Archive for August, 2010

Indian aid should come through UN


ISLAMABAD: After dithering over the offer for days, Pakistan has finally come clean with its India-is-the-enemy stance and refused to directly accept India’s offer of $5 million in relief assistance for flood victims, suggesting instead that the aid be donated to the UN flood response appeal.

A senior official at the Foreign Office confirmed on Saturday that the decision had been conveyed to New Delhi through diplomatic channels.

The $460 million UN appeal, to which India has been asked to contribute, was 64 per cent funded as of Saturday.

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had on Aug 13 offered $5 million in relief assistance for flood survivors during a conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Days after Mr Krishna’s call, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and reminded him of the offer, indicating that India could give it if needed.

The Pakistan government, however, deliberated on the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting the offer for almost a fortnight and ultimately settled for middle ground — asking that the donor route the assistance through the UN.

In the meantime, media attention was focused on Islamabad’s response and various functionaries gave divergent statements on the issue, revealing the fact they were not aware of what was happening and the government’s inability to reach a decision.

The foreign minister, during his visit to New York, told the media that the Pakistan government had accepted the offer and appreciated the Indian gesture. His ministry, meanwhile, has been insisting that no final decision was taken.

At a press conference on Friday, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the Indian offer had been accepted.

While explaining Pakistan’s hesitancy in accepting the offer, Mr Qureshi had “referred to a different nature of relationship with India” and sensitivities involved in the matter. This perhaps was the most honest answer as it indicated that hostilities between the two countries had led to Islamabad’s reluctance.

The United States, which is one of the top donors to the flood assistance, had noted Pakistan’s hesitance and urged Islamabad to accept the offer, warning it against indulging in politics during a disaster.

The Indian government made the offer only after criticism at home that political disputes with Pakistan were overruling humanitarian considerations. Moreover, diplomatic observers say, the offer was symbolic and motivated by the world focus on the devastating floods.

August 29, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Seven US troops killed in latest Afghanistan fighting


KABUL: Seven US troops have died in weekend attacks in Afghanistan’s embattled southern and eastern regions, while officials found the bodies Sunday of five kidnapped campaign workers for a female candidate in the western province of Herat.

Two servicemen died in bombings Sunday in southern Afghanistan, while two others were killed in a bomb attack in the south on Saturday and three in fighting in the east the same day, Nato said. Their identities and other details were being withheld until relatives could be notified.

The latest deaths bring to 42 the number of American forces who have died this month in Afghanistan after July’s high of 66. A total of 62 international forces have died in the country this month, including seven British troops.

Fighting is intensifying with the addition of 30,000 US troops to bring the total number of international forces in Afghanistan to 120,000 – 100,000 of them American. Most of those new troops have been assigned to the southern insurgent strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar provinces where major battles are fought almost daily as part of a gathering drive to push out the Taliban.

The five campaign workers had been snatched Wednesday by armed men who stopped their two-vehicle convoy as it was travelling through remote countryside. Five others travelling in the vehicles had earlier been set free, according to a man who answered the phone at the home of candidate Fawzya Galani and declined to give his name.

Residents of Herat’s Adraskan district reported finding the bodies early Sunday and they were later transported to the local morgue, district chief Nasar Ahmad Popul said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killings, although Taliban insurgents have been waging a campaign of murder and intimidation in hopes of sabotaging the September 18 parliamentary polls.

Galani may be a particular target of insurgents because she is one of only a few female candidates for the 249 seats in the lower house.

In a similar attack in Herat, parliamentary candidate Abdul Manan was shot and killed on Saturday on his way to a mosque by an assassin travelling on the back of a motorcycle.

A number of other candidates and their aides have been killed, injured or threatened around the country.

While streets in Kabul are festooned with campaign posters, many Afghans say they don’t plan to vote, either because of safety concerns or cynicism over ineffective government and widespread corruption.

Electoral officials cut the number of nationwide voting sites for the elections by nearly 1,000 to 5,897 because of security concerns.

Meanwhile on Sunday, two suicide bombers attempted to climb over the back wall of a compound housing the governor of the far western province of Farah, but were spotted by guards and shot, provincial police Chief Mohammad Faqir Askir said.

The men’s vests exploded, although it wasn’t clear if they detonated them themselves or if it was because they were hit by bullets, Askir said.

The explosions blasted a hole in the wall and blew out windows in the compound, but there were no reports of deaths or injuries, he said.

Nato said eight insurgents were killed in joint Afghan-Nato operations Saturday night in the province of Paktiya, including a Taliban commander, Naman, accused of coordinating roadside bomb attacks and the movement of ammunition, supplies and fighters.

Automatic weapons, grenades, magazines and bomb-making material were found in buildings in Zormat district along the mountainous border with Pakistan. Afghan leaders frequently complain that Pakistan is doing to little to prevent cross-border incursions and shut down insurgent safe havens in its territory.

