Sunday, July 20, 2014

John Kerry To Go To Cairo To Push Israel, Hamas Ceasefire

ecretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East as the Obama administration attempts to bolster regional efforts to reach a ceasefire and sharpens its criticism of Hamas in its conflict with Israel.
The State Department said Kerry would leave early Monday for Egypt where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012. In a statement Sunday evening, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the U.S. and international partners "deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life."
The Obama administration has toned down its earlier rebuke of Israel for attacks on the Gaza Strip that have killed civilians, including children, although both President Barack Obama and Kerry expressed concern about the rising death toll.
The U.S. will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement that would halt nearly two weeks of fighting with Israel. More than 430 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in that time.
Cairo has offered a cease-fire plan that is backed by the U.S. and Israel. But Hamas has rejected the Egyptian plan and is relying on governments in Qatar and Turkey for an alternative proposal. Qatar and Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also linked to Hamas but banned in Egypt.
Making the rounds of Sunday talk shows, Kerry pointed to Hamas' role in the violence.
"It's ugly. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen," Kerry told ABC's "This Week." But, he added, Hamas needs "to recognize their own responsibility."
Both Obama and Kerry said Israel has a right to defend itself against frequent rocket attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Kerry accused Hamas of attempting to sedate and kidnap Israelis through a network of tunnels that militants have used to stage cross-border raids.
He said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Hamas must "step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire."
Then, Kerry said, "we will certainly discuss all of the issues relevant to the underlying crisis."
The nearly two-week conflict appeared to be escalating as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was already in the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts.
Obama, in a telephone call Sunday, told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Kerry was coming to the Mideast and condemned Hamas' attacks, according to a White House statement.
The U.N. relief agency in Gaza estimates that 70,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in the fighting and are seeking shelter in schools and other shelters the United Nations has set up. The relief agency's top director in Gaza, Robert Turner, told CNN's "State of the Union" that the U.N. has run out of mattresses for refugees and few hygiene and medical supplies are left, although fresh food and water remain available.
"People are scared," Turner said. "They don't feel safe at home, they don't feel safe with their families or neighbors. They feel relatively safe in our installations. ... We frankly have been overwhelmed by the numbers."
He said more than 1,000 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and at least 13,000 lightly damaged.
U.S. officials made clear, however, that Hamas could bring relief to the Palestinian people if it agrees to a cease-fire proposed by Egypt — a view that Netanyahu is pushing as well.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, urged Israel to "stay as long as you need to stay, go wherever you need to go, do deal with a viper's nest called Hamas."
"If it's left up to Hamas, thousands of Israelis would be dead," Graham, R-S.C., told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Netanyahu agreed. In an ABC interview, he said Israel has tried to avoid killing Palestinian civilians through phone calls, text messages and leaflets dropped on their communities. But Hamas doesn't "give a whit about the Palestinians," Netanyahu said. "All they want is more and more civilian deaths."
The prime minister said his top goal is to restore a sustainable peace, but then will ask the international community to consider demilitarizing Gaza to rid Hamas of its rockets and shut down the tunnels leading into Israel. Netanyahu brushed off a question about giving concessions to Hamas as a step toward peace, including releasing Palestinian prisoners or loosening border crossings.
"Hamas doesn't care," Netanyahu said. "I think the last thing you want to do is reward them."
Kerry also said any cease-fire agreement must be without conditions or "any rewards for terrorist behavior." He did not mention the Qatari or Turkish efforts.
Kerry also blamed the latest wave of violence on what he called Israel's "legitimate" efforts to pursue and punish those who last month kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found in the West Bank.
Their deaths were followed almost immediately by what authorities believe was a retribution attack on a Palestinian youth who was strangled, beaten and burned to death.
Tensions between Israel and Palestinian authorities have been simmering for years. They threatened to boil over this spring when Israel shelved nearly nine months of peace negotiations that were being personally shepherded by Kerry after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to create a unity government with Hamas.
"No country could sit by and not take steps to try to deal with people who are sending thousands of rockets your way," Kerry said.
Kerry spoke Sunday on all five major news network talk shows: NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week", CBS' "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday." ___

John Kerry's Hot Mic Reaction To Gaza: 'Hell Of A Pinpoint Operation'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sounded exasperated during a candid moment between interviews on Sunday as he discussed the ongoing conflict in Gaza with an off-camera aide.

