Monday, April 13, 2009

The war on opium

Attention increasingly is being focused on Afghanistan and illicit drugs, two of the world's apparently insoluble, yet related problems. War-torn Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's heroin, which provides money for the Taliban insurgency. In which of the following countries does the largest share of the population use opiates?
A. Afghanistan
B. United States
C. Russia
D. Iran
In which of the following countries does the largest share of the population use opiates?
A. Afghanistan is not correct.
While Afghanistan is the largest producer of opiates, the country has only an estimated 200,000 opiate users, or 1.4 percent of the population ages 15-64, as of 2005, the latest year for which data are available. While opium historically has been a vice indulged in primarily by the elderly, the current lack of economic and physical security, a war-traumatized population in search of relief, and the ready availability of opiates all mean that Afghanistan is at great risk of developing an endemic domestic drug problem.
B. United States is not correct.
In the United States, 1.2 million people — or 0.6 percent of those in the 15-64 age group — use opiates. This is slightly more than the global average of 0.4 percent. Worldwide, an estimated 16.5 million people use opiates. Of these, 9.3 million, or 57 percent, live in Asia. Europe ranks second, with 22 percent of opiate users, or 0.7 percent of the continent's 15-64 population.
C. Russia is not correct.
Although the Russian Federation does not have the highest rate of opiate use, it has a significant problem with the drug. About 1.6 percent of those ages 15-64 uses the substance. Russia's drug problem has been compounded by the implosion of its public-health system after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
D. Iran is correct.
As a percentage of the population, Iran has the largest problem with opiates, with an estimated 2.8 percent of the population ages 15-64 using them, according to the United Nations. There is no doubt Iran's proximity to Afghanistan contributes to the problem.

Obama lifts restrictions on travel, money transfers to Cuba

WASHINGTON, -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday lifted restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to Cuba, said the White House in a statement. "Supporting the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their future and that of their country is in the national interest of the United States," said the statement. "The Obama administration is taking steps to promote greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba and increase the flow of remittances and information to the Cuban people," said the statement.According to the statement, President Obama has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to take the needed steps to lift all restrictions on transactions related to the travel of family members to Cuba and to remove restrictions on remittances to family members in Cuba.The administration has been asked to authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.The administration has also been asked to license U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into roaming service agreements with Cuba's telecommunications service providers, and to license U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers to engage in transactions necessary to provide services to customers in the country.Although the easing of restriction, which would affect some 1.5million Americans with family members in Cuba, has not eliminated U.S. trade embargo against Cuba imposed 47 years ago, it has been seen as a major policy shift from the Bush administration's hawkish approach.Since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the U.S.-Cuba relations have deteriorated with sustaining tension and confrontation. The previous U.S. administration under President George W. Bush imposed restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba for Cuban-Americans.In his campaign speech last May, Obama said he wanted to remove the restrictions so that Americans could visit relatives and transfer money to their families in Cuba, and that he would be willing to speak with Cuban leaders "without preconditions."On Friday, Obama will participate in the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago and discuss topics ranging from the global economic crisis to regional security with other 33 national leaders in the hemisphere.The issue of Cuba will likely become a topic of discussion.