Just south in Khost province, US and Afghan troops fought back simultaneous attacks Saturday by around 50 insurgents wearing American uniforms and suicide vests on Forward Operating Base Salerno and nearby Camp Chapman, where seven CIA employees died in a suicide attack in December.

The early-morning morning raids appeared to be part of an insurgent strategy to step up attacks in widely scattered parts of the country as the US focuses its resources on the battle around Kandahar.

Twenty-one attackers died while the Afghan Defence Ministry said two Afghan soldiers were killed and three wounded in the fighting. Four US troops were wounded, Nato officials said.

US and Afghan officials blamed the attack on the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban with close ties to al-Qaida.

Nato has stepped up efforts to provide security to allow an election whose outcome will be generally accepted as credible.

Yet frictions have continued to mar the relationship between the government of President Hamid Karzai and its international partners, largely over the knotty question of endemic official corruption.

On Saturday, the government criticised US media reports that numerous Afghan officials had allegedly received payments from the CIA — including one who reportedly took a bribe to block a wide-ranging probe into graft.

A presidential office statement did not address or deny any specific allegations, but called the reports an insult to the government and an attempt to defame people within it.

The statement came the same day as a top graft-battling Afghan prosecutor said he had been forced into retirement.

Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar has complained that the attorney general and others are blocking corruption cases against high-ranking government officials. He said Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Aloko wrote a retirement letter for him earlier in the week and that Karzai accepted it.

August 29, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Peshawar hostage drama ends


PESHAWAR
: Three militants holed up in a security building close to several army installations and the US Consulate surrendered to the military authorities on Saturday after taking two sentries hostage, police said.

The confrontation, which took place in one of the high security zones in the provincial capital, lasted the whole day, paralysing life in the city and creating widespread fear among the people.

City Police chief Liaquat Ali Khan told reporters that the militants had surrendered and the hostages had been freed. They were unharmed.

Liaquat Ali said that the real-life drama unfolded when four terrorists who were being taken to another facility overpowered their guards and took them hostage after snatching their weapons. One of the terrorists was injured in a firefight that occurred at the onset of the confrontation.

Later, he said, security forces cordoned off the area and rescued the hostages without any casualty.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters that militants were trying to take advantage of the flood disaster in the country, realising that almost all security forces and government machinery were focused on relief activities in the flood-hit areas.

The minister did not rule out the possibility of further attacks. However, he said, it was time to take decisive action  against terrorists, whether they were in the Khyber Agency or in Darra Adamkhel.

To be sure, Hussain said, the militants are targeting Peshawar. He also called for an immediate response to Saturday’s incident at a sensitive installation.

In a related development, army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said that militants, who had been arrested and shifted to this building, had somehow managed to take security personnel in the facility hostage.

Earlier, traffic was diverted to alternate routes following the attack and helicopters hovered over the area for aerial surveillance. The usually crowded Saddar area in Peshawar wore a deserted look during the day-long operation with only a few people milling about and no public transport. Only a few buses appeared on the roads when the siege came to a close.

This is the fourth time that militants have attacked installations around the Khyber Road.  On November 13, 2009, a truck laden with explosives was detonated outside an ISI office, killing around 20 people.

In June of the same year, a devastating suicide attack targeted Peshawar’s Pearl Continental Hotel, killing more than 30 people.  More than a dozen lives were lost in the previous attack which was directed against the US Consulate.

August 29, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Thatta faces flood threat, several villages inundated


THATTA: Pakistan’s southern district adjacent to the Arabian Sea where the Indus River ends is facing a constant flood threat for the last two days. Several villages of the district have been submerged, while the District Coordination Officer (DCO) Manzoor Ahmed Shaikh directed the people of Daro, Mirpur Bathoro, Bannu, Sujawal and other areas to vacate the areas immediately.

Thousands of people have shifted to safer places, finding it difficult to commute late on Wednesday.

Most of the eastern cities of Thatta city and the Indus River face flood threat.

Kot Aalmo village is under flood water as a breach occurred at the loop embankment, while the pressure water has widened up to 100 feet at Sorjani bund.

The water is moving towards Sujawal city, one of the most densely populated cities near the river.

According to estimates, some 0.4 million people have started migrating to Makli, Jhampeer, Thatta city, Badin, Karachi and other areas leaving their houses and valuables at the mercy of water.

SHAHDADKOT

On the other hand, the district administration has warned the people of Shahdadkot to migrate to safer places, while about 40 villages of Qambar are underwater.

The authorities are trying to make an embankment near Yaar Mohammad Brohi village as Shahdadkot could be saved. Hundreds of villages in Warrah city have been submerged.

August 26, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More