Friday, June 4, 2010

Afghan peace delegates urge action on Taliban

Delegates to a peace conference in Afghanistan asked Friday that Taliban prisoners be freed from Afghan and international detention centers. They also urged the Taliban to cut its ties with al Qaeda.The suggestions are among 200 that delegates to the conference, or jirga, made to authorities.

The delegates also recommended that names of all Taliban members be removed from blacklists maintained by the United States and United Nations. Those lists contain the names of suspected militants that U.S. authorities and their allies would like to arrest.The recommendations follow several days of meetings involving delegates from around Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai planned the peace gathering with tribal leaders to discuss a reintegration plan for Taliban members who renounce violence and lay down their arms.
The Taliban released a press statement a day before the attack, calling the peace meeting a "foreign scripted peace jirga."
Suspected militants fired rockets, detonated explosives and engaged in an intense gun battle with security forces Wednesday as Karzai spoke at the peace meeting nearby.

Pakistani Official Admits Militancy’s Deep Roots in Pakistan

The New York Times
LAHORE, Pakistan — Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official declared in a surprising public admission that extremist groups were entrenched in the southern portion of the nation’s most populous province, underscoring the growing threats to the state.
The statements by the interior minister, Rehman Malik, after the killing of more than 80 people at two mosques last week here in Lahore, were exceptional because few Pakistani politicians have acknowledged so explicitly the deep roots of militancy in Pakistan. They also highlighted the seeming impotence of the civilian government to root out the militant groups, even in Punjab Province, providing a troubling recognition that decades of state policy to nurture extremism had come home to roost in the very heart of the country.
The extent of the problem has become an increasing concern for the United States, which has pressed the government to deal with the issue with renewed urgency since the failed attempt by a Pakistani-American to explode a car bomb in Times Square.
“We’re dealing with a problem that is so deeply burrowed into the bosom of the society,” said a senior Western official about the difficulty of loosening the grip of the militant groups. “And we’re dealing with a government that is unhappy within itself.”
The problem for Pakistan, Western officials and some Pakistani politicians said, is not only the specific acts of terrorism by these groups, but the far more pervasive jihadi mentality that has been nurtured in the society by an extensive network of extremist madrasas and mosques.
Mr. Malik’s remarks — in which he rattled off a host of extremist groups once supported by the state — were a nod to these larger problems. In contrast to the tribal areas at the nation’s periphery, where the military is battling the Pakistani Taliban on several fronts, militants were “now active” in the southern part of Punjab and were trying to “destabilize the country,” he said.
Though Mr. Malik seemed to hint at possible military action in Punjab, the civilian government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, the more secular of the political parties in Pakistan, has little leverage to make it happen.
The Pakistani military, which still holds most power, has shown little interest in taking on extremist groups in Punjab. The province is a major recruiting area for the army, and many of the militant groups there were created by the state decades ago and have been fostered since as arms of Pakistan’s enduring anti-India strategy.
To a large degree, they have slipped from the control of their handlers in the military and intelligence services, according to Western diplomats and Pakistani security experts, and have linked up with Taliban fighters and other militant groups that are now striking deeper into Pakistan in an effort to overthrow the state.
Today these militants move back and forth easily between the tribal areas for training and Punjab, where they carry out a rising number of spectacular attacks.
“They — Lashkar-e-Janghvi, the Sipah-e-Sohaba Pakistan and Jaish-e-Mohammad — are allies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda,” Mr. Malik told reporters in Lahore after the mosque attacks.
The loose conglomerate of militants that Mr. Malik listed is now being grouped by officials and others under the name of the Punjabi Taliban, a designation that itself highlights the expanding nature of the threat in Pakistan’s most important province and the militants’ shifting ambitions. Under that rubric also falls Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-India militant group. Like the others listed by Mr. Malik, Lashkar-e-Taiba has been banned by the state, but continues to operate under a different name and apparently with the blessing of the military.
The Punjabi Taliban took credit for the assaults on the two Ahmadi mosques last Friday. At least one of the men arrested by the Pakistani authorities in connection with the Times Square bombing case is connected to Jaish-e-Mohammed, according to law enforcement officials in Karachi.
Adding to the difficulty of clamping down on the groups, the Punjabi government, led by Shahbaz Sharif, a leader of the more conservative Pakistan Muslim League-N and a chief political rival of President Asif Ali Zardari, has stopped short of condemning the militants. In some respects, he has treated them as allies.
Two months ago, Mr. Sharif asked the Taliban to stay away from Punjab, arguing that his party and the Taliban had a common enemy in the United States. The Punjab government is “in a state of denial,” said Arif Nizami, a columnist with the newspaper The News. Mr. Sharif played down the attack on the two mosques in Lahore, Punjab’s capital. Instead, he visited the wounded survivors in a hospital quietly at night without the usual television coverage.The groups hold such sway that Pakistani politicians frequently pander to some, like the pro-Taliban Sipah-e-Sohaba Pakistan, during elections.
In a bold illustration of the power of one of the militant groups in southern Punjab, the provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, campaigned alongside the leader of Sipah-e-Sohaba, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, during a March by-election for the provincial assembly in the city of Jhang.
In an interview, Mr. Sanaullah, said he saw nothing wrong with campaigning with Mr. Ludhianvi. It was a good thing, he said, because it helped bring groups that he described as no longer militant into the democratic mainstream. “If they want to be law-abiding citizens, we should allow them to be,” Mr. Sanaullah said.
Mr. Sanaullah was not alone in seeking votes from Sipah-e-Sohaba. A candidate for the National Assembly running for the Pakistan Peoples Party also won with its support earlier this year.
Though security is a paramount concern, government officials and others acknowledge that the problem of militancy will not be solved by military force alone. Having been nurtured through generations, it will also not be undone quickly.
A program announced by Mr. Zardari two years ago to rein in the madrasas has yet to get off the ground, blocked by bureaucratic inertia and fears of a backlash from powerful conservative religious groups, Pakistani officials say. As state-sponsored education becomes too expensive for poor parents, the number of madrasas has actually increased in the past three years, to more than 17,000 in 2010 from 13,000 in 2007. At least several thousand of the madrasas churn out militant students, experts say.

