Friday, July 11, 2014

Putin makes unplanned visit to Nicaragua

Russian President Vladimir Putin has changed the schedule of his Latin American tour and arrived in Nicaragua for a brief working visit. On his way from Cuba to Argentina on Saturday, the Russian leader decided to make a stopover in Managua, where he had been officially invited earlier. At the Managua airport, he was welcomed by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
"Much is yet to be done to develop our relations, especially in the area of economy, but we have good base for that," Putin said, adding that Russia and Nicaragua had long-standing good relations. "We admire out personal courage and the courage of your people," he told Ortega. The Russian leader reminded that the year 2014 is a jubilee one for Russia and Nicaragua, which established diplomatic relations 70 years ago.
The Nicaraguan leader called Putin’s visit to his country a historic event. "This is the first-ever visit by the Russian president to Nicaragua, and we are very happy to welcome you here," he said.
Ortega reassured Putin that Nicaragua supported Russia's peace efforts. "We are ready to take part in Russia’s initiatives in maintaining peace in the entire planet and in its regions," he said. "Conflict settlement lies not in bombing but in reasonable approaches. The most vital thing is to lend an ear to the will of the people."
The Russian delegation to the talks included Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian president’s aide Yuri Ushakov, and CEO of Russia’s oil major Rosneft, Igor Sechin.
Nicaragua's delegation included Nicaraguan president's envoy for trade-and economic and investment cooperation with Russia Laureano Ortega, Deputy Foreign Minister Valdrak Jaentschek, who is a co-chairman of the Russian-Nicaraguan intergovernmental commission on economic and research-technical cooperation, Commander-in-Cgief of the Nicaraguan Army Julio Cesar Aviles, and President of the energy company Enatrel Salvador Mansell.
Read more:

Putin kicks off Latin America trip by writing off 90% of Cuba's debt

Bahrain’s Bad Decision

Bahrain would seem an unlikely country to expel a senior American diplomat on a trumped-up complaint, since the Persian Gulf state is home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet and depends on America for its defense, especially against Iran. Yet the government did just that, forcing Tom Malinowski, the State Department’s assistant secretary for human rights, to cut short an official visit on Tuesday because he met with members of an opposition party. Then on Thursday, it compounded the error by charging the leader of Bahrain’s biggest opposition group with holding an illegal meeting with Mr. Malinowski.
These outrageous moves call into question Bahrain’s commitment to its alliance with the United States. They also raise doubts about the willingness of the ruling al-Khalifa family, members of the Sunni minority, to find a compromise with the Shiite majority, which is demanding democratic reforms and a bigger role in governing. (Remember that three years ago, Bahrain authorities, backed by Saudi troops, squashed a wave of Arab Spring protests.)
Failing to resolve those differences could have disastrous consequences for Bahrain, its neighbors and the United States since the last thing the volatile region needs is more sectarian divisions and instability. So far, the Obama administration, which has worked to maintain ties with the monarchy despite human rights concerns, has responded weakly. It must go further to show that such behavior is unacceptable.
Mr. Malinowski was on a visit that was coordinated with the Bahrain government and involved a routine series of meetings, including with al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition party, and with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. He went to a Ramadan reception at the headquarters of al-Wefaq on Sunday, and met the next day with the minister of interior and the police chief and was to have a private meeting with al-Wefaq’s leaders at the embassy. When the Bahrain government insisted on being represented at that meeting, and Mr. Malinowski’s meetings with other civic groups, the Americans objected. A Bahrain law passed last year bars meetings between local politicians and foreign officials without government approval. It was not enforced during previous visits by United States officials; and in any case, the Americans could never accept the law since it would cripple diplomacy.
On Wednesday, the government brought al-Wefaq’s leader in for questioning and later leveled formal charges.
In ordering Mr. Malinowski to leave, Bahrain said he had “intervened flagrantly” in the country’s internal affairs by “holding meetings with one party.” That is absurd. His predecessor visited the country seven times and met al-Wefaq each time without a similar result.
Some Bahrainis are trying to make this all about Mr. Malinowski. The Gulf Daily News pointed to what it called his “murky past” because, as a top official for Human Rights Watch in 2012, he spoke out about human rights abuses in Bahrain. But the real problem is the hard-liners who are determined to crush the Shiites and any hope of reform. Diplomats say reformers within the government and the opposition have made progress on a political deal and Mr. Malinowski’s visit was intended to support that.
The State Department has protested the expulsion, saying it is “deeply concerned,” but that has had no effect. Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House should also speak out and make clear they are considering expelling Bahrain’s ambassador, denying visas to officials and toughening limits on military sales if Bahrain does not acknowledge its error with Mr. Malinowski and ensure it won’t happen again.
Most of all, the administration needs to press Bahrain more firmly to get serious about negotiating with the Shiites. The ruling family need only look to Iraq to see what can happen when authoritarian governments inflame sectarian tensions and do not embrace political transition when they still have time.

