Sunday, December 6, 2009

Terrorism changes Peshawar landscape

PESHAWAR: The never-ending series of bomb attacks has not only disrupted the normal life in the provincial capital, but also changed the city to a heavily barricaded fortress, with walls, check-posts, sand bags and barbed wires. Every now and then rumours of attack force the authorities to block the entry to certain areas, panicking the distressed residents.

On Friday Saddar bazaar was sealed following reports of terrorist attacks in the area, while previously the entry of vehicles had been banned to the famed Qissa Khawni Bazaar on such reports. The street is closed for entry of vehicles with barbed wires at its entry point from Khyber Bazaar in front of Khan Raziq Shaheed Police Station and also from Mohammad Ali Jauhar Road and Misgaran Bazaar on its eastern end.

The narrow lane of Kabari Bazaar, a scene of bomb attack earlier in May this year, has also blocked with steel barriers to check the entry of motorcycles. A similar situation could be seen in the Koochi Bazaar, which starts at the end of Mohammad Ali Jauhar and runs through Meena Bazaar, Shaheen Bazaar and other narrow streets of the city.

In addition, the roped-off portions of the roads in every nook and coroner of the city and its bazaars have also deprived the city of its traditional openness and hospitality.

Following the recent deadly attacks several such blockades have emerged in the Cantonment area, which has been the prime target of terrorists.

Check-posts were set up near Khyber House on Bara Road and on the Mall in front of Peshawar Club and also State Life Building, which has been protected with sandbags on all its sides in addition to a checkpoint on the Mall. A road linking the Mall and Bara Road near Stadium Chowk has been closed and a wall constructed following the deadly attacks.

While on Warsak Road Fata Secretariat is one of such fortified structures, which has been fortified with sand bags and barriers, in addition to barriers and checkpoints on this route.

A similar situation could be seen in front of MPA Hostel on Sher Shah Suri Road near central jail, where a picket is being constructed at the gate, while at some distance barricades have been placed on the main road to protect the newly constructed office of the Governor House.

Similarly, vehicles entry to Liaqat Bazaar and adjacent markets has been restricted with steel bars and chains. Every bomb blast and terrorist attack not only blights a certain part of the city, but also adds to the blighting of the city’s landscape with new barriers, walls, diversions, sand bags and barbed wires. However, there has been no end to this misery, as terrorism again starts to bleed the city after a brief lull and this has become a fait accompli with no possible end in sight for around three million citizens of this city.

Swine flu suspect flees from Peshawar hospital

PESHAWAR: There is a fear of swine flu outbreak in the province, as a suspected swine flu patient has fled from Hayatabad Medical Complex.

Hospital sources told Daily Times on Sunday that Haji Aamir, a resident of Mardan district, fled from the hospital along with his family members in the wee hours of Saturday. He was under observation for swine flu. The NWFP government’s health monitoring cell at Peshawar Airport had referred Haji Aamir, 38, to Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) after showing symptoms of swine flu on return from Haj. He was kept in an isolation ward.

The hospital sources said that the doctors had also sent his blood samples to the National Institute of Health Islamabad. Health Department Executive District Officer (EDO) and in charge of monitoring cell at the airport Dr Abdul Waheed Burki said that the HMC administration was responsible for the escape of the suspected swine flu patient. HMC Medical Superintendent (MS) Dr Adil Marjan said that the family members of the suspected swine flu patient had taken him by force. He said the security staff resisted their attempt but of no avail. In the past two months at least six cases of swine flu have been detected in the provincial capital, doctors said. According to Aftab Durrani, HMC Medical Superintendent, the total number of H1N1 cases in NWFP has risen to six, including three staffers of the HMC. On November 7, an Afghan woman Latifa Bibi, 40, from Herat province of Afghanistan had died due to the virus, while one more Afghan patient of swine flu patient is under treatment at the hospital.

Doctors said there were no vaccines available at any of the major hospitals across the province. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), pandemic (H1N1) 2009 is a new influenza virus that was never circulated among humans before. After outbreak in North America early in 2009, the virus spread rapidly around the world. Pandemic influenza is transmitted like seasonal influenza but people have virtually no immunity to it.

