Friday, May 3, 2013
At least 118 people were killed and 377 others got injured in 29 bomb blasts as the militants raised the number of attacks at the political rallies and offices of parties across Pakistan during the month of April, official statistics said. Out of the 29 bomb attacks, six were of suicide nature that ripped through different areas of Pakistan, targeting different targets, killed 48 persons and injured 162 others. After the Pakistani government announced the schedule for the general elections on May 11, the banned militant outfit Tehrik-i- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) warned the public to keep themselves away from the political gatherings of Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ANP and MQM, the allies of Pakistan's previous government, Xinhua reported. During the month of April, at least 14 political rallies, gatherings and offices of different political parties came under bomb attacks that killed 62 people and injured 233 others. The worst one of these attacks took place on April 16 when a suicide bomber targeted two political leaders of Awami National Party (ANP) during a rally for election campaign in the country's Northwestern metropolitan of Peshawar. Both the leaders remained unhurt in the explosion that killed 18 others including four policemen while injuring 49 others. Pakistan's Northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the worst hit province with 12 attacks followed by six blasts each in Sindh and Baluchsitan but the country's most populated Eastern province of Punjab, which contains 60 percent of the country's population, remained unhurt as there was no incident of terrorism occurred during the specific period. Official statistics revealed that the terrorists carried out 29 bomb attacks at 29 targets during April, killing 88 civilians as well as 26 personnel from security forces and four policemen. The Pakistani Army's 20 servicemen, four persons of Ranger and four policemen lost their lives while two members of Frontier Constabulary were killed in the attacks. Militants conducted six direct attacks on security forces during the month. The worst one of them occurred on April 16 when a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of Pakistan army in the Northwestern restive tribal region of North Waziristan, killing nine soldiers besides injuring eight others. One incident that raised many concerns for security forces and intelligence agencies of the country was the female suicide attack at a hospital in the Northwestern tribal region of Bajaur Agency that killed four besides injuring the same number of persons. The majority of the bomb blasts were conducted with improvised explosive device (IED) by planting it on roadsides or fixing it in cars and motorcycles. Most of the attacks were claimed by the TTP who recently once again threatened to speed up their attacks at the security personnel, police and public rallies of the political parties, preparing for the country's general elections to be held on May 11. Pakistan's local media Thursday, quoting some officials of secret agencies, feared that militants might start another wave of bomb attack at the political parties as the country is one week away from its general elections to elect the new government.
The Express TribuneFormer interior minister Rehman Malik has said a conspiracy is afoot to break the country by bringing in a pro-Taliban prime minister. Speaking at a joint press conference with MQM’s Farooq Sattar and ANP’s Shahi Syed at MQM headquarters Nine-Zero on Tuesday, he, while referring to the PML-N and PTI, said “The public wants to know your agreement with the Taliban.” “I had been told that the upcoming elections would be against terrorists. The election is in fact against the anti-Taliban parties,” Malik added. He said that the parties campaigning on the symbol of bat and tiger are actually supporting the Taliban, but they should remember that their parties only exist if the country remains. “These parties have not once condemned the terrorists’ attacks on us. They should remember that it is the same Taliban that have killed our soldiers, and our mothers and sisters. They are the ones who have left not a single street blood-free in Karachi,” the former interior minister said. Malik also said there were three genuine leaders in the country today, Asif Zardari, Asfandyar Wali and Altaf Hussain. “The genuine parties need to make an agenda on terrorism soon because the country is in danger. Altaf bhai had predicted bloodshed and terrorist attacks a year ago,” Malik said. Meanwhile, Farooq Sattar of MQM said that there was a conspiracy to hijack the elections which is being instigated by the national and international establishment. Sattar also said that liberal and progressive political parties who want to see Pakistan in a true democratic sense are being forced to boycott the elections by being prevented from holding rallies and getting in touch with the public through blasts and target killings. ANP leader Shahi Syed said, “Islam was nearest to him, then the country, and then Asfandyar Wali Khan.” Syed added: The darkness we see in front of us is dangerous for everyone, including our religion and TTP doesn’t want them to participate in the elections.
