Friday, December 21, 2012
The Express TribuneThe meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani at Bilawal House on Thursday revived speculation that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has decided to bring about political and administrative changes in Punjab. Reportedly, the PPP leadership decided to remove Punjab Governor Latif Khosa and appoint Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mehmood – a Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA hailing from Rahim Yar Khan and a first cousin of former premier Gilani – in his stead. While no leader from the ruling party confirmed the move, official sources say that Mehmood, who met President Zardari at Bilawal House on Thursday along with Gilani, will take oath tomorrow (Saturday) in Lahore. According to them, PPP’s defeat in the recent by-polls in Punjab has irked the party leadership enough to take the decision. During the meeting, Gilani reportedly briefed President Zardari about Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s victory in the by-polls. Sources say the former premier held PPP’s lackluster campaign responsible for the rival party’s victory. They added that in addition to appointing Mehmood as the new Punjab Governor on Gilani’s recommendation, the President also decided to make the former premier responsible for the PPP’s campaign for upcoming elections. When contacted, the Bilawal House spokesperson claimed he knew nothing about any such decision, adding that he became aware of such reports through the media himself. Despite repeated attempts, Presidential Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar and Political Secretary Rukhsana Bangash could not be contacted for confirmation. If appointed, Mehmood will be the third governor of Punjab appointed during the incumbent government’s tenure. Soon after Salman Taseer’s assassination in 2011, Latif Khosa took over the governor’s office. He was previously the attorney general of Pakistan.
The 12th Death Anniversary of Melody Queen Noor Jehan is being observed on 23rd December (Sunday)
http://www.telegraph.co.ukPresident Hamid Karzai has welcomed the announcement that Britain will pull thousands of troops out of Afghanistan next year, saying his country was ready to take over security responsibilities. Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said that he will withdraw almost half of the country's 9,000 troops from Afghanistan next year as Nato hands over to Afghan forces. The announcement comes as Nato prepares for a full security handover at the end of 2014, despite fears that a civil war could follow, and amid a spike in "insider attacks" on foreign troops by Afghans in uniform. Karzai said the decision was "well-timed" and insisted his war-scarred nation was ready to take charge of its own security. "The president ... welcoming the announcement said: 'the Afghan national forces are ready to provide the security and defend their country'," a statement from Karzai's office said. "The decision by Britain is a well-timed decision."Cameron said the withdrawal of around 3,800 British troops by the end of 2013 was possible "because of the success of our forces and the Afghan National Security Forces". There are currently more than 9,000 British troops serving in Afghanistan with the Nato force – the second largest force in the country after the United States. Britain has lost 438 troops in Afghanistan since the operation to topple the Taliban began in October 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. Most British troops are stationed in southern Helmand province, one of the toughest battlegrounds against the Taliban.
http://www.afghanistansun.comBritish Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the country's troops have paid a 'very heavy price' fighting the Taliban, but Afghanistan remains 'a deeply challenged country'. "We have paid a very heavy price but I think the reason for coming here in the first place, which was to stop Afghanistan becoming a haven for terror ... I think it was the right decision," Cameron said. He insisted British and coalition military action had made Afghanistan safer and less able to harbour terrorists. Paying a secret visit to troops in Helmand, where he attended the Royal Marines' carol service, Cameron acknowledged the scale of the task facing Afghans as coalition forces withdraw. On Wednesday, he announced that 3,800 of the 9,000 British troops in Afghanistan would return home by the end of next year. According to the Telegraph, Cameron flew secretly to Afghanistan on Thursday to meet troops at Camp Price, a forward base, 20 miles east of Camp Bastion, Britain's operational HQ. Speaking to reporters during the day, Cameron said he believed Afghan forces were acquiring the 'capability' to control the country. He conceded that Afghanistan was still a "deeply challenged country", adding that it was still "a far better place" than when the campaign began in 2001. The Prime Minister disclosed that he was seeing fewer terrorist threats crossing his desk from the region than in previous years. "Far fewer come from this part of the world than was the case when we first came to Afghanistan," he said. The Afghan forces were doing "better than expected," he said, enabling British troops to come home. "This is withdrawal, this is draw-down based on success, not on failure. We are confident it can be done while making sure Afghanistan does not return to become a haven of terrorism, which is why we came here in the first place," he added.
President Barack Obama urges lawmakers to reach agreement on averting tax hikes on the middle class, saying he was ready and willing to do what it takes to get a deal by Jan. 1.
