerous than carrying gold. And the institution of hawala is not dead yet.

One cannot ignore the “income” the Taliban count on through criminal activities. Not only do they allow criminal groups to kidnap people for huge ransoms, they levy their own taxes and “protection money” in the areas where they have replaced the writ of the state. And that includes Peshawar itself where the Governor NWFP has his residence. One reason the “emirate” took shape under Baitullah Mehsud was the need to create his own source of revenue through taxing the transporters of the area. Warlord Fazlullah was tolerated by the Taliban and Al Qaeda even when he became “excessive” — which finally led to his ouster from Swat — because he had a good source of revenue from the state-owned emerald mines he had taken over.

Opposition to the Taliban among the local influential groups in Pakistan has grown because of the need of the Taliban to extort money from them to make up the funds for the purchase of weapons and explosives, paying off its foot-soldiers and compensating the families of the “martyr” Taliban.

Pakistan and Tajikistan pledge to fight Taliban

DUSHANBE:Pakistan and Tajikistan on Wednesday pledged to step up efforts to fight the Taliban at a regional summit amid concerns about the spread of violence from neighbouring Afghanistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari pledged to work with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon on stemming the flow of weapons and ammunition to Taliban in the region.

The two states “condemn terrorism and extremism in all their forms and manifestations and express their readiness to cooperate closely, bilaterally ... in combating these twin threats”, said a memorandum signed by the leaders. Zardari spoke bluntly about the deteriorating security situation in the region.

“It (terrorism) threatens my brother’s country, it threatens my country and it threatens the neighbourhood. So once again, I reiterate that we will stand together against this threat of the 21st century,” Zardari told reporters. Tajikistan has been battling Taliban suspected of having fled security operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just hours after the meeting between Zardari and Rakhmon, police said they had killed Nemat Azizov, a key member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Rakhmon told Zardari that more needed to be done to maintain stability in the region.

Pakistan and Tajikistan also agreed to launch strategic dialogue on regional peace, security and development, and energy cooperation. agencies

Afghan Imams being replaced to check militancy

Peshawar : Government of NWFP(PUKHTUNKHWA) has decided to remove the Afghan prayer leaders (Imams) from the mosques and replace them with the local religious scholars in a bid to control the growing militancy and extremism in the province. The District Coordination Officers have been asked to formulate the lists of Afghan clerics acting as Imams in various mosques districts after which the community would be asked to appoint a Imam in order to replace the foreigners. “We are collecting information about the Afghan clerics appointed as prayer leader in various mosques. As soon as the list will be finalized the process of their replacement with local prayer leaders will be started however action will be taken against the responsible of the local community if they will not comply the orders,” DCO Peshawar Sahbzada Anees told PPI. DCO informed government has given the task to finalize the list of the Afghan clerics appointed as prayers leader and soon these list will be handed over to the government after which further action will be taken. There are hundreds of Afghan clerics who are working as prayer leader and they deliver sermons on loudspeakers at every important occasions besides delivering Friday sermons, DCO informed. The decision of replacing the Afghan clerics was taken in high level meeting chaired by Commissioner Peshawar Division who instructed the DCO Charssda, Nawshera and Peshawar to finalize the list and submit their report about the exact number of the Afghan clerics appointed as prayer leader in mosques. Hundreds of Afghans, who studied in seminaries of NWFP, are performing as prayer leader and teachers in different Madaris of NWFP. Having no place to reside majority of them are also using the mosque as residence. Usually the prayer leaders are being paid with very meager amount therefore the local clerics are not ready to accept the job however Afghan seminary graduates having no other option accept the jobs against the payment of Rs 1000-1500 with two time free meal incentives. Well off families of the society also help these Imams with charity fund.

Pakistan’s Air War Against Taliban Grows More Precise

New York Times
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Air Force is improving its ability to pinpoint and attack militant targets with precision weapons, adding a new dimension to the country’s fight against violent extremism, according to Pakistani military officials and independent analysts.

The Pakistani military has moved away from the scorched-earth artillery and air tactics used last year against insurgents in the Bajaur tribal agency. In recent months, the air force has shifted from using Google Earth to more sophisticated images from spy planes and other surveillance aircraft, and has increased its use of laser-guided bombs.

