Friday, June 11, 2010

Afghan officials: insurgency growing in southwest

The governing council of a once peaceful province in southwestern Afghanistan has fled to Kabul after the Taliban killed one of their members and threatened the others with death. They fear U.S.-led offensives to the east may simply be pushing insurgents into new areas. The council members from Nimroz province talk of a rising tide of violence and intimidation as Taliban fighters who have been forced out of neighboring Helmand province, which includes Marjah, shift operations to Nimroz. They say other militants have been crossing into Nimroz from Iran, where they trained at desert camps. A spokesman for U.S. Marines based in Nimroz insists security has improved in the remote province along the border with Iran and Pakistan. But Afghan provincial officials say the approximately 2,000 U.S. Marines and 1,000 Afghan soldiers operate primarily in the northeast — 130 miles from the provincial capital, Zaranj — and are unaware of conditions elsewhere in the province. Nimroz had generally been regarded as peaceful until May 5, when nine suicide bombers disguised as police stormed the provincial council office in Zaranj, about 500 miles southwest of Kabul, killing a woman council member, two policemen and a visitor. All the attackers died. Police said it was the worst attack in Nimroz in two years. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the council was trying to turn Afghans against the militants. After the assault, the remaining eight council members began receiving death threats — some as letters slipped under doors, some as phone calls and some by text message. Council member Shren Azizi said she had just returned home from visiting the family of her murdered colleague when her mobile phone rang. "Your previous job as a teacher was good for you," the middle-aged male caller said sternly. "So go back to that if you want to stay alive. Think about your children." Afghan law reserves at least a quarter of the seats on each provincial council for women. About five days after the bombing, the council members gathered at their blown-out headquarters. The chairman, Sadiq Chakhansori, decided they'd had enough. "I put a lock on the door and said, `OK, we're going to Kabul,' " Chakhansori told The Associated Press. Since the roads were too dangerous, the group flew to the western city of Herat and took another plane to Kabul. Only one council member stayed behind — too elderly and ill for the trip. Provincial Police Chief Gen. Abdul Jabar Pardeli said insurgent activity picked up in Nimroz after each major NATO operation in neighboring provinces. He said he needs more police and troops. "We don't have any district wholly out of control of the government, but there are remote areas outside of government control," said Pardeli, who spoke with the AP over the telephone from Nimroz. "If they do not help, our security will go from bad to worse." Lt. Barry Morris, a spokesman for the Marines in Nimroz, said the U.S. had no evidence of significant militant forces coming into the area from neighboring Farah and Helmand province. He said Marines on patrol in Delaram feel safe enough to stop into shops and buy carpets. Nevertheless, council members interviewed this week in Kabul don't share that view — perhaps because they are not used to the intense threats faced by their counterparts in flashpoint areas such as Kandahar, Helmand and Khost. Nimroz has long been the most stable part of southern Afghanistan even though it is a major trafficking route for Afghanistan's huge opium trade. Goods flowing across the Iranian border made the provincial capital relatively prosperous. But now, Taliban appear to be threatening that border as well. Afghans returning from years as refugees in Iran describe training camps in the Iranian desert used by the Taliban, and say weapons trafficking is prevalent, Chakhansori said. NATO forces recently confirmed that Taliban are training on Iranian soil. In late May, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that there was "clear evidence" of Taliban training and weapon smuggling in Iran. Squeezed from all sides, the council members are trying to meet with government officials to plead for help. Since arriving in Kabul, they have managed meetings only with the minister of transport and the minister of water and energy, Chakhansori said. For now, the council members are staying at a government rooming house in Kabul and keeping in touch with their constituents by phone. They say they don't know what they'll do if they don't get any pledges of help. Though they're elected, provincial councils have little influence within the top-heavy Afghan central government. Governors are appointed by President Hamid Karzai. "We have no executive power. President Karzai has kept us symbolic. All we can do is raise our voices," council member Shakila Hakimi said.

