Monday, November 2, 2009

Suicide attack kills at least 34 near Pakistani army HQ in Rawalpindi
At least 34 people were killed and many others injured in a suicide bomb attack on a busy commercial area close to the Pakistani Army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi yesterday. It was the second attack in the high-security zone within a month.

The bomber on a motorbike blew himself up outside a crowded bank a few hundred metres away from the scene of last month's attack.

Government employees lined up outside the National Bank branch to collect their salary were among the victims. Several offices, a part of a nearby hotel and a number of vehicles were destroyed.

Zahid Dar was driving through the main Mall Road. “There was huge blast and I was thrown off my motorbike,“ he said.“The street was strewn with dead bodies and broken glasses. Many of the dead were in the army uniform.”

Doctors at a district hospital said that the death toll could rise as many of the injured were in a critical state. Some of the bodies could not be identified. At least five women were among the victims.

No one has claimed responsibility but security officials suspect that the Taleban, who claimed responsibility for previous attacks, could be involved.

The attack came as the UN suspended long-term development work in two key areas along Pakistan's volatile border with Afghanistan in a blow to international efforts to counter the country's rising militancy.

The UN decision, which applies to Pakistan's tribal areas and North West Frontier Province, came after 11 of its staff were killed this year.

The UN will reduce the level of international staff in the country and confine its work to emergency, humanitarian relief and security operations, and also “any other essential operations as advised by the Secretary-General”, the organisation said.

The UN has been deeply involved in helping Pakistan to deal with refugee crises that have resulted from army offensives against militants in the north west. It assisted in relief camps set up to house some of the two million people displaced by an operation begun this spring in the Swat Valley.

It is also providing relief goods for those forced to leave South Waziristan because of an offensive last month against the Taleban and al-Qaeda strongholds in tribal areas. Militants have responded to the operations with a wave of attacks against security forces and civilians, including UN personnel.

In the deadliest attack in more than two years, more than 120 people were killed and scores more wounded last Wednesday when a car bomb was detonated in a crowded market in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar. The Taleban threatened more attacks if Pakistan did not stop military offensives in the tribal region.

A military spokesman said that the troops were engaged in a fierce battle in Kaniguram town, a Taleban stronghold where hundreds of Uzbek fighters were entrenched. Security forces have captured Kotkai, the birthplace of Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taleban and hometown of Qari Hussain, another senior militant commander.

The latest attack in Rawalpindi came as Pakistani authorities announced a $50 million (£30.5 million) bounty on the heads of eight top militant commanders including Hakimullah, who is spearheading the battle in the tribal region.

"These people are definitely killers of humanity and deserve exemplary punishment," read the front-page advertisement, with photographs of Hakimullah and seven senior lieutenants in the national newspapers. "Help the government of Pakistan so that these people meet their nemesis."

Pakistan's credibility

If we go by the recent statement of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, the two most dangerous countries on this planet are Pakistan and Afghanistan. This statement of Moon is neither prejudiced, nor does he belong to any enemy country of Pakistan or Afghanistan rather this statement is the harsh reality of the world today. The question is that who is responsible for notoriety of these two neighbouring countries? This is clear that the decisions of the political bosses of these countries and the misleading statements of Pakistani leadership are behind the current scenario.

The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan based Taliban is not new. Pakistan was the first country to recognize the Taliban government of Afghanistan, who captured power by ousting the democratic Najeeb government. Since then the Taliban has deepened its roots in Pakistan. The same Taliban is now eyeing power in Pakistan and therefore Pakistan Army has started operation ‘Rah-e-Nijaat’ against them. But the intentions of Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan are not new.

A decade ago, these Talibans had pasted posters in all major cities of Pakistan in which their plans were clearly mentioned. Through these posters, they made it clear that they want to enforce Sharia’h law in Pakistan. Pakistan’s courts would give verdicts based on the holy Quran. Gold coins would be used as currency during the Taliban regime etc.

The question is that when a decade ago, the Taliban sympathizers were launching such campaigns, was the Pakistani administration asleep then? Was India directing this terrorist organization named Tehrik-e-Taliban a decade ago? Or the Pakistani administrators, according to their habit, were doing nothing while these enemies of humanity were prospering in Pakistan?

The entire world knows all these facts that how the former President of Pakistan, Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq encouraged the extremist and Jehadi ideology during his ten year regime. Since then the tradition of patronizing extremist Islamists by the Pakistani rulers has continued. This has today become an incurable disease that the Pakistan Army itself is finding a way out of this trap or in other words ‘Rah-e-Nijaat’ with them .

