Tag Archive | "Islamabad"

Suicide terror keeps Pakistanis at home

After summer’s paralysing heat, most Pakistanis look forward to autumn’s balmy weather as a traditional time for picnics, leisurely meals and going out.

But the recent wave of suicide attacks and terror alerts is making families and shopkeepers nervous that their next visit to a restaurant or market in Pakistan’s capital could end in carnage.

‘We don’t go anywhere, this is not a situation for moving around or going to markets and other public places,’ said Bushra Tayyeb, a housewife in Islamabad.

‘We can’t go out to eat, to the cinema or for a picnic. My kids are getting bored at home, we’re thinking of moving abroad,’ she said.

While her 12-year-old son Danish is attending classes again after schools closed for almost a week following the suicide attack on an Islamabad university, he has been upset by the disruption. Meanwhile, thousands of children at private schools are still at home.

‘I can’t study well. I can’t go watch a movie or play in the park, I don’t know what is happening with me and this country,’ Danish said.

‘I want to enjoy my life like before. I want to move freely. I can’t sit at home,’ he said, urging the government to provide protection.

Most Pakistanis mock Islamabad as an entertainment desert compared with Karachi, which never sleeps, and Lahore, feted for its cultural sophistication, and the fear has hit restaurant and shop staff with a new malaise.

‘We were busy working until 1:00 am a few weeks back, but now we hardly make our bread and butter because people are not going out these days,’ said Haseeb Abbasi, a waiter at a roadside burger stand.

The shopping complex over the road was once a crowded hangout for youngsters but, Abbasi says, few linger there now.

Western fast-food outlets in particular fear that their US connections make them more susceptible to attack by militants.

The military’s 12-day ground and air offensive against sanctuaries of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which has claimed responsibility for most of the recent attacks, has only compounded fears.

‘We have lost 50 to 60 per cent of our customers in the last few days. It is all because of suicide attacks and the South Wazirstan operation,’ said Muhammad Shabbir, manager of Islamabad’s KFC.

Attacks are nothing new in Islamabad. The most spectacular — a truck bomb killed at least 60 people at the Marriott Hotel in September 2008 — led to an exodus of many foreigners.

Pakistanis have steered clear of fast-food chains for months and the metal scanners manned by guards at restaurant doors fail to reassure them.

‘We’re going to deploy more security guards and install hidden cameras but this doesn’t guarantee that nothing will happen. If a suicide bomber decides to strike here, nothing can stop him,’ Shabbir said.

Frightened shopkeepers say they feel like sitting ducks.

‘Not only are customers staying away due to security fears but we face the same threat. Anybody looking like a customer can come and explode inside our shop,’ said Mansoor Nazir, a salesman at a clothing store.

Anger is rising against the government and the security services who fail to provide adequate protection.

‘Their duty is to protect us but they can’t even place barriers and security pickets in the right places,’ said Nazir.

Policemen, who are poorly paid and lack training, liken their task to trying to find a needle in a haystack.

‘We’re here to search for terrorists and suicide bombers but it is hard to check thousands of passengers and their cars,’ said Muhammad Hamraz, a police constable in charge of a checkpoint on a major thoroughfare.

‘A suicide bomber can strike the middle of this queue, but we come to work fully prepared for death because there is no alternative,’ he said.

{Source: Dawn}

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Haqqani stays away from Islamabad

It is rumored that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States of America Hussain Haqqani is unlikely to be on hand in Islamabad when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in the capital, TheNation reported Tuesday citing well-placed sources.

America’s top diplomant US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Islamabad on a three-day visit from today and she is expected to meet the Government, the Army top brass, the opposition leaders and civil society.

Usually ambassadors go to their respective capitals when a visit of this sort takes place.

However, to the surprise of many, Hussain Haqqani will not accompany Hillary Clinton during her high-profile visit to Islamabad, the paper said.

“Experts were of the opinion that, Haqqani has avoided visiting Islamabad considering the denunciation of his role in the passage of the controversial Kerry-Lugar Bill from Pakistani leaders and analysts.

Haqqani hasn’t been to home country since March of this year. Obviously, he is afraid of coming here during these days especially, the paper added.

Haqqani has filed a multi-million dollar libel lawsuit against The Nation for carrying a story which referred to a report that he may unlock ‘many secrets’ if he were to be fired. The paper’s official position is it was merely quoting and reporting what a US-based newspaper McClatchy had already written about him.

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Lal Masjid is still training militants?

It seems that the Lal Masjid saga is not over yet as investigators probing the recent terrorist attacks in Islamabad suspect the involvement of Ghazi Force (GF), a small but lethal militant group named after Ghazi Abdul Rashid, the deputy imam of the Lal Masjid who died in the July 2007 crackdown, Dawn News learnt reliably here on Saturday.

