Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Asad Rahman dies after police beating

Asad Rahman, the well known social activist and legendary hero of the Baloch nationalist movement also known as Chakar Khan, died in Lahore on Tuesday.

Son of a former chief justice of Pakistan Supreme Court, Mr Rahman, 62, was an ardent advocate for Baloch rights, although a Punjabi himself. In the 1970s he was part of the London Group, a study circle in England that quit university to join Baloch fighters in the Marri hills to fight a guerrilla campaign.
Other prominent members of the London Group were Najam Sethi, the author Ahmed Rashid, Rashid Rahman (Asad's elder brother and now editor of the Daily Times in Pakistan), Dilip Dass and Mohammad Ali Talpur. You can read more about this extraordinary saga here.
In early September the Daily Times reported that Mr. Rahman, along with his 30-year-old son Mahmood, were badly beaten by Punjabi Police officers outside their home in Lahore - and later, in the police station - after they tried to save life of a rickshaw driver who had been injured in a road accident. It appears that he never recovered from the beating. The police officer accused of beating Mr Rahman, Sub-inspector Shabih Raza, was initially suspended from duty, but has since been transferred to active duty at another police station.

You can read a fuller obituary for Asad Rahman, written by Malik Siraj Akbar, here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Role of UK psyops unit in Afghanistan

The MOD announced yesterday that the secretive 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group (15 POG) has been awarded the Firmin Sword of Peace in recognition of its work in Afghanistan. The award is given to "the unit or establishment of each Service judged to have made the most valuable contribution to humanitarian activities by establishing good and friendly relations with the inhabitants of any community at home or overseas".

Based at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre at Chicksands near Bedford, 15 POG is a Tri-Service unit under Army command, subordinate to 1 Military Intelligence Brigade, Theatre Troops and LAND. Its members are made up of 37 regulars and 28 reservists from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army combat and combat support arms, Royal Air Force and RAF Regiment. More here.
Although it has existed in various forms since the Second World War, in its present form 15 POG attained initial Operating Capability only in 2007, when it was supplied with new multi-media equipment supplied through MOD DEC ISTAR Project DRUMGRANGE. These comprise mobile AM and FM commercial radio broadcast systems, TV editing suites and large-volume print production units, together with antennæ, power generators and various other ancillary needs.
In a little-reported aspect of the war in Afghanistan, a small team from 15 POG has been continuously deployed to Helmand for six years. "Working predominantly with the Afghan civilian population it has sought to inform, reassure, educate and through the promotion of free and unbiased discussion persuade Afghans that their futures are best served not with the Taliban, nor with ISAF, but with themselves and their elected government", says the MOD.
In addition, "The unit runs a network of radio stations employing local Afghan's as DJs, broadcasting music, poetry, debate programmes and even a Helmandi soap opera, as well as producing graphical posters and leaflets to communicate in an area where literacy rates are only around 20%."
They also run information campaigns to prevent children picking up spent ordnance they find, disseminating information from farming and veterinary workshops using their radio stations, and promoting debate on political issues of the day.
Speaking about the award, the Commanding Officer of 15 POG, Commander Steve Tatham Royal Navy, said:
"We are delighted that our work is being recognised by this award. We are proud of our achievements helping foster better relations with the Afghans and building a sense of community and nationality, and of our support Task Force Helmand's wider aims.
"The levels of literacy and technology in Helmand present challenges for us, but there is an appetite for information, education and debate that our work helps to satisfy. It is heartening to see how our work can directly improve people's lives, whether helping them participate in elections, improve their farming and livelihood, or promoting basic healthcare."
In case you are wondering about the deer's head emblem: "The Group adopted the stag's head formation sign in recognition of the sterling work carried out by the Indian Field Broadcast Units that supported the Chindit campaign against the Japanese in South East Asia. The deer’s antlers represent the combat support function of PSYOPS and the antennae associated with radio, a major means of disseminating PSYOPS messages."

