Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rimsha Masih : 'Scared' teen fears for life over alleged Quran burning

In a period of about three weeks she went from being a virtually unknown 14-year-old Pakistani girl to making headlines around the world as a Christian teen facing a life sentence for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. In her first-ever public interview since being released on bail, Rimsha Masih said she's happy to be back with her family but still fears for her life. "I'm scared," she told CNN by phone. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us." Rimsha spoke in short sentences -- often answering "yes" or "no" in a shy and nervous voice. She wouldn't reveal where she was because she was speaking from her hideout.In Pakistan, suspects accused of blasphemy often face vigilante justice, with some cases even resulting in murder.When we asked Masih how she was doing, she said she was good. We asked her if she ever burned pages of the Quran. "No, no," she replied instantly. Were you falsely accused? "Yes," she said. However, Rimsha wouldn't answer questions about what exactly happened on August 16 this year. Pakistani investigators said Rimsha's neighbor accused her of burning pages of the Quran to use as cooking fuel. The young man accused the teenager of blasphemy, shouted in protest, and attracted an angry mob, police said. But Rimsha's lawyers denied she desecrated the Muslim holy book in this way. They said the neighbor wanted to settle a personal score with Rimsha because the two didn't get along. The lawyers told CNN this may have been because he liked her but she didn't like him back. Within minutes hundreds of residents from this poor Islamabad neighborhood surrounded the terrified girl, witnesses said. There are conflicting accounts about what happened next. Some neighbors said Rimsha was beaten, while others claimed she frantically raced back home and locked herself inside. The police eventually arrived and took Rimsha into custody Her case made international headlines and sparked outrage among rights groups who have long accused the Pakistani government of allowing the country's controversial blasphemy laws to be used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities. According to rights groups such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Human Rights Watch, most innocent victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws belong to minority Muslim sects like the Ahamadis, who are often viewed as non-believers by Pakistan's majority Sunnis. Rimsha's father -- a Christian house painter who earns a few dollars a day -- said no one in his family would dare dishonor the Quran. "We respect the Quran just like we respect the Bible," said Mizrak Mashi. "We couldn't imagine committing blasphemy let alone doing it. Our children would never do this either." Last week, under growing pressure from rights groups who were outraged that a juvenile had spent more than three weeks in jail, a judge finally approved Rimsha's request to be released on bail. Her case is still pending but she seemed to gain fresh support earlier this month when police arrested a Muslim cleric and accused him of planting torn pages of the Quran in Rimsha's bag in an apparent attempt to bolster evidence against her. Meanwhile, a family spokesman said aid groups from the U.S., Italy and Canada have already offered to give Rimsha and her family a home outside Pakistan. But Rimsha said, for now, she doesn't want to go anywhere other than back to life as she knew it, away from the spotlight. "I love Pakistan," Masih said. "I won't ever leave my country."

