Posts Tagged ‘ Swat ’

Nation Shocked: Hate Targets Hope

By Umer Farooq and Hazrat Ali for The Express Tribune

The ideology of hate has proven that it will target anything that comes in its way – even if it is a 14-year-old girl.
In a harrowing incident that shocked the nation on Tuesday, three armed men intercepted a van carrying schoolgirls, identified their target and then shot her, point blank.

Their target: iconic child activist and National Peace Award winner Malala Yousafzai.
An outspoken critic of the Taliban and vociferous proponent of female education, Yousafzai won international recognition for highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago when militants, led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, burned girls’ schools in the valley.

Yousafzai was 11 when she started writing the blog in late 2008.

On Tuesday, she was on her way back home after sitting for a midterm examination paper, when the gunmen attacked and critically injured her. She is currently in critical condition. Three of her friends were also injured.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Yousafzai criticised the group, and called her a ‘Western-minded girl.’ In a chilling warning, TTP’s spokesman said that there would be follow up attacks if she survived.

As condemnations and expressions of shock and outrage poured in from all quarters, doctors in Peshawar battled to keep her alive.
Van ambushed

According to details, three armed men intercepted the van carrying Yousafzai and other female students near Sharifabad area of district Swat.
The armed men asked about Yousafzai, said Usman Ali, the driver of the van while talking to reporters.

“The man who stopped the vehicle signaled to his other armed accomplices that Yousafzai was inside. Another armed man went to the back of the vehicle, and started firing inside,” Ali said.

Yousafzai and her three friends –– Shahnaz, Kulsoom and Shabnam –– sustained injuries.
She was initially rushed to Saidu Hospital, where Medicinal Superintendent Lal Noor said that, despite head injuries, Yousafzai was in stable condition.

He said a bullet is still inside her body but added that Yousafzai could talk, and answered his questions.
She was shifted via helicopter to Combine Military Hospital (CMH) Peshawar where a team of senior doctors completed her medical examination, and stated her condition as critical.

“We have thoroughly examined her, she is in critical condition. The bullet travelled from her head and then lodged in the back shoulder, near the neck,” a doctor in CMH told AFP, requesting anonymity.
“The next three to four days are important for her life. She is in the intensive care unit and semi-conscious, although not on the ventilator,” he said.

TTP claims responsibility

Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP that his group carried out the attack after repeatedly warning Malala to stop speaking out against them.

“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“We warned her several times to stop speaking against the Taliban and to stop supporting Western NGOs, and to come to the path of Islam,” he said.
“This is a clear a message for the rest of the youth as well. Whoever is found following Yousafzai, will meet the same fate,” Ehsan said, adding the TTP will conduct follow-up attempts if Yousafzai survived this time.
The 14-year-old received the first-ever national peace award from the government last year, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by advocacy group KidsRights Foundation in 2011.

Condemnations

Condemnations flew in from all quarters, including the president, prime minister, the opposition chief, even the US State Department.
President Zardari strongly condemned the attack, but said it would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to fight militants or the government’s determination to support women’s education.

The president also directed that Yousafzai be sent abroad for medical care.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain, who lost his only son to militants, termed Taliban’s act ‘cowardice’ and called for a sweeping military offensive against all militants in northwest Pakistan. “A team of neurosurgeons is examining her condition and they said there are 70% chances that she will survive,” Hussain said at a late night press conference on Tuesday. The minister asked the nation to pray for her life.

Appeal for prayers

Yousafzai’s father, former Swat Peace Jirga spokesperson Ziauddin Yousafzai, made an appeal to the nation to pray for her recovery.
“She is a daughter of the nation, and represents the country’s female folk. I request the nation to pray for her recovery,” Ziauddin said.
District Police Officer (DPO) Swat Rasool Shah told The Express Tribune that an FIR of the incident has been registered, and a number of suspected persons have been arrested in search operation in different areas of Mingora.

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Pakistan Rejects US Taliban Report

As Reported by The BBC

The Pakistani military has dismissed the findings of a US report that says it has no clear plans to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

The report assessing the war against militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been submitted by the Obama administration to the US congress.

But a senior Pakistan security official told the BBC that operations against militants have been a great success.

The official said that Pakistan should be proud of the progress it had made.

The White House report said that Pakistan still has no “clear path” to defeat militants on its soil.

But the senior official – who wished to remain anonymous – said that Pakistan’s plate was full enough already.

“Instead of pushing us to do more, the other side should carry out an introspection of its own operations,” he said.

“We are quite satisfied with our counter-insurgency campaign in the Swat and Malayan regions and parts of the tribal areas. We can safely say this has been a great success story.”

