Saturday, May 28, 2011

Karzai wants Afghans to take control of night raids

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the Defense Ministry to take control of night raids, one of the most controversial tactics used by foreign troops fighting the Taliban, in a move likely to stoke tensions between Kabul and its Western backers.

NATO-led forces defended the night-time operations as "indispensable," but also said they supported Karzai's aim of making them Afghan-led and were working to achieve this.

Karzai, who has previously riled U.S. and NATO leaders with criticism of night raids, said in a statement from his office that Afghan troops should be carrying out the sensitive night raids themselves.

"President Hamid Karzai ordered the Defense Ministry to prevent foreign troops from uncoordinated and arbitrary operations and bring night raids under its control," the statement said.

"The president stresses that special operations and night raids must be independently conducted by Afghan troops."

Afghans say the raids, carried out in darkness on houses suspected of harboring insurgents or being used as a store for weapons, often lead to civilian casualties.

Foreign troops have defended them as key to gaining ground against insurgents, cutting down the leaders of a movement with more territory and influence than at any time since 2001.

"We know we would not have seen the gains and progress made to date without the conduct of targeted, intelligence-driven night operations," a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

"ISAF fully supports President Karzai's intent to have Afghan forces increasingly in the lead for operations...We are working together to move from always having Afghan force participation, as we do now, to operations being Afghan-led."


Karzai said the operations alienate Afghans from their government through violence, and cause discontent. Last November he called for the U.S. military to end night raids.

His latest demands come at a time of high anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan and days after deadly protests by thousands of people against a night raid by NATO troops in which four people, including two women, were killed.

Twelve people were killed during violent protests and clashes with police in usually peaceful northern Takhar province and more 80 were wounded.

Afghans, including Karzai, have condemned the raid and said the dead were four members of one family.

NATO said that four armed insurgents, two of them women and one a senior member of al Qaeda linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), were killed in the raid on May 18.

Despite the calls from Karzai for night raids to be banned, General David Petraeus, the commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, has stepped up night raids since taking over running Afghan war last year.

Under a plan agreed by NATO leaders in Lisbon last year, foreign troops will begin handing over security responsibilities to Afghan troops from July with a plan to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Despite the presence of some 150,000 foreign troops, violence in Afghanistan last year reached its deadliest phase since the U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict.

The Taliban this month announced the start of a long-awaited "spring offensive" vowing to carry out attacks, including suicide assaults, on foreign and Afghan troops and government officials.

Peshawar Doctors’ strike continues.

The extended strike of doctors continued in provincial capital on Friday as no genuine representation of young doctors are being seen in wards, operation theaters and OPDs in major hospitals of the City.

The public sector health facilities throughout the provincial capital are simply crippled by the week long strike by young doctors under the banner of Provincial Doctors Association. The patients coming across from Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Fata to Lady Reading Hospital, Khyber Teaching Hospital and Hayatabad Medical Complex are suffering a lot of problems due to extended strike by doctors as most of them are turning up to private clinics and laboratories where they are being heavily charged.

Misal Khan, a retired government employee, who has brought his ailing wife to Lady Reading Hospital on Friday, said unavailability of doctors has added miseries of people like him. “I prayed doctors for examining of my wife after her INR test in Lady Reading this mourning but their response was very downbeat,” he told APP.

Most of patients are visiting Dabgari Garden, a hub of medical practitioners where they are being looted due to extended strike of doctors and that diagnostic laboratories are getting double charges for X-rays, bone scan, CT scan, MRI etc tests from poor patients.

The young doctors of provincial capital on the call of Provincial Doctors Association are on strike for almost one week to press government to fulfill their demands. A young doctor in Lady Reading Hospital told APP that due to lackluster attitude of provincial government, the young doctors were actually forced to go for strike for solution of their demands. He said young doctors should be given facilities on pattern of Punjab doctors. Meanwhile, Spokesman of Khyber Pakthunkhwa Health Department said most issues of doctors have been addressed and asked Provincial Doctors Association (PDA) to call-off their strike for best interest of people.