Pakistan Shiites face rising militant attacks

In the Shiite Muslim graveyard of this provincial Pakistani capital, entire sections are dedicated to the hundreds killed by Sunni militants over the past two years, their portraits line the cobblestone entrance, some garlanded with wilted flowers. There's Abid Ali Nazish, a popular movie star executed by gunmen in the summer. Nearby are the portraits of two brothers who were dragged out of a bus and shot to death on the road as they returned from pilgrimage in June. An Olympic boxer, Ibrar Hussain, has a large portrait, and then a smaller photo on his grave showing him sitting proudly next to American boxing great Mohammed Ali. Hussain was just leaving Quetta's Ayub Stadium when a motorcyclist drove by and gunned him down last year, said Bostan Kishtmandi, a local Shiite politician, as he strolled past the graves. He "was retired and teaching our young boxers. We loved him," Kishtmandi said. Pakistan's Shiite minority is feeling under siege as Sunni militants who view them as heretics step up a campaign of sectarian attacks, targeting them with shootings and car bombings. More than 300 Shiites have been killed so far this year, according to Human Rights Watch. The province of Baluchistan, where Quetta is the capital and which has the country's largest Shiite community, has borne the brunt, with more than 100 killed this year, on the way to surpassing the 2011 total of 118. "I am afraid of terrorists everywhere in Quetta, except here with the dead," said Gulbar Abbas, an elderly man who spends every day in the graveyard, living off donations from visitors as he sits on a dirty quilt on a stone slab and reads the Quran from morning to night. The sectarian bloodletting adds another layer to the turmoil in Pakistan, where the government is fighting an insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban and where many fear Sunni hardliners are gaining strength. Shiites and rights group say the government does little to protect Shiites and that militants are emboldened because they are believed to have links to Pakistan's intelligence agencies. The powerful agencies have often been linked to the murky world of militancy, accused of using hardline Sunni Muslim militants against enemy India in the disputed Kashmir region and against U.S. and NATO soldiers next door in Afghanistan. But the rise in the bloodshed and worries over security slipping out of control are bringing pressure for action. Fearing an all-out sectarian war, the Baluchistan government last week called in the paramilitary Frontier Corps to help the understaffed and underequipped local police. The judiciary has also become unprecedentedly vocal in pointing the finger at the intelligence agencies. Last week, a panel of three Supreme Court judges, led by Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, told a packed Quetta courtroom that it had heard testimony that militants were getting weapons and unregistered vehicles from the intelligence agencies. At least two suicide attacks this year in Quetta involved unregistered vehicles, according to the police. The court ordered the government to produce a list of all weapons and ammunition permits issued on the orders of the intelligence agencies, as well as vehicles brought into Pakistan duty free by the agencies. In a strong and rare rebuke, the judges slammed the security agencies' record against militant activities in Quetta. "The result is zero. There has been zero accomplished, not against suicide bombings, not against target killings," Chaudhry said. So far, the intelligence and security agencies have not responded. Shiites make up around 15 percent of Pakistan's 190 million people. They are scattered around the country, but the southwestern province of Baluchistan has the largest community, mainly made up of ethnic Hazaras, easily identified by their facial features which resemble Central Asian features. They number some 300,000 in Quetta, a city of 1.2 million people. Sunni extremists consider all Shiites as heretics, and militants have long carried out attacks against the community. But the sectarian campaign has stepped up in recent years, fueled mainly by the radical group Laskar-e-Jangvhi, aligned to Pakistani Taliban militants headquartered in the tribal regions. The violence has pushed Baluchistan in particular deeper into chaos. The province was already facing an armed insurgency by ethnic Baluch separatists who frequently attack security forces and government facilities. But the secessionist violence has been overtaken by increasingly bold attacks against Shiites. Militants have packed cars with explosives and driven them into buses carrying Shiite Muslim students to universities and pilgrims returning from holy sites in Iran. Gunmen have walked into shops in Quetta's busy bazaars and slaughtered storekeepers as they tended to customers. They have picked off prominent Shiites as they left their homes for work. They have taken out newspaper ads telling Shiites to leave Quetta and Pakistan and vowing to kill any Sunni who calls a Shiite a friend. More than 300 Shiites have been killed in Baluchistan alone the past two years, the community here says. Thirty-eight Shiites were killed in just two weeks in Quetta earlier this year, said a liberal political party representing Hazaras. When were these two weeks? As a result, many Shiites in Quetta have pulled their children from universities, shuttered their shops and rarely step out of the two enclaves in the city where their numbers dominate. There have been a few revenge attacks killing Sunni Muslim clerics. Lashkar-e-Janghvi, headquartered in Pakistan's Punjab province, has carried out attacks elsewhere in the country as well. On Monday, a car bomb killed 12 Shiites in the Kurram tribal region, the only tribal area where Shiites outnumber Sunnis. "The situation is worsening day by day," Baluchistan's chief minister, Mohammed Aslam Raisani, told The Associated Press in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. "Of course I am concerned." Last month police in the eastern Punjab province arrested a leader of Lashkar-e-Janghvi, Malik Ishaq, for inciting hate. But on Monday, he was freed on bail. That only fueled Shiites' believe that the government has little interest in going after those who attack their community. "From law enforcement, government or any institution we are 100 percent disappointed," Abdul Khaliq Hazara, leader of the Hazara Democratic Party, said at his home in Quetta. "We also blame elements with the intelligence agencies that support them (Sunni militants) and give them shelter, show them the routes. It has become a policy it seems for them to bring religious extremism to this area," he said. The Baluchistan government's move to call in the paramilitary Frontier Corps reflects their struggle with dealing with the violence. "We decided to call them in for two months because we didn't want to take a chance on human lives," Baluchistan's top bureaucrat and Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammed told The AP. "Right now sectarianism is our biggest threat. We have made some progress. But have we succeeded? No." "We know it is Lashkar-e-Janghvi and we have to attack them. ... There is no reluctance to conducting a big operation or to going after them in a big way but so far we have not had very useful information," he said. The Frontier Corps and the police have provided security to Shiite Muslims travelling in Quetta, escorting school buses and local merchants. Few arrests have been made and Hazara said his political party wants the Frontier Corps and the police "to go after everyone involved in the killings."

