Saturday, February 7, 2009

APSA presses government to protect schools in Swat

PESHAWAR: The All Private Schools Association (APSA) NWFP has warned of province-wide protest if the provincial and federal governments failed to ensure protection of educational institutions, both for girls and boys, in the restive district of Swat.

“The government should provide full compensation to those owners whose schools’ buildings were destroyed or damaged by militants in Swat besides ensuring their protection in future,” said Aqeel Razzaq, president of the private schools’ association NWFP, here on Saturday. Speaking at a news conference along with president of Swat-based private schools’ association Ziauddin Yousafzai, Aqeel Razzaq demanded of the provincial government to ensure the holding of matriculation and intermediate annual examinations as per schedule. Any delay on part of the government would result in waste of time of the students, he warned.

He said the secondary school certificate (SSC) and intermediate examinations were getting close and the government should ensure the examinations be held in time. There were around 500 private and as many government schools in Swat.

The total number of students was around 0.4 million, said Aqeel. He added that the Taliban’s threat to schools had put the future of all those students at stake. He said the threats and closure of both private and government schools were jeopardising the future of students belonging to poor and middle class as those coming from rich families had already shifted to educational institutions in other cities.

The people of Swat do not know the logic behind destruction of schools or forcing girls to stay away from educational institutions because Islam terms education compulsory for both men and women, he said. Coming hard on political leaders, Aqeel said they had raised much hue and cry on “extra-marks” allotted to a student (Farah Hameed), but ignored the over one hundred thousand girls from Swat whose future was at stake because of threats from Taliban.

Speaking on the occasion, president of the private schools’ association in Swat Ziauddin Yousafzai said the government had lost writ in Swat and threat to girls’ education and boys’ schools was a proof of that. He said they were going to open boys’ schools in the district from February 9 while girls’ schools would not be opened because of threats involved to girls and the educational institutions. According to unofficial figures, 188 schools have been destroyed in Swat so far.

They included both government and private educational institutions. Some of those were partially damaged in bomb blasts or arson attacks while others were completely destroyed.

Pakistan Tribesmen back army operations

ISLAMABAD: Expressing their support for military operations in the Tribal Areas, tribal elders on Saturday said they will always remain “the first line of defence for Pakistan”. The tribal elders met Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani who visited the troops in FATA’s Mohmand Agency. An Inter-Services Public Relations press release said the COAS was briefed on the operational preparedness and prevailing security environment in the area by the commandant of Mohmand Rifles. The COAS interacted with the troops and prised their high morale. He also met tribal elders and appreciated their efforts to evict foreign elements from their areas.