By MARK LANDLER President Obama plans to name James F. Dobbins, a veteran diplomat with a history of difficult assignments from Kosovo to Somalia, as his special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, an administration official said on Friday. Mr. Dobbins, 70, a former assistant secretary of state for European affairs and ambassador to the European Union, will confront a fraught relationship between Washington and Islamabad, as well as a rapidly dwindling American military presence in Afghanistan. The special representative post was first held by Richard C. Holbrooke, a flamboyant diplomat who assembled an extensive staff at the State Department and threw himself into a broad range of political and development issues in Afghanistan. After Mr. Holbrooke’s death in December 2010, the job went to Marc Grossman, another career diplomat who devoted his tenure to efforts, ultimately fruitless, to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban. Mr. Grossman deliberately cultivated a lower profile than Mr. Holbrooke, scaling back his staff and negotiating behind closed doors. Mr. Dobbins, who is currently the director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center, has plenty of experience with diplomatic troubleshooting, including in Afghanistan. During the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, he served as an envoy to Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, as well as to Somalia, where he oversaw the withdrawal of American troops. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Mr. Bush appointed him as the American representative to the Afghan opposition, and he took part in the Bonn conference in late 2001, at which a new post-Taliban Afghan government was named.
Awami National Party (ANP) Chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan has condemned the killing of party candidate for NA-254 (Karachi-16) Sadiq Zaman Khattak who was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside a mosque in Karachi. Khan said despite the terrorist attacks, the party would not be deterred from contesting elections. The ANP chief added that Khattak was not provided security and that three liberal parties were being targeted while others weld openly holding election rallies. “We do not understating who is governing the country,” Khan said. Asfandyar Wali also held the caretaker government and Election Commission responsible for Khattak’s death. Meanwhile, ANP leader Zahid Khan said an FIR would be lodged against the Interior Minister, Election Commission and Chief Minister Sindh. The attack was also condemned by PPP and MQM, the two other parties who have been the victims of terrorist attacks in Karachi in the run up to the general election.
The best monument to Sarabjit Singh, the Indian who died after 22 years in a Pakistani jail because of an assault by fellow prisoners, would be to find an institutional solution to the hundreds of individual Indians and Pakistanis who stray across the contested border, find themselves incarcerated with almost no means of redress and become hostage to the whims of geopolitics. Singh’s was a particularly egregious case given the accusations that he was an Indian saboteur, the seeming inability of the Pakistani authorities to decide whether to declare him guilty or innocent, and the brutal manner of his death. However, it is well-known that hundreds of Indian and Pakistani fishermen are imprisoned for straying across the maritime border between the two countries. Dozens of villagers mistakenly cross the border and land themselves behind bars. Indian diplomats are often quoted as saying how they find Indians prisoners in Pakistani jails whom officialdom did not know existed. There is an assumption that the bulk of these innocent prisoners of politics are eventually released, often as part of amnesty packages announced during high-level summits. But these are infrequent events. Many of these prisoners stay in jails for years on end. Others languish there for their entire lives, their existence unknown to their governments and their location a mystery to their own families. It is time to find a way to end this humanitarian disaster, to end a callous acceptance that these prisoners are the collateral damage of the great subcontinental rivalry. India and Pakistan should consider setting up a joint tribunal, staffed by professional judges from both sides, whose job would be to quickly decide on the fate of these unfortunates. It is safe to say that the vast bulk of these people would simply be sent back home. There would be a handful of cases — and it is likely Singh’s case would have been among them — that would prove difficult to resolve. But fast tracking the release of the hundreds of others would alone make such a proposal worthwhile. The Pakistani judiciary has shown itself to be remarkably independent of its military and its political system — as former dictator General Pervez Musharraf is finding to his discomfort — and there is no reason to doubt its professionalism. Even in the most controversial cases, such a court would help push a government to prove that a person is a spy or terrorist or not. This could prove an effective confidence-building measure in its own right, regardless of its humanitarian gain. It is exactly the sort of legacy that would best honour the death of Singh and should be seriously considered by the political leaderships as part of the Indo-Pakistani agenda, an agenda that addresses the aam aadmi rather than merely the strategists and the businessmen.