Biden draws on personal tragedy at 9/11 memorial

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks of his own personal tragedy at a 9/11 memorial event at the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania. Deborah Lutterbeck reports

Obama marks 9/11: ‘This is never an easy day’

The mournful tones of "Taps" fluttered over the South Lawn of the White House as President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama led America in a silent tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The crisp, clear day recalled the pleasant fall weather the morning of that national tragedy. The Obamas walked somberly out of the residence of the White House and, flanked by hundreds of staff, bowed their heads at 8:46 a.m.—11 years after American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. The first couple placed their hands over their hearts as "Taps" played and a military color guard dipped its flags. Afterward, they turned, clasped hands and walked back into the presidential mansion.The Obamas then traveled to the Pentagon for a 9/11 observance ceremony. "This is never an easy day," the president told an audience of active-duty service members, families of those killed and others.
"But it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives—your mothers and fathers, your husbands and wives, your sons and your daughters. They were taken from us suddenly and far too soon," he said. "Even now, all these years later, it is easy for those of us who lived through that day to close our eyes and to find ourselves back there—and back here—back when grief crashed over us like an awful wave, when Americans everywhere held each other tight, seeking the reassurance that the world we knew wasn't crumbling under our feet," he said. "And even though we may never be able to fully lift the burden carried by those left behind, we know that somewhere, a son is growing up with his father's eyes and a daughter has her mother's laugh—living reminders that those who died are with us still.
"As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are. No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for. Instead, we recommit ourselves to the values that we believe in, holding firmly without wavering to the hope that we confess," he said. "God bless the memories of those we lost. And God bless these United States of America." The president will visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the Washington suburb of Bethesda in the afternoon. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Somerset County, Pennsylvania, to make remarks at a ceremony honoring the passengers and crew of Flight 93, which slammed into the ground killing all aboard after an insurrection against the hijackers. Biden, who lost his first wife and baby daughter in a 1972 car crash, drew on his experience to deliver a searingly personal message to families mourning loved ones gone 11 years on. "For no matter how many anniversaries you experience, for at least an instant, the terror of that moment returns; the lingering echo of that phone call; that sense of total disbelief that envelops you, where you feel like you're being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest," he said. "My hope for you all is that as every year passes, the depth of your pain recedes and you find comfort, as I have, genuine comfort in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch," Biden said.
"And I hope you're as certain as I am that she can see what a wonderful man her son has turned out to be, grown up to be; that he knows everything that your daughter has achieved, and that he can hear, and she can hear how her mom still talks about her, the day he scored the winning touchdown, how bright and beautiful she was on that graduation day, and know that he knows what a beautiful child the daughter he never got to see has turned out to be, and how much she reminds you of him," Biden said. "For I know you see your wife every time you see her smile on your child's face. You remember your daughter every time you hear laughter coming from her brother's lips. And you remember your husband every time your son just touches your hand." America, Biden said, has "not forgotten the heroism of your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers." In Washington, there were a few signs of some of the changes wrought by the attacks, such as a K-9 team outside a metro stop a few blocks from the White House and the dark silhouette of a military battery atop an office building overlooking the presidential mansion. And both Obama's campaign and Mitt Romney's suspended negative ads for a day. The attacks saw extremists from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network hijack four airliners to use as guided missiles, crashing into both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. About 3,000 people were killed. America's response included the late-2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a war that is now the country's longest, and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bin Laden met his end at the hands of Navy SEAL commanders in a May 2011 raid on his compound in Pakistan.