Pakistan balks at taking on the Punjabi Taliban

Despite the numerous, heinous attacks carried out in Pakistan's major cities, the Pakistani government is hesitant to take on the myriad of home-grown and supported terror groups known as the Punjabi Taliban. Yesterday, Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Minister of the Interior, "said that no military operation is planned against banned outfits in Punjab, rather effective action would jointly be taken to eliminate them," according to a report in the Associated Press of Pakistan.
What that "effective action" may be is not yet clear, but one thing that is clear is that there are tens of thousands of trained terrorists in Punjab. According to a September 2009 report in Newsline, the district of Bahawalpur, ust one of many in Punjab province, "alone could boast of approximately 15,000-20,000 trained militants" from the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These terror groups, which were created and supported by Pakistan's military and religious establishment over the past four decades, are entrenched in Punjab.
The New York Times has a good read on the situation in the Punjab. Pakistani politicians openly and proudly campaign with the leaders of these "banned" groups to garner votes while the government pretends the problem doesn't exist. Even though NATO supply terminals have to be shut down throughout the Punjab due to terror threats (these terminals have been hit in Mianwali in Punjab in the past). All the while, the number of madrassas in Punjab grows.
A program announced by Mr. Zardari two years ago to rein in the madrasas has yet to get off the ground, blocked by bureaucratic inertia and fears of a backlash from powerful conservative religious groups, Pakistani officials say. As state-sponsored education becomes too expensive for poor parents, the number of madrasas has actually increased in the past three years, to more than 17,000 in 2010 from 13,000 in 2007. At least several thousand of the madrasas churn out militant students, experts say.
Former President Pervez Musharraf also claimed he instituted changes to clean up the madrassa system in Pakistan to prevent the schools from being used to recruit jihadists. That, like his jihadist purges of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, clearly did not work out to well.

Bannu Medical College students's protest.

PESHAWAR: For three days recently, more than 70 male and female students of Bannu Medical College stayed in the provincial metropolis to stage protests and interact with whoever could help them in seeking resolution of their problems.

This was a desperate attempt to invite attention of the authorities to the sorry state of affairs at their college, which was established in 2006 by the then chief minister Akram Durrani as he tried to bring every conceivable project to his native Bannu. Four years later, it is still lacking in many respects.

The students were hoping that their protests in Peshawar and better media coverage would prompt the provincial government to take measures to upgrade facilities at the college for meeting the standards required for its recognition by the Pakistan Medical and Dental College (PMDC).

Their protests made an impact as Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti convened a high-level meeting on June 2 to discuss the needs of Bannu Medical College. If properly implemented, some of the decisions that were taken would help resolve the problems highlighted by the students. The Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital, named after a freedom-fighter, would be made fully operational by the end of the year, an endowment fund would be set up to offer incentives and hire the needed teaching staff and request would be made to the federal government and PMDC for provisionally recognizing the college.

The students, though, are sceptical as in the past also promises were made and forgotten following their earlier protests. However, they are determined to pursue the matter as the first batch at the college is now in the fourth year and non-recognition of Bannu Medical College by the PMDC would render them ineligible to appear in the MBBS examination.