Afghanistan's ties with its neighbor Pakistan have become severely strained lately, with both sides engaging in a war of words and cross-border violence. At the forefront of those tensions is a long-standing dispute over the demarcation of their contested border. The latest controversy involves a border outpost, a checkpoint, and other installations recently built by Pakistan. The facilities were constructed along the edge of Goshta district, which is located in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar Province. Kabul has demanded that Islamabad remove the installations, saying they encroach on Afghan territory. Pakistan counters that its new fortifications are on its side of the border. The controversial border posts have rekindled the thorny issue of the Durand Line, a border agreed to by the British and Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in the late 19th century. Pakistan, which shed its status as part of British India more than 65 years ago, considers the line to be an international border, as does the majority of the international community. But Afghanistan has never recognized the porous frontier, which cuts through the ethnic Pashtun heartland. The simmering tensions boiled over on May 2, when Afghan border police in Goshta district opened fire and destroyed parts of the newly built installations. Afghan forces said they had noticed Pakistani troops starting additional work on the outpost, despite recent agreements to halt construction. An Afghan border guard was reportedly killed and three others injured during a six-hour clash with Pakistani troops. Pakistani authorities said that two of its security personnel were wounded in the skirmish. Blame Game Each side has blamed the other for sparking the incident, which took place along a crucial battleground in the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants that operate on both sides of the border. In April, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered Afghan troops to "take immediate measures" to remove the installations near Goshta district. Karzai has maintained that activities by either side along the Durand Line must be approved by both countries. An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman has claimed that the post is up to 30 kilometers inside Afghan territory. He has suggested that "all options" are open in Kabul to ensure the installations are removed. Karzai has directed his Foreign, Interior, and Defense ministries to ask for clarification from the U.S.-led coalition for "assisting and supporting Pakistan to build these installations," according to a statement from the president's office. Abdul Karim Khurram, the president's chief of staff, revealed on April 29 that Karzai has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama to seek his help in retaking nearly a dozen border posts the Afghan president's office believes Pakistani forces have unjustly occupied in the past decade. Khurram said Karzai, who sent the letter on April 15, accused the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) of handing military posts it had built along the border over to Pakistani forces. "When ISAF and coalition troops arrived in Afghanistan, they took these check posts and centers," the BBC and "Afghanistan Times" quoted Khurram as saying. "[The ISAF] paved the way for the Pakistani military to occupy these posts after they evacuated the posts. It shows some U.S. interference on the issue. Considering the U.S.-Afghan long-term strategic pact, Karzai sent a letter to Obama." Mass Protests The dispute in Nangarhar has led to mass protests against Pakistan. For the last few weeks, the streets of the provincial capital, Jalalabad, have been lined with demonstrators chanting anti-Pakistan slogans and demanding military action by the Afghan government. Protesters have also demanded that Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, whom they have accused of treason, be dismissed immediately. The calls came after lawmakers said Sherzai failed to inform them of Pakistan's activity along the border and accused him of not doing enough to stop the construction of border installations. In retaliation, Pakistan on April 30 closed its border crossing with Afghanistan along the highway linking Kabul and Islamabad. A Pakistani border official said the closure was ordered because an Afghan border guard fought with a Pakistani official. That came a day after Islamabad tightened entry requirements in connection with Pakistan's May 11 general elections, ordering that only Afghans with valid documents be allowed to cross into Pakistan. Before the measure, crossing the border without travel documents was routine. Afghan claims that Pakistan is trying to thwart efforts to begin reconciliation talks with the Taliban have also fueled souring relations. Afghanistan has grown increasingly frustrated with Pakistan, saying Islamabad is not fulfilling its promises regarding the peace process. Kabul has suggested that Islamabad is seeking to keep Afghanistan unstable until foreign combat forces leave at the end of 2014. Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of providing sanctuary to Afghan insurgents on its soil. Pakistan denies this and says that Pakistani Taliban routinely seek shelter on the Afghan side of the border.
