Monday, June 30, 2014

Pakistan: Senate’s Opposition Leader Senator Aitzaz Ahsan urges PTI Chief Imran Khan to reconsider long march
Speaking in the Senate today, Ahsan said: “I appeal to Imran Khan to suspend his long march as Pakistan is in a state of war.” He said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should look people displaced by the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan. “Pakistan can win this war if IDPs are handled well,” he opined. The PPP leader criticized the federal government for what he called “unsatisfactory steps” for IDPs. Meanwhile, Senate unanimously adopted the Pakistan Protection Bill 2014. Not a single party voted against the bill. Earlier, PPP and ANP staged a token walkout in the Senate against non-serious statements issued by some federal ministers after plane attack in Peshawar. Senator Raza Rabbai said: “Neither Interior Minister nor Aviation Adviser came to Peshawar after such an attack.”

Pakistan: End sectarian violence in Balochistan, HRW urges

Pakistan's government needs to adopt all necessary measures to prevent militant groups in Balochistan from committing further killings and abuse against Hazaras and other Shias, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Monday.
The 62-page report titled “‘We are the Walking Dead’: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan,” details attacks launched by militant groups on the Hazara community in Balochistan.
Since 2008, several hundreds of Hazaras have been killed in targeted attacks and shootings.
Brad Adam, Asia Director HRW, said Sunni militants have targeted Hazaras extensively while they partake in religious congregations, travel to work, pray in mosques or just while they go about daily life. He said there was no travel route, no school, no shopping trip, or work commute that was safe for Hazaras, adding that the government's perceived failure to these attacks was appalling and unacceptable.
Due to these ongoing attacks, the half-million members of the Hazara community in Quetta live in perpetual fear, the report says, They are also forced to restrict their movements, which has led to greater economic hardships as well as limited access to educational and employment opportunities. As a result of this oppressive situation, scores of Hazaras are fleeing Pakistan and seeking refuge in other countries.
The Shia community in Pakistan has been repeatedly targeted in sectarian violence since 2008. The militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ) group has claimed responsibility for majority of the attacks but has managed to evade accountability.
On January 2013, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a crowded snooker club in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in Quetta, killing at least 70 people and injuring 120 others.
“It’s obscene that the Hazara community has been forced into a fearful and terrorised existence because the Pakistani authorities have failed to stop the LeJ’s violence,” Adams said. “But it’s beyond obscene that Pakistani authorities have suggested to Hazara that their severely curtailed rights are simply the price of staying alive.” Security forces in Balochistan have not done enough to investigate attacks on Hazaras and take appropriate security measures to foil the next attack. Many Hazaras told HRW that prejudiced attitudes and hostility towards them by officials and state security services were an important reason as to why most of the attacks went uninvestigated and subsequently unpunished.
The LeJ has also targeted members of the Frontier Corps force as well as policemen assigned to the security detail of Shia processions, pilgrimages and Hazara neighbourhoods.
The report said authorities claimed to have arrested scores of suspects in attacks against the Shia community since 2008, but most of them escape conviction. The HRW called upon the government to disband and disarm the LeJ and launch investigation against its leadership and others implicated in crimes.
It also said that international allies and donors should pressurise the government to abide by international human rights obligations and promote good governance by investigation sectarian killings in Balochistan and prosecuting all those responsible.
“Government officials and security forces need to understand that failure to tackle LeJ atrocities is no longer an option,” Adams said. “Inaction in the face of the slaughter of the Hazara and the wider Shia community is not only a callous betrayal of its own citizens, but suggests state complicity in allowing these crimes to continue.”

Pakistan: ‘Kayani was reluctant to launch N Waziristan operation’

A former Pakistan Army spokesperson has revealed that former army chief Gen (retd) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was reluctant to launch a major military offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan despite the military leadership's decision three years ago.
Speaking during an interview with BBC Urdu published on Monday, former DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen (retd) Athar Abbas said that the military leadership of the country was in favour of launching the military offensive in 2010, however, it could not have been launched due to the indecision of Gen Kayani.
Abbas replied in the affirmative when questioned whether personal weaknesses of the former army chief played a part in the reluctance to launch the operation. “This is generally true,” he said.
“He (Kayani) was hesitant regarding the military offensive in North Waziristan … he was delaying the decision because he thought the decision would be considered as his personal verdict.” “That is why he kept on delaying the decision which cost us dearly,” Abbas added.
He said that this indecisiveness wasted a lot of time and the country, public, government and the armed forces paid a heavy price for it.
“The delay has strengthened the extremists … they have grown in numbers and they are more resourceful, they are better connected with each other now and in my opinion things have become more complicated,” said the former DG ISPR.
He revealed that the then top military leadership had decided to launch the military operation in North Waziristan upon recommendations of military commanders stationed there and on the basis of intelligence reports gathered from the area.
“The on ground military commanders were of the view that peace could not be restored in the country without a major military offensive because all kinds of militants had gathered in that area.”
Abbas said before that there were two kind of opinion prevailing among the top military leadership ranks. “One opinion was in favour of the offensive while another group was for delaying the action,” he added.
He said dealing with Haqqani Network was one of the reasons for the delay, adding that there was another issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Athar Abbas revealed that the United States also contributed to the indecision, saying that unremitting pressure of launching the operation from the American leadership made it difficult for the Pakistani authorities as it would have looked like a decision taken on the behest of the US.

