Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kala Dhaka has only 15 functional girls’ schools

MANSEHRA: The people of Kala Dhaka have demanded of the government to revitalise the educational infrastructure in the area. “Hundreds of boys and girls schools buildings have been converted into cattle pens and those functioning are without teachers,” the tribal elders told a press conference in Oghi Wednesday.

Flanked by a dozen of tribesmen, an elder, Roshan Khan, of Nusrat Khail said the elected representatives did nothing for the development of the area and the people were deprived of all the basic amenities. “Enough is enough and now no one can deprive our children of education,” he added.

The elder said that as many as 59 Government Girls Primary Schools were constructed in the area and only 15 of them were functional and the remaining were converted into cattle pens.The same, he said, was the case with the boys’ education as many as 148 primary, 26 middle and three high schools were constructed in the area. However, only 102 primary and 15 middle schools were functioning, depriving over 80 per cent children of education.

Mubarak: Hamas to blame for spilled Arab blood

Haaretz Correspondent
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak voiced harsh criticism against Hamas on Wednesday, accusing the Islamist Palestinian movement of being responsible for the shedding of Arab blood."How long will Arab blood continue to be spilled, only to hear those who admit to miscalculating the scope and scale of Israel's response?" Mubarak asked in a speech marking Egypt's national day to honor its police force. Mubarak's comment came in reference to remarks reportedly made by Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, who admitted at the end of the three-week Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip that he did not anticipate the scope of Israel's operation. Similar sentiments were expressed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah at the end of the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Mubarak went on to say that resistance movements must take responsibility over the welfare of their people. "The resistance must take into account victories and losses. It is responsible for the people, who in turn should settle the score [with the resistance] over the gains it has achieved, but also the sacrifices, the pain and the destruction it has caused," he said. The Egyptian president also hinted that Hamas and other militant Palestinian factions are serving the Iranian agenda in the region, especially since the fighting in Gaza ended. "They are trying to take advantage of Israeli aggression to force a new reality on the current Palestinian and Arab situation. A new reality that will alter the equation and reorganize the balance in favor of known regional powers and will serve their agenda," Mubarak said. His comment came in response to Meshal's recent calls for the establishment of an alternative Palestinian body, to rival Fatah in representing the Palestinian people. Mubarak also hinted that he rejects calls to freeze efforts to advance the Saudi peace initiative, which offers Israel normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders. "Egypt made peace publicly with Israel, and some of those who criticize us maintain warm relations with Israel behind closed doors, and others dearly desire peace with Israel," Mubarak said.

Afghan agents break up cell
Afghan authorities announced Tuesday that they had broken up a suicide-bombing cell responsible for a string of attacks in the capital...

By Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan authorities announced Tuesday that they had broken up a suicide-bombing cell responsible for a string of attacks in the capital, including a massive explosion last month that killed an American serviceman and wounded five other U.S. soldiers.

In a disclosure likely to stoke tensions with Pakistan, a spokesman for Afghanistan's main intelligence service said the 17 men arrested in Kabul were believed to be affiliated with a Pakistan-based militant group known as the Haqqani network and that the cell's ringleader was a Pakistani national.

The spokesman, Sayed Ansari, hinted that the plotters were also assisted by Pakistan's powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, known as the ISI.

Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of failing to crack down on insurgents who use Pakistan's lawless tribal areas as a staging ground for attacks inside Afghanistan.

The spy agency's long-standing ties to the Haqqani network, led by veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajjudin, were spotlighted last year when U.S. intelligence backed up Afghan authorities' assertion that the ISI had aided the group in its bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July. That attack killed nearly 60 people.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Afghanistan saw their supply lines squeezed from the north and east Tuesday after militants blew up a bridge in the Khyber Pass in Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan said it would end U.S. use of a key air base following Russia's announcement of new aid for the Central Asian nation.

However, the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan said early today that talks will continue on keeping the base in the country despite the Kyrgyz president's announcement.

Securing efficient and safe supply routes into Afghanistan has become a top priority for U.S. officials as the Pentagon prepares to send in up to 30,000 more American forces this year. Some 75 percent of U.S. supplies travel through Pakistan, where militants have stepped up attacks on truck convoys destined for U.S. bases. The top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan shrugged off any supply worries after Tuesday's events, saying traffic was already flowing again in Pakistan after the attack. "They made a bypass," said Col. Greg Julian.

He also dismissed Kyrgyzstan's threat to close access to the Manas air base as nothing but "political positioning." Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, met with officials in Kyrgyzstan last month and "came away with the sense that everything was fine," Julian said.

"We have a standing contract, and they're making millions off our presence there. There are no plans to shut down access to it anytime soon," Julian told The Associated Press.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's statement that U.S. forces would have to stop using Manas air base came after Russia said it was providing the poor Central Asian nation with billion of dollars of aid.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made increasing overtures to Russia in recent weeks. His office released correspondence between the two countries saying Russia is ready to cooperate on defense matters.

