Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chavez, back in Venezuela, says he will win 'battle for life'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned unexpectedly Monday to his nation's capital, where he vowed to win the "battle for life" after undergoing emergency surgery in Cuba.

Five killed in FC convoy attack in Ketch

A Frontrier Corps (FC) convoy was attacked in Gormazai area of District Kaich by a remote-controlled roadside bomb, killing five security personnel and injuring four others, Geo News reported Tuesday.

According to sources, Gormazai is located approximately 800 kilometers from Quetta where the FC convoy was attacked. After the convoy was ambushed with a road-side bomb, firing was also reported, however the FC spokesman in Quetta did not confirm the reports.

Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist

Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to American officials.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were “barbaric and unacceptable,” one of the officials said. They would not disclose further details about the intelligence.

But the disclosure of the information in itself could further aggravate the badly fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which worsened significantly with the American commando raid two months ago that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan safehouse and deeply embarrassed the Pakistani government, military and intelligence hierarchy. Obama administration officials will deliberate in the coming days how to present the information about Mr. Shahzad to the Pakistani government, an administration official said.

The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials. “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,” said one.

A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.

“Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

A spokesman for the Pakistan intelligence agency said in Islamabad on Monday night that “I am not commenting on this.” George Little, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, declined to comment.

In a statement the day after Mr. Shahzad’s waterlogged body was retrieved from a canal 60 miles from Islamabad, the ISI publicly denied accusations in the Pakistani news media that it had been responsible, calling them “totally unfounded.”

The ISI said the journalist’s death was “unfortunate and tragic,” and should not be “used to target and malign the country’s security agency.”

The killing of Mr. Shahzad, a contributor to the Web site Asia Times Online, aroused an immediate furor in the freewheeling news media in Pakistan.

Mr. Shahzad was the 37th journalist killed in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Pakistan’s civilian government, under pressure from the media, established a commission headed by a Supreme Court justice to investigate Mr. Shahzad’s death. The findings are scheduled to be released early next month.

Mr. Shahzad suffered 17 lacerated wounds delivered by a blunt instrument, a ruptured liver and two broken ribs, said Dr. Mohammed Farrukh Kamal, one of the three physicians who conducted the post-mortem.

The anger over Mr. Shahzad’s death followed unprecedented questioning in the media about the professionalism of the army and the ISI, a military-controlled spy agency, in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid.

Since that initial volley of questioning, the ISI has mounted a steady counter-campaign. Senior ISI officials have called and visited journalists, warning them to douse their criticisms and rally around the theme of a united country, according to three journalists who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

Mr. Shahzad, who wrote articles over the last several years that illuminated the relationship between the militants and the military, was abducted from the capital three days after publication of his article that said Al Qaeda was responsible for an audacious 16-hour commando attack on Pakistan’s main naval base in Karachi on May 22.

The attack was a reprisal for the navy’s arresting up to 10 naval personnel who had belonged to a Qaeda cell, Mr. Shahzad said.

The article, published by Asia Times Online, detailed how the attackers were guided by maps and logistical information provided from personnel inside the base.

Particularly embarrassing for the military, Mr. Shahzad described negotiations before the raid between the navy and a Qaeda representative, Abdul Samad Mansoor. The navy refused to release the detainees, Mr. Shahzad wrote. The Pakistani military maintains that it does not negotiate with militants.

Mr. Shahzad prided himself on staying out of the mainstream press, preferring, he wrote in a preface to his recently published book, “Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” to challenge the “conventional wisdom.”

He had submitted articles to Asia Times Online, which claims 150,000 readers, since 2001, when he was a reporter in Karachi uncovering corruption in the public utility, the editor of the Web site, Tony Allison, said.

He broke into the limelight two years ago with an interview with Ilyas Kashmiri, a highly trained Pakistani militant allied to Al Qaeda. Mr. Kashmiri is believed to have been killed in a drone attack in early June.

According to associates, Mr. Shahzad cultivated contacts inside the military and the intelligence agency and members of militant groups, some from his student days in Jamaat Islami, a religious political party.