Zardari calls for greater regional cooperation against extremism, terrorism

President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday called for deeper regional cooperation against extremism and terrorism and vowed that Pakistan would continue to play its key role for greater peace and stability. Addressing the 10th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation here at the Capital of Uzbekistan, President Zardari said the regional countries must also join hands to address the root causes that lead to acts of violence and terrorism. He said terrorism stemmed from abject poverty and it was vital that it is addressed by creating economic activity and employment generation so that the people on the fringes of extremism are lured to productive tasks. President Zardari pointed out that narco-money was being used to fund terrorist activities and called for greater collaboration to stem it. The President said Pakistan was confronting terrorism and extremism with a resolve to rid its soil and for greater peace and stability. He called for increased collaboration between Pakistan and the SCO's Business Council and inter-bank consortium to boost trade and commercial ties. He said it would bring in more development and progress besides greater economic stability. The President said," Pakistan, owing to its strategic position, provides shortest and fastest trade corridors to link the Central Asian Republics to the rest of the world". President Zardari said increased trade and commercial activities in the region could bring about a positive change in the lives of its people. He also mentioned other challenges that the country was facing and said Pakistan can address the grave energy crisis by increasing cooperation in the field of energy with the SCO members. President Zardari also extended full support to Afghanistan to help it fight extremism and in its reconstruction efforts. He said his country believes that a strong and stable Afghanistan was in the best interest of the entire region. He said the law and order situation in Afghanistan was having a negative impact on the entire region and the two countries would work together towards a better future. He said Pakistan would continue to assist the peace efforts in Afghanistan. The President also extended support to the SCO's stance towards Afghanistan and Kyrgystan. President Asif Ali Zardari also presented a powerful case for inclusion of Pakistan into the SCO fold and said Pakistan was the gateway to the landlocked Central Asian Republics with historical and cultural links that span centuries. He said Pakistan was a natural member to the SCO and it would further boost the people to people contacts, bring more stability and enhance trade and economic ties in the region. The summit was attended by heads of state from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the delegate from Kyrgyzstan, and leaders and delegates from SCO observer nations Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran. Earlier the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit approved a series of documents, including the Tashkent Declaration, the SCO Rules of Procedure, and the regulation on procedure for future membership expansion. The SCO members agreed in the Tashkent Declaration to further enhance cooperation in combating terrorism, separatism and extremism, illegal drug trade and organized transnational crime. Uzbek President Islam Karimov in his opening speech stressed the need for strengthening political and economic cooperation and stepping up anti-terrorism efforts to secure peace and stability among the SCO countries. Chinese President Hu Jintao in his address called for strengthening cooperation among member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) He urged new cooperation models and proposed ways to identify non-resource sectors as a new priority for economic cooperation. He also made a six-point proposal including strengthening mutual trust, stepping up counter-terrorism efforts, improving the SCO institutional building and decision-making mechanism, and promoting its transparency and inclusiveness. Chinese President Hu Jintao said the world has become multipolar and underlined the need for increase in multilateral trade and interconnectivity among SCO countries. He said China would provide US 10 billion for undertaking of projects in SCO countries. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for setting up a special fund to complete projects in member countries of SCO. He pledged to take forward the spirit of SCO and specially mentioned the need for peace, progress and stability in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. He said a monitoring team of SCO will oversee referendum in Kyrgyzstan on June 27. India's External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said his country would continue to play a positive role in Afghanistan and Central Asian States. He stressed for increase in trade among countries in the region. He said terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking were difficult challenges and India would support SCO countries to tackle these issues in an effective manner. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran for its peaceful nuclear programme but on the other hand nothing was done against the country who fired upon and killed people on board the ship carrying humanitarian goods for Gaza which was facing blockade. He said Iran would not compromise on its nuclear programme as it was for peaceful purposes.He said politics was being done in the name of action against terrorist organizations and activities. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said terrorism and extremism were curses for Afghanistan and people of his country were facing the menace with bravery and courage. Now Afghans are thinking that the business of terrorism should end from their country, he remarked. Karzai thanked the SCO countries for their support for promoting peace, progress and stability in Afghanistan. He said the Asian countries protected themselves from the world recession and called for an SCO Youth Council to realize potential of the future generations. Two SCO also inked two agreements - one between the SCO governments to enhance cooperation in the field of agriculture, and the second for cooperation in combating crime. The theme of the summit was "to strengthen unity and cooperation, maintain stability and pursue common development in the region." The leaders and participants exchanged views on the world and regional situation, and coordinated strategies for combating terrorism, separatism and extremism.

2 US troops, 11 Afghan civilians killed in south

Associated Press Two U.S. troops and at least 11 civilians died in violence across southern Afghanistan on Friday, including one attack in which a suicide bomber wearing a burqa blew himself up in a bazaar. Violence has spiked recently in Afghanistan's volatile south as Taliban insurgents step up attacks ahead of a planned major operation by NATO forces to secure the main city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in Brussels on Friday that insurgents have killed 59 Afghans during the past seven days, 54 of them in Kandahar. He told NATO ministers that insurgents also wounded 116, 94 of them in Kandahar. In Kandahar province on Friday, nine civilians, including four women and three children, were killed and eight other people were wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Maiwand district, Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor said. The driver hit the mine when he veered off the road to go around a section that was damaged. In neighboring Zabul province, a suicide bomber dressed in a burqa detonated his cache of explosives in a shopping area in Shahjoy district, killing two civilians and wounding at least 16 others, said Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor. NATO said the two American service members died in an explosion in southern Afghanistan on Friday but did not disclose details or the location because relatives had not yet been notified. At least 33 troops serving with the international coalition have been killed so far this month, 23 of them American. Also on Friday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Bagram Air Field north of Kabul. NATO confirmed that a rocket landed in a field inside the base but did not cause any injuries or damage. NATO said a second rocket landed outside the base. On Thursday in Ghazni province, also in the south, three Afghan policemen were killed when their vehicle hit a mine in the Qarabagh district, the Ministry of Interior said Friday. Also on Thursday, a private security company employee was killed in a mine explosion in the Ali Shir district of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, the ministry said. British Prime Minister David Cameron's planned visit to a front-line base in Helmand province next to Kandahar was canceled on Thursday after cell phone calls referring to a possible rocket attack on a helicopter were intercepted, the British domestic news agency Press Association reported. Cameron, on his first visit to Afghanistan since coming to power last month, spoke with British troops at his country's main base in Helmand on Friday.

