Thursday, August 13, 2009

All set for I Day celebrations in Swat Valley

MINGORA: All is set to celebrate major events of the Independence Day celebration in Swat as the nation celebrates 62nd Independence Day today.
Sources here Thursday informed that the major events of I Day celebrations arranged by Pakistan Television would be held at Wadudia Hall, Saidu Sharif.
Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain would be the chief guest on the occasion, they said.
Sources informed that arrangements have been made for flag hoisting ceremony which will be held at 10am followed by national songs and coloruful functions.
Security has been beefed up and vacations of police forces have been cancelled to avoid any incident.
It is pertinent to mention here that the scenic valley has just passed through a disastrous stage as militants had taken over the administration of the valley but security forces managed to overcome the situation and smashed the anti-state elements from the valley.
Meanwhile, Coordinator Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Special representative of the President and prime minister, MNA Asma Alamgir visited Swat here on Thursday.
Chairman Special Services Group (SSG) Corps Commander Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmad also accompanied her on the occasion.
Asma Alamgir, while talking to mediamen said that people of Swat and security forces had rendered countless sacrifices adding that celebrating the major events of Independence Day in Swat, meant to pay a rich tribute to all the martyrs.
She said that the prime minister had already announced Rs500 million grant and soon the President would also announce a special grant for Swat, Buner and Dir.
Asma informed that 90 per cent of repatriation of Swat IDPs had completed and the rest would also return home soon adding that special institutions would be set up for orphans.
She also lauded opposition’s role at the critical stage.
Earlier Asma Alamgir along with Lieutenant General Nadeem visited Girls High School Saidu Sharif and various markets of Mingora.

Jubilant Swatis say no to Taliban

MINGORA: Though seemed a figment of the imagination, it was reality as hundreds of jubilant Swatis, dancing, clapping and chanting slogans in support of the government and country’s armed forces converged at the Nishat Chowk not only to mark the Independence Day celebrations, but the routing of Taliban and return to their paradise after living for more than three months in camps.

A further boost to the confidence of the dwellers was observed when elected members of the NWFP assembly from Swat, though under strict police security, joined the people and responded to their slogans.

This is the first time in the past three years that the people were seen celebrating the Independence Day in such a befitting manner despite bitterly bruised by the presence of Taliban and their harsh tactics of violence during that period.

Green Chowk, the area once known as Khoony or bloody Chowk, where Taliban used to slaughter people and even did not spare women in their killing spree, was massed by hundreds of young and old men and even children to mark their celebrations over the return of peace in this city once known for its calm and peace all over the country.

This was the first time in the past several months that curfew relaxation was extended up to 11 pm. Though many people did not know about the relaxation and they got back to their houses before dusk. However, crowds of people were seen returning to the city main market from far-off areas till late night to join the celebrations.

Rallies of youth on foot, in cars, pick-up trucks and on motorbikes were seen marching through the streets of the city with playing music in loud voice while others dancing at the thump of drums fitted on the vehicles.

“We have many reasons to celebrate,” said a middle-aged man holding a six-year-old boy on his shoulders. “God rid of Taliban, we returned to our areas and curfew is relaxed. All these have added to our happiness of the Independence Day,” he added.

Almost all the important buildings, both government and private, were decorated with colourful lights and people at shops and in vehicles were playing music in loud voice.

Once turned into a dreaded city because of the presence of Taliban, Mingora was presenting a look of some area outside Pakistan. Army and police personnel were patrolling in their vehicles and waving to the people to join their celebrations.

Nishat Chowk, where thousands of people gathered to chant slogans in support of peace and against violence, were decorated with colourful lights. Groups of youth were coming from each side of the city and merge into the crowd to join the chorus ‘Pakistan Zindabad.’

“We can’t imagine this. This is the courage of the people who are coming out in such a large number and with such zeal and fervour despite seeing hundreds of beheadings, slaughtering and killing of innocent people,” said Usman Khan, resident of Gul Kada area of Mingora City.

“It is terrible....It is unbelievable,” said Abdullah, a medical student hailing from the same city. He said Mingora people used to celebrate the country’s Independence Day in befitting manners, “but this is the first time that I’m seeing such a zeal and fervour among the people.”

Locals said they did not celebrate the day in the past three years. To Abdullah, this is another independence, but this time from militants, who were out to impose their brand of Islam on the people of Swat.

The main function of the Independence Day celebrations will be held at the Wadudia Hall at the Wali-era Jehanzeb College. Ministers, MNAs, MPAs and dignitaries from all the four provinces are expected to join the ceremony.

Children of different schools will present national songs. It would be followed by a musical concert. A hockey match between Swat Green and Swat Red will be played at the Grassy Ground to mark the I-Day celebrations.