Some of his stories were threaded with embellishments. Soon after the Bin Laden raid, Mr. Shahzad wrote that Gen. David H. Petraeus visited the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and informed him, an account the White House strongly disputes. Pakistani journalists questioned the authenticity of some of Mr. Shahzad’s reporting: whether those doubts arose from professional jealousy or were well founded was never clear.

But the ISI had been interested in Mr. Shahzad for some time. In an e-mail written to Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, which Mr. Shahzad instructed Mr. Hasan to release if something happened to him, Mr. Shahzad gave details of an Oct. 17 meeting at ISI headquarters, where two senior officials in the press section wanted to discuss an article he had written about the release of an interrogated Afghan Taliban commander, Abdul Ghani Baradar.

At the end, Mr. Shahzad said, he had been given what Mr. Hasan said he understood to be a veiled death threat from the head of the press section, Rear Adm. Adnan Nazir. “We have recently arrested a terrorist and recovered a lot of data, diaries and other material during the interrogation,” Mr. Shahzad quoted Admiral Nazir saying. “The terrorist had a list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.”

In its statement after the death of Mr. Shahzad, the ISI said the agency notifies “institutions and individuals alike of any threat warning received about them.” There were no “veiled or unveiled threats” in the e-mail, the ISI said.

Hameed Haroon, the publisher of Dawn, an English-language newspaper and the head of the newspaper publishers’ association in Pakistan, said that the journalist had confided to him that “he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years.”

It was possible that Mr. Shahzad had become too cavalier, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani columnist and author.

“The rules of the game are not completely well defined,” she said. “Sometimes friendly elements cross an imaginary threshold and it is felt they must be taught a lesson.”

The efforts by the ISI to constrain the Pakistani news media have, to a degree, worked in recent days. The virulent criticism after Mr. Shahzad’s death has tempered a bit.

A Pakistani reporter, Waqar Kiani, who works for the British newspaper The Guardian, was beaten in the capital after Mr. Shahzad’s death with wooden batons and a rubber whip, by men who said: “You want to be a hero. We’ll make you a hero,” the newspaper reported. Mr. Kiani had just published an account of his abduction two years earlier at the hands of intelligence agents.

Pakistanis thriving in Afghan market

With the Americans and their subsidiary companies – construction, supplies, telecom etc. – now running the show, Afghanistan has emerged as another labour market for the Pakistanis.

Security in Afghanistan is precarious and even Kabul wears the look of a war zone. The Afghan officials waste no opportunity to show their dislike, even hatred, for anything Pakistani. Yet underneath the political tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the market appears to define and rule the relationship between Pakistani labour and their employers in Afghanistan. There are, according to unofficial estimates, over 70,000 Pakistanis working in different sectors – hotels, telecom and banking – and some are even running printing presses.

According to the Pakistanis working in and around Kabul, two factors – dollarisation of the Afghan economy and prevalence of English language – have opened the Afghan market to labour from Pakistan.

The Americans, one way or the other, are pumping over $100 billion into Afghanistan. “Even if three to four per cent of this money trickles down to a common man, it is more than enough to lift his economy,” says Haris Ali, country head of Aircom International in Afghanistan. Artificially pegged to dollar, the Afghani has improved to 45 Afghanis to a dollar; meaning that an Afghani is almost worth two Pakistani rupees. This exchange rate, though artificial as per economists’ claims, has become major attraction for the Pakistani labour, he concludes.

All major contracts, civil or military, go to the American companies, which, in turn, sub-let them to local or regional contractors. These contractors then need people who can write, speak and understand English and interact with American managers. That is where the Pakistanis as also the Afghan refugees who have been educated in Pakistan enter the picture.

“All the Afghans, who went to Iran during war, were put in secluded camps and Persian was their medium of instruction,” says a Pakistan diplomat in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, however, they lived in cities and were, by and large, integrated into the society and the education system.

This has turned out to be another advantage for Pakistanis. Even the mid-level Afghan managers feel much more comfortable with the Pakistani managerial staff and labour because of their own recent history and language affinity. Almost all of them also know Urdu language and can easily communicate with the Pakistani community. In fact, they became bridge between the American companies and the Afghan government, which hired local Afghans for all mid-level jobs and they in turn brought in the Pakistanis, the diplomat explains.