Ordinary Gazans hurt most by 3-year blockade

Three out of four factories in Gaza have closed because they can't import or export. Legitimate businesses have been replaced by a Hamas-controlled black market economy. Millions of gallons of sewage are pumped into the sea every day because a lack of spare parts holds up infrastructure repairs. Three years after Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza in hopes of squeezing the territory's Islamic militant Hamas rulers, those suffering most are ordinary Gazans. They include tens of thousands who lost their jobs, among them 49-year-year old Mohammed Maadi whose family of 15 scrapes by on U.N. rations and whose teenage sons risked their lives digging smuggling tunnels to help put food on the table. Even if the blockade were to be lifted soon — as many demanded after last week's deadly Israeli raid on a blockade-busting flotilla — recovery could take years. Production lines have fallen into disrepair. Entrepreneurs have moved investments abroad. Men forced into idleness have lost their place in society. Gaza was "working poor" before, but economists say the blockade closed off any chance of development. "We have been transformed from a productive society into one dependent on handouts," said economist Mohsin Abu Ramadan. Israel says economic sanctions are a legitimate tool against the Iranian-backed Hamas, branded a terror group by the West and responsible for years of rocket fire on Israeli border towns. Hamas critics note that the Islamists could instantly open Gaza's borders if they renounce violence and recognize Israel. Instead, Hamas has clung to its militant positions, and the standoff seemed intractable — until last week, when Israel's sea raid trained world attention on Gaza's plight. President Barack Obama said this week that Gaza's situation is unsustainable and that everything except weapons should be let in. For now, Israel only allows in a few dozen types of goods, such as potato chips, frozen meats and medicines, but bans raw materials, including construction supplies, and virtually all exports. As a result, more than 70 percent of Gaza's 3,900 factories are closed or operating at minimal capacity. Eighty percent of Gazans receive humanitarian aid, up from 63 percent in 2006, the U.N. says. Some 300,000 have no income at all, a threefold increase over the course of a year. Delays in bringing in spare parts have held up repairs of a dilapidated, overburdened infrastructure. Electricity is cut for hours a day in rolling blackouts, and millions of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage have to be pumped into the Mediterranean every day. Gaza's health service is overwhelmed and advanced care, including cancer treatment, is not available, forcing thousands every year to seek treatment abroad, including in Israel. Israel issues special permits for patients, but some are turned down and others face delays. Newborn Mohammed Hajaj died of congenital heart disease March 5, two days after his appointment with a Jerusalem specialist and two days before his Israeli entry permit arrived, said Mohammed Daher of the World Health Organization. Israel allows in medical equipment, but delivery is slow, said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for Gaza's main U.N. aid agency. Hundreds of items, including CT scanners, X-ray machines and spare parts for lab equipment have been waiting to get into Gaza for up to a year, he said. Almost every household seems to have been touched by the blockade. Maadi, the jobless father of 13, said Israel stripped him of his work permit in January 2006 when Hamas won parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas' ascent to power — starting with that election victory continuing with the capture of an Israeli soldier by Gaza militants later that year — marked the start of increasingly tighter restrictions, leading to a full closure after the Islamists seized the territory in 2007. Maadi was one of tens of thousands of Gazan day laborers in Israel used to make $40 a day as a construction worker, enough to provide for his family. Now the Maadis barely survive on U.N. food rations of flour, rice, oil, sugar and powdered milk, supplemented by occasional gifts from relatives. Maadi's wife, Hannan, 44, said she is worried her children aren't getting enough nutrients. Four are anemic, she said, listing each child's hemoglobin level. Fruits, vegetables, canned goods and other foods are plentiful in Gaza shops, coming either from Israel or through the hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt. Israel argues that full shelves show there is no humanitarian crisis. However, more Gazans, like the Maadis, can no longer afford to buy even the basics. In a bid to help the family, two of the Maadi boys, 18-year-old Mahmoud and 19-year-old Hussam, briefly worked in the tunnels. Hussam was terrified, but overcame his fear of his damp, dark work place because he and his brother each made $25 a day. A month into the job, Hussam's tunnel collapsed, burying him to his neck before he was rescued. The Maadis told their sons to quit, saying the money wasn't worth the risk of losing them. Dozens have died in tunnel collapses, and Israel also bombs the tunnels from time to time to try to disrupt weapons smuggling. Gaza's unemployment was around 39 percent at the end of 2009, but dropped by about five percentage points in the first quarter of 2010, apparently because Hamas hired thousands more civil servants. The Hamas government employs 32,000 people, while about 20,000 work in tunnels, said economist Mohammed Skeik. More than 70,000 former civil servants, who quit after the Hamas takeover, continue to draw salaries from Hamas' rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In its Gaza takeover, Hamas defeated forces loyal to Abbas who since formed a rival government in the West Bank. The Maadis' unemployed neighbor, 55-year-old Mohammed Kahlout, depends on the Hamas police salaries of his two sons. Kahlout's sewing workshop used to employ more than 40 people sewing jeans for an Israeli company, but he was forced to close over Israeli trade restrictions in 2006. If the factory was open, his sons would be working for him, not Hamas, said Kahlout. The Hamada clan had to close four factories, including a tomato cannery that could no longer import empty cans from Israel. Israel says the metal could be used to build weapons. "It's my feeling that Israel wants to create terrorists," said Alam Hamada, 31, a member of the once powerful family. "Imagine you ... lose everything you have, your income, your car, all that you hold dear, you'll be a different person." With many traditional businesses wiped out, an alternative Hamas-controlled economy has sprung up. The Hamas government raises 90 percent of its revenue abroad, including aid from Iran and donations from the Muslim world. But taxes imposed on smuggled goods — from cars to calves and cigarettes — are an important source of income. Trader Ibrahim al-Awawda says he pays 30 percent tax on smuggled bikes that range in price from $900 to $1,100. Despite a cash crunch earlier this year, the Hamas government manages to stay afloat, even as ordinary Gazans lose hope. Kahlout, taking visitors through his dusty, cluttered sewing workshop, said being without work makes him feel like a nobody. The sudden attention being paid to Gaza has given him a little boost, he said, but hopes it isn't a fluke. "I hope no one will forget Gaza, and the people who live here," he said.

