Saturday, February 2, 2013

Music returns to Pakistan's restive Swat valley

Musicians who fled Pakistan's Swat valley plagued by the Taliban insurgency are returning to their homes as the Pakistani army now controls the area. Swat musicians speak to DW about their lives under the Taliban. Taliban militants forbade musicians from performing in Swat, a former stronghold of the militant group located in the northwestern Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the Afghan border. Prior to the military operation against the Islamist militants in 2009 - which forced the Taliban to flee the area - the Islamists would publicly set fire to television sets, CD and cassette players, and audio cassettes and harass local musicians who had been performing in the area for decades. Subsequently, most of the musicians and shop owners selling musical instruments, audio and video cassettes had to run for their lives.Now that the Taliban no longer control the area, musical performances in Swat have slowly but gradually started to make a comeback. Resilience "The situation in Swat is much better now and we have resumed our musical activities," a musician in Swat told DW on condition of anonymity. He said that like others, he also left his hometown after the Taliban took over the area. But Swat residents still fear the Taliban, who continue to carry out random attacks on civilians and military personnel even after retreating from the area. In October 2012, the Taliban shot and injured a 14-year-old Pakistani blogger and activist Malala Yousafzai in Swat. The Taliban said they attacked Yousafzai because she had been promoting "secularism" in Swat. But some brave musicians and singers are undaunted by the Taliban threat. Palwasha, a young singer in Swat, is confident that one day she will make it big in the Pakistani music industry. Her music teacher Shabana lost her life in a militant attack but that did not deter Palwasha. "Shabana used to guide me in music. Before her death, singing was just a hobby for me but now it has become a passion. Now I want to learn and help others learn, too," Palwasha told DW in an interview in Swat.Omar Yunus, a veteran musician in Swat, told DW that he had been able to perform freely in Swat before the Taliban took over. "When we started our musical career, things were still good in our town, but they slowly started to deteriorate," Yunus said, adding that he was happy that things were now getting back to normal. State protection But many Swat artists are not as courageous as Palwasha and Yunus. Many have already left for other countries in the Middle East, Europe or for the US. Those who could not migrate have taken up other professions. Swat musicians and other performing artists demand that the Pakistani government protect them from the Taliban and other militant groups who still harass them. Experts say it will take a lot of time for Swat to be completely normal again.