Friday, 26 October 2012

Useless USACE

A report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) looks into the problems at Camp Pamir, built by DynCorp for the Afghan Army. It appears to be a classic example of the gravy train principle, where a major contractor builds a load of shoddy facilities that begin to fall apart, but walks away from responsibility having been paid in full for its rubbish work.
Loo with a view
In 2010 SIGAR reported that the newly-built facilities at Camp Pamir in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan were at risk of structural failure because of poor site grading and serious soil stability issues. However, in December 2011 the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which had let the $72 million contract to DynCorp, released the company from further liability and warranty obligations. In doing so, the USACE did not comply with specific regulations that require an independent audit. As a result the Defense Department is now apparently responsible for sorting out the mess. Repair costs are estimated at $2 million.
This one cracked me up
SIGAR has asked the commanding officer of USACE to justify the cost of further repairs and submit the DynCorp settlement to an appropriate audit agency for review. They have also asked the CO to explain in writing why the settlement was determined to be fair and reasonable.

The pitfalls of development aid in Afghanistan

The publication yesterday of a Parliamentary report on British aid to Afghanistan - mostly ignored by the national press in Britain - paints a picture of failure on an almost operatic scale.
Despite acknowledged improvements to education (five million kids in school, compared to one million in 2001) and falls in child mortality, much of the aid effort is wasted, stolen or simply inappropriate. 

Donors have given around $30bn (£19bn) in development and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan since 2001, with the total rising each year. Afghanistan is now the world's largest recipient of official development assistance; 71% of its gross domestic product is funded by foreign aid. (Military aid over the same period, at $243bn, dwarfs humanitarian and development programmes). The UK is Afghanistan's third biggest donor, behind the US and EU institutions, having committed £178m annually up to 2014-15 and having increased spending in 2010 by 40%.
However, the size of the problems is enormous: an estimated nine million Afghans (nearly a third of the population) live in poverty. Child malnutrition is among the highest in the world; more than half of Afghan children (54%) are chronically malnourished (stunted), over a third (34%) are underweight and 72% of children under five suffer from key micronutrient deficiencies. One-third of the Afghan population cannot meet its daily caloric requirements and is considered chronically food insecure.
The report from the House of Commons International Development Committee notes that almost all the aid bypasses the Afghan government, which limits its ability to build public services and strengthen governance systems. Nor can it accurately track aid expenditure. The Afghan government itself can hardly absorb even the small percentage of aid donations it actually gets to spend. Aid does not get to the provinces and there are substantial problems of corruption and lack of project management skills.
BBC journalist David Loyn told the committee of the "aid juggernaut in Afghanistan, which has corrupted the elite of the country, corrupted people in the countryside and made it far harder for any of the effective international actors, such as DFID, to operate well within the country."
Donors seem to be unable to coordinate their efforts, although the UK's DFID is seen as better than others. And they all appear to have different strategies and objectives. One witness told the committee how lack of coordination was creating more conflict and confusion at a local level than it was solving.
Britain's aim, says the committee, should be to focus less on creating a viable state in Afghanistan and instead work at a local level to deliver "measurable benefits" to people. There should be a greater emphasis on providing services and alleviating poverty. And although DFID has spoken at length about women's rights in Afghanistan, the committee says it is concerned that this has not been followed by adequate action and funding. It recommends that girls' education be made a greater priority and that DFID fund women's shelters and legal advice for women. 

Incidentally, despite the importance of this subject, comparatively few aid organisations appear to have given evidence. Here's a list of witnesses who either spoke or submitted written evidence: 
Christian Aid, Amnesty International,Save the Children, Global Witness, Lael A. Mohib, ActionAid, Human Rights Watch, Met Office, British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group, International Rescue Committee, Shapur Amini (Afghan Academy International UK), Abdul Ehsan Mohmand, Oxfam, Naysan Adlparva, Adam Smith International, Afghan Council UK, Parliamentary Outreach,  David Loyn, (BBC Afghanistan and Development Correspondent), Mervyn Lee (Mercy Corps), David Haines, Howard Mollett (CARE International UK), Department for International Development (DFID), David Page (Chair of Trustees, Afghanaid), Professor Stuart Gordon (London School of Economics), Gerard Russell, (Afghanistan Analyst), Orzala Ashraf (Independent Civil Society Activist), Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, (Secretary of State for International Development), Rory Stewart MP. 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The cost of cheap clothing