Studies Show Jews’ Genetic Similarity

Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East share many genes inherited from the ancestral Jewish population that lived in the Middle East some 3,000 years ago, even though each community also carries genes from other sources — usually the country in which it lives. That is the conclusion of two new genetic surveys, the first to use genome-wide scanning devices to compare many Jewish communities around the world. A major surprise from both surveys is the genetic closeness of the two Jewish communities of Europe, the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. The Ashkenazim thrived in Northern and Eastern Europe until their devastation by the Hitler regime, and now live mostly in the United States and Israel. The Sephardim were exiled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 and moved to the Ottoman Empire, North Africa and the Netherlands. The two genome surveys extend earlier studies based just on the Y chromosome, the genetic element carried by all men. They refute the suggestion made last year by the historian Shlomo Sand in his book “The Invention of the Jewish People” that Jews have no common origin but are a miscellany of people in Europe and Central Asia who converted to Judaism at various times. Jewish communities from Europe, the Middle East and the Caucasus all have substantial genetic ancestry that traces back to the Levant; Ethiopian Jews and two Judaic communities in India are genetically much closer to their host populations. The surveys provide rich data about genetic ancestry that is of great interest to historians. “I’m constantly impressed by the manner in which the geneticists keep moving ahead with new projects and illuminating what we know of history,” said Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Judaic studies at New York University. One of the surveys was conducted by Gil Atzmon of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Harry Ostrer of New York University and appears in the current American Journal of Human Genetics. The other, led by Doron M. Behar of the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa and Richard Villems of the University of Tartu in Estonia, is published in Thursday’s edition of Nature. Dr. Atzmon and Dr. Ostrer have developed a way of timing demographic events from the genetic elements shared by different Jewish communities. Their calculations show that Iraqi and Iranian Jews separated from other Jewish communities about 2,500 years ago. This genetic finding presumably reflects a historical event, the destruction of the First Temple at Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. and the exile of many Jews there to his capital at Babylon. The shared genetic elements suggest that members of any Jewish community are related to one another as closely as are fourth or fifth cousins in a large population, which is about 10 times higher than the relationship between two people chosen at random off the streets of New York City, Dr. Atzmon said. Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews have roughly 30 percent European ancestry, with most of the rest from the Middle East, the two surveys find. The two communities seem very similar to each other genetically, which is unexpected because they have been separated for so long. One explanation is that they come from the same Jewish source population in Europe. The Atzmon-Ostrer team found that the genomic signature of Ashkenazim and Sephardim was very similar to that of Italian Jews, suggesting that an ancient population in northern Italy of Jews intermarried with Italians could have been the common origin. The Ashkenazim first appear in Northern Europe around A.D. 800, but historians suspect that they arrived there from Italy. Another explanation, which may be complementary to the first, is that there was far more interchange and intermarriage than expected between the two communities in medieval times. The genetics confirms a trend noticed by historians: that there was more contact between Ashkenazim and Sephardim than suspected, with Italy as the linchpin of interchange, said Aron Rodrigue, a Stanford University historian. A common surname among Italian Jews is Morpurgo, meaning someone from Marburg in Germany. Also, Dr. Rodrigue said, one of the most common names among the Sephardim who settled in the Ottoman Empire is Eskenazi, indicating that many Ashkenazim had joined the Sephardic community there. The two genetic surveys indicate “that there may be common origins shared by the two groups, but also that there were extensive contacts and settlements,” Dr. Rodrigue said. Hebrew could have served as the lingua franca between the Ashkenazic community, speaking Yiddish, and the Ladino-speaking Sephardim. “When Jews met each other, they spoke Hebrew,” Dr. Schiffman said, referring to the medieval period.

