Thursday, June 23, 2011

President Zardari promulgates FATA/PATA Regulations to fight against miscreants

President of Pakistan, on advise of the Prime Minister and approval by the federal government, has promulgated the Regulations “Action in Aid of Civil Powers - 2011” for FATA and PATA to carry out operation in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa (KPK) against miscreants who are waging war against the state of Pakistan, it is officially stated here Thursday. An official of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRAN) said that Pakistan has been facing a critical challenge from miscreants on its North-Western borders where hundreds of civilians and law enforcement agencies’ personnel have embraced martyrdom.
Miscreants are bent upon the destruction of our schools, hospitals, mosques and employ all means to erode the writ of the Government.
With a view to meet the challenges of such an extraordinary situation, these Regulations have been enacted.
The official said that Regulations will provide a legal framework for the armed forces that have been called upon by the Federal Government to conduct operations in KPK against the miscreants who are waging war against the state of Pakistan, attacking its infra-structure by raising unlawful private armies and trying to assert unlawful control over the territories of Pakistan.
The Regulations, he noted, permits incapacitating of the miscreants by interning them only during the duration of the action in aid of civil power operation and thereafter they shall be handed over to the concerned law enforcement agency for bringing them to justice.
He asserted that the Regulations guarantee interned miscreants proper health facilities and a right to meet their families.
The Regulations also create an obligation on the armed forces to comply with principles of humanitarian law and meet human rights standards while conducting operations and exercise necessary precautions before using force, failing which the personnel of armed forces shall be made liable to strict disciplinary/criminal penalties.
The official added that Regulations demonstrate improved control of the armed forces by the civilian democratic government which retains the power to withdraw the armed forces by recalling the requisition of the armed forces.
The Regulations also provides an interim framework for collection and preservation of the evidence against the terrorists and in thai sense it shall be supportive of prosecution efforts. The Regulations also create an obligation to carry out extensive de-radicalization program of the detainees and they explicitly prohibit torture, he opined.

Footage shows Bahrain crackdown

New footage shows the Saudi-backed Bahraini regime's continued crackdown on peaceful anti-government protesters in the Persian Gulf nation.

The footage posted on Youtube shows regime forces firing at a group of Bahraini youths and arresting a young boy.

On Wednesday, regime forces attacked an anti-government rally held to protest harsh prison sentences handed down against Bahraini opposition activists. The security forces fired tear gas and sound grenades on protesters as they were heading to the Martyr Square, formerly called Pearl Square, in the capital of Manama.

A special security court in Bahrain sentenced eight prominent activists and opposition leaders to life in prison on Wednesday on charges of “plotting to overthrow the government” during demonstrations in the Persian Gulf island kingdom earlier this year.

Khalil al-Marzouq, spokesman of Bahrain's main opposition al-Wefaq, said the party would not meet the government's Thursday deadline for responding to the invitation to dialogue, and could not say if it would join.

“Those people are a critical portion of the movement. How can there be a dialogue while they are in prison” he said.

The Wednesday trial was one of several taking place in Bahrain as part of the government's crackdown on popular protests. Despite the lifting of an emergency law, the Manama regime continues to try civilians in its so-called special courts.

Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds, including doctors and journalists, were arrested in the Saudi-backed crackdown on peaceful protesters in Bahrain since mid-February.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have rebuked the Manama regime for its brutal crackdown on civilians.

Afghan court overturns election results

An Afghan special court overturned a string of results Thursday from last year's fraud-hit parliamentary polls, causing deep splits in the political system with US troops poised to start withdrawing.

The head of the tribunal, Sidiquallah Haqiq, read out a list of provinces where results had been recalculated at a press conference in Kabul.

Lawmaker Mohammad Farhad Azimi, deputy secretary to the lower house, said that up to 60 separate results from the 249 seat Wolesi Jirga were affected.

"They have introduced one to two new lawmakers in around 28 to 30 provinces," he told AFP. "This is wrong, it is a political decision."

The court's move threatens to reopen deep splits between President Hamid Karzai and lawmakers opposed to him, potentially seizing up the heart of the political system shortly before foreign troops are due to begin pulling out.