India makes history with 100th space mission

Scientists celebrate milestone mission with the launch of French and Japanese satellites via Indian space vehicle.
India's national space organisation has marked its 100th mission by successfully launching two new satellites which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lauded as a "spectacular success". Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrated the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C21 on Sunday as it blasted into the sky carrying a French observation satellite and a Japanese microsatellite. India has had an active space programme since the 1960s and has launched scores of satellites for itself and other countries. Singh congratulated the team at the ISRO at Sriharikota hailing the achievement as "a milestone in our nation's space capabilities". "India is justly proud of its space scientists, who have overcome immense odds to set up world class facilities and develop advanced technologies. We owe a great deal to pioneers like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Prof Satish Dhawan," Singh said. Future missions India is one of the few developing countries with a space programme and the government has spent billions of dollars on the project. "I would also like to congratulate European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) Astrium of France and Osaka Institute of Technology of Japan for the successful launch of their satellites," Singh said. "The launch of these satellites on board an Indian launch vehicle is testimony to the commercial competitiveness of the Indian space industry and is a tribute to Indian innovation and ingenuity," the prime minister added. India has recently announced plans to join a small group of nations already exploring Mars by sending a satellite via an unmanned spacecraft to orbit the planet. A rocket will blast off from the south eastern coast of India, dropping the satellite into deep space, which will then travel to Mars to achieve orbit. The nation's space exploration programme has come a long way from its humble beginnings. When it was first established resources were so scarce that some scientists had to operate out of a cow shed. Four years ago, its Chandrayaan satellite found evidence of water on the moon and India is also looking at landing a wheeled rover on the Moon in 2014.

As 9/11 anniversary reminds us, national security always an issue

As today’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is commemorated across the nation — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will host a remembrance at the Pentagon; Vice President Joe Biden will speak in Shanksville, Pa. — it is surprising how minor an issue national security has played in this year’s presidential campaign. On the one hand, that’s reassuring. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have made protecting the nation — and dismantling the al-Qaeda terrorist network — among their foremost priorities, and achieved much success. As the Associated Press reported this week, Americans today feel safer from potential terrorist attacks than they did even a few years ago. Military and national security experts say that’s not just perception, but reality.
On the other hand, it’s worrisome. Eclipsed by domestic concerns centered on the economy, jobs and taxes, national security has been all but nonexistent as a campaign issue. Indeed, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said almost nothing about foreign policy in his speech before his party’s national convention. Democrat Obama reminded delegates of the successful mission to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq, but those are challenges that are behind us, rather than ahead. Fears of a repeat of the horrific events of 11 years ago today, when terrorists crashed airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, have abated, thankfully. But there are plenty of other global hot spots awaiting the next U.S. president. From Syria’s civil war, to Iran’s nuclear aspirations, to Afghanistan’s post-war stability, the candidates need to explain their philosophies for future engagement. Shadowy threats including cyber-attacks and insurgent terrorist factions likewise need to be addressed. Al-Qaeda may be depleted, the economy may be decisive, but foreign policy remains a huge concern.

Performance of Punjab govt is zero

Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan has said that the performance of the Punjab government in the current tenure is zero. Addressing a press conference along with President PTI Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Central Secretary Information Shafqat Mehmood at party’s central Information Cell on Sunday, Imran Khan said that contrary to the claims of the Punjab Government regarding the 3.4 per cent growth rate in province, the statistics showed that the real growth rate was 2.5 per cent. The deteriorating economic condition of the energy sector and other departments including agriculture, law and order situation, health and education had proved that the performance of the Punjab government was zero, Imran Khan said. Constitution does not restrict any province to produce energy, Punjab government did not produce even a single unit of electricity, he added. He said that the crime rate in Punjab had increased with the ratio of 12 per cent including a 37 per cent rise in dacoity incidents. To a question about the education policy of the Punjab government,he said that the closing down of the 5700 schools in Punjab was indicating the poor education policy of the Punjab government. The PTI Chairman said that the Punjab government wasted Rs21 billion on futile projects like rapid bus transit system while the budget of health and education was abysmal. He said that the people of Pakistan wanted change and PTI was the only party which could bring change in the country. He said that PTI was the first party which presented its economic agenda. He vowed to raise the tax network to build up the national economy. Commenting on the Local Government Ordinance in Sindh, he criticised it and rejected the ordinance.

