Friday, June 5, 2009

US says Taliban getting restricted in Pakistan

WASHINGTON: The US State Department Assistant Secretary Philip J., expressing satisfaction over Pakistan military operation against Talibanization, has said that Taliban’s activities in Pakistan are getting restricted.

He said this during press briefing here on Friday. To a question, he said US is aware of Pakistan’s critical condition propped up due to surge in Talibanization and owing to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)’s issue brought about by military offensive in North West even then, Taliban activities in Pakistan are getting confined.

Philip said Taliban are still potential threat to Pakistan but world must encourage Pakistani people efforts to counterinsurgency.

He vowed to continue helping Pakistani IDPs saying, “US will make every possible effort to help them rehabilitate”.

I am happy over announcement of additional aid for IDPs from Richard Holbrooke, he added.

Bloodbath at Dir mosque

PESHAWAR - At least 42 worshippers were killed including 12 children, and dozens other injured, when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque during Juma prayers in remote area of Hayagai Sharqi of District Upper Dir. The faithful killed in the blast were reportedly anti-militants, the witnesses said on Friday.
The worshippers in the mosque hailed from surrounding areas where anti-militants feelings existed that led to this gory incident, sources told The Nation. The dwellers of the Hayagai Sharqi village had already formed an anti-militants “Lashkar” after seeing their growing influence in the area.
The prayer leader had just finished the Juma prayer when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive laden jacket in the verandah of the mosque. “The bomber was heading for the main hall of the mosque, jam- packed with worshippers. His target was the large number of prayers in the hall aimed at killing the maximum number of people. But other prayers in the verandah stopped the bomber, asking him why he was entering the hall when the congregation of Juma prayer had ended. The bomber said, “I want to meet one Bacha Mir, a local elder.” But when he was stopped he blew himself up, a prayer told this scribe by phone.
Around 42 precious lives of prayers perished which included 12 children, and many more sustained serious injuries. The names of some of the killed persons as identified included Bakht Bacha, Khaista Rehman, Juma Said, Taseer, Sajad, Waqar, Ahmed Jan, Fazl Rehman, Ghulam, Bacha Rehman, and Saleh Rehman. Three ill-fated persons Bakhat Bacha, Ahmed Jan and Fazl Rehman were killed along with their two sons each.
One of the survivors of this gory incident confirmed the rising up of the people against the Taliban’s spreading and their movement in Hayagai Sharqi area. He said that local people had established a check post on the main road and local armed persons were deployed to stop the entry of militants.

Civilians stream out of Swat as curfew eased

PESHAWAR: Pakistani civilians again streamed out of homes in the northwest Swat valley Friday, following evacuation orders from the military and taking advantage of a curfew break, officials said.

Military helicopters dropped leaflets overnight saying the government would ease curfew restrictions in Kabal and Matta in the centre of the valley to allow residents to vacate their homes, a senior military official said.

The curfew was relaxed from 06:00 a.m. until 03:00 p.m., with special buses laid on to transport people without vehicles to government-run camps for the some two million people displaced by six weeks of fighting, he added.

The military advised residents to leave Imam Dheri, Damaghar, Kozabandi, Chota Kalam, Ningolai and Shakardara.

These villages are within five kilometres of Swat's main town Mingora, which the military said was won back from the Taliban last Saturday.

‘The decision has been taken after reports that militants fleeing Mingora are now hiding in these places,’ the official said.

Local officials said people were leaving in ‘large numbers’.

The military official said thousands of people could vacate the area, with about 100 buses laid on at the outskirts of Mingora, ahead of a possible operation in those surrounding villages.

Imam Dheri used to be the main base of radical cleric Mullah Fazlullah during his violent two-year uprising to enforce sharia law in Swat.

The Pakistani military launched an offensive in northwestern districts six weeks ago after Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres of Islamabad, in violation of a deal the government had agreed in February to put the region's three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said the tide in Swat had ‘decisively turned’ and top militant leaders were being ‘aggressively hunted,’ a statement from his office said.

NWFP leadership meet General Kayani

RAWALPIND:A meeting was held on Friday at General Headquarters between the provincial leadership of North West Frontier Province and army leadership, directly involved in fighting terrorism in NWFP and FATA, to discuss the post conflict management and settlement roadmap, an ISPR handout said.

The meting was attended by the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who headed the selected senior officers group and the civilian leadership was led by Owais Ahmad Ghani, Governor NWFP and Amir Haider Khan Hoti, Chief Minister NWFP.

All concerned civil and military officials also attended the meeting.

A detailed discussion followed host of presentations to address various politico-administrative issues likely to be confronted in the affected areas of Malakand Division.

The civil-military leadership decided to accelerate such engagements to crystallize the options and refine the roadmap.