Ignoring all these facts, the Interior Minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik recently shocked the entire world by saying that India is helping Taliban for creating disturbance in Pakistan. How much truth is there in his statement, he himself and the Pakistani people better know. What is conveyed by such misleading statement of Malik? Pakistan has previously too accused India for deteriorating situation in Baluchistan. And now a new misinformation campaign is launched by accusing India of supporting the Taliban. The world knows that Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban or any organization sympathizing with Taliban ideology see India as their enemy, and not friend. These organization uses to threaten India from time to time. In these circumstances, how can India ‘help’ these organizations? What the Pakistani Interior Minister wants to tell through such statement, while Pakistan has no such proof through which it can prove India’s involvement in destabilizing Pakistan by helping the Taliban.

On the contrary, there are thousands of evidences which can prove that the terrorists and extremists operated along with the Pakistan administration and the proofs which army and these inhuman organizations are created to created disturbance in India. Ajmal Aamir Kasaab, the only terrorist caught alive in 26/11 is the living example. Kasaab has repeatedly told in his confession how he was sent to Mumbai with the help of Pakistani administration. To clean itself from the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan is now adopting such cheap tactics of misleading statements. The fact is that, the Talibans, so called protectors of Islam, don’t even deserve to be called human beings. It doesn’t seem that there is any other administration than Pakistan, which had ever expressed sympathy with the cruel Talibans. The world still remembers that during the NATO attack on Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, the Taliban spokesman used to address the world media from Pakistan and even he was arrested from Pakistan. Therefore it is not going to help Pakistan by accusing India. Other countries too can’t digest this. In fact, there is danger of Pakistan losing its own credibility by such absurd statements.

Obama urges Karzai to tackle corruption

In a congratulatory call to Hamid Karzai, who retains leadership of Afghanistan after a presidential run-off vote was scrapped on Monday, US President Barack Obama urged the Afghan leader to step up efforts to fight corruption in the war-torn nation.
US President Barack Obama congratulated Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on his re-election on Monday - but warned him to step up efforts to fight corruption.

The administration earlier said it recognised Hamid Karzai as the legitimate president of Afghanistan, despite a fraud-riddled election that saw millions of ballots favouring Karzai to be thrown out.

Speaking from the Oval Office, Obama told Karzai it was time to “write a new chapter based on improved governance” and to make “a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption.”

"He assured me that he understood the importance of this moment. But as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words. It's going to be in deeds," Obama warned.

Karzai, installed as the Afghan leader after the US forces ousted Taliban Islamic militants in 2001, was on Monday declared the winner of August's presidential election, which was marred by widespread fraud and ballot-stuffing.

"Although the process was messy, I'm pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law, which I think is very important not only for the international community that has so much invested in Afghan success, but most importantly is important for the Afghan people," Obama said.

Legitimacy questioned

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs faced repeated questions at a briefing on how Washington could work with Karzai when his legitimacy had been so widely questioned after the tainted August vote.

"President Karzai has been declared the winner,” Gibbs told reporters. “So obviously he is the legitimate leader of the country.”

Gibbs tried to put the best face on a situation that presents a potential headache for the Obama administration..

Afghan election officials on Monday scrapped a Nov. 7 run-off vote and declared Karzai president after the only other candidate, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew, citing doubts about the fairness of the process.

US officials had said previously they needed a credible partner in Afghanistan as Obama considers a request for up to 40,000 extra troops to halt a deteriorating security situation.

Gibbs said Obama would announce his new strategy "in the next few weeks."

The timing had never been dependent on the outcome of the election, he said, although administration officials had previously suggested it was a factor.

A senior administration official told Reuters that Obama was not likely to announce his new strategy before he embarks on a 10-day trip to Asia on Nov. 11.

Schools reopen with low attendance.

PESHAWAR: The educational institutions including schools of NWFP were reopened on Monday with tight security. These educational institutions remained closed for two weeks due to threats from terrorist elements to target the schools. All the educational institutions were closed country-wide after deadly suicide attack in Islamic International University, Islamabad on October 20. But unlike other provinces where educational institutions were reopened after a week, the NWFP government extended the closure of schools, colleges and universities for another week due to the security situation. Some private schools remained closed on Monday and are expected to reopen today. The attendance in almost all the schools remained low as parents did not send their children due to security concerns. The car parking inside and around the school buildings was prohibited. There are 27,000 schools, both government and private, in NWFP DCO Peshawar Sahibzada Anees told a private TV channel that police officials have been deployed at schools and private security guards will be hired. The administrations of schools have been directed to take extra security measures. The educationalist said they had issued a circular to all private schools to take precautionary measures, adding that the school gates would be locked soon after the school opening time in the morning and no one would be allowed to enter the schools.

