Sunday, July 22, 2012

Batman cinema shooting: Grieving another horrifying act of terror

For the second time in little more than a decade, metro Denver has been convulsed by a mass murder of calculated and methodical viciousness, an act so pointless and incomprehensible that it leaves us all shaken and bewildered. As was the case in 1999 with Columbine, our hearts and thoughts go out to the families of the dead victims at the Aurora theater shootings — many of whom no doubt were young — as well as to those who survived but who remain injured or maimed in local hospitals. It is probably too early to read any deep lessons into Friday morning's brutal attack. Although much has been learned in the past 24 hours about the alleged perpetrator, James Eagan Holmes, we still don't know enough about his mental state and his motives to say whether he had dropped signs along the way and might have been thwarted. But as recent history has shown, killers willing to forfeit their own lives — or at least their freedom — are extremely difficult to stop unless they make a clumsy mistake in the run-up to the crime. It is fairly safe to say this much about the killer's overarching purpose, though: He clearly planned the massacre in such a way as to evoke the maximum amount of publicity. His theatrical final entrance to "The Dark Knight Rises," as well as his phony, flashy machismo and his black ballistic garb — indeed, the entire life-imitating-art scenario that the shooter choreographed — all point to someone shouting for the public's attention. If it weren't part of our job as journalists, we would hesitate even to mention his name and thereby ratify his intentions. But we have no choice. Plus, the suspect is still alive, and eventually will no doubt be tried in open court. Aurorans and in fact all residents of the metro area can at least take heart that the performance of their first responders — from police to firefighters and emergency medical personnel — as well as the staff in area hospitals, was prompt, efficient and utterly professional. The fact that police were on the scene at the Century 16 theater complex within 60 to 90 seconds from the moment 911 calls started pouring in, according to Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, is itself something of a marvel. Within minutes, 25 officers had arrived, he added. Soon, nearly 200 officers would converge on the chaos, a number of them pitching in to transport the wounded to hospitals. Some observers are probably going to wonder whether Colorado is especially prone to incubate murderous madmen — for lack of a better description — who seek out innocent targets in public venues given the array of incidents in recent years. Since 2006 alone, we've seen a 53-year-old drifter take six female students hostage at Platte Canyon High School, killing one before he killed himself; a troubled 24-year-old shoot two parishioners at New Life Church in Colorado Springs after having killed two other people the night before at a training center for Christian missionaries in Arvada; and a 32-year-old open fire on students at Dear Creek middle school in Jefferson County before seventh-grade math teacher David Benke tackled and subdued him. We suspect these incidents say more about modern reality, however, than they do about Colorado. Sick, cruel or desperate people nursing grievances have taken to seeking some sort of bizarre fulfillment in public acts of terror, scripting their final acts for maximum impact. Undoubtedly those who commit such crimes are aware to some extent of previous incidents. Does that then qualify them as copycat tragedies? And if it does, how in today's media-saturated world, in which every man, woman and child can reach thousands of people instantly through social media, could such knowledge ever be bottled up anyway? In the days ahead, we will undoubtedly hear some pundits suggest that it is too easy to access weapons and body armor. Or that too many of us have been desensitized to violence by modern popular culture. Others will argue that the social networks that traditionally might have offered support have been badly frayed or lost altogether. These and many other issues are of course worth addressing. In the present moment, however, Colorado and the nation are focused mainly on grieving over yet another mass shooting that has destroyed so many hopes and dreams. Read more: Editorial: Grieving another horrifying act of terror - The Denver Post Read The Denver Post's Terms of Use of its content:

