Monday, October 19, 2009

Pakistan pounds militant targets

Pakistan's army is engaged in fierce fighting for the third consecutive day as it continues its drive against al-Qaeda and Taliban in South Waziristan.

The army has set up five temporary bases in the mountainous region near the Afghan border to try to seal off the Taliban's main stronghold.

There is no clear word about casualties, with each side claiming the other has suffered heavy losses.

Residents in the remote area say dozens of people have died.

Reports from the region are sketchy as it is difficult and dangerous for foreign or Pakistani journalists to operate inside South Waziristan.

At least 20,000 people have fled the area over the last week to the nearby Dera Ismail Khan.


Clashes between security forces and the Taliban have continued throughout the night across the South Waziristan region, the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan reports from neighbouring Dera Ismail Khan.

But the army has ceased its push into the militant heartland and started to consolidate itself on the periphery before pushing deeper in, our correspondent says.

Pakistan army: Two divisions totalling 28,000 soldiers
Frontier Corp: Paramilitary forces from tribal areas likely to support army
Taliban militants: Estimated between 10,000 and 20,000
Uzbek fighters supporting Taliban: Estimates widely vary between 500-5,000

Checkpoints and supply depots have been established in Sherawangai and Mandana in the south-west towards the Tiarza sub-division.

Security forces have used artillery to pound militant positions in Wana, Servakai, Manzai, Jandola and Razmak, in the north, south and east of the area of operations.

Fighter jets have also been deployed to attack the Taliban in Makeen, Nawazkot, Spinkamar, Khaisora and Makeen.

The army has also taken control of the key Ingalmall mountain range, which marks the passage into Afghanistan.

This will play an important role in disrupting the militants' supply lines and in ensuring more help does not arrive from Afghanistan, our correspondent adds.

According to reports, the Taliban have been using heavy weapons to fire back at the troops.

A Taliban spokesman said they had taken dozens of soldiers and not one of their men had been killed.

'Getting nothing'

Meanwhile, hundreds of people from South Waziristan continue to arrive in Dera Ismail Khan to escape fighting.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Dera Ismail Khan says there is very little preparation for the displaced people.

Pakistan army weaponry in Tank
The army has mobilised artillery and troops in the area

"At least 20,000 people are registered here. They are not getting anything, some are being taken in by the extended families and relatives," he says.

Meanwhile, the federal government and the military have ordered the closure of educational institutions for a week in Islamabad and some other cities for security reasons.

The closure comes amid fears that militants may try to take hostages to force the authorities to ease pressure on their positions in South Waziristan.

Security is tight across Pakistan and police in Islamabad have searched a number of religious seminaries and some nearby rural areas for militants.

According to reports, nearly a dozen suspects have been detained in a rural locality near the city's main vegetable and fruit market.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in a statement that action would be taken against any foreign preachers, if found.

On Sunday, reports said Taliban militants, supported by Uzbek fighters linked to al-Qaeda, were engaged in street clashes with soldiers as the army tried to break the militants' grip on South Waziristan.

An army spokesman said the troops were encountering less resistance than expected but admitted the troops were progressing slowly because of the remote area's rugged, mountainous terrain.

Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC there were mines and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in the area which required clearance.

The army has been massing troops near the militants' stronghold for months - ever since the governor of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province announced a ground offensive in South Waziristan on 15 June.

Pakistan's government has been under considerable pressure from the US to tackle militancy there.

North and South Waziristan form a lethal militant belt from where insurgents have launched attacks across north-west Pakistan as well as into parts of eastern Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is considered to be the first significant sanctuary for Islamic militants outside Afghanistan since 9/11.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cleric row over moon sighting

ISLAMABAD: The chairman of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, Mufti Munibur Rehman, lashed out at leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) on Sunday for celebrating Eidul Fitr in the NWFP one day ahead of the rest of the country.

He said in a statement that moon sighting was the responsibility of religious leaders and not the prerogative of the ANP leadership. ‘Asfandyar Wali Khan (chief of the ANP) should control his ministers and ask them why have they created this mess,’ he said, adding: ‘I demand that Mr Wali should take notice of their decision to celebrate Eid without the sighting of the moon.’