They reiterated that with collective ‘will and wisdom’, a matching response will be provided to the current challenges. This will turn these challenges into an ‘opportunity’, they observed.

Muslims see Obama shifting attitude, policy
RIYADH – Muslims greeted President Barack Obama’s speech from Cairo Thursday as a mark of a changed American attitude toward them and a new policy on the Middle East.
Every word of the speech was quickly studied across the Middle East and the Muslim world.
“President Barack Obama’s approach to resolve the problems through reconciliation and not war is the need of the hour,” said President of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry Abdul Rahman Al-Jeraisy.
“I look at Obama as a kind of American leader who has greater understanding about Muslims and Arabs. Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia also proved that the Kingdom plays an important role, not only in the region but also in the international arena. I hope and I am optimistic to see two states – Palestine and Israel – live side by side in peace through the efforts of President Obama,” he said.
Dr. Thaiseer Al-Khunaizi, a Saudi political analyst and columnist said Obama had succeeded in capturing the sentiments of Muslims and Arabs.
“It was wonderful to listen first time to a US president, who with his impressive language and tone tried to spell out his policies on the Mideast peace. We don’t doubt the seriousness and the ambitions that Mr. Obama has as the world’s most powerful man, but the question is whether he could achieve what he has been saying to the Muslim and Arab world,” he said.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the speech was “balanced” and paved the way for good relations.
“I feel that the speech was balanced and offered a new vision of rapprochement regarding relations with Islamic states,” Moussa told reporters in Cairo.
The speech showed that the United States “will deal with the region’s issues with a sense of balance, this includes the Palestinian question, the end to Israeli settlements, Palestinian rights which must be respected,” Moussa said.
Obama’s “realistic” speech proves he is a good partner for Muslim nations trying to work for peace in the Middle East, Turkish President Abdullah Gul was quoted by a news agency as saying.
“I find his position on regional peace very appropriate,” Gul told Anatolia news agency.

Obama's Cairo speech signals end of the 9/11 era
If Barack Obama fulfills even some of the promises he made during his important address in Cairo Thursday, June 4, 2009 will be remembered in world history as the last day of the 9/11 era. Instead of a clash of civilizations, we will have a dialogue of cultures. Instead of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being pushed to the sidelines of the struggle against Islamic terrorism, we will get a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with agreed territorial adjustments, and normalized relations between Israel and the Arab states. Instead of a balance of nuclear terror between Iran and Israel, both of them will be signatories in good standing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Obama's speech was not a collection of empty rhetoric. Before the entire world, he put his signature to a bunch of checks that have deadlines for being cashed. In his talks with his aides in recent weeks, a consensus has emerged that November 2010 - the date of the next congressional elections - should be the target date for realizing the two-state solution. By then, we will know how much of an impression Obama's speech made on Iran's president. Who knows: Perhaps Iranian voters will be convinced that they have before them a U.S. president who is genuinely interested in reconciliation with Islam, and will use their upcoming election to replace their current president with a more conciliatory one. By then, we will also know whom Benjamin Netanyahu is more afraid of - the U.S. president or the chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, Benny Begin or Tzipi Livni.

Alongside many questions, the address provided many exclamation marks. Thursday, the era of formal imbalance in the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Israel and the Arab world gave way to an equilateral triangle. Obama left Egypt with two tablets of the commandments - one for Jews and the other for Muslims. He left no room for doubt: An Israel that continues to discriminate against Palestinians and prevent them from exercising their rights to self-determination and freedom of movement cannot expect affirmative action from the U.S. It is hard to believe that Obama simply forgot to mention the words "Jewish state." The president believes that the nature of the State of Israel is something only the State of Israel can decide.
Obama placed violence against Israel on a par with the settlements and the humiliation of Palestinians in the territories. He spoke in the same breath about the struggle of Palestinians who lost their homes more than 60 years ago and the struggle of African slaves in the U.S. The Israelis could see themselves in the sentence that mentioned the apartheid state of South Africa.

Having granted Israel several weeks to formulate its policy, Obama could not present a detailed program for realizing the two-state solution. However, the two documents that he did mention - the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative - suggest a framework from which there can be no deviation: No more formulas like Resolution 242, whose interpretations vary, or loopholes for continuing the settlement building. Nor is it an accident that he failed to mention "natural growth": He was hinting that if Israel adopts a two-state solution, most of the settlements will become history anyway.

Obama gave Israel the following choices Thursday: Either the conservative Israeli government will adjust itself to the American people's choice in electing a liberal president, or the speech will be the lightning that precedes the thunder.