German discount clothing retailer Kik  has agreed to pay compensation to victims of a factory fire in Karachi in which 258 workers were killed and 110 others injured, according to Der Spiegel online. Kik maintains it took 75% of the factory's output, although locals suggest up to 90% went to its European outlets.
Following the September blaze at the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, which made ready-to-wear garments for export and employed 1,500 people in atrocious conditions, Kik agreed to pay an initial $500,000 to compensate victims and their families. This works out at less than $2,000 for each victim.
The Pakistan government has announced payments to each family of around $5,500 per family, but many have yet to receive their payments or their cheques have bounced.
Kik chain has  annual revenues of more than a billion euros and some 3,000 stores in eight countries. Two of the three Pakistani factory owners are facing murder charges.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

LUMS students campaign in support of professor

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy is one of Pakistan's most respected scientists, a theoretical physicist who has a global reputation. He is a recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize and the American Physical Society's Joseph A. Burton Award. He has made important contributions to our understanding of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) and the theory of quarks and gluons. More recently he has been interested in problems in condensed matter physics. 
He is also known as a great educator, anti-nuclear activist, environmental campaigner and someone who will not be cowed by right-wing or religious bigots.
After three decades at Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, last year he started working at Lahore University of Management Sciences. However, LUMS has just announced that it will not renew his contract - the reasons are not entirely clear but several sources are reporting it is because he has insisted on teaching a course on science and religion. Presumably he does not accept some of the more 'unusual' scientific theories taught by extreme Islamists.
Students at LUMS - once regarded as a liberal institution, but increasingly dominated by religious and political extremists - have started a petition urging the university to renew Professor Hoodbhoy's contract. You can sign a copy of it here

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Limits to Justice, pt3

"James Connell, a lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks, on Friday insisted he doesn't know how to handle information pertaining to his client because the government won't explain what's classified. He could be prosecuted for mishandling classified evidence, he said, so "I treat everything at the highest classification level and drive my IT folks crazy." It also makes it extremely difficult for him to prepare his case. Connell said the National Security Agency created a document specifically explaining the classification of evidence in military commissions, but the government has refused to provide it to the defense. "It stuns me that no one will give us this information," he said."
From an article by Daphne Eviatar, Senior Counsel, Human Rights First
The Military Commission hearing the case at Guantanamo has been adjourned until early December.

Role of FBI in domestic terrorism cases

Trevor Aaronson has a remarkable article in the September/October issue of Mother Jones magazine, highlighting the extent to which the FBI relies on sting operations to catch and convict alleged terrorists.
He says that in the absence of any externally organised terrorist plots in the USA, the FBI is preoccupied with targetting 'lone wolf' operatives. 
Aaronson says in many cases paid FBI undercover agents - of whom there are said to be around 15,000 - often propose a plot, provide explosives, lead a target in making a fake oath to al-Qaeda and then organise the arrest and subsequent press conference.
He says nearly half the terrorism prosecutions in the US since 2001 involve informants, some of them earning as much as $100,000 for their efforts. Such sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants, of which 49 defendants participated in plots led by FBI agent provocateurs. A full list of the cases can be found here.
With only three exceptions, all the high-profile domestic terror plots in the last decade were actually FBI stings, including the Washington Metro bombing plot, the New York subway plot and the attempt to blow up the Sears Tower. As one former FBI officer concedes in the article, the uptick in successful terrorism convictions might not be evidence of a growing threat, so much as a greater focus by the FBI.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Jorge tells it like it is

"Jorge is committed to the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. Our employees understand that the solutions we deliver are critical to our customers’ missions, many of which are matters of national security. Any improper activities, or even the appearance of impropriety, could damage Jorge’s ability to perform and result in serious adverse consequences for our customers, the Company and the individuals involved.
    As members of the Jorge team, we believe in the importance of our mission. We hold ourselves, our peers and our partners to the highest ethical standards because it is the foundation of our organization."

- From the Jorge Scientific website, the US defense contractor whose employees in Afghanistan were shown drunk and intoxicated on drugs in a video posted by ABC News.
The video, allegedly taken at an operations centre belonging to Jorge Scientific in Kabul, shows semi-naked men downing vodka shots and wrestling with each other. In one scene a man identified as the medic of the group is shown in a dazed state after shooting up with Ketamine, a strong anaesthetic. In another scene men are shown throwing live ammunition into a bonfire - for laughs.
Contractors working for the US Army are banned from using alcohol and drugs.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Limits to Justice, pt2

More from the 9/11 pretrial hearings at Guantanamo, as reported in yesterday's LA Times:

"The government wants a protective order prohibiting the release of material from CIA "black sites," the secret prisons where the defendants were held before being moved to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. Defense lawyers complain that in addition to hampering them at trial, the restrictions block them from even discussing those events with their clients, including (Khalid Sheikh) Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.
The issue is crucial to both sides. Prosecutors do not want trial jurors hearing about torture or other "enhanced interrogation techniques," and argue it would be a "sideshow" distracting from whether the defendants are guilty of conspiracy and terrorism in the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But defense lawyers said that restriction would severely handicap them in strategizing on how best to defend the clients in the capital murder trial, tentatively scheduled to begin in May.
"They're holding our clients in isolation," said an exasperated Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, an attorney for Ramzi Binalshibh, who allegedly managed the terrorist cell that carried out the plane attacks at the Pentagon and in New York and Pennsylvania.
Cheryl Bormann, a lawyer for Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward, was equally frustrated with limited access to her client in the heavily guarded prison.
"He can't call me to say he's sick," she said. "We can't write to our clients. Now on top of it I have additional rules, and this protective order is completely unnecessary. It would be creating more difficulties.""
KSM's approved camo jacket

However, at the same hearing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed won the right to wear a camouflage jacket at his trial in Guantanamo Bay. (For my previous coverage of this issue, look here.) Judge Pohl yesterday stated that while the Guantanamo Bay commanders can determine what the 9/11 mastermind wears inside the prison, the court can determine what he wears whilst present at the court.

The strange world of Pakistan's Ulema

As the world comes to terms with the attempted murder of a Swati schoolgirl in Pakistan in the name of Islam, it is worth taking a closer look at some of the characters who speak out in the name of Islam in that country. One who has been in the news recently is Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, head of something called the Pakistan Ulema and Mashaikh Council.
In particular, there is the strange story of a reception at the German Embassy in Islamabad on 5 October. After leaving the event at 11pm, he seems to have disappeared. According to one report he was found by police on the outskirts of Islamabad a few hours later, asleep on the back seat of his car. A clearly intoxicated Ashrafi later told the police he had been kidnapped and injected with alcohol or some kind of poison. Some reports said three men from Waziristan had been questioned by police, although no charges have followed.

Maulana Tahir Ashrafi
The case was widely reported in Pakistan where Ashrafi is known for his sympathies towards the Taliban and to Deobandi Islam in general. You can read one version of the story here. However, a rather different account of the story can be  found on the Let Us Build Pakistan website which strongly suggests Ashrafi was more sinner than sinned against. Whether any of this has anything to do with the fact that Ashrafi came out against Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws in an article published on 3 September is anyone's guess. You decide.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Limits to Justice, pt1

Extract from Guardian's coverage of yesterday's Military Commission at Guantanamo:
"The judge, army Colonel James Pohl, declared it was not relevant in a discussion of whether the defendants had the right to voluntarily skip court sessions, according to Reuters.
Mohammed's lawyer, air force Captain Michael Schwartz, said forcibly removing them from their cells and hauling them into court would subject them to physical and emotional strain reminiscent of their time in CIA custody.
"We have to talk about torture," Schwartz said.
"No we don't," the judge replied.
"I think we do," Schwartz said.
"I'm telling you I don't think that's relevant to this issue. That's the end of that," Pohl snapped.
When Schwartz persisted, Pohl said angrily: "Are you having trouble hearing me? Move on to something else!"

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Military Commissions not about justice

Lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), widely believed to have been the mastermind of the 9/11 bombings and now on trial at Guantanamo, have submitted a statement to the Military Commission now hearing pre-trial motions.
Just so we can all be absolutely clear that this military court is not about justice, this is what it states:
.       There is no statutory right to a speedy trial. 10 U.S.C. § 948b(c).
.       There is no right to remain silent and coerced confessions may be admitted. 10 U.S.C. § 948b(c).
.       There is no grand jury requirement or equivalent process (called an Article 32 hearing for courts-martial) for securing the right to indictment and presentment. 10 U.S.C. § 948b(c).
.       The freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures is limited as evidence obtained without a search warrant or other lawful authorization may be admitted. 10 U.S.C. § 949a.
.       The prohibition against ex post facto laws (i.e. the principle of illegality) does not apply. 10 U.S.C. § 950p.
.       Hearsay evidence is admissible.  10 U.S.C. § 949a(b)(3)(D).
.       The defense is not entitled to “equal” access to witnesses and evidence as per court-martial practice, but “reasonable” access. 10 U.S.C. § 949j.
.       The courts-martial pre-trial practice that allows for the dismissal of charges or other sentencing relief for unlawful pre-trial punishment is not included in the Military Commissions Act.
.       The trial judiciary is a component of the Executive Branch, and as such, does not function independently consistent with the requirements for federal trials under Article III of the Constitution.
David Nevin, defense counsel for KSM, added: “The Military Commissions are so far outside our established notions of justice and due process, the extraterritorial application of the individual liberties contained in the U.S. Constitution (such as the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments) remains an open question. We have to spend our time arguing with the government this week as to whether or not the Constitution even applies at all.”

