Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ahmed Wali Karzai..... The King of Kandahar.

By Janis Mackey Frayer, South Asia bureau chief, CTV News The most powerful man in Kandahar is alone in his reception room with two mobile phones and a string of prayer beads pinched between his finger and thumb. He rises to greet his visitors, shakes hands, and sits again with a slight sigh. He checks his very gold watch. Then, in keeping with some unspoken routine, Ahmed Wali Karzai begins a ritual discussion of weather and war as they both make Kandahar a harsh place this time of year. "Mainly the Taliban want to have an address," he explains from an armchair, "they want to show something this summer. To show they are still around. That is why there is a good need for a military operation." I ask him if the best way to beat an insurgency is to kill. "You have to show muscles," he says, with a fist pump. "You have to hit them hard, as hard as you can because they have no mercy for anyone." Karzai's detractors might say the same of him. The indisputable don of Afghanistan's hostile south, he has been called a lot of things: a drug profiteer, a thug, a warlord's heavy who threatens critics (or worse). Karzai's well-nurtured notoriety spawns a list of accusations that include paying off the Taliban to grease an empire built around convoys and private security with international contracts from countries like Canada. There is also that business of the CIA and reports that Karzai, the younger half-brother of the country's president, has been on the payroll for years in part to mount a U.S.-funded paramilitary force to kill Taliban. Is any of it true? "My problem is never a legal problem," says Karzai. "It's always a political problem … those international media, they are doing it for some political reason." In the assessment of one coalition official: "Nothing in Afghanistan is clean." Any attempt to reveal incriminating evidence against Ahmed Wali Karzai has so far failed. No government or intelligence agency has ever produced the smoking gun or least nobody has dared. "There is always politics," Karzai says of the accusations leveled against him. "Everybody wants to be in front. Some people, they spread rumours, they stab you in the back." Karzai is a 'fixer'. In Kandahar, that can mean a lot of things. What has been proven over years is that real power in Afghanistan is less a function of government or public service than a spoil of private fiefdom. Guns, money, and control of foreign support are the true benchmarks. To that end, Ahmed Wali Karzai is unstoppable and NATO has no choice but to need him. In diplomatic circles and among the military leadership here, the younger Karzai and his unanswered questions are distilled to the initials ‘AWK' and words like ‘issue' or ‘problem'. "AWK is a concern," sighed a diplomat, "but he is a fact of life." It is an open secret that the international community would like Hamid Karzai to rein him in. AWK is said to be a common worry of the U.S. president and other foreign sponsors whose countries bear the financial and human costs of the war. Karzai the president dismisses any criticism of his brother as baseless, but at times does so at a cost to his own credibility. "It is hard to listen to one and look at the other and be convinced of a virtuous leader," a senior official told me. When most people are asked about AWK, their opinions are shared in hushed voices on the condition they will not be named. Among Afghans, Ahmed Wali Karzai is regarded with complementary doses of respect and fear. On the day I visit his home, men with long beards and hard stares sit quietly in the unofficial waiting room. Their shoes -- I count 37 pairs -- are parked neatly at the steps near the door. They wait with their concerns and needs on the blue-carpeted floor until fate might yield the chance to see him. Karzai is a ‘fixer'. In Kandahar, that can mean a lot of things. "I'm very close to the people, the tribes," says Karzai. "I earn it. I work hard… this is the major thing that I am doing is to keep these things… calm." The Karzai hold on Afghans is firm. His control of for-hire security businesses has effectively created a private army that has thwarted the growth of a viable Afghan National Police force. While patrolling the muddy warrens of a Kandahar neighbourhood, Canadian soldiers walked past the funeral of a young man shot dead that day in the market. Through an interpreter a group of male relatives said he was "killed by one of AWK's men." They told the story of armed security guards looking to settle a score, and that their cousin was hit with a stray bullet. Will they go to police? No, it's AWK, they said. They seemed shocked both by the suggestion they would utter a word and that police would actually listen. Collaborating with Ahmed Wali Karzai is among NATO's bigger gambles in the south. Yet now, more than ever, he is crucial to the mission if it hopes to win anything close to stability in Kandahar. In a report titled ‘Politics and Power in Kandahar', the Institute for the Study of War ( concluded that, "Ahmed Wali Karzai's influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any of ISAF's governance objectives, and a consistent policy for dealing with him must be a central element of any new strategy." Its author, Carl Forsberg, went on to predict that Karzai's behaviour and waning popularity among locals will only stir the sort of unrest and vacuum that allows space for the Taliban to exist. Sources hint that Karzai and the need to remodel him form part of the reason why military operations slated for the summer are now effectively delayed until September. There has been an off-the-cuff comparison to the prohibition era of 1930s America, where family cartels thrived on illicit trade and then looked to polish their image to the veneered appearance of legitimacy. It is a trickier venture in Afghanistan. Yet it appears Ahmed Wali Karzai now sees himself as a dean of tribal dynamics and unofficial envoy to international players. "We are winning," Karzai says, with an emphasis on the inclusive. "Taliban is no longer a movement that can threaten the stability of Afghanistan. They can create problems. But I'm not worried sitting in Kandahar with my family that the Taliban will take over." (He claims nine assassination attempts against him in the past three years.) In our interview that stretched nearly an hour, Karzai commended Canada for its efforts, and for bearing the challenges of serving in "the capital of Taliban and Al Qaeda." He raves especially about Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, who has returned as Commander of Canadian Forces for a few months. "I really hope to see General Vance," he says, "maybe he will come for lunch." I asked Karzai if 2011 was too early for Canadian troops to be leaving Afghanistan. He explained that with 30,000 American troops here now it is no longer the concern of numbers that it was in 2006. Still, he believes it sends the wrong message about commitment, and the Taliban benefits. "It's up to them," Karzai says of Canada's political decision-makers. "If they know the war is over they can leave. The war is still going on. War is still happening." According to some estimates, the war has meant a billion dollar commercial network for the Karzai family through businesses dealing in food, fuel, construction, and security. Canada has one of his firms on contract to guard the Dahla Dam project. As for being a paid operative of the CIA, Karzai never flatly denies the allegation. He says he meets with everyone -- Americans, British, Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Dutch. "We are partners in this war, you know," he says. "I didn't sign a paper with a contract that I work for this agency or this person or this organization. I met with your Special Forces, I met with your military, I met with your generals. Can someone accuse me tomorrow that I was working for the Canadians?" At the end of our discussion, Ahmed Wali Karzai wished us well. His next guests were already waiting on the couch. He checked his very gold watch and shifted his attention. We left Karzai's villa, walking past the barefoot men still waiting, and returned to the weather and war that make Kandahar a harsh place this time of year.