"It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," Kerry, apparently unaware he was being recorded, said to the aide. "We've got to get over there ... I think, John, we ought to go tonight. I think it's crazy to be sitting around."
"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace confronted Kerry with the clip, calling it "an extraordinary moment of diplomacy" and asking if Kerry thought Israel had gone too far in its military operations against Hamas militants. (Wallace prefaced the clip by saying Kerry was reacting to 14 Israelis who've been killed in the conflict.) After weeks of aerial bombardment in response to rocket attacks, Israel has sent troops into Gaza in an effort to shut down Hamas supply tunnels.
"I reacted obviously in a way that, you know, anybody does with respect to young children and civilians," Kerry said. "But war is tough. I said that publicly, and I'll say it again. We defend Israel's right to do what it is doing in order to get at those tunnels."
"Israel has accepted a unilateral ceasefire, accepted the Egyptian plan, which we also support," Kerry continued. "And it is important for Hamas to now step up and be reasonable and understand that you accept the ceasefire, you save lives, and that's the way we can proceed to have a discussion about all of the underlying issues, which President Obama has clearly indicated a willingness to do."
Kerry's Fox interview was one of several the secretary of state gave Sunday. He didn't respond to Wallace's question about whether he'd be traveling to Israel later on Sunday.

#MH17 probe must steer clear of politics

The whirling aftermath of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is now upon us, with Western-led international opinion turning the spotlight on Russia. We believe that the entire case must be investigated fairly and thoroughly. The United Nations or the International Civil Aviation Organization must play a leading role, and all sides must coordinate without preconditions or preconceptions.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have agreed that all evidence from the downed plane should be made available for international investigation, and that experts should be given access to the site.
This is good news. Moscow must take a proactive stance toward this investigation.
The West has fingered Russia as the main suspect in the tragedy. Under such circumstances, any hesitation on Russia's part will provoke more blame from the West. If there is no result to the investigation, Russia will, by default, be named the perpetrator. Therefore, letting the facts of the case speak suits Russia's interests.
The Western rush to judge Russia is not based on evidence or logic. Russia had no motive to bring down MH17; doing so would only narrow its political and moral space to operate in the Ukrainian crisis. The tragedy has no political benefit for Ukrainian rebel forces, either.
Russia has been back-footed, forced into a passive stance by Western reaction. It is yet another example of the power of Western opinion as a political tool.
Politically speaking, shooting down a passenger jet would be ridiculous. It could have been an error, the precondition for which is the chaos within Ukraine.
The truth is the most persuasive tool of all. As the targeting of civilian air traffic is a mortal threat to all air passengers, a fair investigation is in the interest of all sides. The investigation process must steer clear of any political interference. The truth must be made public once it is found out.
Without a doubt, we live in a highly politicized world. Political zealotry has always been part and parcel of revolutionary passions.
The West has successfully put itself in a position to dictate "political correctness" in international discourse. Those unwilling to work with Western interests will often find themselves in a tough position.
The crash of MH17 is a tragedy of immense proportions. But the discussion swirling around this event has centered around three positions: shock at and condemnation of the event itself, quibbling over the Ukrainian crisis, and defining the opposition between Russia and the West. The first seems to be overwhelmed by the latter two, disrupting any investigation into the tragedy.
We sincerely hope the investigation will stick to factual and technological questions. People need the truth rather than another geopolitical rivalry.

Video: 'Biased journalism ok, propaganda isn't'

Moscow Surprised by Countries Voicing Theories on Boeing Crash Before Investigation

Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday it was baffled by several countries imposing pressure on investigators by voicing their theories about the causes of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 crash in eastern Ukraine.
"It is baffling that even before the start of the investigation, official representatives of a range of countries rushed to groundlessly announce their theories on the causes of the accident, thus putting pressure on the investigation process. The Russian side addresses both sides of the Ukrainian conflict with an urgent call to do everything possible for the access of international experts to the area of the plane crash to carry out all the actions necessary to investigate the mentioned air crash," the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry underlined that Russia was the first to call for an independent and transparent investigation into the cause of the crash, with an international format that would allow avoiding unilateral evaluations.
"It [the investigation] must be international and conducted with the decisive participation of ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization], and other international institutions, including the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), which involves Russian and Ukrainian representatives along with others," said in the statement.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed near the town of Torez in the Donetsk Region on Thursday, killing all the 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. US President Barack Obama said Friday there was evidence confirming that the plane was shot down by a missile fired from an area controlled by anti-Kiev militia.
Earlier the same day, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was «likely downed by a surface-to-air missile operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine." On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that Russia would bear a heavy share of responsibility for the loss of 28 Australians on board the plane, if it was proved that the aircraft had been "brought down by a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile."
Kiev also blamed independence supporters in the turbulent Donetsk Region for downing the passenger plane with a surface-to-air missile. The leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, however, said local militia did not have the required technologies to shoot as high as 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) in the air.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Kiev should take responsibility for tragedy and that “the circumstances around the aircraft disaster need to be investigated carefully and objectively.”
Ukraine and Malaysia Airlines are already investigating the accident at the site, with the help of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which ensures international presence.