China pledges to improve human rights - with Chinese characteristics

Launching its lengthy "Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010)", China's ruling Communist Party said it would "give priority" to people's rights to participate fully in China's rapidly developing economy.While claiming to "cherish" the role played by international human rights conventions, and promising to hold constructive dialogue, China said it would adopt only those suggestions that were "rational and the light of China's actual conditions".
China announces plans for national health service
The plan was published as China's state security apparatus continued to stifle dissenting voices ahead of a raft of sensitive anniversaries this year, including the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings in June 1989.In February, China dismissed Western criticism of its poor human rights record during its review at the UN's Human Rights Commission in Geneva, accusing other nations of "politicising" the issue.Introducing the plan, China said that the universal principles of human rights needed to be combined with the "concrete realities of China", advancing an interpretation of human rights appropriate to China's level of development.
"Having just entered the stage of building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way and accelerating socialist modernisation, China is faced with the arduous tasks of reform, development and stabilisation," the report said."Due to the influences and limitations of nature, history, culture, economic and social development level, and other factors, China still confronts many challenges and has a long road ahead in its efforts to improve its human rights situation." Human Rights activists continue to criticise China for the widespread use of detention without trial, heavy use of the death penalty and what the UN Committee against Torture described in November as the "systemic" use of torture by police.Last Summer's Olympic Games disappointed many observers who had hoped that the global spotlight would force China to relax its controls on society, including heavy internet censorship and denying all right of protests against the ruling Party.However, China gave little ground, refusing to allow anyone to use pre-designated "protest pens" and arresting and imprisoning eight American activists for their parts in a pro-Tibet protest, a move which the US government officially condemned.At the end of the Games, the US said it was "disappointed" that China has not used the Olympics to demonstrate "greater tolerance and openness", calling on China to respect human rights, including "freedom of expression and freedom of religion".Despite the emphasis on economic and social rights, the report did promise to do more to prevent prisoner abuses, following a wave public outcry over several recent "accidents" in Chinese jails, including one prisoner who died "playing hide and seek". In an apparent nod to that public concern, the plan calls for a physical barrier between detainees and interrogators and mandatory physical examinations for detainees before and after they are questioned.Human rights groups said the report, while falling far short of what was required to bring China up to international standards, represented a small positive development in the attitude of China's government to such issues.
Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager for the Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based human rights group, said the plan did contain more input from academics, activists and other elements of civil society than previous human rights reports, but criticised the government for setting 'soft targets' for itself.The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the document could go some way to giving ordinary Chinese a better understanding of their rights, but added that too many of the major issues had simply been ignored."Our concern is that many of the key abuses ... really aren't addressed in this document," said Phelim Kine, a researcher with the organisation.

US creates local militias to fight Taliban

At first sight, Muhammad Nasim Gul and his men – in drab, olive-colored fatigues and baseball caps to match – look like Cuban guerrillas. They slowly patrol the muddy streets of Wardak Province, weapons drawn in a constant state of alert.

They stand sentry, night and day, on the watch for intruders and other enemies. At times they stop to talk to the townsfolk, to see if anyone has had any trouble recently.

Mr. Gul and his fellow tribesmen are part of an ambitious new American-backed program that started here two weeks ago to train, uniform, and arm locals against the Taliban. Officials turned to the idea following the success of a similar plan in Iraq, known as the Anbar Awakening, in which Sunni tribes were armed to fight Al Qaeda. They hope the program, dubbed the "Afghan Public Protection Force," can help stem the worsening violence here.

"My tribesmen joined this force to protect our village," says Mr. Gul, a former policeman who is now a commander in the protection force of the Jalrez district of Wardak, a 30-minute drive from Kabul.

Under the plan, members of each district shura (council) in Wardak nominate locals for the force who are then trained for three weeks by Afghans (with the involvement of American advisers). They then return to their home districts, receiving nearly $125 dollars a month in salary – more than the typical police income, which is usually less than $100 a month. If successful in Wardak, officials plan to expand the program to more than 40 other districts across the south and east.

Afghan and American officials stress that the force is not a tribal militia. "The shuras [which nominate the force] are not from one or two tribes, so they will bring people from all the villages," says Barna Karimi, director-general of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, a government body that works with the local shuras.


But in practice, the force is shaping up along tribal and ethnic lines. In Jalrez, one of two districts where the program has started, only 38 of the 128 members of the force are Pashtuns. The rest belong to other ethnic minority groups. But the Taliban and its supporters are almost entirely Pashtun, as is the majority of Jalrez district.

"It is not wise to use members of one ethnicity to combat members of another ethnicity," says Waliullah Rahmani, a policy analyst with the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.

Of the 38 Pashtuns in the Jalrez force, all belong to a single tribe, the Kharoti. Several locals say that other tribes in the area refused to join. "We are the only tribe that joined this program," says commander Gul. "All of the rest of the tribes are angry at us and think we are helping the infidels."

"Unfortunately, most of the tribes living in these areas are not supportive of the current government," says Mr. Rahmani, "and they are not likely to fight against the insurgents."

Critics of the program contend that arming specific tribes is dangerous in a country with a recent history of civil war.

But government officials defend the composition of the force, saying it can fight the insurgency only with those who are most willing, regardless of ethnicity or tribe.