CIA warns Barack Obama that British terrorists are the biggest threat to the US

Barack Obama has been warned by the CIA that British Islamist extremists are the greatest threat to US homeland security.The CIA has told President Barack Obama that British terrorists are the biggest threat to the US.American spy chiefs have told the President that the CIA has launched a vast spying operation in the UK to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks being launched from Britain.They believe that a British-born Pakistani extremist entering the US under the visa waiver programme is the most likely source of another terrorist spectacular on American soil.Intelligence briefings for Mr Obama have detailed a dramatic escalation in American espionage in Britain, where the CIA has recruited record numbers of informants in the Pakistani community to monitor the 2,000 terrorist suspects identified by MI5, the British security service.A British intelligence source revealed that a staggering four out of 10 CIA operations designed to thwart direct attacks on the US are now conducted against targets in Britain.And a former CIA officer who has advised Mr Obama told The Sunday Telegraph that the CIA has stepped up its efforts in the last month after the Mumbai massacre laid bare the threat from Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group behind the attacks, which has an extensive web of supporters in the UK.The CIA has already spent 18 months developing a network of agents in Britain to combat al-Qaeda, unprecedented in size within the borders of such a close ally, according to intelligence sources in both London and Washington.Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who has advised Mr Obama, told The Sunday Telegraph: "The British Pakistani community is recognised as probably al-Qaeda's best mechanism for launching an attack against North America."The American security establishment believes that danger continues and there's very intimate cooperation between our security services to monitor that." Mr Riedel, who served three presidents as a Middle East expert on the White House National Security Council, added: "President Obama's national security team are well aware that this is a serious threat."The British official said: "The Americans run their own assets in the Pakistani community; they get their own intelligence. There's close cooperation with MI5 but they don't tell us the names of all their sources.
"Around 40 per cent of CIA activity on homeland threats is now in the UK. This is quite unprecedented."Explaining the increase in CIA activity over the past month, Mr Riedel added: "In the aftermath of the Mumbai attack the US and the UK intelligence services now have to regard Lashkar-e-Taiba as just as serious a threat to both of our countries as al-Qaeda. They have a much more extensive base among Pakistani Diaspora communities in the UK than al–Qaeda."Information gleaned by CIA spies in Britain has already helped thwart several terrorist attacks in the UK and was instrumental in locating Rashid Rauf, a British-born al-Qaeda operative implicated in a plot to explode airliners over the Atlantic, who was tracked down and killed in a US missile strike in November.But some US intelligence officers are irritated that valuable manpower and resources have been diverted to the UK. One former intelligence officer who does contract work for the CIA dismissed Britain as a "swamp" of jihadis.
Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, admitted in January that the Security Service alone does not have the resources to maintain surveillance on all its targets. "We don't have anything approaching comprehensive coverage," he said.
The dramatic escalation in CIA activity in the UK followed the exposure in August 2006 of Operation Overt, the alleged airline bomb plot.The British intelligence official revealed that CIA chiefs sent more resources to the UK because they were not prepared to see American citizens die as a result of MI5's inability to keep tabs on all suspects, even though the Security Service successfully uncovered the plot.
MI5 manpower will have doubled to 4,100 by 2011 but many in the US intelligence community do not think that is enough.For their part, some British officials are queasy that information obtained by the CIA from British Pakistanis was used to help target Mr Rauf, a British citizen, whom they would have preferred to capture and bring to trial.Sensitivities over the intelligence arrangement formed a key part of briefings given to Mr Obama, since they are central to what is often called "the most special part of the special relationship" and could complicate his dealings with Gordon Brown.Tensions in transatlantic intelligence relations which were laid bare last week during the High Court battle over Binyam Mohamed, the British resident held in Guanatanamo Bay. British judges wanted to publish details of the torture administered to Mr Mohamed, an Ethiopian national, in US custody. But key paragraphs were blacked out after American officials threatened it could damage intelligence sharing between the two countries.Intelligence experts said that a trusting intelligence relationship, in which one country does not publish intelligence data obtained by the other, is vital to both countries' national security.Patrick Mercer, chairman of the House of Commons counter-terrorism sub-committee, said: "The special relationship is a huge benefit to us. It clearly works to our advantage and helps keep the people of the UK and the US safe."There is no doubt that a great deal of valuable intelligence vital to British national security is procured by American agents from British sources."Mr Riedel added: "The partnership between the two intelligence communities is dynamic; it is one of great intimacy. We overuse the term special relationship, but this is an extraordinarily special relationship.
"Since September 11 the philosophy on both sides has been to err on the side of telling each other more rather than less. It is in everyone's interests that that continues

British army rations to swap corned beef for curry

BRITISH troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon be swapping their chocolate bars and corned beef hash for oreos and chicken kormas, in a radical overhaul of army rations.

The new menus - including halal, vegetarian and Sikh and Hindu diets - are designed for troops serving in extreme weather conditions, and will be trialled on the front lines from May until October.
Among the new additions are chicken tikka masala, the British version of south Asian curries that was once referred to as a "national dish" by former foreign secretary Robin Cook, and Thai green vegetable curry.

Troops will also be given energy bars rather than chocolate, and fruit biscuits and pate have been removed, with fruits and muesli among the added rations.

In all, there are 20 updated menus, along with a further six menus each for Sikhs and Hindus, vegetarians, and those on Halal diets, specially made so that soldiers reach their recommended daily intake of 4000 calories.

