Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cheers for François Hollande, hero of Mali

They put on their most colourful clothes, belted out music, danced and, repeatedly and rhythmically, chanted his name. The people of Timbuktu were demonstrating that the shackles of Islamist sharia had been broken and hailing their deliverer, François Hollande . There was no doubting the warmth and gratitude in the welcome given to the French President by Malians, on his first visit since sending in troops. But behind the scenes there are ominous signs that the swift campaign which had driven the jihadists from the territory they controlled is not the end of this war. Over the last few days there have been discoveries of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the deaths of Malian soldiers from a landmine. At the same time the incendiary ethnic divisions that sparked the current turmoil have resurfaced just as the rebels are about to lose their final stronghold. There is an unofficial stand-off at the northern town of Kidal between French troops and their Malian partners, who are not being allowed into large parts of the town due to fears they would take murderous revenge on its Tuareg residents. Instead it is Chadian soldiers who are providing the African security presence. Tuareg fighters, armed with the looted arsenal of the Gaddafi regime which they served before it fell, had raised the flag of Azawad in Kidal. The rebellion was joined by al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, who took over leadership and the weaponry, first sidelining and then driving out the Tuareg. Since then the community had been under attack from both sides, with Malian troops carrying our summary executions of "terrorist suspects". Under pressure from the French, Mali's interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, has begun talks with the Tuareg separatists, a deeply unpopular move among the army who carried out a coup last year. The United Nations' special advisor on prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, warned that human rights abuses, already prevalent, will worsen further unless urgent counter-measures are taken. "We must tell President Hollande that he has cut down the tree but still has to tear up its roots. I am deeply concerned at the risk of reprisal attacks against ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians." None of the unpleasantness was mentioned by officials during President Hollande's three hours and 48 minutes on the ground yesterday. In Timbuktu he visited the mosque of Djingareyber, an architectural masterpiece made out of mud 700 years ago, and the Ahmed Baba library where the jihadists had carried out their last concerted action before leaving the city – making a bonfire of priceless historic manuscripts. The area, normally crowded, was sealed off by French armoured personnel carriers. Two dozen dignitaries were there to meet Mr Hollande's party, which included the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius. "He is the man who saved Mali, it is an honour to meet him. Without him we would never have got rid of the Salafists," said Khalif Mualam Traore, a local imam. "They stopped people from thanking Allah at the end of prayers. They beat people for no reason." Umar Sekou, a hotel owner, pointed out that ethnic divisions continued under the jihadists. "They normally punished black people most severely, not the Arabs. That's because so many of them were foreigners from places like Algeria and Tunisia. After the French came, the Arabs fled with the jihadists, their shops and businesses got looted, we found weapons in their homes." Mr Hollande then visited the Ahmed Baba library, where he was shown the charred manuscripts, a reminder, said Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco who was accompanying the President, that the jihadists were intent on destroying Mali's history as well as oppressing its people. There were tumultous greetings at the square for the French President, with French soldiers and Malian police struggling to control the surging crowd of more than 5,000. "All Mali is grateful to him, but especially the women," exclaimed Hania Kalbati, a 24-year-old teacher. "We lived in a constant night, they took away all our freedoms. We could not work, we had to cover ourselves all the time in the darkest clothes. We are glad all that is over." But Mr Hollande told French troops at Timbuktu airport: "The conflict is not over, it would be a mistake to think that because we have restored order in towns like Gao and Timbuktu we can stop there."

Malala awake, talking after successful surgeries

Pakistani teen activist Malala Yousufzai was in stable condition at a British hospital on Sunday after undergoing surgeries to repair her skull and help her hearing, officials said. "Both operations were a success and Malala is now recovering in hospital. Her medical team are 'very pleased' with the progress she has made so far," the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham said in a statement. "She is awake and talking to staff and members of her family." Saturday's five-hour surgeries were the latest step on a long road to recovery for Malala, who was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen in October for speaking out in favor of education for Pakistani girls. Last week doctors said they would use a titanium plate to cover an opening in her skull, and give her a cochlear implant to partially restore hearing in her left ear.The plate was necessary to replace a section of her skull about the size of a hand, which doctors removed to relieve swelling after the shooting. And the inner ear implant will restore some function to her damaged ear, doctors said last week. The 15-year-old became an international symbol of courage after she was shot by Taliban gunmen last fall for her crusade about girls going to school. She had blogged fearlessly about girls' education and accused the Taliban of thriving on ignorance. The Taliban forbid girls in the classroom and have threatened to kill anyone who defies them. Malala was in a school van on October 9 when the gunmen stopped the vehicle and shot her at point-blank range. She was flown to the British hospital six days later. Doctors there discharged her last month, and she has been recovering with her family at a temporary home nearby. Her father, who had been an educator in Pakistan, is now employed at the Pakistani Consulate in Birmingham. On Sunday, officials said Malala would remain hospitalized until she is well enough to be discharged.