Lawmakers hostile to the special court, set up on Karzai's orders to investigate allegations of widespread fraud at elections in September, accuse the president of trying to use it to boost his support levels in parliament.

The special court says Afghanistan's election commission should disqualify lawmakers whose elections it says are invalid, but as the commission does not recognise the court's legitimacy the future is unclear.

Many lawmakers also reject the court's authority and a row over the issue delayed the inauguration of parliament, raising the spectre of a constitutional crisis when lawmakers threatened to open it without Karzai.

Parliament was finally opened in January in Karzai's presence but the special tribunal continued its investigations.

Lawmakers in parliament on Thursday held an angry debate in which many insisted they would not accept the tribunal's decisions.

"The special court has no legal legitimacy," said Farkhunda Zahra Nadery, a Kabul lawmaker whose vote share was increased by the tribunal but who rejects its legitimacy.

"The members of the lower house parliament are very angry and are unanimous in rejecting this decision."

The debate came just hours after US President Barack Obama announced that 10,000 troops would leave Afghanistan between July and the end of this year, effectively marking the beginning of the end of the US war.

All foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, despite concerns from experts over whether Afghan forces and officials will be in a position to take control by then.

Analysts in Afghanistan predict that the complicated saga around the status of the lawmakers could rumble on for some time.

Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network wrote this month: "It is a standoff -- one of Afghanistan?s many -- with the main protagonists milling around, watching each other wearily, trying to gauge the others plans, waiting for a chance to strike, while all the while pretending to be minding their own business. And one that could go on for quite a while longer."

Karzai Welcomes Withdrawal,

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan welcomed the decision to withdraw more than 30,000 American troops over the next year, calling it the “right decision for the interest of both countries.”

“The Afghan people’s trust in the Afghan army and police is growing every day and preservation of this land is the job of Afghans,” said Mr. Karzai in remarks at a live broadcast Thursday morning.

But even as many senior Afghan officials echoed the president in supporting the withdrawal, closer to the ground, local leaders and ordinary people expressed fears of civil war, renewed Taliban encroachments and even government collapse.

Afghan security officials and politicians, including Mr. Karzai, have endeavored to project an image of Afghan self-sufficiency even though in most places the Afghan National Army remains heavily reliant on NATO forces, which are dominated by Americans. However in the mountain districts of eastern Afghanistan, the orchards of Kandahar Province and in the Parliament, which hears from elders and security officials across the country, many expressed deep doubts.

“I am totally against Barack Obama’s this decision with cutting the numbers of its soldiers; our national forces are not well trained and not well equipped,” said Mohammed Naim Lalai Hamidzai, the chairman of Parliament’s National Defense and Security Committee.

“They should keep training and equipping our forces until 2014 and then extend their existence in Afghanistan for 5 more years in the country and once our forces stand on their own feet then they can go and leave our country,” he said. “The Pakistani I.S.I. has infiltrated inside our national forces and the Iranians as well,” he added, referring to Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, “and our national troops have been invited into parties they are not united parts of our army. They belong to some political parties so how can they fight the insurgents?”

Even in southern provinces such as Zabul where the governor is optimistic about the ability of Afghan army troops and the national police to maintain security, there is still a need for equipment, training and logistics. “We are leading the surge in some in some of the districts ourselves and the A.N.A. and A.N.P. are improving and fighting militancy on their own,” said Jan Rasoolyaar, the deputy governor for Zabul Province. “There is security even in far districts. The only thing that we still need is aerial and logistical support from the Americans.”

However, in neighboring Kandahar and Helmand, where the fight to force out the Taliban has been fierce and is still going on, local politicians expressed serious misgivings.

In order to bring a tenuous peace to the contested Kandahar districts of Zheri and Arghandab, the Americans had to bring in an entire brigade — roughly 5,000 troops. The security situation, while much improved, is hardly settled. In Zheri, the district governor said that despite hard fighting by NATO and Afghan troops over the last 10 months, the Taliban still had a presence.

“We have a problem in Zheri district, the enemy is still around, even I.S.A.F. is unable to secure the district and if the Americans pull out things will get worse,” said Niaz Mohammed Sarhadi, the district governor.

