Wednesday, September 9, 2009

4 Militants Held in Fatal Attack on Christians in Pakistani Town
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Police officials said Wednesday that four militants belonging to two banned groups had been arrested and accused of involvement in the killings of Christians and riots in a Punjabi town on Aug. 1.

At least seven people were killed when armed mobs of Muslims attacked a Christian colony in Gojra, a shabby town in Punjab Province, over a claim that a Koran had been defiled.

More than 100 houses belonging to Christians were burned, and dozens of people were wounded in the riots, which sent shock waves across the country.

A private advocacy group, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, called the attacks “barbaric” and a “comprehensive failure by the government to protect minorities.” Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim; non-Muslims make up only about 5 percent of the population. Christian Pakistanis are often treated as second-class citizens.

Giving details of the arrests on Wednesday, Ahmad Raza Tahir, the highest ranking police official in the Faisalabad region, where Gojra is located, said that three of the men who were arrested belonged to Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a banned Sunni extremist group known for violence against Shiite Muslims and others. The fourth man, he said, belonged to Harkatul Jehad al-Islami, a banned extremist group with close ties to the Taliban. All four, he said, were trained in Afghanistan. Mr. Tahir criticized local politicians and clerics for not helping to avert the violence.

Rights groups have maintained that the attacks were planned and coordinated, with announcements made through mosque loudspeakers on July 31, urging Muslims to “make a mincemeat” of Christians.

Concerns about the rise of militancy in Punjab, the most populous and prosperous of Pakistan’s provinces, have increased in recent months. The southern part of the province — with rampant poverty and a large number of religious schools — is considered fertile ground for a militant brand of Islam.

A commission investigating the Aug. 1 violence has taken statements from victims, police officers and intelligence officials, and is expected to report its findings in less than two weeks.

Obama: 'No one should go broke because they got sick'

WASHINGTON -- President Obama told Congress on Wednesday that while he is not the first president to take up the cause of health care reform, "I am determined to be the last."

President Obama is delivering an address to a joint session of Congress to present the most detailed description of his idea of health reform.

Obama has been criticized as the health care debate has devolved into rancorous town hall meetings and a partisan split over reform plans. Obama has also faced a split in his own party over how to best go about reforming the nation's health care system.

"Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action," Obama said. "Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care."

While much of the debate over health care has been over a government-backed public option, Obama said that's not the only problem plaguing the system.

"Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today," he said of Americans who have lost their insurance when they have lost their jobs or have had their coverage dropped when they have suffered an illness.

Obama will say that there is agreement on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, "but what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government."

"Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics," he will say.

Obama was tweaking his pivotal health care address right up until the last, top aides said. He worked on the speech late into Tuesday night in the White House residence, bringing a new draft for his staff to work through Wednesday morning, they said. He even took a first draft of the speech to Camp David this weekend.

Obama's address to Congress will be carried live on CNN and beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

In his address Obama gave details "that every American needs to know" about his plan.

If you already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in his plan will require you to change the coverage you already have.

The plan would bar insurance companies from dropping or refusing coverage for a pre-existing condition.

"As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most," Obama said.

And it will eliminate "some arbitrary cap" on the amount of coverage over a year or a lifetime.

"No one should go broke because they got sick," Obama said.

Speaking to those who don't already have coverage, Obama said his plan calls for a new "insurance exchange," to allow individuals in small business to shop for health insurance at competitive rates.

"If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage," Obama said. "If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage."

Because Democrats enjoy majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama could get a plan passed if Democrats vote as a solid block. And while he has said he wants a bipartisan solution, White House officials have said the administration is prepared to push through a plan without Republican support.

Obama also attacked "bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost," addressing the so-called "death panels" and that reforms would insure illegal immigrants.

"And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up -- under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place," he said.

Rep. Charles Boustany, a lawmaker from Lousiana and a cardiothoracic surgeon, will be delivering the Republican response to Obama's address.

Boustany will agree that a lot of work is needed to lower the cost of health care for Americans, but will argue the bill Democrats proposed in July will further bog down the system, without offering much help.

"I read the bill Democrats passed through committee in July. It creates 53 new government bureaucracies, adds hundreds of billions to our national debt, and raises taxes on job-creators by $600 billion," Boustany will say according to released excerpts from his response. "And, it cuts Medicare by $500 billion, while doing virtually nothing to make the program better for our seniors."

Several administration officials said Obama will make a strong push for a public option but will not draw a line in the sand over a government-run insurance plan.