Hollande praises French troops on Timbuktu visit

Malians say "Thank you, France!" as Hollande visits

Malians chanting "Thank you, France!" mobbed President Francois Hollande on Saturday as he visited the desert city of Timbuktu, retaken from Islamist rebels, and pledged France's sustained support for Mali to expel jihadists.
Hollande, accompanied by his ministers for defense, foreign affairs and development, was on a one-day trip to the Sahel nation to support French troops who in three weeks have ousted fighters allied with al Qaeda from Mali's main northern towns. He met the interim president, Dioncounda Traore, and the two held talks in Timbuktu and later in Bamako, the capital in the south where the French leader also received a rapturous welcome. Speaking in Timbuktu, Hollande said the French operation, which has driven the rebels into the mountains of northeast Mali at the cost of only one French serviceman killed so far, would eventually hand over to a larger African military force. "The combat is not over," he said, flanked by Traore, in a speech praising the French forces. "We are obliged to support the Malians until they have recovered their entire sovereignty. We'll do it with the Africans," he added separately to reporters. Traore said: "Together we will hunt the terrorists down to their last hiding place." The United States and the European Union are backing the Mali intervention as a counterstrike against the threat of Islamist jihadists using the inhospitable and ungoverned Malian Sahara as a launch pad for international attacks. They are providing training, logistical and intelligence support, but have ruled out sending their own ground troops. In Timbuktu, the renowned Saharan trading town and seat of Islamic learning that spent 10 months under rebel occupation, Hollande visited the Djingarei-ber or Grand Mosque and the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library of ancient manuscripts that was ransacked by the rebels. Hollande said it was essential that Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, should be properly protected so that it could "shine" as a cultural treasure for the world. HEAVY PROTECTION Heavily armed French soldiers in armored vehicles and Malian troops protected the French leader as he visited the mosque, which was built from mud bricks and wood in 1325. French and Malian flags fluttered from telephone poles. French sniffer dogs checked for explosive devices. In a dusty square at the Ahmed Baba library, several thousand Timbuktu residents in colorful robes and wraps sang and danced, shouting "Thank you, France" and "Papa Hollande". "I'm so proud of Francois Hollande, we have got our old lives back," Khalifa Cisse, the muezzin or crier who calls the faithful to daily prayer at the mosque, told Reuters. Hollande has said that the French operation, which has 3,500 soldiers on Malian soil backed by warplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles, aims to make way eventually for a U.N.-backed African force, which is still being deployed. Drawn mostly from Mali's West African neighbors, this force is expected to number more than 8,000. But its deployment has been badly hampered by shortages of kit and airlift capacity and questions about who will fund the estimated $1 billion cost. France's role in Mali has raised fears of reprisal attacks by Islamist radicals against French and other Westerners. A Frenchman was among four people killed in Senegal's restive southern Casamance region late on Friday when suspected local separatist rebels clashed with government troops, but the incident did not appear to be linked to Mali. UNVEILED WOMEN DANCE WITH JOY The international community has greeted the liberation of Timbuktu with relief. The town is a centre of Islamic scholarship in the tolerant Sufi tradition, but the radical Islamist occupiers smashed ancient Sufi mausoleums, calling them idolatrous. The rebels also destroyed up to 2,000 of some 300,000 priceless ancient manuscripts held in the city. Experts say the bulk of the texts are secure and safe, however. Timbuktu residents rejoiced at being freed from the severe version of sharia (Islamic law) imposed by the rebels, who had forced women to go veiled and inflicted beatings and amputations. "These so-called Islamists did nothing but evil to us, they beat people, they cut off limbs," said Lala Toure, a woman who went unveiled and wore a short-sleeved white T-shirt with the printed words "Thank you France for your help". Cisse, the muezzin, said the rebels, grouped in a loose alliance that includes al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM, had tried to impose an unfamiliar radical form of Islam on Mali. "We know Islam ... in this town of Islam, the first words a child hears are 'Allahu Akbar (God is Great)'," he said. French air strikes have forced the rebel fighters to retreat into the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border. Hollande said this was where the rebels were holding seven French hostages previously seized in the Sahel. The next stage of the fight against the rebels, in a harsh Saharan battleground, could test the French and Malian forces and their African and other allies. Some Timbuktu residents begged the French never to leave Mali, which became independent from France in 1960.

Biden raises possibility of direct U.S.-Iran talks

The United States is ready to hold direct talks with Iran if it is serious about negotiations, Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday, backing bilateral contacts that many see as crucial to easing an international dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. Speaking at a security conference in Munich, Biden said Iran - which says it is enriching uranium for peaceful energy only - now faced "the most robust sanctions in history" meant to ensure it does not use its program to develop nuclear weapons. "But we have also made clear that Iran's leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation," Biden said. "There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed. The ball is in the government of Iran's court."
To date, fitful talks on Iran's nuclear program have been between Tehran and the EU's top diplomat representing six world powers including Washington. But analysts have suggested that with his re-election behind him, President Barack Obama might have more leeway to take on direct negotiations with Iran. That makes the year ahead critical for chances of overcoming a stand-off which, if left to fester further, could see Iran approach a nuclear weapons capability and possibly provoking military action by Israel that could inflame the Middle East. Progress on Iran would also help ease regional tensions as the United States prepares to pull most combat troops out of Iran's neighbor Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Asked whether Washington might consider direct talks with Iran to smooth the process, Biden said, "When the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), is serious. "We have made it clear at the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership, we would not make it a secret that we were doing that, we would let our partners know if that occasion presented itself. "That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise." Negotiations with Iran have so far been overseen by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of France, Britain, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But they have made scant headway, raising fears Iran is simply playing for time while it develops its nuclear know-how. Ashton has asked Iran to hold a round of talks this month and on Friday called on Tehran to abandon plans to install and operate advanced centrifuges that would speed up its ability to enrich uranium - potentially making it easier for it to produce the highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons. Many believe no deal is possible without a U.S.-Iranian thaw, requiring direct talks addressing myriad sources of mutual mistrust and hostility lingering since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Iran has avoided direct, public talks with the United States, though some suggest Tehran would eventually welcome an opportunity to end its international isolation.
With Iran holding its own presidential elections in June, hopes of progress before then are limited. The United States and its allies, however, do not have an indefinite amount of time to negotiate. Notwithstanding the current stalemate, Iran's nuclear program is advancing and an international consensus on sanctions may be hard to maintain. Israel, which describes the prospect of Iran being able to weaponise enriched uranium as an existential threat, has made clear it would be ready to bomb the nuclear sites of its arch-enemy to prevent that outcome. The United States has also said it would not rule out the use of military force. Speaking at the Munich conference, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that "2013 is the decisive year on Iran, especially for political reasons. "We had elections in the United States and Israel, we will have elections in June in Iran; we see increasing capabilities especially with the issue of enrichment - let us be very frank, we did not have progress in the last 12 months, so it is obvious that we have to use this year.." Russia, which has been impatient with decades of U.S. hostility to Tehran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution but backed U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006, repeated on Saturday the need to find a diplomatic solution. "Iran must know the overall game plan, it must see what is in it for it in this process. We need to convince Iran that this is not about regime change ... this mistrust must be overcome," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the conference. That comment was echoed by Westerwelle. "If we want to reach this goal, it would be wrong to discuss all these military options and possibilities. It is now important to focus our whole attention, all our effort for a diplomatic and political solution." This would have to include a relief from sanctions as well as recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium to the lower levels needed for civilian nuclear fuel, security analysts say.

