January 29, 2009


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July 8, 2008



JULY 08, 2008

June 25, 2008

Kurram tragedy

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JUNE 25, 2008


THINGS are bad in the Kurram Agency. Eleven hostages were killed by their abductors, their bodies dumped on a roadside in the Faqir Khusa and Aroli areas. The victims belonged to the Toori tribe and were abducted several days earlier in an ambush when they were heading off to Parachinar. From the corpses, it was evident that these were tortured by their kidnappers before being killed. Were this any other part of Pakistan, the mere fact that the victims belonged to one sect would have raised fears of reprisals against the other sect. But in the area fears would have been raised even if the sectarian variable were not in the equation; tribal affinities would drive most of the ensuing violence.

Still, the sectarian issue cannot be ignored. The Kurram Agency has fallen prey to vicious sectarianism of late, specially after the entry of non-tribal elements in the whole mix. The ancient tribal system could resolve disputes; tribes from the different sects have even known to unite against others in certain conflicts. But not anymore. Outsiders have upset the scheme of things in the region and mechanisms to stop such conflicts are fast disappearing. Though there is much trouble in most of FATA, there is also violence between the religious militants themselves, a sectarian clash in the Kurram and a sub-sectarian conflict in the Khyber agency. It is the former that might spill over to another agency.
Speaking of violence spilling over, though the situation in the settled districts of the NWFP is far from ideal, it has been observed that the ANP government’s management of the law and order situation there has yielded many positive results. And the party’s leadership has complained on a number of occasions that it is being kept out of the loop as far as FATA is concerned. It would be a good idea to take them on board, if not let them lead the federal government’s efforts to find a solution. 



May 27, 2008

Meeting Pakistan’s most feared militant – (Feared because tribal women and children have been killed by pakistan and US armies

Filed under: DOMESTIC,FOREIGN RELATIONS,MILITARY RULE — civilsocietypakistan @ 10:38 pm
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MAY 23, 2008

Baitullah Mehsud, who heads the loose grouping of militants known as the Pakistan Taleban, has given a rare press conference to invited journalists. They included the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan.

Taleban militants in Pakistan's Waziristan district

“I hope your trip has been enjoyable so far,” our host asks us.

Ordinary garden tea party talk except for two things – the venue and the host.

We are in Pakistan’s tribal region of South Waziristan. Our host is the region’s top Islamic militant, Baitullah Mehsud.

Commander Mehsud has recently been named in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Newsweek has labelled him “more dangerous than Osama bin Laden”.

President Pervez Musharraf accused him last year of being responsible for dozens of suicide attacks which led Pakistan into emergency rule.

The CIA says he was the brains behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto.

With such a reputation, it is not surprising that there is a sense of awe as this short, plump, bearded man greets us.

Breakneck speed

We are part of a group of journalists invited by Mr Mehsud to his stronghold to see for ourselves “the atrocities committed by the Pakistan army in its recent campaign in the area”.

Pakistan’s army and pro-Taleban militants led by Baitullah Mehsud have recently agreed to a ceasefire after being locked in battle for most of 2007.

Baitullah Mehsud

Baitullah Mehsud is reluctant to be photographed

The ceasefire is part of attempts to secure a lasting peace in the area.

Earlier this month the army brought in journalists to show their successes against the militants in January.

Now it’s the militants’ turn to have their say.

Our journey with the Taleban had begun with a long wait for them at a petrol station in the town of Mir Ali, just inside North Waziristan.

A caravan with over half a dozen vehicles took off, travelling at breakneck speed through beautiful valleys and towering mountains.

Our escorts were on their guard, the speed is as much for security as for safety.

We saw very little of the heavy presence of troops in the area that the government talks about.

We did see plenty of abandoned check posts and bunkers destroyed by the Taleban.

In the town of Makeen in South Waziristan we switched to four-wheel drives.

Our destination was the district of Sararogha, very much the heart of Taleban territory.


It was dark when we finally arrived at a madrassa (religious school) high up on the mountains where we stayed in a nearby house for the night.

The next morning we headed down to the valley below to be shown the damage caused by bombing raids carried out by military aircraft.

The villages were a scene of havoc, with almost all the houses having suffered some damage.

Some have been completely destroyed, leaving their owners homeless.

Buildings damaged by air force bombing

Buildings damaged by air force bombing

“I have no money left now,” says Ali Khan, a local of Golrama village in the Kotkai area.