The BBC’s Shoaib Hasan in Pakistan says that the White House report has been released at a time when relations between the security establishments of the two countries have been strained.

Our correspondent says that the report is likely to raise the ire of the Pakistan military – which says it has lost more men than any other country in the fight against militancy in the region.

‘Vexing’

The White House report said that in spite of “tremendous human sacrifices” made by Pakistani security forces and increased military co-operation between Pakistan and US in the last three months, the fight against militancy was making little progress.

Pakistan claims to have lost more men than any other country in the fight against militancy It cited the example of the this January’s third operation in two years to clear insurgents from Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies.

The Pakistani military’s efforts have been hobbled by resistance from the militants, bad weather and the need to settle internally displaced people.

“What remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations,” the White House report said.

“As such there remains no clear path to defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 forces.”

The report said that Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to co-operate more to destroy insurgent havens on both sides of the border.

The US has long expressed frustration about Pakistan’s reluctance to take on militants in the tribal areas.

43 Dead in Pakistan Mine Blast, No Survivors

As Reported by The Associated Press

All 43 miners in a colliery in southwest Pakistan that was hit by a blast at the weekend have been confirmed dead, officials said Tuesday, as rescuers ended their search operation.

“All 43 bodies have been recovered,” Iftikhar Ahmed, provincial chief inspector of mines for the insurgency-torn Baluchistan province, told AFP.

“There are no survivors and the mine is being sealed,” Ahmed said.

President of Pakistan Mines Workers Federation Bakht Nawab confirmed the final toll.

The mine in the far-flung Sorange district of the troubled southwestern province was poorly ventilated, allowing poisonous gases to accumulate and trigger blasts that led to a collapse on Sunday, officials said.

The mine is run by the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and officials said they will launch an investigation into why the warnings to stop mining were not heeded.

Rich in mineral wealth, Baluchistan is plagued by an insurgency blamed on nationalist tribesmen demanding more jobs and royalties from the region’s natural resources. Hundreds of people have died in the violence since 2004.

Most coal mines in the impoverished province are notorious for overseeing poor safety standards and similar deadly accidents have occurred in the past.

 

Pakistan Army Propaganda Drama Set for TV

By Khurram hahzad for The Associated Press

Pakistan’s Taliban-fighting soldiers are set for celebrity status with the launch of a multi-million-dollar glossy television drama hailing army victories over militants.

Emotive tales of 11 “brave Pakistanis” battling an Islamist insurgency that is plaguing Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, will air on the small screen in an army-funded drama that casts the anti-terror fight in a positive light.

Focused on the heroism of soldiers fighting a key air and ground offensive in the northwestern Swat valley in 2009, one tale looks at the deeds of soldier Hawaldar Naeem Asghar who died fighting an insurgent checkpoint.

Asghar, portrayed as a hardworking soldier from peasant roots, sacrifices his life to overcome Taliban dug in to a hilltop, during operations in the town of Mingora to flush militants from the picturesque valley.

Throwing grenades from his bunker without success, Asghar is depicted abandoning cover and climbing the hill, tossing more explosives on his way as bullets rain down from the rebels’ post.

The checkpoint is destroyed, but Asghar is killed.

“Hawaldar Asghar’s story is a common man’s story. It’s a message to the public that everybody can play a role in the fight against extremism,” says Sajjad Saji, one of the drama serial’s writers.

“It is filmed to encourage the common people in this war,” he adds.

Urged by its key but critical ally the United States to launch further operations in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the army wants to show the sacrifices it has already endured in the war on terror.

“The basic purpose is to reveal the deeds of bravery of our soldiers, officers and civilians who are at the front of this war…. This drama shows the human face of the war,” says Major General Athar Abbas, head of the army’s publicity wing.

“The nation should own these stories of bravery and sacrifice, they should be proud of our sons and daughters of the land who created these true stories with their blood and defended the motherland.”

One of the filmmakers, who would not be named, said the high-end production was a “multi-million-dollar” effort, but refused to put a precise figure on costs.

The production, peppered with special effects, was filmed amid rugged verdant hills and forests close to the Swat valley — scene of major operations by Pakistan’s military in 2009 to rid the area of rampant militancy.

“We travelled extensively to film this serial. A crew of more than 35 people with trucks of luggage roamed in the forests and hills for months to show the reality,” said Khawar Azhar, the show’s executive producer.

The former tourism hotspot of Swat slipped out of government control after a radical cleric led an uprising in July 2007, beheading opponents, burning schools and fighting to enforce a harsh brand of Islamic law.