Taliban attack US main base in south Afghanistan

By: News Staff As many as 10 insurgent fighters died in an unprecedented daylight attack on Kandahar Airfield that succeeded in blowing a small hole in the base's outer wall before it was thwarted by Canadian and other NATO troops. The attack took place shortly after two rockets were fired at the base, which houses some 20,000 people. A suicide bomber was able to get close enough to a remote area of the base that he blew a small hole in the fence. About nine other fighters then attempted to enter the base through the hole. But NATO soldiers, including some Canadians, stood on the other side of the wall and opened fire on the attackers as they attempted to enter. "There was some gunfire going on but it was actually a very quick outcome," Canadian Press reporter Bill Graveland said by phone from the base. Maj. Josh Major, the Canadian commander of current operations at Task Force Kandahar, called the incident a "desperate attack." Canadian troops were in the area, and "immediately responded by engaging the insurgents that were trying to gain access," he said. "Basically, we took care of them rather quickly and efficiently. They really only succeeded in blowing up a very small section of fence." Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, the commander of Kandahar Airfield, said a NATO soldier suffered a shrapnel wound from one of the rockets. "One of their aims is to get some publicity for themselves but it's another failed attempt to attack us," he said. "It's a very large base. There seems to be no logic." The Taliban claimed responsibility for the ground attack. While firing rockets at the base has become a popular tactic among insurgents, ground attacks have so far remained rare. The last such raid in May took place at night and injured three civilians. "What we have here though seems to be a flood of new, zealous fighters coming in from across the borders and they're basically attacking just about everywhere you turn these days," Graveland told CTV News Channel. "I think that they wanted to make a statement that perhaps they weren't at all afraid of NATO, and no matter how big the base is here they're going to continue to attack because they believe in what they're doing."

Pakistan: Bomber kills senior police officer

A suicide bomber attacked a vehicle carrying the head of a paramilitary police force in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing him and two others as the area struggles to recover from more than a week of devastating floods. Rescue workers frantically tried to extinguish fires that engulfed several cars in the minutes after the attack near a major market in the city of Peshawar, which was wracked by a string of bombings at the end of last year but has been relatively quiet in recent months. Sifwat Ghayur, the head of the Frontier Constabulary, was killed in the attack along with his driver and bodyguard, said Abdul Rahman Khan, a local police officer. The explosion also injured seven other people, he said. It was unclear whether the suicide bomber attacked on foot or was in a vehicle, said Khan. The attack comes as the northwest, which has been plagued by violence at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban, is trying to get back on its feet after heavy monsoon rains a week ago triggered devastating floods that have killed 1,500 people.

