Pakistan anti-Taliban offensive in S Waziristan ‘over’

Pakistan’s prime minister has said its military has completed an offensive against the Taliban in the tribal region of South Waziristan.
Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Lahore the operation might now move north to the Orakzai region, where many militants are thought to have fled.
The Pakistani army has not yet commented on Mr Gilani’s remarks.
However, correspondents say Mr Gilani’s words do not mean the army is pulling out of South Waziristan.
Military sources have told the BBC that the army is still facing pockets of resistance there.
The Pakistani military launched its offensive in South Waziristan, in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan, in mid-October.

Air strikes
“The operation in South Waziristan is over. Now there are talks about Orakzai,” Mr Gilani told reporters in televised remarks on Saturday.
The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says the prime minister did not elaborate on the scale of any possible offensive in Orakzai, also in the lawless tribal belt.
The military operation in South Waziristan was the biggest in years, our correspondent says, with 30,000 troops sent into battle.
The army has managed to drive many militants from their main bases but their leaders have not been arrested and are thought to have escaped into other areas.
Hundreds of people have been killed in revenge attacks around Pakistan, she adds.
A number of air strikes have targeted militant targets in Orakzai in recent weeks.
The United Nations says more than 40,000 civilians have left their homes in Orakzai and are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Bomb blasts hit market in Lahore

Two bomb blasts have ripped through a busy market in the centre of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, killing at least 30 people, police and medics say.
The attack, which injured some 100 people, sparked a huge blaze at the city’s Moon Market at 2045 local time.
The toll may rise further as fire-fighters battle to control the blaze.
The blasts came just hours after a suicide bomber on a rickshaw killed at least 10 people in Peshawar when he blew himself up near the courthouse.
In Lahore, emergency vehicles and police officers are at the scene of the blast, where television pictures showed smoke rising and cars burning.

Market blaze
One official said the blasts happened in quick succession and that dozens were injured when the blast struck the market, crammed with shoppers and traders.
“The fire engulfed a building and shops. There were two blasts with an interval of about 30 seconds,” senior city police official Shafiq Ahmad told French news agency AFP.
“One was in front of a bank and one was in front of a police station.”
The two buildings targeted were about 30m apart – one on the edge of the market and the other at its centre.
The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool, in Islamabad, says eyewitnesses say that much of the market remains inaccessible.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the bombs were apparently remote-controlled devices, AP reports.
More than 400 people have been killed during a string of attacks mounted by Islamist militants in recent weeks, as an army offensive targeting the Taliban stronghold in the country’s north-west continues.
Close to the country’s border with India, Lahore has been hit several times by militants over the past year.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber detonated about 6kg (13lb) of explosives outside a courthouse in the north-western city of Peshawar.
The attack killed 10 people – including a policeman – and wounded 44 others.

Rawalpindi mosque suicide attack

Militants are said to have killed at least 35 people, including 17 children, at a mosque near the Pakistani army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi.
At least four attackers opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers attended by many military staff in the garrison city.
Security forces fought back in an hour-long gun battle before three attackers blew themselves up, reports say.
The Pakistani security forces have been targeted in a series of recent attacks.
Ten adult civilians were also among the dead, as well as military staff, the army said.
One witness told Pakistan’s Dawn TV: “They attacked the mosque from the side … the windows. They took the people, got hold of their hair, shot them.”
The attackers reportedly started hurling grenades around and firing indiscriminately, before two were killed in the battle with security forces and two blew themselves up.
Military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said the latest attack had been co-ordinated. It ended once the military had made sure all the gunmen were dead, AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

This attack happened inside a so-called red zone, supposed to be a very secure location. It is close to military facilities and in an area where many senior army officers live. They were known to attend this mosque for prayers.
Once again, the militants are taking this fight to the army and showing they can strike inside a secure protected location.
Certainly, this is part of a pattern of targeting military and security sites. It is something not only restricted to Rawalpindi, but happening in other Pakistani cities as well.

In MCC’s opinion, genuine Muslims would not attack, injure or kill anyone, let alone other Muslims at prayer. These cowardly and evil militants are working for Shaitan, and must be eradicated before they bring down Islam.

