Monday, January 19, 2009

5 more schools dynamited, govt claims turn out nine days’ wonder

Ignorant Taliban and ignorant Mullahs Violently Campaigns Against Girls' Education in Northwest Pakistan
MINGORA: Local Taliban destroyed five more schools whereas more than three lakh children below the age of five will miss immunisation this year in Swat because of the ongoing fighting.
'Militants blew up one girls' school and four boys schools including Government High School Bunr, Primary School Bunr, High School Angro Dheri, Primary School Angro Dheri and Girls High School Tahir Abad. Schools are closed for a winter break and no one was hurt in the attacks.
Up till now militants had destroyed 170 schools in the valley where about 55,000 girls and boys were enrolled in government-run institutions, sources said.
Information Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters on Sunday the government aimed to ensure that schools in Swat would reopen on March 1, when they are due to go back after the winter break. But that would seem like wishful thinking because teachers were also refusing to work.
"We are stiff scared. We doubt the government's ability to protect us," a teacher said.
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain vowed action against the militants.
"They're out of control," Iftikhar told reporters.
"In the past, when we took action against them, we were criticised ... Now people realise that they're cruel and they want us to go after them and we'll do it."
The president of a Swat teachers' association said his members would only go back to work if the government brought complete peace and shut down the militants' radio, or if the militants issued an order over their radio for a return to work.
'If they're destroying schools during a curfew, they can do anything. Even if the authorities announce schools are open, nobody will go and parents won't send their kids.
About 365,000 children aged under five in Swat valley would miss immunisation against polio this year and there is likelihood of more polio cases in the area.
Informed sources in the health department said that the district administration of Swat was not willing to launch a vaccination campaign because of security concerns.
Meanwhile, management of Judicial Complex Mingora again received a call from an unknown person threatening that the complex would be targeted within an hour. The call proved to be a scare only, since the bomb disposal squad scanned the building and found no explosives; however, nearby offices and banks were closed and people faced a lot of difficulties.
Separately, unidentified miscreants torched a house of Hamid Gul in Madyn area. No casualties were reported in the incident.
Curfew remained clamped on Khwazakhela road for fifth consecutive day.
Electricity remained cut off to different parts of Mingora due to fire broke out in Pesco's main grid station in Swat.
Fire brigade men rushed to the site and extinguished the fire.

Russia, Ukraine sign new gas deal

Russia's energy giant Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz Ukrainy signed a new gas deal here on Monday, paving the way for resuming Russian gas supplies to Ukraine and Europe.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko were present at the signing ceremony at the White Palace, the Russian government's compound in downtown Moscow.

Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl


Private schools in Pakistan's troubled north-western Swat district have been ordered to close in a Taleban edict banning girls' education. Militants seeking to impose their austere interpretation of Sharia law have destroyed about 150 schools in the past year. Five more were blown up despite a government pledge to safeguard education, it was reported on Monday. Here a seventh grade schoolgirl from Swat chronicles how the ban has affected her and her classmates. The diary first appeared on BBC Urdu online.

THURSDAY JANUARY 15: NIGHT FILLED WITH ARTILLERY FIRE The night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I got up later at 10 am. Afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework.

Today is 15 January, the last day before the Taleban's edict comes into effect, and my friend was discussing homework as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Today, I also read the diary written for the BBC (in Urdu) and published in the newspaper. My mother liked my pen name 'Gul Makai' and said to my father 'why not change her name to Gul Makai?' I also like the name because my real name means 'grief stricken'.
My father said that some days ago someone brought the printout of this diary saying how wonderful it was. My father said that he smiled but could not even say that it was written by his daughter.


I was in a bad mood while going to school because winter vacations are starting from tomorrow. The principal announced the vacations but did not mention the date the school was to reopen. This was the first time this has happened.

In the past the reopening date was always announced clearly. The principal did not inform us about the reason behind not announcing the school reopening, but my guess was that the Taleban had announced a ban on girls' education from 15 January.

This time round, the girls were not too excited about vacations because they knew if the Taleban implemented their edict they would not be able to come to school again. Some girls were optimistic that the schools would reopen in February but others said that their parents had decided to shift from Swat and go to other cities for the sake of their education.

Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.


Today at school I told my friends about my trip to Bunair. They said that they were sick and tired of hearing the Bunair story. We discussed the rumours about the death of Maulana Shah Dauran, who used to give speeches on FM radio. He was the one who announced the ban on girls attending school.

Some girls said that he was dead but others disagreed. The rumours of his death are circulating because he did not deliver a speech the night before on FM radio. One girl said that he had gone on leave.