Putin: Taskforce at Malaysia MH17 crash site not enough, full-scale intl team needed

The tragic Malaysian MH17 flight crash must not be politicised and the international experts on the scene should be able to carry out their work in complete safety, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
“There are already representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk working there, as well as representatives of the emergencies ministry of Ukraine and others. But this is not enough,” Putin said officially commenting on the tragic event on Sunday.
“This task force is not enough,” Putin emphasized. “We need more, we need a fully representative group of experts to be working at the site under the guidance of ICAO, the relevant international commission.”
“We must do everything to provide security for the international experts on the site of the tragedy,” Putin stressed, adding that Russia will also do everything in its power to help shift the Ukrainian conflict from a military phase into a political discussion.
“We need to do everything to provide its [ICAO commission’s] safety, to provide the humanitarian corridors necessary for its work,” Putin added.
“In the meantime, nobody should and has no right to use this tragedy to achieve their ‘narrowly selfish’ political goals,” Putin stated.
“We repeatedly called upon all conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed immediately and sit down at the negotiating table,” the President reminded. “I can say with confidence that if military operations were not resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.”
According to the latest figures from the Donetsk authorities, 247 out of 298 bodies have been recovered from the crash site. OSCE confirmed that a train with bodies of the victims is being stationed at a railway station in Torez and is set to depart for Donetsk. The bodies are being kept in especially refrigerated cars.
A team of ISCE experts and four Ukrainian forensics analysts are the only experts who have so far reached the area and are working on the investigation. A team of 12 Malaysian experts is yet to arrive at the crash site. Experts from other European nations, including the Netherlands, France. Germany and the UK are en route to Donetsk.
The OSCE team has claimed that the black boxes have not been recovered, yet Aleksandr Boroday, the republic’s prime minister, told reporters that DPR might potentially be in possession of the MH17 black boxes. "What we have is just some components of the plane. We are not experts; we think that they may be black boxes but we're not sure."

Video: Claire Danes Navigates A Violent Pakistan In First 'Homeland' Season 4 Trailer
It's quite the big day for ShowTime's Emmy and Golden Globe-winning "Homeland," which is gearing up for an internal reboot after last season's shocking season finale dramatically shook up the groundwork of the hit series. Following in the footsteps of the new Season 4 poster is the political thriller's debut trailer.
The clip provides fans with their first look at the new season, which relocates the adventures of CIA officer and new mom Carrie Mathison (Emmy winner Claire Danes, a nominee again this year for her work last season) to a violent Pakistan. With tons of fast-paced explosions and political intrigue, the trailer hopes to reroute fans back to the series after two uneven seasons. Will it work? Potentially, especially with old favorites Mandy Patinkin and Rupert Friend returning and new cast additions such as Corey Stroll filling in the absences from last season.
The new season of "Homeland" premieres Sunday, October 6 at 9pm.

Pakistan: 28 more militants killed in North Waziristan operation: ISPR

At least 28 militants have been killed as jet fighters struck militant hideouts in the Shawal tehsil of North Waziristan, the ISPR stated.
An ISPR press release said that six militant hideouts were destroyed in the strikes. The ISPR also said that the dead militants include local and foreign fighters. The claims however could not be verified from independent sources. Most of the militants from Miramshah and Mir Ali have escaped to the Shawal valley which stretches across both North and South Waziristan Agency. Former spokesman of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) Ehsanullah Ehsan, when contacted by, said that the claims made by the military are exaggerated. Ehsan claimed the jets were bombing civilians who were being cited as "terrorists killed". This information could not be independently verified. The media has no access to the agency, making it difficult to verify the claims of either the military or militant sources.

Afghan election vote audit suspended following disagreements

According to reports, the audit of presidential votes have been halted due to misunderstandings between the electoral teams of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
The audit process was suspended on Saturday evening and the process has still not started.
Preliminary reports suggest the audit was suspended after Abdullah’s team urged to disqualify ballot boxes which have over 600 votes.
However, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s team opposed to the request by Dr. Abdullah’s team. There are also reports that Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s observers have abandoned the place where vote audit was conducted, and efforts have been put in place to resume the audit process.
In the meantime, Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC), told reporters that the audit process has been halted temporarily due to technical issues in audit process. Noor further added that the observers of the two teams had disagreements regarding the ballot papers which were signed by the voters.

10-year-old Afghan rape victim could face honor killing

A 10-year-old Afghan girl who was raped by a mullah in northern Afghanistan is at the risk of honor killing. According to reports, the family of the young rape victim is under the pressure by village elders, who are insisting to kill the girl because “she had brought shame to them.” The girl was reportedly protected in a women’s shelter in Kunduz province but was returned to her family on Tuesday. According to an official indictment, the rape was so brutal and had nearly died because treatment as delayed. She had suffered a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, the New York Times reported. In the meantime, the 45-year-old Mullah has claimed that the girl had promised to marry him and rejected that she is 10-year-old. The mullah has claimed that the girl was 17-year-old, but the mother of the victim has said she was only 10-year-old. Hospital records indicate the child weighed just 40 pounds and had yet to start menstruating.