WikiLeaks guilty, at least morally: Robert Gates

WikiLeaks is at least morally guilty over the release of classified U.S. documents on the Afghan war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday, as investigators broaden their probe of the leak. The whistle-blowing website published tens of thousands of war records a week ago, a move the Pentagon has said could cost lives and damage the trust of allies by exposing U.S. intelligence gathering methods and names of Afghan contacts. Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, appeared on television talk shows renewing those concerns amid fears WikiLeaks may publish more documents. "My attitude on this is that there are two areas of culpability. One is legal culpability. And that's up to the Justice Department and others -- that's not my arena," Gates told the ABC News show "This Week with Christiane Amanpour." "But there's also a moral culpability. And that's where I think the verdict is 'guilty' on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences." The release of the classified documents has fanned doubts about President Barack Obama's strategy to turn the tide in the unpopular war. July was the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the conflict started in 2001. Mullen, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," called the leak "unprecedented" in its scope and volume. The U.S. investigation is focusing on Bradley Manning, who worked as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, U.S. officials say. Manning is already under arrest and charged with leaking a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists. Adrian Lamo, who reported Manning to authorities this year after receiving what appeared to be incriminating messages from him, told Reuters he believed U.S. investigators were also looking at people close to Manning with ties to WikiLeaks. Lamo said in a telephone interview he told investigators he believed Manning would have needed outside help. "I didn't believe he had the technological ... expertise to pull this off by himself," Lamo said. U.S. officials declined to comment on the investigation. Gates said last week he had brought in the FBI so the probe could go "wherever it needs to go." Manning, being held at a detention facility at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, has not been officially named as a suspect in the latest leak. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said his group held back 15,000 papers to protect innocent people from harm and was reviewing them at the rate of about 1,000 a day. In an interview with the BBC last week, he did not say if and when they would be published. The group's stated aim is to expose government and corporate corruption. Assange has accused Gates of attacking WikiLeaks to distract attention from civilian killings and other bloodshed in the Afghan conflict. WHAT'S THE WAR STRATEGY? Gates voiced frustration at critics who say the United States lacks a plan to win the war, despite Obama's lengthy review last year which ended with a December decision to deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. "I think that the president's strategy is really quite clear," Gates said. "I hear all the stories that say what's the strategy, what's the goal here?" The objective, Gates said, was to reverse the momentum of Taliban insurgents, deny them access to towns and cities and ramp up Afghan security forces so they can defend themselves and prevent al Qaeda from returning to the country. Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the release of the documents had not caused any revelations that would affect the war strategy. U.S. officials have portrayed them as a collection of outdated, ground-level reports that lack analysis or perspective. One of the documents released by WikiLeaks raised concerns the Taliban might have surface-to-air Stinger missiles to shoot down U.S. aircraft. Asked whether the Taliban had any Stinger missiles, Gates said: "I don't think so." The leaked documents also threw an uncomfortable spotlight on links between Pakistan's spy agency and insurgents who oppose U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Gates said links to insurgents was a concern but he and Mullen voiced support for recent moves by Islamabad and Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency. "What I see is a change in the strategic calculus in Pakistan," Gates said.

Political violence rages in Karachi, 12 more killed

More than a dozen more people were killed overnight in Pakistan's Karachi, deepening fears of instability in the commercial hub after the killing of a member of the dominant political party in the city. Sixty-two people have been killed since Monday, police and officials said, following the assassination of Raza Haider, a lawmaker in the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). The government blamed Taliban insurgents, and the banned militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), for his killing. Some analysts said violence could ultimately hurt the already struggling economy. Karachi is home to the country's main port, the central bank and the stock exchange. Those concerns are fueled by the flight of Taliban militants to Karachi, a teeming city that is easy to hide in, after army offensives against their strongholds in the northwest. "Four people were shot dead in one incident late last night, while six to seven trucks parked under a bridge were also burned," Karachi police chief Waseem Ahmed told Reuters. VIOLENCE-SCARRED CITY Hospital sources and officials said a total of at least 12 people were killed overnight in shootings as the violence gripping the city since Haider was gunned down along with his bodyguard while attending a funeral escalated. More than 150 were wounded. The MQM has called for three days of mourning. Early on Wednesday, unknown people set fire to several mobile phone shops in a main market in the city of 18 million people. Police said more than 50 vehicles have been burned while dozens of shops torched since Haider's slaying. Dozens of people have been arrested on charges of violence, they said. Fearing more violence, most shops and fuel stations in the city were still closed on Wednesday morning. "The situation is not good. I will wait for a few hours to see how it goes and if other people in the market also open shops, then I will as well," said Muhammad Jawaid, standing outside his closed bakery. Trading was once again dull at the Karachi Stock Exchange, which closed an hour early on Tuesday amid security concerns. The main index was, however, up 0.69 percent by 11:55 a.m. (0655 GMT). "The attendance in the market is still very thin and the turnover is likely to be low again today as people are still scared," said Asad Iqbal, chief investment officer at Faysal Asset Management Ltd. Karachi has a long history of ethnic, religious and sectarian violence. It was a main target of al Qaeda-linked militants after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, when Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, and foreigners were attacked in the city several times. Including the killings this week, officials say at least 214 people have been killed in targeted attacks since the start of the year, although analysts and political parties say the number is likely much higher.