The changes reflect an effort by the Pakistani military to conduct its operations in a way that will not further alienate the population by increasing civilian casualties and destroying property. But they are also dictated by necessity as the military takes its campaign into areas where it is reluctant to commit ground troops, particularly in the rugged terrain of Waziristan, where it had suffered heavy losses.

Military analysts say the airstrikes alone, no matter how precise, cannot ultimately substitute for ground forces or for better counterinsurgency training, something Pakistan has been reluctant to accept from the United States. But they say the airstrikes have become a valuable tool for Pakistan in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in sometimes inaccessible terrain.

Since May, F-16 multirole fighter jets, the Pakistani military’s aerial workhorse, have flown more than 300 combat missions against militants in the Swat Valley and more than 100 missions in South Waziristan, attacking mountain hide-outs, training centers and ammunition depots, Pakistani military officials said.

In conjunction with infantry fire, artillery barrages and helicopter gunship attacks, military officials say, the air combat missions have reinvigorated the military campaign in Swat and put increasing pressure on the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, in South Waziristan.

Interviews with Pakistani fighter pilots and senior commanders offered a rare window into this other air war — a much larger but less heralded campaign that runs parallel to the three dozen secret missile strikes carried out this year by Central Intelligence Agency drones in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

The air force’s new tools and tactics have several sources. The air force has without fanfare accepted some American assistance, like sophisticated surveillance equipment and high-grade images.

But sensitive to anti-American fervor in the country, Pakistani officials have refused most outside aid, developing a small corps of ground spotters largely on their own, and occasionally tapping the Internet for online assistance.

Pakistani officials are urging the Obama administration to lease Pakistan upgraded F-16s, until its own new fighters are delivered in the next year or two. This would allow Pakistani pilots to fly night missions, impossible with their current aircraft.

Pakistan has argued that it needs the more advanced versions of the F-16 not only to enhance its capacity against its traditional enemy to the east, India, but also to continue to battle the Taliban insurgency.

In the past, American officials raised concerns that Pakistan’s troop deployments and arms purchases seemed geared mainly to bolstering its ability to fight India, rather than the Islamic militants the United States saw as a greater threat.

“Of course, there is a real threat from India,” Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Pakistan’s air force chief of staff, said in an interview at his headquarters here. “But right now we have to tackle the threat from the militants.”

Nearly every day in the past few months, Pakistani warplanes have pummeled militant targets in the contested Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The campaigns are a big change from operations in Bajaur last fall.

“The biggest handicap we had in Bajaur was that we didn’t have good imagery,” Air Chief Marshal Qamar said. “We didn’t have good target descriptions. We did not know the area. We were forced to use Google Earth.

“I didn’t want to face a similar situation in Swat,” he said.

In advance of the Swat campaign, the air force equipped about 10 F-16s with high-resolution, infrared sensors, provided by the United States, to conduct detailed reconnaissance of the entire valley.

The United States has also resumed secret drone flights performing military surveillance in the tribal areas, to provide Pakistani commanders with a wide array of videos and other information on militants, according to American officials.

In most cases, officials said, the Pakistani Army provides target information to the air force, which confirms the locations on newly detailed maps. Identifying high-value targets through the use of army spotters or, in some cases, a new, small group of specially trained air force spotters, the air force was able to increase its use of laser-guided bombs to 80 percent of munitions used in Swat, from about 40 percent in Bajaur, Air Chief Marshal Qamar said.

Another change was the mass evacuation of civilians. About two million people were displaced, sometimes with only a few hours’ notice, as part of an effort to get civilians out of conflict areas to reduce their casualties.

Some American officials voice skepticism about the Pakistani claims of success. “We don’t have access to battle-damage assessment or the information on the actual strike execution, so we cannot make a qualitative comparison of what the intended effect was versus the actual effect,” said an American adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to avoid jeopardizing his job.

Officials of human rights organizations say the military has not been able to eliminate all civilian casualties from airstrikes and ground fire, but they agree that the numbers are down.