Eastern Afghanistan residents wary of U.S. departure
Along a sprawling roadside market, where butchered animals hang next to tiny, wooden stalls filled with auto parts, an Afghan man squats next to his apple cart, hoping to sell enough produce to feed his family. It's only been in recent months that Abdullah, who like many Afghans goes by a single name, returned to the Moqur market. For years, the Taliban controlled the Moqur district and much of Ghazni province, forcing schools and businesses to close and imposing strict Islamic law. The U.S. and Afghan forces here pushed out the Taliban fighters and allowed the market's vendors to return, giving hope of a normal life. But now that U.S. forces are preparing to depart, people here live in fear that the Afghan soldiers who are supposed to take over security will not be up to the task. "There are still a lot of bad guys in the area," says Abdullah, as a crowd on onlookers nods in agreement. By June 2014, security in every province in Afghanistan will have been turned over to Afghan forces following 11 years of hard-won battles against the Islamist Taliban in which more than 2,000 Americans have died. As NATO stated in its latest report Thursday, the success of the transition will rest on whether the Afghans can ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. "Developments over the past year show they can," concluded NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen.Eastern Afghanistan will be the greatest test of that transition. U.S. Marines and Army soldiers succeeded in vanquishing Taliban fighters from the strongholds in the south in campaigns lasting years in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Rather than reinforce the south, the Taliban attacked to the east, where fighters from militant-infested northwest Pakistan bolstered their forces. U.S. forces responded last year by shifting troops to the east, intensifying efforts in Ghazni to combat a persistent enemy as a deadline issued by President Obama closes in for U.S. troops to withdraw. Ghazni is an important thoroughfare for the Taliban and other militant groups in eastern Afghanistan. The country's main route, Highway 1, runs through this market halfway between the country's two largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar. Just off the highway are vast stretches of barren crop fields covered in winter frost and surrounded by snow-topped mountains. Winter is typically when many Taliban fighters return to Pakistan to rest and re-arm for the spring. But this winter the Taliban remained active, perhaps to test the strength of the Afghan forces that have taken up positions turned over by the U.S. military. Polish forces were leading the NATO effort in the province. The arrival of U.S. troops and Afghan soldiers kept the Taliban out of the bigger population centers. But some locals say the Taliban is still firmly in control of most districts and just waiting for U.S. forces to leave so they can take on the Afghan forces left behind. "They didn't bring security, the weather did," says Abdul Kaim, waving a bony finger at the American forces in the market as he explained that the recent snowfall is what stopped the fighting by making it too hard for either side to travel. Lt. Col. Jeremy Schroeder disagreed and said the region was secured well before winter's arrival. "I guess that's a good problem," says Schroeder, interpreting the Taliban's willingness to brave the cold months in Afghanistan as a sign the militants are concerned about losing too much ground to NATO and Afghan forces come spring. "It means you are having success." Under the protection of patrolling coalition troops, Afghans fill the Muqor market that acts as an open-air department store with clothes, produce, food and merchandise. During the summer -- when the Taliban controlled the market and much of the province -- Abdullah and other merchants were forbidden from doing business in what is the largest roadside bazaar between Kabul and Kandahar.Not all areas of eastern Afghanistan have such protection, and they can be at the mercy of the Taliban. Some have begun fighting back. In nearby Andar District, locals rose up against the Taliban and its strictures, according to the Afghan government. Some have taken up arms against the militants and forced them from villages, allowing Taliban-banned schools and shops to reopen. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the talk of life without Taliban control is an illusion. Mujahid says that much of Andar and Ghazni remains in Taliban hands. "People (residents of Ghazni) like to help the mujahadeen, they know it is their responsibility," he says. "But even if they can't help, they aren't making real problems for us." Townspeople in Moqur District are not banking solely on Afghan troops protecting them once U.S. forces go. A group called the Moqur Movement is helping to keep the Taliban out of the market and village, says the U.S. military. The groups in Andar and Moqur are critical to security because they can readily identify outsiders, particularly those who belong to the Taliban. "They have a certain amount of access (to the local population) and anonymity that Afghan forces do not," says Schroeder. Schroeder notes however that the groups can frighten some locals, such as when they enter homes after dark in search of suspected Taliban. U.S. forces are trying to bring members of the Moqur Movement into the fold of the Afghan Local Police, a constable force trained and equipped by Special Operations Forces. Several members have already been incorporated into the ranks of the ALP, but the police have issues too. People have complained that some in the ALP abuse their new-found authority by extorting bribes at checkpoints. "They are taking our money and even torturing us," Mullah Shamsullah, an elder in a nearby village says of the Afghan Local Police. U.S. forces say there are some ALP abusing their authority but that most cases involve men impersonating the police. In Afghanistan, where rumors are how many rural towns get their information, there is speculation that the uprisings against the Taliban were manufactured by Kabul to spin a positive storyline out of Ghazni. "At first it appeared it was a Pashtun (the predominant ethnic group in Ghazni) initiative to rise up," says Saeed Parto, an analyst with the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization. "Another version is the Afghan government and U.S. forces wanted to see a feel-good story, something to show that Afghanistan is worth saving."