What Marja Tells Us of Battles Yet to Come

New York Times MARJA, Afghanistan — Each day, American foot patrols move through farmers’ fields and irrigated villages. And each day some are ambushed or encounter hidden bombs. The patrols turn into gunfights in withering heat, or efforts to dismantle the bombs or treat the wounded. Casualties accumulate with the passing weeks, for Americans and Afghans alike. A few months ago, Marja was the focus of a highly publicized assault to push the Taliban from a stronghold and bring Afghanistan’s densest area of opium production under government control. The fighting remains raw. What does it mean? Is the violence a predictable summer fight for an area the Taliban and those who profit from the drug economy do not want to lose; in other words, an unsurprising flare-up that can be turned around? Or will Marja remain bloody for a long time, allowing insurgents to inflict sustained losses on American units and win merely by keeping the fight alive? As NATO and Afghan forces flow into neighboring Kandahar Province, where for the next many months the latest high-profile effort to undo the Taliban’s hold will unroll, the continuing fighting in Marja can be read as a sign of problems in the American-led surge. It can also be read as something less worrisome: a difficult period in a campaign always expected to be hard. A prevailing assessment among officers on the ground is this: The outcome is too soon to call. “Right now it’s gray,” said Maj. Lawrence Lohman, the operations officer for Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which operates outposts in northern Marja. Those who deem the Marja offensive a disappointment, or even a failure, point to the daily violence and to the signs that Afghans have been leaving the area, at least temporarily, to avoid the fighting. They also point to Taliban intimidation of residents, a still limited government presence, and the continued reliance of Afghan police officers and soldiers on American supervision and logistics. These, they say, are ill-boding signs. But the signals are contradictory. Most of Marja’s civilians returned after moving away ahead of the initial assault. Most of them remain. Compounds that were empty in February are inhabited. Roads once quiet are busy. Fields are thick with crops. Shops in some bazaars have reopened. Afghan units participate visibly in dangerous missions. Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, the battalion’s commander, noted that some of Marja’s residents had begun providing information on the Taliban, including sharing the names and locations of fighters. Many civilians have been seeking aid and a few have sought contracts for small scale development projects, the early steps in engagement. “I’ve seen good growth and good progress,” the colonel said. He added: “There is still a lot to be done.” The Marines point to what they clearly hope is a Helmand pattern, apparent in other districts, including Nawa, where the Taliban were strong and fighting was initially intense. The pattern, they said, is this: With time and resources, the insurgents’ position erodes, villages become secure, and engagement and the Afghan government presence expand. Pursuing this goal, Marine companies have been sending out constant small patrols. Their presence keeps the Taliban occupied and inflicts losses, the Marines say, and creates the space to allow for development or programs to gain traction. In the short term, it is also a recipe for small-unit violence — fierce and frequent. “It goes back to the very basics of what we do: gain and maintain contact,” said Col. Randall P. Newman, who commands Marine ground forces in central Helmand Province. Colonel Newman said he expected skirmishes to decline in frequency in the months ahead. “I don’t think the guys who are shooting now are committed enough to keep doing this a long time,” he said. More Western troops have died in Helmand Province than in any other, and the sight of medevac helicopters over Marja each day is a reminder that the area has become a center of the province’s bloodshed. But Helmand is not uniformly violent. There are areas where fighting is regular — Marja, Sangin, Nahr-e-Saraj — and areas where the Taliban had fought hard before being marginalized as a combat force. Moreover, the rising casualties have complicated causes. Some are related to the combined effects of Taliban resistance and the Marines’ grinding patrol tempo. Others can reasonably be attributed to a shift made last year to rules of engagement that guide American forces. The shift de-emphasized airstrikes, artillery and mortars. This transferred some of the risk in skirmishes from Afghan civilians to Western combatants. In the past, American patrols in contact often quickly called for and received fire support. Not anymore. Many firefights these days are strictly rifle and machine gun fights. Understanding the shift is important. It has made engagement times noticeably longer, driving up the troops’ risks and amplifying a perception that Marja, fought with less fire support than what was available to American units in other hotly contested areas, is mired in blood. That perception has obscured a wider view. Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the British officer commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan’s south, urged patience. “The challenge with this campaign is that it takes time, because it’s in the minds of people, and its people take time to be convinced,” he said. He also cautioned against drawing conclusions by extrapolating from Marja alone. The operation, he said, opened provincial roads. Six months ago, the provincial governor, Gulab Mangal, could barely travel; now he covers much of the province. “You’ve got a central Helmand that is linked together, and in economic terms can develop,” General Carter said. “So I think people tend to make the mistake of just thinking about Marja.” Meanwhile, Marines are wounded by bombs or shot each week. The violence in itself does not mean that the campaign is lost. Fighting is normal to war, a concept sometimes played down in discussions about the United States’ counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes developing relationships with the population and helping government agencies gain credibility and provide services. Those directly involved caution that a few months of fighting is not necessarily a basis for grim forecasts, especially during the first summer in a former Taliban enclave. American commanders have been voicing frustration nonetheless, as was evident last month in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s description of Marja as “a bleeding ulcer.” The remark underscores perhaps the clearest conclusion that can be drawn thus far. Even before the last troops of the Obama administration’s surge arrive in Afghanistan, high-level American commanders appear pressed for time, no matter the complexities faced by troops on the ground.