In may be mentioned that ANP leader Bashir Bilour had said a couple of days ago that this time only one Eid would be celebrated across the country.

But besides ANP leaders, NWFP Governor Owais Ghani was also seen on TV channel offering Eid prayers on Sunday along with Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti.

Mufti Munib said Eid was not a festival but a religious ritual which should be observed in accordance with Shariat, not on some people’s will.

He said no previous provincial government had interfered in the work of the moon-sighting committee.

He said the ANP government had for the first time decided on its own to announce the beginning of Shawwal.

Referring to a statement of Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour that Muslim countries should celebrate Eid with Saudi Arabia, he said: ‘Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia has a different system of government where no-one challenges official decisions, even regarding moon sighting.’

Shawwal moon was sighted on Sunday and Eid will be celebrated in the country on Monday.

Making the announcement, Mufti Munib said: ‘When moon appears it is seen by everybody.’

He said he had not taken charge of his office by choice and if anyone wanted to replace him he could contact the federal government.

Bashir Bilour said Eid was celebrated in several parts of the NWFP after the sighting of moon by some religious leaders in the province. ‘I think the religious scholars who declared Eid on Sunday are more learned and knowledgeable than Mufti sahib.’

PPP leader Fauzia Wahab said the ANP decision was tantamount to creating disharmony between the centre and the province.

An expert of the meteorological department said moon could not have been sighted on Saturday because it appeared during sunshine and only for a limited time.

Online adds: A TV channel quoted the railways minister as saying after Eid prayers that some ulema had made it a matter of ego.

‘If we celebrate Eidul Fitr with Saudi Arabia there will be no conflict or dispute. Those who are not celebrating Eid on Sunday are politicking. When there are no differences at the time of Eidul Azha, why should there be such dissents on Eidul Fitr?’ he asked.

He said Muslims all over the world should associate themselves with Makkah and Madinah.

He also said that it was a sin to fast on Eid day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shia settlement a militant target

On the cusp of the volatile tribal areas, the Shia-dominated Astarzai village was in many ways an obvious target for an attack by Sunni militant groups.

On Friday, the village was thronging with shoppers when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the Hikmat Ali hotel, owned by a local Shia businessman.

This is a busy commercial hub, located in the middle of a hotbed of sectarian conflict.

It is the first of a series of Shia settlements stretching up to the town of Hangu. West of Hangu, Sunnis dominate.

The broader Kohat-Hangu region is a patchwork of rival sects and loyalties.

Astarzai has more the look of a town than a village now - home to more than 10,000 people.

On the main road between Kohat and Hangu it serves as the main shopping point for all the Shia and Sunni villages dotted in the wilderness of the Orakzai tribal region.

Witnesses told the BBC the blast that hit the market around the Katcha Pakha roundabout demolished many buildings.

The head of the village council told the BBC how local residents were desperately digging in hope of finding survivors.

"People are doing it with their bare hands," Mehtabul Hasan said.

"They pulled out one dead body from the debris of a shop just half an hour ago."

History of violence

The people of the Orakzai tribal region have traditionally been drawn into sectarian conflict.


A hold-up by Sunnis in one area causes a hold-up by Shias in another and so on.

Astarzai's population used to be quite mixed. Shias lived among Sunnis and vice versa.

But as the years have gone by the population has shifted and Astarzai has become mostly Shia.

Sectarian conflict in this area dates from the early 1980s, when Sunni groups received arms and training in the Afghan war.

During the past two years, the area has been the scene of repeated militant attacks in which hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians have been killed.

Frequent Taliban attacks along the road leading from Kohat to Kurram led to a virtual blockade of upper Kurram region that still continues.

A major reason for the Taliban attacks has been to force the Shias on the defensive and get a toehold in Kurram, which has strategic value for Taliban forays into Afghan areas close to capital, Kabul.

Shias have so far denied them this advantage, and last year a Shia tribal force pushed Taliban fighters from their major command and control centre in lower Kurram.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

PM crying over spilt milk

Dawn news reveals the whole story as under: 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani distanced himself on Wednesday from what has been described as a deal to provide ‘safe exit’ to former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf and said that he was neither aware of nor part of any such deal. 