Since there was no tuition on Friday, I played the whole afternoon. I switched on the TV in the evening and heard about the blasts in Lahore. I said to myself 'why do these blasts keep happening in Pakistan?'


I have come to Bunair to spend Muharram (a Muslim holiday) on vacation. I adore Bunair because of its mountains and lush green fields. My Swat is also very beautiful but there is no peace. But in Bunair there is peace and tranquillity. Neither is there any firing nor any fear. We all are very happy.

Today we went to Pir Baba mausoleum and there were lots of people there. People are here to pray while we are here for an excursion. There are shops selling bangles, ear rings, lockets and other artificial jewellery. I thought of buying something but nothing impressed - my mother bought ear rings and bangles.


I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms - and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses and the school presented a homely look.

My friend came to me and said, 'for God's sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taleban?' During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it.

I came back from school and had tuition sessions after lunch. In the evening I switched on the TV and heard that curfew had been lifted from Shakardra after 15 days. I was happy to hear that because our English teacher lived in the area and she might be coming to school now.


Today is a holiday and I woke up late, around 10 am. I heard my father talking about another three bodies lying at Green Chowk (crossing). I felt bad on hearing this news. Before the launch of the military operation we all used to go to Marghazar, Fiza Ghat and Kanju for picnics on Sundays. But now the situation is such that we have not been out on picnic for over a year and a half.

We also used to go for a walk after dinner but now we are back home before sunset. Today I did some household chores, my homework and played with my brother. But my heart was beating fast - as I have to go to school tomorrow. SATURDAY 3 JANUARY: I AM AFRAID I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.

Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.

IDF investigating phosphorus shell use

IDF investigating phosphorus shell use
The IDF's Judge Advocate General is investigating the alleged use of phosphorous shells during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

The probe was launched at the instruction of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and its findings will be released to the public.

Several human rights groups have incorrectly claimed that shells the IDF fired into Gaza and which exploded in the air were phosphorus shells. The shells, fired by artillery batteries, were used to create smokescreens and contained phosphorus material, but were not actual phosphorus shells.

A phosphorus shell is an incendiary weapon that lands on the ground and explodes, burning everything within a close radius. Each 155 mm artillery shell bursts, deploying 116 wedges packed with white phosphorus which ignite on contact with oxygen and can scatter, depending on the height at which it is burst (and wind conditions), over an area at least the size of a football pitch. In addition to the indiscriminate effect of air-bursting such a weapon, firing such shells as artillery exacerbates the likelihood that civilians will be affected.

The use of such weaponry, the IDF said, is permitted under international law in open areas - to clear mines and roadside bombs - but is not permitted for use against civilians or in civilian areas. The IDF probe is checking whether the shells were used in civilian areas.

Meanwhile Monday, Amnesty International delegates visited the Gaza Strip and claimed to have found indisputable evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus in densely populated residential areas in Gaza City and in the north.

"Yesterday, we saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army," said Christopher Cobb-Smith, a weapons expert who is in Gaza as part of a four-person Amnesty International fact-finding team.

The smokescreen shells Cobb-Smith was referring to are not under investigation by the IDF, since their use is permitted under international law to cover tank and troops movements.

Despite this, Cobb-Smith accused Israel of indiscriminate use of the shell which he called a "war crime."

"Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza's densely populated residential neighborhoods is inherently indiscriminate. Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime," agreed Amnesty's Researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Donatella Rovera.

Authorities mount record security effort to ensure inaugural safety

WASHINGTON -- From land, water and air, tens of thousands of police officers, federal agents and National Guardsmen are being deployed in an unprecedented effort to make sure the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is safe.

"Right now, we have no credible threat that there is any direction of interest on the inauguration," Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told CNN.

FBI agents and intelligence officials have been checking with sources around the United States and the world to make sure no leads are overlooked, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said intelligence will be scrubbed and rescrubbed right through the inauguration.

"We are literally going to be watching this every minute between now and the conclusion of events on the 20th," Chertoff said.

Federal officials acknowledge the inauguration of the first African-American U.S. president could be an attractive target.

Since Obama's election, the number of threats against him has increased, according to a recent federal intelligence assessment. FBI officials say the number of tips coming in has increased, as is common before an inauguration. Investigations, however, have not uncovered a real threat.

The FBI has been especially aggressive in examining white supremacy groups, which have ramped up their anti-Obama comments.