The public option is a government-funded, government-run health care option, similar to Medicare. Under the plan, people would pay premiums 10 percent to 20 percent less than private insurance.

That leaves the door open for Congress to come up with another option, such as a co-op or a "trigger," in which a public option would kick in only if insurance companies fail to make reforms within a defined period.

"The president still believes the public option is the best way to bring choice and competition," the senior administration official said. "It's how we bring security and stability to hundreds of millions of Americans."

A second senior administration official said that while the president will use the speech to reach out to Republicans in hopes of a last-minute bipartisan compromise, he also plans to get tough with the other side by challenging them to step up and meet him halfway instead of letting things continue as they are.

"The defenders of the status quo are bankrupting America," the administration official said of Republicans.

The address will be Obama's second speech to the full Congress since he took office in January. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid formally invited Obama to make the address, as required.

Several officials also said that scheduling the high-profile speech also prodded Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, to edge closer to securing a deal with the "Gang of Six" senators on his panel. Baucus to unveil health care bill next week

The senior administration official noted that even luminaries in the Republican party are acknowledging that there is a "health care crisis," citing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.Palin gets tough on health care proposals

That same senior administration official said both Democratic and Republican lawmakers now believe "something has to get done" because doing nothing "would be a political failure."

The speech, analysts said, will probably be one of the most important to date.

"Wednesday night's health care speech may be one of the toughest he has faced," CNN contributor David Gergen said.

Obama has issued broad reform ideas, but has left most of the specific legislative details to leaders in Congress, who have faced sometimes contentious negotiations.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed Americans are evenly split over whether to support or oppose Obama's health care plan.

Six in 10 younger Americans support the plan; six in 10 senior citizens oppose it.

Karzai defends Afghanistan election as honest

KABUL (Reuters) - Incumbent Hamid Karzai defended last month's Afghan presidential election as honest on Wednesday, a day after returns showed him set to win in a single round and a U.N-backed panel ordered a partial recount.

The standoff has alarmed Western leaders who have risked their own political capital to send troops on what is becoming an increasingly unpopular mission.

Preliminary election results issued on Tuesday gave Karzai more than 54 percent of valid votes tallied, putting him above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with his closest rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

But the independent Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), appointed mainly by the United Nations, said it had found "clear and convincing" evidence of fraud and ordered a partial recount.

On Wednesday, Karzai praised the conduct of the vote.

"The president praised the (election officials) for holding the election with honesty and impartiality despite all the difficulties," the presidential palace said in a statement.

Abdullah says Karzai's backers have attempted to steal the August 20 election by stuffing ballots on a massive scale.

Early vote tables, which have been removed from the election commission's website without explanation, showed whole villages in which Karzai received every single ballot cast, sometimes with exactly 400 or 500 votes.

For now, Western officials have put their confidence in the watchdog ECC, which can overturn the result and must sign off on the outcome before it is final.

Diplomats say they are uneasy but resigned to the possibility of the U.N.-backed body reversing a result released by Afghanistan's own election authorities.

The West originally hailed the vote as a success, largely because the Taliban failed to disrupt it. Those assessments have became increasingly muted as evidence of fraud has mounted.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari played down concerns about the Afghan election and said in a BBC television interview he would be present if Karzai is sworn in for a new term.


In central Kabul, hundreds of people gathered to mourn the death of Tajik anti-Taliban hero Ahmed Shah Masood who was killed on September 9, 2001, by al-Qaeda -- a crucial rallying day for half-Tajik Abdullah who was part of Masood's inner circle.

Addressing the rally, Abdullah made no direct mention of the election but played up his link to the iconic commander.

"Masood fought for this country and died for this country," said Abdullah, whose supporters have threatened to hold protests if their election concerns were not heard. "He fought to bring peace and security to this country."

Speaking alongside Abdullah in a city festooned with Masood posters, ex-president and key ally Burhanuddin Rabbani added: "The election result must be cleaned or Afghanistan will face chaos and big challenges."

Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who draws much of his support from his ethnic heartland in the south, did not attend the ceremony.

Locking Afghanistan into a further period of uncertainty, the ECC has ordered Afghan officials to recount results from polling stations where one candidate received more than 95 percent of the vote or more votes were cast than the expected maximum of 600.

Election officials say that could take weeks or even months.

British ambassador to Afghanistan Mark Sedwill said it was too early to judge the authenticity of the vote before the ECC had finished its process of screening ballots for fraud.