He said the only outstanding issue is salary package, which could be addressed through discussion. The continuation of the doctors’ strike in current circumstances when province is confronted with several challenges like war against terror, the strike of doctors will added problems of people and doctors should call off the strike immediately to mitigate suffering of ailing humanity and victim of terrorism.

The Spokesman said in these circumstances the doctors’ strike is very negative and counter productive, which are bringing bad name to medical profession and medical institutions and hoped that PDA would call of their strike in public interest immediately. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health department in order to provide better services to medical practitioners and doctors took a proactive measures to accommodate students who had passed FCPS-I examination to meet the current and future needs. The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got recognized six institutions by the college of Physician and Surgeon in the month of February this year for post graduate training. These institutions include Saidu Group of Tecaching Hospitals, Gomal Medical College, Bacha Khan Medical College, Gastroenterology Unit of LRH, IKD and KCD. In the last twenty years this is the first ever expansion of the postgraduate teaching intuitions outside Peshawar.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa refuses ministers’ demand for pay raise

The ministers of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) asked the provincial government to increase their salaries. The K-P government, in an interesting turn of events, refused.
According to sources, some of the ministers reasoned that keeping in mind the general price-hike, the government needed to consider raising their salaries in the upcoming budget.
A minister, on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that they were being paid a mere Rs16,000 a month.
He added that some of the ministers were given official houses in addition to the monthly salary, while others were given housing rent apart from the salary.
“Our salaries are equal to that of a police constable and we cannot manage within that much,” the minister said. “This is not the first time that we have asked for our salaries to be increased … we discussed it with the chief minister earlier, but he flatly refused.”
K-P senior minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour was of the same view. “Yes, the salary of a minister is equal to that of a police constable and when the utility bills of a minister exceed the limit, the amount is then deducted from his or her salary,” Bilour added.
Low income is an issue which has also been at the heart of the doctors’ strike in the province. However, no one has paid heed to their demands either.

Bomb blast in NW Pakistan kills five

A bomb exploded in a market in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region on the Afghan border on Saturday, killing five civilians and wounding 10, officials said.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence since al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in a northern Pakistani town on May 2. Pakistani Taliban militants allied with al Qaeda have vowed to avenge bin Laden's killing.

The latest blast occurred in Salarza area, about 15 km (9 miles) north of region's main town of Khar.

"The explosive was planted somewhere in a restaurant. Many people were there when it exploded," Saad Mohammad, a government official in the region, told Reuters.

He said five people were killed in the blast. Residents have formed a tribal force to fight Taliban militants in the area that borders Afghanistan.

A suicide car bomber killed 27 people in an attack outside a police station in the northwestern city of Hangu on Thursday.

Early this week, Taliban assaulted a heavily guarded naval base in the southern city of Karachi. Ten military personnel were killed and two aircraft destroyed in the attack.

Kuwaiti protesters call for PM ouster

Hundreds of Kuwaitis have held a protest rally in the capital Kuwait City to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

The protesters gathered outside the national assembly in Kuwait City to press their demand for the premier's ouster in the 'Day of Rage' demonstration on Friday, IRNA reported on Saturday.

The demonstrators are angry at Sheikh Nasser's refusal to face questioning in the parliament for allegedly wasting public funds and committing financial and administrative irregularities.

The Kuwaiti prime minister, a nephew of the emir of Kuwait, has resigned six times since he was appointed premier in 2006.

He formed his seventh cabinet just two weeks ago. The Persian Gulf state has seen six cabinets resign and its parliament dissolved three times ever since Sheikh Nasser took office. In addition, development plans have stalled in the oil-rich state.

Earlier this month, two Kuwaiti lawmakers filed a petition against the country's premier over allegations of financial and administrative irregularities.