Pashto names of Bara operations create drama, and doubts, too

PESHAWAR: The dramatic Pashto names of operations in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency have drawn a lot of discussion and debate in civil society circles and intelligentsia.
The first operation against the militants and outlawed groups was launched in the Bara on June 28, 2008 with the codename ‘Sirat-e-Mustaqeem’ (The Righteous Path). It was started by Frontier Corps (FC) and the interior ministry officials claimed that objectives of the operation were achieved.
The second military offensive in Bara was started in December 2008 with the codename ‘Daraghlam’ (Here I Come!). This operation could not achieve much and was stopped before taking it to its logical conclusion.
The defiant Mangal Bagh, a militant leader of banned outfit Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and his group continued their activities after end to the operation.

Another military offensive began on September 1, 2009 with a theatrical Pashto codename ‘Bya Daraghlam’ (Here I Come Again!). It was as if the troops had to come again to finish the unfinished task in Bara. Critics dismissed both comings of the FC under the codenames ‘Daraghlam’ and ‘Bya Daraghlam’ as half-hearted and incomplete.

Surprisingly enough, the fourth and recently launched operation on November 24, 2009 has a very interesting codename ‘Khwakh Ba De Shum’ which is a Pashto expression meaning ‘I Will teach you a lesson’ or ‘I will fix you!’

The sequence of names more looks like Pashto movie names and definitely trigger a smile on people’s faces when mentioned. While operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat and operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan are very explicit in their meaning with clear intention despite being in Urdu, the names in Bara operations appear non-serious and in a way a mockery of such a serious cause and plan.

The names show that those who name these operations are unaware of the Pakhtun culture or non-serious about their nomenclature. Or they fully understand it but are fond of giving theatrical names to the military action. Most people think that our military is strong enough to control this handful of militants in Bara but the operation has not been totally successful so far, which has raised serious questions.

Talking to The News, Dr Said Alam Mehsud, leader of Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), said the codenames of the military operations seemed like Pashto movies’ names showing the non-seriousness of the planners. “All the operations are a mere drama and the security forces never targeted militants and whenever they hit their homes and hideouts in Khyber Agency that was also with an understanding and there were reports that they were also compensated for the losses,” he said.

He said that a total 19 military operations were carried out but none of them was credible and no tangible achievement made during these adventures.Muhammad Tahir, an educationist, said the codename of military offensive in Bara signifies that the operation was a low priority area for the rulers and the power that be. He further said Bara was an area taht could be very well controlled by a willing army despite Tirah valley depth, but so far no close aide to Mangal Bagh was killed or arrested while the militant leader himself was still at large.

When contacted, Major Fazal, public relations officer of Frontier Corps (FC), said the codenames in itself had a very clear message for the militants. He added that the recent codename of the operation “Khwakh ba de Sham” had a meaning of “ I will fix you” which was a very vivid message to the outlaws.

About progress in the operation, the FC spokesman said the security forces were fast achieving targets by clearing the militancy-hit areas, destroying their hideouts and strongholds. The militants have been dislocated, he claimed. The officer was of the opinion that military operations were not person-specific merely. “We are more concerned about restoring supply routes, protecting civilian population and dismantling the command and control of the militants.

Gojra report proposes amending blasphemy laws

FAISALABAD: An inquiry report on riots in Gojra in August – which killed several people – proposes amendments to the blasphemy laws.

An inquiry tribunal – headed by Lahore High Court Judge Iqbal Hameedur Rehman and tasked with looking into the tragedy that killed seven people – also warned the government on Sunday that “the Gojra tragedy must be taken seriously and the needful [should] be done on war-footing without further loss of time”.

The violent protests in Gojra triggered ethnic tensions and resulted in the displacement of 96 Christian families.

The inquiry tribunal notes in the report that the country is already facing grave challenges in the form of terrorism and militancy – which, in addition to destroying the economy, have “disfigured our national image all over the world ... we cannot afford any other menace, [such as] sectarian disputes”. It says efforts to control such unrest must begin immediately.

The 258-page report recommends action “without any discrimination against those responsible for commission and omission”.

The report also proposes amendments to Pakistan Penal Code sections 295, 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 296, 297, 298, 298-A, 298-B, 298-C, anti-blasphemy laws, relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Police Order 2002.

It recommends that federal intelligence agencies be mandated to provide “first-hand information at the divisional level”. It also calls for the capacity building of the Special Branch, the establishment of a special force for the protection and protocol of VIPs and other vulnerable persons, the exclusion of district nazims in issues related to law and order, the establishment of intelligence and crime prevention branches, rules for effective utilisation of police in terms of Article 112 of Police Order 2002, the constitution of a district religious dispute resolution board, and categorisation of districts on the basis of sensitivity.