The sources said that Niaz Raheem alias Bilal, the amir of GF, is said to be a prime suspect in terror activities in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The sources said that the name of Niaz Raheem first crept up in May 2009, when law enforcement agencies arrested Fidaullah, the founder of the GF, after getting some leads from Khairullah and Khurram Shahzad, who were arrested in the case of Frontier Constabulary and Special Branch suicide attacks in Islamabad early this year.

The sources said that though Fidaullah was the founder amir of the GF, it is Niaz Raheem who is leading the force.

They said that Muhammad Hanif of Kacha Malana, District Dera Ismail Khan, Muhammad Kamran of Gali Bagh Ibrahim Khel resident of Saeedabad Pujgi, GPO Road, Peshawar, Dildar Khan a resident of Reggy Shenu , district Kohat , Bashir Ahmed a resident of village Nari Baja Bughdada, Mardan, Arslan Irshad, a resident of Defense Sector Karachi Shargi-D, Farhan Saqib Abbasi of sector G-6/2 are said to be some active members of the GF.

The sources add that besides these important members of the GF, 43 others are at large and they all are wanted in different terror cases.

The sources said that Fidaullah had established his network in Guljo area of Hangu and he had also been accused of taking youngsters from Islamabad to turn them into suicide bombers.

But the arrest of Fidaullah and a successful military operation in Swat forced the group to lie low for some time.

However, the group has now re-emerged under the guidance of a new amir.

Sources said that the group also has its links with militants in Swat and FATA and there is a strong possibility that they have developed a nexus for executing terror attacks in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

‘All these terrorist networks, including the Ghazi Force, operating here in Pakistan somehow have links with the Tehreek-i- Taliban Pakistan (TTP),’ said Amir Rana, a prominent expert on militancy.

The sources said that the capital police and law enforcement agencies were looking into GF involvement in other acts of terror, for example the killing of a brigadier in Islamabad two days ago.

{Source: Dawn}

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No Time to Exhale 
for Pakistan Yet — Faryal Leghari

By Faryal Leghari

These are critical times for Pakistan. Days before the launch of a massive ground operation in the epicentre of Pakistan’s Taleban insurgency, the rugged and indomitable Waziristan agency adjoining the Afghan border, terror attacks have been unleashed across the country.

From the military headquarters in Rawalpindi to the UN World Food Programme offices in Islamabad, from the Frontier — where a series of suicide attacks and bombings have wreaked havoc in Peshawar, Bannu, Kohat and Swat — to Punjab’s capital Lahore, these attacks have targeted the security establishment including the military and police institutions and personnel.

While terror is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan given the series of extremist attacks over the past few years, these recent attacks are notable in their nature and pattern. Especially, since these attacks occurred after the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan considered responsible for the spiralling violence and suicide attacks, including Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007.

The TTP, having claimed responsibility for the recent attacks had been issuing warnings against the Waziristan operation, and now seems to be delivering on its word. In retrospect, it was wrong to presume that the insurgency would lose its lethal capability after Baitullah.

So far these attacks have not targeted soft (civilian) targets, though this may change sooner than supposed. The main purpose behind the attacks is to trigger adverse public opinion against the Waziristan operation and to deter political backing for the military strategy. Though the government has vowed not to back down, its determination to continue the military initiative will depend on its ability to cope with the rapidly unravelling security situation.

With the army poised to launch a full-scale operation in the already besieged Waziristan and air strikes already targeting suspected hideouts and insurgent strongholds, the operation critically needs public support, just as in Swat. The reason for success of the last operation in Swat was because of concurrence of political and military strategy and popular support. The military plans to wedge Waziristan and dry outside support has obviously irked the insurgents. Drawing on their ties with extremist groups in Punjab, the TTP has successfully initiated a pre Waziristan-launch terror campaign.

A few distinguishing features of these recent attacks throw light on the evolving doctrine of terror. First is the involvement of women. The reported involvement of at least three women in the multiple coordinated attacks on police training centres in Lahore on October 15 is very disturbing. A day later a woman in burqa reportedly carried out one of the two coordinated suicide attacks targeting a police investigation cell in Peshawar that killed at least 
13 people. More disturbing is the news that a 13-year old boy was used to carry out last week’s lethal suicide attack in Shangla, Swat that killed more than 
40 people.

The use of teenagers in carrying out terror attacks, though not new, is extremely abhorrent and is obviously continuing. Second is the choice of targets; in choosing the high profile and high security targets—the Federal Investigation Agency’s regional headquarters in Lahore, the Manawa and the elite police training centres on Bedian road— the terrorists have made a significant point.

As for the October 10 attack on the GHQ, the attackers have demonstrated their capability, successfully infiltrating the high security area and holding more than 40 people hostage in a 22-hour siege. In the process, scores of army personnel including two high-ranking officers were killed.