The two parliamentarians charge that Sheikh Nasser is responsible for squandering public funds and hindering the country's development plan.

The Kuwaiti premier has issued a passionate appeal for cooperation with the opposition lawmakers at a parliamentary session.

However, around 15 opposition members of the parliament walked out of the session to protest against the new cabinet.

Disputes between the Kuwaiti lawmakers and government have caused political crises in the country since early 2006 following Sheikh Nasser's appointment as prime minister.

Afghan army salary theft shows fraud widespread

The theft took just a few keystrokes — a couple of numbers changed on a spreadsheet and suddenly one soldier's salary was dumped into another's bank account.

For a long time, no one noticed. The three Afghan army officers didn't divert the salaries of active duty soldiers. Instead they kept deserters on the books and directed their pay into their own accounts. Sometimes they diverted bonuses.

When 14 soldiers at a northern Afghan army base were eventually charged in the theft, about $22,000 had been stolen.

That's not much in Afghanistan, where millions disappear from aid projects, government contracts and training programs. But the case is especially worrying as the U.S. looks to start drawing down forces this summer because the theft occurred in one of the army's elite commando units — using a system put in place precisely to prevent such fraud.

It's a reminder that turning the Afghan army into a professional fighting force will likely stretch far beyond the NATO allies' timeline to hand over control of security to the Afghan government by 2014.

Ten men were found guilty in a trial in April, and the three main conspirators received prison sentences of two to three years. All three plan to appeal.

Both Afghan officers and their American advisers praised the trial as proof that misconduct is being reined in.

"I'm upset that such an incident happened, but I'm glad that we are having the trial," said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahi Azimi. "It is a lesson to others that anyone who steals in this way will end up in court."

The important thing, he said, is that the corruption was discovered and punished.

That almost didn't happen. If it weren't for the dogged pursuit by one military prosecutor, who withstood death threats and the anger of his superiors, the embezzlement would still be going on.

Lt. Abdul Wakil first became suspicious when an informant alerted him in late 2010 that money was somehow being stolen from the payroll at his base, the 5th Commando Battalion in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Wakil went to the commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mohammad Basir, with his suspicions. "He refused to listen. He said there was no problem," Wakil said.

Undaunted, Wakil started investigating on his own. As he examined the base's payroll documents, something strange popped out: The battalion never seemed to lose any soldiers.

Desertion is common in the Afghan army. Soldiers sign up for the mandatory three years, then leave whenever they've had enough. Sometimes they go AWOL for months, returning without explanation.

Normally a unit's payroll shows these fluctuations. But the 5th Commando Battalion had no deserters. No one ever left and came back in.

Then Wakil compared the electronic spreadsheet emailed to the bank with the official paper copy. The computer file was different. The deserters' bank account numbers had been changed to those of active duty soldiers.

Wakil took the evidence to his superiors and opened an investigation last June. It took months for him to follow the money trail and unravel who received the stolen funds and how much.

During that time, Wakil faced angry challenges from his superiors.

Basir, the commanding officer, said the allegations were impossible, and he seemed to have a point. The computerized direct-deposit system was set up precisely to prevent such fraud. Before, officers routinely skimmed off some of the rank-and-file's pay without soldiers ever realizing they were being cheated. Now salaries went directly into soldiers' bank accounts.

But, it turned out, there was another avenue for fraud.

"No one understands the banking system, so no one saw the problem," Wakil said.

As the investigation progressed, rumors started to fly about who might be charged.

Late one night, Wakil was awakened by a phone call. The caller said he knew about the investigation, then warned: "When you come out of the military court, we will kill you."

Wakil received three more death threats that week. Then he started getting threatening text messages. In one, the sender said he had enlisted 20 Taliban fighters to hunt Wakil down.

Wakil pressed on.

"These sort of things happen in Afghanistan," he said of the threats. "I have to do my job."

The head of the Afghan army's legal office in Kabul said corruption cases are notoriously difficult to pursue.