Corporal punishment at schools goes unchecked Incident at Hayatabad school released on YouTube

PESHAWAR: Pakistan has one of the highest school dropout rates in the world, thanks to corporal punishment. Beatings at school are considered culturally acceptable to ensure obedience, and legislation banning this practice is hence poorly implemented. The corporal punishment was observed not only in government schools but the well reputed private school teachers also practice beating students. The worst corporal punishment was reported in a well reputed boy’s school at Hayatabad area of provincial capital and a video clip of the said punishment was released on Internet You Tube in which a teacher was so badly beating a senior class student like slapping on his face, pulling his hairs and pushing him hardly to the class room wall. The clip invites the attention of different organizations working for the child rights to raise the issue and unveil the face of private school teacher. “The teacher needs to ensure obedience and ensure children receive proper guidance. For this, an occasional light beating or other physical admonishment is necessary,” Abdul Akbar, 40, who teaches at another boy's private school at Hayatabad, told The Frontier Post. According to reports, 35,000 high school students in country drop out of the education system each year due to corporal punishment. Such beatings at schools are also responsible for one of the highest dropout rates in the world, which stands at 50 percent during the first five years of education. It is said that culturally accepted form of child abuse also contributed to the high dropout rate among children and the fact that 70,000 street children were present in the country. The government of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had banned corporal punishment in schools in 1999 and issued directives to all teachers not to use corporal punishment on children; violation would be followed with disciplinary. But, most children at schools across the country, both girls and boys, are beaten. "The law, as it exists now, permits parents or guardians, including teachers, to beat a child in "good intent". This prevented police from acting on complaints of physical abuse. It is also a matter of attitude. Teachers say they need to beat children to teach them, but there is a need to educate teachers and students about child rights. Every day children suffer physical and verbal abuse at their schools, homes and workplaces. Corporal punishment is often regarded as a culturally acceptable way of disciplining and changing the behaviour of children - however it leaves long term psychological and physical scars. In the wake of natural disasters, such as the 2005 earthquake, children are more vulnerable to this kind of abuse. Research in the earthquake affected area show that prior to the disaster 33 per cent of children reported being victims of corporal punishment. Following the disaster the figure has risen to 94 per cent. United Nations Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Pakistan ratified in 1990, condemns all forms of physical and mental violence against the child including injury and abuse. In contradiction to this, Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC, 1860) allows parents, teachers and other guardians to use corporal punishment as a means to discipline children under 12 years old. A participatory study in three districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa few years back, Peshawar, Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan revealed that corporal punishment is widely used to discipline children in homes and educational institutions. A total of 155 consultations were undertaken, using participatory research techniques, with 3,582 children aged 6-14 years from government and religious schools, 86 consultations with 1,231 parents, and 86 consultations with 486 teachers. Not one child reported never having received corporal punishment. Cumulatively, the children identified 28 types of punishment used in homes and 43 in schools. The most common punishments at home were hitting with an object (shoe, brick, iron rod, knife, etc), smacking, kicking, punching, hair-pulling and ear-twisting. The most common in schools were smacking, hitting with an object, hair-pulling, ear-twisting, and awkward and humiliating physical positions. About 43% of all punishments identified were reported by children in government primary schools, about 30% in government middle schools, 10% in government high schools, and 16% in private schools. Corporal punishment in schools was most commonly inflicted by the teacher and students assigned discipline duties in the school (49.6%), including class monitor, commander, and assembly commander. Senior students were also frequently reported to be hitting younger children (14.7%). The Bill on Corporal Punishment Bill already draft and submit Child Protection Bill to Parliament for approval, to be finalized soon, would also help extend protection to the child rights in the country.

