Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pakistan’s militant war leaves millions mentally scarred

Liaqat Ali is a victim of one of Pakistan’s worst bombings, but his injuries are not visible to the naked eye. The 47-year-old government clerk and part-time lab assistant was walking home through the grounds of a hospital in the northwest city of Peshawar in the fall of 2009, when he stumbled upon the carnage left by the blast. Scores of bodies were packed into vehicles. Bleeding survivors with missing limbs and severe burns were scattered everywhere. He has suffered from severe depression and anxiety ever since and is dependent on antidepressants to make it through the day so he can provide for his wife and four children. Ali’s plight has become increasingly common in Pakistan’s northwest, where psychiatrists estimate millions are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological illnesses after years of militant attacks, army offensives and US drone strikes. Many don’t receive treatment, largely because of an acute shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists. “I think what we see is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Firaz Khan, a psychiatrist at the mental health ward at government-run Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, where most of the 40 to 50 patients who come in each day are suffering from violence-related trauma. “Most victims remain at home and are not getting help.” Peshawar is located close to the tribal regions, the militant epicentre, and has been a major target for the Taliban since they started their insurgency in earnest in 2007. At times, the city was bombed almost daily. Violence has fallen significantly in the last 18 months. Fear and anxiety remain. Ali’s nightmare began on October 28, 2009, when militants detonated a car bomb in a market crowded with women and children. More than 100 people were killed. The dead and wounded he encountered at Lady Reading Hospital on his way home from work are etched in his mind. “Some of them had lost arms, others legs. Some of them had burned faces,” said Ali, becoming visibly disturbed during an interview at a private psychiatric clinic in Peshawar where he was being treated. “So many dead bodies were stuffed in a vehicle, as if they were not humans but slaughtered animals.” Within days, Ali was having trouble sleeping, experiencing flashbacks and intense fear. “It would come to my mind that everybody will die. The world was going to end,” Ali said. The northwest is filled with similar cases, according to psychiatrists. A nine-year-old boy suffered PTSD after witnessing a deadly bomb blast in Peshawar. He became irritable, aggressive and said he wanted to kill someone. He couldn’t sleep, had flashbacks and stopped going to school. A 30-year-old woman in the North Waziristan tribal area suffered severe depression and fainting spells after her cousin was killed by a mortar shell on his way to Afghanistan. It was unclear whether he was killed by the Taliban or fighting alongside them. An 18-year-old boy in the Bajaur tribal area suffered PTSD after witnessing a Taliban fighter behead an alleged spy, soak his beard with the man’s blood, lick it off his fingers and roar in satisfaction. He felt severe anxiety every time he recalled the incident. The psychiatrists asked that the names of the patients be withheld to protect their privacy. These kinds of experiences have tripled the number of patients seeking help from psychiatrist Mian Iftikhar Hussain since he opened his private clinic in Peshawar in 2004 after a career in public medicine. He now sees over 60 patients each day and cannot handle anymore. While there are no official figures, Hussain and another psychiatrist with a clinic in Peshawar, Wajid Ali Akhunzada, estimate that up to 60 per cent of the more than 20 million people who live in Pakistan’s northwest could be suffering from violence-related psychological issues. They base this figure on the number of patients who visit psychiatrists in the area daily. Only five to 10 per cent of patients treated by Hussain and Akhunzada have PTSD, but almost all of them suffer from some combination of depression, anxiety and lack of sleep caused by the violence around them. They are generally treated with a mix of drugs and psychotherapy. Use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication in Peshawar has more than doubled in the past few years, said Riaz Hussain, president of a wholesale drug association in the city. “Previously these medications were mainly used by Afghan refugees,” who have declined in number, he said. The number of psychiatrists and psychologists in Pakistan is far short of the level needed to handle the current crisis. There are about 600 in Pakistan for a population of 190 million, or roughly one for every 315,000 people, according to figures compiled in 2010 by the late Haroon Rashid Chaudhry, former head of psychiatry at Fatima Jinnah Medical College in Lahore. In the United States, there are about 116,000 psychiatrists and psychologists for a population of 310 million, or one for every 2,700 people, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Psychological Association. There are also few social workers who deal with psychological problems in Pakistan. “In our country, education and health are both at the bottom priority-wise, and in health, psychiatry is at the bottom,” said Hussain, the psychiatrist, who suffered PTSD himself after being kidnapped in 2009 and held for 11 days. There are no psychiatrists or psychologists based in Pakistan’s remote tribal region, where fighting between the Taliban and the army has been most fierce and U.S. drones rain missiles down from the sky, said Hussain. “We never know when a drone will drop a bomb right on our home,” said Soba Khan, a 15-year-old boy who lives in North Waziristan and was visiting Peshawar with his aunt, who was suffering psychological problems. Many dealing with mental trauma don’t understand why they are feeling miserable and assume they must be physically ill. They often turn to spiritual healers, knowing that seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist can mean social stigma. Those who decide to visit a mental health specialist can face significant difficulties in getting to a doctor and affording treatment, especially if they live in the tribal region. The potentially dangerous trip from North Waziristan to Peshawar on a public minibus takes eight to 12 hours and costs about $6.50, a significant sum in a country where the UN estimates about a quarter of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. Doctor visits at public-run hospitals are free, but antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications cost at least $5 per month, and can be much more if multiple drugs are prescribed. Each session at a private clinic, where treatment is better, costs roughly $8.50, and can be several times that if the patient needs to be admitted. Hussain, the psychiatrist, said it was critical to find a way to help the large numbers of people suffering in Pakistan. “If we don’t understand them, analyse them and address them,” he said, “they will worsen day by day.”