UN rights chief deeply concerned over arrests of Saudi Arabia activists

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay [official profile] on Thursday expressed deep concern [press release] over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In particular, Pillay expressed concern over the sentence imposed upon Saudi human rights activist and lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair [AI report], who is the founder and chief of the human rights group Saudi Arabia Monitor of Human Rights. Abu al-Khair was taken into custody [JURIST report] in April on charges that include inciting public opinion. Abu al-Khair was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Sunday by the Specialized Penal Court [HRW backgrounder] for a litany of non-violent terrorism related charges. Additionally, Pillay's statement referenced harsh sentences of four other human rights defenders who were convicted by the Specialized Penal Court in the past two years. Pillay called for an investigation into alleged procedural irregularities in the Saudi courts. Saudi Arabia is a member country of the UN Human Rights Council [official website], but there have been reports of ill-treatment against prisoners while in detention, such as lashings, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and denial of access to legal counsel and family. Pillay called on Saudi Arabia to abide by its commitment to the Human Rights Council and ensure that judicial and law enforcement systems are not used to prosecute individuals for expressing their political or religious views.
Saudi Arabia's human rights record has drawn heavy criticism from international rights groups following the ratification [JURIST report] of new counterterrorism laws by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz [official profile] in early February 2014. JURIST Guest Columnist Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] argued [JURIST op-ed] that Saudi Arabia's new terrorism law is a vague, catch-all document that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way. In February Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] criticized [JURIST report] the Saudi Arabian counterterrorism law because the law will deepen existing patterns of human rights violations and will be used to crack down on peaceful dissent. In December HRW urged [JURIST report] Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to reject the counterterrorism bill before it became law, arguing that many fundamental human rights would be threatened.

Sarah Palin vs. President Obama: Are Republicans the losers?