The Express TribuneEuropean Union monitors will not observe upcoming polls in the country’s most restive regions including the Taliban-infested northwest tribal zone because of security fears, officials said Monday. None of the EU’s 110 observers will be posted in the tribal areas or the southwestern province of Balochistan, which is plagued by militant, separatist and sectarian violence, to keep watch on the May 11 general election. But the head of the EU monitoring mission said he was confident his team would still be able to work effectively to observe the landmark polls, which will mark the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan’s history. There are more than five million registered voters in Balochistan and the seven tribal districts which border Afghanistan and are a hideout for Taliban and al Qaeda linked extremists. The EU judged it too dangerous to send any of its observers, drawn from the bloc’s 26 member states plus Norway, Switzerland and Canada, but election mission chief Michael Gahler said they would still be able to get a good sample nationally. “For us to judge a process we need a sample but we do not need to be present in each and every constituency or even region,” Gahler told reporters. EU observers will monitor 193 out of the 272 constituencies, Gahler said. “We are in constant contact with local observation groups. Of course in our report we only take information that we have assessed with our own eyes and ears but that doesn’t exclude that we take note of what others who are on the ground report.” This is the third Pakistani election to be monitored by the EU, with the 2008 poll won by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on a wave of sympathy after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Security concerns also prevented the EU mission from sending staff to the tribal areas in 2008.
Associated PressGunmen shot to death the Pakistani government's lead prosecutor in a high-profile case involving former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Friday as he drove to court in the capital, Islamabad, police said. The gunmen fired at Chaudhry Zulfikar from a taxi and hit him in the head, shoulder and chest, said police officer Mohammed Ishaq. Zulfikar then lost control of his car, which hit a woman passer-by and killed her, said another police officer, Mohammed Rafiq. Zulfikar's guard Farman Ali returned fire in the attack and believes he wounded at least one of the attackers, Rafiq said. Ali also was injured in the attack. Police official Yasin Farooq said the attackers fled after killing Zulfikar, and that a massive search has been launched to find them. A motive for the killing was unclear, but Zulfikar was involved in two particularly high-profile cases. He was the government's lead prosecutor in a case related to the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and suicide attack in 2007, said Ishaq. Government prosecutors have accused Musharraf of being involved in the murder and not providing enough security to Bhutto. Musharraf, who was in power when she was killed, has denied the allegations. He blamed the assassination on the Pakistani Taliban at the time of the attack. Zulfikar was also the government's lead prosecutor in a case related to the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people. The attack was blamed on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan has put seven men on trial on charges they assisted in the Mumbai siege, but the trial has made little progress. India has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to crack down on the militants blamed for the attack. Hafiz Saeed, the head of a group believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, remains free, and many believe he enjoys the protection of the government. Lashkar-e-Taiba was founded years ago with the help of Pakistani intelligence to put pressure on India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after four years in self-imposed exile to make a political comeback despite Taliban death threats and a raft of legal cases against him. But his fortunes have gone from bad to worse since he arrived. Judges barred him from running in the May 11 parliamentary election not long after he arrived because of his actions while in power. A court in the northwestern city of Peshawar went further this week and banned Musharraf from running for public office for the rest of his life — a ruling the former military strongman plans to appeal. Musharraf is currently under house arrest on the outskirts of Islamabad in connection with several cases against him, including the Bhutto case. He also faces allegations of treason before the Supreme Court. Zulfikar was headed to a hearing related to Musharraf and the Bhutto case at a court in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, when he was killed, said Ishaq, the police officer. Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 when he was serving as army chief and ruled for nearly a decade until he was forced to step down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule.