Afghanistan, even Kabul, is still not a family station. All the foreigners keep their families out because of security reasons. This situation also helps Pakistanis. “It takes only four hours to enter Pakistan by road from here,” says Shah Saleem – a hotel manager in Kabul, who hails from Hunza. Since it is a war zone salaries are higher. A worker gets salary either in dollars or Afghanis; both currencies are far better placed than the Pakistani rupee.

“I was employed at a Lahore hotel at a monthly salary of Rs17,000. Here, I am getting 35,000 Afghanis, which come to about
70,000 Pak rupees. All my boarding and lodging is covered,” Saleem said.

The hotel industry is booming because of a steady stream of foreigners who visit Afghanistan for different reasons. The NGO sector has become very vibrant for the last few years and their meetings – local, regional and international – generate a lot of business here.

The Pakistani labour gets one week off after three weeks of work, says Shahbaz Khan – who manages a printing press in one of busiest Kabul market. So, a man works for 21 days and earns more than double of what he gets in Pakistan after toiling for a month. The working hours are not long; by 7pm, everyone pulls the shutters down due to the Taliban scare and gets home
before dark.

Labour from Pakistan is a win-win proposition both for the Afghan employers and Pakistani workers. Pakistan workers get more money and the Afghans get cheap labour as compared to others. A mid-level American costs much more than a Pakistani. Then, they have to be supplied special food and taken to India or Dubai if they fall ill. In case of Pakistanis, food and health cover is not a problem: they eat the same food and dash back to Pakistan in case of an illness. And before long they are back, having either been treated at their own expense and at lower costs even if the company is paying, Shahbaz Khan said.

The telecom sector has turned out to be the most vibrant sector in Afghanistan, covering even the actual war zone and all those areas that fall under the Taliban control. Pakistanis’ presence in the sector is most dominating and visible too. “Call rates are much higher as compared to Pakistan as the companies also include war zone charges and insurance for the equipment,” says Abdul Hayee, from Azad Kashmir, working in Afghanistan for a cellular company.

The companies do not suffer as much losses on their equipment as they charge from the consumers. Since the Taliban are also beneficiaries of the system, they hardly ever are indiscreet enough to damage the company towers, etc. All the income coming in shape of war charges is companies’ profit. The telecom sector is certainly making huge profits, and Pakistanis being expert in the sector are also beneficiaries.

All these factors put together have made the Afghan economy attractive for labour, and the Pakistanis, given the proximity and historical ties, seem to be capitalising on it. Since most of them have also learnt Pashto and can hardly be distinguished from other Afghans, it only works to their added advantage in a market, which is open and thriving, even if on borrowed money and time.

Pakistan launches military offensive in tribal region

The Pakistani military has launched a fresh offensive against militants in its tribal region, the country's top military spokesman said Monday.
The offensive is targeting militants in Kurram, one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. He gave no further details.
Pakistani security forces have conducted operations in Kurram as far back as 2009, but this appears to be the largest.
A Pakistani military official said air force fighter jets were "softening" targets on the ground to open the way for ground troops. The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media on the record.
Thousands of troops are taking part in the operation, according to two officials who did not want to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The offensive coincides with several others taking place in Pakistan's tribal region and is likely to please U.S. officials who are pressing Pakistan to do more in the fight against militancy.
The military has launched more than 10 offensives against violent extremists in northwest Pakistan in recent years, but for the United States, what matters most is North Waziristan, which U.S. officials call an epicenter of terrorism and a haven for the Haqqani network and other al Qaeda-linked militants killing American troops across the border in Afghanistan.
Washington has pressured Pakistan to launch a major offensive in North Waziristan, but the Pakistani military has refused. Some U.S. officials fear that the army here has held off because Pakistan's spy agencies have links with militant groups in North Waziristan.
Kurram is just north of North Waziristan and is believed to be a destination for many militants escaping other offensives in the region.

‘ZA Bhutto ruling on hearts, minds of millions of people’

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will observe black day on July 5 (today) as 34 years ago the then Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq on July 5, 1977 imposed Martial Law by overthrowing the elected government of the PPP.

