Saturday, September 22, 2012

Afghanistan bans Pakistani newspapers

Associated Press
Afghanistan banned all Pakistani newspapers from entering the country on Friday in an attempt to block the Taliban from influencing public opinion via the press. The order, issued by the Ministry of Interior, adds to the mounting tension between the neighboring countries. It focuses specifically on blocking entry of the papers at Torkham, a busy border crossing, and directed border police to gather up Pakistani newspapers in the three eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan. In a statement, the ministry said the newspapers were a conduit for Taliban propaganda. "The news is not based in reality and it is creating concerns for our countrymen in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan," the ministry said in a statement. "Also, the newspapers are a propaganda resource of the Taliban spokesmen." The tensions between the two countries were highlighted Thursday at a U.N. Security Council meeting, when Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul called on Pakistan to stop shelling in the border province of Kunar, which he said has killed dozens of civilians. He said the attacks were jeopardizing bilateral relations "with potential negative consequences for necessary bilateral cooperation for peace, security and economic development in our two countries and the wider region." Many Pakistani Taliban fighters have fled to Kunar and surrounding areas after Pakistan's army pushed them out of its tribal region, taking advantage of the U.S. military's withdrawal of most of its forces from these Afghan border provinces in recent years. In an interview on Thursday with The Associated Press, Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that her country would soon hold confidential talks with the United States and Afghanistan to improve a three-way counterterrorism relationship beset by misunderstandings. She told the AP that senior officials from the three countries have been instructed to come up with a strategy for repairing cooperation that has suffered since U.S.-Pakistani relations collapsed a year and half ago. A key element of the talks will be to determine which militant groups can be persuaded to lay down their arms as part of an Afghan peace treaty — a crucial if so far lagging part of the U.S. strategy to stabilize the country as it withdraws forces over the next two years. Separately in Afghanistan, five civilians were killed and eight others were wounded Friday in Naway district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, according to district police chief Ahmad Shah Khan Pupal. Two children and three men were among the dead. NATO reported that two service members with the international military alliance in Afghanistan died Friday of non-battle related injuries in the south. NATO did not provide details about the deaths or the nationality of the service members who died.

Drones capture mountain scenery in Pakistan

By REBECCA SANTANA | Associated Press
The use of drones in Pakistan normally brings to mind images of U.S. spy planes attacking tribal areas. But drones now are being used to capture a different kind of picture in the country — showing some of the world's highest mountains being scaled by world-class climbers through some of Earth's thinnest air. Drones, or remote-controlled aircraft, have long been the domain of the American military and are used extensively in Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghanistan border to spy on and target militants. Recently, however, civilians have increasingly turned to drones to shoot ground-breaking footage of adventure sports. This summer a Swiss expedition used remote-controlled helicopters to shoot rare footage of climbers on the Karakoram, one of the world's most demanding and formidable mountain ranges. "People are going to see footage from the Karakoram that no human being has ever seen," said Corey Rich, a photographer and videographer from Lake Tahoe, California, who was on the expedition. The expedition was a joint project between outdoor clothing and equipment company Mammut, and Dedicam, a firm that specializes in using remote-controlled helicopters to shoot video. Their goal: to document world-class mountaineer David Lama and his climbing partner Peter Ortner as they climbed Trango Tower. The sheer granite tower in the Baltoro Glacier is more than 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) above sea level and is one of the most technically difficult climbs in the world. Filmmakers long have used helicopters to capture aerial footage of climbers — as well as other extreme sport athletes like surfers and skiers —that is hard to capture from the ground. But helicopters are costly and can be dangerous if they crash or get too close to the people on the ground. Additionally, their beating rotors often kick up dust, snow and wind — and can push climbers off balance. Drones, which can weigh just a few kilograms (pounds) and cost between $1,000 and $40,000, are a fraction of the size and cost of the helicopters traditionally used in adventure photography. Newer models tend to have all of their rotors facing into the sky, making them look a bit like a mechanical flying spider or insect. The main concern for the summertime expedition was how — and if — the drone would perform in Pakistan's rugged conditions and high altitude. "The main challenge was that the air is much thinner, and we didn't know how the flight controls would work with this and the propellers and motors," said drone operator Remo Masima, from Lucerne, Switzerland. He brought two on the Pakistan expedition — one with four propellers and another with six. From the ground, he flew them with a handheld console that resembles a video game console, and wore goggles to let him see the camera's view. Another challenge was to find the climbers on the mountain. Tracing the planned trek route, Masima directed the drone up the mountain until he spotted them — more than a mile (roughly 2,000 meters) away. The result was stunning images of the Karakoram and the climbers making it to the top. Experienced climbers say the Karakoram puts the rest of the world's mountain ranges to shame. Neighboring Nepal has Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, but Pakistan has four of the world's 14 peaks that soar to more than 8,000 meters (26,246 feet) above sea level, including the second highest mountain on earth, K-2. Lama and Ortner said climbing the legendary Pakistan mountains was an amazing experience. "Here there are so many mountains, and so many difficult mountains, and mountains that haven't been climbed," said Lama. "That's probably why the Karakoram is known as paradise for us." This year has been particularly successful for Pakistan's climbing industry, which plummeted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. In addition to hosting the renowned Lama for the first time, Nazir Sabir, Pakistan's elder statesman of climbing who was the country's first person to scale Everest, said 30 climbers summited K-2 in 2012, the first summits from the Pakistani side of the mountain since 11 people died trying in 2008. And the drone footage obtained during Lama and Ortner's climb will expose even more viewers to the legendary Karakoram mountain range. Drones also increasingly are being used in other adventure sports to push conventional photography boundaries. Cameras on drones have been used to capture video of surfers on Hawaii's North Shore and to chase mountain bikers speeding down mountain trails. "I've filmed anything from kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, to track and field to just casual walking," said photographer and videographer Mike Hagadorn, who has begun to build his own drones to support his Colorado-based firm, Cloud Level Media. "Anything you can dream of — and as long as you don't crash — you can make it happen." Experts predict drone cameras eventually will become an integral part of every sports shoot. But for now, they're definitely a novelty. The Swiss team filming Lama said villagers in Pakistan stood in awe, staring at the drones as they buzzed around, whenever he used one on the expedition. "We were trying to do this shot that showed this quaint village," Rich said. "But every single person in the shot is standing, stopped in the street, looking up at the helicopter."