“Certainly, the level of civilian casualties in this phase of the conflict has been lower than in previous operations in the tribal areas,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Lahore, Pakistan.

To be sure, the air force still operates under limitations. Because the F-16s are equipped to fly only during the day, the militants move and conduct operations at night. Indeed, not one of the 21 main militant leaders in Swat has been killed or captured, Pakistani officials acknowledge. In addition, the Pakistani jets cannot be refueled in midair, as American fighter jets can, limiting how long they can remain over a target area.

In South Waziristan, as the army mulls a ground war, the air force continues to attack militants’ hide-outs and training camps as well as storage caves and tunnels with 500-pound and 2,000-pound bombs.

“We’re still developing our plans for South Waziristan,” Air Chief Marshal Qamar said. “We are preparing to ramp up. I think Baitullah Mehsud is getting the message, and the message is, if he keeps doing these things, we’ll hit him.”

Bomb outside court kills 2, wounds 4 in Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — A bomb ripped through the parking area at a court in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing two men guarding a Shiite Muslim lawyer, authorities said.
Troops waging an offensive elsewhere in the region killed at least four suspected Taliban fighters, the military said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in Dera Ismail Khan, but the city has witnessed both Taliban-related violence and sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The lawyer, Mastan Khan, was among four people wounded in the remote-controlled explosion, police official Bawahal Khan said.
Minority Shiites and majority Sunnis generally live in peace in Pakistan, but extremists often target each other's leaders and activists. The schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims dates to the seventh century, centering on the debate over who should succeed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Pakistan's northwest has been pilloried by violence in recent years, much of it due to a spreading Taliban insurgency. The army is battling the militants on multiple fronts, with the most prominent offensive at the moment in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts.
A military statement Wednesday said that in the previous 24 hours, troops had killed four suspected Taliban fighters during search operations in Swat and neighboring areas. Twenty-two suspects were taken into custody, while at least 18 militant hide-outs and homes were destroyed, it said.
The information is nearly impossible to verify independently because access to the conflict zone is restricted.

Rebiya's visit to Japan will spell trouble for China-Japan relations: Chinese ambassador

(Xinhua) -- The visit to Japan of Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the separatist World Uyghur Congress (WUC), may cause trouble for China-Japan relations, said Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cui Tiankai on Monday.

Cui was speaking in a joint interview with Kyodo News and Japanese national broadcaster NHK on the July 5 Xinjiang riot and Kadeer.

The deadly July 5 Xinjiang riot was neither an ethnic nor a religious issue, but was masterminded by the separatist WUC led by Rebiya, said Cui.

"The July 5 riot in Urumqi was a serious, violent, criminal incident, which caused heavy casualties of innocent civilians," he said.

"Evidence showed the well-orchestrated riot was instigated and masterminded by the WUC led by Rebiya," he said.

The WUC called for massive bloodshed "at any cost" before the Sunday riot. And on July 5, the WUC sent out a flood of instructive messages via telephones and mobile phones to the rioters, and Rebiya herself also reminded her family of their safety in case anything should happen, Cui said.

"The riot was not a religious issue, no Islamic clergy were involved, and nor was it an ethnic one as ethnic groups live in perfect harmony with each other in China," Cui said.

On Rebiya's visit to Japan, the Chinese ambassador said China was firmly opposed to her visit to Japan and had made clear its stance to the Japanese side.

"Her tour in Japan is aimed at distorting the facts and advocating her separatist stand," said Cui. Rebiya's separatist activities in Japan would spell trouble for China-Japan relations, he said.

"China and Japan need to make a concerted effort to advance their strategic and mutually beneficial relations and jointly tackle the ongoing international financial crisis as well as regional issues," Cui said.

"China-Japan relations should not be undermined by the issue concerning Rebiya, nor should the two countries' recognition for major common interests and their cooperation," he said.

On bilateral ties, Cui said promoting the sound, stable and long-term development of China-Japan relations was the consensus of mainstream Japanese society.

"It is in the common interests of the two countries and embodies the common aspiration of both peoples (to build relations)," he said, adding he hoped the two sides would work together to achieve that goal.