Sindh CM calls on Army Chief

Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, called on General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff at General Headquaters. He presented him a cheque of Rs 50 million on behalf of Government of Sindh for the IDPs of North Wazirastan Agency. Chief Minister Sindh expressed his solidarity with the displaced people of North Wazirastan Agency and reiterated that Government of Sindh would render all possible assistance for the well being of IDPs. The Chief Minister reaffirmed full support of the people of Sindh for the Armed Forces and ongoing operation Zarb e Azb.

US Should End Aid To Pakistan On Grounds Of Persecution Of Christians In Pakistan Says US Senator

Senator Rand Paul calls for an end to US aid to Pakistan by reason of intensifying persecution of Christians facing remarkable oppression in the country.
In keeping with details, Sen. Rand Paul has called for an ending to the American foreign aid to Pakistan on the grounds that the persecution of Christians living in the countryhas been on a higher side together with gender based violence where young Pakistani women are made to face ill-treatment on domestic as well as social level.
Sen. Rand Paul went on to present various examples of those victimised by the gender based violence before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee. He mentioned the internationally commended and much-admired young Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai; who made a manifested demand and struggle for education for girls in her country. Adding on he upheld: no woman in Pakistan who seeks education is safe, thanks to the threat of the Taliban.
While on the other hand, he said that Christians, too, are collapsing in the hostile society. Sen. Paul talked about the blasphemy case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman convicted and sentenced to death for committing blasphemy. After being alleged she was brutally stoned, dragged through streets, beaten and threatened with death facing extra judicial trial. Sen. Paul noted: According to her co-workers, she insulted the Prophet. In our country, we refer to such quibbling as gossip. In Pakistan, if you are a Christian, it can land you on death row. A report by the Fides agency Solidarity and Peace Movement claims that around 700 women including Christians were being forced to convert and marry Muslims every year.
Moreover, it’s not only the Christian women who are being targeted in the religion based violent attacks. In September last year, a Church in Peshawar with a congregation of around 500 to 600 people was attacked when two suicide bombers blew themselves up just as the people were about to leave after the Sunday mass had finished. This was the most deadly attack on the Christian community of Pakistan- as the history says claiming more than 80 lives and several seriously injured. This incident brought international condemnation to the Pakistani executives as well as nationwide disparagement by the Christians in Pakistan down to the lack of law enforcement or security laps regarding the Church blasts.
Continuing his argument Sen. Rand Paul said that most importantly the United States on moral grounds should cease to sponsor such human rights violations by sending aid to the country. He asserted: Many countries that receive U.S. foreign aid have laws that officially discriminate against Christians. Persecution of women is wrong. Persecution of Christians is wrong. Persecution of women or Christians in the name of religion must be stood up to. American power, if it is to have value in the world, must be used as a force against persecution. Our aid money, for example, should never go to countries that persecute women or Christians, not one dime.
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Pakistan: Qadri’s APC
Practically every party had sympathised with Pakistan Awami Tehrik over the killing of its activists. Interestingly, not all these parties attended Qadri’s All Parties Conference. Parliamentary parties like PTI, PML-Q and JI which are not reconciled to the results of last elections were however there. The MQM was presumably looking for an opportunity to put pressure on federal government which has continued to ignore it. The APC provided these parties an occasion to understand the thinking of PAT leadership and weigh the possibility of forming a united front in future. The APC also attracted a number of political castaways who desperately wave at every passing vessel irrespective of its destination. The flip flopping Tahirul Qadri once again told media that while the APC was called to seek political support against the killing of PAT activists, overthrowing the government was still an important part of his programme.
The PTI was the largest parliamentary party to attend the APC. The party’s core committee is divided over whether to use the forum of Parliament for electoral reforms or go for an all-out confrontation, unmindful of where it leads to. Leaders of the PTI’s Punjab chapter have talked about resignations by all party parliamentarians at an appropriate time. Imran Khan who was authorised to take the final decision gave a call at Bahawalpur for storming Islamabad with a million march on August 14. Was PTI representative scouting for possible help from PAT?
What Imran Khan fails to understand is that Tahirul Qadri is out to destabilise the system. What remains to be seen is whether he is doing this on account of personal idiosyncrasies or he is acting as a pawn in someone else’s game. It is the doubtful politics of the man which led parties like PPP, ANP, the Balochistan nationalists and others to avoid the APC. It would have been wiser for Khan not to touch Qadri with a barge pole.