"We have to see the result of their investigations," he told BBC radio. "We always knew there would be fraud in this election, a lot of irregularities, I'm afraid that was inevitable, and we talked about that before the election."

Facing an increasingly skeptical public opinion over its role in Afghanistan, Britain on Wednesday offered to host a global conference to set targets for handing over security commitments from foreign troops to Afghan forces.


Before dawn, NATO troops stormed a Taliban hideout in the north of the country to release New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell of Britain and his Afghan colleague Mohammad Sultan Munadi who were kidnapped by insurgents at the end of last week.

Farrell was freed but Munadi was killed in the rescue, along with a British soldier and at least one civilian.

The two had been headed to cover the aftermath of a NATO air strike called in by German troops that killed scores of people. The strike took place in an area controlled by the Taliban and fueled anger among its mainly Pashtun local people.

NATO has confirmed that some civilians may have been killed and ordered a formal investigation into the air strike -- the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War Two.

The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted a senior NATO officer as saying that, according to preliminary NATO findings, the German officer who called in the air strike did not have the right to give the order.

Curfew imposed in Khyber Agency

PESHAWAR: Security forces have imposed a curfew in Khyber Agency while check posts have been handed over to Khazdar Force.After haphazard firing and mortar shells, security forces have decided to impose curfew for an indefinite period of time. All the roads linking from Tehsil Bara have been closed.During operations, security forces arrested more than 30 suspects and started initial investigations.Police have also been kept on high alert as activists of banned militant outfits could try to flee from the area. Mortar shells and aerial firing also continued in Budh Pir, Shahahb Khel, Kokri and other areas.

Govt will address Baloch grievances’

ISLAMABAD: The government is determined to remove the sense of deprivation among the Baloch people and address the province’s financial problems, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Wednesday. Talking to Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi who met Zardari at the Presidency, the president said the government had already announced special measures and packages for Balochistan. The people of Balochistan would be brought at par with the people of other provinces in terms of development in light of the recommendations of the parliamentary committee on Balochistan, he said.Magsi discussed the province’s law and order and various development projects.Gilani: Magsi later met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who said the government would ensure the development of Balochistan to bring it at par with other provinces.The prime minister said the government would take all measures to provide all facilities to the Baloch people.Gilani said the parliamentary committee on Balochistan had completed its deliberations and the government would soon make a decision on its proposals.

Afrasiab taken aback at PML-N demand on Pakhtoonkhaw

PESHAWAR: Awami National Party (ANP) Provincial President Senator Afrasiab Khatak Wednesday said the demand for changing their province’s name is their right and nobody should fume over the name of Pakhtoonkhaw.Addressing Peshawar Press Club here, he said the president and premier of the country is pronouncing Pakhtoonkhawa as the name of the province at all forums, which led this name to be popular.Afrasiab said the Parliament’s Constitutional Committee made headway on various constitutional matters including he name of NWFP province, adding the objections to any constitutional matters should be raised in the committee.Khatak said the demand of referendum on the name change of the province is unwarranted, adding the decision of the constitutional in this connection would be accepted.He underscored that his party would not withdraw from the demand of Pakhtoonkhaw at any cost, adding he would not mind if the province is named Afghania.

Obama about to pull the 'trigger' on health care?

