Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Peace returns to Bajaur

KHAR: There was a state of euphoria in most of Bajaur Agency as all the educational institutions, government departments, bazaars and markets opened on Monday.

A hustle and bustle could be seen in Khar, the headquarters of Bajaur region, and other big and small towns. All main and link roads were opened to facilitate the returnees to their hometowns while cellular phone service and World Food Programme centres also started functioning after a long time.

Reports said that tribesmen, dislocated due to the clashes between the security forces and militants, have started returning to their homes and villages. The joy could be seen on the faces of tribesmen who were seen exchanging greetings over restoration of peace in Bajaur. Those coming to their native villages hoisted national flags on the vehicles and were chanting slogans ‘long live Pakistan’ and ‘salute to Pakistan Army.’

The government departments including educational institutions were closed after launching of military operation against the militants in August 2008, and the subsequent volatile situation in Bajaur tribal region.

Thousands of families left their hearths and homes and shifted to safer places in the settled districts of NWFP. Some tribesmen also migrated to Punjab and Sindh provinces. Meanwhile, 38 militants including a commander surrendered to the security forces in Khar, the headquarters of Bajaur Agency, on Tuesday. Sources said the militants belonging to Mamond subdivision in the presence of a tribal jirga handed their weapons to the security forces. Commander Khalifa was also among them.

The militants promised not to indulge in militant activities or allow others to carry out subversive acts in Bajaur Agency. The security forces carried out search and cleanup operation in Sewai, Shinkot, Damadola and adjoining areas and recovered weapons and explosives from the abandoned hideouts of militants.

Ban Calls on Reintegrated Afghan Insurgents to Respect Will of Majority

UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said low- and mid-level insurgents who want to be reintegrated in the political process in Afghanistan must lay down their arms and respect the will of the majority of Afghans. “Those who choose to reconcile must respect the achievements made since 2002 (fall of Taliban) and accept the aspirations of the majority of Afghans to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan,” Ban wrote in a report to the Security Council on Afghanistan. Another challenge facing Afghanistan, he noted, is to make Afghan sovereignty real. The only way to do so is to make the Government and all Afghans responsible. This process, he warned, could be undermined if the international community were to bypass the Government. “It is therefore essential that we promote a new mindset that shows greater respect for Afghans’ own understanding of their country,” he said. In a veiled criticism of the Obama Administration, Ban said achieving the transition to sovereignty in Afghanistan will also require a balance between military and civilian efforts. “While I have welcomed the additional international military forces, I must at the same time caution against a militarization of the overall effort in Afghanistan. As many civilian tasks as possible must be handed over to Afghan civilian institutions,” he urged. “The temptation to achieve short-term results from unsustainable projects aimed at meeting political deadlines in troop-contributing countries must be resisted. And the tendency to allocate the distribution of aid according to where donors’ troops are most heavily focused - must begin to give way to a more coherent, nationally based assistance strategy,” he said. He criticized the fact that “too little information about donor activities still reaches the Government,” whether those activities are performed by military or civilian actors. “There is a prevailing tendency to implement projects without sufficiently consulting Afghans or working through their institutions. In doing so, we miss opportunities to obtain their full support for projects carried out in their name and to gain the benefits of their own knowledge of their country,” he added

Angelina Jolie funded Afghanistan school to welcome 800 girls

The primary school for girls, which Angelina Jolie funded in Tangi, Afghanistan, is all set to open its doors to 800 students, according to a UNHCR statement.
Jolie, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, visited a refugee settlement in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province and donated a whopping 75,000 dollars toward the school's construction.

The facility features eight classrooms, a well and eight latrines, and is set to begin classes next Monday, when their school year begins.

Although UNICEF built classrooms in the area accommodating 1300 students two years ago, many parents hesitated, for cultural reasons, to send their daughters to a school also used by boys.

"I always had hopes and dreams of going to school. The hope to become a qualified teacher has revived in me,” Us magazine quoted a 14-year-old girl named Laila, as expressing her excitement about the new school.