Technology University to be established in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: The University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar and provincial government’s Department of Technical Education will jointly establish the Technology University at Mamoon Khatki village where B-Tech and M-Tech degree courses would be offered. This was decided at a meeting attended by UET Vice-Chancellor Syed Imtiaz Hussain Gilani, Minister for Technical Education Nawabzada Mehmoodzeb, Secretary for Commerce and Industries Department Jamil Ahmad and others. Presiding over the meeting, Imtiaz Gilani said that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had expressed the desire to establish a Technology University here when he was performing the ground- breaking ceremony of UET Jalozai Campus a few months ago. The Higher Education Commission under its mega programme of establishing the nine world class universities of Engineering, Science and Technology in the country (USETPs) allowed the UET to establish the engineering university. The UET for the purpose acquired 150 acres of land from the provincial government at Mamoon Khatki, he added. The VC said that it was decided in the sub-committee meeting of USETP board to establish the Technology University in Peshawar. He appreciated the initiative taken by the minister by evincing interest and discussing the idea of working jointly with the UET for setting up the university. Mehmoodzeb said the country, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was facing serious shortage of technical manpower as presently the country was producing only three per cent of required technicians of which the share of the province was only one per cent.

Bill Clinton to Dems, 'Never give up'

Bill Clinton says Democratic incumbents can't run away from their records, so they might as well embrace them. "Tell your story," the former president advised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other embattled Democrats. "Never give up," he added. Clinton, considered one of the sharpest political minds of his generation, also urged Reid to avoid getting "ground down" by all the talk of this being an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, anti-Democratic election year. Clinton offered that advice and more in a brief interview with The Associated Press following a Thursday night rally on behalf of Reid. The two-term Democratic president has emerged from a political wilderness of sorts to become a popular campaign surrogate, long forgiven for 2008 outbursts that hurt the campaign of his wife, Hillary, and angered candidate Barack Obama. Clinton is still basking in the glow of Sen. Blanche Lincoln's victory Tuesday night in their home state of Arkansas, where he helped turn the Democratic runoff in her favor. What lessons could Reid learn from Lincoln's victory? "First," Clinton said, smiling. "Never give up." Second, he said, don't listen to political consultants who steer incumbents away from talking about their records. Jon Corzine followed that bad advice, Clinton said, and got bounced from the New Jersey governor's office last year. "Get out and tell the people what you're doing and what you've done and remind them that this is a job," Clinton told the AP. "I think you have to tell people you know why they are mad and you know why they are frustrated but the question is, What is the most productive thing to do with it?" At the rally, Clinton told voters to channel that anger against Reid's opponent, tea party favorite Sharron Angle, who he accused of hiding from the spotlight because her positions are so extreme. The former state legislator wants to phase out Social Security and backs the processing of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a wildly unpopular notion in Nevada. "I might," Clinton said facetiously, "be hiding, too." He also questioned why Nevada voters would consider tossing out their senior senator. Too more than 700 Democrats, Clinton said: "Why would you give away the Senate majority leader who has delivered time and time and time again?'"' The answer is that voters are angry at Washington — understandably so, Clinton said, but that doesn't mean Reid and other vulnerable incumbents are doomed. In the interview, the former Arkansas governor who dubbed himself "The Comeback Kid" during his 1992 presidential run, said Reid and other incumbents can't get down on themselves."He needs not to be ground down by this," Clinton said. "A lot of politicians are taking this personally. You have to take it seriously, but not personally." Back to Reid, the president said: "He needs to never forget that he loves the people who are mad at him, and he needs to never forget he spent a lifetime helping them." Chin up, Harry. "He can't stop believing that he'll get their votes back," Clinton said. "Never stop believing." Unfortunately, Reid was not on hand to hear the advice or attend his own rally. He was in the last place most incumbents want to be seen these days — Washington. "Doing his job," Clinton said.