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's speech to Congress Wednesday on health care reform will probably be one of the high-noon moments of his presidency.Surrounded by liberals demanding a government-run public option and centrist Democrats -- along with Republicans -- who want to dump the option, Obama just might have his finger on something that can get him through this health care showdown: the "trigger" option.
The idea would give insurance companies a defined period to make changes in order to help cover more people and drive down long-term costs. If those changes failed to occur within the defined period, a trigger would provide for a public option to force change on the insurance companies.A public option is a government-funded, government-run health care option, similar to Medicare. Under the plan, people would pay premiums 10 to 20 percent less than private insurance.But the question remains about whether Obama will side with liberals in making a strong play for the public option. Though he has voiced his support, he has signaled over the past months that it's not the only option that could work."I continue to believe that a public option within that basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs," Obama said Monday.One of the bipartisan "Gang of Six" on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has been actively negotiating with the White House.The six met Tuesday to consider a plan by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, to drop the public option and tax the priciest insurance plans. The plan would also take a look at using health care co-ops."If [co-ops are] going to end up just the way we've known co-ops for 150 years in America, the answer is 'yes,' because they're consumer-driven, and all the consumers benefit from it," Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican on the Finance Committee, said on CNN's "American Morning" on Tuesday. "They're organized by members. There's no federal government running the co-ops."Snowe has been pushing the idea of a safety net, or "trigger," for a public health care option as part of a key compromise. A source familiar with her negotiations with Obama said that's one of the things they're talking about.
Throughout the health care debate, Snowe has shied away from radical changes to the nation's private insurance system."We obviously want to protect those who currently have good health care. ... They want to preserve it. They want to maintain it," Snowe said in July. "We don't want to interfere with that, nor do we want to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship."The trigger idea is backed by a former GOP leader.
"We recommend that after about five years, if the insurance companies don't clean up their acts, then there's sort of a trigger where certain things happen, and we think that's a step in the right direction," said former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas.Even though Snowe's trigger could win over Senate centrists, like Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, congressional liberals have said in no uncertain terms: no public option, no deal."I say there is no option but a public option," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, said in June. "For those who say we need a trigger, I say, 'be careful; you could be shooting down health care.' "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has said throughout the health care debate that a public option is pivotal to passing health care reform, a point she reiterated last week.
"Any real change requires the inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition and bring down costs," she said in a news release. "If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major victory for the health insurance industry."Pelosi predicted that any bill without a strong public option will not pass the House."Eliminating the public option would be a major victory for the insurance companies who have rationed care, increased premiums and denied coverage," she said.
But on Tuesday, one of the more outspoken members of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats said he will oppose any bill that includes the option."A government-run public option is the wrong direction for health reform in this country," Rep. Mike Ross, D-Arkansas, said in a statement. "If House leadership presents a final bill that contains a government-run public option, I will oppose it."Analysts wonder whether, in the end, Democrats will harm themselves politically."What a politician says in September and what they do in November or December are often two different things," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Because they come to terms with reality."And the reality is, the trigger might be the last best hope of getting a few Republicans on board. Still, liberals argue that the trigger gives the insurance industry another pass.But after those rowdy town halls in August, a bipartisan health care deal may be out the window.

Greek national kidnapped from Kalash museum

CHITRAL: Gunmen kidnapped a Greek national from his residence in Kalash valley after killing his guard early on Tuesday morning.

Police said the Greek national (identified only as Athunasius) was sleeping in his room inside the Kalash museum when about 20 masked men broke into the building and whisked him away.

A policeman deployed for his security was killed when he put up resistance.

Mr Athunasius has been living in the valley for 15 years and working on a project for development of the Kalash community. He worked for the construction of a three-storey building to preserve and promote the unique culture of area.

The building also housed a primary school where Mr Athunasius worked as a teacher.

The government had deployed five policemen for his security, but at the time of the incident only two of them were said to be on duty, the others having been sent on leave.

Another teacher of the school, Ajmer Khan Kalash, was also inside the building, who was tied to a pillar by rope.

The valley is adjacent to the Nooristan area of Afghanistan and it is believed that Mr Athunasius has been taken to Nooristan.

The funeral prayer for the slain policeman was offered in the Shahi Masjid ground and he was laid to rest in his village Kosht in upper Chitral.

Chitral’s new DPO Mohammad Jafar Khan and district nazim Maghfirat Shah attended the funeral.