Pakistan launched a blistering air and ground offensive in the valley after militants marched out of Swat and advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital Islamabad in April 2009.

After heavy fighting that displaced an estimated two million people, the military declared the region back under army control last summer and efforts have begun to revive the local economy amid sporadic outbreaks of violence.

Television productions are one of the tools adopted by the military’s publicity wing to polish its image and boost recruitment and morale at a key juncture in anti-Taliban efforts and with religious conservatism on the rise.

Accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of carrying out collective punishments on relatives of militants since it re-established control over the Swat valley, the army knows the importance of securing local hearts and minds.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked attacks since government forces launched an attack against militants in a mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

The television drama depicts the bitter divide between Pakistan’s opposing cultures as the moderate middle class fights religious extremism in a country fractured by deep regional political divided.

In other episodes the film makers show the victims of Taliban power — one girl is subject to brutal gang rape by militants, while in another a young boy is brain-washed into becoming a suicide bomber.

Officials: Pakistan Flood Deaths Top 1100‎

As Reported By CNN

The devastating floods in Pakistan have killed more 1,100 people, Pakistani government officials told CNN on Sunday. Another 30,000 people were stuck on their rooftops and in higher areas as they tried to escape rushing floodwaters, a United Nations official said Sunday.

“We’ve got the government sending boats and helicopters to try to reach people and bring them to safety at the same time as trying to deliver emergency relief,” said Nicki Bennett, a senior humanitarian affairs officer for the U.N.

Damaged roads and bridges have made rescuing stranded residents difficult, she said, noting that even a U.N. warehouse where the organization stores food, blankets, soaps and bucks is partially underwater. “As we are trying to reach people, we have to battle with the ongoing access problems,” she said. The rescue and recovery efforts of the Pakistan flooding could become more complicated as weather officials predict more monsoon rains starting Monday.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department said Sindh, Punjab, Kashmir, eastern parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and eastern parts of Balochistan would receive monsoon rains. Areas along the Indus River would be badly affected due to extremely high flood conditions.

The number reflects those killed only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, previously known as the North West Frontier Province, said spokesman Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Flooding has also been reported in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Twenty-five deaths were recorded there Friday, Hussain said.

A Pakistani Red Crescent official told CNN that the number of people affected by the floods has risen to nearly 2.5 million people, with infrastructure receiving major damage. Rushing water also has washed away thousands of acres of crops, government buildings, businesses, schools, bridges and homes, officials said.

The United States will assist in relief efforts by bringing in 50,000 meals, rescue boats and helicopters, 12 pre-fabricated steel bridges and water filtration units, the embassy in Islamabad said.

According to Geo TV, 150 people are missing in a northwestern province, and 3,700 homes were swept away. Forty-seven bridges in Swat have been destroyed or damaged.

Geo TV also said 3,000 are in a camp in Nowshera and are without enough water and food. Displaced residents are unhappy with the government response, Geo TV said. Trains have also been delayed, frustrating commuters.

“They have made this a joke,” a commuter told the network. “There are young children here, but there is no water, nor is there any seating. They have taken our ticket money. Yet after every few minutes they change the train timings. They are playing a game of lies and deceit.”

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik visited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Saturday and found tourists and local residents trapped because of the heavy floods, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

President Asif Ali Zardari said all available resources would be used to help those stranded by the waters, the APP reported.

Many of the victims died when flood waters swept away hundreds of mud houses in parts of Swat Valley and the districts of Shangla and Tank, according to Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a provincial minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Hussain said flooding has cut off the Swat Valley and the districts of Shangla and Peshawar. There is no way to get to these areas by road, he said.

The Pakistani Air Force has been helping with rescue efforts, spokesman Tariq Yazdanie said in an interview on Pakistani TV. The recent torrential rains have broken all previous records of rainfall in the country, he said.

The United Nations said there is a need for help in providing emergency shelter, food, drinking water and sanitation facilities. Its agencies are geared to help with these issues.

The European Commission is providing 30 million euros ($39 million) to help the people affected by the flooding.

U.S. Embassy officials in Pakistan said the United States has committed $10 million to support flood relief priorities, four inflatable rescue boats, two water filtration units that can fulfill the daily water requirements of up to 10,000 people, and 12 pre-fabricated steel bridges to temporarily replace damaged bridges.

U.S. officials have also provided more than 51,000 halal meals (military rations tailored for people of Islamic faith) and another 62,000 will arrive Sunday.

In addition, the U.S. provided helicopters to support the Ministry of Interior’s rescue operations.