Batman cinema shooting: Presidential hopefuls 'must show leadership'
America’s gun laws have come under renewed scrutiny, with Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, challenging the presidential candidates to show some “leadership” on the issue.
Mr Bloomberg, a long-time advocate of gun law reform, said: “Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president tell us what they are going to do about it." As New York deployed additional police around its cinemas to prevent copycat shootings, Mr Bloomberg said it was time for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to “look in the mirror” and follow their convictions. “There are so many murders with guns every day,” he said. “It’s just got to stop.” Suspending their political campaigns for a day yesterday, both Mr Obama and Mr Romney confined themselves to “soothing words”, avoiding any mention of how they might tackle the scourge of gun crime in America. “Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason,” Mr Obama told a subdued crowd in Fort Myers, Florida, before returning early to Washington.Mr Romney, the Republican candidate, said he was “deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence” but he also stayed well clear of the politics of gun control. The Brady Campaign, which lobbies for stricter gun laws, said the Aurora shootings were “yet another tragic reminder that we have a national problem of easy availability of guns in this country”. Both Mr Obama and Mr Romney have at different times supported tougher gun laws, but with key swing states such as Florida and Virginia having very strong gun lobbies, analysts say that raising the issue risks antagonising the powerful National Rifle Association, which spends millions lobbying against gun controls. No permits, licensing or individual registration is required in Colorado to purchase and carry firearms, but dealers must keep records of purchasers. The Aurora shooting took place less than 20 miles from Columbine High School, the scene of a shooting in 1999 in which 13 people were killed.

Obama to meet families of shooting victims in Colorado

President Barack Obama travels to Colorado on Sunday to meet families bereaved after a "demonic" gunman went on a shooting rampage at a movie theater in a Denver suburb, killing at least 12 people and wounding 58. The victims, who ranged from six to 51 years of age, died in Aurora, Colorado, early on Friday when a gunman police identified as graduate-school dropout James Holmes opened fire during a packed midnight premiere of the latest "Batman" film. A vigil is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Sunday in front of Aurora City Hall, organized by civic, community and religious leaders. "We can now start the natural process of grieving and healing," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said at a memorial late on Saturday for one young shooting victim: "We're still reeling." Obama's trip comes as investigators are deepening a probe into Holmes. He was arrested immediately after the fatal spree at the local multiplex and local and federal authorities disarmed explosives in his booby-trapped apartment on Saturday. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said the shooting followed months of "calculation and deliberation," as Holmes received a "high volume" of deliveries of weaponry to both his work and home. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, speaking on NBC television's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday, said there were still no clues as to the motive for the shooting. But he said Holmes was "a twisted, really delusional individual" who had not been cooperating with authorities. "DIABOLIC, DEMONIC" "He was diabolical, demonic," Hickenlooper said. "I think of him almost as a terrorist. He wanted to take away, not just from the people here but from the country, our ability to enjoy life," he said. Sources familiar with the investigation said that some 30 shells filled with gunpowder were found in Holmes' apartment, together with containers filled with "incendiary liquids" intended to fuel a fire from the initial explosions, as well as bullets meant to ricochet around the apartment. On Saturday afternoon, the local coroner's office released the names of the 12 people killed, including those of a six-year-old girl, a young man celebrating his 27th birthday and an aspiring sportscaster who had barely escaped a shooting in a Toronto mall earlier this summer. The mass shooting stunned the nation and evoked memories of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, 17 miles from Aurora, where two students opened fire and killed 12 students and a teacher. It also reverberated in the U.S. presidential race. Both President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, toned down their campaigns on Friday, pulled ads from Colorado and dedicated scheduled events to the victims. In Rome on Sunday, Pope Benedict expressed dismay and sadness at the shooting. "I was deeply shocked by the senseless violence which took place in Aurora, Denver," he said in his regular Sunday Angelus address. "I share the distress of the families and friends of the victims and the injured, especially the children," he said. Those who witnessed the shooting told of a horrific scene, with dazed victims bleeding from bullet wounds, spitting up blood and crying for help. Holmes was arrested minutes later in a parking lot behind the cinema. He was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a Glock .40-caliber handgun. Police found an additional Glock .40-caliber handgun in his car. All the weapons were legally bought in the previous 60 days. Holmes was being held in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners, a routine move in high-profile cases, said Grayson Robinson, sheriff of Arapahoe County. "THE JOKER" Authorities said Holmes had dyed his hair red and called himself "the Joker" in a reference to Batman's comic-book nemesis, was due to make an initial court appearance on Monday. Little has surfaced from his past to suggest he was capable of such violence. Until last month, Holmes was studying for a doctoral degree in neuroscience at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical School, a few blocks from his apartment. The University of Colorado Hospital, which treated some of the shooting victims, said 10 people had been released and five remained in critical condition. The Medical Center of Aurora said four of its seven patients remained in intensive care, while three others were on the main trauma floor. A memorial of flowers, candles and stuffed animals quickly sprung up where the shootings took place. A handwritten sign read: "7/20 gone not forgotten." At one of the first vigils, about 500 people gathered for a memorial service at Gateway High School on Saturday evening to remember recent graduate A.J. Boik, 18, a talented artist who had been bound for college in the fall. "He was a very big part of this community," said Tami Avery, 41, whose son played sports with Boik. "He will be dearly missed."