Pukhtunkhwa Province: What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?
PML (N) guru LUHAR Nawaz Sharif’s referendum proposal on Frontier province’s renaming is though itself evasive and eyewash, reeking as it does of sheer political expediency and lack of courage to take a clear-cut position on the contentious issue. But the ANP clan’s own reaction is crude, churlish and a vulgar show in theatrics. Do the Pakhtuns really need just a name change of an abode for their recognition or identification? Aren’t they known worldwide for their valour and bravery, for their independence-mindedness and intolerance of subjugation, for their inviolable code of honour and dignity, and for their unrivalled hospitality and congeniality? And haven’t they commanded this repute in all the ages and through all the times, generations after generations? Doesn’t history recall with awe the victories of their redoubtable warriors and heroes on the battlefield and their chivalry off the battlefield? Aren’t their venerated poets’ verses still recited with delight alike by literary buffs and critics as also ordinary poetry lovers here at home as also abroad? And aren’t their saints remembered with reverence widely for their message of human love and affection, compassion and mercy, and brotherhood and humanity? Aren’t their eminent personalities’ accomplishments in statecraft and swordsmanship, professions and vocations, trades and skills, and arts and crafts residing warmly in the people’s living memories near and afar? But what then is in a name? A country or a province acquires fame not for its name but for its people’s quality of life, their toils and labours and what they produce in their factories and on their farms. A city is known not for its nomenclature but for its civic services. A hospital gets its reputation not what is written on its signboard but from the standard of its healthcare facilities and devotion of its doctors, paramedics and staff to serve the ailing public. And a school makes its name for the quality of its teaching and standards of its education. What has the ANP clan put in by way of performance to give plausibly a name change to the province? It is now in a headlong chase to hit the second year in rule. What has it accomplished in these two years? Lawlessness and criminality are still raging ferociously, keeping the entire province in their vicious grip. The provincial metropolis of Peshawar is virtually emptied out of big businessmen, traders and industrialists, all having migrated to other places for fear of being kidnapped for ransom. Sick industries are lying sick unattended and uncured, and collapsed industrial estates are still lying in ruins, all crying for revival. No policy has the clan unfolded to salvage the rotten state schooling and public healthcare systems. Nothing has it put in place for the fructification of tremendous Pakhtun youth talent and potential. Having the field day on the clan’s watch is only its ineptitude and mismanagement, with its klansmen setting an all-time-record in sleaze and corruption. The clan is showing itself for being incorrigible devotees of the goddess of wealth, possessed of a rapacious passion for self-enrichment. Spicy stories are feverishly making the rounds of the grapevine, speaking of their honchos’ stunning money-minting by means foul in heaps and mounds. They are building to themselves palatial homes even overseas, with a special craze for establishing their households in the Gulf states. Their offspring they are sending out to India and other select destinations for higher education. And if the clan’s predecessor priestly orders employed their spurious piety and calculated religiosity as a camouflage of their avaricious money-making errands, the clan is using its pretentious Pakhtun championship and secularism to this effect for the same moneymaking pursuit. But its pretences to both Pakhtun nationalism and secularism stand exposed, all torn to shreds by its acts over these times in rule. By caving in to the “fanatical” Swati thugs and their allied imposters for quite a time until the clan was retrieved by the army, the klansmen have conclusively demonstrated that neither are they secular as they deceptively style themselves to be nor are they the kind of true Pakhtuns they project themselves to be. Indeed, by hitting a demeaning retreat with their tails between the legs in the face of those marauding thugs, they even have insulted the glorious name of Pakhtuns reputed to keep fighting on even a giant but surrendering not in any event. So the clan can earn not a name in history by manipulating a name change for the Frontier. That repute takes what this clan definitely has not in it. What a misfortune of this swindling pack!

Afghan refugees creating socio-economic problems

PESHAWAR : For more than three decades Pakistan had been hosting the largest number of Afghan refugees on its soil in a unique gesture of Islamic brotherhood and regional harmony. Pakistan’s this courtesy not only won acknowledgement in the region but also across the globe. This large chunk of refugees had to leave their homeland due to the then USSR in 1979 plunging a peaceful country into chaos also threatening solidarity and security of its neighbors. Though, being a hospitable neighbour, Pakistan welcomed Afghan brothers to its soil and extended them all possible assistance and hospitality. But, the people of Pakistan did not know they would suffer a lot due to large influx of Afghan refugees. Pakistani people today face variety of issues due to prolonged Afghan unrest, like narcotics, militancy and Kalashnikov culture. “Nobody in Pakistan knew about subversive activities like blasts, suicide bombing and taking life of innocent people,” an independent analysis said. They put extra load on Pakistan’s economy and the employment opportunities for local people continued shrinking. Though, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had arranged temporary camps for the refugees, but the Pakistan government had to bear the major brunt of their stay in the country. Though they were earlier restricted to these camps but large number among them gradually shifted to settled areas with many getting Pakistan’s Identity Cards and Passports. Side by side small cities their focus had also been big cities like Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta and Karachi and also started their own businesses. According to an independent economists, these Afghan refugees dominated the businesses specially in NWFP due to their expertise in the illegal trade and businesses. Some experts view that most of these migrants have been found involved in illegal activities like drug peddling, arms smuggling and incidents of terrorism in the country. The country passing through the terrible phase of war against terrorism is also more or less linked to Afghan problem and settlement of Afghan and exotic fighters. Like some previous governments, Cabinet members of the present government like Minister for States and Frontier Regions Najamuddin Khan is critical of such a long stay of Afghan refugees in the country. “Though we bore the associated problems but now the issue seemed to be aggravating more than the past,” Najamuddin said. “The government never budge from its stance to cater to the needs of a such large number of refugees. But as normalcy is returning to Afghanistan, these refugees ought to be repatriated without any delay,” he added. He said the international community should play its role and ensure early return of these people to their homeland. Referring to related problems, he pointed out, the Afghan people residing in different parts of the country especially in NWFP have sprawled their businesses to the deprivation of local people. Under the current situation when the whole nation is united in fighting against terrorism, a number of Afghan nationals have been nabbed or killed in military operations in restive parts of NWFP. “Presence of refugees population also served as safe heaven for terrorists and extremists elements from Afghanistan,” he added. He also described the response from international community as less encouraging, particularly when the country was already facing economic problems. He strongly recommended to have strict check on Afghans coming back to pakistan after repatriation to their country. “They daily cross into Pakistan for the business or other purposes.” The decades long civil war among the warlords and presence of Taliban insurgents was another problem. But, Pakistan faced this challenge with commitment and resilience and waited the situation in Afghanistan to improve. According to the UNHCR representative Asif Shahzad, presently over 1.7 million registered Afghans refugees are living in Pakistan and it was estimated that over one million refugees remained in camps in Peshawar and Balochistan. In addition to it, an unknown but substantial number of Afghans are known to live in Pakistan’s urban areas. It was decided by the Tripartite Commission including Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR to close three of the camps established after September 11, 2001, early in 2004. Now, whatever the case, there is dire need for the Afghan government to call back their residents as in changing scenario, Pakistan could not be able to further host them and suffer in the name of courtesy. Dwellers of these camps had shifted to Pakistan in several waves starting from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The last refugee wave - nearly 300,000 Afghans—reached Pakistan after September 11, 2001 attacks. Conditions for Afghan refugees in Pakistan differ greatly. Some still live in tents, others in mud house settlements that look like the villages they left behind. International agencies like UNHCR and WFP have been contributing to the government efforts to meet the needs of Afghan refugees. Largest number among them; 1.5 million refugees; were repatriated in 2002, with Pakistan still carrying the load of hundreds of thousands refugees.