Mr Khan’s house was bombed by jets after he had fled the fighting with his family.

“I worked in the UAE since 1980 to build this… all my life’s savings.”

“There are no Taleban in my house, why did the government do this?”

Many families who fled during the intense fighting have been coming home to similar scenes.

Our last stop was Spinkai market which is now a mile long stretch of rubble.

Angry shopkeepers and irate locals line up to express their anger.

“The place they said was used to train suicide bombers is, in fact, a flour mill,” says Haji Khan, whose shop was also destroyed.

“We were all traders here and now our means of earning a living is gone.”

As he complains, a line of vehicles passes us on its way back to the nearby hamlets and villages.

The ceasefire, it seems, is already starting to take effect.

No choice

But will it last, or go the way other deals have gone before?

destruction after clashes in Waziristan

The army says it has dismantled the Taleban’s capacity in the region

In our garden meeting, “Amir Sahib” (honoured leader) – as Baitullah Mehsud is affectionately called by his men – smiles and shakes his head when this query is raised.

Around us, dozens of militants armed to the teeth listen intently to their leader.

“The Taleban are committed to their word,” he says.

“The onus is now on the government – whether they hold to their word, or remain in the alliance with the US.”

If that persists, Commander Mehsud says, the militants will have no choice but return to their path of resistance.

“We do not want to fight Pakistan or the army. But if they continue to be slaves to US demands, then we our hands will be forced.

“There can be no deal with the US.”

March 23, 2008

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MARCH 24, 2008


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MARCH 24, 2008

Pakistan to Talk With Militants, New Leaders Say

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Published: March 22, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Faced with a sharp escalation of suicide bombings in urban areas, the leaders of Pakistan’s new coalition government say they will negotiate with the militants believed to be orchestrating the attacks, and will use military force only as a last resort.

That talk has alarmed American officials, who fear it reflects a softening stance toward the militants just as President Pervez Musharraf has given the Bush administration a freer hand to strike at militants using pilotless Predator drones.

Many Pakistanis, however, are convinced that the surge in suicide bombings — 17 in the first 10 weeks of 2008 — is retaliation for three Predator strikes since the beginning of the year. The spike in attacks, combined with the crushing defeat of Mr. Musharraf’s party in February parliamentary elections, has brought demands for change in his American-backed policies.

Speaking in separate interviews, the leaders of Pakistan’s new government coalition — Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N — tried to strike a more independent stance from Washington and repackage the conflict in a more palatable way for Pakistanis.

They said they were determined to set a different course from that of President Musharraf, who has received generous military financial help of more than $10 billion from Washington for his support.

“We are dealing with our own people,” said Mr. Sharif, who was twice prime minister in the 1990s. “We will deal with them very sensibly. And when you have a problem in your own family, you don’t kill your own family. You sit and talk. After all, Britain also got the solution of the problem of Ireland. So what’s the harm in conducting negotiations?”

Mr. Zardari said: “Obviously what they have been doing for the last eight years has not been working. Even a fool knows that.”

The war against the insurgents has to be redefined, he said, as “Pakistan’s war” for a public that has come to resent the conflict as being pushed on the country as part of an American agenda. It should be dealt with by talks and the use of a beefed-up police force rather than the army, he said.

Washington opposed past negotiations because in its view short-term peace deals between the militants and the Pakistani military were a sign of weakness and resulted in the militants’ winning time to fortify themselves.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said on a visit to Islamabad last month that talks with the militants were not helpful in the “short term.”

In general terms, according to a retired senior Pakistani general who remains close to the current military leadership, new negotiations would be likely to involve a ban on non-Pakistani militants — like Afghans, Uzbeks and Chechens — coming from southern Afghanistan into Pakistan, in return for reduced operations by the Pakistani Army in the tribal areas.

But precisely how those talks would be different from the negotiations that led to failed peace deals under Mr. Musharraf is not entirely clear, except that negotiators would represent the newly elected government rather than the military government of the past eight years.

Neither Mr. Zardari nor Mr. Sharif was specific about whom among the militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas they favored talking to. Nor was it clear what kind of formula or quid pro quo the two political leaders had in mind for the talks.

Mr. Sharif, whose Islamic religious background is conservative, refused to say whether he would negotiate with Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader whom the government blames for many if not most of the recent suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan.

American and Pakistani terrorism experts have said they believe that Mr. Mehsud was behind the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December, and that he works in tandem with Al Qaeda. “Nobody gave me any presentation on this subject,” Mr. Sharif said.