Heaviest rain in 6 decades hits Beijing

The heaviest rain in 61 years in the Chinese capital Beijing has left 10 people dead as of 2 a.m. Sunday, according to a report by the China Network Television (CNTV), a national web-based TV broadcaster owned by the state-owned China Central Television. The biggest precipitation occurred in the suburban district of Fangshan, hitting 460 mm, according to the report. Almost 100,000 people were mobilized for rescue work during the strong rain that started trashing the city since Saturday morning. Many people in the city became volunteers in the rain, providing free ride for those trapped on the street, having people slept over at their places. The popular Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging site, was flooded with photos showing the city being swamped. Many accused that the city's drainage system was ill prepared for rainstorms.

Bill Gates praises Shahid Afridi

The government just nominated the Pakistani cricketer, Shahid Afridi as the polio celebrity champion who declared his intentions of ensuring that no child in Pakistan is left unvaccinated and is paralyzed by Polio. Afridi joined hand for the cause of polio eradicated initiative in Pakistan and signed a MoU (Memorandum of understanding) with the spokespersons of Prime Minister’s Monitoring and Coordination cell for Polio eraditcation, Rotary international, UNICEF and WHO. Bill gates, the owner of Microsoft made a post on his facebook page regarding the Pakistani cricketers valiant effort which read, “Great to have support of leading Pakistani wicket taker Shahid Afridi, who recently joined Rotary’s “This Close” campaign to support the fight to end polio.” It is truly grand that our cricketers and various other several celebrities too are making efforts to make this homeland of ours a better place.

10 militants killed in jet bombing in Orakzai

At least ten militants killed in shelling in Orakzai Agency. Pakistani military jets struck militant hideouts in the northwest of the country on Sunday, killing 10 militants and wounding several others, military officials said. The airstrikes targeted four hideouts in the remote Ghaljo and Dabori areas of the northwestern Orakzai tribal region, the officials said. The locations were being used by members of the Pakistan Taliban. The death toll could not be independently verified and militants often dispute official figures. The Pakistan military has been conducting operations against militants in Orakzai for months.

Fighting polio in tribal areas

PAKISTANI TV channels are showing ‘Boom, Boom Afridi’, asking his viewers in Urdu and Pushto whether they would select crutches or a bat for their children. In fact, this message is for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghan refugees living in tribal areas and elsewhere who are reluctant or have refused to permit vaccination of their children against polio virus. It is being estimated that over 250,000 children in tribal areas alone will not receive polio vaccination this year. The Taliban are on the offensive war footing to convince a large number of tribal Pashtuns that polio vaccine is being administrated on the behest of the West and it is to sterilise their children. To counter this false propaganda, the UN has nominated Shahid Afridi, himself a Pashtun from Khyber tribal agency, as Polio Champion for this cricket-crazy nation. How far Afridi will be able to convince his people, only time will tell. However, things appear to be more difficult this year as some of the tribal commanders, who generally don’t take a fight with the Pakistan Army such as Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, have also banned the vaccination in areas under their control. They have conditioned the polio vaccination with the stoppage of drone attacks. Wish someone may tell these Taliban commanders that in the absence of vaccination, there is no need for drone attacks. They are intentionally risking the lives of thousands of their innocent children, then why do they need another enemy? Unfortunately we are entrapped in an anti-West fever, will not gain anything positive for our children. No one shall be surprised with the sharp increase in polio cases in Pakistan . One fears that this virus, if not controlled at this stage, may spill over to other countries. Pakistan , Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three unfortunate countries where polio vaccination campaigns have been hampered by self-appointed religious reformers (in case of Pakistan and Afghanistan , it is the Taliban and in Nigeria, it is Boko Haram who have stopped the vaccination). It is a failure on the part of government, the media, civil society and religious scholars who are way behind in this fight against ignorance and darkness. It is so unfortunate.