Pakistan: Imran Khan’s greatest failure

Pakistan has had both vicious and stupid rulers, but God save us from some combination of the two. With his homicidal statements, Imran Khan is proving to be just like the Taliban he apparently admires. At his latest rally in Bahawalpur on Friday, Khan threatened the government with a ‘million man’ march on the capital if his ‘demands’ are not met. Cashing in on the scandal caused by the Punjab police last week, he said that if the police mistreated or shot at his supporters in the march, he would “hang them with his own hands”. Accompanying this murderous threat, he listed four ‘demands’: why did Nawaz Sharif make a victory speech on the night of May 11, when election results were unconfirmed; who are the returning officers responsible to; what role did Najam Sethi play in election rigging, and last but not least, what role did former Supreme Court Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry play in manipulating the results of the elections. The latter two accusations (not demands) are in fact serious enough for the named parties to respond with defamation suits against Khan since he has not provided a shred of evidence to support his claims.
The only word left to describe Mr Khan now is ‘a petulant child’, a sad comedown from the hopeful days of last May. Evidence of his mental instability is overwhelming. It is a criminal offence to threaten to hang people, even the police! It is absurd pointing to Nawaz Sharif’s speech as proof that rigging occurred. Furthermore, in what can only be described as scraping the bottom of the barrel, Imran is also blatantly dishonest about the contents of the speech in which Sharif said, “Results are still coming in, but this much is confirmed we are the single largest party so far.” Al Jazeera reported on the night of May 11 that the PML-N was leading in 119 of 272 National Assembly seats. If confronted with this, Imran will probably say that Al Jazeera was also part of the rigging conspiracy! The fact is that by the night of May 11, the trends were relatively clear and the PML-N did not announce a victory, but expected one. Imran conceded defeat himself and congratulated Nawaz Sharif by the night of May 12. If he was so convinced his party was robbed, why did he acknowledge the results of the election or form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) (a question he avoids)? One could also ask Khan why on the night of May 11, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf workers from Rawalpindi were celebrating their victory in KP when they clashed with police and the incident was covered by the press. Following Imran’s logic, were his own workers part of a rigging plot? These holes in his argument more than imply that his current posture is driven by overweening ambition rather than principle.
The Khan rhetoric on display in Bahawalpur verged on the insane. Claiming that all opposition parties think the election was rigged, Khan has missed the fact that no other opposition party is with him. His threat to the police is criminal. It is not acceptable from the leader of a political party. However, Khan does not care what anyone thinks and he does not care about the country; he is convinced of his own rightness and willing to let the country suffer to prove it. He is too committed to this course of action now for any good sense to penetrate the egotism guiding his actions. The country is fighting a war, but one he does not believe in, and so he is willing to sacrifice its future to be proved right, and the devil take the facts or ground realities. Khan may take himself down, that is his right, but his current course could take innocent people down with him too, and that is unacceptable. Wake up Imran Khan, the country is in a tough situation and the need of the hour is clarity. Instead of spending on futile expensive rallies and stretching the resources of the state in protecting him and his supporters, Imran should work for the welfare of the people of KP who elected his party.

Pakistan: Zarb-i-Azb: 15 suspected militants killed in ground offensive

At least suspected 15 militants were killed in the ground offensive initiated by the Pakistan Army in and around the Miramshah area of North Waziristan tribal region, according to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).
A network of tunnels and a factory manufacturing improvised explosive device and bombs were also discovered by security forces.
The ISPR statement further said that three soldiers were wounded in an exchange of fire between militants and security personnel.
The army's infantry troops and Special Services Group (SSG) conducted door-to-door searches in Miramshah town to ensure that the civilian population had evacuated the area.
The ISPR statement added, "Meanwhile integrated fire of artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons is being carried out on terrorist concentrations in Mirali and other areas. Effective cordon is in place at other areas housing terrorists."
376 suspected militants have been killed while 19 others surrendered to authorities since the operation commenced two weeks earlier, according to the ISPR's tally.
The ISPR statement added that 61 suspected hideouts had also been destroyed, while 17 soldiers of the military have reportedly died during the ongoing operation.
The facts and figures could not be independently verified as access to media is severely restricted in the militancy affected region.
Distribution of relief items for internally displaced persons (IDPs) was underway at Bannu, DI Khan and Tank districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while rations were also transported to Bannu after collection from relief donations points established by Pakistan Army in major cities of the country.