The tribunal reached the conclusion that the riots were a result of the “inability of law-enforcement agencies to assess the gravity of the situation, inadequate precautionary and preventive measures taken by law-enforcement agencies, a lukewarm stance by the Toba Tek Singh DPO, the failure of intelligence agencies in providing prompt and correct information, a defective security plan, the irresponsible behaviour of the administration, the complete failure of police while discharging their duties, the non-enforcement of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, omissions to take steps under sections 107 and 151 of the CrPC, the lack of a decision to invoke the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) 1960 – which amounts to letting the miscreants loose to wreak havoc during the course of the riots – and several other factors”.

Melting Himalayan glaciers threaten major drought

KATHMANDU: More than a billion people in Asia depend on Himalayan glaciers for water, but experts say they are melting at an alarming rate, threatening to bring drought to large swathes of the continent.

Glaciers in the Himalayas provide headwaters for Asia’s nine largest rivers, lifelines for the 1.3 billion people who live downstream.

But temperatures in the region have increased by between 0.15 and 0.6 degrees Celsius each decade for the last 30 years, dramatically accelerating the rate at which glaciers are shrinking. “Scientists predict that most glaciers will be gone in 40 years as a result of climate change,” said Prashant Singh, leader of environmental group WWF’s Climate for Life campaign.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body regarded as the world’s top authority on climate change, has warned Himalayan glaciers could “disappear altogether by 2035” and experts say the effects of global warming are already being felt in the region.

Experts say the resulting water shortages could hit the economic development of China and India.

Helpless: But research on the impact of global warming on the rugged and inaccessible Himalayas remains sparse, with the IPCC describing the region as a “blank spot” due to a lack of scientific data.

Karzai: U.S. must have patience if Afghanistan not ready

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday the United States and its allies must have patience if his country is not ready to assume control of its own security by July 2011, when U.S. troops would begin leaving under President Obama's plan.

Karzai spoke to CNN's "Amanpour" program, in what was believed to be his first Western television interview since Obama's announcement last week that he will deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Obama also said the U.S. forces would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011.

The date was not "an exit announcement," but instead a goal for Afghan forces to be able to start assuming security control from U.S.-led allied forces, Karzai said in the interview.

"We will try our best as the Afghan people to do it the soonest possible," Karzai said. "But the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, then they must be with us."

Karzai also offered his own timeline goal, saying Afghanistan wants to be able to assume security control in some parts of the country in two years, and to lead security for the entire country by the end of his five-year term, which just started after his recent re-election.

"We as Afghans will try our very best to reach that goal, and we hope our allies will back us to reach that goal," Karzai said.

Later Sunday, Obama's national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones, told CNN's "State of the Union" that the July 2011 date was "not a cliff" for U.S. withdrawal, but instead the start of a gradual slope for turning over security responsibility to Afghanistan.

Obama "has also said that we're not leaving Afghanistan," Jones noted, adding: "We are here to make sure that Afghanistan succeeds."

To prepare his country, Karzai said, he would do all he can to root out corruption and improve governance. He has fired corrupt officials already, he said, adding he is prepared to act against anyone proven to be breaking the law.

However, he warned against other nations using the corruption as a political tool in making decisions about Afghanistan. And he said the United States and its allies also must halt practices that contribute to corruption from outside the country or create what he called "parallel" governance issues.

The main objective for Afghanistan and its allies is to defeat terrorism and return peace to the nation, neighboring Pakistan and the region, Karzai said. That means training Afghan security forces, rebuilding the economy and other nation-building efforts, he said.

"I have fired people and I will be firing people," Karzai said. He seemed to laugh when he was played a video clip of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs saying the United States would bypass corrupt government officials if necessary.

"Afghanistan is a sovereign country, it has a sovereign government, it's not an occupied country," Karzai said, adding that a foreign power can't undermine or go around the government to deal with whomever it chooses.

Top priorities on a "long list" of reforms include improving the rule of law, improving the judiciary, reducing bureaucracy that forces people to visit dozens of offices to get licenses, and other steps to make the government more transparent and simpler, Karzai said.

He also said the country welcomed Taliban supporters who had no ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist networks.

Eradicating terrorist networks and helping Karzai's government defeat the Taliban insurgency are main goals of the U.S.-led mission.

Approximately 1,000 U.S. Marines are expected to deploy this month as the first wave of the new deployment, military officials say. The Army may not deploy the first soldiers until at least March.

Testifying before a congressional committee last week, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a "significant" number of troops will arrive in the spring and summer, with the final troops moving to Afghanistan by late summer or early fall.