While in Iraq the Sunni tribes were asked to fight against outsiders – Al Qaeda – in Wardak the majority of insurgents are locals. "People in my district are pessimistic about the effectiveness of these forces," says Roshanak Wardak, a parliamentarian from Saydabad district. "They say that if they joined, they would end up fighting their own brothers, because the Taliban in my district are locals; they are not from Pakistan or Kandahar."

Even those who neither have ties to insurgents nor support them say they fear reprisals if they join. "The Taliban in Wardak are very powerful," says one local from Jaghatu district, who asked not to be named for security reasons. "Even those against the Taliban are scared to join."

Some say that even if they do join, it might not be for the reasons that officials envisaged. "I would like to join and defend my community," says one local from Saydabad district, who also asked not to be identified, "but only against criminals. I don't want to fight against the Taliban."

Fazel Qazizai, from Chak district, says, "Most of us just want money for food and a weapon for security. Just think about it – one Kalashnikov is $600. Where could I ever get that kind of money? But in the protection force, we'll get one for free. And we'll get an ID card so that the police can no longer harass us."

But he adds, "We have no interest in going to war with the Taliban."

Moreover, some critics say the influx of weapons can exacerbate longstanding tribal and political rivalries. In Chak district, for example, residents say the main group promoting the protection force is Ittehad-e-Islami, a pro-government fundamentalist group accused of human rights violations in the 1990s. (No one from the party was available for comment.)

The potential for groups or individuals to take advantage of the protection force worries tribal elders, says Muhammad Hazrat Janaan, a member of the Wardak provincial government. "They are worried that the force can actually decrease security unless it's done very, very carefully."


Although they are controversial, tribal militias and community guards have a long history in Afghanistan. In parts of some eastern provinces, a certain type of tribal militia, the arbakai, acts as a community guard. These arbakai act independently of the government and is formed fully on the initiative of the tribal members. The Afghan Public Protection Force is not an arbakai, since the latter is an indigenous volunteer force under the command of tribal leaders, while the protection force is created, paid for and controlled by the US and the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

In some cases, arbakai have successfully kept insurgents out of their territory. But it might be difficult to replicate such successes. "The arbakai are limited to the southeastern provinces," says Muhammad Osman Tariq, with the London-based Crisis States Research Center, who wrote a recent report on the subject. "The arbakai have existed there for hundreds of years, independent of the government, and will continue to exist for years more."

Conditions in provinces like Wardak, which do not have such a strong tradition of tribal militias, differ greatly from those in the eastern provinces, Mr. Tariq continues. The arbakai in the east are more motivated to defend their tribes, since they are created and organized by the tribes themselves.


Analysts say that if the Afghan Public Protection Force is to work, officials will have to learn from past failed attempts at locally based security initiatives. For example, a previous NATO-backed initiative to arm locals in the southern provinces, dubbed the Afghan Auxiliary Police Force, ended in failure after Western countries deemed the force to be ineffective. Officials at the time said it was poorly trained and motivated. In some cases, they accused the force of favoring specific tribes or of engaging in criminal activity. In other cases, recruits simply absconded with their weapons, never to be seen again.

Gul, the commander of the Jalrez Public Protection Force, is convinced that the current plan will work – if his forces are well enough equipped. "We need more weapons, more clothes, more food. We lack everything," he says. "We lack everything."

"We are the only tribe that joined the force, so we need to protect ourselves," he adds. "If the other tribes get their hands on me, they will kill me."

Insurgents Make Inroads in Key Pakistan Province

Insurgents Make Inroads in Key Pakistan Province

This article was reported by Sabrina Tavernise, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt and written by Ms. Tavernise.(NYT.COM)

DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.

The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be named because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

As American drone attacks disrupt Taliban and Qaeda strongholds in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan — both in retaliation and in search of new havens.

Tell-tale signs of creeping militancy abound in a belt of towns and villages near here that a reporter visited last week. Militants have gained strength considerably in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan, which is a gateway both to Taliban-controlled areas and the heart of Punjab, police and local residents say. Many were terrified.

Some villages, just north of here, are so deeply infiltrated by militants that they are already considered no-go zones by their neighbors.