US President Barack Obama has nominated Senator John Kerry, a veteran foreign policy hand and former presidential candidate, as his next secretary of state. The announcement on the appointment of the Vietnam war veteran who will succeed Hillary Clinton as the top US diplomat was made on Friday. Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to win easy confirmation from his colleagues in the chamber, and is a well known figure on the world stage. The Massachusetts senator has rehabilitated his career since narrowly losing the 2004 presidential race to president George W Bush, after a campaign that included savage attacks on his career as a swift boat commander in Vietnam. Kerry's appointment was seen as almost a certainty after UN ambassador Susan Rice pulled out of the running for the job, over Republican attacks on her role in the aftermath of the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi. The Massachusetts senator played an important role in Obama's political career, notably by selecting him to give the keynote speech in the 2004 Democratic convention, at which the then unknown Illinois legislator came onto the political scene. Kerry also played Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in mock debates staged by the president's team ahead of Obama's successful re-election effort in November. "This is an easy one for the Obama administration," said Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington. "Kerry is a five-term senator and has pretty much been vetted already." Clinton has said she wished to step down after Obama begins his second term in office next month and her replacement is confirmed.
An al-Qaeda group was involved in one of the most deadly attacks on Peshawar airport, which killed at least 19 people including 10 militants and injured several others, security sources said on Friday. According to the sources, Badar Mansoor group, an al-Qaeda group of Punjabi-origin people, sent 10 fighters to attacks the airport. Qari Hammad of the group planned the attack. Hammad also threatened more attacks on the airport just after the attack concluded. Speaking from the unidentified location, Hammad threatened to send 10 more suicide bombers to launch an assault on the airport again within weeks. “The attack was planned in North Waziristan and Khyber agency,” they said adding that a Corolla car having fake number plate was used in the attack. It is to be mentioned here that on February 10, 2012, US missiles killed the most senior Pakistani in al Qaeda, Badar Mansoor in North Waziristan, an area bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.
By Imtiaz GulPeshawar is in the eye of the storm. Regardless of whether the orchestrators belong to Al Qaeda or Taliban, they have demonstrated that the old plan of laying siege around greater Peshawar is still very much in place. Back in early 2009, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had upstaged the entire security apparatus in and around the provincial capital, triggering fears of an impending siege of the city. "The deadly string of attacks throughout 2009 - on the average a suicide bombing or ambushes every 36 hours - had upset the civilian and the military apparatus to the extent that the ISI and the Peshawar Corps officials had begun playing with the idea of creating a security ring to protect the main town of Peshawar," a former intelligence official had told me then. Recounting one of the meetings attended by all security agencies and the military, the official had expressed his displeasure over what he called the "defeatist mindset" of the military institutions. I asked the proponents of the security ring around Peshawar how they would stop militants if they converged on the city from three sides - ie Khyber, Darra Adamkhel, and Charsadda/Shabqaddar/ Orakzai - in large numbers; and whether we would then wait for them to attack us, he had said. This, said the official, I asked being conscious of the fact that the TTP and other militant outfits have already infiltrated the greater Peshawar region and those "sleeper cells" would in fact provide the social cover in case of a physical invasion of the city. n December 15, we probably witnessed glimpses of such a commando attack - a combination of rockets as a means of distraction, followed by a physical, multi-pronged heavy-armed assault on the premise that houses both the commercial airport and the aviation base of the Pakistan Army. For several hours, city residents shivered in anger, grief and fear, followed next morning with a renewed wave of violence in the form of a shoot-out between police and the five suspects, who it appeared were linked to the raiders of the airport and had managed to slip through the security cordon in the dark of the night. In the end, police and military commandos of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), which is part of the 11th Corps, put down all ten assailants but not before they had terrorized the entire city, and also exposed the serious preemptive security lacunas that continue to beset responses and question the security establishment's state of preparedness. Military and civilian officials associated with the investigation tell us that the dramatic attacks probably were part of a strategy that would first surprise the security cordons on ground and then activate their assets within the city to mount a rebellion against the state through occupation of strategic locations such as hospitals, airport, and key police stations besides numerous hostage-takings.Officials often dismiss such a scenario, arguing the presence of the entire 11th Corps, backed up by the Frontier Corps, and several thousand police will not allow such an eventuality. Terrorists may disrupt life and security arrangements but cannot hold on for long, they insist. Theoretically this argument holds water. Also, realistically a few hundred terrorists cannot take-over the entire city. But the events between December 15 and 19 - several attacks including the one on the airport, one near the military academy in