Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa” ‘Dirty politics’ threatening foundations of ethnic harmony

Daily Times
PESHAWAR: While the situation might get better in the coming days and business might return to normal, the ethnic harmony appears to have fallen victim to “politics” in Hazara over the renaming of NWFP: the long-term consequences may prove disastrous for the country in general and the province in particular. And all this has surfaced at a critical time with the fight against militancy entering the most decisive summer since 2002.Commentators billing the developments of recent days “politics” have forgotten to add the word “dirty” to complete the phrase – “dirty politics”, played over the renaming of the province among Leaguers on one side and between the Awami National Party and the Leaguers on the other.The political and ideological rivalry between the ANP and the Pakistan Muslim League dates back to the early days of Pakistan. But it had never before been selfish enough to endanger the very foundations of ethnic harmony among various communities of NWFP.Sound reasoning against the plan to rename the province as “Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa” is yet to surface from quarters condemning the ANP. And it hardly appears to be the case that the renamed province would undermine the rights, status, culture, heritage and history of the people who feel threatened.With the issue amicably resolved on the floor of parliament, it is hard to imagine why anybody had to resort to street politics. Does parliamentary approval mean nothing to these politicians? Should we settle political issues on the streets rather than on the floor of parliament?Hazara has produced seven chief ministers, but no Pakhtoon-dominated district or region has ever agitated so violently, although the ANP could have easily played a role in sparking ethnic disharmony in the province. So why such an outburst from a people accepted very much as sons of the frontier soil?The residents of Hazara have never before had any policy difference with the rest of the province. The developments of the last 10 days appear to have been scripted much earlier.Commentators see all this as just “politics” played by some defeated politicians. One of them, a former foreign minister, has even said that police from Mardan and Charsadda were brought in to kill protesters intentionally. Such a statement from a politician who takes pride in playing national-level politics is shameful. It is difficult to find an instance where democracy allowed a minority to dictate a majority.Let’s assume the situation gets out of control and both the Pakistan Muslim League and the ANP refuse to budge an inch from their stated positions and the province sinks deeper into political crisis. Would such a situation be of any good to the country at this critical time when it is fighting militancy with the possibility of a final battle in the inaccessible Tirah valley? If the military wants, and I am sure it does, to focus on militancy, it would not want the situation to reach a point of no return.Where does the ANP’s fault lie? It did not reach out to the people of Hazara immediately after the National Assembly passed the 18th Amendment Bill on April 8. The party should have reassured the ‘Hazarawals’ that their rights, identity, culture, heritage and history would remain as safe as it had ever been.

U.S. Forces Close Outpost in Afghan ‘Valley of Death’

New York Times
KORANGAL OUTPOST, Afghanistan — The last American soldier left the base here Wednesday, surrounded by tall cedar trees and high mountains, a place that came to be called the Valley of Death.

The near daily battles here were won, but almost always leaving wounded or dead behind. There were never enough soldiers to crush the insurgency, and after four years of trying, it became clear that there was not much worth winning in this sparsely populated valley.

Closing the Korangal Outpost, a powerful symbol of some of the Afghan war’s most ferocious fights, and a potential harbinger of America’s retreat, is a tacit admission that putting the base there in the first place was a costly mistake.

It is also part of a new effort by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of forces here since last summer, to consolidate and refocus his forces in places where they might change the momentum of what had become a losing contest.

Fighting for isolated mountain valleys like this one, even if they are hideouts for clusters of Taliban, was no longer sustainable. And it did more to spawn insurgents than defeat them. Better to put those soldiers in cities and towns where they could protect people and help them connect to the Afghan government, he reasoned.

“There’s never a perfect answer,” General McChrystal said as he visited this outpost on April 8 for a briefing as the withdrawal began. “I care deeply about everybody who has been hurt here, but I can’t do anything about it. I can do something about people who might be hurt in the future.

“The battle changes, the war changes,” he added. “If you don't understand the dynamics you have no chance of getting it right. We’ve been slower here than I would have liked.”

Forty-two American service men died fighting in the Korangal and hundreds were wounded, according to military statistics. Most died in the three years from 2006 to 2009. Many Afghan soldiers died there as well and in larger numbers since they had poorer equipment. In a war characterized by small, brutal battles, the Korangal had more than its share, and its abandonment now has left soldiers who fought there confronting confusion, anger and pain.

“It hurts,” said Spc. Robert Soto of B Company, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, who spent 12 months in the Korangal Valley from 2008 to 2009. “It hurts on a level that —three units from the Army, we all did what we did up there. And we all lost men. We all sacrificed. I was 18 years old when I got there. I really would not have expected to go through what we went through at that age.”