Pakistan-US ties doing 'better than expected': FM

Pakistan: Friday’s violence

PRIME Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s speech at the Ishq-i-Rasool conference in Islamabad on Friday combined denunciation of the anti-Islam movie with an appeal to the people to be peaceful, an appeal also made by all major political parties — the PPP, PML-N, ANP, MQM and PTI. Yet even before the prime minister had finished, the strike had turned violent. By the time the faithful headed towards mosques for the Friday prayer, violence had spiralled out of control in several cities. The intensity of the violence was shocking. Reason fell victim to emotions, even though the hate-filled film, made by a man who can only be described as a bigot, was condemned by American leaders, including President Obama. In principle there’s nothing wrong with a strike which is a democratic way of expressing protest and resorted to only when all other options have been exhausted. In Pakistan, unfortunately, political parties and even professional bodies like those of lawyers and doctors have abused this principle irrespective of its consequences for citizens, and often for themselves. Horrifying as it is, every Pakistani crowd is now violence-prone: whether it is a justifiable protest against power outages or an Eid rush for railway tickets, people attack unrelated targets. Political rhetoric has much to do with it, for we have developed a popular culture in which citizens have come to believe that violence pays. Those who call for strikes cannot escape their responsibility by blaming violence on outsiders, for it is their duty to control their acolytes. The violence the day saw in no way advanced the cause of the world’s Muslims. Instead, it painted Pakistan as a country where bloodthirsty mobs roamed. Friday is a day that is meant for congregational prayers and piety. But for some strange reason, our religious parties invariably choose this day for tormenting the Pakistani people. The government’s eagerness to share the people’s sentiments and not let the opposition make political capital out of it can be understood. But the way it chose to express its solidarity with the people was astonishing — by declaring a holiday. The result was a total shutdown, with banks and business transactions frozen for three days. We have seen protests in many Muslim countries, but nowhere did political parties call for a nationwide strike and find the government ‘cooperative’. A government’s job is to keep the state going and not to help strikers. Yesterday’s violence should goad our politicians and leaders of civil society into realising the damage the ‘wheel jam’ strikes and the accompanying violence are doing not only to the economy but to the nation’s moral fibre.

Peshawar traders suffer huge losses during protests

Despite being first in announcing solidarity with the protesters on Yaum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool (PBUH) on Friday, the traders suffered losses amounting to millions of rupees as their business centres were attacked and damaged in parts of the city. At least in one mobile phones market in Peshawar Saddar, the mob damaged the shutters, smashed the showcases of shops and got away with the mobile phone sets. The traders and businessmen suffered the first loss when a group of protesters reached the Hashtnagri Chowk in the afternoon and attacked the main office of the Khyber Pakhuntunkhwa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KPCCI) on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road. The KPCCI office, known as Chamber House, is adjacent to the Chacha Yunas Park, where the protesters turned every swing and play-game machines upside down.The Chamber House is the headquarters of the prime body of the traders and businessmen of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The angry mob smashed the façade panes and the front board of the Chamber House before setting fire to a private bank sited on the ground floor of the building. The protesters also burnt four cars belonging to the bank officials and employees of the Bilour Industries office parked in the courtyard of the Chamber House. The Bilour family belonging to the ruling ANP own the Bilour Industries. President KPCCI Afan Aziz, during his visit to the Chamber House in the evening told The News that the traders were part of the protest as upholding the reverence and respect of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and condemning any blasphemous act were the first and foremost duty of every Muslim. “We had fixed banners on Chamber House condemning the sacrilegious film produced in the US,” he reminded. He said the chamber condemned the so-called freedom of expression of the Americans which they used as pretext to carry out many sacrilegious acts. He deplored that the protesters even burnt the banners that condemned the profane movie. Afan Aziz said the way the protesters gave vent to their rage against the sacrilegious film was not appropriate. “It is not the way to put across the message. The protesters should have sent their message to the world the way our Holy Prophet (PBUH) would do,” he maintained. He said there were peaceful ways to record condemnation and protest against the film. About the losses to the Chamber House, he said it was difficult to asses it at the moment but it would not be less than a million rupees. He said the most shocking thing the protesters did was ransacking of the mosque at the back of the chamber building and taking away ceiling fans from there, he added. “They also rummaged around the new Research and Development block and looted some 20 computers and other equipment from different sections,” he added. To a question as to why the mob attacked the chamber building, he said, “they might have mistaken it for a government building.” Proceeding further on the GT Road, the protesters after setting ablaze the Shabistan, Shama and Naz cinema houses also broke shutters of various shops and looted various items from shops and roadside shacks on the Pajjagi Road and the Jinnah Park area. The traders on the University Road and in Saddar suffered huge losses. President Markazi Tanzeem Tajran, Sharafat Ali Mubarak said they held peaceful protest after the Juma prayers to condemn the profane film, but some protestors attacked and looted their businesses in Saddar. He said the protesters went on a rampage in the Muslim Market and smashed the showcases of cellphone shops and looted hundreds of mobile phones sets.