Karzai Gets New Term as Afghan Runoff Is Scrapped

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials canceled a runoff presidential vote set for Saturday and declared President Hamid Karzai the winner on Monday, a day after his remaining challenger, , Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew.

The announcement capped a fraught election widely depicted as deeply flawed by corruption and voting irregularities.

Azizullah Ludin, the chairman of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, said the Constitution did not require a runoff and the second-round vote, set for Saturday, had been canceled after Mr. Abdullah’s announcement that he was dropping out.

Mr. Ludin said Mr. Karzai had won the majority of votes in the first round “and was the only candidate in the second round,” and so was “declared the elected president of Afghanistan.”

Among the commission’s reasons for canceling the vote, Mr. Ludin said at a news conference, was to spare Afghans the high costs and security risks of a fresh round of balloting. Those concerns reflected the difficulties of holding an election amid a growing Taliban insurgency.

But Mr. Karzai and the election commission had been under intense pressure from Afghanistan’s international backers, including the United States, to cancel the runoff, in part because of worries that the vote-rigging that marred the first round might be repeated.

While the international community and the United Nations congratulated Mr. Karzai and urged him to set about unifying the country, the way ahead was foggy at best. There has been talking of forming a unity government, but Mr. Abdullah said he would not participate.

Further, there is little popular support in Afghanistan for that option. For many Afghans a coalition government brings to mind the chaotic period in the 1990s when armed strongmen competed for turf in bloody battles that killed many civilians around the country and destroyed a swath of Kabul.

Officials from the United States and United Nations welcomed the decision and congratulated Mr. Karzai.

“We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election,” said a statement from the United States Embassy in Kabul, “and look forward to working with him, his new administration, the Afghan people and our partners in the international community to support Afghanistan’s progress towards institutional reforms, security and prosperity.”

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Kabul on Monday, said the election process had been “difficult,” and urged Mr. Karzai to form a government that would have the support of Afghanis and the international community.

“I welcome today’s decision by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission to forego a run-off vote and to declare Hamid Karzai as the winner of the 2009 presidential elections,” Mr. Ban said in a statement. “I congratulate President Karzai.”

Since the first round of voting on Aug. 20., casualties have mounted among American and allied forces fighting the Taliban, while accounts of widespread vote-rigging to deliver Mr. Karzai’s victory have strengthened.

Earlier on Monday, Mr. Ban met both Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah “to assure them and the Afghan people of the continuing support of the United Nations towards the development of the country and the humanitarian assistance that the U.N. provides to millions of Afghans every day,” a United Nations statement said.

He arrived days after three men dressed as Afghan police officers attacked a guesthouse in Kabul, killing eight people, five of them foreigners who worked for the United Nations. But Mr. Ban said his organization would not be deterred from working in Afghanistan.

In an emotional speech on Sunday to thousands of supporters here, Mr. Abdullah said he could not take part in a runoff that he believed would be at least as fraudulent as the tainted first round in August, in which almost a million ballots for Mr. Karzai were thrown out as fakes.

“I hoped there would be a better process,” he said. “But it is final. I will not participate in the Nov. 7 elections.”

Advisers to President Obama called Mr. Abdullah’s decision a personal choice that would not greatly affect American policy and was in line with the Afghan Constitution. They portrayed the election of Mr. Karzai as essentially settled, enabling Mr. Obama to move forward with deciding whether to send as many as 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, although an announcement probably remains at least three weeks away.

“Every poll that had been taken there suggested that he was likely to be defeated anyway, so we are going to deal with the government that is there,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Administration officials alluded to the criticisms bedeviling Mr. Karzai — focusing on corruption and ineffectiveness in fighting the intensifying Taliban insurgency — in their comments on Sunday. But they sought to focus on security questions rather than governance and political stability, emphasizing that the chief American goal now in Afghanistan was to make sure that Al Qaeda would not re-establish bases there.

“Obviously, there are issues we need to discuss, such as reducing the high level of corruption,” Mr. Axelrod said. “These are issues we’ll take up with President Karzai.”

Mr. Abdullah’s supporters, who traveled from all over the country to hear his decision in Kabul, were unanimous in calling Mr. Karzai an illegitimate leader.

The decision was clearly a hard one for Mr. Abdullah. He choked up at the moment of announcing it before his supporters and had to pause to drink water before speaking.

