Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Taliban attack across Kabul, target U.S. embassy

Taliban suicide fighters launched a multi-pronged attack in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, firing rockets toward the U.S. and other embassies and sending three suicide bombers to targets in the city's west and near the airport.
At least two civilians and two policemen were killed and 22 people were wounded in the attacks, as more than a dozen explosions echoed through the upmarket and heavily guarded diplomatic district, and NATO and Afghan helicopters roared overhead.
The Taliban have launched high-profile attacks on multiple targets in Kabul in the past, but this is the first time they have organized simultaneous assaults on such separate areas.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks which
NATO said were an attempt to derail plans to hand over security to Afghan forces.
Near the heavily fortified diplomatic district, insurgents took over a multi-storey building under construction and fired rockets and automatic rifles at several embassy and NATO compounds.
The gun battle continued into the early evening, with two attackers killed and two or three more still at large, the Ministry of the Interior said on twitter, adding that one policeman was killed.
One civilian was killed and 16 wounded there, said Kargar Norghuli, a spokesman for the Health Ministry.
A journalist from Radio Television Afghanistan was among the wounded, and Iran's English language Press TV news channel said its office "has come under attack and several people have been injured," without giving further details.
In western Kabul, just a few kilometers away, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the entrance to a building belonging to the city's civil order police, killing a policeman and wounding two.
A second suicide bomber killed a civilian at the regional police center, near the Habibia high school, and wounded four, Asadullah Ludin, a senior police spokesman.
And at a road near the airport, a suicide bomber was killed by police and 7 kg (15.5 lb) of explosives were seized, the office of the Kabul police chief said in a statement.
The Taliban claimed responsibility. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fighters were armed with rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bomb vests and AK-47 rifles, and was targeting government buildings, the U.S. embassy and the headquarters of NATO-led forces.
Explosions were interspersed with gunfire all afternoon, and at least two rockets landed in upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to the U.S., British and other embassies.
One hit a school bus, but it appeared to have been empty at the time of impact. Two NATO helicopters circled the building in central Abdul Haq square, which the attackers had taken over.The U.S. embassy said its personnel were safe while British Ambassador Sir William Patey confirmed the nearby U.S. embassy had been a target.
"Aware of attack on US Embassy. All UK Embassy staff accounted for," Patey said on Twitter.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the assaults were aimed at thwarting plans to hand over security to Afghan forces but they would not succeed.
"We are following the events closely; we have confidence in the Afghan authorities' ability to deal with this situation," Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels.
President Barack Obama has announced a plan to gradually draw down the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and hand over all security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
But violence in the country is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States, with high levels of foreign troop deaths and record civilian casualties
The assault was the second major Taliban attack in the city in less than a month after suicide bombers targeted the British Council headquarters in mid-August, killing nine people.
In late June, insurgents launched an assault on a hotel in the capital frequented by Westerners, killing at least 10.
"This incident is one of the rare occasions that militants have demonstrated the capability to get extremely close to the heart of the Western military and intelligence presence in the Afghan capital," global intelligence consulting firm STRATFOR said of Tuesday's attack.
"The ability to get numerous operatives armed with explosives and heavy guns into this area could not have been possible without the Taliban obtaining aid from Afghan security personnel posted in high-security areas."

Rights group's report slams local Afghan police

A push to build local police forces in Afghanistan has been "plagued by failures of vetting and oversight," according to a report released Monday.

The report, released by Human Rights Watch, says the U.S.-backed initiative to create the Afghan Local Police (ALP) "is a high-risk strategy to achieve short-term goals in which local groups are again being armed without adequate oversight or accountability."

Serious abuse allegations against some members of the new police forces -- including accusations of killings, sexual assault, illegal raids and beatings -- have emerged in several locations, the rights organization said.

And interviews with Afghan residents noted that fears that armed groups linked to U.S. forces could act without being punished were a "common perception," Human Rights Watch said.

"Many Afghans interviewed by Human Rights Watch fear that the ALP could be a destabilizing force if it strengthens local strongmen who act with impunity; our research suggests that this is already happening in some areas," the report says.

U.S. military officials said they were taking the accusations of human rights abuses seriously.