Pakistan must help break al-Qaeda, warns Brown

Gordon Brown has told the BBC that Pakistan must do more to “break” al-Qaeda and find Osama Bin Laden.
Eight years after the 2001 attacks on the US, nobody had been able “to spot or detain or get close to” the al-Qaeda leader, the prime minister said.
Pakistan’s security services must join fully in the “major effort” to isolate the terrorist group, he warned.
Mr Brown said progress had been made against the Taliban in south Waziristan by Pakistan’s government.

But he told the BBC: “We’ve got to ask ourselves why, eight years after September the 11th, nobody has been able to spot or detain or get close to Osama bin Laden, nobody’s been able to get close to [Ayman] Zawahiri, the number two in al-Qaeda.
“And we’ve got to ask the Pakistan authorities, security services, army and politicians to join us in the major effort that the world is committing resources to, and that is not only to isolate al-Qaeda, but to break them in Pakistan.”
He said he would be talking to Pakistan’s leaders to say, if the international community is putting so much effort into building up Afghanistan to control its own affairs “then Pakistan has got to be able to show that it can take on al-Qaeda”.
He said the terrorist network posed a “continuing threat”, adding: “I believe that after eight years, we should have been able to do more, with all the Pakistani forces working together with the rest of the world, to get to the bottom of where al-Qaeda is operating from.”
He added that, eight years on, “we want … to see more progress in taking out these two people at the top of al-Qaeda, who have done so much damage and are clearly the brains behind many of the operations aimed at Britain”.
In a separate interview with Sky News, Mr Brown said Britain was prepared to help “rebuild the education system in Pakistan” where, he said, propaganda in madrassas – Islamic schools or colleges – and ordinary schools was “supportive of extremist action”.
But he said other issues concerning education and unemployment made up a climate which “feeds dissent” and the Pakistani authorities had to deal with these.

Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan conspiracy theories stifle debate

Ahmed Rashid on how the real problems facing Pakistan are being sidelined by a surge of conspiracy theories.
Switch on any of the dozens of satellite news channels now available in Pakistan.
You will be bombarded with talk show hosts who are mostly obsessed with demonising the elected government, trying to convince viewers of global conspiracies against Pakistan led by India and the United States or insisting that the recent campaign of suicide bomb blasts around the country is being orchestrated by foreigners rather than local militants.
Viewers may well ask where is the passionate debate about the real issues that people face – the crumbling economy, joblessness, the rising cost of living, crime and the lack of investment in health and education or settling the long-running insurgency in Balochistan province.

The answer is nowhere.
One notable channel which also owns newspapers has taken it upon itself to topple the elected government and appears to hardly ever air democratic views.
Another insists that it will never air anything that is sympathetic to India, while all of them bring on pundits – often retired hardline diplomats, bureaucrats or retired Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officers who sport Taliban-style beards and give viewers loud, angry crash courses in anti-Westernism and anti-Indianism, thereby reinforcing views already held by many.

Collapse of confidence
Pakistan is going through a multi-dimensional series of crises and a collapse of public confidence in the state.
Suicide bombers strike almost daily and the economic meltdown just seems to get worse.
But this is rarely apparent in the media, bar a handful of liberal commentators who try and give a more balanced and intellectual understanding by pulling all the problems together.

The explosion in TV channels in Urdu, English and regional languages has bought to the fore large numbers of largely untrained, semi-educated and unworldly TV talk show hosts and journalists who deem it necessary to win viewership at a time of an acute advertising crunch, by being more outrageous and sensational than the next channel.
On any given issue the public barely learns anything new nor is it presented with all sides of the argument.
Every talk show host seems to have his own agenda and their guests reflect that agenda rather than offer alternative policies.
Recently one senior retired army officer claimed that Hakimullah Mehsud – the leader of the Pakistani Taliban which is fighting the army in South Waziristan and has killed hundreds in daily suicide bombings in the past five weeks – has been whisked to safety in a US helicopter to the American-run Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.
In other words the Pakistani Taliban are American stooges, even as the same pundits admit that US-fired drone missiles are targeting the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan.
These are just the kind of blatantly contradictory and nut-case conspiracy theories that get enormous traction on TV channels and in the media – especially when voiced by such senior former officials.
The explosion in civil society and pro-democracy movements that bought the former military regime of President Pervez Musharraf to its knees over two years has become divided, dissipated and confused about its aims and intentions.