US Congress pushes for terrorist label for Haqqani

Congress ratcheted up pressure on Obama administration to slap terrorist label on Haqqani network. Congress ratcheted up the pressure on the Obama administration to slap the terrorist label on the Haqqani network, the militant group responsible for plotting and launching attacks from Pakistan against US-led forces in Afghanistan. By voice vote, the Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require the secretary of state to report to Congress on whether the Haqqani network meets the criteria to be designated a foreign terrorist organization and if not, to explain why. The report is due within 30 days of the president signing the measure. The bill now goes to Obama. The administration has sanctioned top individuals of the Haqqani network, but it is still reviewing whether to label the entire organization. That delay has frustrated members of Congress. Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had added an amendment to the bill stating that it was the sense of Congress that the Haqqani network meets the definition of a terrorist organization and they should be designated as one. The State Department has defended its effort, citing its sanctions of the network s top individuals. The Haqqani network, largely operating in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, is affiliated with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US officials say it represents one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan stability because it is believed to use Pakistan as a rear base for attacks on American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. The congressional votes come just weeks after the United States and Pakistan ended a rancorous seven-month standoff with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologizing to Pakistan for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and in return securing the reopening of critical NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. Throughout the uneasy relationship between the United States and Pakistan, American officials have pressed Islamabad to crack down on the extremist Haqqani network. The bill states that "nothing in this act may be construed to infringe upon the sovereignty of Pakistan to combat militant or terrorist groups operating inside its boundaries." In May, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees wrote to Clinton asking her to act immediately in labeling the Haqqani network a terrorist group. The four leaders said that based on meetings with US and Afghan officials in Afghanistan, "it was clear that the Haqqani network continues to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against US interests in Afghanistan and the group poses a continuing threat to innocent men, women and children in the region." The four noted that it had been six months since the State Department had undertaken its "final formal review" of the Haqqani network. "The Haqqanis have continued to attack US troops and the US embassy in Kabul during that period," the lawmakers said. The letter also noted that the Obama administration may have been reluctant to act while Marc Grossman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was trying to negotiate a reconciliation agreement with the Taliban that may have included or affected the Haqqani network.

‘Wife’ returns to haunt Hamza Shahbaz

Ayesha Ahad Malik, the alleged wife of Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, said on Wednesday that Hamza was threatening her for creating hurdles in his new marriage. In a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Ayesha expressed fear that she, her daughter Mahnoor and her brother Ali Imran Yusuf were being threatened by Hamza. Hamza Shahbaz, who is also a member of the National Assembly, is getting married to Dr Rabia, a Kasmiri-American. This is his second marriage, but according to the law, he cannot get married a second time without permission from his first wife. Ayesha claims that she has a video footage where Hamza swears that she is his wife and that he will never divorce her. She has said in the letter that she married Hamza Shahbaz in April 2010 and his attitude towards her changed by February this year and now he is remarrying which is unfair to her. She has requested the chief justice to take suo motu action on the issue and provide security and justice to her. She said that the local court also issued notices to Hamza and his family due to which they are harassing her and her family.