Daily TimesThe family of Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner who died as a result of injuries inflicted on him by other inmates at Kot Lakhpat Jail, got to spend ten minutes with him in the hospital before returning home disconsolate, since it was obvious by then that he was going. When the doctors pronounced him dead, this ended the 23-year-long, very controversial story of a man who according to the Indian authorities was convicted falsely in a case of mistaken identity, but who was found guilty by the Pakistani courts of terrorist acts in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 people. The case has attracted a high level of attention, as Sarabjit’s mercy petition remained undecided for long. It is reported that he was planning to file another mercy petition to the president but death overtook that plan. After a brief procedural delay in Lahore on Thursday, the special Indian plane sent for the purpose took off, bearing the body home. What could be termed another unfortunate blow to the already wafer-thin interaction between the two conflicted neighbours now requires appropriate responses from the two governments to ensure that no knee jerk reactions upend the fragile normalisation process. A definitive statement after a thorough investigation by the Pakistani authorities is imperative, which would be a testimonial of the state to its rejection of any act that goes against its constitutional, legal, ethical, social and diplomatic code of conduct. Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Najam Sethi has ordered a full, comprehensive investigation into how a high-profile prisoner, locked up in the most secure part of the jail, suddenly became accessible to other dangerous inmates, who despite the alleged presence of wardens, unleashed a brutal attack on Singh, armed with iron rods and bricks (how those became available to them is another very important question here), and got away with, literally, murder. The report, to be submitted within 15 days, must examine the possibility that the jail authorities may have been complicit in the murder, or at the very least negligent. The entire incident is layered in very suspicious circumstances, and it is the duty of the government to make the report public. Considering the pragmatism and level-headedness of Dr Manmohan Singh’s conduct vis-à-vis Pakistan, it is to be hoped, beyond the immediate expected emotional response of outrage and grief, that no step would be taken in haste to endanger the normalisation process between the two countries, a setback threatening to once again darken the geopolitical scenario of a region already embroiled in too many unnecessary and vicious tugs towards renewed conflict.
In a surprise outburst, Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim on Thursday admitted in the wake of the worsening law and order situation, holding of free and fair elections was not possible, adding that it was the responsibility of the federal and provincial governments and law enforcement agencies to improve the country’s security situation. Since his appointment, the Election Commissioner is known for making controversies. His statement under-consideration is no different. Under the Constitution, every Pakistani knows that the ECP had the mandate of holding the elections and that all executive authorities were bound to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan to fulfill its constitutional duty. Thus there is no point to make such announcement when the elections are supposed to be held just after eight days. Knowingly, the law and order situation in Pakistan right from the word go, the Election Commission was supposed to take foolproof security measures to ensure free, fair and transparent elections. The ECP though claims all arrangements had been finalized for the holding of elections in the country. Yet he had aired his reservations and apprehensions about the security situation. Self-contradictory statements of the ECP are confusing a bit and beyond the comprehension. In the given situation, all he could do is to plug the loopholes if he finds any where rather than telling confusing statements to national media. Having all executive authorities behind him, the doubts associated with the holding of elections are nothing but the negligence of the Election Commission and incompetence of the caretakers in the Centre and in the Provinces-notwithstanding, the security forces’ ineptness to combat with the insurgencies of the religious extremists, nationalists, militants and terrorists during the last five years. The task of holding peaceful elections is a tough and challenging task yet it is not impossible one. The fact is except for the deployment of troops in some districts of Balochistan--nothing exclusive has been tried and tested to counter the militancy sending rude shocks across the country. Inability of the caretakers, having no stakes in politics of Pakistan, to come hard on terrorists and militants, the law and order situation has gone worst from bad. All members of the outgoing coalition partners have been pushed against the wall by the terrorists who had brought their election campaigns to a halt, consequently diminish prospects of outgoing rulers to retain their power-base or the party positions in the power-corridors. At least political pundits are convinced that the ANP, the MQM and the PPP’s campaigns are much below par. The public support is also seemingly slim, leaving all most nothing to guess-work. The law and order situation has become a chronic issue. Pakistan failed to curb the terrorism in the last five years, and it may not succeed to make a major breakthrough in next couple weeks as well, the nation has to pay a price to save the political system prevailing. Untimely confession of the ECP about failure of the Commission and caretakers to put in a reasonable detergent against the brutal terrorists does hint at the intentions of the Commission to open plethora of accusations against the election results. The Constitution provisions are clear and so are directions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the ECP and Caretakers must ensure election to take place in a dignified manner and refrain from raising ‘ifs and buts. Now the time is too short to make changes in bulk. The ECP, the caretakers and the armed forces should put the best foot forward. All these stake-holders should sit together to work out contingency action plans to implement them in a well-coordinated manner within given timeframe to see off the Election Day peacefully, giving the nation a chance to choose their representatives at their free will. The situation warrants a leader of the national consensus to lead the country out of the current political mess. The Election Commission of Pakistan must concentrate on the job it accepted a long ago now there is no point to escape from the national duty, making one accuse or the other. The task is difficult but not impossible particularly when the entire state machinery and the military might are out there to ward off the terrorists for one day-no matter how deadly they are.