The attackers, of whom nine were killed, are believed to have received direct training from Al Qaeda. The involvement of Al Qaeda in high calibre terror attack is not new as it has been previously involved in several major attacks but does speak volumes for the terrorist group’s strong ties with local terror outfits.

The fact that sympathisers within the military may have facilitated the attackers has only fed the hawkish lobbies in the West that have been clamouring for control of Pakistan’s strategic assets under the pretext of these falling in hands of extremists.

While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to arrest a rekindling of the above debate and expressed confidence in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the episode is bound to generate embarrassment for the country’s security agencies. The big question being asked by just about everyone is how such unacceptable security lapse occurred?

This brings us to a third factor, that is, the failure of the intelligence agencies in preventing these attacks. Apparently, the GHQ attackers had been residing in a house nearby for some time from where they finalised the operation. Similarly, the attacks in Lahore against previously hit high level targets only further undermine public confidence in the state’s security apparatus. These attacks have undermined the human intelligence factor that is left reeling under the onslaught of systematic and well-coordinated attacks.

While suicide attacks are extremely difficult to prevent even in places barricaded with the highest level of security, the issue here is why intelligence and security were not beefed up? Especially when the state has seen disproportionate violence in recent past and has been warned of such attacks on the brink of a massive counterinsurgency operation.

The security threat is bad enough with the fallout from the war in Afghanistan and the ensuing internal militancy that poses a huge challenge. For this reason Pakistan’s security forces need unhindered internal and external support. Undermining the confidence of the security forces by exploiting differences with the political establishment will only deteriorate the situation and perpetuate instability.

This is only going to hinder international efforts in fighting terrorism. As for Pakistan’s security establishment, efforts to boost its intelligence capabilities and deploying immediate deterrence measures should be the top priority right now, for it would impact the looming challenge of flushing out the insurgents from Waziristan and other restive areas.

- Faryal Leghari is KT’s Assistant Editor and can be reached at [email protected]

{Source: Khaleej Times}

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Pakistan aid bill has explosive impact - Jim Lobe

By Jim Lobe

After 10 days of raging controversy centered in Islamabad, United States President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a major aid bill for Pakistan authorizing some US$7.5 billion in non-military assistance for the increasingly beleaguered country over the next five years.

The bill, which will more than triple the current level of non-military aid the US provides to Pakistan, had been designed as a dramatic show of support for the country whose full cooperation is seen as crucial to US hopes of defeating the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and destroying al-Qaeda, whose leadership is believed to be based in Pakistan’s rugged frontier region.

“This law is the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the US, as evidenced by its bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous passage in congress,” the White House said, adding that Washington hoped to establish a “strategic partnership” with Islamabad “grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people”.

But, contrary to its intent, congressional passage of the bill on October 5 unleashed a major political crisis in Pakistan itself where the opposition and the country’s powerful army rejected several of the conditions written into the bill as violating the country’s sovereignty and dignity, whipping up already widespread anti-US sentiment in the process.

In an extraordinary “joint explanatory statement” aimed at appeasing that sentiment and annexed to the bill before Obama signed it, the new law’s two main Democratic sponsors, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry and his House counterpart, Howard Berman, insisted that “the legislation does not seek in any way to compromise Pakistan’s sovereignty, impinge on Pakistan’s national security interests, or micro-manage any aspect of Pakistani military or civilian operations”.

“This whole thing backfired badly,” rued one administration official, who asked not to be identified. “It’s left a very sour taste in everyone’s mouth, here and in Pakistan.”

The bill’s signing came on the same day that the Pakistani Taliban mounted the latest in a 10-day series of devastating multiple attacks on key army and police facilities that highlighted Washington’s longstanding concerns about the threat posed by the militants, who are regarded as closer to al-Qaeda than their counterparts in Afghanistan.

More than 30 people, including at least 19 police officers, were reportedly killed in several attacks, including one on an elite counter-terrorism training facility, in Lahore, the capital of Punjab. Those attacks came five days after Taliban guerrillas breached the security perimeter of the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. Twenty-three people were killed in that raid, during which the assailants seized dozens of hostages.

The attacks, which were initially billed as retaliation for the August 5 killing, apparently by a US Predator drone strike, of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, are increasingly seen as designed to ward off a long-promised army ground offensive in the Taliban’s and al-Qaeda’s main stronghold of South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The military cordoned off the area two months ago, and its air force has recently carried out bombing runs against targets there. The delay in launching the offensive, however, has frustrated officials here who regard it as a major test of the army’s willingness to provide the kind of counter-terrorist cooperation Washington has long sought.

“If South Waziristan is indeed next, that would be a significant development,” said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia specialist and former senior Central Intelligence Agency analyst, at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. Riedel chaired the White House’s review on Afghanistan and Pakistan after Obama came to office.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the US has provided Pakistan some $11 billion in aid, only a fraction of which, however, was devoted to non-military assistance, such as development assistance and support for political and economic reforms.