White House: 75 percent of spilled Gulf oil gone

Government scientists say three-quarters of the oil from BP's massive spill has been cleaned up or broken down by natural forces. White House energy adviser Carol Browner said on morning TV talk shows Wednesday that a new assessment found that about 75 percent of the oil has either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf of Mexico. Browner welcomed news early Wednesday from BP PLC that it has plugged the broken well with heavy mud. The oil giant called it ia milestone in ending the spill that started with an April 20 drill rig explosion off Louisiana that killed 11 workers.

Afghan Police Chief Jailed for Drug Smuggling

An Afghan court has sentenced a former senior police officer to 10 years in prison for helping traffickers smuggle drugs from Afghanistan to Iran. The jury found Commander General Malham Khan guilty Tuesday of cooperating with drug dealers and receiving bribes. He was also fined $14,000. Authorities arrested the general, who was in charge of Afghan provinces bordering Turkmenistan and Iran, earlier this year. Khan has denied all charges against him. The prosecution's evidence was based on the testimony of two police officers who worked with the general. Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of poppies, the raw material for opium and heroin. The country's multi-million- dollar drug trade is seen to be aiding the Taliban-led insurgency and encouraging corruption.

As U.S. exits, Iraq's neighbors vie for power

As U.S. troops accelerate their withdrawal from Iraq, a fierce and potentially dangerous struggle to fill the vacuum is gathering pace among the country's often bitterly opposed neighbors. Already, the 5-month-old effort to form a new government has become snarled in the battle for influence, with rival nations lining up behind the factions and political leaders shuttling among neighboring capitals for talks with their patrons.The jockeying isn't new, but many Iraqis worry that it could take on alarming new dimensions as U.S. troops pull out, leaving the country vulnerable to threats and pressure from predatory regional powers. "It is very dangerous," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. "It's a zero-sum game for these countries. Everyone wants to knock down the other one's policy." The battle's broad outlines mirror the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide within Iraq, but it is more complicated than that, as a tour of Iraq's borders makes clear. To the east is Iran, which is determined to see Iraq's Shiite Muslims sustain their dominant role in government and, by extension, maintain Tehran's expanded influence there. Iran wants to see an alliance of the two main Shiite factions: the one led by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and the Iraqi National Alliance, which groups supporters of anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. To the south is Saudi Arabia, the self-appointed guardian of Sunni power, which is equally determined to check Shiite expansionism by backing the coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose bloc is supported by Sunnis. To the north, Turkey, with its restive Kurdish population, wants to block any moves toward independence by Iraq's Kurds, the potential kingmakers in any deal. Turkey also backs Allawi, and has forged close ties with Arab nationalists opposed to Kurdish separatism within his coalition. And to the west is Syria, Iran's ally and Saudi Arabia's rival on most regional issues, but pursuing its own agenda in Iraq. Syria's Baathist regime backs Allawi, who has the support of former Iraqi Baathists, and last month it hosted a groundbreaking meeting in Damascus between Allawi and Sadr, an alliance that would suit neither Iran nor the United States. Reflecting U.S. concern that Iraq will fall under foreign influence, especially that of Iran, Vice President Joe Biden on a recent visit to Baghdad urged Iraqis not to allow any external power, including the United States, to "dictate" their fate. But the U.S. is a player too, albeit one whose influence is waning, and has its own interest in ensuring that the government is stable and aligned with America. To that end, it has been promoting an alliance between Maliki and Allawi that would bridge the Sunni-Shiite divide and win broad acceptance across the region. U.S. officials have grown increasingly worried that a new government won't be in place before all combat troops withdraw and America's clout diminishes further. The Obama administration has stepped up its engagement, dispatching in recent days a team of experts and advisors to try to exert pressure on the factions. The difficulty of reconciling these agendas goes some way toward explaining why the formation of the government is taking so long. With the United States, Turkey and the Arab states insisting that Allawi play a leading role and Iran determined to squeeze him out, the process is deadlocked. "It's why we're stuck," said Izzat Shahbandar, a member of Maliki's coalition. Powerful personalities, sectarian rivalries and conflicting political visions are also to blame, as is the finely balanced outcome of the election, which left each faction seeking coalition partners. But whenever a potential alliance seems close, one regional power or another will step in to nix it. That happened when Saudi Arabia moved to block a budding Shiite-Kurdish alliance forged in Tehran that would have excluded Allawi: It invited all the major players to Riyadh, except Maliki. The meeting opened a channel between Allawi's bloc and the Iraqi National Alliance. Iraq lies at a strategic crossroads between the Arab world and the rest of Asia, an entry point to the region for non-Arab powers such as Turkey and Iran and a line of defense for Saudi Arabia and the Arab gulf states. With the world's third-largest oil reserves and plans to dramatically boost production, the country also has the potential to be rich. All of its neighbors have a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq becomes an ally, and not an aggressor, as it was under Saddam Hussein. But with Iraq's neighbors often at odds, there is a risk that the country will become the region's political football, in which conflicts are played out much in the way they are in tiny, unstable Lebanon. "At a minimum you will see rivalry with a lot of elbows flying," said Ted Galen Carpenter of the Washington-based Cato Institute. "At a maximum you'll get a Lebanon, with various factions fighting as allies or proxies of the regional neighbors." In some ways, that has already happened. The sectarian war of 2005-07 was fought between Shiite militias backed by Iran and Sunni insurgents who received support from Arab countries. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray T. Odierno, recently warned that an Iranian-trained and -funded group is preparing to stage attacks against departing American forces. Some forms of foreign influence are welcome, such as investment, said Zebari, the foreign minister. Turkish and Iranian companies are investing heavily in the north and south, as is the United Arab Emirates. Major oil companies in Europe, Russia and China and the U.S. are competing fiercely for stakes in Iraq's oil fields after the government opened the door to them last year. But the direct meddling in Iraq's politics, which includes allegations that large amounts of foreign money have been paid to the politicians, has the potential to turn the country into "a field to settle international score," Zebari said. "The only way to limit regional interference is for Iraqis to come together … and form a unity government." Any government formed without broad regional approval, however, will be vulnerable to the kind of foreign interference that has repeatedly destabilized Lebanon, said Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi political analyst based in London. And whether such a consensus is possible is unknown. "There are so many agendas, so many cards to be played," Attiyah said, "but are the brains there and is there the will?" The Los Angeles Times