Dangerous Gun Myths

The debate over what to do to reduce gun violence in America hit an absurd low point on Wednesday when a Senate witness tried to portray a proposed new ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines as some sort of sexist plot that would disproportionately hurt vulnerable women and their children. The witness was Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the limits on firepower proposed by Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, would harm women because an assault weapon “in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon.” She spoke of the “peace of mind” and “courage” a woman derives from “knowing she has a scary-looking gun” when she’s fighting violent criminals. It is not at all clear where Ms. Trotter gained her insight into confrontations between women and heavily armed intruders, since it is not at all clear that sort of thing happens often. It is tempting to dismiss her notion that an AR-15 is a woman’s best friend as the kooky reflex response of someone ideologically opposed to gun control laws and who, in her case, has also been a vociferous opponent of the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that assists women facing domestic violence. But it is important to note that Ms. Trotter was chosen to testify by the committee’s Republican members, who will have a big say on what, if anything, Congress does on guns; and that her appearance before the committee was to give voice to the premise, however insupportable and dangerous it may be, that guns make women and children safer — and the more powerful the guns the better. Ms. Trotter related the story of Sarah McKinley, an 18-year-old Oklahoma woman who shot and killed an intruder on New Year’s Eve 2011, when she was home alone with her baby. The story was telling, but not in the way she intended, as Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, pointed out. The woman was able to repel the intruder using an ordinary Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun, which would not be banned under the proposed statute. She did not need a military-style weapon with a 30-round magazine. But there is a more fundamental problem with the idea that guns actually protect the hearth and home. Guns rarely get used that way. In the 1990s, a team headed by Arthur Kellermann of Emory University looked at all injuries involving guns kept in the home in Memphis, Seattle and Galveston, Tex. They found that these weapons were fired far more often in accidents, criminal assaults, homicides or suicide attempts than in self-defense. For every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides. The cost-benefit balance of having a gun in the home is especially negative for women, according to a 2011 review by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Far from making women safer, a gun in the home is “a particularly strong risk factor” for female homicides and the intimidation of women. In domestic violence situations, the risk of homicide for women increased eightfold when the abuser had access to firearms, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2003. Further, there was “no clear evidence” that victims’ access to a gun reduced their risk of being killed. Another 2003 study, by Douglas Wiebe of the University of Pennsylvania, found that females living with a gun in the home were 2.7 times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun at home. Regulating guns, on the other hand, can reduce that risk. An analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that in states that required a background check for every handgun sale, women were killed by intimate partners at a much lower rate. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has used this fact to press the case for universal background checks, to make sure that domestic abusers legally prohibited from having guns cannot get them. As for the children whose safety Ms. Trotter professes to be so concerned about, guns in the home greatly increase the risk of youth suicides. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has long urged parents to remove guns from their homes. The idea that guns are essential to home defense and women’s safety is a myth. It should not be allowed to block the new gun controls that the country so obviously needs.