During the period Specialist Soto served there half of his platoon was wounded or killed, according to the unit’s commanding officer. “It confuses me, why it took so long for them to realize that we weren’t making progress up there,” he said.

The Korangal Outpost was the third area of eastern Afghanistan where combat outposts closed: In 2007 and 2008 two posts and a smaller satellite base were closed in Kunar’s Waygal Valley, and in 2009 two posts were closed in Nuristan Province’s Kamdesh region. Along with the main Korangal outpost, five small satellite bases have closed, at least two of them, Restrepo and Vimoto, were named for soldiers who died there.

Perched on a steep hillside, scattered with gnarly trees, the Korangal outpost consists of little more than a dozen structures made of stone and wood and is heavily sandbagged. It is a primitive-looking place built into the hillside, like the nearby villages. Further down the valley tower the Deodar cedars, which the Korangalis cut down to make their living.

The vulnerability of these combat outposts was hardly surprising. Though sparsely populated, Kunar and Nuristan Provinces have a long history of strident resistance to outsiders. Kunar was the first places to rise up against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, giving the area the moniker “cradle of jihad.”

Much of the American mission in the last couple of years has centered on trying to get the reclusive people who live here to recognize the Afghan government and work with it. In some places that is reaping modest results. Not so in the Korangal.

The Korangalis speak a language unrelated to Pashto and Dari, the two main Afghan tongues; they practice a conservative brand of Islam; and they have repeatedly rebuffed American offers of aid.

The area remains under the influence of a Taliban shadow governor along with two Taliban leaders, Haji Mateen and Nasrullah, who make their money off the valley’s lumber.

The sawmill and lumber yard run by Haji Mateen was seized by Marines to build the Korangal outpost in April 2006. The troops had set out to penetrate the six-mile-long valley, but never made it more than halfway.

There have been only two missions to the valley’s southern end since 2005, said Maj. Ukiah Senti, the executive officer of Second Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment Task Force Lethal, which oversees Korangal and neighboring areas. He said the antagonism from local Taliban and insurgents was so great that it would take a battalion-sized force to make a foray there.

The Korangal Outpost was opened to root out Taliban fighters who were hiding deep in the mountains, according to soldiers who fought there. Even before then, it was apparent the valley’s inhabitants were hostile to outsiders.

In June, 2005 a four-man team of Navy SEALs was ambushed on a ridge above the valley; three were killed and a helicopter sent to rescue them was shot down, killing eight more Navy SEALS and eight other servicemen, making it one of the worst single losses of the war.

While there were Taliban in the valley and Qaeda operatives passed through the area, Korangal was not a major haven, said Maj. James Fussell, a former Army Special Forces soldier who spent nearly two years fighting here, from 2004 to 2005 and again from 2008 to 2009. He recently co-authored a detailed analysis of the mission in Kunar and Nuristan for the Institute for the Study of War.

“Occasionally a Taliban or Al Qaeda member was transiting through that location, but the Korangalis were by no means part of the insurgency,” he said. “Unfortunately, now they are because they were willing to accept any help to get us out.”

American commanders sporadically discussed closing the base almost since it was put there, but over the last 18 months the plan was pushed by Col. Randy George, who commands Task Force Mountain Warrior, which is responsible for the four easternmost Afghan provinces: Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and Laghman.

“We’re not going to go deep into these valleys and bring them into the 21st century in a couple of months,” said Colonel George, who determined early on that keeping forces in the Korangal and in the Kamdesh region of Nuristan was not an effective way to use resources or win over locals.

Major Senti concurred. “Realistically no one needs to be there,” he said. “We’re not really overwatching anything other than safeguarding ourselves.”

The current company commander, Capt. Mark Moretti, B Company, Second Battalion, 12th Infantry regiment, said he still hopes that his efforts to connect the Korangal elders to the district center in Nangalam, will bear fruit, but other soldiers expressed skepticism.

“They are connected to the district government now a little bit,” said First Sgt. Bryan Reed, B Company, Second Battalion, 12th regiment. “But it’s not one of their priorities.”

Looking back, soldiers say the effort shows how choices made from a lack of understanding or consultation with local people can drive them into the arms of the insurgents.

“We had the best intentions, but when you don’t fully understand the culture” it is impossible to make the right choices, said Major Fussell.

A number of the infantrymen who fought here ruefully accept that the time has long passed for the military to spend lives and resources in a small and isolated valley that could not have been won without many more troops.

“It is frustrating, because we bled there and now we’re leaving,” said Capt. John P. Rodriguez, who as a first lieutenant served there with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.

“So you question: were those sacrifices worth it? But just because you lost guys in a place, doesn’t mean you need to stay there.”