The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan was designed in major part to better balance military and non-military aid, particularly in the wake of Islamabad’s return to civilian rule in early 2008, by offering significantly greater support for democratic institutions and civil society. Washington continues to provide about one billion dollars a year to the army.

While the senate version of the bill set a number of general conditions for disbursement of the aid, including a requirement that Pakistan is making “tangible progress in governance”, such as gaining civilian control over the military and the intelligence agencies, the house version was both more specific and more demanding.

Under its terms, Pakistan could receive military aid only if the secretary of state certified that the civilian government exercised “effective civilian control over the military” and “demonstrated a sustained commitment” by “ceasing support” to terrorist groups and “dismantling terrorist bases”.

This last reference focused on Quetta - where the Afghan Taliban leadership is believed to be based - and in Muridke - where a number of anti-Indian groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out last year’s attack in Mumbai, are believed to run operations. These provisions, which could be waived by the president if it served the national interest, were incorporated into the final bill.

They nonetheless were seized on by the military high command in Pakistan which, in a formal communique directed at President Asif Ali Zardari, charged that the bill violated Pakistani sovereignty, an accusation echoed in parliament by the opposition leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leaders of other parties, and the media.

Taken by surprise, Zardari, who had initially celebrated the final bill’s passage as a major achievement of his administration, dispatched his foreign minister to Washington, apparently to try to work out a face-saving solution which came in the form of the two-page “joint explanatory statement” issued by Kerry and Berman.

“Any interpretation of this act which suggests that the United States does not fully recognize and respect the sovereignty of Pakistan would be directly contrary to congressional intent,” asserted the statement.

In an editorial published on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal laid blame for the house version primarily on the 152-member congressional caucus on India and Indian Americans, which includes a number of influential Democratic and Republican lawmakers, for insisting on the offending language.

At the same time, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius complained that the administration, like Zardari, had been taken by surprise by the explosive impact of the bill.

“Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, should have seen this one coming,” he wrote, noting also that the Pakistani army had also manipulated the crisis to its advantage.

“The only benefit I can see here is a perverse one,” he noted. “It may actually be easier for the Pakistani military to battle the Taliban and al-Qaeda if it’s seen by the public as standing up defiantly to American pressure.”

- Jim Lobe’s blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.

{Source: Asia Times Online}

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Armed forces military schools closed

Educational institutions governed by armed forces will be shut down in Pakistan due to security issues.

The schools will be closed for one week after Taliban telephone calls were overheard by security forces.

During a conversation, two terrorists discussed the planning for the hijack of a school student bus.

It is believed the discussion centred around a renowned military educational institution.

Army and navy schools and colleges have unanimously decided on the closure which will take place immediately.

The security establishment has been concerned about attacks on schools in the wake of ongoing army operations in troubled south Waziristan.

A number of private and government schools were also considering a temporary closure on Sunday following the military schools’ announcement, Pakistani security officials said.

Aamir Ghauri, editor of the Asian Journal, told Al Jazeera that the recent escalation in violence had made Pakistan “a country of fear”.

“People actually don’t want to go to work,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Islamabad, said government officials feared that schools could be targeted by suicide bombers, or that pupils could be taken hostage by those threatening to blow the school up.

“We have no way of confirming whether or not the threats were made by the Taliban, but the threat was enough for the Pakistani government to take this action,” he said.

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Hakimullah Mehsud behind current attacks

The increase in the number of terrorist attacks in the NWFP, the Punjab and Islamabad could be due to the rise of Hakimullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

In fact, his appointment as the TTP head following Baitullah Mehsud’s death in a US drone attack on August 5 had alarmed those who knew him, had met him or followed his career as a militant. They were concerned that Hakimullah was a far more dangerous and unpredictable man than Baitullah. He was also different than Maulana Waliur Rahman, the second most important TTP commander who is considered a mature person.

In fact, some TTP supporters wished that Waliur Rahman, who in the past was associated with Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, would become the new chief of the organisation and steer it towards a constructive course instead of pursuing its destructive path. Waliur Rahman eventually became the head of the TTP in its South Waziristan stronghold and appears to be actively involved in the planning of the attacks by the Taliban militants across the country.

However, the force behind the suicide bombings and the more spectacular attacks by groups of militants on military and police installations could be Qari Hussain, a cousin of Hakimullah. He seems to have been given a free hand to plan and execute attacks now that Hakimullah is the TTP boss. Qari Hussain is often called Ustad-e-Fidayeen, or teacher of the suicide bombers who are admiringly referred to as Fidayeen by the militants for sacrificing their lives for a cause.

On at least three occasions in the past, Qari Hussain was pronounced dead by civil and military officials and the claim was duly published in sections of the press. But he is alive and reporters who recently interviewed Hakimullah and Waliur Rahman in Srarogha area in South Waziristan also met him. However, he as usual refused to grant an interview or be photographed.

