Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bia Daraglam ... “Here I Come Again,”

BARA: The security forces continued demolition of houses owned by militants or their supporters in Bara sub-division of Khyber Agency on the third day of the military operation on Thursday.Thirteen houses were destroyed with the help of explosives and heavy machinery in different parts of Bara including Shlobar, Malikdinkhel, Kamarkhel and Sipah. Eighteen tribesmen described as suspects were arrested during the search operation.The houses of Said Rasan, Habib Shakir and Imtiaz, all reportedly affiliated to the outlawed Lashkar-e-Islam, were destroyed in Kamarkhel area as the troops resumed action around 10am on Thursday.Two more houses owned by Sirajuddin and Shahid were razed to the ground in Malikdinkhel area. The former is known to be one of the founding members of Lashkar-e-Islam.In Shlobar area, houses of Haji Qasim and Gulmat were demolished. Haji Qasim was accused of funding the banned Lashkar-e-Islam while Gulmat is stated to be a member of Shlobar unit of the organization.The house of Lashkar-e-Islam chief Mangal Bagh was demolished in Sipah area. His house was earlier destroyed in the military operation conducted in June last year.Bia Daraglam, or “Here I Come Again,” is the name of the military action now underway in Bara area. This is the second military operation after the one carried out last year.Federal Minister Hamidullah Jan Afridi, who belongs to Bara, has criticized the military action and demanded an end to it. The government is claiming successes in the operation but tribesmen are complaining that innocent people have been killed and arrested during the action.People complained about the indefinite curfew and said they were running out of food and other items of daily use. Said Ayaz, general secretary of the shopkeepers association in Bara, told The News that the food items, vegetables and fruit in their shops were rotting. He said the security forces should relax the curfew for some time so that they might bring the perishable items out.

Majority affected by sugar crisis

PESHAWAR: Majority of Pakistanis claimed to be affected by the recent sugar crisis in the country. According to a Gilani Research Foundation survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan, more than two third of all Pakistanis (79%) have complained about facing difficulties in purchasing sugar, while 20% faced no problem. High price is one of the major hurdles respondents (78%) claimed to have faced during the recent sugar crisis, followed by other problems like unavailability (9%), long queues (8%), and bad quality (4%). Seventy percent (70%) believe it is an artificially created crisis and a conspiracy. Target of blame for the price hike is split between government (47%), manufacturers (28%) and traders/exporters (24%). A nationally representative sample of men and women from across the country were asked “In the past few months there has been an extreme shortage of sugar in the country and people are facing difficulties in buying sugar. Have you also faced such difficulties?” Seventy nine percent (79%) said yes, while 20% seemed to have not been affected by this sugar crisis. One percent (1%) gave no response. “In the past few months there has been an extreme shortage of sugar in the country and people are facing difficulties in buying sugar. In a follow up question the respondents were asked “If yes, which one type of the following problems did you face with regards to buying sugar?” Majority (78%) said that while sugar is available in the market, it is exceptionally expensive. Amongst the remaining respondents 9% claimed sugar is not available, 8% complained about having to stand in long queues to buy a sugar bag, and 4% said the sugar quality is very bad. One percent (1%) gave no response. It is noted that while comparatively more urbanites complained about long queues, people from rural areas said sugar is not available in the market. To understand what people think is the real cause of this recent sugar shortage in the country, respondents were asked “In your view, do you think our country is going through a real sugar crisis or is it happening because of some planned conspiracy?” While 28% believe it is a real shortage, majority 70% think it is a planned conspiracy. Two percent (2%) gave no response. The findings show that men, adults of above 50 years of age, and more people from urban areas tend to believe sugar crisis is a conspiracy and artificially created. “In your view, do you think our country is going through a real sugar crisis or is it happening because of some planned conspiracy?” When the respondents were asked who they thought was responsible for this exorbitant increase in sugar prices, majority of them (47%) blames the government, 28% believe it’s the fault of sugar mill owners, 19% think businessmen are responsible, while 5% believe exporters are guilty of creating such a mess. One percent (1%) gave no response. The study was released by Gilani foundation and carried out by Gallup Pakistan, the Pakistani affiliate of Gallup International. The latest survey was carried out among a sample of 2765 men and women in rural and urban areas of all four provinces of the country.

Gates Signals He’s Open to More Troops in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signaled on Thursday that he was open to an increase in American troops in Afghanistan and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was now a “sense of urgency” about the eight-year-old war and that “time is not on our side.”

In a joint news conference with Admiral Mullen at the Pentagon, Mr. Gates said his previous concerns about the American “footprint” becoming too big in Afghanistan had been “mitigated” by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, President Obama’s hand-picked commander who took over American and NATO forces in the country in June.

Mr. Gates said that although he had long been worried that a large number of American forces would alienate the Afghan population, as happened when the Russians had 120,000 troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, he was taking seriously the views of General McChrystal, who has indicated that the size of the force is less important than what it does.