College closure: Future of 430 students at stake

PESHAWAR: The closure of Cadet College, Razmak in North Waziristan has put the future of around 430 students at stake, as the government is still indecisive about reopening the prestigious institution.

The college was closed in haste by the government in June last and the students and teachers were escorted out the restive tribal area, only to be kidnapped by militants and then freed through the intervention of a jirga.

Government and military officials at that time had argued that the students and teachers of Cadet College, Razmak were not safe as militants affiliated with Baitullah Mahsud could target the government and army installations in the area after a military operation was launched against them in the adjoining South Waziristan.

The picturesque Razmak Valley is located on the border between South and North Waziristan while the Cadet College is located in a military base. Keeping in view previous attack on the college by the militants from nearby Makeen town in South Waziristan in 2007 in which a science laboratory was damaged, the military authorities feared the militants could target it again. Hence, they had decided to close the college and asked students and the teachers to leave the area.

As no proper security arrangements were put in place for their security, Baitullah men kidnapped some of the students and teachers near the Bakkakhel area of FR Bannu. The Torikhel people, who live in Razmak area, later raised a 300-member tribal lashkar that raided villages in the nearby South Waziristan and recovered vehicles and luggage of the kidnapped students. Led by Abdul Halim Khan, a noted Torikhel elder-cum-militant commander of Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led militants, the lashkar warned Baitullah to release the students and their teachers or face the consequences.

The pressure worked and Baitullah decided to release the students and even met the cadets. Since June, the college has been closed and an entire academic year of the students could be lost. Parents of the cadets are seriously worried about uncertain future of their children.

A retired subedar of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), Mohammad Iqbal is one among several other concerned fathers. He said he was hoping for a bright future for his son after getting him admitted to the Cadet College but was now a worried man as there is no indication when the college would reopen.

Sources told The News that NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani had constituted a committee to select a safe place where the college could be temporarily set up. One of the committee members, who wished not to named, told The News that they inspected three places including the newly constructed building of Government Degree College at Shankar in Mardan, Elementary College Charsadda and another building in Swabi district for accommodating the college temporarily. He said the committee was keeping its work secret as the Torikhel tribe was opposing shifting of the college from Razmak.

The member said the committee had sent its recommendations to the governor and was waiting for approval of one of the buildings to start classes. He said only three chapters of the course had been taught to the students of Grade VIII and IX while second-year classes were yet to be started.

The governor had ordered an inquiry against the officials who closed the college and then shifted the students to Peshawar without proper security. But neither an inquiry was conducted nor any official was punished for negligence.