Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Punjab CM security takes life of infant at hospital

Punjab CM security takes life of infant at hospital LAHORE: Strict security beefed up at Children Hospital during Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit here, took life of an infant, Geo News reported Monday.

The father of the child was not allowed entry into the hospital thanks to reved up security measures for Punjab Chief Minister and resultantly, the child expired at the closed gate of hospital.

Gujranwala’s Omar Farooq brought his twin children to Children Hospital; however, he was not offered any cooperation by hospital staff, as he forgot to bring along his identity card.

Meantime, according to spokesman of the government of Punjab, the Punjab CM ordered an inquiry into the death of child at Children Hospital.

Floods Stunt Pakistani Fight Against Insurgents

New York Times

KALAM, Pakistan — The destruction caused by the recent floods and the huge relief effort undertaken since by the Pakistani Army have forced it to alter plans to combat Taliban and Qaeda militants, Pakistani military officials here said.

Troops who have been fighting Islamist militants in the Swat Valley for the last two years will have to stay here for six months longer than planned, army officers here said. Elsewhere, some planned offensive actions have been converted to defensive actions to consolidate gains already made, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for the military, said in a telephone call.

While the changes do not appear to involve any major retrenchment in the nation’s counterinsurgency strategy, they are the first sign of the strain the countrywide flooding has put on Pakistan’s armed forces, which are overstretched in dealing with a virulent insurgency. The Pakistani military has already delayed operations against North Waziristan, the central hub of militancy and Al Qaeda, because it says its forces are overextended.

The armed forces had to divert 72,000 men at the peak, including army and navy commandos of its Special Services Group, to do the heavy lifting of the flood rescue and relief effort, as well as provide security for United States helicopters that have joined the relief effort.

The Pakistani military insists that not many of the 147,000 troops deployed in the northwestern region have been diverted by the floods and that continuing operations against militants in the border region with Afghanistan have not been affected. Troops are continuing to conduct offensive operations in several places, like the Orakzai and Khyber regions, General Abbas said.

Yet the floods have disrupted communications and supply lines for the army as well as the civilian population in places like the Swat Valley, and have forced the army to divert helicopters to relief efforts, the general conceded.

“It has drawn the army’s attention for different reasons,” he said.

The army has moved to safeguard gains made in recent months against militant networks in South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai and will continue to deny the insurgents space to maneuver, he said. “In some places where the army was on offensive operations, they have taken defensive positions,” he said.

General Abbas said he was unaware of any specific plans for deployments in the Swat region, except that the army was building four permanent military garrisons in the Swat Valley. But during a recent visit to Kalam, a small mountain resort at the northern end of the Swat Valley, Pakistani officers said they would be delaying plans to withdraw.

The army had been planning to scale down military operations and hand over policing to a strengthened police force by October, said Col. Nadeem Anwar, deputy commander of the army brigade deployed in the Swat Valley. That plan has now been postponed at least six months until next spring or summer, he and other security officials said.

The valley has been largely cleared of militants after two years of a sometimes brutal military campaign, yet militants keep seeking to slip back into the valley and make a show of their presence. In the days immediately after New York Times journalists visited Kalam, catching a ride on a United States Marine helicopter that was ferrying aid up the valley, militants attacked two schools in the district, bombing one and setting another on fire.

The Pakistani Army unit based in the town of Kalam is continuing counterinsurgency operations, including night patrols in the surrounding mountains, to watch for any return of militants. “We know their favorite places,” one commando said.

Yet at the same time the unit is managing a large-scale relief effort, with a constant daily flow of helicopters bringing in humanitarian assistance and ferrying townspeople out. The army is also running a tented camp and providing for nearly 4,000 homeless people, registering and dispensing humanitarian parcels to many more who are affected by the floods, and organizing 300 workers to start clearing more than two miles of road covered by landslides.

Colonel Nadeem was sent in from the brigade’s base in Mardan to oversee relief work in Kalam, so that counterinsurgency operations would not be interrupted. A corps of army engineers has also been sent lower in the valley to work on restoring communications, building temporary bridges and reopening roads.

The Swat Valley was one of the first regions in Pakistan to be hit by flooding and was among the worst hit. Though there seems to be little local enthusiasm for the army presence — residents said they were afraid to speak to a reporter in the presence of the military — many people here owe their lives to the presence of the army.

After four days of torrential monsoon rains, it was army officers who first noticed the danger signs when they encountered two unusually big landslides that cut the main road below Kalam around dusk on July 28.

As the river visibly rose, the army ordered the evacuation of some 6,000 Pakistani tourists from hotels along the riverbank, as well as townspeople from the houses and shops on the other side. By 9 p.m. the river had turned into a raging torrent that swept away the town’s bridge, a four-story riverside hotel, and houses and shops. Such was the force of the water that it permanently altered the course of the river.

A month later an army engineer was organizing the construction of a temporary metal bridge, inching it across the river with the combined muscle power of several dozen civilian workers. On the other side of the river, men worked feverishly to mix cement and prepare a strong base for the bridge. Nearby villagers carrying donated sacks of flour crossed a footbridge made of freshly hewn tree trunks on the start of a long trek to their homes further up the valley.

“No food is reaching here. All the bridges are down,” said a farmer, Afsal Khan, 25. “There are no facilities; everyone is trying to get down the valley.” He was lined up with hundreds of other men hoping to catch a ride down the valley on a United States Navy helicopter to buy supplies for his family. It would be a 24-hour hike — for some a two-day trek — to carry them back up the mountain to their homes, he said.