Raw Video: Egypt Security Forces Strip, Beat Protester

Afghanistan: the great game of thrones

Historian William Dalrymple's new book
charts the disastrous British attempt to set up a puppet king in Afghanistan in 1839, writes Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
Britain had conquered most of India by 1939, but its empire was stalled at Punjab by the powerful Sikh king Ranjeet Singh. Russia, the other big empire of the time, was moving south through Central Asia. What stood between these two empires was the fractious, mountainous region of Afghanistan, for centuries the gateway to Hindustan for invaders. But what if Russia decided to follow in the hooves of those conquerors? Eager to secure its prized treasure of India, Britain decided to pre-empt the Russians by invading Afghanistan. Thus began the Great Game, a term coined by Sir Henry Creswick Rawlinson, an Englishman who first sighted Cossacks in the disputed borderlands between Persia (today's Iran) and Afghanistan in 1837 and alerted his superiors. "As so often in international affairs, hawkish paranoia about distant threats can create the very monster that is most feared," writes William Dalrymple in Return of a King, a chronicle of the first Anglo-Afghan war from the spring of 1839 when the invasion began to the autumn of 1842 when the Union flag was lowered. The deposed Afghan king, Shah Shuja, had earlier sought British protection and had been living in Ludhiana, Punjab. The British decided to reinstate him on the throne and manage the country through this puppet. There was a second opinion to back the incumbent ruler and gain Afghanistan without bloodshed. However, the administration was rife with internal politics and nepotism, which resulted in twin policy tracks that were hostile to one another. The shah's backers won eventually and amassed an "army of the Indus" to defeat the incumbent ruler, Dost Mohammed Khan. It was made up of 58,000 men and 30,000 camels, and with Ranjeet Singh's assistance, was able to take Kabul and install the shah. Still, the British were loath to let Shah Shuja make decisions and this led to him being viewed by his people as a puppet. They worsened matters by having increasingly public liaisons with Afghan women, some of whom were married. The British were strangely sanguine: to fight the Opium war in China, they recalled a large contingent from Kabul, and reduced handouts to rebel groups who guarded their supply routes. The volatile situation was further compounded when they interfered in the mullahs' administration of justice. "All this came to a head in July 1840 when, at the instigation of Mir Haji, the ulema [Muslim scholars] began to omit proclaiming the name of Shah Shuja at Friday prayers, on the grounds that the real rulers were the kafirs," Dalrymple writes. Afghanistan was ripe for jihad and the Afghans rose in revolution. One of the original motives for the first Anglo-Afghan war was promoting commerce between India and Afghanistan. That initiative and the war ended with the British burning down the great Char Chatta covered bazaar, that visible symbol of bustling trade in Kabul. Originally built during the reign of Shah Jahan and renowned as a superb example of Mughal architecture, it was one of the greatest buildings in Central Asia. Carried out to avenge the killing of English official Sir William Hay MacNaghten, whose body was displayed on a butcher's hook at the bazaar, the savage destruction was chronicled by Mirza Ata, a historian, as another sign of British duplicity. Dalrymple quotes an Afghan proverb that sums up the popular Afghan sentiment towards the manner in which the English conducted themselves: "When you're not strong enough to punish the camel, then go and beat the basket carried by the donkey." In Return of a King, the eighth book from the best-selling and award-winning writer, Dalrymple asks why the English strayed so far from their original intent. In India, where Dalrymple has been based since the mid-1990s, the author is immensely popular but also draws his share of criticism. Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, has mockingly credited him with creating the genre of "Bollywood history". Historian Ramachandra Guha has said his "knowledge of this country is so superficial". However, Return of a King is based on rigorous scholarship. Dalrymple accessed a wide range of newly discovered material in Russian, Urdu and Persian from archives in South Asia, and delved into nine previously untranslated contemporary Afghan accounts, including the autobiography of Shah Shuja. Packed with colourful characters, his book is an engaging narrative about political ambition, cultural collisions and imperial hubris. Mark Twain said history doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes. In the case of Afghanistan, it clangs. Dalrymple picks startling similarities between the situation in Afghanistan in 1840 and the present. First, the political geography of Afghanistan continues to impact the way invasions evolve within the country. "The significance of Kabul's location is one issue - adjacent to both the Tajik population of Kohistan, on one side, and the eastern Ghilzais on the other." Another striking parallel is the continuing impact of internecine tribal warfare. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is from the Popalzai tribe and lacks a real power base; Shah Shuja was from the same sub-caste as Karzai and viewed as a British puppet. At the end of Kim, Rudyard Kipling's novel about the Great Game, his eponymous hero says: "When everyone is dead, the Great Game is finished. Not before." When the British withdrew from Kabul after two years of occupation, it was in the middle of a frozen winter. Of the 700 British soldiers and 3,800 Indian sepoys, only one survivor made it to the British garrison town of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. This half-dead man, Dr William Brydon, was immortalised in a painting titled The Remnants of War. So the first Anglo-Afghan war ended with Britain's greatest military humiliation: an imperial army routed by ill-equipped tribesmen. "The only man who gained from the war was the very man whom the war was designed to depose. In 1843, after staying as the guest of the Sikh Khalsa in Lahore, Dost Mohammed rode to Peshawar," Dalrymple writes. It was no accident that the first war for Indian independence, commonly referred to as the Revolt of 1857, came after the fiasco that was the first Afghan war. The sepoys who marched into the frozen Khyber hills, whose bodies were strewn in the Bolan and Khyber passes, fuelled the legends the Persian presses printed in Uttar Pradesh, home state of the sepoys and the catalyst of the mutiny. When the British first marched into Afghanistan, a tribal chieftain rode up to them. "You have brought an army into the country. But how do you propose to take it out again?" It is a question every invading army - the British, the Russians and now Nato - has been at a loss to answer.