Igbal Azizi, head of the region's provincial education, stressed the importance of Jolie's gift, saying that Tangi girls, "otherwise would have been deprived of education."

However, Jolie, filming ‘The Tourist’ in Venice, Italy, failed to make it for the new school's celebration.

Shahbaz Sharif and the Taliban
Even by the wretched standards of the cesspit of lies and cravenness that can be the Pakistani political establishment, the comments made on Sunday by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif are extraordinary and demand the most vigorous condemnation possible.

Essentially, Mr Sharif has argued that his party, the PML-N, shares a common cause with the Taliban —that of opposing Gen Musharraf and his policies and rejecting ‘dictation’ from abroad — and therefore the Taliban should ‘spare’ Punjab. The very thought that any mainstream politician, let alone one as high-profile and powerful as the serving Punjab chief minister, could find anything in common with the Taliban ideology is despicable.

But Mr Sharif has gone so much further than that. By asking the Taliban to ‘spare’ Punjab, what does the Punjab CM mean? Does he mean that the Taliban should launch their attacks elsewhere, in Sindh, Balochistan, the NWFP, Fata, Pata or other places? And what does the CM mean when he says that his party is fighting foreign ‘dictation’ just like the Taliban are? Does he mean that Pakistan should not fight the threat of militancy? What does Mr Sharif want to do instead — accommodate the Taliban like they were accommodated in Swat last year? Or should ‘peace deals’ be struck with the Taliban like they were in South Waziristan for years? The chief minister’s half-hearted ‘clarification’ issued later will not suffice; he must apologise to Punjab and the nation.

That Mr Sharif could possibly be ignorant of the threat posed by the Taliban is impossible. As chief minister of Punjab he has sat at the apex of that province’s administration for over a year and a half now. Countless secret and not-so-secret memos will have arrived on his desk detailing the atrocities and crimes committed and planned by the Taliban. The secret interrogation cell that was attacked in Model Town, Lahore, only a few days ago was run by provincial authorities. The Punjab chief minister is mocking the sacrifices made by the very people who serve his administration by finding common cause with the enemy.

Why is it so difficult for the PML-N to condemn terrorism outright, with no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’? It surely cannot be a question of the reluctance to use violence against ‘fellow Pakistanis’. Like Mr Sharif’s first tenure as chief minister in the late 1990s, Punjab is once again witnessing a spike in ‘encounter’ killings of alleged dacoits, kidnappers and sundry criminals. The men who have been killed in dubious circumstances are also ‘fellow Pakistanis’. But Mr Sharif has no sympathy for these men; in fact, he has on many occasions announced rewards for the policemen for ‘cleaning up’ the province of criminal elements. There has been no talk of an amnesty for such criminals, no appeals to their better sides, no exhortations to recognise that they have much in common with the largest party in Punjab. The ordinary criminals must be wondering what they must do to get on Mr Sharif’s good side. Perhaps a statement against Mr Musharraf will do the trick.

The Punjab government has long been in denial over the presence of militants in Southern Punjab. It needs to wake up before it is too late. The news of the TTP offering to stop these attacks if the Punjab government assures that it would stop the crackdown against the militants further highlights the implicit nexus between the terrorists and the PML-N. It would not be far from the truth if we were to say that the PML-N is proving itself to be the greatest existentialist threat to the remaining part of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Spare this country, Mr Chief Minister — we lost half of it in 1971, do not pave the way for another disaster by supporting the terrorists.
The PML-N needs to come clean with the people of Pakistan. On which side of the divide does it stand? Is it against militancy in all shapes and forms or is it ideologically sympathetic to the ‘justness’ of some facets of the militants’ cause? This is not about political expediency but about the very worst form of moral corruption. Pakistan’s leaders have a sacred duty to protect the people and the sovereignty of the state. There is absolutely nothing in the Taliban’s agenda that is any way even remotely compatible with that sacred duty. In fact, finding common cause with the Taliban is to take the country one step closer to the abyss. Ordinary Pakistanis have shown remarkable courage in resolutely backing the fight against the militants for a year now. Shahbaz Sharif and the PML-N need to accept who the enemy is. Otherwise, they have no business being involved in the affairs of the state.