Talking to journalists at an Iftar dinner at the PM House, he said the presidency’s spokesman already denied that President Asif Ali Zardari had made any statement about a deal reached with foreign players to give indemnity to Gen (retd) Musharraf, adding that as far as he was concerned he was not aware of any such deal. 

The prime minister said that some parties which were part of the Musharraf regime were also in the present government while Article 6 of the Constitution would apply also to everyone who had abetted him and implemented his policies. It was for that reason that he had termed the demands of Musharraf’s trial as ‘not doable’. 

Responding to a question about his own opinion on Musharraf’s trial, Mr Gilani said he still believed that parliament alone could pardon him or try him under Article 6 which also applied to those who supported him. 

‘How many political parties had lent a supporting hand to Musharraf throughout his rule and how many of them would be included in the trial?’

He said that even if a court handed down a punishment to anyone under Article 6, the president could pardon him. 

The prime minister said that when he asked the political parties which were demanding Musharraf’s trial ‘to do what is doable’ he meant that anything decided unanimously by parliament could help the government to initiate an inquiry and a trial. 

Otherwise, a crude attempt would only strengthen the former dictator, he added. 

Mr Gilani said the government would soon present recommendations of the special committee on Balochistan to a joint session of parliament to achieve consensus on an incentive package for the province. 

He said the recommendations prepared by the Raza Rabbani committee had been discussed by the PPP’s central executive committee and approved by the president. 

Commenting on Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s statement about mid-term polls in the event of government’s failure to deliver, the prime minister said: ‘Rest assured, we will improve our performance because the country cannot afford snap polls.’

 When asked about the recent large-scale promotions and reshuffle in bureaucracy, he said that a few cases would have to be deferred for the next round.  

However, he made it clear that he had acted on a list provided by the Central Selection Board. 

Answering a question about government’s intention to take cases of murder of Shahnawaz Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto and Z.A. Bhutto to the United Nations for investigation, like the Benazir Bhutto assassination case, he said it was the desire of the late Benazir Bhutto that the party should go to the world body in case of any such incident. 

He recalled that after the Karachi bomb explosion Ms Bhutto had expressed her desire that the PPP should go to the UN if such an incident happened in future.

"Being the part of grand coaliation of PPP and PML-N, now the PM Gillani distances himself from the Mushi's safe exit issue, just because he's got surety of being in the government in the next elections."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Article 6 of the Constitution or constipation

ISLAMABAD: Top former judges of the Supreme Court, who had refused to take oath under Musharraf’s first PCO of 2000, say Musharraf is trying to create confusion over Article 6 of the Constitution to escape trial. 

Musharraf, in an interview, had passed the buck to the Army and the apex court judges, saying they were part of the decision-making process. He also mentioned that he had hopes of justice from Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. 

Former chief justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui said the recent interview of Musharraf was a calculated move to escape trail under Article 6, as the public demand was mounting pressure on the government to initiate proceedings against him. 

Siddiqui mentioned that it was the prerogative of the federal government to initiate proceedings against any person or persons and it was up to the federal government to decide against whom the proceedings would be initiated. “The federal government has to decide against how many persons the proceedings of high treason be initiated,” he said, adding: “If the federal government wants to initiate high treason proceedings against one person then the court hearing the case would decide who else should also be served notices.” 

He mentioned that if Musharraf argued before the court that the judges who had validated his acts should also be tried then the court would assess the legality and worth of such an allegation. 

Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmad, another judge of the Supreme Court who had refused to take oath under the PCO in 2000 and whose father was among the three dissenters of the famous Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case which sent Bhutto to the gallows, told this correspondent that Musharraf and his aides were trying to create confusion over Article, so that the dictator could not be tried in a court of law. 

He said that under the High Treason Punishment Act, 1973, only an authorised federal government official could initiate proceedings of high treason against any person. 

Talking about the confusion created by Musharraf regarding those who validated his acts, Justice (retd) Wajihuddin said the acts of October 12, 1999, had been provided immunity with the 17th Amendment, therefore, they were part of the Constitution, but the acts of November 3, 2007, were not part of the Constitution and it would be up to the court to decide who should be served notices. “If Musharraf says that corps commanders and judges were with him then the court would take cognisance of such statement and decide accordingly,” said the former judge.