Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pak: McChrystal

The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says he has evidence that factions of Pakistani and Iranian spy services are supporting insurgent groups that carry out attacks on coalition troops. Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are being aided by "elements of some intelligence agencies," Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in a detailed analysis of the military situation delivered to the White House earlier this month. McChrystal went on to single out Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency as well as the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as contributing to the external forces working to undermine U.S. interests and destabilize the government in Kabul. The remarks reflect long-running U.S. concerns about Pakistan and Iran, but it is rare that they have been voiced so prominently by a top U.S. official. McChrystal submitted his assessment last month, and a declassified version was published Sunday on the Washington Post website. The criticism of Pakistan is a particularly delicate issue because of the United States' close cooperation with Islamabad in pursuing militants and carrying out drone airstrikes in the nation's rugged east. "Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan," McChrystal wrote, adding that senior leaders of the major Taliban groups are "reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI." The ISI has long-standing ties to the Taliban, but Pakistani officials have repeatedly claimed to have severed those relationships in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. More recently, the ISI has been a key U.S. partner in the capture of a number of high-level Al Qaeda operatives, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But U.S. officials have also complained of ongoing contacts between the spy service and Taliban groups. U.S. frustration peaked last year when Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other U.S. officials secretly confronted Pakistan with evidence of ISI involvement in the suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Since then, U.S. officials have sought to avoid public criticism of the Pakistani service as part of an effort to defuse tensions in the relationship. Indeed, U.S. officials in recent months have said that the ISI had become more committed to the counter-terrorism cause after one of the service's own facilities in Lahore was the target of a suicide bombing. McChrystal's comments are the first public indication in months that the United States continues to see signs of ISI support for insurgent groups. Experts said elements of the ISI maintain those ties to hedge against a U.S. withdrawal from the region and rising Indian influence in Afghanistan. "There is a mixture of motives and concerns within the ISI that have accounted for the dalliances that have gone on for years" with insurgent groups, said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA counter-terrorism official. Iran has traditionally had an adversarial relationship with the Taliban, and McChrystal's report says that Tehran has played "an ambiguous role in Afghanistan," providing developmental assistance to the government even as it flirts with insurgent groups that target U.S. troops. "The Iranian Quds Force is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents," McChrystal said in the report. The Quds Force is an elite wing of the Revolutionary Guard that carries out operations in other countries. McChrystal did not elaborate on the nature of the assistance, but Iran has been a transit point for foreign fighters entering Pakistan. Experts also cited evidence that Iran has provided training and technology in the use of roadside bombs. U.S. intelligence officials said Iran appears to calibrate its involvement to tie down U.S. and coalition troops without provoking direct retaliation. Iran's aim "is to make sure the U.S. is tied down and preoccupied in yet another theater," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "From Iran's point of view, it's an historical area of interest and too good an opportunity to pass up."

NWFP(Pukhtunkhwa) working on new strategy to raise literacy

PESHAWAR: The Frontier government has prepared a strategy proposing innovative measures to ensure every child is attending school by 2015, an official said.

The plan has been worked out by the Education Sector Reforms Unit (ESRU), a think tank of the elementary and secondary education department, which offers some ‘out of the box’ solutions to enhance enrolment and prevent children’s leaving schools.

The NWFP has lower primary enrolment and higher dropout ratio in secondary education as compared to Punjab and Sindh, as according to official statistics around 2.8 million children are out of school at the moment.

The Frontier government is bound to ensure enrolment of every child in school as per the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and the target is unlikely to be met because there is a need of 22,000 new schools, which will require resources worth Rs5 trillion.

Apart from unprecedented resource mobilisation, construction of these schools will take at least 110 years because the implementing agencies with existing capacity can hardly build 200 schools a year.

The proposed strategy, however, gives an alternative plan that will reduce the cost at least 20 times, making it possible to enrol out-of-school children, Raja Saad Khan, programme director of ESRU and architect of the plan, told Dawn here on Thursday.

A summary, already approved by the provincial minister for elementary and secondary education, had been submitted to Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, whose policy speech on April 10 last year soon after taking vote of confidence provided the basis for the strategy, he maintained.

The strategy recommends initiating second shifts in existing school buildings, which have no utility after official school timing. This step would save money and time to be consumed on construction of new schools, said the official.

Similarly, he said, the communities could be approached for provision of buildings for schools free of cost, while teachers could be provided by the government.

There were many areas where equal opportunity of schooling was not available for boys and girls, thus second shifts for girls in boys’ schools and vice versa, could be started to address this deficiency, he said.

Similarly, if buildings or sufficient rooms are available, second shifts of high school can be started in middle schools, and middle classes can be started in primary schools’ buildings in evening shifts.

The proposed strategy recommends that female teachers should be recruited in all future primary schools (boys and girls) and schooling up to primary should be co-education.

The official argued that this step would reduce the burden of establishing two schools in the same locality and it would also help counter dropouts usually caused by corporal punishment.

It is also suggested to gradually convert existing boys’ primary schools into co-education with the consent of community.

Construction of even a two-room school building involves an estimated cost of Rs3.2 billion, which can be saved if an approach of housing public sector schools in rented buildings is adopted.

Similarly, Saad said, the government had been advised to encourage the private sector to construct purpose-built buildings to be hired on rental basis by the government for housing schools, adding: ‘This will not only save money for the government, but will also attract investment in the education sector.’

To counter teachers’ absenteeism in remote areas, the strategy offers an innovative approach of hiring unemployed trained married couples, offering them teachers’ jobs in these hard areas with incentives.

The official explained that in areas like Kohistan there was no dearth of school buildings, but the main problem was availability of teachers because no one among the teachers wanted to be posted there.

However, under this approach, couples could be motivated to offer their services in these areas, he observed.

Another ‘out of the box’ approach of this strategy is offering employment to female students during their studies in backward districts.

It has been suggested that female students, when reach Class 8, should be given guaranteed jobs.

After matriculation, they should be admitted for training with reasonable monthly stipend in the Regional Institute for Teachers’ Education before they are posted in their respective areas.

Launching of campaigns for enhancing enrolment and steps for improving monitoring of teachers’ performance are also part of the proposed strategy.

Obama Takes On Letterman