Pakistani: Water shortage hits Rawalpindi

Rawalpindi- Severe water shortage has hit several localities of city aggravating the miseries of the residents in the hot weather After load shedding of Gas and Power in different areas, the severe shortage of water has hit several areas of Rawalpindi including Dhok Kala Khan, Madina Colony, Cantonment Areas, Tench Bhata, Dhok Saydan, Dhok Chaudhrian, Range Road, Dhok Banaras, Masrial, Dhery Hassan Abad, Gulistan Colony and adjoining areas Protestants asked the former MNA Hanif Abbasi for help but he refused to give any assistance while sitting MPA of area Raja Hanif has also refused to cooperate in this regard. Tube wells of respective area have malfunctioned for some time and no alternate solution has been provided.

In Pakistan, a master bomb technician fights a new kind of war

By Tim Craig
In a country awash in bombs, Shafqat Malik races against time.
He has discovered some of the world’s biggest bombs — 8,000-pound bundles of explosives hidden in trucks — and some of the tiniest, slipped into Coke cans. He has defused bombs secreted in computers and television sets and disabled a suicide vest before its wearer could blow himself up.
Malik is one of Pakistan’s top explosives experts and head of the police bomb disposal unit in one of the country’s most conflictive provinces — Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the country’s northwest near the Afghan border. Malik’s job offers a window into a country suffering not just from Islamic extremism but a broader breakdown in order, with bombs planted by extortionists, people feuding over money and property, and assassins targeting religious minorities.
“Let me assure you, everyone is a target,” Malik, 49, said during a recent interview, moments after one of his staffers brought in two grenades that had been thrown at a police vehicle.
Last year, 4,268 civilians in Pakistan were killed or wounded by explosive devices, according to Action on Armed Violence, a London-based group that monitors violence worldwide. Only Iraq and Syria have logged more casualties from bombings, the group said.
The problem has grown so severe that Malik and his 440-member team even examine bodies before funerals to make sure they have not been booby-trapped by terrorists or personal enemies.
Many analysts say the increasingly pervasive culture of bombings can be traced to the 1980s, when Pakistan hosted hundreds of thousands of Islamic fighters battling the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Pakistan worked with the United States and other countries to make sure the guerrillas were trained to use land mines and plastic explosives, said Saad Muhammad, a retired Pakistani army brigadier.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Islamist extremists began shifting their fight toward Pakistan. They were aided by the remnants of al-Qaeda, which had chemists and engineers capable of making bombs, Muhammad said.
“We should have realized when we embarked on the jihad in Afghanistan, that this was a very dangerous game we were playing,” said Muhammad, who served as Pakistan’s military attache in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “At the time, nobody gave a thought to the endgame.”
As the violence increased in the mid-2000s, Malik was thrust onto the front lines of a new kind of war.
He had become a highly specialized ammunition and explosives expert during a two-decade career in the Pakistani army, a time of considerable tension between Pakistan and long-standing rival India. In 2006, he retired from the military and went to work as a counterterrorism investigator for the Federal Investigation Agency. It was the start of a tumultuous new chapter for him, involving some of Pakistan’s grisliest tragedies.
In late 2007, Malik was at home in Islamabad when he learned of an assassination attempt in Karachi on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was returning from self-imposed exile. Bhutto survived, but 130 people were killed in an explosion that was initially reported as a grenade attack.
When Malik arrived on the scene the next day, he stumbled upon a piece of metal.
“I said, that is a mechanical trigger, and that had to be pulled by a suicide bomber,” Malik recalls. He later used his forensics background to help identify the suspected bomber at the hospital.
Malik also helped to investigate the attack in December 2007 that ultimately cost Bhutto her life and the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which killed 53 people.
In the early days, he said, suicide bombers “didn’t know what they were doing” and would just sit on a suitcase packed with explosives and hope it detonated.
But terrorists gradually became more sophisticated, transitioning from wearing bulky vests packed with explosives to sleeker belts and using remote-control triggers that made it harder for suicide bombers to abort their mission, he said.
By 2008, provincial officials were overwhelmed by the bombings, especially in the northwestern part of the country. Four bomb technicians from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were killed when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device, or IED.
Shortly after that attack, Malik received a call from a senior provincial official.
“He said, ‘Malik, please save us. We are dying,’ ” the bomb expert recalled.
Since taking charge in January 2009, Malik has increased the number of bomb technicians in the Peshawar-based unit from about 35 to 440. He also has sought donations of robots, sniffer dogs and armored vehicles from the United States and governments in Europe.
Over five years, his squad has encountered more than 5,500 devices, Malik said. But bombs are still found in Peshawar just about every day.
Malik describes bombs as a modern-day form of mugging in Peshawar, with extortionists and robbers increasingly using them.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, said the explosives represent a “weaponization of society” in Pakistan, enabled by political leaders who waited too long to crack down on their favored militant groups.
“Either you neutralize everyone doing this kind of thing or you can’t control anyone,” Sahni said.
The victims include civilians such as Jamshed Baghwan, a journalist in Peshawar. He said in an interview that two men on motorcycles threw a white bag filled with 15 pounds of explosives at his garage this month, setting off a blast thatheavily damaged his car. It was the third time this year his residence had been hit with explosives.
“I have no idea why this is happening,” said Baghwan, the Peshawar bureau chief for Pakistan’s Express News Live television station. “I am just a local journalist. I am not someone famous, and I don’t have much money.”
A dangerous living
The provincial bomb technicians earn just $230 a month, including a paltry 50 cents or so a month in hazard pay, and complain that they still lack equipment. But many say they are proud to work for Malik.
“If Mr. Malik didn’t join the bomb disposal unit, there would be no bomb disposal unit at all,” said Wasal Khan, who has defused more than 150 IEDs over the past five years.
Ijaz Khan, Peshawar police chief, said Malik has a reputation for being fearless and thorough.
In January, police responded to an explosion at a mosque that killed 11 people. They initially thought it was caused by a gas leak.
“But Malik walked in and told us, ‘This was caused by a five-kilogram explosion’ ” and suggested there might be more bombs in the mosque, Ijaz Khan said. “We then found two others, and he defused them right in front of me.”
Malik is so confident of his skills that, in 2012, he disabled the suicide vest of a teenager, saving his life, as TV news crews followed his work live. The boy had been blocked from reaching his intended target, and police were preparing to shoot him, fearing he or someone using a remote trigger might detonate the vest.
“He was lying there, begging, ‘Don’t kill me,’ ” Malik recalls. “I said, ‘Don’t worry. . . . This is my scene, and God was very kind to have given me the chance to defuse you.”
Malik has had so many threats on his life that he keeps a file of the letters in his desk drawer.
The most serious attempt against him occurred in 2010, when he was investigating an attack on a police vehicle in Peshawar, he said.
As he surveyed the crime scene, he noticed a young woman in a black burqa moving toward him. As she approached, a small explosion tore off her left shoulder, killing her.
When Malik rushed over to the woman’s body, he noticed she was wearing a vest loaded with explosives. Some had apparently gone off, he said.
Malik bent down and, his hands covered with blood, began dismantling what remained of the device. He tried to avoid looking at the woman’s intact face.
“You are imagining the fate of your life if she had succeeded,” Malik said.