The 500 students of the college had earlier organised demonstrations in Bannu and set up camps selling pakoras and sewing clothes as a mark of protest against the government’s apathy to solution of their problems.

A group of students narrated their woes as they sat down with this writer while camping in Peshawar recently as part of their protest campaign. They had been on strike since May 13, refusing to take classes and instead agitating on the streets. Their major concern was non-recognition of their college by the PMDC due to its various deficiencies.

Initially, 50 students yearly were being admitted, then the number was raised to 100 without providing the requisuite facilities. The intake of students is now 153 and the college strength would rise to 653 later in the autumn when new admissions are given. This has led to overcrowding in the classes, laboratories and hostels, which in case of male students were set up in rented buildings and lack basic services. There are more than 200 female medical students belonging to places all over the province and they too are suffering due to the plethora of problems at the college.

The Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital is not yet fully functional. Work on its construction started in 2004 but only six out of the 11 planned blocks have been built until now. Shortage of teachers is a serious issue. Ninety sanctioned posts of the teaching faculty are still vacant. The PMDC in its last report following a visit by its designated inspection team noted that the college was being run with 20 percent of the required teaching staff only.

According to the students, the problems at Bannu Medical College kept piling from the tenure of its first principal, Dr Omar Ali Khan, who was followed by Dr Shafiullah and was recently replaced by Dr Khan Nawaz. The college principal was normally entrusted with four posts, making it difficult for him to concentrate on his job.

The Ittehad-e-Talaba, the united platform of the protesting students, highlighted many other problems concerning their inadequate library, the non-operational Self Learning Resource Centre, the poorly maintained laboratories, security concerns, etc.

The Bannu Medical College is the third biggest college in terms of students’ strength after the Khyber Medical College, Peshawar and Ayub Medical College, Abbottabad. However, it is fifth in order of merit primarily due to its many inadequacies on account of the government’s inability to meet its needs. The college could slip further in ranking if remedial measures weren’t taken to resolve its many problems.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mardan , No girls college in Katlang

MARDAN: Imagine a higher secondary school with 1,700 students against its capacity of 1,200 and 120 to 130 of them crowding a class.
This is the state of affairs in the Government Girls Centennial Higher Secondary School in Katlang in Mardan district. The sad part of the situation is that it is the only school of its kind in Katlang, where no girls college exists despite having a population of more than 200,000.
Katlang is a rural area 20 kilometres north of Mardan city. It was declared a tehsil by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti during his visit to Katlang on March 6. Katlang has fertile agricultural land and is located in an area containing archaeological sites dating back to the Gandhara civilisation.
The higher secondary school for girls is in Katlang town, which is centrally located in an area containing more than 25 villages. Teaching staff at the school complain that it is overburdened due to absence of a similar institution or girls college in the area.
Principal of the school Mrs Naseem told The News there were only 13 teachers in the school, meaning that the ratio was one teacher per 130 students. She lamented that the ratio of teacher per student was three times more than the educational policy of the government, which is one teacher for 40 students.
“We have requested several times verbally and in writing the high-ups of the Education Department for the provision of more teachers at our school but to no avail,” she said. According to the principal, the school administration often refuses admission to students, as the school cannot accommodate more because of overcrowding. She said it was a routine that desperate parents from the surrounding villages visit the school to seek admission for their daughters.
“When we deny them admission, the parents lament that they will stop sending their daughters to school as there is no other educational institution run by the government for girls in the area. The parents tell us they cannot afford to educate their daughters in the expensive private schools,” she explained.
Mrs Naseem remarked that the teachers ask four girls to share a single desk, as all classes are overcrowded. “There are about 120 to 130 students in a class. How can a single teacher concentrate while teaching so many students in a class?” she asked.
Saba, a Grade 9 student, told The News she aspired to continue her studies but feared that her dream of receiving higher education would not be fulfilled as there was not a single college for girls in the Katlang area and her parents could not afford to send her to the college in Mardan city.
“I know that many girls in my neighbourhood have given up their studies after passing the intermediate examination because of absence of a girls college in Katlang,” she said. Another student of Grade 9, Lubna said her father was a peon in a high school and his salary was just Rs6,000 which was hardly enough for making both ends meet. “How can he bear expenses of my education?” she innocently asked.
Lubna appealed to the government to award scholarships for the needy girl students to enable them complete their education and become useful citizens. Shah-i-Sultan, father of a girl student, said that there were girls colleges in Mardan city but it was not possible for poor parents to bear the expenses of sending their daughters there for higher education.
“The government should set up a girls college in Katlang and also open another higher secondary school in our area to meet the demand for female education and save the future of the girls,” he stressed.