"All the products that have been inserted are products more suitable for troops on operations in Iraq and, particularly, Afghanistan," a ministry spokeswoman said.

Britain has 4100 troops in Iraq, most of whom will pull out by the middle of the year, and some 8300 soldiers in Afghanistan, most of whom are fighting a fierce insurgency against Taliban militia in the south of the country.

Captain Paul Cunningham of the military's food services said soldiers were typically given freshly-prepared meals while in the main camps but that it was not always possible in remote parts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The new multi-climate ration trial will double the amount of available menus and remove the need for supplements," he said.

"We have lots of new items in the rations and I am convinced these will be very popular with our troops."

The new ration packs were developed after panels were conducted in May 2008 involving soldiers who had recently returned from operations. Troops trialling the new rations will fill out a survey giving their views on the menus.

Nosedive in Afghan-US relations

Relations between President Karzai's Afghan government and Washington are at an all-time low. As Richard Holbrooke - President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan - prepares to make his first visit to the region since being appointed, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul looks at why the relationship has soured.Hamid Karzai has become increasingly vociferous in his criticism of American military tactics and has been making half-hearted threats to shift his allegiance to Moscow if he does not get his way.Washington has yet to publicly declare its hand but a series of well-placed leaks, briefs and snubs have raised the prospect that it could move its support elsewhere in this year's presidential election.
One Afghan newspaper spoke of "a new cold war".
A senior Afghan government official says the new Obama administration has insulted President Karzai and one prominent MP accuses America of "running a shadow-government".
The decline in relations began with a visit last year by Joe Biden, now the vice-president, to Kabul.At the time, as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, he attended a private meeting with Mr Karzai.A well-placed source describes Mr Biden, exasperated at not getting "straight answers" on drugs and corruption, launching into a verbal tirade and storming out of the meeting.In a country where honour and decorum are second only to God and country, this was less than tactful.On the campaign trail and more recently in confirmation hearings, senior members of President Barack Obama's team have questioned the effectiveness and honesty of Hamid Karzai's government.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's written statement to Congress during her confirmation hearing called Afghanistan a "narco-state" that was "plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption".She may have been wise enough not to use the phrase in her public testimony but by the time it was reported on the front page of the newspapers in Kabul, it did not really make much difference.
'Potential impediment'
Earlier in January the Nato secretary-general wrote an opinion piece about the lack of leadership in the country, laying the blame not at the feet of the Taleban but the lack of governance.Then there was a recent article in the New York Times. Quoting anonymous "senior administration officials", it said Washington planned to take a tougher-line with Kabul and that Hamid Karzai was now regarded as "a potential impediment to American goals" in the country.Hamid Karzai is an avid reader of the Western press and is known to be highly sensitive to criticisms they may have of him. Publicly he has not responded but he is now under considerable pressure.His government's writ is limited to Kabul, the north and a few urban spots elsewhere in the country.His own popularity has fallen and some whisper privately and mischievously about his "state of mind".When asked whether the country was heading towards a crisis, one senior political figure responded that the country was already in one.
Old Afghan hand
President Karzai has been holding a series of meetings with former Mujahedeen commanders in the past few weeks amid suggestions that he is trying to align the country with Russia.That has certainly been his public stance. As well as a deliberately leaked "letter of understanding" with Moscow, President Karzai publicly warned America that unless it supplied the military hardware he wanted, he would look to other countries for support.No-one was in a moment's doubt who this meant. The Russian ambassador, Zamir Kabulov, an old Afghan hand, was seen strutting around parliament last week.He has warned that the US and Nato are repeating the same mistakes of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. As he was posted to the Soviet Embassy at the time, his opinion is worth considering.Now President Karzai has sent a document to Nato outlining new "rules of engagement". If implemented they would substantially alter the mandate for foreign forces in the country.It seems inconceivable that there could be a real and lasting schism between Kabul and Washington. It will be the job of Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to ensure that does not happen.But the date has been set for Afghanistan's presidential election and the West's disappointment with Hamid Karzai can no longer be disguised.A number of challengers are jostling for American support and in the current climate, their chances are starting to improve.