In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the mid-sized hub of Multan, barber shops, CD shops and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats. Folk ceremonies have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again.

“It’s going from bad to worse,” said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan. “They are now more active. These are the facts.”

American officials agreed. Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that the Taliban now has “extensive links into the Punjab.”

“You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups,” said Mr. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”

The Punjabi militant groups have had links with the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun tribesmen, since the 1980s. Some of the Punjabi groups are veterans of Pakistan’s state-sponsored insurgency against Indian forces in Kashmir. Others target Shiites.

Under pressure from the United States, former President Pervez Musharraf cut back state support for the Punjabi groups. They either went underground or migrated to the tribal areas, where they deepened their ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

At least 20 militants killed in American drone strikes in the tribal areas since last summer were Punjabi, according to people from the tribal areas and Pakistani officials. One Pakistani security official estimated that between 5 to 10 percent of militants in the tribal regions could be Punjabi.

The alliance is based on more than shared ideology. “These are tactical alliances,” said a senior American counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.

The Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers. The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.

The cooperation between the groups intensified greatly after the Pakistani government’s siege of Islamic hard-liners at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, in mid-2007, Pakistani and American security officials say. The siege has since become a rallying cry.

One such joint operation, an American security official said, was the Marriott bombing in Islamabad in September, which killed more than 50 people.

As this cooperation intensifies, places like Dera Ghazi Khan are particularly vulnerable. This frontier town is home to a combustible mix of worries: deep poverty, a growing phalanx of hard-line religious schools and a uranium processing plant that is a part of Pakisitan’s nuclear program.

It is also strategically situated at the intersection of two main roads. One is a main artery into Pakistan’s heartland, in southern Punjab. The other connects Baluchistan Province in the west to the North-West Frontier Province, both Taliban strongholds.

“We are being cornered in a blind alley,” said Mohammed Ali, a small local landlord. “We can’t breathe easily.”

Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are becoming more common. Police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, local police said.

The police arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrassa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.

They belonged to a banned Punjabi militant group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader,Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.

“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.”

One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani bank account, the authorities said.

Local crimes, including at least two recent bank robberies in Dera Ghazi Khan, were also traced to networks of Islamic militants, officials said.

“The money that’s coming in is huge,” said Zulfiqar Hameed, head of investigations for the Lahore Police Department. “When you go back through the chain of the transaction, you invariably find it’s been done for money.”

After the suicide attack here, the police confiscated a 20-minute inspirational video, titled “Revenge,” for the Red Mosque, which gave testimonials from suicide bombers in different cities and post-attack footage.

Umme Hassan, the wife of the fiery preacher who was killed during the siege, now frequently travels to south Punjab, to rally the faithful. She has made 12 visits in the past several months before cheering crowds and showing emotional clips of the siege, said a Punjabi official who has been monitoring her visits.

“She claimed that they would bring Islamic revolution in three months,” said Umar Draz, who attended in Muzzafargarh.

The situation in south and west Punjab is still far from that in the Swat valley, a part of the North West Frontier Province that is now fully under Taliban control after the military agreed to a truce in February. But there are strong parallels.

The Taliban here exploit many of the same weaknesses that have allowed them to expand in other areas: an absent or intimidated police force; a lack of attention from national and provincial leaders; a population steadily cowed by threats, or won over by hard-line mullahs who usurp authority by playing on government neglect and poverty.

In Shadan Lund, a village just north of here, militants are openly demanding Islamic law, or Sharia, said Jan Sher, whose brother is a teacher there. “The situation is sharply going towards Swat,” Mr. Sher said.

He and others said the single biggest obstacle to stopping the advance of militancy was the attitudes of Pakistanis themselves, whose fury at the United States has to blind support for everyone that goes against it.

Shabaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, said he was painfully aware of the problems of insurgent infiltration and was taking steps to restore people’s faith in government, including plans for new schools and hospitals. “Hearts and minds must be won,” he said in an interview Monday. “If this struggle fails, this country has no future.”

But people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance, and in some cases, even assist them by giving money to some of the religious schools, or madrassas.

“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the resident. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”

The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts like this one virtually unprotected, police officials said.