Monday, 15 October 2012

Drones - the impossibility of accurate statistics

Whilst accepting that US drone strikes in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - and elsewhere - regularly result in the deaths of non-combatants as 'collateral damage', I have always argued it is impossible to be precise about the numbers.
Reports in the last year from the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Stanford Law School/NYU School of Law, the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal all rely on figures provided to local reporters by unnamed security officials - usually members of Pakistan's ISI, who refuse to divulge their identity. Outsiders cannot check these figures as they are banned from entering FATA. The US authorities, which claim that civilian deaths are minimal, fail to provide any evidence to back up their argument.
All the various analytical reports attempt to portray themselves as authoritative, although all use different methodologies.
The debate on drone casualties is rapidly becoming a classic debate on the use and abuse of official statistics. The latest contribution comes from the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, whose report, Counting Drone Strike Deaths has produced a further set of estimates - although it makes a point of stating the impossibility of accuracy: “Drone strike casualty estimates are substituting for hard facts and information about the drone program,” says Naureen Shah, Acting Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, adding: “These are good faith efforts to count civilian deaths, but it’s the US government that owes the public an  accounting of who is being killed, especially as it continues expanding secret drone operations in new places around the world.”
Columbia Law School also recently published The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions, which examines the way drones are rapidly becoming the centrepiece of US counter-terrorism strategy.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Mockup of bin Laden's compound located in NC

Mock up of bin Laden's Abbottabad compound
Cryptome has published an interesting item about the mock-up of Bin Laden's house in Abbottabad, used to train the Navy Seals involved in the operation that killed the al-Qaeda leader in April 2011. An anonymous contributor found satellite images of the site, which is located at the CIA training station at Harvey Point, North Carolina. Although the buildings are no longer there, a series of pictures shows how it was built and then obliterated after the operation.

Pak Taliban shoots another human rights campaigner

Malala Yousufzai
Lots of coverage yesterday about the shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the Swati schoolgirl from Mingora who took on the Taliban in her blog writings. Even Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani went to visit her in hospital. All very commendable, but contrast that to the near-total silence that greeted the killing of Farida Afridi in July (see my report here). She was shot dead in cold blood as she drove to Jamrud in Khyber Agency where she ran Sawera, a human rights organisation working in FATA to improve the rights of women in the region. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has a policy of killing human rights workers and for most of the time no-one - least of all Imran Khan - questions this.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

ICRC adds to gloomy picture of Afghan future

And if the ICG report (below) was not bad enough, Reto Stocker, the outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Kabul declared yesterday that for ordinary Afghans, the armed conflict in the country has taken a turn for the worse: "I am filled with concern as I leave this country. Since I arrived here in 2005, local armed groups have proliferated, civilians have been caught between not just one but multiple front lines, and it has become increasingly difficult for ordinary Afghans to obtain health care," said Mr Stocker. "People are not just suffering the effects of the armed conflict. Hardship arising from the economic situation, or from severe weather or natural disaster, has become more widespread, and hope for the future has been steadily declining."
The ICRC has devoted an entire issue of its International Review to Conflict in Afghanistan. The journal contains many interesting articles and will be followed by Part II in the near future. Keep an eye out for that edition, which contains a number of articles analysing the Taliban's Layha or Code of Conduct for fighters.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Afghanistan 'far from ready' for post-2014 survival

"Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when US and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organising a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections’ chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition. In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim."
From the foreword of Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition, a grim report from International Crisis Group published today.