Hakimullah, who is in his late 20s, is different than Qari Hussain, as he has been granting interviews and allowing photographers and camera crews to take his pictures. A militant who attended the ceremony where he got engaged to a girl in Orakzai Agency recalled that Hakimullah asked his men jokingly to listen to the BBC Urdu service that evening as it may broadcast news of his engagement. He thought Hakimullah felt that anything he did or said was important enough to be carried by the media. The engagement ceremony itself showed Hakimullah’s boisterous nature as his fighters used heavy weapons to fire in the air and hosted a feast to celebrate the occasion.

Hakimullah had threatened to avenge Baitullah’s death. The attacks on the military, including the one against the GHQ in Rawalpindi, could be described as part of its campaign of revenge as the TTP has been arguing that the US drones carry out the attacks in Waziristan with the cooperation of Pakistan’s security forces. But the attacks on police and other law-enforcement agencies are apparently aimed at creating demoralisation in their ranks and showing the power of the TTP and its Jihadi allies from Punjab. Then there are the terrorist strikes in public places where common people are killed and private properties are destroyed. These are designed to create fear and make the government appear helpless. Or it is possible that the suicide bombers carry out such attacks in bazaars after being stranded and unable to reach their intended targets.

{Source: The News}

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UN offices in Pakistan temporarily closed

The United Nations has temporarily closed all its offices across Pakistan after a suicide blast Monday killed four people at the World Food Programme compound in central Islamabad, a UN spokeswoman said.

‘All UN offices in Pakistan have been closed until further notice,’ spokeswoman Susan Manuel told French news agency.

Another UN spokeswoman, Ishrat Rizvi, told the news agency that the offices would be shut ‘for security reasons.’

A suicide bomber walked into the WFP’s heavily fortified offices in Islamabad early Monday afternoon, police say, with three Pakistanis and one Iraqi man killed in the blast.

WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla said in a statement from the agency’s Rome headquarters that the blast was ‘a terrible tragedy.’

It is the second time the UN community in Pakistan has been hit this year, with two employees from the refugee agency UNHCR and children’s agency Unicef killed in the June suicide bombing at a luxury hotel in northwest Peshawar.

{Source: ARY News}

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Bonded labourers toil away in hope of freedom

Every night, Shah Muhammad dreams of paying back a loan and freeing himself from the employ of a Pakistan brick kiln owner, but instead his debt mushrooms with each day that passes.

Muhammad, 68, has a large family, yet no matter how hard they toil in the scorching sun and dirt of Pakistan’s Punjab province, he cannot keep up with the medical bills, food costs and other expenses.

‘I start work before dawn and stop when the sun disappears… only to wait for another day to make bricks I pledged to make against the loan I took,’ said Muhammad, who initially borrowed 200,000 rupees two years ago.

He is among perhaps several million Pakistanis under bonded labour: poor families who accept cash advances from landlords, but in return are expected to work, often for no wages, from morning till nightfall.

Human beings treated like commodities, the bonded labourer can then be sold on to another employer in what activists decry as modern-day slavery.

Bare-chested and wearing just a cotton sarong around his waist, Muhammad sweats as he moves fast to prepare the bricks, his bones visible in his thin, clay-caked body.

Muhammad said that under the initial terms of his loan, he was told he would get 450 rupees for every 1,000 bricks he crafted, making about 900 rupees a day at the kiln five kilometres from Islamabad.

But his boss backtracked on his initial offer and now pays 350 rupees for 1,000 bricks, with 100 rupees disappearing to pay off the snowballing loan, with more money borrowed for health care, family weddings and funerals.

‘This is my life… work, work and work until I die. And when I will die my son will have to work for his whole life to pay his and my loans,’ he told AFP.

Families trapped in the bonded agreement all work together, the men and women preparing the clay and making bricks while the children gather them and ferry the building materials in the hazardous kiln area.

A study by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front Pakistan (BLLFP) – a group of charities working to help the labourers – estimates 4.5 million brick kiln workers are victims of this illegal custom.

There are no official statistics, but other researchers say the total number in bonded labour is around 2.6 million, with 1.8 million in agriculture.

The government passed a law in 1992 outlawing bonded labour, but there is little sign of the law being honoured. In the feudal Pakistani countryside, landlords enjoy immense political clout and financial strength.

‘Any kiln owner engaging laborers in a bonded agreement will face a minimum of two years punishment or 50,000 rupees fine, but it has never been imposed on any violator,’ said Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the chairperson of BLLFP.

Pakistan’s government says laws regarding kiln labourers are under review.

‘We are working to improve the legislation and will assess the ways of implementation once we complete this process, which is expected in six months,’said federal Labour Minister Syed Khurshid Shah.

Some bonded labourers manage to escape, with help of activists or police.