For a few political cycles now, Republican leaders have strained to distance themselves from some in their midst and focus on the basics to secure and extend their power in Washington: The less-than-sweeping economic recovery and President Obama’s foundering, as they see it, at home and abroad.
And those in their midst have continued to define the party in ways that drew an injurious response from key voter groups. There was the dust-up in 2012 when Todd Akin, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, defended his opposition to abortion by positing that women’s bodies blocked conception resulting from rape. There were the myriad laws aimed at immigrants in the country illegally that insulted many Latino voters. There was the fight against gay marriage, which distanced the party from younger voters.
And now, with a takeover of the Senate achingly close to Republicans’ grasp this year and a presidential campaign on the horizon, those in their midst are threatening to define the party with yet another tangent.
Impeaching President Obama.
The loudest voice for invoking the historically high bar of removing a president from office was Sarah Palin’s. The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee called for Obama’s impeachment in a column on the website this week.
"Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president,” she declared. “His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"
She impugned Obama with perhaps the harshest indictment that can be made of a president, that he did not care about the troops under his command.
“Discrediting the price paid for America’s exceptionalism over our history, he’s given false hope and taxpayer’s change to millions of foreign nationals who want to sneak into our country illegally,” Palin wrote.
And for good measure, her racially-fraught missive impugned those seeking to enter the country, many of them children fleeing violence and danger in their home nations.
“Because of Obama’s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in,” she said, later adding that many Americans “now feel like strangers in their own land.”
Though she insisted that “the many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored,” she didn’t exactly say what they were other than to make a vague reference to changes he has wrought in the healthcare law and his plans to “meddle in the U.S. court system” by appointing judges (a president’s prerogative).
House Speaker John A. Boehner, asked about Palin’s proposal, eviscerated it with two icy words.
“I disagree,” he said.
While Palin and a small number of Republicans were jumping aboard the impeachment bandwagon, Boehner and his supporters were trying to cast themselves as the sane alternative by vowing to sue the president over his healthcare plan, in effect going to DEFCON 1 but not nuclear.
The message: We will hold the president accountable, but we’re not going off the deep end to do it.
The impeachment mini-movement poses some threat to individual Republicans in areas where anti-Obama sentiment is strongest, since candidates could now be called on to join up or risk primary challenges in 2016. In close contests this year, Republicans could be caught between the sentiment of the base and the broader general electorate: Democrats are already using Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst’s January suggestion that Obama could be impeached to try to cast her as an extremist candidate aligned with Palin.
Were it to gain steam, however, the effort poses a larger definitional risk to the Republican Party, as the Akin statement and the anti-illegal immigration and anti-gay rights efforts did before, by alienating the broad political middle from the party’s impeachment believers and non-believers alike.
Those at the political extremes tend to get the attention but not much love from voters, who don’t like the sort of political messiness and rancor that an impeachment effort entails. That fact is well known by Boehner and those backing the less pointed alternative. Even at the height of the 1990s effort to throw him from office, President Clinton maintained popularity ratings that Obama would drool over.
Republicans then had an easier argument to make — Clinton’s actions during the investigation into his personal affairs — but saw voters who liked him swarm to his side.
If elements of the party push for Obama’s impeachment, the likeliest to fly to his defense would be women, Latinos and the young, majorities of which have felt the strongest affinity for Obama. The very people, that is, that the Republican Party has worked to win back since they were previously alienated by those in their midst.

Video: Kerry in Kabul to resolve Afghanistan presidential election stalemate

Pakistan: PPP wants democracy to stabilise, says Fahim

Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians president Makh­doom Amin Fahim said on Friday that the law and order situation was unsatisfactory throughput the country but his party would continue to work for the stabilisation of democracy. Talking to reporters, he wondered what he could suggest to rulers to wriggle out of the current crisis while “the PML-N government is registering cases against us”. When asked about a perception that despite the PPP being the main opposition party, the role was being played by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, he said his party would not like to take any step that could harm democracy. Replying to a question, Mr Fahim said it appeared that the federal government was victimising him.
When asked why former president Asif Zardari was not taking up the matter of registration of cases against him with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he said both of them were chiefs of their own parties who took their own decisions, “while we will pursue the law to take its course”. PPP leader Syed Owais Muzaffar, who was visiting Mr Fahim to offer condolences over the death of his younger brother, recalled the attitude of the Punjab chief minister during PPP’s government at the centre and said the Sindh CM was according full protocol to the president and the prime minister. “This proves that the PPP believes in democracy.” In reply to a question, he said development packages for Karachi had been announced in the past also but the important matter was their implementation.