'Kabul I love you' stresses Afghan woes

A decade after the fall of the cinema-hating Taliban, a group of Afghan directors have created a film love letter to their capital, rooted in the grim reality of everyday life in the war-torn city. Forced marriage, people smuggling, illegal land grabs, land mines and ethnic conflict -- life in Kabul is not short of problems, and "Kabul I Love You" explores them through 10 interwoven stories. Afghanistan's film industry was hammered by 17 years of war after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and was snuffed out entirely under the extreme rule of the Taliban. During their 1996-2001 regime, the hardliners closed cinemas and hung televisions from lampposts, regarding all images as un-Islamic. Even sculptures were targeted, with the famous giant Buddhas of Bamiyan paying the price. Now Afghan cinema is struggling to re-emerge amid a wrecked economy and an ongoing insurgency against the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan produces around 100 films a year, according to documentary-maker Malek Shafi'i, but they are shot on tiny budgets and are often very poor. "Kabul I Love You" has been funded by the UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, as a means of giving the country's cinema a boost. Ario Soltani, from UNAMA, says the idea was to encourage film-makers to develop their own ideas. "We wanted to reach the film-makers, to support them, to communicate with Afghan people," he said. "Not with our messages but with theirs. We hope they reflect the Afghan society and the Afghan ideas of that time." The funding project was not an unqualified success -- one of the 11 directors chosen from 200 applicants fled the country as soon as he got his hands on UNAMA's $8,000, while another left for Iran after being threatened. But despite these setbacks, the film was shot and got a warm reception when it was screened at the French cultural centre in Kabul in May.

Asghar Khan case: Former ISI chief names officials involved in rigging

The former chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt-Gen (Retd) Asad Durrani has submitted documents to the Supreme Court, including a list of officers alleged to have illegally distributed money to politicians in the 1990 elections. A three member bench of the SC, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khwaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, has taken up a 1996 petition of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal chief Air Martial (retd) Asghar Khan who accused the ISI of financing politicians in the 1990 elections by dishing out Rs140 million to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from winning the polls. Durrani was asked by the court to submit the list he had promised containing the names of ISI officials involved in the operation to substantiate the doling out of funds among different politicians. The former spy chief claims that the names of politicians were obtained from the Presidency through Ijlal Haider Zaidi, a member of then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s election team, while the “donations” were doled out to the politicians at the directions of then Army chief Mirza Aslam Beg. Durrani claimed that 70 out of the Rs 140 million were distributed through him while the remaining amount was submitted to the ISI’s secret funds. Durrani further said that all the officers who had distributed the funds belonged to the Military Intelligence (MI). The apex court is to take up the case again in its next hearing on July 30.