In southern Sindh province, a community of freed labourers live in a settlement known as Himatabad, which means Courage Town.

‘We call it Himatabad because it needs a lot of courage to free oneself from influential landlords,’ said Lalee, a former bonded labourer turned activist.

‘Starting a new life is itself a gigantic task.’

Lalee escaped the clutches of a landowner in 1987, when she was 24, and has since battled to free others, allowing them to start afresh in the vast arable land that surrounds Himatabad.

‘I have dedicated my life to get the lives of my fellow peasants better,’said Lalee, an illiterate and low-caste Hindu woman.

But for the handful of success stories like Lalee, there are countless others still toiling for a pittance and others separated from their families.

‘Some of them got freed, but most are still enslaved,’ said Lalee.

Lacho, a middle-aged woman, was rescued from debt bondage about three years ago, but her husband disappeared in an earlier bid for freedom.

‘One night we tried to escape but the armed men caught us and mercilessly tortured us and then separated my husband Lalio from us,’ she said.

Manoo Bheel said his mother, wife, two daughters, two sons and a brother were kidnapped by a landlord a decade ago, and he has not seen them since, despite taking his case to the courts.

‘I’ll continue my struggle till our family is reunited,’ he said.

{Source: AFP}

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Pakistan’s Comedy of Errors

By Faryal Leghari

A recent visit to Islamabad after a rather long hiatus of nine months was quite a harrowing experience. Greeted by innumerable security blockades, the once sterile but politically vibrant, capital resembled a city at siege. It was heartening to see people tentatively preparing for the Eid festival despite the biting recession and soaring inflation, not to forget the fear of terror attacks, still hovering menacingly in the background.

From the security perspective, it was interesting to note how vehicles with women were waved through the barricades. God forbid, if terrorists got onto this they’d be having a field day, placing suicide bombers in burqas or even using female bombers to stage attacks. Looking at the weary faces of the security officers at these check posts, brought home the realisation at the arduous task they faced. The very real possibility of getting blown in view of the recent few years of bombings targeting security apparatus—including military and police—is probably engraved in their minds.

Ironically, the inevitable sadness of departure was numbed with reports of lethal suicide attacks in Peshawar and Bannu in the Frontier province, the very same day. After a relatively peaceful period, the Taleban had struck again, sending a powerful reminder of their capability and intent. Though the recent successes in capturing and killing key anti-state militants, and regaining control of Swat and key areas in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas was indeed a cause of celebration, the fight is far from over. There are plans to launch operations in other restive areas including Waziristan, where despite Baitullah Mehsud’s assassination, the Taleban network and terror infrastructure needs large scale military engagement. This in itself will need strategic preparations by the intelligence agencies and the security forces to counter the threat on another front, off the battlefield. There are alarming reports of young men being smuggled in from Southern Punjab to the tribal areas for recruitment and training as suicide bombers. It may be a good idea to get the public onboard and step up the security across the country before a fresh wave of terror is unleashed to turn public opinion against the military operations.

Many people I met recently share a growing sense of outrage over where the country is headed. It was not enough to fight the perennial sinking feeling over reports of massive corruption in key industrial sectors of power and steel and everything under the sun, where a few or lots of quick bucks can be made by all and sundry. We now have the outrageous Kerry Lugar Bill, promising a measly $1.5 billion annual aid package over five years by Washington. The Bill as it stands today — already passed by the US Senate and awaiting the final nod from Congress — is so obvious an attempt to control the state by the US and its bunch of yes-men in Islamabad and Washington, that it could only merit disbelief at the sheer audacity of the whole sham exercise! What comments it may elicit for the government who are dancing in glee at the great feat they have accomplished at finally getting the much sought after ‘aid’—albeit at a heavy cost—is anybody’s guess. The opposition parties have already donned armour in preparation for debating the controversial bill in the parliament.

The establishment—translate, the military — has so far remained silent, as it was expected to do so. It rarely vents its views in public. But what message the Oracle at the GHQ relays to the government — read Presidency — on this issue is obvious. It will not be accepted, for the supposedly diluted Kerry Lugar Bill comes with a string of conditions that are a flagrant usurpation of state sovereignty, that too at the nominal sum of $7.5 billion — a small price indeed! Maybe certain segments of the government and their intermediaries abroad should instead double efforts on milking the US for the much coveted and fantasised $100 billion. Reportedly, this is the bidding price for Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as maliciously whispered about in the media. The ongoing comedy of errors, no matter how ridiculous does leave a bad taste in the mouth. It is not a question of deliberate conspiracy theories that are hatched to sabotage civilian-military relations. Indeed, such is the nature of politics. Especially in a country like Pakistan where absence of intrigues and attempts at destabilising governments would make you question such a dream existence. Rather, it is the conditions that have set the stage for such suggestions to be even aired in the first place.