The same weather system is also responsible for flooding in bordering Afghanistan, where 65 people have died, and 61 were injured since Thursday, according to Abdul Matin Adrak, head of disaster management for Afghanistan.

The flooding started Thursday and continued for more than six hours. Rescue teams were able to access all the flooded villages using ministry of defense helicopters. Food and equipment was donated and transferred to the affected people by ISAF and Afghan Security forces.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Greg “Boomer” Roberts, adviser to the Afghan Air Force, told CNN Sunday morning that the Afghan air force rescued about 2,000 villagers who were stranded. Roberts accompanied the air force during their rescue mission in the Kunar province — a known insurgent stronghold.

“They knew they could accomplish their mission. When we came into the area and the Taliban made their presence known, they continued … and picked up 2,000 people who were definitely overcome by the floods. And they did it right there in full view of the Taliban.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that some of the folks we picked up are Taliban,” he said, adding that most were probably looking for employment with the organization. He said the rescue mission is the type of move that could sway people away from the Taliban and toward the Afghan government.

India, Pakistan and the Musical Gurus of Peace

By Varun Soni for The Huffington Post

In July, India and Pakistan will begin a new round of talks in hopes of reviving their diplomatic efforts and renewing their peace process. While there are many pressing political issues to discuss, these talks could also be a remarkable opportunity for an innovative public diplomacy initiative between the nuclear neighbors. Although public diplomacy is often thought of as a form of state-to-state engagement, it also has the power to engage populations on a person-to-person level as well, especially in the age of social media and networking. Given the fact that many Indians and Pakistanis sing the same songs and listen to the same music, there is a unique opportunity now to promote popular music as a form of public diplomacy.

Although India and Pakistan are politically divided, their cultural roots still bind them together. Nowhere is this more apparent than Punjab — a region that was partitioned to create the modern nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947, and further divided into the Indian states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in the 1960s. Despite these geopolitical divisions, Punjabis in both India and Pakistan remain united by “Punjabiyat,” a shared cultural heritage that has developed over millennia.

The historical Punjab is the only region in South Asia where Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are all represented in large numbers. Even as Punjab’s history is one of conflict and communalism, it is also one of overlapping musical and religious traditions. For example, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh canonical text, contains within it not only the devotional compositions of Guru Nanak and his Sikh successors, but also verses from poets now considered Hindu and Muslim, such as Namdev and Baba Farid. Likewise, the Sikh devotional music of kirtan draws from similar lyrical sources and employs a similar instrumentation as Hindu bhajan music and Sufi qawwali music. For contemporary musicians, the devotional syncretism of Punjab remains a powerful model for how music can provide an encompassing framework for both unity and diversity.

Earlier this year, I interviewed the Sufi rock star Salman Ahmad as part of a USC book launch series focused on religion, popular culture, and diplomacy. As the founder of Junoon, Pakistan’s most popular rock band, Ahmad discussed his experiences performing in both India and Pakistan and explained how rock and roll empowers and connects the youth in both countries. In the name of rock-and-roll diplomacy, Ahmad organized last year’s Concert for Pakistan at the UN General Assembly Hall as a way of raising money and awareness for the three million internally displaced people of the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Inspired by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s famous Concert for Bangladesh, the Concert for Pakistan brought together prominent Indian and Pakistani musicians, diplomats, and entrepreneurs in solidarity and support for Swat.

Another powerful moment in India-Pakistan musical diplomacy occurred in August of 1997, when India and Pakistan celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries of independence as nation-states. In order to commemorate this occasion, the virtuoso Indian music composer A.R. Rahman recorded with the late great Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Together, the most famous musician from India and the most famous musician from Pakistan composed “Gurus of Peace,” an impassioned plea for peace between India and Pakistan. “Gurus of Peace” proved prescient, as the following year both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, prompting President Clinton to call the India-Pakistan border the world’s most dangerous region. But A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had reminded the region the year earlier that India and Pakistan could unite through musical fusion instead of divide over nuclear fusion.

In the 1950s, the US State Department began sponsoring jazz luminaries, such as Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, to perform concerts overseas and serve as American cultural ambassadors. This public diplomacy initiative was aimed at winning the hearts and minds of potential allies in the Cold War, but the concerts also connected communities and ideas at a person-to-person level, and inspired artistic movements throughout the world. Likewise, India and Pakistan should sponsor and promote a series of musical concerts, workshops, and exchanges as a way of creating connections and engaging communities on a non-state level. Musical diplomacy certainly has its limits and should only be one part of a broader public diplomacy strategy, but after more than 60 years of missed public diplomacy opportunities, it’s time for India and Pakistan to follow the lead of A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and give music a chance.

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