Life under burqa inspired struggle for democracy

Living conditions have improved in Afghanistan, especially for women. But many wonder what will happen when NATO troops leave in 2014. That year, Afghans also vote for their next president - who just might be a woman. Under the Taliban, she dreamed of being out in the streets of Kabul without a burqa. Life then was reduced to "looking at the huge world from the small window - that's how life was for a woman," Fawzia Koofi,
a leading Afghan women's rights champion and lawmaker told Deutsche Welle. Things have changed since 2001, especially for girls and women, the presidential hopeful says: "You see women in the parliament and involved in social activities." Koofi, too, is a member of parliament. An avid advocate for women's rights, Koofi is intent on making sure her two teenage daughters have every opportunity to a better life. "My daughters are struggling to go the best school in Kabul; they have iPads and laptops, they use Facebook," Koofi says and adds that during the Taliban era, she rarely had the opportunity even to use a pen or a book. Today, about 2.7 million girls go to school across the nation, compared to just 5,000 under Taliban rule. Education is not only important for women on a social level, but also economically, the parliamentarian says, "because once you become economically independent, then you can be a main decision-maker in the family." Agents of peace and change Koofi is convinced peace and change in Afghanistan hinge on women: "The only way to bring peace to Afghanistan and to stabilize the country would be to bring forward new faces and new generations that support them."The politician, who is in her mid-30s, had a hard life. She was born in a remote village in Badakshan province, near the border with China and Tajikistan. "There was no doctor, no midwife. I was my mother's last child and my mother was exhausted," Koofi says. "She didn't want another girl to suffer as much as she suffered." Local women swaddled the newborn in some clothes and left her in the hot sun, not caring if she lived or died. After a day alone, screaming and sunburnt, the women finally brought Koofi back to her mother. It was the beginning of a close relationship. 'It doesn't stop us' Traditional and cultural barriers in Afghanistan make her work extremely challenging, Koofi says. As a member of parliament, she fights for gender equality, which has made her a target of the Taliban. She says she expects the radical militants will one day succeed in killing her. For the Taliban, it's important to kill people who have a voice and who can make a difference, Koofi says: "I have already been attacked many times by Taliban. I think I am a favorite target. But it doesn't stop us - not only me, all women activists in Afghanistan." Koofi fears a Talibanization of the country that would come about as a result of negotiating away the "democratic values" that have been gained since 2001. Reconciliation, she says, has gone "nowhere." And she exhorts international forces not to leave the country in a hurry: "You came to Afghanistan on a mission, and that mission was to make sure Afghanistan is safe and not a security threat anymore for the world. Let's work together to make sure Afghanistan is a safe country and no longer a safe haven for terrorism." Koofi says she's determined to do everything she can possible to make sure democracy survives in Afghanistan. That is also why she plans to run in the country's 2014 presidential election. Her vision for the future is an Afghanistan in which "girls happily go to school and become doctors and engineers in their country."

ISI considers US its worst enemy, says Dr Afridi

Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI considered the US its "worst enemy" and Islamabad's cooperation with Washington was just a sham to extract billions of dollars in aid, said the doctor who was jailed for helping the CIA hunt down Osama bin Laden. In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Shakil Afridi who helped track down Osama's Abbottabad compound before the May 2 raid by US commandos, described torture at the hands of the ISI. He said the agency was openly hostile to the US. "They said 'The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians'," Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, was quoted as saying. He added: "I tried to argue that America was Pakistan's biggest supporter ... but all they said was, 'These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies'." "I tried to argue that America was Pakistan's biggest supporter - billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance -- but all they said was, 'These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies'." Afridi helped the CIA by running a fake vaccination programme that allowed him to collect the DNA of bin Laden's children from the family compound in Abbottabad. Sample analysis confirmed the terror chief was probably there and triggered the deadly mission by US Navy SEALS in May last year. Pakistani officials felt the operation was a violation of the country's sovereignty. After the raid, Afridi was arrested for conspiring against Pakistan, and last month jailed for 33 years. The doctor also alleged that the ISI helps fund the Haqqani network and spy agency also works against the US by preventing the CIA from interrogating militants captured by Pakistan, who are routinely released to return to Afghanistan to continue attacks on NATO forces there. "It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI… Pakistan's fight against militancy is bogus. It's just to extract money from America," the doctor was quoted as saying, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received, largely in military aid, since 9/11.

Chinese, Pakistani PMs reaffirm strengthening traditional friendship

The prime ministers of China and Pakistan on Tuesday reaffirmed that they will strengthen the two countries' traditional friendship and cooperation in all areas. "China and Pakistan's traditional friendship, which is deeply rooted among the two peoples, is our most valuable treasure," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said while meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on the sidelines of the Summer Davos Forum slated for opening in north China's Tianjin Municipality Tuesday afternoon. Wen said China firmly supports Pakistan on its efforts to safeguard its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, maintain national solidarity and stability, and strive for an environment featuring good relationship with neighboring countries. He called on the two countries to maintain close communication and coordination, jointly cope with challenges, and promote cooperation in various areas, including energy, transportation and security. Ashraf said the Pakistan-China friendship has a solid foundation, and Pakistan thanks China for its long-term support and assistance. He also pledged to continue cooperation with China in all areas as well as to jointly safeguard regional peace and stability. The 6th Annual Meeting of the New Champions, also known as the Summer Davos Forum, will open on Tuesday afternoon. Wen will address the opening ceremony.