Local people feel helpless. When a 15-year-old boy vanished from a madrassa in a village near here recently — his classmates said to go on jihad — his uncle, a grocery shop owner, could not afford to take time away from his shop to go look for him, let alone confront the powerful men who run the madrassa.

“We are simple people,” the man said. “What can we do?”

ZARDARI SURRENDERS TO TALIBAN, signs Nizam-e-Adl regulation


ISLAMABAD :President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday signed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation-2009 after its approval from the National Assembly with thumping majority. According to presidency sources, the document was duly signed by President Zardari after getting approval from the Parliament, which was widely appreciated in the restive parts of NWFP including Swat.Earlier, the document was presented and passed in the National Assembly with thumping majority. Lawmakers belonging to Muttahida Qaumi Movement abstained from voting in favour of the Regulation while ANP protested against tabling of the document in the National Assembly.

Violence subsides in Balochistan

QUETTA: Protest against the killing of three Baloch leaders subsided to some extent on Monday, although four people were killed in incidents of violence in different areas of the province.Gunmen killed a policeman, Niaz Muhammad, in Quetta suburbs and took away his weapon and motorcycle. Six people were injured in a grenade attack in the Killi Baramzai area. A truck driver and a cleaner were killed when their truck was ambushed in the Rarkan area of Barkhan. Another truck also came under attack but escaped.In Mastung, an employee of the Quetta Electric Supply Corporation was killed in a shootout in the main market. The situation remained calm in the troubled Makran belt after three days of violent incidents which followed the killing of Baloch National Movement’s Ghulam Muhammad Baloch and Lala Munir and Sher Muhammad Baloch of the Baloch Republican Party.Shops and markets opened in main cities and towns, including Quetta, Gwadar, Khuzdar, Kalat and Mastung. Meanwhile, activists of Baloch nationalist parties held a protest rally in Nushki.

550,000 displaced in NWFP(PUKHTUNKHWA), tribal belt: USAID


PESHAWAR: A recent report of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has estimated the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in conflict zones of the North West Frontier Province and tribal belt at 550,000.Quoting UNHCR data, it says among them 74,884 persons were registered IDPs residing in government established camps while 300,737 IDPs were forced to take shelter outside government-run camps in NWFP.The report came after visit of high-level joint mission of World Food Programme (NWFP) and office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to Peshawar & Islamabad from February 20 to 28, 2009. The mission met officials, donors, humanitarian agencies and implementing partners providing assistance to IDPs in NWFP, according to PPI.It says total USAID and US assistance for conflict-affected people of Pakistan for year 2008-2009 is $14.6 million. It states according to UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) effect of recent ceasefire between militant groups and government in Swat and Bajaur Agency remains unknown, adding that to date, relief agencies have not reported significant IDPs return to their hometowns.UNHCR says security situation in recent weeks has remained challenging and unpredictable in Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber agencies. Insecurity also continues to impede service delivery at IDP camps due to concerns for safety of humanitarian agencies staff.

Pakistan to US Senator: No Conditions on Aid

Pakistan has told an influential visiting U.S. senator that Washington should not put conditions on a massive aid package expected for Pakistan.
US Sen. John Kerry, right, shakes hands with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi prior to their meeting in Islamabad, 13 Apr 2009
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's office Monday said he told U.S. Senator John Kerry that "aid with strings attached would fail to generate the desired goodwill and results in Pakistan."Kerry, who heads the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has backed legislation that would triple U.S. non-military aid to Pakistan, to $1.5 billion a year for five years. The measure would also require Pakistan to make measurable progress in fighting terrorism and militancy.Kerry met with Mr. Gilani and with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad Monday.
The United States and Pakistan have expressed sharp differences over some key issues in the battle against extremism in the region.U.S. officials say Pakistan needs to crack down on militant groups in its northwestern tribal regions, near the Afghan border, and do more to stop cross-border militant attacks.U.S. officials have also expressed concern about Pakistan's intelligence services, which have a history of backing Islamist militant groups operating in Afghanistan and the disputed Kashmir region. Pakistan has denied allegations that its intelligence services are continuing that support.Pakistan has publicly objected to missile strikes by U.S. drones on militant targets in Pakistan, saying the attacks undermine the country's sovereignty and outrage the Pakistani people.