Pakistan: Politicians and operation in NWA

A month on, the gains made by the armed forces against terrorist outfits in the tribal areas fully vindicate those who had insisted not only that the so-called peace talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban were non-starter but also that the military operation should not be delayed. From day one the terrorists deserved a raw deal and now when that is being given results are there for everyone to see. According to latest reports, Miramshah - the capital city of North Waziristan where one could buy an improvised explosive device (IED) or a suicide jacket from the shelf - has been cleared and the other terrorist centre, Mirali, is being cleared of militants. The security forces are now moving westward on Dattakhel road. Those who fled to Shawal mountains were bombed on Wednesday; those 35 were killed included about a dozen of 'Punjabi' Taliban. The planned operation in Bajaur has been put on hold, as the local tribal elders have undertaken to form a 'qaumi lashkar' to foil cross-border forays by Mulla Fazlullah's fighters. Since the launch of the Zarb-e-Azb operation 30 soldiers, including two officers, have embraced martyrdom. The number of terrorists killed by our forces has crossed 400 mark. Of course, they included Uzbek and other foreign terrorists. The forces have also destroyed a large number of terrorist hideouts and their arms-manufacturing factories. By any measure this is one of the toughest campaigns undertaken by Pakistan armed forces, all the more for the reason that the war is being fought within the national borders and its collateral victims are inescapably our own people. Given the decision that life and limb of local population have to be secured at any cost the residents of the targeted areas have been evacuated. But this time there is no turning back; a complete rout of terrorist outfits is the mission and the forces are determined to cleanse the tribal areas of them once for all - and after this the entire country - of terrorists of all hues and shades. This indeed is a tall order but there is no escape from it.
Pakistan cannot afford to lose this war. On this the people are with the forces on the same page, but not the politicians. Grisly duels are in progress in political arenas across the national landscape, gladiators crying loud 'give me power or give me death'. Some are clutching onto their 'massive' mandate, while others are bent upon ousting them from power at any cost - both sides least concerned about the challenging mission assigned to the forces. If at all someone out of them talks of the ongoing operation, it is not about the sacrifices being offered by the soldiers, it is about the difficulties encountered by the IDPs, their tone invariably suggesting as if the forces are responsible for their plight. They must know we had had elections in the past and we would have them in future as well. But is there a hope that the next bunch of rulers would be less incompetent and less corrupt than before? Almost all major political parties are in power in the provinces or at the Centre and their performance is before us. It hardly matters to the common man in Pakistan who is in power. But he is absolutely clear that this war on terrorism should not be lost. And that appears to be in the making. Our forces have broken the back of the anti-state, anti-people Taliban in the tribal areas. Next on the list are terrorist hideouts in settled areas and major urban centres. Pakistani forces will also go after them with same vigour and determination as exhibited in the tribal areas. But beyond that it is for the civilians, be they government administrators or political leaders, to ensure that terrorists don't return to the areas cleared by the armed forces. No doubt the electoral process should be clean and transparent and to ask for it is no crime. We believe the government initiates work on electoral reforms without any further loss of time.
But equally important is to work out a post-operation legal and administrative framework that should help the tribal areas transit from their colonial era existence to the present-day mainstream Pakistan. Ideally, the tribal agencies should be granted the status of a province, fully entitled to all rights and privileges the other federating units enjoy within the federation of Pakistan. While in all probability the armed forces will have cleared the tribal areas of militancy and terrorism in the next few months the fear is that their civilian counterparts are not ready yet to fill the space and obtain suitable conditions to put in place a viable administrative framework in the 'liberated' areas. Will that happen? We are, however, a bit sceptic given the growing impression that the military and political elite are on two different wavelengths.