"They're combing through it over there in Kabul right now to get a better sense of the specifics of these allegations," said Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

Gen. John R. Allen, commander of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, "has been engaging in a very strong way with the Afghan government to make our concerns known about looking at these allegations, and to take appropriate steps where wrongdoing is found, to redress them," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

In statements posted on its Twitter account, the media office for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the report "will be closely evaluated" and "potentially has (a) way ahead in refining/improving areas." But ISAF's press office also said parts of the report are dated or incorrect.

The local police program has earned praise from U.S. officials in the past.

Now-retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that the initiative was "arguably the most critical element in our effort to help Afghanistan develop the capability to secure itself."

After returning from a trip to Afghanistan late last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, described his visit with U.S. troops training local police.

"I visited a village close to the Pakistani border where U.S. troops live among the villagers and train the ALP units in the area," Merkley said in a written statement. "The depth of trust our soldiers have established in that village make it a model the U.S. hopes to apply more broadly. If successful, this program could be an important piece of the security puzzle."

Kirby said Monday that the Human Rights Watch report could help efforts going forward.

"I think it serves us all in whatever capacity we're doing over there to try to get better at what we're doing and to try to improve the partnership with the Afghan government," he said. "So to the degree to which this report can shed light on improvements we can make together with the Afghans, we appreciated that visibility, and we'll work to that end."

The Kidnapping of Another Baloch Journalist

Editorial:The Baloch Hal

Javid Naseer Rind, the former Deputy Editor of Daily Tawar, a leading anti-government Baloch newspaper published in Urdu language, was kidnapped on Saturday by unidentified people. Friends and family members of Mr. Rind, who is a widely respected newspaper columnist and a reporter, have raised fingers at the state intelligence agencies for whisking him away. He was picked up in Laseba District of Balochistan along with another relative of his Abdul Samad Baloch. Since then the whereabouts of the Baloch journalist are unknown.
“My uncle Abdul Samad Baloch and my uncle son Javed Naseer Rind are abducted by Pakistani ISI…we are not Taliban…please give us help. Please do some(thing) about us. I am the eye vitnes (sic),”begged Moeed Baoch, a relative of the missing journalist in an urgent request posted on the Facebook fan page of Najam Sethi, a renowned Pakistani newspaper editor and a liberal television anchorperson.
According to The Nation, a Lahore-based conservative newspaper, “Javed Naseer Rind is a journalist and columnist, associated with a local daily, a Balochistan based Urdu language newspaper. Police quoting eyewitnesses said abductors were riding in two separate cars who held Javed Naseer at gun-point and bundled him into the car and drove away.”
Mr. Rind’s family and well wishers have every legitimate reasons to worry about his forced disappearance because, unfortunately, most of the Baloch journalists who had been kidnapped in the past in a similar pattern were eventually found dead.This kidnapping refreshes our memories about our fellow journalists Lala Hameed Hayatan, Siddiq Eido and Ilyas Nazar, who were all picked up, tortured and killed after several days of mysterious disappearance.
As expected, most Pakistani news channels and newspapers have avoided reporting about the kidnapping of an articulate journalist because they do not want to jeopardize their own lives and economic interests by antagonizing the elements responsible for the abduction.
We have been repeatedly writing about the perils of reporting in Balochistan. Journalists face various types of serious threats and pressure. In some cases, many reporters criticizing the government polices in their dispatches have been kidnapped, tortured and killed by the government functionaries.
The unabated cycle of violence targeting Baloch journalists during a so-called democratic government is distressing. The Balochistan government has been approached by journalists’ rights bodies many times in the past to ensure the protection of reporters. Last month, a journalist from Khuzdar district Munir Ahmed Shahwani was gunned down.
The government has not exhibited any interest in investigating the murder of the Baloch reporter. Similarly, the killers of other reporters, who fell victims of the ongoing conflict, have not been exposed or brought to justice either.
Absolute inaction on the part of the government somehow shows complicity on the part of the official authorities. If a senior deputy editor and a well known columnist is not safe in Balochistan then junior reporters and stringers working in remote areas of the province are a lot more vulnerable.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other human rights groups must move quickly before another brave Baloch journalist is slain by his captors. There have been several occasions when we raised our concerns about the safety of certain reporters and demanded timely action. But our fellow reporters were killed within days or weeks. The best thing that can be done at the moment is to urge the government to ensure the safe and immediate release of Mr. Rind and his relative.
All tactics by the spymasters to muzzle the freedom of the press have not helped the government to achieve its elusive objectives. Societies become chaotic and violent when they lose respect for journalists, thinkers and human rights activists. In Balochistan, we are witnessing the systematic elimination of the all of the above allegedly by the secrete services. Even the country’s so-called independent judiciary seems to lack the mandate or, to put it in more candid words, the will to take notice of the widespread killings o Baloch journalists, writers and human rights activists.