A clumsy and poorly disguised attempt at subjugating the Pakistan establishment with the aid of grovelling sycophants, the Bill, cannot but be rejected unless certain conditions are struck down. On this the establishment should be assured of public support. The attempt is to bring military under greater civilian control, blessed by US supervision. The government’s plans to rein in both the GHQ and the intelligence agencies’ serves both the ruling setup and the US. President Asif Ali Zardari is not likely to have forgotten how he was made to swallow a bitter pill in restoring the judiciary and removing Governor rule in Punjab earlier this year, under pressure from Army Chief, General Pervaiz Kayani. More significant is the implications for Pakistan in case there is a terror attack on either side of the border. In such a scenario, who will decide what will be Pakistan’s fate, if Karzai or Manmohan Singh decide to cry wolf and blame their favourite whipping boy, the ISI. The transnational nature of terrorism and subversive elements within all these neighbouring states has often led to attacks being orchestrated — by even third parties — with the broader aim to derail inter-state relations. All said and done, how this Bill fares at home remains to be seen. State sovereignty is more important than billions of dollars for the nation, something the ruling hierarchy should not forget.

As for the US it should take a closer look at its predicament in Afghanistan that reached this point by pursuing a policy based on the logic of expediency, conveniently ignoring rampant corruption. The same mistakes in Pakistan could create a bigger nemesis the US cannot afford or deal with, at present 
or in future.

Faryal Leghari is Assistant Editor of Khaleej Times and can be reached at 
[email protected]

{Source: Khaleej Times}

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Never mind the Taliban – Pak youth put their faith in rock’n'roll

Wannabe rock stars have it tough in Pakistan. Last month a new band, Poor Rich Boy (and the toothless winos), took to the stage of a cramped Islamabad cafe for their breakthrough gig. On the first night, one person turned up.

“It was the night of the world cricket finals. Bad timing,” said the group’s guitarist, Zain Ahsan, ruefully. The second gig was better – 30 people came along – but brought its own dark worries.

“I asked the owner, ‘What if a bomb goes off?’” said Ahsan. “She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be with you.’”

Even in a summer of Taliban violence young Pakistanis are rocking on. An underground music scene is quietly thriving in the country’s major cities, nourished by the internet and the passion of mostly amateur bands.

In Lahore a pair of unemployed rockers have tapped into that enthusiasm with a new school for rock’n'roll.

“We weren’t getting a lot of gigs, and we needed to survive,” said co-founder Hamza Jafri. “So we thought we’d try this.”

The Guitar School, as it is known, has been surprisingly successful. Around 40 students have signed up, ranging from surly teenagers in drainpipe jeans to more practised musicians such as Ahsan looking to hone their skills. Classes take place in a small room lined with egg boxes; the school’s teaching style is reflected in its motto: “Play it like you feel it.”

Many come from wealthy families that might once have stigmatised music, Jafri said. “People associated it with the red light district and sexual entertainment.” But a popular new television show featuring live performances, Coke Studio, has given rock music a new patina of respectability.

On a recent afternoon a woman brought in two reluctant-looking teenage daughters for lessons. “It will do them good to learn,” she said.

But making it to the next stage is difficult and sometimes dangerous. For the past six months virtually all public performances in Lahore have stopped since extremists attacks on a performing arts festival and the Sri Lankan cricket team. The Pakistani music industry itself is disorganised and hamstrung by massive piracy.

But the country’s internal chaos is also feeding creativity. Pakistanis have a rich musical tradition, mostly rooted in Sufism, but modern musicians have generally skirted political issues. But the new single from co-VEN, which Jafri fronts, is a sharp parody of Pakistan’s controversial alliance with the US.

“There’s a lot of foreign pressure on our government to attack people in the tribal areas,” he said. “We are taking dictation from you guys.”

Others have a playful take on the turmoil. The Islamabad band Bumbu Sauce – the name comes from a Pot Noodles packet – recently brought out Jiggernaut, a single that mixes references to kung fu, talking dogs and the Taliban. Guitarist Shehryar Mufti is not worried the insurgents might take the joke badly.

“Their beef is with the government, not the people,” he said. “I think rock music is low on their list of priorities.”

Pakistani rock gained traction with the arrival of satellite television in the 1990s. Today the musicians, many self-taught, publicise themselves through networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace, and Pakistan’s growing number of FM radio stations. And despite the security concerns, a fresh concert scene is emerging.

On a sultry Saturday night hundreds of young people, mostly dressed in jeans and T-shirts, crowded into a new outdoor auditorium on the edge of Islamabad called the Rock Musicarium. “People are thirsting for music, they want to get out,” said the venue’s founder, Zeejah Fazli.

When it opens properly in November, the venue will have a recording studio and capacity for 600 people, said Fazli, who estimates there are 20 rock bands in Islamabad alone. But, he admitted, the project depends on a six-month lull in attacks on the capital continuing.