Meanwhile, the White House said Obama would meet with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, on Monday. Both are expected to testify before Congress this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that Britain, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and non-NATO member Georgia are among at least 25 countries offering to send a total of 7,000 additional troops.

At present, there are 68,000 U.S. troops operating under both NATO and U.S. commands in Afghanistan, and around 42,000 non-U.S. forces under NATO.

Pakistan now putting pressure on Taliban

WASHINGTON — Pakistan has acknowledged a growing threat from within its borders and is changing its attitude toward fighting terrorists, U.S. officials say.
"The Taliban in Pakistan have been attacking Pakistani civilians, Pakistani government officials, military officials, trying to destabilize the government of Pakistan," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, joined on three Sunday talk shows by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Pakistani police have been on high alert since a bombing-grenade attack on a Rawalpindi mosque left 37 people dead, including several senior army officers. On Sunday, police commandos killed one militant and arrested five others in a raid near Peshawar, the gateway city to the Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan. The detained are suspected of involvement in recent bombings and other attacks not only in Peshawar but in Islamabad and its sister city of Rawalpindi, a Pakistani official said.
"They are bringing pressure to bear on the Taliban in Pakistan, and particularly those that are attacking the Pakistani government," Gates said. "Any pressure on the Taliban, whether it's in Pakistan or in Afghanistan is helpful to us because al-Qaida is working with both of them."
Clinton said the change in Pakistan's view has come as its leaders have seen terrorist groups join forces and threaten Pakistan's sovereignty.
"There is a syndicate of terrorism with al-Qaida at the head of it. So, we're doing everything we can to support them in what is a really life-or-death struggle," she said.
Gates said the Taliban's "revival in the safe havens in western Pakistan is a lesson to al-Qaida that they can come back, if they are provided the kind of safe haven that the Taliban were."
Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, is believed to be hiding in Quetta, one of those safe havens in a part of Pakistan that is largely ungoverned by the Pakistani government.
"That's one of the problems they have," said Clinton. "They ceded territory that they're now trying to get back."
An underlying concern is the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Gates said that he is satisfied that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are secure.
"The U.S. has been working with Pakistan to keep their supply safe," Gates said.
Clinton and Gates appeared on ABC's "This Week," CBS' "Face the Nation" and NBC's "Meet the Press." The interviews were taped Saturday and the networks provided transcripts in advance of the shows' broadcast.

U.S. Believes Pakistan Nuclear Arms Are Secure: Gates


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has helped Pakistan improve security arrangements for its nuclear arms and is "comfortable" the weapons are secure, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview aired on Sunday.

The Pakistani government has come under repeated attack from Taliban extremists, most recently on Friday when two suicide bombers eluded security and blew themselves up in a mosque in Rawalpindi, home to the country's military establishment, killing some 40 people.

The attack raised concerns about how the bombers penetrated what should have been one of the country's most secure areas. In light of the blasts, Gates faced questions about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arms.

"We are comfortable with the security of their weapons," he told CBS's "Face the Nation" program.

Asked how he could be sure, given reports the United States does not know where all the arms are located, Gates would only say that based on the information available, U.S. officials were comfortable with their safety.

"We have a good relationship with them. We've actually given them assistance in improving some of their security arrangements over the past number of years. This is not a new relationship. And I think just based on the information available to us that gives us the comfort," he said.

Pakistan, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, conducted several nuclear tests in 1998. The country is estimated to have at least 60 nuclear warheads, possibly stored in component form, according to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report in October.

Concern about nuclear safety in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington prompted former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to have the country's nuclear arsenal moved to six secret locations, the report said, citing press reports.

Proliferation is a concern with Pakistan. The father of the country's nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, was involved in supplying North Korea, Iran and Libya with materials related to uranium enrichment, the report said, and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden reportedly has tried to make contact with the network.

Kurdish boy who 'died' in Halabja gas attack is reunited with his mother
For two decades, Fatima Hama Saleh thought that all her children had died in a gas attack carried out by Saddam Hussein against the Kurdish town of Halabja — the worst atrocity of the former Iraqi dictator’s rule.

But now she has been reunited with her son, Ali Pour, at a dramatic meeting after DNA tests confirmed that the young man, now aged 21, was the infant she became separated from when chemical weapons rained down on the Kurdish market town in 1988.

“I’m in a dream,” said Mr Pour, as he embraced and comforted his weeping mother. She replied: “I wonder if it is a dream or a gift from God.”

Mother and son were talking to each other through an interpreter because Mr Pour speaks only his adopted tongue farsi and not his native Kurdish or Iraq’s official language, Arabic.