Zardari under attack over Europe trip

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in Britain Wednesday amid a row over terrorism, and rising criticism over his failure to return home in the aftermath of the worst floods in living memory. Zardari, who arrived in Britain Tuesday, will hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron Friday and explain "face to face" Islamabad's anger over Cameron's claim last week that Pakistan promoted the "export of terror". But Zardari is now under growing pressure to go back to Pakistan and lead the country's response to devastating floods in northwest and central Pakistan which have killed up to 1,500 people affected over three million. Pakistan is holding an emergency cabinet meeting Wednesday in a bid to speed up relief work following the devastating floods which washed away villages and ruined farmland in one of its poorest and volatile regions. Imran Khan, the country's former cricket captain turned opposition politician, said Zardari should be in Pakistan following the disaster. "Any talks can be postponed -- surely the priority should be your own people," he told ITV television. "And then to go on this lavish tour -- this money could be used on the victims. "Remember Pakistan is bankrupt right now so the government doesn't have enough money, so he should be mobilising people to help these victims of the floods." Zardari's visit to Europe -- which started in France, where he met President Nicolas Sarkozy and visited his family's rural stately home -- is not due to end after a rally in Britain Saturday when he will reportedly launch the political career of his son, who has been studying at Oxford University. The trip was labelled a "joy ride" by one flood survivor, and a number of British lawmakers of Pakistani origin have pulled out of a planned lunch with Zardari Thursday. "For him to spend tens of thousands of pounds on the launch of his son's political career at a time when his country needs him shows that he's out of touch and his advisors are ill-informed," one of them, Lord Nazir Ahmed of the main opposition Labour Party, said. "Quite frankly, staying in five-star hotels with his huge entourage, tens of big cars that have been hired just to give him this protocol in London, it's quite outrageous." There was also an angry reception late Tuesday for Zardari when he arrived at his hotel in central London, where protesters accused him of wasting money on the visit that would be better spent helping those affected by the floods. Officials have sought to defend the cost of Zardari's trip, issuing a statement insisting he was staying in the "cheapest five-star hotel in London" and was avoiding the royal suite in favour of a "relatively cheaper" one. Zardari is still expected to meet members of Cameron's government Thursday, thought to include Home Secretary Theresa May, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Minister Without Portfolio Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Britain's first female Muslim cabinet minister. Cameron has insisted he stands by his highly controversial comments on Pakistan's attitude to violent extremism. He also said Pakistan must not "look both ways" in handling it during a visit to India last week. Zardari hit back in an interview with French daily Le Monde Tuesday, warning that coalition forces were "losing the war against the Taliban" in Afghanistan and adding: "The war against terrorism must unite us and not oppose us". Cameron later rejected the idea that international forces in Afghanistan were "losing the battle of hearts and minds" in a BBC radio interview Tuesday.He also said that Britain's relationship with Afghanistan could "survive speaking frankly about problems"