Army engineers have already set up temporary bridges lower in the valley and hope to open a rough road, passable by light jeeps, within a month. But Colonel Nadeem estimated it would take months, or longer, to reopen the valley to normal freight trucks. That will not only hamper the military operation but also leave thousands of farmers — who cannot move their produce down the valley to market or bring up basic staples and agricultural necessities — dependent on aid, he said.

Taliban insurgents, meanwhile, are intent on continuing their campaign of violence, yet they seem to be aiming at soft targets, using sleeper cells to set off car bombs and suicide attacks rather than instigating direct military clashes with the army, General Abbas said. There have been several serious suicide bomb attacks in the cities, he said, but no significant ground action by militants since the onset of the floods.

Barack Obama in about turn on Afghanistan corruption

Barack Obama's advisers are pushing for a softly, softly approach to tackling government corruption in Afghanistan just days after the American president promised to keep up pressure on Hamid Karzai to rein in widespread graft. The move will be seen as an about-turn on a crucial plank of policy as the President tries to shore up a weak Afghan government before the withdrawal of American troops.

Tackling corruption has become key to building a stable Afghanistan – and choking off funds for insurgents – but has so far met with only limited success. Now Mr Obama's advisers say that high-profile prosecutions of government officers should be dropped in favour of face-saving compromises negotiated in private in order to heal a growing rift with President Karzai.

"The current approach is not tenable," an administration official told The Washington Post on condition of anonymity. "What will we get out of it?

We'll arrest a few mid-level Afghans, but we'll lose our ability to operate there and achieve our principal goals."

Already strained relations between Mr Karzai and the US soured further when one of his aides was arrested in July for allegedly taking bribes to impede an investigation into a money transfer scheme said to have channelled about $3 billion (£2 billion) out of the country. The arrest was made by an Afghan unit trained and supported by the FBI and other American agencies.

Mr Karzai ordered his official's release and has asked for new rules to limit the role of foreign agencies in graft investigations.

Mariam Abou Zahab, of the Centre for International Studies and Research, said the episode showed how the US simply did not understand Afghan sensibilities and a culture where a quiet, private word is the key to getting things done.

"Saying things like this in public just doesn't work in Afghan society," she said. "Karzai reacted just like an Afghan." The possible change in strategy contrasts with Obama's public remarks on Friday, when he said tackling corruption was crucial to building a stable government.

"And that means making sure that the tradition of corruption in the government is reduced," he said. "And we're going to keep on putting pressure on him on that front." Corruption has already emerged as an obstacle to free and fair parliamentary elections on Saturday.

Independent observers say election officials have been offered as much as $500,000 (£380,000) to falsify returns by supporters of President Karzai.

At the same time, General David Petraeus has issued new guidelines for Nato contracts in Afghanistan to help root out corruption and prevent cash flowing to insurgents.

The unclassified document urges commanders to set up systems and databases to ensure that contractors are properly vetted.

Fake Afghan poll cards

Thousands of fake voter registration cards have been found across Afghanistan, election officials said on Tuesday, and observers called on the government to act to prevent widespread fraud in Saturday's election.

The parliamentary vote is seen as a key test of stability in Afghanistan, where violence is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, before U.S. President Barack Obama conducts a war strategy review in December.

Poor security and fraud are major concerns ahead of the polls, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt by hitting foreign troops and then Afghan targets.

Last year's presidential vote was marred by widespread fraud, with a third of ballots cast for President Hamid Karzai thrown out as fake by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

On Tuesday, both the ECC and independent watchdog the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) said fake registration cards, which voters must produce to cast ballots, had been found in Herat in the west, Kunduz and Baghlan in the north and Nuristan and Paktia in the east.

Neither had exact figures or could say who was behind the fake cards, but some media reports have put the figure as high as 3 million -- about a sixth of Afghanistan's roughly 17.5 million registered voters.

FEFA's Jandad Spinghar told Reuters some fake cards had been used in the past three elections but numbers seemed to be much higher this time.

"We have seen samples of fake cards found by our observers. If the government does take preventative measures, the level of fraud can be reduced, if not totally prevented," Spinghar said.

"The security organs have the time to basically find the specific differences between the real and fake cards and appoint police at each polling station to check any voter's card. Any one found with a faked card should be arrested and prosecuted."

The election is seen as a test of credibility for Karzai after last year's ballot. Karzai has lately been seeking to assert his independence from his Western allies after his government was criticised for not doing enough to tackle graft.

Washington worries that widespread corruption weakens the central government's control, hampering its ability to train Afghan security forces so the almost 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan can gradually start to leave.


While Karzai is not running, he could face a hostile parliament if enough regional and ethnic-based members form blocs that could oppose him on issues such as cabinet appointments.

After last year's election, Karzai moved quickly to change the make-up of the ECC, reducing the number of foreigners among its five commissioners from three to two. However, at the United Nations' insistence, no ECC decision will be ratified unless it has the agreement of at least one of the foreign commissioners.

A spokesman said the ECC had also seen fake cards but did not know who was behind them. The Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is running the poll, said the real cards had special security features which made it easy to distinguish fakes.

"I want to assure you that no such fraud will take place. It will not be possible to use them," IEC head Fazal Ahmad Manawi told reporters.

Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan, said those trying to use fake cards "were wasting their time." De Mistura also displayed the ink that will be used to mark voters' fingers, another safeguard against fraud and multiple voting.

More than 1,000 complaints have been lodged with the ECC, ranging from intimidation of candidates and voters to improper use of government services in support of particular candidates and unfair campaigners.

Election observers expect many more complaints to be lodged after the election, in which 2,447 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament.

A high number of complaints could delay the results of the election. Preliminary results are not expected until October 8, with the final outcome set to be released on October 30.