Kandahar operation 'will happen more slowly'

Amid a spike in Afghan and American deaths in southern Afghanistan , U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal , the top NATO commander in the country, conceded Thursday that the military push to secure the Taliban's spiritual capital will take longer than anticipated. As McClatchy reported last month, a series of obstacles has slowed the opening stages of the highly anticipated summer offensive to defeat Islamic militants and bolster the Afghan government in Kandahar province. A Taliban intimidation campaign has undermined the American-led effort to build a functional Kandahar government. Afghan security forces are taking longer than planned to prepare for the summer campaign. The Afghan government's efforts to install respected local leaders have lagged, and U.S. Marines in neighboring Helmand province have yet to gain the upper hand against resurgent Taliban fighters. On Thursday, McChrystal, the head of U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan , said the high-profile Kandahar operations, which once were expected to produce significant results by mid-August, would now continue well into the fall — and beyond. "I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally intended," McChrystal told reporters while visiting Brussels for a meeting of NATO leaders. "But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think it's more important we get it right than we get it fast." McChrystal said that "more prep" would have helped the U.S.-led military to transform the Taliban sanctuary of Marjah more quickly into a model for his counterinsurgency strategy. "As we did it, we found that it's even more complex than we thought, and so we need to educate ourselves from that and do it even better in Kandahar ," McChrystal said. McChrystal's comments came three weeks after he warned American and British strategists in Helmand province that Marjah was becoming a "bleeding ulcer" that needed immediate attention. After McClatchy reported that, an allied military spokesman in Afghanistan claimed that McChrystal had been misinterpreted and said: "The essence of the comment is not that Marjah itself is going badly . . . it's largely on track. It's that it's misperceived as going badly." The challenges facing McChrystal in Kandahar were evident Thursday as Afghan families began burying more than 40 men and boys who were killed by a suicide bomber who targeted a wedding party Wednesday night in the province's Arghandab district. Afghan President Hamid Karzai denounced the attack as a "crime of massive, inhuman proportions." "Weddings all over the world are not on good occasions but occasions of sanctity," Karzai said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron , who was making his first visit to Afghanistan since taking office. "For a suicide bomber to go and kill is not only against Islam, it is an act against the whole of humanity." Survivors of the attack accused the Taliban of dispatching the suicide bomber because the groom was an Afghan police officer and member of a local militia that battled Taliban fighters earlier this week. The Taliban condemned the attack and denied responsibility. June has also proved to be a deadly month for the U.S.-led military in Afghanistan . At least 30 coalition troops have been killed this month, most of them in the past week.

Amnesty asks Pakistan to “initiate political reform” in FATA

Describing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - the main theatre of anti-Taliban operations in Pakistan - as a ``human rights black hole'' where civilians are being killed by the militants and the Army, Amnesty International has asked the federal government to give up its ``ambivalent'' attitude towards this region and back ongoing military action with reforms that would bring the area under national and international law. Releasing its report on the human rights crisis in North-West Pakistan here on Thursday, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi sought to fix some responsibility on the international community by stating that FATA is more than just a stage for geo-political rivalries as millions inhabit these areas. The U. S. and China, in particular, must urge Pakistan to ``initiate political reform that will end the area's political isolation and deprivation of rights''. According to the report titled `As If Hell Fell On Me', many areas of northern FATA now resemble the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan of the late 1990s. ``Many of the Taliban's acts constitute crimes under international law. They are also crimes under Pakistan's law but in the absence of suitable judicial structures and the Pakistan government's inability or lack of will to protect the local population from such crimes, these crimes have been committed with impunity.'' Since FATA is still governed by the 1901 vintage Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) which keeps the area out of the purview of the law of the land, Amnesty International is of the view that this should be amended in line with Pakistan's international human rights obligations or done away with entirely so that the natives have the protection of the regular law and judicial institutions of the country. According to Mr. Zarifi, the present situation offers an in-built option to amend or abolish FCR. Since the Taliban has destroyed the old tribal order, there is a vacuum and an inherent possibility of putting in place a new administrative mechanism, he told reporters at the launch of the report. Critical of the Government's ``ambivalent'' FATA policy, the report traces how the federal administration first treated the area with disdain before oscillating between appeasement of Pakistani Taliban through a series of `peace deals' and heavy-handed military operations including ``indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks''. The report finds the Army and the Taliban guilty of using human shields as both have stationed fighters in schools, thereby making them prone to attack. Also, as per the report, ``Pakistani military is trained and equipped for fighting a mechanized campaign against India, not to fight counter-insurgency in difficult terrain''. Add to this the tribal lashkars (militia) which apparently operate in `cleared areas' with the tacit support of the military. Citing abuses by these lashkars - who often use the situation to settle personal scores - the report notes that ``without reliable command and control structures in place, the lashkars are a law unto themselves''; so much so that locals often refer to them as `government Taliban'.