Pakistan's Load Shedding VS PMLN Regime: Let there be light!

Lal Khan
If it were all about praying to Allah for the masses to end their woes and get their emancipation, how easy it would have been.
The present right-wing regime of the PML-N came to power with a disputed, heavy mandate. The crisis-stricken state was accepted by the battered imperialists, giving it the false legitimacy it craved for. The ongoing lull, fatigue and despair within society and lack of movement and leadership to counteract the onslaught of reaction meant the masses accepted it as a fait accompli. The defeat of the PPP was its utter failure to deliver and provide the basic essentials to the people. The most excruciating pain that this regime inflicted upon the masses was the electricity load shedding or the power outages that intensified the miseries of the ordinary people.
Nawaz Sharif and other leaders of the PML-N made extravagant promises for ending this scourge in anywhere from three months to three years. These promises sounded hollow even during the elections but after coming to power their body language very quickly exposed their utter incompetence, lack of vision and direction with their chaotic and pathetic attempts to address this issue. Sharif’s first action was to reward the power cartels that have been holding the country to ransom by handing over Rs 500 billion circular debt to erase this torment without any conditions and assurances from the IPP bosses.
This provided a certain respite to the masses for a brief period but the pain and misery of these punishing power outages have returned with a vengeance to an agonising norm and, coupled with IMF forced price hikes, life has become even more harrowing. Now the chickens have come home to roost. The resultant rage in the womb of society is generating a heat that is destabilising the polity with increasing unrest and the stirrings of internal contradictions of the state. The regime and ruling party’s conflicts are now in the open with ministers daggers drawn and Sharif having to personally intervene to resolve the impossible task of patching up the unravelling factional clashes within his cabinet and party leaders. This has ferociously shaken the regime and there is a roaring turbulence in the government despite Sharif’s deceptive posturing of calm. His cemetery smiles often betray the false confidence he tries to flaunt.
Perhaps the time has come for confessions and the wagging of twitchy fingers within the hierarchy of the PML-N. In a press conference on July 14, 2014, the federal and state ministers confessed their failure and pleaded forgiveness for not even being able to provide electricity during Ramzan. A Daily Times report (July 15, 2014) said the following: “Federal Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif on Monday apologised to the nation over prolonged power load shedding. Addressing a press conference along with state minister for power Abid Sher Ali and Secretary Nargis Sethi, the minister said that there is a shortfall of 7,000 MW of electricity, while the demand has increased to 19,000 MW, which has resulted in massive load shedding. He said that the crisis further intensified in the past three days, as two grid stations of 1,500 MW in Lahore tripped. He appealed to the masses to pray for rain so that the load shedding could be reduced. He said the system could not bear load of more than 15,000 MW of electricity. If the load exceeds 15,000 MW grid stations start tripping. He said it would take three to four years to rectify the entire system. He said that the circular debt is hovering around Rs 280 to Rs 285 billion.
The power minister cautioned that the power shortfall would witness a further rise if the ongoing spell of heat did not subside. He appealed to the people to conserve electricity so that all areas could be provided with it. He said the government could not give a time frame for ending load shedding, as we do not want to make any more false promises, which would cause us to be embarrassed in front of the nation.” The report further narrates his pathetic stance, “Allah will rescue (help) us during the next two to three days and the situation will be improved.”
He says it all, does he not? How pathetic. If it were all about praying to Allah for the masses to end their woes and get their emancipation, how easy it would have been. Then what was the need for scientific research, governments, parties, leaders and democracies so much revered and touted as sacred scriptures by these stooges of capital who are supposedly the leaders of the nation and torchbearers of development and prosperity in society? Poverty, misery, disease, deprivation, crime and other social and economic vices inflicting society are created by this system and not by God. It is these exploitative capitalists and feudals who are fleecing humanity, responsible for these devastations and the agonising life that the vast majority of the people are forced to live. It has become a common practice of our rulers and their pedlars in the media, clergy and intelligentsia to blame these tragedies as the acts of a divine force and exonerate themselves from these heinous crimes of socioeconomic genocide they are mercilessly carrying out to inflate their profits in a rush to fill their coffers.
Invariably, in natural calamities like floods and earthquakes, it is always the poor and the toiling masses that suffer. The mullahs call these disasters the “wrath of God” due to the sins committed by these innocent but deprived and oppressed people. The notion spread by these prostituting intellectuals and priestly vultures of capital is that these bosses sitting in their palatial mansions in the metropolitan centres and in the countryside are the most pious and commit no sins. In reality, it is in these palaces where the most heinous and criminal political and financial policies are manufactured. The working classes of this land and others have, most of the time, prayed and prayed for generations, yet their lives have gone from bad to worse. And now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are being asked by the federal minister for power to pray for rains and electricity? How abhorrent and reactionary.
The stark reality is that this ruling class, in almost seven decades of taking charge, has failed to build a modern infrastructure, the vital part of which is the generation and supply of electricity through modern grids and efficient transmission lines, crucial for human existence today. They have failed to complete any of the tasks of the national democratic revolution, from the creation of a unified nation state to the abolition of feudal remnants and the imperialist stranglehold. Their abject historical and economic failures are tearing apart society and paving the way for the kind of barbarism that threatens to destroy civilisation. Without the overthrow of this reactionary ruling class and its system, society will remain mired in darkness and no light will shine. Let there be light!