“It did not come easily,” he told the crowd, which had begun cheering at his announcement. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling in Morocco, released a statement saying that while the Obama administration would support Mr. Karzai as president, she hoped Mr. Abdullah would “stay engaged in the national dialogue and work on behalf of the security and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan.”

Mr. Abdullah rejected any suggestion of joining Mr. Karzai’s government, and he clearly signaled that he was positioning himself as a future player in Afghan politics. In a news briefing later at his home, he said: “I did it with a lot of pain, but at the same time with a lot of hopes toward the future. Because this will not be the end of anything, this will be a new beginning.”

Twin suicide attack in Lahore kills policeman

LAHORE: Two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a police checkpoint near bus terminals at the entrance to the city of Lahore late Monday, killing one policeman and wounding 25 people, including seven policemen.

The bombers struck after dark at the Babu Sabu police checkpost on a link road to Pakistan’s intercity motorway that dissects the country from the northwestern city of Peshawar to the capital Islamabad and east to Lahore.

Both of the attackers were killed in the bombing as they reportedly blew themselves up while carrying out the attack.

‘A car was stopped at the check post and the two suicide bombers in the car exploded themselves. We have found legs and a head,’ city police chief Pervez Rathor told reporters at the scene.

According to Rescue 1122, at least 25 people have been injured in the attack. The injured are being taken to the Jinnah Hospital and the Services Hospital.

Proof of Indian involvement in Waziristan found: army

ISLAMABAD: The security forces have found substantial evidence of Indian involvement for assisting terrorists in South Waziristan Agency, Director General ISPR Major General Athar Abbas said.

‘Indian literature and weapons under the use of terrorists have been recovered from South Waziristan and more evidence is being gathered,’ he said addressing a joint media briefing on Operation Rah-e-Nijat here Monday.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira, Secretary Information Suhail Mansoor and Principal Information Officer Ch Rashid Ahmed were also present.

‘We have sent all the proofs of Indian involvement to the Foreign Office for their onward presentation at the appropriate forum,’ he said.

UN suspends development work in NWFP, tribal areas

ISLAMABAD: Citing security concerns, the UN suspended long-term development work in two key areas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan on Monday, a blow to international efforts to counter the rising militancy.

The decision, which applies to Pakistan’s tribal areas and North West Frontier Province, comes amid a wave of recent attacks in the country that killed some 250 people last month. Eleven UN staff have been killed in attacks in Pakistan this year.

The UN will reduce the level of international staff in the country and confine its work to emergency, humanitarian relief, and security operations, and also ‘any other essential operations as advised by the secretary-general,’ the organization said in a statement.

UN spokeswoman Amena Kamaal told The Associated Press that the organisation is still determining which programs will be suspended and how many staffers will be withdrawn from the country. The staff that remains in the country will be assigned additional security, she said.

‘We have had 11 of our colleagues killed because of the security situation,’ said Kamaal.

‘All of the decisions are being made in light of that.’

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said he would reserve comment until he had a chance to review the UN’s statement.

Huge blast hits Rawalpindi safe zone; 30 killed

RAWALPINDI: An explosion occurred on Rawalpindi’s busy Mall Road on Monday. At least 30 people were killed, while more than 45 were reportedly injured.

According to reports, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the vicinity of the busy Mall Road, in the high-security area of Rawalpindi Cantt. Major hotels, including the Pearl Continental, as well as other important government and army installations are located in the area where the blast occurred.

Monday's explosion left bodies on the ground outside the bank and in a nearby hotel parking lot, witness Zahid Dara said. The stricken area also lies close to the army's main headquarters.

‘I was nearby and rushed toward the parking area,’ Dara told a private television channel. ‘There were many people lying on the ground with bleeding wounds, and a motorcycle was on fire with one man under it.’

The attacker rode a motorbike to the scene, and the 30 people dead included military personnel, Rawalpindi police chief Rao Iqbal said. Some 45 others were wounded, he said.

‘The bodies were lying all over,’ said Ali Babar, a rescue official who was doing a refresher course at a nearby college and rushed to the scene to help. ‘This is a terrible thing. It is happening again and again.’

The intensity of the blast left numerous buildings in the area with shattered windows. Vehicles parked in the area were also damaged.

Rescue work was underway and the injured were being shifted to hospitals.

The government declared an emergency in hospitals across the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Security forces also cordoned off the area, while military personnel also arrived at the site of the blast.

The attack comes amidst a deadly wave of terrorist attacks which have killed over 190 in the last month.