“The Americans are carrying out raids against enemy and the Taliban are active in the district, carrying out assassinations, planting mines and ambushing security

forces,” he said, adding, “The Afghan forces are not improved in their capability and quality, so this is not an appropriate time for withdrawal, this drawdown will send a negative message to civilians,” he said.

The district governor of Arghandab described the Taliban as waiting on the district’s outskirts like wolves outside a pen of sheep. “As soon as the Americans leave it will have a negative effect on security in Arghandab,” said Haji Shah Mohammed Ahmadi. “Now we are standing at a very sensitive points, the enemy is all around just waiting for a chance,” he said.

Ordinary Afghans reacted with a combination of conspiracy theories and fears. Older people said they saw a reprise of the Russians’ retreat in the late 1980s. “The Russians also did the same thing and they were cutting numbers of their troops step by step, just as Barack Obama is announcing,” said Wali Jan, 60, a taxi driver who takes passengers from Kabul, the capital, to Nangahar, a predominantly Pashtun province of eastern Afghanistan.

“After they leave Afghanistan, I am sure the civil war will begin because people who were helping the foreigners will face attacks and the Taliban will take the revenge on them,” he said.

Obama announces Afghanistan troop withdrawal plan


President Barack Obama announced Wednesday night that all the 33,000 additional U.S. forces he ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 will be home within 15 months.

In a nationally televised address from the East Room of the White House, Obama said 10,000 of the "surge" forces would withdraw by the end of this year, and the other 23,000 would leave Afghanistan by September 2012.

U.S. troop levels

Calling the deployment of the surge "one of the most difficult decisions that I've made as president," Obama said the military campaign was "meeting our goals" in Afghanistan and the drawdown would begin "from a position of strength."

"Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11," Obama said. "Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and special forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11."

At the same time, Obama said the Afghanistan drawdown and the simultaneous winding down of the war in Iraq would help the United States begin to refocus attention and resources on efforts to resolve economic and other problems and to unify a politically divided nation.

"America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home," the president said.

The troop withdrawals from Afghanistan will begin next month, as Obama promised when he ordered the surge in a speech 18 months ago at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.After the departure of all the surge forces, the total U.S. military deployment in Afghanistan will be slightly fewer than 70,000 troops.

Obama's time frame will give U.S. commanders another two "fighting" seasons with the bulk of U.S. forces still available for combat operations.

It also will bring the surge troops home before the November 2012 election in which Obama will seek a second term.

Initial reaction was varied, with outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates supporting Obama's decision while congressional leaders were divided between those who wanted a faster withdrawal and others calling for caution in leaving Afghanistan.

"It's important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement. "It is my hope that the president will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground as we move forward. Congress will hold the administration accountable for ensuring that the pace and scope of the drawdown does not undermine the progress we've made thus far."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was more blunt, saying: "This is not the 'modest' withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated."

Democratic colleagues of Obama expressed support for starting the withdrawal but said more troops should be included and they should depart faster than the president announced.

"It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the president laid out -- and we will continue to press for a better outcome," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement.

Trepidation about what's next

Two candidates for the Republican presidential nomination to run against Obama next year expressed reservations about the withdrawal strategy, but differed in their reasoning.

"We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn't adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal" from Afghanistan, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement. "This decision should not be based on politics or economics."

In his own statement, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was Obama's ambassador to China until recently, called for shifting the Afghanistan mission to "a focused counterterror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the president discussed tonight."

"We need a safe but rapid withdrawal, which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counterintelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat," Huntsman said.

What happens to "civilian surge" as troops return home?

According to senior administration officials, the troop surge fulfilled a strategy to refocus the U.S. war effort from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Due to the surge, the officials told reporters, the military mission in Afghanistan has made great progress toward its objectives of dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in the region while stabilizing the country to prevent it from again providing a safe haven for the planning of terrorist attacks on the United States.

The killing of bin Laden in early May and the success in reversing Taliban momentum in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar enabled the beginning of a troop withdrawal that will culminate with handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2014, the senior administration officials said on condition of not being identified.
In the speech, Obama announced that Chicago will host a NATO summit in May 2012 to review the Afghanistan mission and strategy going forward.