A rare look inside Pakistan's militant haven
The streets of the one-time militant haven of Miran Shah were all but deserted, with only a few donkeys wandering around and soldiers standing guard in the alleys and roads. The destroyed buildings were testament to the ferocity of a government operation to clear this area in northwestern Pakistan of extremists.
Inside some of the run-down brick houses, the Pakistani military found evidence of the ruthlessness of the militants who have long made their homes here.
Large factories where they fit explosives into gas cylinders to hide in vehicles. Areas where they trained suicide bombers in the do's and don'ts of their operations - don't make personal phone calls that might tip off authorities, for example. Places where they stored ammunition and ran extortion rings. A wall scrawled with the words "Jihad, Jihad."
"It was no doubt the epicentre of terrorism," said Maj. Gen. Zafarullah Khan, who is overseeing the operation.
The Pakistani military took a group of journalists to Miran Shah for a one-day visit of the war zone, the first by the news media since the operation began on June 15. It was a rare look inside the isolated city in the country's rugged northwest, closer to the border with Afghanistan than to the capital, Islamabad. The operation against the Pakistani Taliban and other militants in the region was a long time coming.
The US, frustrated at seeing its troops in Afghanistan attacked by forces coming from North Waziristan, has been pushing for years for a crackdown there. Unable to send in troops itself, the US relied on CIA drone strikes, many of which hit Miran Shah.
Pakistan resisted, saying its troops were too spread out across the tribal regions. The military was also believed to have wanted political support before going in.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's election a year ago delayed military action further. He pushed for negotiations with the extremists. It wasn't until a shocking attack on the Karachi airport on June 8 that the government approved the operation.
Khan said that some of the extremists used that time to flee, while others managed to escape as government forces were encircling the city. So far, government troops have not found any of the top militant leadership in the city, according to Khan.
"They had smelled it that the operation is about to be launched," he said. "The buildup for the operation had already begun, and they could see that."
Khan said 400 militants were killed and 130 wounded. Those figures could not be independently verified.
One Pakistani Taliban commander, Gilaman Mehsood, in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location, disputed the military's casualty figures and said most of the Pakistani Taliban fighters are now living in border areas of Afghanistan.
Miran Shah had become a hub for Pakistani Taliban militants fighting to overthrow the government and establish a hard-line Islamic state across Pakistan. Other groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, also had a presence in the city.
Khan cautioned that militants are still in parts of the city and troops are still in the early days of the ground operation, with other areas of North Waziristan still to be tackled.
About 80 percent of the city has been cleared of militants, but it is still heavily booby-trapped, Khan said. Many buildings in the city of mostly one-story brick houses were destroyed by artillery shells, tank fire or airstrikes, or by homemade explosives left behind by the militants. Cars were buried in the rubble.
The military found an extensive network of tunnels - one roughly two kilometres long - that the militants used to move around. There were large caches of ammunition and weapons, along with pain medicine, antibiotics, computers and training literature.
No civilians were seen across the entire city. The government says roughly 800,000 people have fled North Waziristan, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.
The military is also concerned that extremists could hide amid the refugees and then re-emerge elsewhere in the country - something that happened during previous crackdowns. The military says it has tried to guard against that by questioning refugees when they leave. Those efforts have sparked anger among those fleeing.
"I had to cross five checkpoints, and at all posts soldiers checked our luggage and asked questions about my family. They wanted to make sure that we are not members of the Taliban," said Gohar Wazir, of Mir Ali, the other major city in North Waziristan.