Pakistan: A few questions about IDPs’ handling

Pakistan Today
By Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad
Was the government caught with its pants down?
The present army leadership took a courageous step by initiating the operation in NWA which former chief Gen Kayani had delayed too long for reasons known only to him. The government is trying to cope with the nearly 900,000 IDPs that have sought shelter in a number of districts in KP.
There are meanwhile questions regarding the handling of the IDPs that remain unanswered. For instance, did the army have any plan for safe and hassle free evacuation of the IDPs?
The army had conducted a number of operations and dealt with over 20 population displacements. One had expected in view of its vast experience that it would have prepared an immaculate plan for the evacuation of the affected population. Hadn’t the ISPR assured on the day the operation was launched that “announcements will be made for local population to approach designated areas for their orderly and dignified evacuation out of the Agency”? Further that “necessary logistics and administrative arrangements for IDPs have been made by Political Administration and Disaster Management Agency”. On the second day of the operation the ISPR again announced that “an orderly and dignified evacuation of civil population out of agency ‘is being ensured.’
Military operations are prepared months ahead of their execution. The wording ‘is being ensured’ instead of ‘has been ensured’ indicates the arrangement for orderly and dignified evacuation was not put in place before launching of the operation. Why was the procedure of evacuation not settled at the planning stage?
At the end of the three day long shoot-at-sight curfew, the entire non-combatant population left their towns and villages in panic for fear of starvation. Some could not even take their belongings with them. Those who could afford private transport had to pay extraordinarily high fares. Those who couldn’t, had to walk for 60 plus kilometres on foot.
''The situation in NWA had sufficiently deteriorated in May and there were enough straws in the wind to show that an operation was imminent. The month started with the killing of a prominent pro-government tribal chief followed by the death of eight security personnel in an IED blast.''
The scene was aptly summed up in a newspaper report. “People on foot, women and children in tow, dragging their cattle and those riding motorbikes carrying luggage on their back, all trying to get out and arrange a vehicle to take out their families still stuck there. Thousands stranded on Bannu road.”
The evacuation was therefore neither orderly nor dignified. It was in fact chaotic and highly painful for the IDPs. Did the government have a plan to deal with the after effects of the operation? Was there coordination between the federal government and KP government? Was there coordination between civilian government and the army in dealing with the IDPs?
The situation in NWA had sufficiently deteriorated in May and there were enough straws in the wind to show that an operation was imminent. The month started with the killing of a prominent pro-government tribal chief followed by the death of eight security personnel in an IED blast. Jet fighters and helicopter gunships had pounded several suspected positions in Miramshah, Mirali and Datakhel, killing about 80 suspected terrorists. The COAS visited field formations in the agency at the end of the month. Events in May and early June clearly indicated that the operation was imminent.
The government however remained wedded to the idea of peace through talks. The budget presented weeks before the start of the operation contained no allocations for the IDPs. This showed a total lack of foresight.
The government was caught pants down when the operation began. It thought there were around 400,000 people living in the agency. They turned out to be 900,000.
The way people were evacuated and the mismanagement at the distribution points showed lack of coordination between the law enforcement and disaster management authorities. The shoddy arrangements at the hastily set up IDP camps speak volumes about the government’s indifference.
Food distribution process was extremely slow. People came early in the morning and stood in queue for the whole day. With temperatures sometimes touching 47 degrees in the last week of June many displaced persons had to wait in sizzling heat since early morning for their turn to get food. The treatment was humiliating. The mismanagement at the distribution centres at one point led to violent protests by the IDPs. Why couldn’t the government set up several food distribution points? The arrangements seemed to have been made in haste without caring for their adequacy.
Delay in the registration of IDPs in Peshawar also led to protests. After an incident in which IDPS and FDMA staff scuffled, authorities banned the entry of media to the centre.
The cash distribution showed absence of a well thought out plan. After the initial cash disbursement which was done manually, the process of disbursement through Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs) was launched. Soon this too hit snags. By Tuesday only 1,100 of 45,000 families had received the cash grant.
As a newspaper report pointed out, “To the displaced that were forced to leave their homes, this first appeared as indifference and then ‘a deliberate attempt to strip us of our dignity’… The provinces’ reluctance to welcome the displaced indicated they were not prepared to give the same status to people from Fata that a common Pakistani enjoys.”
To keep the militants permanently out of NWA, there is a need to win the hearts and minds of the IDPs. Is the way the IDPs have been treated really conducive to achieving the aim?
But is there a satisfactory coordination with the army? The way IDPs were evacuated as well as the mismanagement at the distribution points clearly indicated a lack of coordination between law enforcement and disaster management authorities. The lack of preparedness on the part of the FDMA has led it to relegate its functions to the security forces and restrict itself to file work and here too making blunders.
As if this was not enough all this time the PMLN leadership remained engrossed in countering the moves of the PAT and PTI. Imran Khan meanwhile paid no attention to anything other than the march on Islamabad.
There are other questions that need to be answered.
To keep the militants permanently out of NWA, there is a need to win the hearts and minds of the IDPs. Is the way the IDPs have been treated really conducive to achieving the aim? Will the IDPs, who had become refugees in their own country, forget the type of treatment they received in Bannu, DIK or Lakki Marwat or the way the various provinces shut their doors on them?
For three weeks the media was disallowed access to NWA and the camps. Even later the media was taken there on short and conducted tours. Why was it necessary to adhere to a policy of non-transparency?
Again, does the PMLN government visualise any timeframe for rebuilding human habitations destroyed in the operation? Where are the funds for reconstruction to come from? It took a few months to resettle the Swatis displaced by the military operation in 2008. How long will a similar exercise take place in the case of North Waziristan IDPS?
There are opponents to the operation in the right wing parties and media. They are all waiting for an opportunity to come out with, ‘Didn’t we say…”