Officials said the chief minister NWFP and President Asif Ali Zardari are also expected to join the ceremony which is the grand function of the Independence Day.

Karzai says he will win Afghan election

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will win next week's presidential election and will offer government positions to his top two challengers.

Karzai's announcement seemed designed to offer a pre-election deal to his main rivals and offset any postelection tension at a time when large parts of Afghanistan are embroiled in an insurgency. Afghans vote next Thursday for president, their second-ever direct presidential election. More than 100,000 international troops and 175,000 Afghan forces are deployed to provide security.

Karzai is the leading candidate in a crowded field of three dozen contenders hoping to win a five-year term. He is trailed by his former foreign and finance ministers, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.

Karzai said that if he wins, "I will invite Dr. Abdullah, I will invite Ashraf Ghani, give them food and tea and give them jobs, as I did last time."

A spokesman for Abdullah's campaign said the people, not Karzai, will decide who wins and forms the government.
Let's wait for next week's polling day and see the election results," spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki said.

Ghani's campaign team said it rejects any pre-election deal with Karzai.

A week before the vote, there are fears that election tensions could boil over into street violence if presidential losers allege fraud. Opposition candidates have been accusing Karzai and his team of using state resources to ensure re-election.

While Karzai is leading in the polls, the latest public opinion surveys show him at under 50 per cent support. If no candidate wins 50 per cent of the vote on Aug. 20, the top two finishers will have a run-off. That could open the possibility of a coalition uniting around a single candidate to try to defeat Karzai.

Most of the country's most violent regions - in the south and the east - are where the country's ethnic Pashtuns live. Karzai, himself a Pashtun, could see his returns lowered if insurgent violence keeps Afghans there from voting.

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the vote and warned people to stay away from polling centres on election day.

Afghan journalists in central Ghazni province received a letter from the Taliban on Thursday in which the militants threatened shopkeepers to keep their businesses closed for three days before the vote. The letter also asked students to not go to school and warned people not to get anywhere close to polling centres.

The president said the people should come out and vote despite the Taliban threats.

"Even if there are a hundred explosions, we will go out and cast our votes," Karzai said Thursday.

Karzai spoke at a gathering of female supporters on the capital's outskirts. Some of the teachers present said their school principal asked them to attend.

Shekeba Ahmadi, a teacher from Kabul, thought she was going to a seminar. Wahida, another teacher who gave only one name, said their principal had ordered them to come. None would identify their schools for fear of retribution.

Pakistanis View Al-Qaeda, Taliban Negatively, Poll Finds

Washington Post
Pakistani views of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have shifted markedly since last year, with unfavorable opinions doubling to about two-thirds of those surveyed in a new Pew Research Center poll.

Condemnation of extremists did not coincide with a more favorable view of the United States, held by only 16 percent of the Pakistanis surveyed. Only 13 percent said they had confidence in President Obama, a stark contrast to his overwhelming popularity in much of the rest of the world. A hefty 64 percent said they regard the United States as an enemy of Pakistan.

But more than half said that improved relations between Pakistan and the United States were important, and large majorities supported U.S. efforts to provide aid and intelligence to the Pakistani military. U.S. military assistance to Pakistan has totaled about $11 billion since 2001, and the Obama administration has requested an additional $2.5 billion for 2010.

Public displeasure with the United States focused on the war in Afghanistan -- with seven in 10 Pakistanis calling for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops -- and on missile attacks by U.S. Predator drones on al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the western Pakistani mountains near the Afghan border.

Only 22 percent said the United States takes Pakistani views into account when making foreign policy decisions, a number largely unchanged since 2007.

The face-to-face survey of about 1,200 adults, largely in urban areas, took place in late May and early June, about a month after the Pakistani army began a major offensive against entrenched Taliban forces in the Swat Valley region in northwest Pakistan. The military last month declared victory in the operation, although the return of more than 2 million people displaced by the fighting has been slowed because of ongoing security concerns.

Military operations have also produced at least a temporary lull in suicide bombings that swept Pakistan this year. More than 87 percent said such attacks are never justified, the highest percentage in the poll.

Public support for the Pakistani military remains high, with 77 percent saying it is having a good influence on their country. But President Asif Ari Zardari has dropped sharply in popularity, with 32 percent saying they had a favorable view of him, down from 64 percent in a similar survey last year. By contrast, 67 percent said they approved of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and 79 percent had a favorable view of the leader of the government's main political opposition, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

India remains a prime concern for most Pakistanis, with 88 percent saying they viewed it as a threat, compared with 73 percent for the Taliban and 61 percent for al Qaeda.

Pakistan's 63rd Independence Day celebrations begin

ISLAMABAD : The nation would celebrate its 63rd Independence Day on Friday with great zeal, enthusiasm and renewed commitment to make Pakistan strong, progressive and prosperous.