Trilateral with Afghanistan,Pakistan Leaders
David Cameron hosts trilateral at Chequers. Discussions expected to focus on the Afghan-led peace process and how the Pakistanis and international community can support it.A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister will host the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan at Chequers on Sunday and Monday as part of his ongoing efforts to help to strengthen Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, support an Afghan peace and reconciliation process and promote regional peace and stability. “For the first time, we will bring together the political and security establishments from both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Foreign Ministers, Chiefs of Army Staff, Chiefs of Intelligence and the Chair of the Afghan High Peace Council attending the meeting. “Discussions are expected to focus on the Afghan-led peace process and how the Pakistanis and international community can support it. We also expect the Afghans and Pakistanis to make further progress on the Strategic Partnership Agreement they committed to in September. “The Prime Minister initiated the trilateral last Summer at the request of both parties. This will be the third meeting hosted by the Prime Minister, following meetings in Kabul in July and in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September. The UK’s role has been to encourage ideas, identify areas of agreement and provide a forum for open dialogue. “And this trilateral process sends a very clear message to the Taliban: now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan. “As the Prime Minister has set out previously, a stable Afghanistan is not just in the interests of Afghans, but also in the interests of their neighbours and the UK. We share the same vision for Afghanistan: a secure, stable and democratic country that never again becomes a haven for international terror. “We are working together to achieve it and Afghanistan’s neighbours have a vital role to play. It is vital not just for the future security of their citizens, but for their prosperity too.”