Even when such activists do appear on TV their voices are drowned out by the conspiracy theorists who insist that every one of Pakistan’s ills are there because of interference by the US, India, Israel and Afghanistan.
The army has not helped by constantly insisting that the vicious Pakistani Taliban campaign to topple the state and install an Islamic emirate is not a local campaign waged by the dozens of extremist groups, some of whom were trained by the military in the 1990s, but the result of foreign conspiracies.

Economic crisis
Such statements by the military hardly do justice to the hundreds of young soldiers who are laying down their lives to fight the Taliban extremists.
Nor has the elected government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) tried to alter the balance, as it is mired in ineffective governance and widespread corruption while failing to tackle the economic recession, that is admittedly partly beyond its control.
Moreover the PPP has no talking pundits, sympathetic talk show hosts or a half decent media management campaign that can attempt to refute the lies and innuendo that much of the media is now spewing out.
At present the principle obsession is when and how President Asif Ali Zardari will be replaced or sacked, although there is no apparent constitutional course available to get rid of him except for a military coup, which is unlikely.
The campaign waged by some politicians and parts of the media – with underlying pressure from the army – is all about trying to build public opinion to make Mr Zardari’s tenure untenable.

Nobody discusses the failure of the education system that is now turning out hundreds of suicide bombers, rather than doctors and engineers.
Or the collapsing and corrupt national health system that forces the poorest to seek expensive private medical treatment, or the explosion in crime or suicides by failed farmers and workers who have lost their jobs.
Pakistan cannot tackle its real problems unless the country’s leaders – military and civilian – first admit that much of the present crisis is a result of long-standing mistakes, the lack of democracy, the failure to strengthen civic institutions and the lack of investment in public services like education, even as there continues to be a massive investment in nuclear weapons and the military.
Pakistan’s crisis must be first acknowledged by officialdom and the media before solutions can be found.
The alternative is a continuation of the present paralysis where people are left confused, demoralised and angry.
Ahmed Rashid is the author of the best-selling book Taliban and, most recently, of Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

MCC agrees wholeheartedly, and aims to do it’s own small bit where it can, by providing education to the poorest sections of the Pakistani community. (Article courtesy of BBC News website, 24th November 2009).

Pakistan’s ‘haunting’ Taliban problem


The Pakistani army say they are doing all they can to combat the Taliban.

Pakistani forces fighting the Taliban near the Afghan border claim American and Afghan troops aren’t doing enough to help.
Commanders in the troubled north western region of Bajaur complain of a lack of effort, and a lack of troops, on the other side of frontier.
They claim American and Afghan forces aren’t taking strong enough action against the militants – an accusation traditionally levelled against Pakistan itself.
Senior military officials claim Taliban fighters are able to re-arm in Afghanistan, and cross back into Pakistan.

‘Crush them’
“It is a problem that is haunting us,” said Lt Col Nadir Khan, commander of Pakistani forces in the Charmang valley, which leads to the border. He spoke within sight of the brooding peaks which mark the remote frontier.

“If you look at the distant ridge you can see the footpaths leading into our area,” he said.
“They have a number of routes open to them. They can muster support from over the border and can bring the manpower, weapons and ammunition. There is a constant stream of supplies.”
Lt Col Khan estimates that the journey to the Charmang valley from the Afghan province of Kunar takes eight to 10 hours on foot.
“We are able to crush them, and hit them,” he said, “but then with fresh supplies we have this type of problem.
“They can come and strike our heads again.
“While we are clearing them here, they are not being effectively dealt with across the border. I think the coalition can do more. They can choke off their supplies.”

Commanders here say they have “significant control” in the valley, but that the fight is far from over, because of the problems on the other side.
“Definitely it is frustrating for us,” said Lt Col Khan.
The coalition denies a lack of activity, or of personnel, on the Afghan side of the border.
It says there are several units operating in the Kunar river valley, as part of “Task Force Mountain Warrior” which is several thousand strong. These units are working with both the Afghan National Army and Afghan border police.
The coalition says that it recently conducted “complimentary operations” with Pakistani forces, “maintaining consistent communications”.

Pockets of resistance
“We will continue to co-ordinate with our Afghan and Pakistani counterparts,” said Col Randy A George, commander of Task Force Mountain Warrior, “to conduct complimentary operations along the international border to bring peace and stability.”