Obama calls for new effort for 2-state solution

DRESDEN, Germany -- Prodding the international community, President Barack Obama called Friday "for all of us to redouble our efforts" toward separate Israeli and Palestinian states. "The moment is now for us to act," he declared.

Alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel one day after his trip to the Middle East, Obama said: "The United States can't force peace upon the parties." But he said America has "at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart."

The president announced that he was sending special envoy George J. Mitchell back to the region next week to follow up on his speech in Cairo a day earlier in which he called for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to give ground in the longtime standoff toward the elusive goal of peace.

Obama says Israel must live up to commitments it made under the so-called "Road Map" peace outline to stop constructing settlements and that the Palestinians must control acts and statements that incite violence.

Fresh from visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Obama said that while regional powers and the entire international community must help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace, "ultimately the parties involved have to make the decision that the prosperity and security of their people are best served" by an accord.

Merkel, for her part, promised to cooperate in her own right on this long-sought goal. She said the two leaders discussed a timetable for a peace process but did not elaborate.

"I think that, with the new American government and the president, there is a truly unique opportunity to revive this peace process or, let us put this very cautiously, this process of negotiations," Merkel said.

Added Obama: "I think the moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises."

He renewed his call for Israel to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and follow through on such previously made commitments, adding: "I recognize the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that done and I'm very sympathetic to how hard that will be." He also pressed Palestinians anew to dial back anti-Israel rhetoric that is not constructive to the peace process. Obama said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "has made progress on this issue, but not enough."

Touching on an issue that has strained the American-German relationship, Obama also said he didn't seek any commitments from Germany as the United States seeks to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and determines what to do with the terrorism suspects held there. The United States has asked Germany to take a dozen prisoners, although German officials have said most should be resettled in America.

Merkel said her country is prepared to "constructively contribute" to U.S. closure efforts and said she was confident of eventually reaching a "common solution" on the prisoners' fate.

On economic matters, Obama said he's seen "some progress" in bringing stability to the world in the wake of the deep recession that has crisscrossed the continents in recent months, and said he and Merkel agreed that they must continue to "work very closely together" to restore stability. Addressing climate change, Obama also said "we're going to have to make some tough decisions and take concrete actions if we are going to deal with a potentially cataclysmic disaster."

The two leaders spoke to reporters after meeting privately at a castle in this east Germany city that has bitter wartime memories. Starting on the night of Feb. 13, 1945, first British, then American bombers pounded the defenseless and largely non-strategic architectural gem, igniting a firestorm in which 25,000 people died - and in so doing, creating an enduring controversy.

Obama did not address the firebombing, and was in Dresden at the invitation of Merkel, who hails from her country's East.

Later, Obama was ready to tour the Buchenwald concentration camp, where an estimated 56,000 people perished. Most were Jews - worked to death, shot or hanged by Nazi guards.

In his Thursday speech in Egypt, Obama issued a scathing indictment of those who question the Holocaust, saying that to do so "is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful."

"Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews is deeply wrong and only serves to evoke in the minds of the Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve," Obama added. It was a pointed message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has expressed doubts that 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and who has urged that Israel be wiped from the map.

On Friday, the president added: "The international community has an obligation, even when it's inconvenient, to act when genocide is occurring."

Obama is the first U.S. president to visit Buchenwald, and the stop was personal. A great-uncle helped liberate a nearby satellite camp, Ohrdruf, in early April 1945 just days before other U.S. Army units overran Buchenwald.

Ohrdruf no longer stands. But Buchenwald's main gate, crematorium, hospital and two guard towers have been kept as a memorial.

Accompanying Obama to the site was Elie Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, author and Holocaust survivor, who as a boy was taken to Auschwitz, then to Buchenwald, where his father died in 1945 three months before liberation.

Following the tour, Obama was flying to Landstuhl medical hospital for private visits with U.S. troops recovering from wounds sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he was ending the day in Paris - reuniting with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha, who planned a brief holiday in the City of Light after commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Allies' D-Day invasion in France.

Taliban Stir Rising Anger of Pakistanis

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A year ago, the Pakistani public was deeply divided over what to do about its spreading insurgency. Some saw the Taliban militants as fellow Muslims and native sons who simply wanted Islamic law, and many opposed direct military action against them.

But history moves quickly in Pakistan, and after months of televised Taliban cruelties, broken promises and suicide attacks, there is a spreading sense — apparent in the news media, among politicians and the public — that many Pakistanis are finally turning against the Taliban.

The shift is still tentative and difficult to quantify. But it seems especially profound among the millions of Pakistanis directly threatened by the Taliban advance from the tribal areas into more settled parts of Pakistan, like the Swat Valley. Their anger at the Taliban now outweighs even their frustration with the military campaign that has crushed their houses and killed their relatives.