Pakistan must revamp police

Faced with mounting violence, Pakistan needs to push ahead reforms of its police force, which lacks the training, equipment and political will to be effective, a new study said.
In a lengthy report, a commission set up by the New York-based Asia Society called for Pakistan to step up police training and carry out structural reforms to boost the force's skills and reduce corruption. "High crime rates throughout the country, relatively low conviction rates of prisoners on trial and heightened concerns about instability spilling over from Afghanistan indicate that there is an urgent and critical need to invest in and reform Pakistan's law enforcement infrastructure," the report said. The study, due to be released on Monday, said that criminals and Islamic extremists have increasingly colluded and evaded a police force hampered by "severe deficiencies" in technology and training. Pakistan's military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency have historically been major centers of power. But the report said the police hold primary responsibility for law and order. "Shifting all the blame onto the police force -- whether done by the public, media or government -- is unfair and unproductive," the report said. Pakistan's police system "simply is not structured to reward good behavior, as merit-based opportunities for professional advancement are scarce, low pay is the norm and a lack of support and resources compels even many well-intentioned officers to misuse their authority in order to survive," the report said. Hassan Abbas, the commission's project director and a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, said international assistance could help. Britain and the United States have both been assisting police reform. "However, the overall funding for these projects is no match for the resources provided to Pakistan for anti-terrorism operations throughout the last decade, very little (if any) of which ever reached police institutions because it was so largely geared toward the defense sector," he said. "Both are important needs, but a balanced approach is needed to help Pakistan tackle internal and external challenges more effectively." Pakistan has received more than $18 billion in US aid, mostly for its military, since it agreed to support the US-led war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The country in recent years has been torn by violence, with extremists carrying out attacks in major cities, militant cells holed up in lawless border areas and an ethnic insurgency raging in Baluchistan. Pakistan's then military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2002 issued orders to set clear rules for the police, but the reform quickly lost steam. The Asia Society study called for the implementation of the 2002 reforms, along with an overhaul of hiring practices, improvements in working conditions and the establishment of an independent authority to assess complaints of police misconduct. The commission recommended the training of anti-terrorism investigators at each police station, along with special units with direct access to data from private cellular telephone operators. The report also called for training on protecting the rights of women, children and minorities -- a frequent source of concern -- and efforts to recruit more women police officers. Separately, the study called for special efforts to recruit local youth as police in Baluchistan, the southwestern province where insurgents rose up in 2004 to demand greater autonomy. The report said that police should be put in charge of investigating charges of extrajudicial killings in Baluchistan and that Pakistan should restrict the roles there of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies.