Shahbaz`s kidnap Opp walks out of PA to protest govt inaction

The opposition in the Punjab Assembly walked out of the house briefly against what it called non-serious attitude of the provincial government in handling the abduction of Shahbaz Taseer and objectionable remarks of Rana Sanaullah against President Asif Ali Zardari.

While members wasted another day in uttering personal and tit-for-tat remarks, two of the woman members, one each from the treasury and the opposition, almost came to blows over the delay in arresting the kidnapper of the slain governor’s son.

As soon as the proceedings started after a weekend break, PPP deputy parliamentary leader Shaukat Mehmood Basra took the floor to ask the law minister, Rana Sanaullah, to clarify in no uncertain terms as to whether “he (law minister) and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were involved in the abduction of Shahbaz Taseer.”

Rana, hardly known for taking such remarks lightly, after clarifying that both of them were certainly not involved in the abduction in any way, retorted: “Would the PPP like to clarify as to whether or not President Asif Ali Zaradari was involved in the murder of Benazir Bhutto.”

The PPP leader asked for a timeline for the recovery of Mr Taseer from the provincial law minister, who, in turn, wanted to know the timeframe for the arrest of murderers of the slain PPP minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

With personal allegation flowing from all sides, the PPP members maintained that Rana Sanaullah was known to have links with “militants”, who might have kidnapped Mr Taseer. They also claimed that the kidnapped young man could not be recovered as long as Sanaullah was holding the portfolio of law and parliamentary affairs.

Earlier, responding to a call attention notice by Mr. Basra, the law minister claimed that government was “closing in on Mr Taseer and his kidnappers, but details could not be made public at this moment for the safety of the abducted. A joint
team headed by the inspector-general of police was investigating the case and the Taseer family was on board.” He denied opposition’s allegation that the chief minister was not taking the matter seriously enough and said that Chief Minister Sharif was fully involved in the process and was keeping an eye on all developments. The chief minister would soon announce good news in the assembly in this regard, he added.

But, the assurance failed to pacify the opposition and they decided to walk out of the house. Just before the walkout, both sides kept up personal attacks, and two woman members – PPP’s Sajida Mir and PML-N’s Ghazala Raza Rana – almost came to blows over the kidnapping of Mr Taseer when some saner elements intervened to keep them apart. The speaker thought it wise to announce prayer’s break to let tempers cool on both sides.

As if all this was not enough, the Question Hour produced more non-seriousness when parliamentary secretary for local government, Abdur Razzaq Dhillon, was jointly accused by the treasury and the opposition of “furnishing fake, misleading and vague answers” to all questions relating to his department.

It may not be out of place to mention that the key department is without any minister and is being directly run by the chief minister, like many other major departments.

Initially, the speaker tried to rescue Mr. Dhillon but soon stopped as inarticulate and totally unprepared Dhillon ended up offending everyone in the house. He made a laughing stock of himself when, responding to a question from a treasury member (Ms. Anjum Safdar) about a stinking pond in the compound of Government Girls Primary School, UC-154, Faisalabad, the secretary said the department had contacted the local UC nazim for draining water only to be told that such councils had ceased to exit since long. The secretary took another embarrassing turn to say that the matter had been referred to the EDO, who had drained the water at a cost of Rs400,000. The member, however, insisted that she had met the EDO a day before but the EDO had mentioned nothing like that.