Militants hit Pakistan army camp, kill 23

Militants armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, automatic rifles and suicide explosive vests launched a predawn raid on a Pakistani army camp in the country’s volatile northwest Saturday, killing 23 people and injuring at least eight. The attack took place at a camp and checkpost in Lakki Marwat, a region just east of North Waziristan, the tribal area that the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups continue to use as a primary base of operations, according to Pakistani security officials and local authorities. The militants converged on the camp at about 3:45 a.m. and engaged in a fierce firefight that lasted more than two hours. Thirteen of the dead were security personnel -- nine army troops and four officers with the Frontier Constabulary, a security force that polices the country’s northwest, said a Pakistani security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on such matters. The attackers also broke into a nearby house and killed a family living there, including four men, three women and three children. During the attack, 12 militants were killed, the security official said. At least two of them were wearing suicide explosive vests. Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, said his group claimed responsibility for the attack, adding that it was in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes that recently killed two Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border. Ahsan accused the Pakistani military of “providing logistical support” for U.S. drone strikes. In the past, the Taliban has accused the Pakistani government of cooperating with Washington in the drone campaign, which has over the years killed numerous top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The Pakistani government publicly denounces U.S. drone attacks as violations of their country’s sovereignty, but has also tacitly allowed them to continue. Last year, the frequency of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions dropped off. The U.S. carried out 46 drone missile strikes in 2012, compared to 64 in 2011 and 117 in 2010, according to the Long War Journal website, which tracks drone activity. However, Washington stepped up drone attacks in January, launching seven missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt. One of those strikes, the Jan. 2 attack on a house in the village of Angoor Adda in South Waziristan, killed Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir, who had abided by a peace pact with the Pakistani military and had focused his efforts on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Another drone strike the following day killed Shah Faisal, a top aide to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mahsud. The Taliban faction led by Mahsud regards the Pakistani government as its main enemy and is responsible for hundreds of suicide bombings and terror acts across the country in recent years. Staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

ANP demands crackdown on terrorists in Karachi

The Awami National Party (ANP) on Friday called for a targeted operation against terrorists in Karachi, where sudden surge in violence killed 18 people in less than 24 hours. Speaking to reporters outside the Parliament House, ANP Senator Zahid Khan said the Sindh government was responsible to protect life and property of citizens. He said Interior Minister Rehman Malik reaches London whenever something happens in Karachi. The government, he demanded, should crackdown on terrorists in Karachi. The government has failed to maintain law and order, he said, adding that issuing warnings alone would not work. Another ANP senator, Haji Adeel, said that faces of the killers could be seen in the CCTV footage aired by media on Thursday. He said that Karachi should be cleared of illegal arms.

US will not scale back drone warfare
The US is engaged in a global war on terror, and drone strikes are an effective tool to eliminate Al-Qaeda militants planning terror attacks on America, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told AFP, adding that drone operations should stay covert. The US will not curtail its extrajudicial assassinations in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, Panetta said in a farewell interview: “We are in a war. We're in a war on terrorism and we've been in that war since 9/11.”
"The whole purpose of our operations were aimed at those who attacked this country and killed 3,000 innocent people in New York [on 9/11] as well as 200 people here at the Pentagon," he said. Over a decade has passed since the beginning of the global war on terror; in that time, two countries were occupied by the US, and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Ladenm was shot dead by American marines. Still, the war on terror must continue, Panetta said. "I think it depends on the nature of the threat that we're confronting,” he explained. Since terror threats continue to originate in Muslim countries – from Afghanistan in 2001 to Yemen in 2013 – it is unlikely the US will scale back its drone program in the foreseeable future. Though US drones assassinate Al-Qaeda operatives in these countries without a court verdict or any form of due process, Panetta said that those governments are “pursuing the same goal” as the US. He said that the Yemeni government, for example, is strongly in favor of the US drone program.But in October 2012, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed that the majority of the people killed by American drones in Pakistan are civilians. A US study in September 2012 revealed that only 2 percent of those killed in drone strike in Pakistan are actually top militants. "I think we had a responsibility to use whatever technology we could to be able to go after those who not only conducted that attack but were planning to continue to attack this country," Panetta said. The departing US Secretary of Defense also rejected the idea that overseas drone operations should be turned over from CIA control to the US military, which would require open reporting on every operation: “When you got those kind of operations where, because of the nature of the country you're in or the nature of the situation you're dealing with, it's got to be covert.” An avid supporter of drone warfare, Panetta was largely responsible for the dramatic increase in drone attacks in Pakistan when he served as head of the CIA from 2009 to 2011. As the CIA director, he likely knew that the Hellfire missiles shot from drones have killed hundreds – if not thousands – of civilians, including children. But the drone program has only expanded in recent years. At the start of 2013, the CIA escalated its use of drones in Pakistan, launching seven deadly strikes during the first 10 days of 2013 and killing at least 40 people, 11 of whom may have been civilians. Because of the widespread claims that drone attacks are war crimes and an encroachment on national sovereignty, in January 2013 theUN launched a probe into civilian casualties from US and UK drone strikes and their legal implications.