Afghanistan: Act on UN Torture Report

The Afghan government should urgently adopt meaningful steps to end the widespread use of torture in government detention centers. A United Nations report, released on January 20, 2013, found that more than half of 635 pretrial detainees and prisoners convicted on national security grounds had been tortured or ill-treated while in Afghan government custody. The Afghan government dismissed as “exaggerated” the findings of the UN report, which concluded that government reforms – including better monitoring and training but no dismissals or prosecutions – had not significantly reduced torture. Instead, officials who engage in torture benefit from complete impunity from prosecution. On January 22, President Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation to determine whether there are abuses in detention and identify perpetrators. “The new UN report should sound alarm bells for the Afghan government to take decisive action to end torture,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Karzai needs to deliver on his recent promise to identify perpetrators of torture, and to make sure those responsible are immediately arrested and prosecuted.” The January report follows up an October 2011 UN report documenting systematic and widespread torture in Afghan detention centers. Torture of prisoners in Afghan government custody has been regularly documented over the past decade, including by the Afghan government’s independent human rights commission, as well as by Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations. In his January 22 order, Karzai created a taskforce to investigate the report’s findings and respond within two weeks “so that follow-up measures can be taken.” Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch said, the taskforce consists almost entirely of Afghan government officials who have little or no human rights expertise, and includes representatives of the state agencies with the worst records on torture – the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the National Directorate of Security. The failure to include representatives of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and civil society further undermines the credibility of the taskforce. “This government taskforce is little more than window dressing because it lacks the personnel, expertise and political will to credibly tackle the very serious problem of torture in Afghanistan’s detention facilities,” Adams said. “Afghanistan needs a fully independent and permanent anti-torture body staffed by experienced human rights advocates with the resources and powers to conduct long-term and consistent monitoring and reform.” The UN report found that torture was most common in detention facilities run by Afghanistan’s intelligence service and police. Since the 2011 report, abuses in police custody have actually increased, while there was some reduction in intelligence service abuses. A quarter of torture victims were children. Almost a third of the 79 interviewees who had been handed over to Afghan authorities by international military forces reported torture or ill-treatment in Afghan custody. Detainees told the UN investigators that torture was typically used to try to elicit confessions. Fourteen different forms of torture were reported, including suspension from ceilings, prolonged and severe beating including on the soles of the feet, twisting of the genitals of male detainees, electric shock, prolonged standing or forced exercise, prolonged exposure to cold weather, and threats of execution and rape. Many detainees described being subjected to varied and escalating torture if they refused to confess or answer questions in a way that satisfied interrogators. “It is astonishing that 11 years into the international intervention in Afghanistan, torture remains rampant,” Adams said. “Afghanistan’s international partners should be doing much more to press President Karzai to put in place credible and transparent systems to detect, deter, and punish perpetrators.”