Pakistan army admits what everyone knew: terror leaders have escaped onslaught

Rob Crilly
Ask any Nato commander in Afghanistan what is the biggest hurdle to defeating the Taliban insurgency, and there is only ever one answer: the safe havens in Pakistan from where militants can launch strikes in safety.
For years the US has noisily put pressure on Pakistan to clean up its act. All to no effect.
Then, realising that public rebukes were getting it nowhere, Washington went quiet, preferring to put its message across quietly in private.
Last month Pakistan acted, launching hundreds of airstrikes on targets in North Waziristan, home to the Haqqani network – considered the most deadly of Afghanistan's insurgent groups – as well as Pakistani terrorists intent on bringing down the government in Islamabad, sectarian outfits and groups with an eye on Kashmir. Ground troops have followed, sweeping through the area. The question is: will it work?
American diplomats are not getting carried away. They will wait to see what names turn up on the death roll and whether the offensive stems the flow of fighters and big vehicle-borne bombs from Pakistan. (Incidentally, I now know that a Haqqani truck bomb was the target of the CIA's first drone strike this year, in June, as it trundled towards the border.) Already, the Pakistani military has got itself in a muddle over whether they are even targeting the Haqqanis – a long-standing proxy – awkwardly talking around the subject when quizzed.
And, this week, in North Waziristan's main town of Miranshah, they gave the clearest sign yet that the big fish escaped before the operation started. Maj Gen Zafarullah Khan, who is responsible for the town, said:
It’s not possible to create water-tight or airtight compartment where an individual cannot escape. Given the context of the terrain, the context of who they are, it will be wrong on my part to say that they did not escape, yes they did. They had smelled that the operation is about to be launched. The talks had failed, the build-up for the operation had already begun and they could see that, they could sense and smell and, therefore, the leadership was not here, the leadership abandoned place. Was it an unguarded moment? Or is the military lining up its excuses and blaming the government for weeks of peace talks that never went anywhere?