Pakistan: Operation Zarb-e-Azb proceeding smoothly

After Miranshah, Army has secured strategically important villages of Boya and Degan in North Waziristan.
In North Waziristan, operation Zarb-e-Azb is progressing as per plan and terrorists are being eliminated and dislodged from their bases.
According to ISPR, after Miranshah, two important villages of Boya and Degan, which were known to be large concentration centers of local and foreign terrorists, have been cleared. Consolidation of Boya and Degan is in progress.
At Mirali, house-to-house search in Mussaki, Hurmez and Mirali bazar is being carried out by integrated group of forces.
Terrorists holed up inside Mirali and surrounding areas have been firing rockets, mortars, heavy machine guns and sniper rifles. During exchange of fire four terrorists were killed in Mirali.
Twelve IEDs were neutralised and an IED making factory, huge cache of arms and ammunition and foreign currency were recovered.
Strangulation and targeting of terrorists and their hideouts in other areas in North Wazirastan Agency is also continuing. Corps Commander Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani visited Mirali, Boya and Degan areas of North Waziristan Agency and met with the troops busy in Operation.
Distribution of relief items for IDPs is also continuing at Bannu, DI Khan and Tank.

Pakistan: Terrorists killed in drone attack belong to TTP Punjab

Eleven terrorists including commander Ali Muawiya were killed by a recent US drone attack and have been identified as belonging to the Punjab division of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
According to government sources, the US drone targeted a house in Data khel’s area of Dogamada khel, which is 25 kilometers from Miranshah. Sources revealed that the US drone spy plane fired two missiles and killed 11 extremists by targeting a house, which was believed to be used as the headquarters of the TTP Punjab.
According to sources, these extremists were later identified including commander Ali Muawiya belonging to Jhang and other terrorists identified as Ali Bhatti, Umar Rasheed, Gul Sajjan, Hadayatullah and Salman who belonged to Karachi.
This is the fourth US drone attack since the start of Pakistan Army s operation Zarb-e-Azb on 15th July while previous US drone attacks have killed as many as 80 extremists, reportedly. On the other hand the Pakistan government has strongly condemned these US drone attacks, as per sources.
According to a statement issued by the Foreign Office, these US drone attacks are a violation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, adding that these attacks are undermining the government’s efforts to maintain national stability and peace.

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