Change of heart in Kabul

At long last the mistrust that had clouded the Pak-Afghan military relationship far too long seems to be dissipating, giving way to hope of constructive ties between the two sides to effectively cope with the security challenges following the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan next year. A high-powered Afghan delegation, headed by Defence Minister General Bismillah Khan Muhammadi, was recently on a visit to Pakistan, seeking co-operation between the two militaries - something quite unusual and a clear departure from the past, but certainly a welcoming development from Pakistan's point of view. Of course, there was a two-year-old invitation of General Kayani to the then Afghan chief and now defence minister. That the visit has now materialised is certainly indicative of the change of mind in the Afghan powerhouse military, though Pakistan has all along been supportive of Afghan efforts to find national solutions to their problems. But somehow Pakistan's image as a partner to Afghan Jihad and later on its support to the Taliban regime refused to fade out from the minds of the non-Pushtun military elite in Kabul. Given the in-depth deliberations the Afghan delegation has had with Pakistan army top brass, one tends to suggest that reality is finally catching up as the accusation that Pakistan is supportive of the Taliban or any other brand of insurgents in Afghanistan has not many takers in Kabul. That Pakistan has suffered as much as Afghanistan, if not more, at the hands of militants residing in the common border regions of the two countries is a strong reality for Kabul. Those militants with safe havens in the two countries are a common threat to both - that too is being realised in Kabul. That Islamabad is as much pro-Pushtun as it is pro-Tajiks, which General Bismillah is, or pro-Uzbek, is also being appreciated in Kabul. Afghans seem to have figured out. That there are some regional powers which consider the post-withdrawal Afghanistan an open invitation to establish their big-power ambitious agendas. But for all this the Afghan military leadership would not have come visiting Pakistan. Obviously, during the talks the Afghan team had with General Kayani at the GHQ Rawalpindi, the issues that came under sharp focus are the ones that are expected to dispel mistrust and try building constructive bilateral military-to-military relationship. Therefore, they discussed essentially three issues - to train Afghan security forces; to make border control mechanism a bilateral instead of the existing trilateral affair and to weed out militancy from the border regions. At the same time, Kabul seems to have recognised Pakistan's sincerity in weaning the Taliban away from militancy and to become part of the Afghan national reconciliation - in that General Muhammadi has appreciated the release of some Taliban leaders by Pakistan. Training of Afghan National Army has been Islamabad's standing offer to Kabul. At the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan last July Pakistan committed a 20 million dollars assistance, but there was some reluctance on the part of the Afghan government. Some other countries, including India, were also found making such offers. But Kabul seems to have finally cast its vote in favour of Pakistan, as indicated by the composition of Afghan team of which two are linked with the training of Afghan security forces. They are scheduled to visit some of Pak Army's premier training stations and sites including Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul; Staff College, and School of Infantry, Quetta; and Combat Training Centre, Jhelum. Undoubtedly, the visit of Afghan military's top brass is the much-wanted and eagerly-waited development. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that no effort is spared to convert this change of heart into a permanent reality. The bilateral gains made by Pakistan and Afghanistan are needed to be protected and preserved.

PTI’s popularity in question over delay in intra-party polls

The Express Tribune
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seems to be losing its grip and popular support in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) due to lack of leadership and unity. Though the PTI is relatively popular in K-P, no provincial or district leadership exists since PTI Chief Imran Khan dissolved party cabinets to hold intra-party elections. The strategy of internalising democracy in the party may be failing because the PTI has been unable to hold elections for the past 18 months. Sources familiar with the matter say this is the result of lack of coordination between the central and provincial leadership, constant interference of the Central Executive Committee (CEC) in provincial affairs and the differences over the assignment of important portfolios. Party leaders contesting for different portfolios remain optimistic about PTI’s popularity despite internal rifts and challenges. The scuffles have resulted in the postponement of elections in three districts. PTI’s provincial convener Dr Meher Taj Roghani expressed concern over prolonged delay in holding party elections. “The election commission needs to hurry up,” he said, so that a better election strategy could be prepared. The uncertainty over rewarding party tickets to candidates hoping to contest the general elections is also not helping. In the past six months, local heavyweights, including Iftikhar Jhagra and Khwaja Muhammad Khan Hoti have left the party due to this. Both candidates have previously served as provincial ministers in the past. While PTI has partially held provincial intra-party elections, the provincial cabinet is yet to be announced. The chairman of the political science department at the University of Peshawar, A Z Hilali thinks that it is still too soon to predict the decline in PTI’s popularity. “We have an immature political culture in Pakistan. Things change very rapidly here when it comes to the popularity of political parties,” he said, labelling PTI as an “Imran-centric party”.