Risalpur, and several on polio vaccinators in three cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - clearly underscore a stark reality that stares the entire security apparatus in the face. The terrorists are on the loose, many of them nestled inside or around the periphery of Peshawar (where scores of TTP and like-minded terrorists had descended after the Swat and South Waziristan operations in 2009). The airport attack bore the hallmarks of yet another shocking commando raid, reminiscent of the strikes on PNS Mehran Base (May 22, 2011), the GHQ (Oct 20, 2009), the Parade Lane Mosque (Dec 4, 2009), and Kamra airbase (Aug 16, 2012). It left the city of Peshawar in a state of shock and fear, and also raised many questions as to how several layers of preemptive security ie intelligence (both civilian and military) as well as multi-layered physical protective barriers comprising the political administration of tribal regions, Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary, and Levies failed in preempting such a brazen raid? Apparently a contingency plan for such an eventuality was missing and hence the chaos on roads leading to and around the areas under attack. People have also begun asking whether the army and the paramilitary are supposed to only protect the Peshawar Cantonment area and whether the police alone can handle a region surrounded by FATA and PATA and the Frontier Regions? Senior police officials believe that the aberrations such as PATA must be abolished. Terrorists, criminals, proclaimed offenders and anti-state elements all use these regions for shelter, training and planning. Strangely, the 2002 Police Order extends to PATA but practically the policing there remains dismal. That is why you find scores of smuggled vehicles and other goods in the PATA areas. Akbar Khan Hoti, the outspoken Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police chief, believes abolition of PATA regions can hopefully help curtail, if not eliminate, crime and terrorism. We also need additional human and material resources. Currently, the strength of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police stands at around 68,000, backed up by some 10,000 contract employees (largely retired army personnel). The second major handicap is the absence of quality training and the equipment required for it. The police, we are told, is acquiring heavy arms to fight the heavily-armed terrorists but training on these weapons is an expensive business. Every single round for a heavy machine gun costs several thousand rupees. The heavy cost-factor essentially limits the training opportunities, say officials. While the authorities may be focusing more on the supply side of the issue ie improving human resources and acquiring modern heavy arms aside, the demand side, ie a comprehensive counter-terror strategy, still remains an elusive goal. Civilian and military officials insist they have a policy but they perhaps confuse training and equipment procurement with a strategy. The response to attacks on several police and strategic installations so far suggests that while the forces manage to kill the attackers, they lack the preemptive capabilities as well as the ability to catch some terrorists alive. How long would the forces need to devise means and develop capabilities to get to the core of terrorists or get them alive when confronting them?
THE FRONTIER POSTThe Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2012 that President Asif Ali Zardari signed on Wednesday as an act of parliament, is a landmark law that mandates free education to children between five and 16 years of age. Parliament has also called upon provinces to soon enact similar laws to ensure access to quality free education for all children of school-going age. The milestone legislation meets the most basic need of the national life where poverty forces parents to send their children to work. This is bound to broaden the base of education in Pakistan and also promises an end to child labour, The act has come at a time when national education is all but a sham and a host of steps are needed to pull it to the real direction. National resource allocation is the top issue because this is not sufficient in catering the need of free education up to secondary school. The government is presently earmarking a mere 1.7 per cent of the GDP for education whereas about six per cent allocation is a conservative estimate to make a meaningful start. The availability of teachers, particularly science teachers, is also a fundamental issue. All public educational institutions have about half of the required teaching staff. With only 50 per cent teaching staff available and that, too, needing training, realizing the ultimate objective will be extremely difficult. The new enactment also tends to bring private schools under a stricterdiscipline but mere allocation of 10 per cent quota for poor children in private schools of their areas, is no answer. Strengthening of public education will be vital area that cannot be addressed by mere cosmetic steps. The government, in fact, needs to develop a basic educational structure that addresses all the impending difficulties and this can be developed with the help of hundreds of studies made before. Literacy in Pakistan has recently seen a boost to 37 per cent, yet illiteracy is one of the highest in the world. Provinces will have to obviously share the major burden in enhancing education and its quality. But all of them have since abdicated their role to the greedy private sector which fleeces the middle class in the name of quality education which, for them, means English medium instructions that continues to create huge flaws in the system with the promotion of a class-based education that has destroyed ethos of Pakistan. What is really needed is to lend the schools run by provincial or local governments credence that parents prefer them over private schools. Education for all is certainly a striking inspiration but it is also a social dilemma and this has always to be kept in mind.