Reining in the militants

On his first visit to Peshawar since moving into the presidency, Asif Ali Zardari attended a series of detailed briefings at the Governor's House and met with key provincial officials. At the end of these sessions, which naturally enough focused primarily on militancy, President Zardari declared that it was essential to defeat the militants and to continue an all-out operation against them. He also, quite correctly, noted that the militants comprise a number of groups rather than one homogenous unit – and include extremists, criminals and smugglers. The issue of internally displaced people was also reviewed during the meeting and policies to address their plight discussed.What we do not know is whether other, more sensitive issues, which are crucial to the battle against the militants, were brought up at all during the meetings with the chief minister and other ANP leaders. The perception in many quarters in NWFP is that the military is not eager to defeat the Taliban, because it sees them as natural allies. The belief that these forces may regain control of Afghanistan strengthens this school of thinking. It is in this matter that we need intervention from Mr Zardari. The lack of will against militants is a very real problem. On the other hand, if the will and commitment is in place, then we need to see why there has been only limited success in combating them. Indeed, in Swat there has been no success at all while in Bajaur, Waziristan and the Khyber Agency the battle continues.Mr Zardari, and indeed all others who hold prime spots of decision-making, must realize that the militant issue has to be made a key priority. There must be more frequent visits to Peshawar and other areas closer to the crisis by key figures from Islamabad. Recently, the NWFP government has expressed displeasure with the handling of the operation in Swat by the federal government. There is immense apprehension in NWFP about the Talibanization in the province and the fact that this seems now to be fanning out from tribal areas to the rest of the province. Many people have left homes across the province, unable to live under the harsh order imposed by the militants. There is a feeling now that the extremists are eager to capture all the territory they can and that they will not stop at just the tribal territories.Our leaders must realize that this constitutes an immense threat. All those who can play a part must work closely together. This includes the military, the federal government and the provincial set-up. The series of detailed meetings held in Peshawar constitutes a good first step towards creating such cooperation. It must continue.

Taliban Say They Killed Polish Contractor in Pakistan

Another crime against humanity committed by cruel ignorant Taliban,U.N. should act against them.Mwaqar
KOHAT, Pakistan- Taliban fighters beheaded a Polish hostage in Pakistan Saturday, according to a spokesman for the militants who said the body wouldn't be handed over until some captured Taliban were released.Speaking in Germany, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said his government had received "unofficial confirmation" Piotr Stancza, an engineer and a father of one, had been killed."We do not have a solid proof but we have received unofficial confirmation that this tragedy indeed took place," Tusk told reporters in Munich in comments broadcast live on Polish TV.The Taliban spokesman, identified only as Mohammed, told Reuters Stancza, 42, was killed because Pakistani authorities failed to free the militants before a deadline expired at midnight Friday."We have killed the man after authorities refused to release our colleagues," the Taliban spokesman told Reuters. "We will now only hand over his body after our demands are met."He said Stanza was executed in the south Waziristan tribal region, a known haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.An intelligence official in the region, who requested anonymity, said the Taliban had demanded 200,000 rupees ($2,540) in exchange for the body.Officials were unable to verify the Taliban claim, and the two principal hostage negotiators handling Stancza's case could not be reached for comment.Speaking on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters:
"We have used every opportunity to avert this."
Stancza was kidnapped on September 28 while visiting one of his company's sites near Attock city, about 65 km (40 miles) west of the capital, Islamabad.Gunmen shot dead his Pakistani driver, bodyguard and translator before taking him hostage.Militants had demanded 60 of their comrades should be freed, but later cut their demand to four of their top men and negotiations have intensified over the past 10 days.Attacks on foreign aid workers, company employees and diplomats have increased in Pakistan over the past year, especially in areas near the border with Afghanistan, where Taliban and al Qaeda militants are battling government forces.An American heading the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in southwestern province of Baluchistan, was abducted last week and his driver was shot dead.Two Chinese telecommunication engineers, two Afghan diplomats and an Iranian diplomat were kidnapped in northwest Pakistan, though one of the Chinese later escaped.