Pakistan: Lessons from the Lahore killings

The police generally use 12-bore rifles to fire for the dispersal of a mob, whose cartridge shot from a distance only injures, not kills. In this case, the police used lethal automatic weapons
The brutal killing of some 11 protesters at the Idara Minhajul Quran in Lahore on June 17 at the hands of the police reflects the breakdown of the police’s chain of command and violation of the rules of government business in Punjab. For the last six years, Chief Minister (CM) Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has been running the province through informal channels of authority, bypassing formal government offices and using his surrogates to enforce his orders. Although the Punjab police is notorious for committing excesses against the people, the shooting of people in Lahore was an unprecedented incident even by their own standards. Hardly ever before has the police opened fire directly at a mob with lethal weapons like G-3 rifles and Kalashnikovs for such a small cause as the removal of encroachments from a side road in a residential area.
CM Shahbaz Sharif has been administering the province through pliable junior civil servants elevated to senior positions for the implementation of his orders. A coterie of malleable bureaucrats has been created to bypass formal channels of authority, which amounts to a de facto parallel system of administration. The CM’s son, Hamza Shahbaz, has been vested with informal powers to oversee the provincial administration while his father remains busy in Islamabad. Rana Sanaullah, the senior minister, used to direct the police on behalf of the CM while the outgoing Inspector General (IG) Police Punjab was a ceremonial figure.
Not only the district police officers but also deputy superintendents of police used to be posted on the instructions of Rana Sanaullah and Dr Tauqir Shah, the secretary to the CM. The words of these two people were considered orders from the CM himself. No officer dared defy them for risk of humiliation and transfer. Following the bloody Lahore incident, while removing his secretary, Shahbaz Sharif publicly declared Dr Tauqir Shah — a civil servant who is supposed to be politically neutral — his younger brother. Shah was a powerful man in the province around whom executive powers revolved during the last six years. The secretaries of the provincial departments, who ought to run the government as per the rules of business, have been sidelined. Their offices have been reduced to post offices. The postings of senior police officers were not made by the IG Punjab but the CM secretariat.
At present, more than 30 senior positions in the police department are lying vacant in search of pliable officers.
In Punjab, the most important decisions are taken on verbal orders conveyed to the officers by the secretary to the CM without written notes on file. This modus operandi has been invented so as to avoid legal responsibility for these acts. Those officers who do not fall in line are removed from their positions or get a scolding in official meetings. The CM secretariat, which has no role in administration under the rules of business, has replaced the authority of the civil secretariat. Several self-respecting senior officers have opted out from Punjab. Others have refused postings in the province. Neutrality of the officers is considered a crime. Thus, those who wish to save their honour stay silent in meetings over controversial policy decisions. When orders reportedly came from Islamabad that the Punjab administration should strictly deal with Tahirul Qadri’s workers, several meetings were held in Lahore to ponder over the issue. In one such meeting, the provincial chief secretary told the political bigwigs not to go ahead with the proposed action as it might have grave consequences. The Commissioner of Lahore and the police chiefs of the province and the city also advised the same. This advice fell on deaf ears. Rana Sanaullah presided over the meeting on June 15 in Lahore and insisted on the operation for the removal of barriers. Dr Tauqir Shah was one of the participants. This was a clear message to the police that the CM had ordered this operation. The CM himself may not have said this in so many words. The government went ahead with its police operation through Rana Sanaullah and Dr Tauqir Shah at the top, and junior pliable police officers at the operational level.
The action took place in the absence of the police chief in the province. The IG Punjab, Khan Baig, had sought his transfer. The new IG, Mushtaq Sukhera, transferred from Balochistan, was yet to take charge. His plane landed in Lahore when the operation was over. Why was the Punjab administration in such a hurry? The result was disastrous because no senior officer was there to ensure observation of standard operating procedures made for such occasions. The Lahore police chief opposed the operation in the meeting but did not bow out. At least he could have gone on leave before the action was launched. He did not want to leave the plush posting and yet wished to stay clear of the responsibility.
The city police did not assess the situation and has no plan of action before storming the Idara Minhajul Quran. In a normal scenario, such an action is taken under the supervision of a senior police officer of the rank of grade-21 at the top but it started after midnight under the supervision of a Station House Officer (SHO) accompanying an assistant commissioner. Only when the police faced stiff resistance from the workers of the Idara Minhajul Quran, a number of Deputy Superintendents (DSPs) and SPs arrived on the spot piecemeal. Policemen from different police stations started gathering and they lacked the unity of command, acting in a haphazard manner. No senior officer had briefed them as to what they were supposed to do and what limits they needed to observe. The Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations, Lahore and Deputy Commissioner, Lahore rushed to the scene during the final phase of the operation when much of the damage had already been done.
The police did not follow the standard operating procedures for such occasions. No policeman was seen in riot gear. Normally, the SPs supervising such an action make armed policemen stay back and call them only when there is dire emergency. The police generally use 12-bore rifles to fire for the dispersal of a mob, whose cartridge shot from a distance only injures, not kills. In this case, the police used lethal automatic weapons.
Although no politician or senior police officer had ordered the policemen to open fire on the mob, the officials at the scene resorted to firing because they had firm orders to ‘teach a lesson’ to Qadri’s workers. They intended to please their political masters by demonstrating that they had acted firmly. One reason the police officials unabashedly used excessive force was that they were politically connected to the PML-N leaders. They take orders directly from their political masters, not their supervising officers. The posting of the SHOs in the police stations has become a prerogative of the PML-N leaders. The police stand politicised and have lost their professionalism and neutrality.
The killings took place for two reasons: one, the police action was politically motivated. It was aimed at terrorising the workers of Tahirul Qadri, not the enforcement of law. Two, senior police officers stayed away in the beginning and left the operation to junior officials who lacked the capacity to handle such a grave situation. The Lahore incident should serve as a wake-up call for the rulers. Police work has plummeted to this level because of a breakdown in the chain of command and massive political interference in their affairs. If the present way of governance continues, we should expect many more horrible incidents.