Pakistan postpones national games

The Pakistan Olympic Association has postponed the country's annual national games for security reasons.

The games were to be held in the city of Peshawar this month, but have been provisionally rescheduled for December.

They are Pakistan's biggest domestic sporting event - more than 3,000 athletes were due to take part.

The postponement is the latest in a series of sporting setbacks for Pakistan which has suffered scores of militant attacks in recent months.

National Olympic Committee president Arif Hasan told a news conference in Lahore that the security situation in Peshawar had prompted the postponement.

"Teams are already not willing to come to Pakistan because of the security issues and we don't want a situation where a domestic event is also affected by some incident," Mr Hasan said.

He said new dates in December would be subject to security clearance.

Earlier, the International Tennis Federation said it had moved a Davis Cup match between Pakistan and New Zealand this July from Lahore to New Zealand following a request from the visiting team.

Several international sporting events have been cancelled in recent years after sports organisations and players refused to travel to Pakistan citing security concerns.

In March 2009 six policemen and a driver were killed when gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's cricketers in Lahore.

Russia hopes for 'more effective' Afghan drugs fight

Russia hopes Afghanistan, with international help, will wage a "more effective" fight against opium poppy cultivation, the head of Russia's federal narcotics control service said Tuesday.

"Of course we would like the results to be more effective, especially as far as the eradication of drug crops in the southern part of Afghanistan is concerned," Viktor Ivanov told a news conference in Kabul.

"The drug trafficking begins at the place where the drugs are cultivated," he said, estimating that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was worth 65 billion dollars a year.

However, "the Afghan government needs the international support because it lacks finance, resources and force," he said, after an international meeting on the problem.

Organised by Russia, the meeting Tuesday brought together 30 officials from 15 countries, including representatives from the NATO force in Afghanistan, the UN and the Afghan administration.

Drawing up a list of land owners implicated in the drug trade was among the items under consideration at the meeting.

"We would like to exchange information about them and to have the names in one list," said Ivanov.

"Because in accordance with the law signed by President (Hamid) Karzai such people should be held responsible for cultivation of opium poppy on their lands," he said.

Ivanov however said he believed that military action was not an option.

Of the 65 billion dollars from the annual trade, "the peasants get 500 million ... the Taliban get from 150 to 300 million" but "the most part of the money goes to the drug mafia which organises the process of the drug production," the Russian said.

"From this we can make the conclusion that there is no military solution to this problem."

The United States has expressed doubts over the campaigns to eradicate opium production, estimating that they harm the poorest section of the Afghan population which grows the poppies used to produce opium and heroin.

But this attitude worries Moscow, which says 30,000 Russians died in 2009 from using heroin which came from Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama's administration has largely avoided crop eradication in favor of seeking to convince farmers to abandon poppy cultivation in favor of other agriculture.

The strategy allows police to target traffickers over producers of narcotics.

2 US missile attacks kill 9 in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD – Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at vehicles and hit a militant hide-out in a tribal region of northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least nine insurgents, two officials said.

In the first attack, the drones fired four missiles at a vehicle and flattened a nearby house near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal region, killing six militants, an army and an intelligence official said.

About 50 minutes later, drones fired three more missiles at a vehicle in the Madakhel town, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Miran Shah, killing three insurgents, said the officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Other militants were also wounded in the two strikes, they said.

The CIA has stepped up attacks in Pakistan's tribal regions since December, when a suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees in neighboring Afghanistan.

The latest attack came a day after the U.S. missile attack destroyed a militant facility in the same region, killing nine suspects.

Officials say some of the men slain in Tuesday's attack in Datta Khel were believed to be foreigners who were present in the stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a warlord whose fighters are battling U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan publicly opposes the attacks, saying they violate its sovereignty and fuel anti-Americanism among the population, it is believed that it was sharing intelligence with the Americans about the insurgents and their hide-outs.

Washington also refuses to publicly discuss the program, which uses unmanned drones, but Pakistani officials say privately the attacks have killed several senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders in recent years.