Floods & their aftermath

Dawn Editorial Pakistan hasn’t seen floods of this ferocity for nearly 80 years. The impact has been devastating with more than 1,000 people killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone. Hundreds of villages have been swept away in Punjab while Sindh, which has seen so little water in its waterways for a number of years, is now bracing itself for a major deluge. It is tragic that we suffer miserably as a nation when there is no rain and yet can find no solace when the heavens open up. The experience in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab has shown all too clearly that local administrations were simply not equipped to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. How the Sindh authorities will fare remains to be seen but no one should be pinning their hopes too high. Still, the province enjoys the advantage of an advance warning and it is hoped that the evacuation measures currently under way in the riverine areas will help save lives. The dead are gone and we can only grieve over that monumental loss. What is key now is that survivors and potential affectees are provided the best help that the state and international aid agencies can muster in quick time. Survivors, said to number nearly 2.5 million people, must be housed, they need to be fed and should be provided with clean drinking water. Medical help is also of essence for the most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly. Already there are reports of an increase in waterborne diseases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and there is a danger of a major epidemic breaking out in flood-affected areas across the country. Yes, rescue operations are the immediate priority but the effort to help must not end there. People who have lost everything cannot get back on their feet by getting a tent and food for a few days (and in some cases even that isn’t happening). What is required is long-term rehabilitation: provision of food, healthcare, funds for reconstruction and, at the very minimum, fresh seed stocks for farmers. The state should not let the people down, yet again.

Floods kill dozens more in Pakistani heartland

Floodwaters ravaged hundreds of villages in Pakistan's heartland Wednesday, killing dozens more people and destroying thousands of homes. Aid workers warned that bloated rivers would soon surge into the country's south, and said Pakistanis should prepare for more evacuations. This year's monsoon season has prompted the worst flooding in Pakistan in living memory, and already killed more than 1,500 people. The U.N. scrambled to provide food and other assistance to some 3.2 million people affected in the water-soaked nation, which was already struggling with an Islamist militancy and a poor economy. In Pakistan's Punjab province, floodwaters deluged numerous villages and began pouring into major urban centers such as the city of Kot Addu. The army used boats and helicopters to move stranded villagers in the area to higher ground. Water levels were so high in large tracts of Kot Addu and the nearby area of Layyah in the south of the province, that only treetops and uppermost floors of some buildings were visible. Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Nadir Zeb told reporters Wednesday that at least 30,000 people have been rescued from flood-hit zones in Kot Addu and nearby areas over the previous 72 hours. He warned that more flooding was expected as weather forecasts predicted more rains in the next few days. "People must cooperate with us, and they must leave those areas where floods are going to hit," he said. Monsoon season in Pakistan usually lasts about three months, through mid-September. In a typical year, the country gets an average 137 mm worth of rainfall. This year, it already has received 160 mm, said Muhammad Hanif, head of the National Weather Forecasting Center in Islamabad. The rains are falling about 25 to 30 percent above normal rates, Hanif said. The northwest, which has been hit the hardest, experienced "once-in-a-century" rains, and can expect more wet weather in coming days, though at normal levels that should allow some recovery. Punjab and Sindh province, however, should expect significant rainfall, he said. At least 47 people had been killed in Punjab, Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said. Nearly 1,000 villages have been affected and some 15,000 houses destroyed in the province, U.N. officials said. The rush of muddy water over river banks in Punjab threatened to destroy vast stretches of crops that make the province Pakistan's breadbasket. Numerous crops have also been lost in the northwest. The loss of farm produce is one reason the U.N. has warned of serious food shortages, and the World Food Program has estimated that 1.8 million people will need to be fed over the next month. Rescue workers have struggled to deliver aid because of washed-out bridges and roads and downed communication lines. Several foreign countries have stepped in to help, including the United States, which announced Tuesday that it was sending six large military helicopters from Afghanistan to help with the relief effort. But many flood victims have complained that aid is not reaching them fast enough or at all. That anger could spread as floodwaters threaten Sindh province in Pakistan's south. Authorities expect several districts will be hit by rising waters in Sindh, which is on track to experience its worst flooding in 34 years, the U.N. said.

Pakistan's 2.7m people cut off from rest of country

PESHAWAR: Authorities and aid organisations said Tuesday that around 2.7 million population has cut off from the rest of the country after a main bridge washed away by flood in Chakdara. Talking to BBC, Adnan Khan, a spokesman for Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said that three districts - Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Chitral - have been cut off from rest of the country for the last five days after Chakdara bridge on Swat River was washed away. The Malakand region, which includes Swat, is among the worst-affected areas, with roads and bridges washed away. Adnan said most of bridges have been destroyed in Swat valley and "and road links of those areas have been disconnected with Mingora city". "Population of the Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Chitral is around 2.7 million and efforts are underway to provide food and relief goods to people in these districts though helicopters," he said. "The entire infrastructure we built in the last 50 years has been destroyed," he said. A week into the crisis and as more monsoon rains lashed the country, anger was growing to boiling point among impoverished survivors complaining that they have been abandoned by the government after their livelihoods were swept away. The government issued new flood warnings Tuesday. Authorities issued an alert to people living around Warsak Dam, one of the country's biggest dams and lying outside Peshawar, as water levels rose. Meteorological service forecast widespread rains in the southern province of Sindh, Punjab in the centre, Azad Kashmir andBaluchistan during the next three days. Flash flooding was expected in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Baluchistan, it warned, with heavy thunderstorms in Islamabad. The government in Khyber Pakhtunkwa has said up to 1,500 people have died, although there are fears the toll could rise further. Nadeem Ahmad estimated that roughly three million people were affected - 1.5 million in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the same number in central province Punjab. Of around 3.2 million people affected, 1.4 million were children, said Marco Jimenez Rodriguez, a spokesman for UNICEF. "People immediately need food, water, shelter, health facilities, medicines and sanitation," UN World Food Programme spokesman Amjad Jamal told AFP. Bedraggled victims walked behind donkey carts stacked with luggage or crammed into cars, trying to reach safer ground as others sheltered in mosques from downpours that threaten to deepen the misery of hundreds of thousands. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani was to chair an emergency cabinet meeting today to estimate the damages, expected to run into billions of rupees and expedite the relief work.