Asked whom the negotiations would be held with, Mr. Sharif replied: “With all the concerned elements. I don’t think guns and bullets have so far produced any positive results.”

Any result that smacks of Pakistan’s ceding further control over the tribal areas is not one likely to be welcomed in Washington. The Bush administration views the tribal areas as a sanctuary for Taliban forces who cross the border into Afghanistan to fight American and NATO forces, as well as a base for Al Qaeda to plot new terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.

Pakistanis, however, have come to see the tribal areas as something entirely different: a once peaceful region where a group of militants have turned their wrath on the rest of the country as punishment for the American alliance.

Many civilians were among the 274 people killed since the beginning of the year, but the dead also included young soldiers and policemen, according to a tally by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. A bomb explosion last Saturday at an Italian restaurant favored by foreigners in Islamabad wounded four F.B.I. agents and underscored for Pakistanis yet again the American involvement here.

Washington may have little choice but to adjust to the new policies, said a retired Pakistani Army brigadier, Mehmood Shah, who was in charge of security in the tribal areas.

Of the new Pakistani government, Mr. Shah said: “They will not like to be seen as dictated to by the United States. They would like it to be seen as ‘our war.’ ”

Mr. Shah, who met with Admiral Mullen in Islamabad, said there was a popular sense in Pakistan — prevalent on television talk shows as well as in the halls of Parliament — that it was time to “keep a distance from the United States.”

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The New York Times

Militants have found shelter in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

As Pakistan’s new leaders fashion their strategy, however, they will unavoidably be dealing with programs devised by Washington to help Pakistan regain control of the lawless tribal areas. In some places, the approaches may yet dovetail.

For instance, one element of the stepped-up American aid effort is a $400 million plan to train the Frontier Corps, an underfinanced paramilitary force that is used to patrol the border with Afghanistan.

Mr. Sharif said he had heard about the plan, expected to begin in October, but had no details.

Mr. Zardari favored employing such a force over relying on the army, which he said was the “wrong instrument” to use against the militants. “We need to use the police force,” he said. “They had few guns, made in 1952. You have to upgrade them. You have got to give them modern technology, and they will stand better than anybody else.”

Mr. Sharif, who is regarded as a nationalist — he gave the go-ahead for the explosion of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb in 1998 — said he was not in favor of foreign aid. “I think frankly we should rely less on aid,” he said. “It makes us, you see, lazy. We should generate our own resources.”

Both men stressed that the new Parliament, which held its first session this week, would be consulted on the strategy toward the insurgency, a sharp distinction from the go-it-alone behavior of Mr. Musharraf, who until last year served as both head of the army and president.

Mr. Sharif and Mr. Zardari have made much of the fact that they received a broad mandate in the elections last month. To that end, they said, they would revive the role of Parliament.

As an example of the docile legislature, a recent report of Parliament’s committee on defense for the last four years consisted of 67 pages. The panel was apparently so short of funds, the report was published with financing from the United States Agency for International Development, whose logo appears on the last page.

The only mention in the report of the fight against terrorism was about a resolution by the committee in 2007 criticizing the United States for threatening to link the amount of aid to Pakistan to the performance of the army.

Another important distinction from the past is that the new government would not use “the same tainted network of agencies and the army who have created this” situation, said one of Mr. Sharif’s senior aides, Nisar Ali Khan, who has relatives in prominent positions in the army.

“The new start won’t be with them,” he said. “It has to be a multifaceted operation with the tribal chiefs who are operating in the area.”

Both parties have long accused Pakistan’s intelligence agencies of backing militant groups, even as the government has been forced to negotiate with them. Many of the groups were used to pressure India and Afghanistan, but have more recently turned their fury back on Pakistan as they have become more radicalized.

Those intelligence agencies will almost certainly have new leadership chosen by a new prime minister.

Ijaz Shah, the head of the powerful Intelligence Bureau and a confidant of Mr. Musharraf, resigned this week. His replacement will be named by the new prime minister, who is expected to be announced on Monday by Mr. Zardari.

Mr. Zardari is not immediately eligible to become prime minister because he did not run for Parliament. But he is likely to do so in the coming months and then assume the mantle of prime minister.