Obama team works to define U.S. strategy in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON-- When U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks, then-President Bush said the goal in Afghanistan was "to build a flourishing democracy as an alternative to a hateful ideology."Seven years, billions of dollars and hundreds of U.S. casualties later, the goals are more pragmatic and modest.
The Obama administration's new special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, offered an understatement at the ceremony naming him to the post, telling the audience, "Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well."
Violence in Afghanistan is up. The Taliban continues to make a comeback and President Hamid Karzai is struggling to control the country, which with a rampant drug trade, threatens to turn into a narco-state.President Obama has called Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan the "central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.But even as he promises to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a robust debate in Washington has begun about what the U.S. should try to achieve in a country that due to 2,000 years of conflict has been called the "graveyard of empires."Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry lamented that the U.S. has forgotten that its goal in Afghanistan was to fight al Qaeda and get Osama bin Laden."It was not to adopt the 51st state of the United States. It was not to try to impose a form of government, no matter how much we believe in it and support it, but that is the mission, at least, as it is being defined today," Kerry said during Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing for her post as secretary of state.Kerry warned that the U.S. risks getting bogged down in Afghanistan as it did in Vietnam -- parallels also drawn in the U.S. media.The administration is conducting reviews of its policy in Afghanistan, including one by Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander in the region. The objective is simple: Define what the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan should be.Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautions that goals have been too broad and need to be need to be more "realistic and limited," or the U.S. risks failure."If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose, because nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience and money, to be honest," Gates told senators, calling for more concrete objectives that can be achieved in the next three to five years.Obama seemed to signal a more modest approach, defining the mission as limited solely to stabilizing Afghanistan."What we can do is make sure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for al Qaeda. What we can do is make sure that it is not destabilizing neighboring Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons," Obama told NBC News. "We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy."At a minimum, the U.S. must help the Afghan government curb corruption and extend its authority to establish rule of law. That means a hefty component of civilian assistance.The U.S. will increase development efforts and aid to strengthen the Afghan government, including additional nonmilitary aid for education, infrastructure, human services and alternative livelihoods for farmers to turn away from narcotics.Part of the U.S. strategy will repeat the tactics used to help Iraq's "Sunni Awakening," in which Sunni tribal leaders united to fight insurgents and maintain security.In Afghanistan, the U.S. will look for opportunities to engage with tribal and regional leaders, including those who might have been affiliated with or joined forces with the Taliban, insurgents Petraeus refers to as the "reconcilable Taliban."For nuclear power Pakistan, extremists along its turbulent border with Afghanistan present an even greater threat to U.S. national security.As he heads out next week for his first trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Holbrooke will seek to develop a regional approach to curbing extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan as he did in the 1990s in the Balkans, which had a similar mix of different histories, cultures and traditions.
Holbrooke is expected to put more pressure on Karzai, amid a growing impatience with his inability to extend his authority, clamp down on corruption and deliver services to his people. Officials say there is a willingness to withhold U.S. aid if he doesn't deliver.In Pakistan, Holbrooke will seek stronger cooperation from the government of Asif Ali Zardari to crack down on extremists along the Afghan border and in the tribal areas seen as sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda.Another part of Holbrooke's job will be to streamline the U.S. programs and assistance for Afghanistan and Pakistan and direct them toward the immediate goal of stabilizing the region."If our resources are mobilized and coordinated and pulled together, we can quadruple, quintuple, multiply by tenfold the effectiveness of our efforts there," Holbrooke said at his appointment.Coordinating a strategy will require a toughness and sense of purpose that has been lacking in U.S. policy toward the region.No one can question Holbrooke's toughness. The architect of the Dayton peace accord in the Balkans is, after all, famous for strong-arming the strongest willed of leaders -- such as former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.