Mass evacuations as flood threatens to destroy dam

Rising water levels were last night threatening one of Pakistan's largest dams, forcing the authorities to evacuate more people even as raging floods surged south into the country's heartland, destroying communities and ruining livelihoods. Officials in the country's north-west said unprecedented flooding had caused the water level at Warsak Dam near Peshawar to soar, already prompting the voluntary evacuation of some of the city's residents and forcing the authorities to draw up plans to move those who sought to stay. "If needed, forced evacuation will be started," said Adnan Khan of the Disaster Management Authority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Even while waters recede in some parts of the north-west, it is far from clear that the country's misery is over. Aid agencies estimate more than 3.2m people have now been affected by the nation's most severe floods in recent history and the water that has caused such chaos is now reportedly moving south, sweeping into Punjab province. Officials say many districts in the country's most populated and prosperous area – and centre of its wheat belt – had already been inundated with floods, among them Layyah, Taunsa Sharif, Rajan Pur and Dera Ghazi Khan. Military spokesman Major Farooq Feroz told the Associated Press that around 3,000 people were marooned in the Kot Addu area after water breached a protection bank. He said the Army was trying to carry out a rescue operation using boats and helicopters. In many of these areas, the water was so high that only the treetops and uppermost floors of some buildings were visible. For the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the floods in the country's north, disease has emerged as a pressing danger. The UN's World Food Programme said an estimated 1.8m required water, food and shelter. Additionally, some people are being bitten by water snakes. But while fresh drinking water and medicine may be needed to staunch the spread of water-borne ailments, the destruction of so much infrastructure – the washing away of roads, the downing of phone lines and damage to bridges – is hampering relief efforts. Aid workers said that as frustration grew among those affected by the floods, the situation was becoming increasingly tense. There have already been reports of isolated skirmishes among people receiving food. Save the Children said such incidents had taken place in Nowshera, a district that was totally submerged by the rains. In neighbouring Charssada, police drew their batons and charged at residents who had attacked a truck distributing aid items. Matt Wingate, an emergency response leader with the charity, said: "Families are stranded and desperate for food. There are 40,000 children in the region, many of whom are already going hungry. We are delivering aid as fast as we can, but are hampered by the conditions. "When aid does get to them, the atmosphere can be very tense. There is a critical need to get more clean water, food and medical assistance to thousands of children and their families in the next few days." While the military has dispatched around 30,000 troops to spearhead the rescue effort, public anger is mounting over what is widely seen as an inadequate response by the country's civilian authorities. Many have expressed anguish that President Asif Ali Zardari is visiting Europe, arriving yesterday in Britain for a meeting with David Cameron later this week, even while the country faces such problems. Yet few would deny the scale of the challenge faced by the authorities. The floods that have already killed at least 1,500 people are unlike anything Pakistan has seen in more than 80 years. And even if a second wave of expected monsoon rains is not forthcoming, people will still face intense problems in the weeks and months ahead. Already reports suggest food prices are starting to rise because so much agricultural production has been destroyed. The loss of so many crops was one of the reasons the WFP estimated that some 1.8m Pakistanis would need food assistance for at least the next month. Meanwhile, the Pentagon said yesterday it was sending six helicopters from Afghanistan to help ferry relief supplies or refugees in Pakistan. Officials said that four CH-47 Chinooks could carry dozens of people or wounded on stretchers or haul enormous loads of equipment or supplies. Two smaller UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters serve as workhorse transports. The helicopters were supposed to have arrived by Tuesday but were delayed, typically enough, by the continuing bad weather.