Pakistan Seizes 2nd Tribal Zone in Anti-Taliban War
Pakistan’s army, expanding its six- month-old offensive against Taliban guerrillas, says it has seized much of a second tribal district following its takeover of South Waziristan.

About 7,000 troops have taken parts of Orakzai, a district of forested mountains where Taliban regrouped after their ouster from Waziristan. With the fighting in Orakzai, the army has fought major operations in six of the seven tribal districts, called agencies, along the Afghan border.

“Operations are ongoing in South Waziristan, Khyber and Orakzai,” army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in an interview. “But in all regions where we get information about militants, the military will take action.”

Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to extend its offensive into the seventh, North Waziristan Agency, from where the Afghan guerrilla faction led by Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani stage attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan says it wants to consolidate its current offensives before opening new fronts.

While retired U.S. counter-terrorism officials accuse the Pakistani armed forces of protecting the Haqqani faction, which it backed in Afghan wars of the 1980s and 1990s, the expanded offensive underscores Pakistan’s commitment to battling militants, Abbas said.

Soldiers ordered into Orakzai on March 22 have taken Lower Orakzai, in the southwestern part of the agency, Abbas said. About 350 militants have been killed there, the army says.

Another Year

Independent reports from the semi-autonomous tribal agencies are rare, and the army’s account from Orakzai could not be directly confirmed because government restrictions and lack of security keep journalists out of the tribal zone.

Abbas did not say how long the Orakzai offensive may last. Overall, “the operation in the tribal areas will take at least a year,” said Mahmood Shah, a security specialist and retired army brigadier in Peshawar, the northwest’s biggest city, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Orakzai fighting.

“Once the Orakzai operation ends, which will be soon, the military will start an offensive in North Waziristan,” Shah said. The Haqqani faction, which operates around the North Waziristan town of Miramshah, has claimed some of the highest- profile attacks in Afghanistan, such as the July 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed more than 60 people.

Expanding offensives in northwestern Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, have helped curb Taliban attacks on Pakistan’s cities, 80 percent of which the government says were planned in South Waziristan. There have been four major terrorist assaults on big cities this year compared with 24 incidents in 2009, according to Bloomberg data.

Deficit Grows

The government’s expansion of the war may widen the fiscal deficit to as much as 5.5 percent of gross domestic product in the year ending June 30, against a target of 4.9 percent, according to Asad Farid, an economist at AKD Securities in Karachi.

The military has escalated efforts to clear guerrillas from the Khyber Agency, which borders Orakzai to the north and straddles a highway through the Khyber Pass that is a main supply route for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

At least 55 civilians were killed when a fighter jet targeted militants on April 10 in Khyber, according to Tariq Hayat Khan, secretary for law and order in the tribal areas.

“Militants had started fleeing to Tirah Valley in Khyber due to its linkages with other tribal areas and Afghanistan,” the military said in a statement on April 11. “Tirah has become a hub of militants including foreign fighters.”

Refugees Flee

Pakistan’s army sent 28,000 troops into South Waziristan in October after wresting the northwestern Swat Valley, once a popular tourist destination, back from Taliban control in an offensive that started in May.

More than 3,000 Pakistanis were killed in terrorist attacks last year, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad.

As many as 204,000 refugees have fled Orakzai and are registered in the northwestern towns of Kohat and Hangu, according to Khalid Khan, a senior local official in Kohat.

“We heard the deafening sounds of jet bombing, artillery shelling and gunship helicopters,” said Jamal Khan, who left Orakzai this month for Hangu. “We saw a group of 20 Taliban fleeing their hideouts and dead bodies of Uzbek militants.”

Mullah Toofan and Mullah Rafeeq, two prominent Taliban commanders, are natives of Orakzai. Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taliban commander thought by the Pakistani government to have been killed in an attack by a U.S. drone aircraft in January, was the chief military commander for Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber agencies when his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, ran the Pakistani Taliban.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa name VS Punjabi Thug Politicians