"We have not seen any activity by the groups," said FBI Assistant Director Joseph Persichini. "We have seen a lot of chatter, we have seen a lot of discussions, we have seen some information via the Internet. Again, but those are discussions. We look at the vulnerabilities and whether or not the groups are capable of taking on action."

Persichini said he believes the bureau has "a good operational plan" for dealing with the groups, but says that right now, there is no evidence they are trying to launch anything. Watch more on inauguration security »

The Secret Service is coordinating security for the inauguration, which will involve 58 federal, state and local agencies. All of them are represented at the Secret Service command center, where they can communicate and work together to respond to any report of a possible problem.

Airspace restrictions around the Capitol are being tightened. The U.S. Coast Guard is closing portions of the Potomac River. Miles of roads will be closed, along with most of the bridges into the District of Columbia. Checkpoints are going up, and undercover teams are being deployed to look for suspicious people or vehicles.

Explosives-sniffing dogs will be on hand to nose out bombs, and horses trained in crowd control are on duty. Thousands of security cameras are being used to monitor activities, sharpshooters are being stationed, and sensors will be used to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

In addition to Secret Service agents, the security effort will involve 8,000 police officers from the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions, 10,000 National Guardsmen, about 1,000 FBI personnel, and hundreds of others from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Park Service and U.S. Capitol Police. Another 20,000 members of the National Guard are ready to respond if there is an emergency, according to Chertoff.

Security planners have drawn up procedures to deal with improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and the use of a weapon of mass destruction. A recent intelligence assessment, however, said a lone wolf would pose the greatest potential threat. Chertoff said an individual or small group planning to do harm is difficult to detect.

"Whether the motivation is racism or some psychological disorder ... in an open society, it is impossible to keep a single individual from doing some damage," he said.

A major unknown is how large the crowd will be for Tuesday's activities. Estimates have ranged from 1 million to 2 million. The FBI's Persichini said only that "we know it is going to draw a lot of people here to the nation's capital."

Those attending the swearing-in ceremony or entering the parade route will undergo tight screening, including passing through magnetometers. Spectators who are unable to get into those events will be routed to the National Mall, which, for the first time, will be open from end to end for an inauguration. Security there will be less stringent.

There has been extensive planning to ensure the crowds can be moved in an orderly and safe way, and to prevent a stampede if there is any kind of security incident. Local and federal agencies have even consulted with a crowd expert.

Authorities say the massive security operation is not intended to deter people from coming to Washington.

"Our efforts are to make sure people are safe," Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said. "We'd like for as many people to come as want to come. And again, during our planning, we have made sure we could accommodate however many people decide to come."

That inaugural events are spread over a four-day period has made security even more challenging.

Organizers say they started their security planning the day after the last inauguration and ramped up their efforts in July. Officials involved say this is the biggest event they have been involved in, but believe they are prepared.

"There are a lot of things we all think about, and I'll admit that at 3 in the morning, I might wake up thinking about something, but I have to tell you, I am so confident in this plan," the Secret Service's Sullivan said.

"I just don't see any benefit to worry, and I think we just have to go along the way we're going right now and do everything that we can do to make sure that this event is going to be a safe event, that this historical event will be an enjoyable event for everybody and that, quite frankly, that the day isn't about security, but the day is about our president and the day is about our country."

Gates to sit out Obama inauguration

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will sit out Barack Obama's inauguration at an undisclosed location as the "designated successor" in the event of a catastrophe, the White House announced Monday.

While the eyes of the world are glued Tuesday to Obama's historic swearing-in, attended by outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush and both outgoing and incoming senior aides, Gates will stay away, said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

"In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20th," Perino said.

It is common practice for one senior US official to sit out major events, like the annual State of the Union speech, to ensure that the US government has clear leadership in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack.

But Washington has been especially attuned to the potential problems of succession because Obama's swearing-in is the first U.S. presidential transition since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Gates is an unusually good choice as a bridge between the two administrations, Bush chose him to be his defense secretary in November 2006 and Obama has decided to keep him on in that post.

Gates "will be spending the day at a military installation outside the national capital region," said spokesman Geoff Morrell, who declined to offer further details, citing security concerns.

Entertainment industry of Frontier hangs in the balance

PESHAWAR: As growing trend of militancy has been badly affecting every sphere of life, particularly in the NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, those affiliated with music and showbiz are suffering most.

Cultural activities are next to nil in the province that is already lacking entertainment facilities. The only theatre in the provincial capital—Nishtar Hall—wearing almost a deserted look despite reopening by the incumbent government after remaining closed for almost five years during the MMA rule in the province.

