Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pakistani Christians Observe Black Day

Lahore: Christians took out protests and hoisted black flags to observe “Black Day”
to demand repeal of blasphemy laws and condemn burring alive Christians in Gora city by Muslim extremists attack. There was not any significant program or gathering on Minority Day announced by government. The 20 million Christians expressed their unity and demanded repeal of blasphemy law, resignation of Shahbaz Bhatt, minister for minorities, and true representation in parliament. The rallies were taken out in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Gojra, Summandri, Rahim Yar Khan, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad in front of Press Clubs. There were special prayers held in Churches also.In Lahore, SLM, CLAAS, NCP, CNJP and PCC activists gathered at Press Club and marched toward Punjab Assembly, The rally of thousands was addressed by Joseph Francis, Sohail Johnson and other leaders.Islamabad observed ‘Black Day” by holding three rallies separately. The mega rally was led by J Salik, Chief of WMA and former federal minister and Xavier William , Coordinator PCC, who marched to protest in front of Parliament House of Pakistan. The Islamabad police have blocked all roads leading to parliament on which protesters offered prayers on police blockade for martyred in Gojra. Mr. J Salik condemned present representation of Christians in Pakistan and demanded repeal of blasphemy laws.In Karachi, large gathering of Christians at Press Club chanted slogans to repeal blasphemy laws and arrests of killers of Christians in Pakistan. There were news that protestors clashed with police on blocking their way to governor house but news not yet confirmed according to PCP sources. The major protests were organized in Azam Town, Drig Road and Korangi by different groups also.In Gojra, where Muslims militants attacked on August 1, 2009, killing 11 Christians and set on fire 60 homes remained main venue of protest. In presence of heavy contingents of police Christian Human Right Federation organized a rally and demanded arrests of attackers and repeal of blasphemy laws.Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC, who called for “Black Day” on July 21, 2009, instead of Minority Day by government, marked Black Day with a Press Conference in National Press Club, Washington DC, on August 10, 2009, and urged US and EU to intervene and press Pakistan to repeal blasphemy laws. He further demanded resignations of Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities and Kamran Michael, Punjab government minister on failing to protect minorities.In a statement issued here today, Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, paid homage to 20 million Christians in Pakistan to express their unity to observe Black Day and to reject Minority Day of government.
There are protest to observe Black Day today also in Paris, London and Toronto while Pakistani American Christians will launch Black Day protest in front of UNO in New York on August 12, 2009

Pakistan Taliban Burning Schools to Face New Assault

Aug. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Taliban militants are still active in parts of Pakistan’s northwestern Buner district, where they have torched schools, and will face a renewed assault by security forces, the military said.

After a 10-week army campaign in areas northwest of the capital, Islamabad, the military handed control of Buner to civilian officials, claiming success over the militants. It says it has killed about 1,700 Taliban fighters since beginning the offensive in April to take back control of the Swat valley and other districts, including Buner.

“We have reports of Taliban movement in a part of Buner,” military spokesman Athar Abbas said in a phone interview today. “Call it reorganization of Taliban or just movement, the security forces plan to flush them out,” he said. Taliban activity had been reported in about 10 percent of Buner, he said.

The military offensive in the northwest forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes. The refugees started returning last month after the army declared victory. The new assault will be planned by the local administration, Abbas said.

“This hit-and-run strategy by the Taliban will continue until the militants are completely finished from Swat valley and the neighboring tribal area,” said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, assistant professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

Jaspal said the next big target for the army is to “secure tribal areas by eliminating Taliban from there.” The military turned its attention to extremists in these regions along the border with Afghanistan in June.

Mehsud Killing

The violence in Buner comes amidst a propaganda battle between the government and the Taliban over the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the government is trying to gather physical evidence that the nation’s No. 1 terrorist was killed in a U.S. missile strike this month, leaving the Taliban leadership in disarray. Mehsud’s deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud, called journalists and analysts two days ago to dismiss claims he and his boss had died.

Mehsud, who said he ordered terrorist bombings in Pakistan, led about 5,000 fighters in the border region with Afghanistan. Pakistan and the U.S. have described his killing as a major victory in their fight against the Taliban.

70 dead as rival militants clash

PESHAWAR - Dozens of gun-totting militants were killed and more than 40 houses destroyed as a result of clashes between Taliban of Baitullah Mehsud group and those loyal to the pro-government tribal leader Malik Turkistan Betani.
As per details, the clashes started when scores of Taliban militants from Baitullah Mehsud attacked the supporters of Malik Turikistan Betani in village Shoza in Soor Ghar area in Frontier regions connecting South Waziristan Agency and Tank district of NWFP late on Wednesday night.
The Taliban militants used modern and sophisticated weapons against the Betani tribesmen and their supporters. As per unconfirmed reports, around 70 persons from both the sides were killed. Around 40 houses owned by supporters of Malik Turikistan Betani were also destroyed. The killed and the injured included women and children.
Malik Turikistan Betani when contacted confirmed the clashes, saying Baitullah Mehsud group militants had attacked the houses of his relatives in Soor Ghar area. He claimed that the attack was so far repulsed but a large number of people from both the sides were killed. He, however, was unable to give exact figures in this respect.
The local people informed that security situation in the area was tightened whereas gunship helicopters were also used to bring the situation under control.
Malik Turikistani Betani has shown disappointment over the role of security forces. He said that amidst presence of two brigades of the armed forces, frequent attacks against him and his supporters is surprising. It was the second attack against Malik Turikistan Betani in a period of one week by militants from Baitullah Mehsud.