Anti-polio drive postponed in Karachi

Health authorities in Sindh have decided to postpone anti-polio campaign in Karachi due to deteriorating law and order situation, Geo News reported. The decision to put off the campaign was taken at a high level meeting attended by DCOs and health officers. The campaign was to start on February 6. Police, paramilitary Rangers and other law enforcement agencies have failed in maintaining law and order in Karachi. At least four polio workers including three women were gunned down by unknown attackers last month. Geo News correspondent said that a meeting would be held on Monday to chalk out security plan to carry on anti- polio campaign in the city.

Chaudhry Nisar: ''Alarming virulence''

What kind of an alarming virulence is this that Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, has been indulging in so arrogantly over these days? Now he says he would not talk with the government party over the nomination of the interim prime minister. Does he think that he is above the constitution or enjoys some sort of a veto power? The constitution specifically lays down that as leader of opposition he is to talk this with the leader of house. This is a must. So he will be doing no favour to anyone if he talks. It is his bounden duty to do it. And the taxpayer is paying him not to flout the constitution but to abide by it and carry out all the duties, tasks and responsibilities the constitution enjoins on him. Ironically, he never tires of reading out constitution even at the drop of a hat, when it suits him. When the PPP-led government struck a deal with Tahirul Qadri, he was furious. How could Qadri be consulted for interim prime minister's nomination, he thundered. It is unconstitutional, he fumed, reminding all and sundry that constitutionally this consultation could only be held between the leader of house and the leader of opposition. And now he says he would not talk about this with the leader of house. Why indeed he is so resolved to ratchet up the tensions where should exist none? Why indeed is he behaving as if he and his party are not going into an electoral contest but in a war? Like a little czar, he says all the governors must be changed; the entire top echelons of the provincial administrations must be changed; and the secretaries of several ministers at the centre must be changed. Are we going into an election or into an administrative overhaul? Appallingly, he says he would not accept the nominations of the interim chief ministers in Sindh and Balochistan. But who is he to accept or reject those nominations if made in line with the stipulations of the constitution? After all, this country is not the real estate of anybody; nor is it the sultanate of anybody. No wrestling ring either is it of anyone. It belongs to 180 million people, who overwhelmingly are disgusted of the present crop of the political class from one to all and fed up with its shenanigans. With his rancour, stridency and arrogance, he may be getting the headlines. But the people's loathing he is culling in volumes. And how does he square up such contradictions in his stances that when Qadri asked for the re-composition of the election commission, he was all hue and cry? And now he himself is staging sit-ins for what he calls the empowering of the election commission. In any case, his is not the party alone that is flapping its wings feverishly to jump into the electoral fray. There are many other contenders, some even presently carrying more wider nationwide credentials. So who is he to arrogate to himself and his party the sole prerogative of agreeing this or disagreeing that when many other putative power contenders also are in the field? Why indeed is he so hell-bent on fraying the tempers when even otherwise the upcoming poll, by every indication, portends to be very contentious, divisive and controversial? Why is he after confrontations so insanely when the nation cannot afford even a slight confrontation at this point in time, so delicately-placed it is? Gigantic challenges are confronting it both internally and externally, to cope with which it needs harmony, solidarity and unity among the ranks of the nation, not chasms, fissures and divisions. This is not something that is hidden or not in full public view. Even a babe knows of it. And by no stretch of imagination the Chaudhry could be unaware of it. Yet he is behaving rashly and recklessly. He must tone down. He is no emperor or czar and the people are no slaves of him. He is just a politician like so many of them strutting on the national political landscape. And behave he must like one. He must speak logic, rationality and sanity. Pungency and rancour he must eschew. The people would surely do well without his insanity.