“Where foreign forces have had a large footprint and failed in no small part has been because the Afghans concluded they were there for their own imperial interests and not there for the interests of the Afghan people,” Mr. Gates said. But he said that Mr. McChrystal’s efforts since June to reduce civilian casualties and interact more with Afghans “has given us a greater margin of error in that respect.”

The change of view on the part of Mr. Gates is important because he is expected to be an influential adviser to Mr. Obama as the president weighs in the next weeks whether to add more American troops to Afghanistan. In the past, Mr. Gates has expressed some skepticism about a buildup.

The defense secretary made his remarks two days after General McChrystal submitted a report to his superiors at the Pentagon on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates said he has since forwarded the report, which has not been made public, to Mr. Obama, and that he and Admiral Mullen would be offering their views to the president next week. General McChrystal is expected to ask for additional forces within the month.

Military strategists close to the Pentagon say that General McChrystal might offer three options for troop increases, with what he sees as associated risks for the American effort in Afghanistan. A high-risk option, the strategists said, might be 10,000 to 15,000 additional troops. A medium-risk option could be 25,000 troops and a low-risk option might be 45,000 troops.

Defense analysts said it was possible that Mr. Gates might recommend to the president what Pentagon officials call the “Goldilocks option,” the medium-risk one in the middle.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, cautioned that talk about troop levels was speculation. “Anyone who tells you that they know how many troops the commander is going to ask for and the options he may or may not present doesn’t know what he’s talking about because that has not been determined yet,” Mr. Morrell said. He said that Mr. Gates had not made up his mind about any level of troop increase he would recommend to the president.

A wily former C.I.A. director who has worked for eight presidents of both parties, Mr. Gates will also take cues on troop increases from Mr. Obama, whose schedule and public speeches have been dominated this summer by the health care debate.

At the news conference, Mr. Gates said he understood why public support for the war in Afghanistan was slipping, but counseled patience. “The fact that Americans would be tired of having of their sons and daughters at risk and in battle is not surprising,” Mr. Gates said.

He asked that Americans give the strategy time to work. “Our new commander appeared on the scene in June,” he said, adding that not all of the 21,000 additional American troops Mr. Obama approved for Afghanistan in March are in place yet.

When they are, sometime this fall, the United States will have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates, a Republican who served as defense secretary in 2007 and 2008 for President George W. Bush, also said he was not of the same view as the syndicated columnist George F. Will, who wrote in a column published Tuesday that the United States should significantly reduce its presence in Afghanistan.

“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Will, but in this case I do disagree with him,” Mr. Gates said. “I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan.”

Asked if the administration needed to do more to clarify for the American public the reason for the war, Mr. Gates said he thought that the president had been “crystal clear” in a recent speech about Afghanistan to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Mr. Gates also said that “I don’t believe that the war is slipping through the administration’s fingers.”

Sixteen militants killed in second day of Bara operation

LANDI KOTAL: At least 16 suspected militants were killed and 35 others arrested on the second day of a military operation in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency on Wednesday.
Commander of the operation Brigadier Fayyaz told journalists in Jamrud that security forces had faced stiff resistance in Akkakhel and Kohi localities, but cleared the areas after a clash which left several militants dead.Journalists were shown hundreds of AK-47, 12-bore, .303 and 7mm rifles, machineguns, airguns, pistols, rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of rounds seized from militants’ bases and an arms market in Bara.The arrested men, including pro-administration tribal elder Malik Duran Gul Malikdin Khel, were also brought before the journalists.Khyber Agency’s Political Agent Tariq Hayat said Malik Duran had been arrested for violating curfew and he was later released.Mr Hayat said that Bara-based militant organisations were getting financial support from abroad and had links with the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.He said security forces had seized a large quantity of drugs from militants’ bases.He said two explosive-laden vehicles had been found at the house of Lashkar-i-Islam leader Sabeel, adding that these were intended to be used in suicide attacks in Peshawar.The houses of militant leaders Sabeel, Hastam, Murad, Habib, Kashkol, Tayyab and Saifoor were demolished and the two vehicles were blown up.Mr Hayat said the operation would be expanded to other areas in Khyber Agency.‘We do not have any deal and will not have any deal with anyone who challenges the government,’ he said.

Pakistan's new winged weapon

Pakistan has a new weapon to combat the Taliban - a domestically made, unmanned aircraft that is expected to replace the country's use of controversial US drones.
With more than 50 air attacks in the last two years, hundreds of civilians have been killed and public attitude towards the government has been inflamed.The Pakistani military has said it has made gains on the Taliban this year with the aid of US drones, and that it has also been providing reliable information about targets which the US has not taken out.With greater control over its skies, the Pakistani military hopes that will change.