It is sad that Nawaz sharif PML(N)and Ch. Shujaat PML(Q) leaders ARE BUSY DOING THEIR POLITICS over the name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and it seems like they are generating new issue of hate and divide in the province.I feel sorry for those who got killed in recent protests,who were innocent and died becuase NAWAZ SHARIF and another thug leader of PML (Q) created this fuss.
Let's not forget what happened to East Pakistan when West Pakistan denied them their right of Bengali language. The problem is Pakistani politicians never learn from history, these politicians need to understand that Pakistan's imposition of Urdu on East Pakistan was a mistake. It seems like some opportunist politicians of PML(N) in the province are trying to create political tension over Pakhtunkhwa. People in Pakhtunkhwa wants to be recognized as a nationality in their own right and for this they want their living place to be given their name Pakhtunkhwa. Why can Punjabis have Punjab, Sindhis Sindh, Baluchis Balochistan, but Pakhtuns can't have Pakhtoonkhwa? why Pakhtoon are being treated like occupied Palestine who will breakaway at the first chance.? and if do decide to break off, trust me with all its might, Pakistan can't prevent that. Pakistan couldn't beat Bengalis into submission and it can never force Pakhtuns into submission. Its stupid that some people who consider themselves super patriotic imply that Pakhtuns are any less patriotic than themselves. Let me remind those self-declared super Pakistanis that Punjab did not have any option except joining Pakistan. Punjab had to join Pakistan. But we Pakhtuns had a choice to join our brothers in Afghanistan, with whom we share not only our ancestry but our culture, our history, our tradition, and our language, but Pakhtuns decided to stay with Pakistan. How can someone from Punjab or Sindh or any other part of Pakistan give us a lecture on patriotism? I think these people are the one who needs a lesson in patriotism, because by suppressing minorities right and denying them their identity they are weakening Pakistan NOT Pakhtuns. Its tragic that Pakistani politicians did NOT learn any lesson from history. Bengalis were at the forefront in the struggle for Pakistan but when Pakistan suppressed them and denied them their rights and their identity what happened? We all know the end result. By calling Bengalis traitors because they demanded their rights they were converted into traitors. Alas we could learn from history because if we don't, history is doomed to repeat itself. Acceptance of history is a good sign, no wonder, but learning no lesson from it is unforgivable.We are unanimous on one thing that people from this province are all pathan if all are not Pashtun.The usage of Pakhtunkhwa in Pakhto poetry dates back to the middle ages. The word is a combination of two words - that is Pakhtun and Khwa. Pakhtun or Pashtun is a noun while Khwa means side. Culturally there is no doubt that the land was called Pakhtunkhwa in Pushtu literature since 15th century .The word Pakhtunkhwa was also used in the modern poetry by contemporary poets like Qalandar Momand (1930-2003) long before it was suggested as the nomenclature for the NWFP. The name NWFP is certainly a misnomer today since it does not satisfy the aspirations of the people of the province.Three of the four provinces the Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, got their own identity either through their environment or inhabitants. But the NWFP has been named neither after the historical and cultural background of the inhabitants nor derived its name from environment. Since the name (NWFP) does not reflect the true ethnic identity of its inhabitants, therefore a demand for its change is a logical consequence but unfortunately the matter has turned into a controversial issue again by so-called politicians. Those opposing the word Pakhtunkhwa argue that the name will not represent non Pashto speaking population of the province. The argument is unjustified and impractical. There is hardly any country in the world which does not have ethnic minorities. Even in Pakistan; Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan have large number of people who do not speak the language their names ostensibly suggest. The 74 percent population of NWFP speaks Pashto as mother language in present day NWFP and the proportion will greatly increase when FATA will ultimately be merged in the province, choosing a proper name for the province is the fundamental right of its residents.But a number of political groups and opportunist politicians are not in favour of calling NW FP as Pakhtunkhwa and they are trying to divide people. These members of assembly should be discussing creating jobs, hiring police officers, opening new schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and providing clean water and electricity to their voters and keeping province safe, rid Province of violence and terror, generate productive employment for youth, provide education, healthcare, and bring progress to the doorstep of workers, farmers and small businesses, elimination of child labour etc . These are the issues for which people have elected these assembly members to solve,but unfortunately thug politicians from punjab care about thier vote bank not the real issues.
Ch. Shujaat of failed PML(Q) added fuel to the fire while Gohar Ayyub provoked the violence.Lets not forget that CH.SHUJAAT is also supporter of Taliban and had close contacts with Lal Masjid Terrorists.
Pakistan Muslim league-Quaid (PML-Q) President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain is responsible for the riots in Abbottabad over the proposed renaming of the NWFP, and he is working on “somebody’s agenda” to prevent the passing of the 18th Amendment in Senate, NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said on Tuesday.
What is sad is that it would appear the trouble was deliberately inspired, perhaps even incited, by the PML-Q. The party that has opposed the name change for NWFP and has stated it will keep up its move to block it in the Senate is reported to be behind the several days of violence in Abbottabad. It may not be entirely alone. PML-N members from Hazara, including the son-in-law of the party chief, had walked out of the National Assembly during discussion on the name change. It is believed these elements too may be behind the unexpected unrest. The PML-Q is demanding negotiations on the issue, ignoring the fact that the name change came about only after fairly intense discussion in the first place.