"The people who cheat the military, they are smart about it," Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim said. They know where the weaknesses are and the people to pay off. And it goes far beyond payroll theft, he said. Soldiers routinely sell weapons on the black market and bribe superiors for promotions.

And yet the army courts have pursued few corruption cases. Only about a dozen of the 783 cases heard in military courts in the past year involved corruption, Karim said. Most are for traffic violations, AWOL soldiers, lost weapons or immoral conduct, with an occasional serious crime like murder, he said.

Karim could recall only one other corruption case in which an officer was convicted: a colonel found guilty a year and a half ago of stealing $10,000 from a construction contract. He was sentenced to one year restricted to the base at reduced pay.

The convicted ringleaders in the Mazar-i-Sharif theft were the battalion's financial affairs officer, Lt. Col. Shamsudin, as well as two young sergeants under his command, Sgt. Ahmad Jawed and Sgt. Hemran.

Shamsudin received a three-year prison sentence, while Jawed and Hemran were sentenced to two years each. Seven others were convicted and ordered restricted to base for six months to one year at reduced salaries, including Lt. Col. Basir, who was convicted of negligence.

Shamsudin, Jawed and Hemran were fined $4,000, $19,000 and $7,400 respectively, fines the court said reflected twice the amounts they stole.

Jawed's attorney, Abdul Matin, said his client and the others were scapegoats and the case would not stop corruption in the military.

"Stealing money in the commando battalion is a reality," Matin said.

"The thought among the people is that this government we have is temporary. There may be another one in a few months or a few days," he said. "So everyone steals.

Pakistan worried about Islamist infiltration: report

Top Pakistani military officials are concerned that their ranks have been penetrated by Islamists aiding militants in a campaign against the state, according to The Washington Post.

The top Pakistani military commander, General Ashfaq Kayani, was shaken by the discovery of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden close to a Pakistani military academy, the newspaper said.

He told US officials in a recent meeting that his first priority was "bringing our house in order," the paper reported, citing an unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official.

"We are under attack, and the attackers are getting highly confidential information about their targets," The Post quotes the official as saying.

Western officials have long accused Pakistan's intelligence services of playing a double game by fighting Islamist militants who pose a domestic threat, but protecting those fighting American troops in Afghanistan.

The United States has put pressure on Pakistan to lead a major air and ground offensive in North Waziristan, the most notorious Taliban and Al-Qaeda bastion, used to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has always maintained that any such operation would be at its own time of choosing.

It argues that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are too stretched those fighting militants who pose a domestic threat.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Pakistan on Friday, said the United States was more committed to Pakistan after the Osama bin Laden crisis.

But she urged the country to take decisive steps to defeat Al-Qaeda.

According to The Post, US officials say they have no evidence that top Pakistani military or civilian leaders knew about bin Laden?s hiding place.

Some say they doubt Kayani or Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the military?s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, had direct knowledge, the report said.

Others however, find it hard to believe they did not, particularly because Kayani was head of the ISI in 2005, when bin Laden is believed to have taken refuge in Abbottabad, the paper noted.

US Navy commandos killed bin Laden there on May 2 in a raid that angered Islamabad because of US incursion on to their territory without prior notice.

US gives Pakistan list of five 'most wanted' militants

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan Friday, the United States gave Islamabad a list of terrorist leaders it wants joint operation against them, officials said.

The list includes Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al Zawahiri, along with Siraj Haqqani of the Haqqani network, Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and suspected al-Qaida leader, and Atiya Abdel Rahman, al-Qaida operations chief, the US TV reported, citing unnamed officials from both governments.

The list was discussed during separate meetings between senior Pakistani and US officials in the past two weeks, including Friday in Islamabad with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a US official, a Pakistani government official and a Pakistani intelligence official.

The United States is optimistic Pakistan would provide intelligence for prompt and joint actions against these militants.

A US news paper has reported that United States believes all these wanted militants are present in Pakistan.