Gates -- along with Afghan war commander Gen. David Petraeus -- had pushed for an initial drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops this year, according to a congressional source. Gates also urged the president to withdraw support troops only -- not combat troops.

Obama, however, ultimately decided to adopt the more aggressive withdrawal plan. The senior administration officials said Obama's withdrawal schedule fell within the range of options presented to him by Petraeus. The general has been nominated to become CIA director to succeed Leon Panetta, who will take over as defense secretary when Gates steps down at the end of the month.

In a statement after Obama's speech, Gates said it was "critical" that U.S. forces continue to "aggressively" carry out the surge strategy of degrading the capability of the Taliban while bolstering Afghan security forces.

"I support the president's decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion," Gates said, signaling Pentagon control in deciding which U.S. forces to withdraw.

This week, Gates acknowledged that the president must take into account public opinion and congressional support for further military engagement.

"Sustainability here at home" is an important consideration, Gates said, noting that people are "tired of a decade of war."

CNNMoney: The cost war in Afghanistan

Public exhaustion with the conflict is reflected in recent public opinion polls. Nearly three-quarters of Americans support the United States pulling some or all of its forces from Afghanistan, according to a June 3-7 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey.

That figure jumped 10 points since May, likely as a result of the death of bin Laden, pollsters said.

Republicans -- who have been the strongest supporters of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan -- are shifting their opinion on the conflict. In May, 47% of Republicans said they favored a partial or full withdrawal of American troops. That figure rose to 60% this month.

The sharp divisions have been reflected in Congress, where Democrats and Republicans are increasingly split.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, called Tuesday for a "substantial and responsible reduction" in troop levels, arguing the war has become fiscally irresponsible and more resources need to be focused on domestic problems.

The United States has spent roughly $443 billion on the war in Afghanistan, according to budget analysts. According to Travis Sharp, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security, the troop reductions Obama announced would bring a savings of about $7 billion in fiscal year 2012.

Until Wednesday, Obama had said publicly only that troops would begin coming home in July, and he recently indicated the initial number withdrawn would be "significant."

Senior administration officials told CNN that planning for the announcement began in January, when the president summoned top members of his national security team into the Oval Office and tasked them with coming up with a plan for the drawdown.

The calculations that went into the drawdown decision included the fact that "remarkable" and "unexpected" progress had been made degrading al-Qaeda's infrastructure in its bases in the tribal regions of Pakistan over the prior 18 months, one of the officials said.

Additionally, the Taliban have been rolled back from their heartland regions in southern and southwestern Afghanistan, both in northern and southern Helmand Province and around the key city of Kandahar, which had been their de facto capital. This progress fulfilled the administration's pledge to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, which had been one of the key rationales for the surge.

Another factor favoring the drawdown was the growth in Afghan army and police forces of 100,000 men in the past year, the officials said.

The military progress has enabled some political progress, with Afghan security forces preparing this year to take over seven areas in Afghanistan that are home to some 20% of the population.

Special forces operations against the Taliban "middle management" in Afghanistan have put significant pressure on them and have opened up more opportunities for "reconciliation" with the Taliban, the officials said.

A White House official said the administration is "not starry eyed" about the prospects of discussions with the Taliban and does not anticipate anything like "the Treaty of Versailles," which ended World War I. However, the official said, there are now between "10 and 20 leads" that the United States is aware of that may lead to substantive talks with the Taliban.

The official said the leads are in the "exploratory" phase and that the United States has briefed Afghan President Hamid Karzai about them.

The deployment of U.S. forces hasn't been popular with many Afghan leaders, who criticize the presence of the Americans in their country. It's a message that's not lost on Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

"When we hear ourselves being called occupiers and worse, our pride is offended, and we begin to lose our inspiration to carry on," Eikenberry said Sunday during a speech at Herat University in western Afghanistan. "At the point your leaders believe that we are doing more harm than good, when we reach a point that we feel our soldiers and civilians are being asked to sacrifice without a just cause ... the American people will ask for our forces to come home."