‘Spent forces’ take over Lahore Police again

It seems Lahorites have been left at the mercy of gangsters because brazen bank robberies, house dacoities and killings on resistance have become order of the day in the provincial metropolis, thanks to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s appointment of ‘spent forces’ on key posts. Differences among police officers serving in the City, lack of proper policing and corruption-riddled Crimes Investigations Agency (CIA) are the major reasons cited for the surge in organised crimes. The Lahore police – comprising DIG (Operations) Rai Muhammad Tahir, DIG (Investigations) Chaudhry Shafique Ahmad Gujjar and SP CIA Omar Virk – has miserably failed to control gun crimes in the City. In 2009, Gujjar served as senior superintendent of police (operations) in Lahore, and was accused of patronising land grabbers and gangsters. Later, he was transferred over poor performance, bad reputation and protecting the land grabbers. Interestingly, the victims had launched protest demonstrations against the officer and knocked every door to get justice. Now he is back again and has been appointed as chief of the Investigations Wing of the City Police. The ranker-SP Muhammad Umar Virk has been re-appointed as chief of the CIA police, also known as the Anti-Organised Crime Police with prime responsibility of controlling organised crimes, particularly armed robberies, house dacoities and kidnappings for ransom. Umar Virk, a controversial character with bad repute in the Police Department, had been transferred to Layyah district in February 2012 after the then-IGP Javed Iqbal came to know about his involvement in criminal activities. Umar Virk has served in the CIA police Lahore for several years. During his posting, the CIA police staged scores of fake encounters and killed many alleged gangsters. He has a team of notorious and rogue police inspectors for staging fake encounter. Virk has also links with the underworld mafia and land grabbers. Rai Muhammad Tahir was appointed as deputy inspector general (operations) in May. Earlier, he held the post of district police officer in Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan and Sheikhupra districts. A couple of months ago, IGP Muhammad Habib-ur-Rehman, while addressing a joint meeting of Lahore Police at the Police Headquarters, Qila Gujjar Singh, hoped that Tahir would come up to his expectations. Unfortunately, being the chief of operations police, he has failed to control rising crimes in the City. Police circles believe that crime fighting is not the priority of these influential officers, who spend most of their time meeting with powerful politicians to retain lucrative posts. In major incidents of crimes that took place in Lahore last week, robbers hit the City no less than 150 times, robbed three banks in broad daylight, looted dozens of houses, shot dead a woman and injured five other people on offering resistance and fled away after collecting cash, gold ornaments and other valuables worth millions of rupees. For instance, in a single day on Monday, dacoits robbed eight houses, shot dead a 30-year-old woman, wounded her husband on offering resistance, and fled after collecting cash, gold ornaments and other valuables worth Rs15 million in several successful strikes in different parts of the City. On Wednesday, robbers hit the City no less than 21 times and took away cash, gold ornament and other valuables worth millions of rupees, besides three cars and four motorcycles. On Friday, robbers struck two banks back-to-back in different parts of the City and snatched away Rs9.5 million in broad daylight. Not enough, gunmen looted families, robbed house and passers-by in more than 15 strikes on the same day. The brazen bank robberies in broad daylight have put a question mark on the working of Lahore police because the gunmen hit the banks in leading commercial centres and easily make their escape good. Since April last year, robbers have looted no less than 19 banks in different parts of the provincial metropolis and snatched million of rupees. The police including the CIA are still unable to unearth the gangs involved in these bank dacoities. Street crimes and armed robberies have swelled to an alarming level during the last couple of months, but the Lahore police are yet to make any breakthrough as far as major robberies are concerned. The abovementioned incidents should be an eye-opener for the chief minister, who must take notice of the worsening law and order situation and spent forces should be sent packing immediately.

PUNJAB: Dishonouring women

EDITORIAL:DAILY TIMES.'' Dishonouring women ''
Maryam bibi refused to submit to her landlord’s sexual advances and was stoned to death in the wee hours of July 18 on the orders of a Panchayat (elders council) in Kacha Koh near Khanewal. This is not the first time that a woman has had to pay with her life for defending her honour. Disgracing women in public on the orders of a Panchayat is a routine thing in our villages. The famous case of Mukhtaran Mai is still relevant when the villagers, to compensate for the crime allegedly committed by Mai’s brother, blatantly dishonoured and raped her. Taking suo motu notice of Maryam’s killing, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has reprimanded the Inspector General (IG) Punjab Habib-ur-Rehman for not arresting the culprits so far. He has warned that if the culprits were not arrested, the IG would have to quit by July 23. The CJP has refused to accept the report by the police on the incident for being prepared with mala fide intentions. The court chastised the Chief Minister (CM) Punjab for his ignorance of the case and questioned his competence as the CM. The CJP took stern notice of the increasingly deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab. There are multiple sides to this case and all point to the general decadence of social norms in our country. One, it shows the situation of human rights in Pakistan, where people are killed dime a dozen and nobody is bothered. Two, it tells about the general absence of women’s rights in villages and small towns, where women are openly harassed by the rich and powerful and nobody is concerned. Three, it illustrates the role of landlords in power politics, who get away with crimes and no one dares put a hand on them. Four, it shows how inept and unreliable our police has become without any sign of improvement. Finally, it indicates the lack of interest of the provincial government in restoring law and order in its domain. However, this is not the case in Punjab alone; the entire Pakistan is bleeding to death owing to crimes. The suo motu notice taken by the CJP could have been avoided had the Punjab government taken serious timely actions against the culprits and provided justice to the aggrieved family. This is the point that the court is trying to establish. The late response time of the concerned people and their indifference to the situation is costing the country its harmony, dignity and value. Governments are in dire need of overhauling their administrative skills even in the absence of checks and balances and accountability.