Mrs Saleh revealed his birth name, Zimnaku Mohammed Saleh, and recalled the day Halabja was attacked, including the panic the family felt when their home was enveloped by a deadly cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX.

“We didn’t know where to go,” Mrs Saleh said. “Zimnaku, the four-month-old, was on my lap and suddenly my older son screamed saying: ‘Mother, I feel like I’m burning’. I tried to help him and my other sons, too. But it was in vain. I saw them dying in front of me. I collapsed and the next thing I remember is lying in a hospital bed in Tehran.”

Mr Pour’s adoptive uncle explained what happened next. “The baby Ali survived for three days,” said Habib Hamid Pour. He was found by the Iranian military, which moved into Halabja after the attack, and took him to Iran along with other survivors.

Eventually he was placed with a family in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad and was raised as an Iranian.

“My adopted mother was nice,” said Mr Pour, dressed in traditional Kurdish clothing of baggy pants, tunic and scarf tucked into his belt. “When I entered primary school at age 6, she told me I am from the Kurdish people of Halabja. She said I should return some day to meet my relatives.”

Four months ago, his adoptive mother was killed in a car accident. “I felt lonely and I felt a strange feeling calling me to return to the arms of my relatives,” he said. “I decided to go back.”

He contacted Iranian officials who kept records on the Halabja survivors brought to Iran. They contacted the Halabja government, which said six families were missing a boy who would now be Mr Pour’s age. A judge ordered a DNA test to be carried out by a medical lab in Jordan.

The massacre in Halabja on March 16, 1988, was part of Saddam’s Anfal Campaign that killed up to 200,000 Kurds. Three-quarters of the 5,000 killed in Halabja were women and children, making it the worst gas attack carried out against civilians.

Four of Mrs Saleh’s five children died in the attack as well as her husband, Mr Pour’s father. After the reunion, she said: “I will not die in sorrow and grief, after all the miseries I have experienced.”

She had learnt from a television report that a surviving child was looking for his family and applied to do the DNA test. At the meeting of the six participating families, shouts of joy eventually broke the silence that had greeted the announcement.

Mrs Saleh stood up and then fell to her seat as she took in what had been said. “Thank you God! You brought back my son Zimnaku,” she cried. “It’s like my whole family has come back to life — my son has returned.”

Clinton seeks to reassure Pakistanis on ties

WASHINGTON: Renewing US commitment to a long-term relationship with Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama Administration has requested a significant increase in economic development assistance for the country, a key partner in curbing violent extremism in the region.

‘We are committed to Pakistan’s security, stability, and sovereignty for the long term,’ said Clinton.

She said President Obama’s strategy, announced this week, reflects the American nation’s commitment to building a broad partnership with the Pakistani people.

This partnership, she remarked, is based on common values and a shared commitment to democratic rule, robust economic development, safety and security of all Pakistanis and the defeat of militants and terrorists who, she claimed, hide along the country’s western border.

‘We’ve already begun to implement elements of President Obama’s strategy. We have requested a significant increase in economic development assistance, including through the landmark Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation,’ Clinton said in a message to the Pakistani people.

The chief American diplomat said the US looks forward to strengthening and continuing the partnership not only between the governments, but between the Pakistani and American people in the months and years to come.

‘We are launching initiatives to help strengthen Pakistan’s infrastructure, especially in energy and water, which is what the Pakistani people have told us you need, so you can have the resources you require in your homes, schools, and businesses.’

President Obama’s strategy is the product of broad consultation, including with many of the partners in Pakistan, Clinton said.

‘We join the people of Pakistan in our deep concern about the threat posed by al-Qaida and its extremist allies. We condemn the violence that has been inflicted on innocent Pakistani people in recent months with bombings and other brutal assaults targeting civilians, your military, and other important aspects of your country and society,’ said Clinton.

The United States and Nato forces, numbering around 100,000 are trying to contain Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, eight years after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States which led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Nato allies have also pledged to increase their troops presence in Afghanistan by 7,000 after the American announcement of 30,000 additional troops.

The US and its Nato allies depend on Pakistan not only for transportation of supplies for their mission in landlocked Afghanistan but also to curb militant activity along the porous Pak-Afghan border.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, which has launched major anti-militant operations in its north-western areas, is confronting a wave of retaliatory bombings and is concerned about any spill-over effect of fighting in the Afghan provinces bordering its tribal areas.

Pakistan remains host to the largest population of refugees in the world, with over two million Afghans still living on its soil.