Pakistan troops launch ground offensive against Taliban

The Pakistani army says it has launched a ground offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan.
A statement said operations had begun around Miranshah, the main town in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The move follows air strikes which the army says have killed 370 militants. There is no confirmation of the figure. North Waziristan has long been a sanctuary for militants. Correspondents say many are thought to have left the area before the offensive began.
The assault comes three weeks after militants attacked Pakistan's largest airport in Karachi, leaving more than 30 people dead. For the past two weeks, Pakistani forces have been carrying out air strikes against what it says are militant hideouts in North Waziristan.
Among their targets, they say, have been Uzbek militants who claimed responsibility for the Karachi attack and their Pakistani Taliban (TTP) allies.
Monday's army statement said troops were now conducting a door-to-door search in Miranshah.
"Troops have recovered underground tunnels and IED [improvised explosive device] preparation factories," it said.
The town has been one of the main TTP bases during recent years when militants who had at times been tolerated by the military killed thousands of people in a bombing campaign across Pakistan.
In public statements, Pakistani commanders have said they will not discriminate between so-called good and bad Taliban, reports the BBC's Andrew North in Islamabad.
But our correspondent says there are widespread reports from within North Waziristan that many militants were allowed to escape before the operations began.
Nearly half a million people have left North Waziristan since the offensive was announced following the Karachi airport attack.

One year after shocking terrorist attack, Pakistan’s peaks bereft of foreign climbers