Balochistan quagmire

Frontier post
The Supreme Court has ruled that there is complete constitutional breakdown in Balochistan. The province has indeed become a stinking cesspit of official inaction, sloth and apathy over these past four years or so. Veritably, it is in the throes of lawlessness, criminality and insurgency terribly. Yet, the administration is evidently just hibernating. Balochistan is not being blighted by the plague of missing persons alone. Still more horrific happenings are taking place over here. An unmourned ethnic cleansing of Punjabi settlers, Urdu-speaking migrants and now also of the Pakhtuns in the Baloch-dominated areas is leading up to their mass exodus from those places and also to a baneful brain drain from the province. The sectarian mayhem of the Hazara community is on unrelentingly. There is no letup either in targeted killings and street crimes. And kidnappings for ransom have gone beyond the alarming proportions. Yet, the administration is sitting pretty, just inert and inactive. Not pushed is it even about the ransom abductions, even as the incidence carries international implications as well. Since the Hindu jewellers and businessmen are among the main groups being targeted by kidnappers, quite a large number of Hindus have migrated to India with no intent to return to the homeland. Their travail could easily be exploited by the international vested interests and hostile lobbies to defame and malign Pakistan worldwide. But, shockingly, no concern is in evidence either in Quetta or even in Islamabad over this explosive migration. Indeed, there is a bewildering official unconcern both at the centre and in the province over the way crime and criminality are worrisomely wresting the province away from the state writ. Rather, both the provincial and federal hierarchs appear unrepentant and unchastised. A stark shocker it really was that chief minister Nawab Aslam Riasani delivered the other day. Conditions in Balochistan, he said, were not that bad; it is only the media which was exaggerating. If it is the media, then why is so much of restlessness right inside Balochistan? The people across the spectrum are crying hoarse that they feel safe neither in their homes nor on the streets and in their workplaces. The horrible fact is that the provincial administration has thrown the citizens at the mercy of terrorists, insurgents and criminal gangs. And the sorriest part is nobody in Islamabad is bothered about it. All that one gets from there is silly political rhetoric and tall talk about a Balochistan package which is neither here nor there. Both the federal and provincial hierarchs keep clamouring that foreign hands are involved in the troubles in Balochistan, which sure is right. But neither do they identify those hands for reasons best known to them, nor do they act robustly to chop them off. There seems no coordination between the provincial and the federal security apparatuses; all seem acting independently, if at all. The worst part is that the provincial administration doesn't appear intent on preparing the provincial security apparatus fighting fit to take on criminals, terrorists and insurgents triumphantly. Over these past years, enormous monies have flowed into the coffers of the provincial government from the centre in various heads. With those billions, it could have not only equipped the provincial law-enforcement apparatus with good training, sophisticated weapons and other gadgetry, but also spent a lot on human development to marginalise anti-social and anti-state elements. But it has done neither. Believably, those billions have been divvied up between themselves by the ministers and lawmakers to fatten their own treasures. The province is really in a pathetic state. To get out of its travails, it needs honest leaders who are also good statesmen and no-nonsense administrators. But to its utter misfortune, it has at the helms those who are not even passable politicians. They are petty dwarfs, not fit to rule even a municipality. And, to its great grief, it has a non-resident chief minister, who loves spending more time in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi than his seat of power, Quetta. When the top is so feeble and insouciant, what feats could reasonably be expected of its subordinate bureaucracy? No wonder, Balochistan is in such a spot. But someone in Islamabad has to wake up and come alive to the lawlessness, chaos and anarchy holding in their vicious clutches this crucial province of Pakistan so tightly. It can't be let go down all like that. At every cost, it has to be saved and secured for its preponderantly impoverished people to live safely and grow assuredly. A drastic decision in Balochistan has now become inevitable. Will Islamabad take it or let Balochistan sink in the quagmire it is stuck up in so frighteningly.

Bajaur blast: Bomb kills nine

The explosion took place in Pasht bazaar of Salarzai area. A bomb tore through a busy market in Pakistan s tribal belt on Thursday, killing at least seven people and wounding 20 others near the Afghan border, officials said. The device exploded in Pasht bazaar of Salarzai in Bajaur district. Nobody claimed the responsibility for the bombing. According to an AFP tally, around 5,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks across the country since July 2007. The military conducted major anti-Taliban offensives in Bajaur in August 2008 and February 2009, and has repeatedly declared the district secure.

Pashto singer Zareen Jan is dead

Acclaimed Pashto singer
Bacha Zareen Jan died after protracted illness here on Wednesday. She was 70. Born in 1942, at Par Hoti area of Mardan, she became famous after performing on radio, TV and stage. Also recipient of Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, the ghazal maestro was widely known by Pakhtuns everywhere in the world. She sang some memorable numbers during her illustrious career. In early 1970s, she had become a household name in the province and Federally Administered Areas due to her melodious voice. Music enthusiasts liked her simple style. Zareen Jan started singing songs for radio at the age of seven. She sang Pashto, Hindko, Punjabi, Seraiki, Urdu and Persian songs. She was fondly called Bibi Gul by her fans. Her elder sister trained her in the art of singing while famed musicians of the time played significant role in her grooming.Zareen Jan, who had also performed from All India Radio, Delhi, won hearts and minds of the people when she sang patriotic songs to boost the morale of army in 1965 war against India. She was widely respected for promotion of Pashto. The last few years were very difficult for the singer due to old age and economic problems. She always looked towards government for financial assistance. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had provided some financial assistance to her a few months ago. Her melodious voice had given her a unique place among the contemporary crooners due to which she was considered a pioneer of female singing in Pashto. Local showbiz community has announced to mourn the death of the great singer. In a statement, president of Artists Welfare Association Javed Babar said that she was the most courageous women, who promoted Pashto music in very early days. She would be remembered for long for her services, he added.