Pakistan: Media soul-searching

JOURNALISTS in the dock, media houses hurling accusations at one another, public scepticism growing. It’s time for the mainstream media in Pakistan, particularly the freewheeling and hugely influential electronic media, to assess where it stands and how to rebuild public trust and faith in an institution that is quintessentially Pakistani in its nature — there are some good parts but there are far too many dark spots. While the accusations are manifold and the protagonists many, the crux of the scandal is that several media proprietors and journalists are alleged to have discarded the industry’s raison d’etre — informing the public and holding public officials to account. Instead, they stand accused of having fallen into cosy relationships with power brokers, politicians and sundry other vested interests, selling their viewpoints in return for financial gain to the media entities and individuals involved. With intra-industry regulation lax, state regulation viewed with hostility and a public with an insatiable appetite for all things political, perhaps it was inevitable that scandal would seep through Pakistani journalism. What can be done? The attempt by some quarters to move the superior judiciary to investigate misdeeds in the media industry may seem noble to some but it is misguided. For one, unethical and unprincipled as bribery may be, it’s not clear if private sector employees or employers would attract criminal sanction even if it were to be proved. In addition, the superior judiciary itself is a frequent subject of media discourse, so the potential conflicts of interests are too obvious to ignore. In any case, what exactly can the court realistically do to determine whether someone has, say, received a house in a foreign country or a large sum of money in a foreign bank account? A better course of action is also a more difficult one: the industry itself — proprietors, journalists, viewers and readers represented by civil society — will need to draw up guidelines for separating news from opinion, fact from fiction and paid content from independent thought. State oversight is definitely unwelcome given the nature of the Pakistani state but that does not mean the state cannot have a facilitating role in creating an independent oversight body that reflects the commercial imperative of the news business while at the same time safeguarding it as a special sector with the public interest at stake. Over time, then, perhaps some of the worst excesses would be curbed. Realistically, though, the Pakistani media is drawn from, operates within and caters to a deeply flawed Pakistani society. To expect it to exist as a beacon of righteousness amidst a sea of mediocrity and worse may be a stretch too far.

Trilateral summit in Kabul

As the endgame of war in Afghanistan heats up the strategic interests of the concerned stakeholders become increasingly less opaque, and the trilateral summit in Kabul on Thursday suggests these may not be anymore matching, if not clashing. Of course, the usual bonhomie that should abound interlocution at such a high level as it was with prime ministers of Pakistan and Britain being guests of President Karzai was quite visible. And it was duly reflected in the joint statement issued after their trilateral meeting. But what Prime Minister Cameron said ahead of the meeting and how desperate is the Afghan president to meet Taliban leadership undercuts the very spirit of that bonhomie. Of course, for Raja Pervez Ashraf the visit to Kabul being his maiden venture into international diplomacy it was not without water-marking achievement. Were the three of them there at the same time by accident or something else, there is not much in evidence to provide the right answer. That the summit couldn't be more than what such a chance encounter could be is understandable. With bridegrooms, the United States and the Taliban leadership, missing from the scene the get-together could be anything but a genuine wedding ceremony - but not that their absence was not being missed, albeit variously. President Karzai has once again dangled the carrot of 'participation' to the Taliban. He knows full well that they will not bite the bait, but he is insistent in his tone, perhaps being more aware of the fact than his foreign allies that the so-called ragtag Taliban militia cannot be defeated in the battlefield. In his latest invitation he has offered Mulla Omar to be part of future government in Kabul. But the echo that has come consistently from the Taliban is that unless foreign troops leave Afghanistan there could be no negotiations with government in Kabul. But, if the foreign military presence is being vacated from Afghanistan till recently the reports were yes all combat operations would end by the end of 2014. But of late there appears to be revised thinking in the Nato capitals on the time and mode of troop drawdown, a rather frank depiction was presented by David Cameron at his media encounter in Kabul. 'We are not going away from Afghanistan anytime soon,' he said as if challenging the Taliban's famous observation that 'while the coalition has the watches we have the time'. Britain that has lost some 422 soldiers in the arid deserts of Afghanistan over the last decade wants to stay on, but for what. Has this human sacrifice helped Britain, or any other foreign government in proving to their publics that their decision to jump in war in Afghanistan was correct? All recent public opinion surveys in these countries show that their participation has lost public support and their boys and girls should be brought back home. Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan; let them manage their own affairs. The only role cut for international community, including Britain, in general and neighbours in particular, is to help in making transition from a state of war to general peace in Afghanistan. If the Kabul administration can help discourage the renegade Pakistani Taliban sheltering in their country from misusing its hospitality by launching raids in Chitral and Upper Dir it would improve mutual trust and confidence. No doubt Raja's interaction with President Karzai would help smooth some edges that irritate Islamabad, but there does exist a real possibility of extending the Pak-Afghan co-operative format with the expected visit of the Salahuddin Rabbani-led Afghan High Peace Council next month. The geography, history and the alternating incidence of war and peace tend to place these two neighbours in the cast of a special relationship that should be used by the international community to help restore normality in Afghanistan - than to promote confrontation by planting unwanted proxies.