March 20, 2008

The second verdict (AGAINST Musharraf)

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MARCH 20, 2008


THE thumping majority with which the National Assembly has elected Dr Fehmida Mirza and Barrister Faisal Karim Kundi of the PPP as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, respectively, comes as the second anti-establishment verdict in just over a month. Dr Mirza�s election as the first-ever Muslim woman speaker of a legislature anywhere is particularly welcome. The PPP-led coalition has shown that it commands the confidence of the House by an over two-third majority despite the delaying tactics applied in summoning the NA: over a month has passed since the election but new governments have yet to take office at the Centre and in the provinces. Provincial legislatures are yet to be convened, even though the same winning forces are poised to form governments in all the four federating units.

As the Constitution stands since 1990, it is not for the president to invite the person who he thinks commands the confidence of the NA to form a government. The PPP�s not naming its candidate for the premiership cannot be made an excuse for delaying the calling of the NA to elect a prime minister. The session should be called for the purpose without further ado. If the reason for delay is the unfolding reality that President Musharraf is rather isolated now and that the Senate is the only elected forum, where he does not fear a majority of his rivals, it is ill-advised. The speakers� election should help the president see for himself the writing on the wall. If he still wishes to tarry with the summoning of the NA to elect a PM or delay calling to session the provincial assemblies, then heavens alone help him. Any sound counsel going out to President Musharraf in the wee hours of what has been his absolute grip on power for the last eight years must entail that he take serious stock of the situation. Delaying transfer of power on whatever pretext can cast further aspersions on his role and distract from the credit for holding free and fair elections.

These are critical times; but, certainly, there is life beyond the Musharraf presidency. Internal and external security concerns and the unfinished business of the judiciary beckon the next government. The economy, too, is crying out for help, as the power crisis deepens and inflation takes a crushing toll on people�s budget. These are no small challenges. The sooner the process of transfer of power to the elected representatives is completed the better. Let it not be said that procrastination on the part of a slighted president, as indeed his advisers who have brought him no good counsel all these years, is aimed at creating more mischief. The people have spoken; now their will must prevail without any further delay.

Writing on the wall (for Musharraf)

Filed under: DOMESTIC — civilsocietypakistan @ 2:52 pm
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MARCH  20, 2008


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wednesday�s historic election of the country�s first female speaker of parliament is as clear a signal as can be for President Pervez Musharraf and his loyalists that they should put an end to their schemes and machinations to subvert the mandate that the people of Pakistan delivered on Feb 18. The joint PPP-PML-N-ANP nominee, Dr Fehmida Mirza, got 249 votes out of a total of 324 votes cast means that the new ruling coalition will enjoy a comfortable two-thirds majority in the lower house � of almost 20 seats. In fact, five votes were declared invalid and votes from 18 seats were not forthcoming, mostly because of lingering electoral disputes or poll postponements in the constituencies concerned. The magic number for achieving a two-thirds majority in parliament is 228, for a house of 342, and this means that the writing is very much on the wall for the president and his now rag-tag King�s Party � whose joint nominee managed to obtain a mere 70 votes (and this includes over 20, thanks to the MQM).

Wednesday�s decisive vote for the speaker and deputy speaker means that the next prime minister is going to have a very comprehensive mandate from parliament and in this context many of the speeches delivered by legislators made the telling point that perhaps the time had now come for all and sundry to accept the fact that parliament is a sovereign body to which all other institutions of the state must be subordinate. In the democratic and constitutional scheme of things this would make sense because parliament is supposed to represent and reflect the popular will, as translated through a free and fair election. In such an institutional scheme or framework, the military of a country is to be at the beck and command of the elected parliament, and committed to carrying out its duties and responsibilities (no more no less) as laid out in the constitution.

The response from the presidential camp, for the president�s own sake, needs to be well-thought out, studied and most importantly dignified. The camp can still try and save some face and bow to the will of the people by stepping aside with some grace and dignity intact. One can only hope that wise counsel will prevail at least this time and the president will be advised to step aside and let another individual, one who commands the support of the new parliament at the centre and in the provinces, to be elected president. This argument is all the more cogent if one considers the fact that the president was voted by an electoral college that since Feb 18 has been completely transformed and that most of those who had voted for him failed to become members of the new parliament. The Pirzadas (both gentlemen included) and the Qayyums and the Quraishis are better off now advising their boss that continuing a Machiavellian game and attempting to manipulate and engineer a result favourable to their side is no longer an option. The mandate enjoyed by the PPP-PML-N-ANP coalition is too powerful to ignore and cannot be subverted, unless of course the aim is to jeopardize the state of the nation.


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