For more than five decades, locals have called it “Killer Mountain,” a reminder of the risks of trying to scale beautiful, snow-topped Nanga Parbat.
More than 100 climbers and porters have died on the steep, rocky ascent up the world’s ninth-highest mountain — a fact Pakistan once touted in a bid to lure thrill-seekers.
Now, however, local residents are frantically trying to scrub the word “killer” from a mountain that has become a symbol of the threat posed by the Pakistani Taliban.
One year ago this month, about a dozen heavily armed Pakistani Taliban militants executed 10 foreign mountain climbers, including a U.S. citizen, at the base of the mountain. It was one of the worst acts of violence to strike the international climbing community.
Terrorism is hardly unusual in Pakistan; at least 3,000 people died last year alone in the country in violence attributed to Islamist extremists. But the attack at Nanga Parbat was a major blow, horrifying citizens who view the majestic northern mountains as a source of national pride.
“As a Pakistani, I look at it as our Sept. 11,” said Nazir Sabir, who in 2000 became the first Pakistani to climb Mount Everest in Nepal. He now operates an Islamabad-based tour company. “We never, never, ever thought that this could happen.”
The attack also crushed the remnants of Pakistan’s international tourism industry, creating new hardship in a part of the country known for its tolerance and hospitality.
Pakistan is home to five of the world’s 14 highest peaks, including K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. Nanga Parbat, at 26,660 feet, is Pakistan’s second-highest mountain.
After the attack, the number of foreign mountain climbers collapsed.
“It may take years and years before they will consider going back to a place like Pakistan,” said Steve Swenson, past president of the American Alpine Club, who has been on 11 climbing expeditions in Pakistan over the past three decades. “I talked to a lot of people, even fairly knowledgeable people, about going there again, and their immediate response is: Is it safe? And then a not-unusual response is: Are you crazy?”
‘This is the day we take revenge’
According to local officials and residents, the Pakistani Taliban attackers hiked through the wilderness for three days to reach the base camp on the western side of the mountain, known as the Diamir Face, late on June 22, 2013. “Taliban! Al-Qaeda! Surrender!” the militants shouted as they marched into the camp, where the climbers and about three dozen porters slept.
The assailants went looking for foreigners, slashing more than 40 tents with knives. They yanked people from their tents — one Lithuanian, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two Chinese, one American and one Nepali — tied their hands behind their backs and made them kneel in a row in the moonlight.
“Then, suddenly, we a heard a shot,” said one 31-year-old Pakistani climber, who was tied up by the militants nearby. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he continues to fear for his safety.
“Then we heard hundreds of ‘brrr, brrr, brrr’ sounds,” like an automatic weapon might make, he said. “Then a leader of the group came and shot all the dead bodies one by one again.”
One militant then shouted, “This is the day we take revenge for Osama bin Laden,” the man recounted — an apparent reference to the United States’ killing of the al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan two years earlier.
Only one foreign climber — a Chinese man who hid in a steep trench clutching a pickax — survived. The attackers also killed a Pakistani cook, apparently because he was Shiite.
Pakistani police later arrested six people who reportedly confessed to the crime.
Tourist industry collapses
Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, hundreds of thousands of tourists traveled each year to Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan district, where the Himalayan, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountain ranges meet.
There were 20,000 tourists in northern Pakistan on the day of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon alone, but afterward the country was lucky to attract half that number in an entire year, said Tayyab Nisar Mir, a manager at the Pakistan Tourism Development Corp.
Those who did come were almost exclusively mountain climbers and long-distance backpackers determined to explore some of the world’s most picturesque scenery.
Although there were about 150 climbing expeditions a year in the country in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 75 annually after 9/11, only about 30 are likely to occur this year, officials said. And no climbers are expected this summer at Nanga Parbat. (At least two climbers made an unsuccessful attempt this past winter; no one has made it to the peak of Nanga Parbat or K2 in the winter).
The number of backpackers has declined even more dramatically, Mir said.
“Nanga Parbat was the last nail in the coffin of tourism in Pakistan,” he said, adding that the loss of tourism is costing the country $100 million annually.
Officials in Gilgit-Baltistan stress that the massacre was an isolated tragedy. They have been going to great lengths to reassure visitors that the region is safe.
On a pull-off spot overlooking Nanga Parbat on the Karakoram Highway, a sign once read, “Look to your Left: Killer Mountain.”
But Qaria Amin, 33, who operates a gem store at the spot, said that a month after the massacre, a police officer made him paint over the word “killer.” The sign now reads, “Look to your Left: Mountain.”
Amin says he is lucky if he makes a $100 a week now, compared with the $100 a day he used to bring in selling rubies, topazes and emeralds collected from the nearby hills.
At Fairy Meadows, a village that overlooks the northwest face of Nanga Parbat and the Raikot glacier, the tourism industry has “collapsed, causing hopelessness,” said Raji Rehmal, a resident.
The village of about 50 extended families is so remote that there are few other economic opportunities. To get there, visitors travel an hour by jeep up what locals call “the world’s most dangerous road,” a lane so narrow that vehicles’ tires are inches from the ledge. The road ends at an elevation of about 8,200 feet, and visitors then must hike to the village, elevation 11,154 feet.
Rehmal, who estimates that he is 50 years old, says he has walked at least 13,000 miles working as a guide or porter for foreigners. His work helped pay for the construction of a school for the village. A foreign climber came up with the name Fairy Meadows in the 1950s because the grassy plateau reminded him of a fairy tale, according to tour operators.
“In the good days, there were doctors who used to bring medicine, and Westerners who used to linger longer just to teach the local kids,” Rehmal said. “We would never, ever think of harming any tourist, any foreigner.”
Pakistani hikers in the area also said they miss the foreign visitors. “We have so little to be proud of, so if there is something as impressive as this, and foreigners come praise it, it’s a psychological lift,” said Nashreem Ghori, a 41-year-old Karachi native who was hiking near Fairy Meadows. ‘Sooner or later, the people will come back’
There has also been a steep decline in the tourism business in the Hunza Valley, an oasis of cherry and apricot trees wedged between imposing snow-covered mountains. The area is one of several Himalayan­ locations that have been mentioned as the possible inspiration for the mythical Shangri-La in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, “Lost Horizon.”
“Here, we have nice weather, nice mountains, nice people, but tourists are not coming, ” said Mohammad Karim, 34, a guide who also runs a camping store in Karimabad, a town in the valley.
Ghulam Nabi, owner of a campground at Fairy Meadows, said he fears that residents may resort to mining or logging to try to earn a living if the tourists stay away.
“The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have learned a lot from Western people,” Nabi said. “We were taught how to protect the environment, and how to balance tourism and nature.”
Authorities now assign an armed police officer to any foreigner who wants to go hiking near Nanga Parbat. Pakistanis are hopeful that such measures, and the stunning scenery, will eventually draw back tourists.
“Those mountains are not going anywhere,” said Iqbal Walji, a Pakistani tour operator. “Sooner or later the people will come back, because it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.”