UN braced for possible South Waziristan displacement

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations is preparing to assist an estimated 150,000 Pakistanis who could be displaced in the event of a full scale military operation against a Taliban stronghold, officials said Wednesday.

In June, officials said up to 45,000 people had left their homes in South Waziristan, many fearing an offensive against Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who is now believed to have died in a US drone attack last week.

‘The estimates that we have now and the working figure that we are using is that the number of displaced could rise somewhere between 90 (thousand) to 150,000,’ UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja told a press conference.

‘The number of IDPs (internally displaced persons) eventually depends on the scale and the nature of the military operations,’ he added.

The United Nations and aid workers have stockpiled supplies at a logistical base in the Bhakkar district of Punjab, the province adjacent to districts that in turn neighbour the mountains of South Waziristan.

‘Now currently we are undergoing a registration exercise of those who are already displaced or those who decided not to return to their summer homes in South Waziristan,’ Mogwanja said.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal regions are hubs for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who escaped the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul.

The United States, which has been a vocal supporter of Pakistan's fight against the Taliban in the northwest, alleges that al-Qaeda fighters are holed up in the region plotting attacks on western targets.

Mogwanja said more than 800,000 displaced people had returned to northwest districts Buner and Swat, after a summer offensive, with 1.2 million still living in host communities and another 165,000 were still in camps.

The military claims to have largely defeated Taliban in Swat and Buner since launching an operation in late April, but talk of waging a large ground offensive in South Waziristan has not been matched by events on the ground.

Marines assault Taliban town in Afghanistan
DAHANEH, Afghanistan — Helicopter-borne U.S. Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed into a strategic Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday, battling to gain control of the area ahead of next week's presidential elections.
Associated Press journalists traveling with the first wave said Marines were met with small arms, mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire as they flew in helicopters over Taliban lines and dropped into the town. Fighting was still underway hours later, with U.S. Marine Harrier jets streaking overhead and dropping flares in a show of force.Other Marines met heavy resistance as they fought to seize control of the mountains surrounding Dahaneh in the southern province of Helmand. Another convoy of Marines rolled into the town despite roadside bomb attacks and gunfire.It was the first time NATO troops had entered Dahaneh, which has been under Taliban control for years. Casualty figures were unavailable due to security restrictions.U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country so Afghans can take part in the country's second-ever direct presidential election. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the elections, and attacks are on the rise around Afghanistan.Marines said they had captured several suspects in Wednesday's push and seized about 66 pounds of opium, which the militants use to finance their insurgency. Troops hope to restore control of the town so that residents can vote in the presidential election.The new offensive, named "Eastern Resolve 2," is designed to break the monthslong stalemate in this southern valley where the Taliban are solidly entrenched. By occupying Dahaneh, the Marines hope to isolate insurgents in woods and mountains, away from civilian centers."I think this has the potential to be a watershed," said Capt. Zachary Martin, commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who lead the assault.The goal is to cut off the Taliban from a major rear base, and reclaim the area's main market district. It is hoped this would have a ripple effect through neighboring villages, making civilians more willing to cooperate with NATO forces. The Taliban levy taxes in Dahaneh and maintain checkpoints in the area, which serves as a main trading route through northern parts of Helmand, which produces 60% of the world's opium."In the long term, it could have tremendous effects for the entire province," said Martin, who company is based in the nearby town of Now Zad.A combined force of some 500 U.S. and Afghan troops took part in the attack, which included helicopters, snipers, and women Marines brought in to deal with Afghan women during the compound-by-compound search conducted by Afghan forces that accompanied the Americans.Martin said the Marines had devised tactics to minimize civilian casualties in the densely populated area. He said troops would strictly limit the type of weapons they used and would stick to a "proportional response" when under fire.Casualties have mounted as U.S. and NATO troops ramp up military operations following President Obama's decision to send thousands more American forces to Afghanistan to cope with the rising Taliban insurgency.Last month, U.S. and NATO deaths from roadside and suicide bomb blasts in Afghanistan soared six-fold compared with the same month last year, as militants detonated the highest number of bombs of the eight-year war, according to figures released Tuesday.Three U.S. Marines and a Polish soldier died in the latest attacks, setting August on course to surpass the 75 U.S. and NATO deaths from all causes in July.Though roadside bombs target U.S., NATO and Afghan troops, the blasts have killed a record number of civilians this year as well. Nine Afghans riding in a vehicle died in a bomb blast Tuesday in Kandahar province, said Daud Farhad, a doctor at Kandahar's Mirwais hospital."The enemy has moved to increase the use of indiscriminate IEDs against our forces as well as the Afghan people," said U.S. Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a spokesman for the NATO-led force. He said IED attacks are up in part because of increased operations by NATO troops.Afghan soldier deaths from IEDs are also up sharply, Azimi said, but had no figures. A roadside bomb in Zabul killed two Afghan soldiers Tuesday, said Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai.At least 14 NATO troops, including at least seven Americans, have died in bomb blasts this month.