Obama vows help for flood-hit Pakistan; more US aircraft to assist aid

President Barack Obama has sent his condolences to the families of the victims of the devastating floods in Pakistan, the White House said on Tuesday, pledging to support the South Asian friend in its challenging relief and rescue effort. The President is being kept fully informed on the evolving situation and the potential impact to well over one million Pakistani citizens, Michael Hammer, National Security Council Spokesman said. The President recognizes the importance of allies helping allies in times of need, the spokesman said as massive monsoon flooding reportedly claimed more than 1400 lives, afflicting millions with misery and damaging infrastructure and property over large swathes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Azad Kashmir. Our relationship with Pakistan goes far beyond our shared commitment to fight extremists. The United States government stands ready to continue to assist Pakistani authorities address the difficult challenges posed by this natural disaster, Hammer said. In addition to announcing an initial amount of $10 million in aid to meet urgent requirements for meals, shelter, clean water and other life sustaining needs, the United States has provided nearly 190,000 meals, 12 pre-fabricated bridges, four rescue boats, and mobile water treatment units to support the humanitarian effort. Spokesman Hammer said the Obama Administration was immediately in contact with the Government of Pakistan to coordinate its support of their response effort and to ensure aid reaches those who need it most as quickly as possible, Hammer said, referring to quick American response to the U.S. helicopters are assisting the Ministry of Interior’s rescue operations and have been able to rescue more than 730 people and transported more than 11,000 pounds of aid to victims trapped by flood waters. More U.S. aircraft will be made available to help transport and deliver additional critical humanitarian assistance being sent today and in the days to come, he added.

WFP begins food distribution to victims

ISLAMABAD: The World Food Programme (WFP) has started food distributions to 35,000 families hit by the catastrophic floods in northwestern Pakistan, which has also affected parts of neighbouring Afghanistan, according to a WFP press release received on Monday. Distribution of emergency food supplies started on Sunday, to 3,000 families in three of the worst affected districts – Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda – with the assistance of WFP’s strong network of non-government organisations (NGO) partners in the region, the release said. “We are deeply saddened to hear that so many people who have already suffered terribly in recent years are now seeing their lives washed away,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran from the organisation’s Rome headquarters. “We stand with them as they deal with this enormous shock. WFP is mobilising every possible resource to make sure their needs are met as quickly as is humanly possible,” Sheeran said. According to the release, in support of national efforts, WFP Pakistan plans to assist up to 150,000 families over the next two to three months as access to the affected areas improves. “With water levels still high and many key bridges destroyed, access remains limited in many places. WFP is assisting the government’s disaster management authorities with assessments in three of the worst affected districts, and a joint aerial assessment of the Peshawar valley was being conducted on Sunday,” the release said.

WFP begins food distribution to victims

ISLAMABAD: The World Food Programme (WFP) has started food distributions to 35,000 families hit by the catastrophic floods in northwestern Pakistan, which has also affected parts of neighbouring Afghanistan, according to a WFP press release received on Monday. Distribution of emergency food supplies started on Sunday, to 3,000 families in three of the worst affected districts – Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda – with the assistance of WFP’s strong network of non-government organisations (NGO) partners in the region, the release said. “We are deeply saddened to hear that so many people who have already suffered terribly in recent years are now seeing their lives washed away,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran from the organisation’s Rome headquarters. “We stand with them as they deal with this enormous shock. WFP is mobilising every possible resource to make sure their needs are met as quickly as is humanly possible,” Sheeran said. According to the release, in support of national efforts, WFP Pakistan plans to assist up to 150,000 families over the next two to three months as access to the affected areas improves. “With water levels still high and many key bridges destroyed, access remains limited in many places. WFP is assisting the government’s disaster management authorities with assessments in three of the worst affected districts, and a joint aerial assessment of the Peshawar valley was being conducted on Sunday,” the release said.

Peshawar on alert after fresh flood warning

The government on Tuesday issued fresh flood warnings, bracing the country for heavy monsoon downpours that could pile more misery onto 3.2 million people already affected by unprecedented rains. Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued a warning to people living around Warsak Dam, one of the country’s most vital dams and lying outside the city of Peshawar. Rising water levels at Warsak Dam, the country’s third biggest, prompted disaster officials to ask residents in Peshawar to leave their homes. Intermittent heavy downpours in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Tuesday multiplied the people’s sufferings, while most of the flood-hit families of the province are yet to settle at relief camps for receiving aid. The heavy downpour in various parts of the province and subsequent high flood in the Kurrum and Ghambila Rivers have multiplied the marooned people’s sufferings especially of Bannu and Lakki Marwat areas. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) had earlier issued warnings about the water outflow from Warsak Dam on River Kabul. Within a short time of two hours, after rains in Peshawar and suburban areas, the level of water dam increased with outflow of 90,000 cusecs. With the outflow expected to increase further, the villages nearby the dam had been asked to leave the area. These villages included Pyari, Shaglai and Jognai villages. Though the flood waters in Nowshera and Charsadda, the worst affected areas, started falling down and the relief camps started delivering edibles to the affectees, yet the fresh intermittent downpours have not only sprung alarm bells among the people but also halted relief activities in certain areas. The relief camps set up in Nowshera and Charsadda are facing disorder in terms of relief goods distribution. People have complained about disorder in receiving food items. There is also dearth of food items at the relief camps. Administration of the relief camp set up at Polytechnic Institute Risalpur has been handed over to Mardan. Supply of edible items including flour, pulses, milk, tea, ghee and other essential things stored at the Town Hall-Mardan have been rushed to the calamity-stricken districts of Nowshera and Charsadda.