Musicians and TV drama artistes are either leaving the province and country or being forced to quit the career. Senior TV artiste Arshad Hussain, singers Gulzar Alam, Haroon Bacha and Sardar Yusufzai, comedian Mirawas and Alamzeb are among the victims.

Noted Pashto singer Gulzar Alam has already bid farewell to singing while famous TV/ CD drama artiste and comedian, Alamzeb Mujahid, commonly known as Jaanan, announced quitting the field last Friday after winning release from the kidnappers.

Gulzar was in hot waters after the MMA-led government launched a crackdown on musicians and dislocated musicians from Dabgari Gardens area. He had even left the province and shifted to Quetta and Karachi but could not continue singing to earn his livelihood. After running from pillar to post, he ultimately said goodbye to singing.

However, Alamzeb’s case is different as he announced retirement from the showbiz on the very next day of his release from the captivity of unknown abductors. Like Gulzar, who has sported beard and spent time in Tableegh (preaching of Islam), Alamzeb is all set to embark upon his new mission of joining the Tableeghi Jamaat.

Either by force or on his own, the famous comedian parted ways with apparently happy and jolly artistes comrades. “I will go for “Tableegh” in a couple of days. Presently I am busy with guests and will embark upon 40-day Chilla very soon. I believe Almighty Allah have chosen honourable source of income for me that will be better than the one I am quitting,” Alamzeb told The News.

He was still reluctant to talk to media and was tight-lipped over his kidnapping saga. To a question where he would like to go for “Tableegh”, he said it depended on the will of Tableeghi Jamaat’s elders to decide his destination.

Belonging to Charsadda district, the noted artiste had left education department as PTC teacher eight years ago though he had been affiliated with the showbiz for about two decades. Arshad Hussain is another victim, who is yet to get out of the trauma he faced after kidnapping. He said to have knocked the doors of all concerned government authorities to get compensation for the loss he incurred due to kidnapping, but failed to win any relief.

He was kidnapped from the hometown of NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, Mardan, but nobody, including the chief minister and minister for culture paid any heed to his suffering. The artiste has also lost the alternative source of income (job in HIV/Aids project of the Health Department), as the project has already ended.

Singer Haroon Bacha has left the country because of the threats from unknown militants and sought asylum in the USA while another singer, Sardar Yusufzai narrowly escaped a murder attack sometime back. A harmonium player in his orchestra, Anwar Gul, died in the attack.

This uncertain situation has disturbed the stakeholders in the music and showbiz and brought a halt to cultural activities while the government seems hapless to keep the industry alive and provide protection to artistes.

Child Protection Bureau for NWFP soon

PESHAWAR: The NWFP government will shortly pass a bill from the provincial assembly to pave the way for the establishment of Child Protection Bureau and discourage child vagrancy in the province.NWFP Minister for Social Welfare and Women Development Sitara Ayaz said that due to lack of some legal requirements the NWFP government was unable to set up and improve child protection bureaus, welfare homes and Darul Kafala in the province, saying that a bill pertaining to bring amendments to the Vagrancy Ordinance would be passed from the provincial assembly shortly.She was talking to journalists here at the Media Centre of the provincial information department Monday after introductory ceremony of proposed website about missing children, designed by a group of students from Edwardes College Peshawar. Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain was also present on the occasion.Ms Sitara Ayaz lamented that the provincial government had no data or proper information about the missing children, which she feared could be in thousands after displacement of people from Bajaur and Swat in the wake of clashes between security forces and militants.“The ANP-led government is keen to facilitate the displaced and run away children in the official shelter homes and provide them basic education and skill on the government expenses,” the provincial minister added.Sitara said that social welfare department could not confine a child to Darul Kafala or welfare homes for a long time under existing Vagrancy Ordinance. The law department had given green signal to the social welfare department to bring necessary amendments in the existing laws for this purpose, she added.In the under-construction website, the students claimed that about 80 per cent missing, displaced and run away children would be reunited with their families through their proposed website in collaboration with police department and media.Project supervisor of the website, Jawad Ahmad, a student of class 12th, said that through artificial intelligent-based report (AIBR) a probability report about the location and identification of missing children would be provided on the Internet. However, the students demanded financial, material and moral assistance from the government.
The NWFP minister vowed to provide full support to the students-designed website and said that quick services would be provided to the affected women and children. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, while speaking on the occasion, said the government would provide full protection to educational institutions in Swat and other parts of the province, adding that schools in Swat were closed because of winter vacations. He said all the educational institutions would be opened on March 1 after the vacations.