Kurram people switch over to Afghan cellular service

The prolonged ban on cellular phone service and occurrence of technical fault in landlines have forced the dwellers of Kurram Agency to switch over to Afghan cellular service. The tribal people of Kurram have no other option but to use Afghan cellular companies’ service as the government has imposed ban on services of Pakistani cellular phone companies since 2008. Presently MTN, Etisalat are operating in Afghanistan and its signals are active in Kurram Agency. “Users pay five times more to Afghan companies as compared to Pakistani cellular companies,” an official told Dawn on condition of anonymity. He said that owing to road construction and sabotage activities the fibre optic cable had damaged at several points. “Presently we are using DRS system, which usually develops fault,” the official said. Asif Ali, a resident of Kurram, told Dawn that the landline in his house always remains dead. He said that they were facing difficulties in contacting their relatives. “One of my brothers is a daily wager abroad and anther is a student in Peshawar so we have no other option but to use the service of Afghan cellular companies,” he added. Political Agent Syed Shahab Ali Shah said that cellular phone service in Kurram had banned owing to its misuse in carrying out militant activities. He assured that soon the ban would be lifted and the service would be restored to facilitate tribal people.

Tourists are back in Swat valley

Starting from Eidul Fitr over 300,000 tourists from across the country have so far visited Swat Valley. Confirming this, officials and residents said that during this time not a single act of violence took place in Swat valley, which is known for its archaeological sites of Gandhara civilisation and scenic hamlets. They said that a multitude of tourists were seen in Kalam, Bahrain, Madyan, Malam Jabba, Marghuzar, Saidu Baba, Fizaghat, Mingora and other spots of Swat. They said that restoration of people’s confidence to visit the valley was a great achievement of the local administration. Since 2008 when Taliban militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah gained control in the area and parts of Kohistan, Dir and Malakand protected area etc most of the tourist spots presented a deserted look.
However, owing to sacrifices rendered by people of Swat and law-enforcement agencies for restoration of peace the tourists have started reaching the valley in droves to enjoy serenity and beauty of small hamlets of Swat and cultural heritage. People of Swat are known for their hospitality; they welcome visitors with open heart, accommodate them in their homes and hujras (guesthouses) and serve food free of cost to encourage and provide them opportunity to enjoy their tour. However, some hotel owners, tandoor walas (bakers), and petrol pump owners at the main tourist stations have been fleecing tourists on the pretext of artificial shortage of various items. During rush of tourists, Rs2,000 to Rs8,000 is charged for a single room for one night stay in hotels while the price of petrol touches as high as Rs550 per litre. Khurshid Ahmed, a resident of Bahrian, told this scribe that about 300 motorcycles were seen stranded in different areas and over 1,600 tourists trapped in Kalam due to shortage of petrol during past few days. He said that work on Kalam-Havad road should be completed as proper communications system was vital to growth of tourism. Kalam Hotels Association general secretary Rahmat Din Siddiqi told this correspondent that this year the number of tourists remained satisfactory despite unfavourable conditions. He said that his union would take action against those hotel owners who had been fleecing visitors by demanding high prices. He also called upon the government to rebuild roads damaged in 2010 floods and restore telephone facilities to different spots to attract more visitors in next season. He also demanded upgradation of Kalam hospital and appointment of specialist doctors there. Sub-divisional magistrate, Madyan, Mohammad Naeem claimed that after reports of artificial price-hike the administration checked various food outlets and petrol pumps, and imposed fines on profiteers. A large number of tourists also visited Malam Jabba Ski Resort, but due to lack of facilities the tourists retuned half-hearted. The dilapidated condition of Malam Jabba road and damaged building of PTDC also forced the tourists to turn to other places. DSP Madyan Naveed Iqbal said that police personnel had been deployed at various points to ensure smooth flow of traffic. However, he said that due to dilapidated condition of Bahrian-Kalam road and rush of tourists the traffic jams were seen on some points on Kalam-Bahrian road, especially during Eid days. Mr Iqbal said that there was complete peace in Swat and urged tourists to visit the valley without any fear. He said that that police was vigilant and providing full security to tourists. He claimed that not a single incident of sabotage occurred during Eid days.