For some well-to-do Pakistanis, rock music represents the cultural tensions of their life, which is divided between western influences and the conservative direction their society is taking. “On one side kids feel like they are in England; on the other this strict Islamic thing is going on. It’s not good for people’s sanity,” said Jafri.

About five years ago Junaid Jamshed, the country’s most famous pop star, renounced music and returned to religion. Now he appears on religious chat shows sporting a long, curly beard.

But most aspiring rock stars say they can live with the difference. In the soundproof room at the Lahore guitar school, 17-year-old Danish Khwaja strummed his guitar, long hair flopping over his forehead.

“It’s kinda cool doing stuff you love,” he said.

{Source: guardian.co.uk}

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Corrupt policemen - Dawn editorial

Editorial: Dawn

WHILE corruption in police ranks is pervasive in Pakistan, it nevertheless comes as a shock to know that close to 10 per cent of the Islamabad Police has been penalised for illegal activities and poor performance. According to a report, the Islamabad Police took disciplinary action against 925 of its members ranging from constables to inspectors.

The total strength of the force is over 10,000. The action was taken under a new accountability system in which police performance is being closely monitored. Punishments range from the termination of service, suspension and demotion to salary deduction, the stopping of increments and censure. Deviant behaviour in police ranks includes extortion, the patronising of gambling dens, liquor theft and looking the other way when under-trial prisoners escape.

The fact that errant policemen are being punished should be reassuring. Nevertheless, what is disconcerting is that some suspended policemen have alleged that they have been disciplined for refusing to obey the illegal orders of their superiors. It is also strange that no policeman above the rank of inspector has been found to be corrupt. This exercise in accountability can only be effective if it entails a sincere effort at controlling corruption within police ranks. It should not be a mere public-relations exercise to justify the new and improved salary package that was approved for the force earlier this year. Ensuring that those handling accountability in the force are honest is the key to success.

Police corruption cannot be completely eradicated, but we can hope to control it at a certain level. In this effort, the public too has a role to play. It must resist harassment and intimidation by corrupt policemen and refrain from bribing them. By giving in to corrupt elements in the police force, the public will only contribute to the very menace that it has been denouncing for years.

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Muslim Singles, Matrimonial, Shaadi and Marriage Introductions Online - SingleMuslim.com

Talk Shows

  • DUNYA TODAY with Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 8:00 am

    President Zardari’s future, NRO, Presidency and Pakland Estate issue. Guests: Senator S M Zafar (PML-Q), Fouzia Wahab (PPP) and Javed Hashmi (PML-N)

  • JIRGA with Saleem Safi on Geo: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 7:15 am

    How justified and kosher is Taliban war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Guests: Qazi Hussain Ahmed (JI), Ijaz Qadri, Prof. Sajid Mir, Allama Muhammad Ameen, Allama Muhammad Ahmed, Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan, Dr. Khalid Masood

  • BOLTA PAKISTAN on Aaj Tv: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 7:00 am

    Chances of Obama friend Md Mian Soomro becoming President and Ch Aitzaz Ahsan’s meeting with Zardari; Rice Crop Crisis. Guests: Ch Aitzaz Ahsan

  • LATE EDITION with Asma Shirazi: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 4:46 am

    Exclusive interview with Ch Ahmed Mukhtar (Defense Minister PPP) on proof of Indian involvement in the northwest, army’s displeasure on Kerry-Lugar Bill, Haqanni’s role, Balochistan, Status of Wazir and Mehsud tribes

  • POINT BLANK with Mubasher Lucman: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 4:25 am

    Bank of Punjab episode and Harsh Steel Mills scandal. Guests: Rana Sanaullah (PUnjab Law Minister PML-N), Talib Rizvi (attorney of Hamish Khan absconding President of Bank of Punjab).

    November 6, 2009 | 4:16 am

    Eight Managers of Eelctronic Media establish self-control and self-regulation on TV coverages. Guests: Azhar Abbas, Brig. (R) Mahmood Shah (Analyst), Hamid Nasir Chatta (PMl-Q) and Syed Shahid Hussain

  • LIVE WITH TALAT on Aaj Tv: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 4:07 am

    Eight Top electronic media managers of private TV channels establish voluntarily based self-control, slef-regulation on reporting.

  • KAL TAK with Javed Choudhry: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 3:29 am

    Withdrawal of MQM and JUI-F support to PPP on NRO has destabilized government and its majority support. Guests: Syed Naveed Qamar (PPP), Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F), Imran Khan (PTI)

  • OFF THE RECORD with Kashif Abbasi: Nov 5
    November 6, 2009 | 3:18 am

    Recent govt campaign against Electronic Media and attempts to control them. Guests: Nadeem Afzal (PPP), Nusrat Javed (AAJ TV), Fouzia Wahab (PPP), Dr. Shahid Masood (Geo) and Ahsan Iqbal (PML-N)

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