Allen talks cooperation after ‘Salala tragedy’

The Express Tribune
General John Allen,
commander Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, has said that if the Pakistan Army launched an operation in North Waziristan Agency, “we are prepared to pay extra attention” to any spill over that may occur because of the operation. He was talking to The Express Tribune on July 19 at a banquet in the presidential palace in Kabul hosted by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in honour of visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. This is the first time a US official, military or civilian, has talked about the possibility of operational coordination in the event of an operation conducted by the Pakistan Army on its side. General Allen was responding to The Express Tribune’s observation that, while the United States keeps pushing Pakistan to do more, and has made an operation against the so-called Haqqani Network as one of the benchmarks of US-Pakistan relations, both at the strategic and operational levels, when the Pakistan Army launched an operation in South Waziristan in October 2009, the Isaf vacated its posts on the other side, making it easy for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters to slip into Afghanistan to avoid getting captured and killed. When asked about whether there are enough forces across from North Waziristan Agency, Gen Allen said that they had “enough deployments on our side in the territory abutting [the] North Waziristan [Agency]”. However, he would not talk about the exact strength and also refused to say if an operation in NWA or its timing was part of the operational meetings between Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and himself. “You will have to put this question to General Kayani,” he said. General Allen would also not comment on the exact nature of coordination with the Pakistan Army if and when the latter launches an operation in NWA, saying “It will not be right for me to talk about operational details”. In more general terms, however, he said that his meetings with General Kayani, both bilateral and the recent ones along with the Afghanistan army chief, Lt-Gen Sher Mohammad Karimi, had focused on “cross-border movement” from both sides. “We had very good discussions and we looked into areas of cooperation which need to be improved.” But when pressed to give a sense of any specific measures that would be taken he said that The Express Tribune should speak with the Pakistani military command. He was vociferous in denying that the Salala incident was a deliberate attempt by the US military to get even with the Pakistani military. He said that this impression in Pakistan was totally off the mark and Salala was a tragedy where mistakes were made by both sides. “The central issue in current talks is how to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. We enjoy an excellent relationship,” he said. General Allen seemed confident that both sides had been able to identify areas that caused the incident and have managed to strengthen the procedures along the border to ensure that such a tragedy is avoided in the future. When The Express Tribune contacted the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate to get their comments on how the Pakistan Army understands General Allen’s reference to paying “extra attention to any spill over” in the event of an operation in NWA, the ISPR declined to comment, saying these are sensitive issues that cannot be discussed in the media.

Malik for disclosure of Nawaz-Munter meeting

Rehman Malik says if Nawaz Sharif files defamation suit, he would provide evidence against him. Petitions are of no use regarding general polls, elections would be held on their due time, said the Advisor for Interior. Rehman Malik called on President Zardari at Bilawal House in Karachi and later while talking to the media, he said that Nawaz Sharif should disclose details of meeting with US Ambassador Cameron Munter. Investigation of corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif is underway, said Rehman Malik. He said that pseudo lions and so-called Tsunami faced decisive defeat during by-polls in Multan, adding that this is just a trial, political rivals would have to face defeat in the next coming elections, he added. He said that Nawaz Sharif’s visits to Sindh would not affect the PPP’s vote bank. General polls would be held in their due time; petition mafia’s endeavours would go astray, said ex Interior Minister. Commenting economic blast of Nawaz Sharif, Rehman said that oversees Pakistanis already have been exploited by the scheme of ‘return loan, mend the land’. He said that the banned outfits would not be allowed to have fitrana. He said that more 15,000 cops would be recruited in Karachi for restoration of peace and tranquility in the metropolis. The government is ready to have a dialogue on the issue of Lyari but there would be no compromise in this regard.