The dictator suspended the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, the Senate and provincial assemblies and arrested the then elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The dictator later hanged the premier.

PPP will hold several programmes all over the province to commemorate the black day. Regarding the day, Members of Provincial Assembly (MPAs) Sindh belonging to PPP said that even after a passage of 34 years the ideology of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been alive in the hearts of poor people and it would remain so for centuries to come.

These and similar views were expressed by MPAs Saleem Khursheed Khokhar, Shama Arif Mithani, Farheen Moughal, Nadeem Ahmad Bhutto and others, when a survey was conducted by the Daily Times here on Monday.

Saleem Khursheed Khokhar said that it was first time when a man, who belonged to elite class came to common people informing them that they were true source of power in a democracy. According to Khokhar, Bhutto informed the common people that ‘you are the ultimate pillar of the strength,’ adding Bhutto empowered people of Pakistan and he also gave freedom of expression to them.

Khokhar further said, a dictator over-turned an elected government of the people of Pakistan and later hanged the leader. Bhutto had a revolutionary personality and he never compromised on his vision and the rights of the poor people, Khokhar added.

MPA Shama Arif Mithani said that the dictator had hoped to crush Bhuttoism by hanging Bhutto but that was his mistake. The day of July 5 was not only a black-day for Pakistan and Pakistanis but it was also a sad day for Muslims and all those people, who were living in third world, she added.

Mithani further said that the people of Pakistan from July 5, 1977 to this day had been observing this day as a black day for reminding those elements in society, which wanted to get the government by back-door or wanted to win elections through the help of anti-people forces.

MPA Farheen Moughal said that there was a time, when people were given two to three year of jail time for shouting the slogan ‘Jeay Bhutto.’ But the people fought against the martial law and several people had given their lives for the democracy but they eventually won, she added.

MPA Nadeem Ahmad Bhutto said that it was a wish of every dictator to eradicate PPP and the ideology of Bhutto but they were living in fools’ heaven. Those forces were unaware that every common person in Pakistan was fighting against the dictators and anti-people and anti-democratic forces.

The MPA said no one dictator had ever been remembered in the history for good deeds rather they had been recalled as dictator and enemy of people, adding, it was truth of the history that the ideology of Bhutto was alive and it would live in the hearts of poor people for centuries.

Sindh Chief Minister’s Special Assistant Ismail Dahri said the PPP protected the sovereignty of the country and the entire nation, protected the rights of the provinces, and gave a unanimously approved Constitution of 1973.

Dahri said it was the vision of Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (BB) to keep the nation united. He said that Shaheed Bhutto gave a unanimous Constitution, which was approved by all political parties and that was the first reconciliation policy of Bhutto.

Dahri claimed that BB re-launched the reconciliation policy and President Asif Ali Zardari had been continuing the same tradition.

July 5 is a Black Day in the history of country

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said that July 5, will always be remembered as a Black Day in the history of the country. It was on this day that a dictator overthrew a democratically elected government of Shaheed Zulifqar Ali Bhutto and plunged the country into darkness of martial law for eleven-long years, he said in his message marking the day.

He said today all the political forces should pledge to work for strengthening democracy and promote a culture of dialogue, instead of sabotaging he democratic order.

He further said that the democratic forces should demonstrate political sagacity, wisdom of thought and maturity of action for further strengthening the country, which was attained by rendering supreme sacrifices.

Prime Minister saidhad the people’s will been respected and their government allowed to serve them, Pakistan must have become politically and economically a great power both in the region as well as beyond.

He said the multiple challenges facing the country today owe themselves to lack of continuity of the democratic system.

Prime Minister Gilani said democracy and representative rule is the only way forward to secure country’s interests.

He said no nation can aspire to have any role at the regional and global level unless its institutions are strong, which is, otherwise, a function of strong democracy.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the day also reminds us of the heroic struggle waged by the workers of Pakistan People’s Party against the dictatorial regime and for restoration of people’s inalienable right to determine their future through their elected representatives.

On July 5, let us pledge to work even harder for strengthening democracy in the country, he added.