Drones must roll in Pakistan, says Panetta

The United States will have to keep up an open-ended drone war against al Qaeda militants in Pakistan and elsewhere to prevent another terror attack on America, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
The assassination of al Qaeda figures in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with unmanned, robotic aircraft has provoked widespread criticism from human rights groups and some US allies, but Panetta said the US campaign had been effective. Asked if the CIA “targeted killings” should be curtailed in coming years, Panetta said in an interview on Friday that there was still a need to continue the drone strikes more than a decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001. “I think it depends on the nature of the threat that we’re confronting. We are in a war. We’re in a war on terrorism and we’ve been in that war since 9/11. The whole purpose of our operations was aimed at those who attacked this country and killed 3,000 innocent people in New York as well as 200 people here at the Pentagon,” he said, who is days away from retiring as the Pentagon chief. Before taking over as the defence secretary, Panetta oversaw a dramatic increase in drone raids in Pakistan as the head of CIA from 2009-2011. “I think we had a responsibility to use whatever technology we could to be able to go after those who not only conducted that attack but were planning to continue to attack this country,” he said. “It’s been an important part of our operations against al Qaeda, not just in Pakistan, but also in Yemen, in Somalia and I think it ought to continue to be a tool we ought to use where necessary,” he said. The CIA drone bombing raids, by Predator and Reaper aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles, have caused an unknown number of civilian casualties and prompted accusations that Washington is carrying out extrajudicial killings in the shadows with no genuine oversight by courts or lawmakers. Panetta, who as CIA director presided over the successful raid that killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, said the campaign still needed to be regularly reviewed but did not say he favoured turning over the spy agency’s drone war to the military.

Govt undecided about Waziristan polio drive

The government continues to be undecided about the vaccination of around 300,000 children in North and South Waziristan agencies due to the Taliban ban on administration of polio drops to children. However, parents have developed a mechanism to ensure provision of oral polio vaccine to save children from the crippling disease. Since imposition of ban on vaccination in the two tribal agencies in June last year, top Fata Secretariat officials and representatives of the United Nations’ agencies have been scratching their heads to hammer out a strategy for resumption of immunisation, but the efforts have yet to bear fruit. In the meantime, local residents have evolved their own ways to procure OPV and protect their children against the vaccine-preventable disease. Taliban groups in both tribal agencies have linked provision of polio drops to children to cessation of US drone strikes in the area and stopped parents from vaccinating their children against polio since June 2012. Taliban are skeptical that the US and the government might use polio campaign for espionage, arguing after surgeon Dr Shakil Afridi’s involvement in the fake vaccination campaign to reach Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, it had been established that the enemies spied in the name of vaccination. The standoff between the government and Taliban has deprived around 300,000 children under five from the administration of oral polio drops in North and South Waziristan bordering Afghanistan. Local people said health officials could not store vaccines at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Miramshah and others health facilities in North Waziristan due to reprisals by Taliban, who have cautioned to stay away from vaccination. Helpless parents in the volatile area have left their children at the mercy of Allah. “Nobody can talk about polio let alone administering OPV to children in Miramshah,” said a father, whose name has been withheld for security reasons. However, Taliban in South Waziristan had softened their stand and children were allowed to get vaccines in the hospital, but field workers could not conduct house-to-house campaign, said tribal elders from Wana, the administrative headquarters of the agency. “Children can take vaccines inside the government run- health centres in Wana,” said a local elder. During off-the-record discussion, members of many families from North Waziristan said they were taking polio vaccines in small cans and jars to their homes secretly from Bannu district and administered it to their children. “After realising that Taliban are reluctant to review their decision and the government is also least bothered about the issue, I have been bringing vaccines for my children from the government hospital in Bannu since,” said a tribesman from Miramshah. He said the people, who were conscious about their children’s health, concealed vaccines in their luggage on the way to North Waziristan from Bannu and provided it to minor children. An official at the district health office in Bannu said many parents from Waziristan visited the District Headquarters Hospital for immunisation to their children. “Many parents bring their children to the main hospital in the city for providing polio drops, while there are the people, who take vaccines to their homes in the tribal area,” the official said. He said health workers properly packed vaccines in flasks or bottles in the hospital and then handed them over to parents. The official said the health directorate had also deputed mobile teams at Derry Ghundai checkpost, which separates tribal area from the settled areas, to provide polio drops to children. The government instead of reaching these children has placed restrictions on parents and all incentives of the tribal people, including obtaining passports, national identity cards, domicile certificates etc, have been withdrawn by applying sections of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. An official at the Fata health directorate in Peshawar said the political administration was sitting idle and relying on elders and clerics to persuade Taliban Commander Hafiz Gul Bhadur to revoke vaccination ban. He said health officials in Peshawar awaited a breakthrough.