Foreigners also fighting in Swat: ISPR

ISPR spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas has said that foreign militants are also present in Swat – where security forces are pursuing a new strategy to rein in the Taliban. Abbas told a private TV channel, “No immediate results can be expected from the military operation in Swat ... it will take time.” He said the locals were reluctant to support the army out of fear of the Taliban. “The Taliban have been targeting people who supported the security forces in the past,” he said. daily times monitor

US supply routes to Afghanistan under strain

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US military on Wednesday faced the prospect of a costly logistical headache trying to move troops and supplies into Afghanistan, after Kyrgyzstan moved to close a major US air base that served as a vital hub.
The closure would place a strain on US supply lines at a time when President Barack Obama is preparing to nearly double the 36,000-strong force in the country and amid increasing attacks on supply routes through Pakistan.
About 15,000 people and 500 tonnes of cargo move in and out of the Manas air base every month supporting the NATO force in Afghanistan as well as the Afghan army, the Defense Department said on Wednesday.
"It's of concern but it's certainly not a disaster," William Nash, a retired Army general, told AFP.
Nash said there were some "potential sites around the area" and that it was likely that the United States would be able to use bases or roads elsewhere in Central Asia.
The Kyrgyzstan base remains the only US outpost in Central Asia after the US military was evicted from Uzbekistan in 2005 following Washington's condemnation of Tashkent over human rights violations.
But the Pentagon on Wednesday played down the impact of losing use of the Kyrgyz base, saying it would not in anyway undermine the military's operations in Afghanistan.
"The United States would certainly be able to continue operations in Afghanistan if we did not have that facility," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
"We are talking about the United States military, the most flexible, adaptable, capable, innovative military in the world," he said.
US officers in charge of transportation were already exploring other routes to supply the 36,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan after repeated attacks on a key road in Pakistan used to ferry supplies through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.
As much as 80 percent of US military supplies to Afghanistan -- from fuel to heavy equipment -- pass through Pakistan, much of it over a single road that threads through the Khyber Pass linking the two countries.
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command that oversees the region, and General Duncan McNabb, head of the Transportation Command, have in recent months held talks with Central Asian states to explore possible alternative supply routes to take pressure off the Pakistan link.
A spokesman for Central Command said the military had a range of choices to adjust its supply efforts.
"It is certainly a base that we do depend on and that we want to continue to use, but we never put all our eggs in one basket and we have multiple options to continue to supply the troops," Major John Redfield said.
The Manas base, operated by about 1,000 troops including small French and Spanish contingents, was set up to support coalition forces fighting to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
With no base in Central Asia, US hubs in Kuwait and Qatar might have to absorb much of the flight traffic in troops and cargo -- which would also carry a higher price tag, officials said.
But US officials said it was still possible Kyrgyzstan would pull back and agree to allow the Americans to keep using the Manas base.
"If necessary, we will obviously do contingency planning," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
"But, right now, what we are engaged in are discussions with the Kyrgyz authorities to deal with this question of the base."
Although Russia was seen as pushing Kyrgyzstan to close the base in a bid to reassert its influence in the region, Moscow insisted it was ready to assist Washington in securing transit routes.
Russia in recent days had passed a "positive answer" to Washington on its requests for Moscow's help, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said.
Some reports have suggested the assistance could include sending non-lethal supplies across Russian territory by rail.

UN to launch Bhutto probe 'soon'

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said he will launch "very shortly" an independent inquiry into the killing of Pakistani ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Mr Ban made the comments came after talks with senior Pakistani officials.

Ms Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack on a rally in 2007. Her death triggered riots across the country.

Islamabad's current government has rejected official Pakistani reports on the killing, and called for a wider inquiry by the UN.

Five people have been arrested in connection with the killing, but no-one has been convicted.

After talks in Islamabad, Mr Ban said: "I intend to establish very shortly an independent commission of inquiry headed by a very distinguished person, whom I'm going to nominate in a very short period of time."

"I have been in consultation with the government of Pakistan on its request for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

"This is a crime that shocked and offended the world, and I know this is a matter of great importance to the government and people of Pakistan," Mr Ban said.

The Pakistani government - dominated by Ms Bhutto's PPP party - and US officials have accused tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud of plotting the attack on Ms Bhutto, although he denies the allegation.

In December, a spokesman for Mr Ban said that the UN leader was optimistic that a commission into her killing could be established, but more consultations with Pakistan were needed to examine its "scope and mandate".

Mr Ban's visit to Pakistan is his first since taking office in 2007.

His trip comes amid growing unrest in Pakistan's border areas, with Taleban rebels attacking Nato supply routes into Afghanistan while government forces engage the Taleban in the Swat valley of North West Frontier Province.

'Safe release'

Officials earlier said that in Pakistan Mr Ban was also expected to discuss last year's attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) which left more than 170 people dead.

Also on the agenda was the kidnapping of a UN official in the province of Balochistan on Monday.

Mr Ban has called for the "immediate and safe release" of John Solecki, the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in the city of Quetta, who was snatched at gunpoint after his driver was killed.

Mr Ban began his regional visit earlier in the day in Afghanistan, where he said the country would be a priority for the UN in 2009.

After Pakistan, he will visit India.