“It’s the Taliban that’s responsible for our misery,” said Fakir Muhammed, a refugee from Swat, who, like many who had experienced Taliban rule firsthand, welcomed the military campaign to push the insurgents out.

The growing support for the fight against the Taliban could be an important turning point for Pakistan, whose divisions about its Islamic militancy seemed at times to imperil the state itself.

But it is an opportunity that could just as quickly vanish, analysts and politicians warn, if Pakistan’s political leaders fail to kill or capture senior Taliban leaders, to help an estimated three million who have been displaced, or to create a functioning government in areas long ignored by the state. “This is a profound moment in our history,” said Javed Iqbal, the top bureaucrat in the North-West Frontier Province, the area of fighting. “My greatest fear is whether there is sufficient realization of this among people who make decisions.”

On Wednesday, in an audiotape, Osama bin Laden specifically cited the fighting in Swat and Pakistan’s tribal areas, blaming the Obama administration for the campaign and for sowing “new seeds to increase hatred and revenge on America.”

American officials are keenly aware of the potential of the refugee crisis to spawn militancy. Less than a quarter of the $543 million the United Nations has requested for refugees has arrived, according to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, Richard C. Holbrooke, the American special envoy, visited refugee tents as part of a three-day trip to spread the message that the United States was trying to help. The Obama administration had requested an additional $200 million, he said, noting that it was providing more aid than all other countries combined.

Even so, anti-American feelings still run high in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis blame the United States and the war in Afghanistan for their current troubles.

Pakistanis have long supported the Taliban as allies to exert influence in neighboring Afghanistan. Unlike Afghans, they have never lived under Taliban rule, and have been slow to absorb its dangers.

But that is changing, as the experience of those Pakistanis who have now lived under the Taliban has left many disillusioned.

Over more than a year of fighting, the militants moved into Swat, by killing or driving out the wealthy and promising to improve the lives of the poor. Finally, the military agreed to a truce in February that all but ceded Swat to the Taliban and allowed the insurgents to impose Islamic law, or Shariah.

The prospect of Shariah was alluring, said Iftikhar Ehmad, who owns a cellphone shop in Mingora, the most populous city in Swat, because the court system in Swat was so corrupt and ineffective. But the Taliban’s Shariah was not the benign change people had hoped for. Once the Taliban took power, the insurgents seemed interested only in amassing more, and in April they pushed into Buner, a neighboring district 60 miles from Islamabad.

“It was not Shariah, it was something else,” Mr. Ehmad said, jabbing angrily at the air with his finger in the scorching tent camp in the town of Swabi. “It was scoundrel behavior.”

Daily life became degrading. A woman was lashed in public, and a video of her writhing in pain and begging for mercy stirred wide outrage. Taliban bosses ordered people to donate money. Cosmetics shops and girls’ schools were burned.

By the time the military entered Swat last month, local people began leading soldiers to tunnels with weapons and Taliban hiding places in hotels, the military said. “These people, six months back, weren’t willing to share anything,” said a military official who was involved in planning the campaign. “Gradually they’ve been coming out more and more into the open.”

There has also been a change in other parts of Pakistan, like Punjab, the most populous province, where people used to see the problem of militancy as remote, said Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. Now the province has become a target of suicide attacks, most recently last week in Lahore. Mr. Rais cited changes in news coverage of the military campaign and a strong stand by the political parties, even some of the religious ones, as evidence of the shift. “The tables are turned against the Taliban now,” he said. “They are marginalized.”

But the underlying causes that have allowed the Taliban to spread — poverty, barely functioning government, lack of upward mobility in society — remain. Mr. Iqbal is now working frantically to fill those gaps. New judges have recently been identified for Swat, he said, and about 3,000 new police officers will be selected this week.

The Pakistani military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss future operations, said troops would have to remain in Swat for at least six months. Support for the Taliban has not evaporated entirely.

Early this week, on a searing hot street in Mardan, a town south of Swat that has absorbed many of the people churned up in the fighting, a tall man with a long beard, Muhammed Tahir Ansari, grew angry when asked whether the refugees approved of the military operation. “It is illogical to think that people would be happy about this tense situation,” he said curtly.

He was from a charity run by Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the principal religious parties that tacitly support the Taliban, and was directing a frenzied effort to distribute water and hand-held fans.

The government, meanwhile, was nowhere in sight.

Mosque blast kills 40 in Upper Dir

ISLAMABAD:A bomb blast killed around 40 worshippers attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Upper Dir, a senior official in Upper Dir district told Reuters.
"Around 40 people are killed. The death toll is 40. We have no idea as yet how many have been wounded," Atif-ur-Rehman, the senior-most government administrator in Upper Dir said.