It will be a public holiday. The day will dawn with special prayers in mosques for the progress and prosperity of the country.

Celebrations will begin with a 31-gun salute in the Federal Capital and 21-gun salute in all the four provincial capitals. At 7.58 am, all vehicular traffic will stop for two minutes with the sounding of sirens and national anthem will be played at 8:00 am.

A change of the guard ceremony at the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, in Karachi would also take place.

A number of events have been chalked out to celebrate the Independence Day in a befitting manner and pay homage to those, who laid down their lives to create an independent motherland for the coming generations.

The main event of the day will be a flag-hoisting ceremony in the Capital. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani will unfurl the national flag.

Keeping alive previous traditions, all the government and private buildings have been illuminated. People, all over the country have decorated their houses, shopping centers and offices with national flags, banners, lightings, paintings and balloons, particularly in green and white colours.

The ruling Pakistan People's Party as well as other major political parties are all set to celebrate the historic day in a dignified manner by hoisting national and party flags.

To mark the occasion in a befitting manner, the electronic and print media have planned comprehensive programmes. The electronic media would present various programmes including national songs, talk shows, dramas and children programmes.

While the print media would carry out special supplements, features and articles, highlighting the importance of the day and sacrifices rendered by heroes and nation's forefathers for it.

Rallies, processions and colorful functions under the aegis of various public and private sector, social and political organizations in all small and major towns and cities of the country will be the hallmark of the day.

In these programmes, the speakers would highlight the significance of the day, goals set for the future and in words of the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam bring "Unity, Faith and Discipline" to its people.

In the Federal Capital the main celebrations include flag hoisting ceremony at the premises of Lok Virsa, while the artisans would display their work, folk music performances at open air theater, photographic exhibition will be the other major features of the day.

The Heritage Museum will remain open to public from 10.00 a.m. to 8.00 pm for local and foreign visitors.

Pakistan Helicopter Gunships Kill 11 Taliban

WANA, Pakistan- Pakistani gunship helicopters attacked Taliban bases on Thursday, killing 11 militants and keeping up pressure after the reported death of the Pakistani Taliban leader in a U.S. missile strike last week.

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said on Wednesday said there were signs of disarray within the group following the apparent death of Baitullah Mehsud.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's efforts to suppress Islamist militants on its side of the border are vital for a U.S.-led bid to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan, where Taliban have threatened to disrupt the August 20 presidential election.

Pakistani and U.S. officials are almost certain that Mehsud was killed along with his second wife and some bodyguards in a strike on his father-in-law's house in South Waziristan near the Afghan border on August 5.

But Mehsud's aides insist he is alive.

Pakistani helicopters attacked several bases run by Hakeemullah Mehsud, one of Mehsud's main commanders who is seen as a possible successor, in the Kurram and Orakzai ethnic Pashtun tribal regions northeast of Mehsud's South Waziristan powerbase.

"We have reports that eight militants have been killed," Fazal Rahim, a government official in Orakzai, told Reuters.

An intelligence official in the nearby Kurram region said three militants were killed in air strikes there.

Hours later, a pro-government Pashtun tribal elder and three other people were killed in a bomb attack in South Waziristan.

"He was travelling in his car when a suicide bomber riding a motorbike blew himself up," said an intelligence official in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan.


The elder, Khadeen Wazir, one of his colleagues and two passers-by were killed, he added. Another security official said Wazir and four other people were killed in the blast set off by remote control.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack although Mehsud and his men have a long record of assassinating their pro-government rivals.

Clashes have broken out since Mehsud's reported killing between his men and members of a rival militant faction.

At least seven militants opposed to Mehsud were killed and four were abducted by Mehsud's men in an attack near South Waziristan on Wednesday.

Members of the faction opposed to Mehsud, which is led by a commander known as Turkestan Bitani, later attacked a village inhabited by Mehsud loyalists and abducted 15 men, intelligence officials and residents said.

Mehsud is leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, an alliance of about 13 militant groups.

He has been blamed for a wave of bomb and suicide attacks across Pakistan, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

His killing, if confirmed, would be a major blow for the Taliban in Pakistan.

Mehsud focussed his efforts on battling Pakistani security forces and analysts say he could be replaced by a commander more intent on driving Western forces out of Afghanistan.

IDPs from Nowshehra returning home

PESHAWAR : More than 200 families of Swat IDPs are returning home on Thursday from the Jalozai camp of Nowshehra.Affectees have been provided the transport facility and one month ration as they were about to leave for home. There are still 24,656 people of 4,742 IDPs’ families in the same camp who are waiting to make their way home once the situation is completely under control.