Pakistan: Airport security: no lessons learnt

Hardly a month after the audacious attack by militants at Karachi airport on the night between June 8 and 9, the security at the airport remains surprisingly lax. Accounts of survivors Dawn spoke to on Thursday revealed that the Custom Gate, one of the entrances used by the militants to enter the premises of the airport and subsequently attack the Gerry’s Dnata office situated right opposite it, has almost no security.
When this reporter visited the site in the afternoon, an agent was seen sitting at a security guard’s post asking people for commission to get their customs cleared from the authorities. On moving ahead towards the main entrance, a private security guard meekly asked for a card and before waiting for it to be shown, asked us to drive our car ahead.
Once inside, four security guards were seen sitting outside a blackened wall of the Gerry’s Dnata office, who didn’t take much notice of the stream of motorcycles going inside. Those wanting to enter the premises were not being questioned at all and being let go in after small talk.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a survivor of the attack and a staffer at one of the custom clearance departments said the security had been like that for the last month. Speaking to Dawn on telephone, he said: “Most security guards assigned to question the visitors can’t read what’s written on their cards. Also, they don’t know about the location of various departments. So, in case someone lies to them, they are more likely to let them go since they have no idea where that department is situated anyway.”
He says a day after the attack a heavy contingent of Airport Security Force (ASF) personnel was sent across the airport to guard the main entrances to the airport. “But since that day, I have only seen these security guards manning the gates and at times even they are not in their seats. I can’t say for sure if the weapons they have will work in case something happens again.”
The person is among the few survivors of the attack which began on the June 8 night. Speaking about the incident, he said he was early for his 11pm shift. “One of my friends asked me to fix his internet so I got busy with that. A few minutes had passed when we both heard gunshots. My friend told me that he could see five Chinese-looking men with ammunition bags hanging from their shoulders entering through the Custom Gate.” Heavy gunfire followed and soon the men inside realised that the approaching men were militants. “We hid behind the cashier counter. Though we sat hunched behind the table for a minute, the firing continued nonstop. Just then, I received a phone call from a dear friend from work, Farid Khan, he told me to stay behind the counter, and if needed, come towards the cold room storage, which he said was safe.”
Though both friends tried to make a dash towards the corridor, they had to rush back in as they saw two militants standing in the middle providing cover to the other three militants running towards the cold room storage.
The men were caught in the middle in an office which had the Fokker Gate on its left and the Air-Freight Unit (a cargo area) in the middle. “It takes five minutes to get there if one runs towards it. But considering the situation around us, with hand-grenades being lobbed and firing going on for over an hour, we chose to stay inside.”
By 1.30am, they heard a knock on the door. It was an ASF official asking them to come out. “I quickly raised my hands to show my employee card. It was a quick procedure from there onwards. The ASF commandos searched us, and asked us to run towards the gates.” The two friends ran out and one of the first people they met were the reporters who wanted to know what had happened inside. By the time he reached home, it was already 3am. “My only concern was for Farid Bhai who had been calling me from time to time. A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a warehouse where the cold room storage is located.”
From then till 5am, he says he called up every upper management person he knew. “Their reassurances sounded hollow. There were people stuck inside the cold room storage which was quickly catching fire. The least they could have done was to make those people a priority.”
He further said that a post-mortem report of those killed in the cold room showed that the last surviving person died around 9am. “Was it too difficult to save them? Farid Bhai’s wife told me that she received a phone call from him at 3.30pm. He told her that he won’t be able to make it home. I only know that if those killed inside the cold room storage were related to a higher-up at the airport, they would have been alive today.”
The trauma of witnessing an armed attack and subsequent deaths of those close to him lingers in his mind, he says. “I didn’t show up at work for two days. But when I did, because I was getting anxiety attacks at home, I was asked to give an explanation for my absence,” he adds quietly.
Though he has not taken a day off since that day, he says it is annoying to see that things are still the same at the custom gate. “It seems the attack happened somewhere else,” he remarks. “Farid Bhai’s brother was given Rs700,000 after the incident. He refused to take the money because he says they could have saved him and others.” At the same time, there is the security issue which, he says, won’t be resolved until the management takes proper responsibility. “Otherwise, those who were lucky this time around might not survive the next time.”
As the ASF is not authorised to speak to the media, a spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority, Abid Qaimkhani, said he “is surprised to know that there’s no security. Our employee cards are constantly checked. I don’t know what you saw, but I can assure you the security inside the airport has been strengthened since the attack.”