Sectarian attack in Hangu

In the kind of tragedy the country seems all too familiar with by now, a suicide bomber has attacked a Shia mosque in Hangu, an area close to the tribal belt next to the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan, on Friday. The fatalities and casualties are devastating, with 24 dead and some 50 wounded. The bomber chose a location where Sunnis and Shias live in close proximity. The Shia mosque was close to a Sunni mosque and both sets of worshippers were at their respective places of worship. In what was no doubt a sectarian strike, the attack claimed the lives of many Sunnis as well, further proving that terror is indiscriminate. By attacking an area where both Shias and Sunnis so closely reside, the militants may be trying to scare Sunnis away from associating and living with or near their Shia brothers. After such an attack, one would not be surprised if there were an exodus of entire Sunni communities from Shia populated areas. This attack was bloody and it did not discriminate probably in the hope that in the aftermath, Sunnis would be alienated from the Shias. We are hardly a month into 2013 and already Pakistan has seen the worst kind of bloodshed of its Shia population. This is particularly worrisome because, when targeting a whopping 20 percent of the country’s population, the crime moves on from being murder to being all out genocide. On January 10 of this year, twin suicide blasts claimed the lives of 92 Shia Hazaras in Quetta in an attack that has been the worst human rights crime against the Shias in Pakistan’s history. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) (a supposedly ‘banned’ Sunni terror group) claimed responsibility for the attack on the Hazaras, claiming that they were infidels deserving of death. While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the Hangu attack, one would not put it past the LeJ to have orchestrated another gruesome strike. If this is the trend that keeps continuing, 2013 could well become the bloodiest year for Shias in Pakistan. This blatant criminality and murderous rampage is worsening because of one simple fact: terrorists have been emboldened by the sheer incompetence of those responsible for preventing such attacks. No one has ever been caught or punished for the murderous campaign against Ahmedis and other minorities in this country and no one has been detained and brought to book for the killings of so many Shias. The government and our security agencies have failed to come up with efficient strategies to pre-empt terror threats. It is common knowledge that blunt weapons and brute military might cannot be used to counter terrorism in cities and urban areas. While military operations may work to some extent in the tribal areas against militant insurgents, one cannot expect the army to go in and bomb entire cities. What is needed most urgently is precise and coordinated intelligence and police work. It is essential that our intelligence agencies predict and pre-empt any such deadly terror attack and work in tandem with the police to prevent suicide missions. Once a human ‘bomb’ is armed and off and running on his mission, nothing can stop him from carrying out his evil task, not even death. It is essential that the Centre work with the provinces to beat back the militants from urban centres as there has been a rise in Shia killings in Karachi and Quetta, as well as the northern areas. Intelligence must be improved and the police must be better equipped to deal with the menace that has begun to seep its way into our heavily populated areas. We are witnessing a genocide and if we do not halt it, it will not be long before it proves the curtain raiser for further destabilisation of the state and society.

Infected Sindh

The country’s first polio case of 2013, which Pakistan is observing as the year of children, has been detected in the Bin Qasim township of Karachi and measles took the life of thee more in Kandhkot, district Badin, making Sindh the most infected province where more than 450 have fallen prey to this disease although Punjab is also reported to have hit by this disease and the total number of children infected by measles is feared to have risen to about 500. As for polio, Pakistan figured high on the global map last year when about 200 cases were reported against 28 in 2006. According to a World Health Organization report, more than 3.5 million children missing polio vaccination in 2012 and 1.75 million of them were from Sindh. The parents of the newest victim also did not administer this vaccine to their child either. One reason of vaccination target not being achieved is the threat by militants particularly in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Areas where the campaign was suspended and resumed time and again because health workers continued to be targeted and around 20 of them also lost their lives in firing incidents. All the children falling victim to the disease are reported to be suffering from malnutrition. Another WHO report portrays a sorry picture of the outbreak of measles which has claimed the lives of at least 100 children between November and December last year and the scourge has entered January 2013 as well. Sindh is the worst-hit province and the disease seems concentrating more in areas hit by floods in 2010 and 2011 where people are still haunted by the disaster. Even a routine immunization coverage is not available to them and even their parents. Not only Sindh, but the epidemic is fast spreading to other parts of the country including Punjab and Balochistan. Thousands of children have been put at risk due to inadequate vaccination programme. The outbreak has prompted serious questions about efficacy of Children Immunization Programme being run by the federal government with a huge funding by the world organizations. The provincial governments have earmarked about 1.5 per cent of their annual budget outlay and this is like peanuts in grappling colossal health related problems. Even in overall scenario civil obligations get much less than what is required. Sindh needs more help than other provinces in fighting measles in particular and it is upon the Pakistan People’s Party-led government there that it meets the challenge. Not only this, the government in this province has to give a due to the flood stricken people whose miseries do not seem to be coming to an end soon.