“Border security is an issue for both governments because it is rough terrain that isn’t easily accessible for either side, and is tough to defend.”
On that much, there is agreement on both sides of the frontier.
“This is a very porous border,” says Lt Col Khan. “To guard each and every inch of the border would be a Herculean effort. It’s not possible.”
Nearby, troops loaded up the heavy guns for another assault on Taliban positions. The’ve already been fighting in Bajaur for more than a year. Around 130 soldiers have lost their lives battling the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.
The Charmang valley is one of the remaining pockets of resistance. Asked if he was worried he might be fighting there forever, Lt Col Khan replied: “Yes. Yes. If it is not done from across the border. Maybe.”
While arms and accusations go back and forth across the border, the Taliban continue to strike, often at soft targets. Two of their latest victims were women school teachers. They were shot dead in broad daylight in the town of Khar, not far from the Charmang valley.
Shazia, 30, was one of them. She refused to be intimidated into abandoning her pupils, according to her grief-stricken husband, Kamal Dilawar Khan.
“Earlier the Taliban sent out threats,” he said, “and I asked her not to go to Bajaur. But she replied that she was not scared and that she would continue with her teaching because it was a service to the nation. When I got the news I lost my mind, I lost my heart and the whole world collapsed for me.”
Her killer melted away, disappearing into the traffic. The army has been arresting hardcore Taliban suspects. But it says that for every fighter detained, someone else could be crossing the border to take their place.

Fleeing from South Waziristan

Up to 100,000 civilians have left their homes in South Waziristan, where the Pakistani army is fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Dr Jalal comes from the Makeen area in the north-eastern part of South Waziristan, which is inhabited by the Mehsud tribe.
“The situation in South Waziristan is very dangerous now.
The army and the Taliban are fighting really hard. People are now leaving the area to avoid the fighting. My family and friends have already left.
While I was still there, there were dangers from everywhere – American drone attacks from the one side and the Taliban from the other. Many people were killed, including militants.
You couldn’t show that you were against the Taliban, because they would kill you. But in my mind they are bad people.

Difficult journey
The winters are really harsh in Waziristan and people are trying to move out before it becomes really cold. Otherwise it might be too late. My family arrived a few days ago.
It was a difficult journey as they had to travel on foot. The people of Waziristan are poor people, very few can afford proper transportation. It costs 20,000 rupees ($240, £147) to hire a vehicle. This is too much and it’s very hard for many people to pay that kind of money.
So my family, along with many others, made the journey on foot. They had to overcome bomb explosions and curfews. They are with me now and everyone is fine, although a few people suffer from flu and exhaustion.
There are 33 of us now in our house. It’s not a big house, but we are trying to accommodate everyone.
The government has issued registration cards and every family is to receive some financial help. But it’s not enough.
And if the war against the terrorists in Waziristan continues for a long time, how are we going to keep going?
The army is fighting very hard. They are the good ones and we are supporting them. I believe that they will kill all the militants.”

‘Fashion Week’ first for Pakistan

Pakistan is hosting its first ever fashion week in the city of Karachi against a backdrop of heavy security.
Around 30 Pakistani designers are taking part in the event which ends on Saturday.
The shows are taking place in the luxury Marriott hotel. Last year, the hotel’s branch in capital Islamabad was devastated by a massive truck bomb.
The organisers say they hope to show a different side of Pakistan than the usual images of suicide bombings.
The event had been postponed after threats to security which kept foreign models and designers away, but the fashion world in Pakistan was determined to stage its shows.
“After many, many years, fashion in Pakistan is being taken seriously,” said leading Pakistani designer, Rizwan Beyg, who has designed for international jet-setters, including the late Princess Diana.

Midriffs and cleavage
While women in much of Muslim, conservative Pakistan wear headscarves and baggy shalwar-kameez (pyjama and long tunic), in the financial hub of Karachi, jeans and T-shirts are more likely to be seen.
On the fashion week catwalks, bare midriffs and cleavage are also on show just two hours’ flight time from the militant hubs in the country’s troubled north-west.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about Pakistan,” he said. “A dark picture of Pakistan is being painted globally, and we wanted to show that there’s a lot of creativity and artistry that survives in the face of all opposition.”
The event comes as the army continues its offensive against Taliban militants in the tribal region of South Waziristan, and a wave of suicide bombings and attacks that have killed more than 300 people over the past month.