Anti-drone event a success for Imran Khan

Imran Khan addressing the rally in Tank
In the end it was not as big as predicted - by all accounts no more than 10,000 people took part, with maybe 15,000 attending the final rally in Tank - nor did it reach its goal of Kotkai in South Waziristan, but Imran Khan's peace motorcade at the weekend undoubtedly drew world attention to the issue of drone strikes in Pakistan's badlands. More importantly, it drew attention to Khan himself, who will play on the moderate success of this event in Pakistan's upcoming elections.
Once again, Khan has shown that he is a canny politician who can call upon his growing number of supporters to organise a large public event. In a country where most people have little faith in their corrupt political leadership this will do him no harm.
Cynics will say that Khan knew all along that the motorcade would be turned back once it got to the border of South Waziristan and that a deal had been done in advance with the military. Not surprising really - if the event had been attacked Khan's political career would have been in ruins.
It is unlikely that the motorcade will change US policy on the use of drones, at least in the short term. Washington continues to believe that the benefits of drone strikes far outweigh the negative publicity generated by Codepink, Reprieve and the rest of the opposition.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Anti-drone protest joined by thousands

Supporters of the anti-drone protest give a welcome to Imran Khan in Mianwali
Imran Khan's anti-drone cavalcade is now well under way and has just reached Mianwali, his home town. His supporters say that the hundreds of vehicles that started off from Islamabad have now turned into a column that is 11km long. Still unclear whether or not the protesters, who include a number of Westerners, will be allowed to cross into the tribal territories.
Imran Khan's car on the cavalcade
The Pakistan Taliban has issued a statement saying it will not offer protection to the protesters and condemning Khan and all politicians in Pakistan.
If you want to follow the cavalcade on twitter, the hashtag is #PTIPeaceMarch. Khan is now in the process of pulling off a major political coup.
Update: Imran Khan tweeted as he reached DI Khan. Tail of the convoy more than half an hour behind him.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Gangnam Afghanistyle

Thanks to Bouhammer for pointing this one out. Enjoy.

Anti-drone march to be halted - political agent

Newspapers in Pakistan are reporting that the anti-drone march organised by Imran Khan's PTI party will not be allowed to cross into the tribal territories. The Express Tribune today quoted the political agent for South Waziristan saying that the security situation was not good enough to host such an event. It added that the march, due to start tomorrow (Sat) will be halted on the Chashma-DI Khan bridge close to the border with the tribal territories.
Yesterday in Islamabad Imran Khan held a press conference saying that Pakistan's president would be responsible if anything went wrong on the march. He was joined by a number of Westerners including Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, Tony Blair's sister-in-law - and convert to Islam - Lauren Booth and US peace campaigners including Ann Wright.

Lauren Booth speaking on Geo TV yesterday
Also in Islamabad yesterday was a Russian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who made a point of criticising American policy on drone strikes in Pakistan. "It is not right to violate the sovereignty and integrity of any state," said Mr Lavrov, who clearly has a very short memory.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Beheading of 17 in Helmand a fabrication?

It was widely reported at the end of August that the Taliban had beheaded 17 people, including two women, for dancing at a social event in the Roshanabad area of Helmand. The claim came from Daud Ahmadi of the office of the Governor of Helmand. At the time the Taliban denied any role, saying that in fact the incident involved a number of dancing boys and the consumption of alcohol. I wrote about it here.
Now the Taliban says that because it controls the area, it has conducted a detailed  investigation by a "qualified board of the Islamic Emirate" into the alleged incident.
"The board of Islamic Emirate, with help from the elders, youngsters and distinguished personalities, travelled on foot in the province’s Sangin, Musa Kala, Kajaki, Bughni, Baghran and Zamindawar regions, went from door to door and asked about related information and found that all the locals labelled the incident as fabrication and showed complete ignorance of such a happening."
The statement continues: "Two respected personalities of Roshanabad (Haji La’l Muhammad and Haji Muhammad Yar) said that they were taken by surprise after hearing about the incident and promptly carried out a joint investigation with the Mujahideen and locals in the initial days however nothing as such has transpired in the entire Sangin district and especially in Roshanabad area thus all the residents of the area are now certain that this claim is a blatant lie; nothing like this has taken place here; no one plays music here and neither has anyone been killed for such a thing; no one has seen the bodies of the dead and neither is there a single person aware of the incident."
Unless the governor's office in Helmand can produce photos of this incident or statements from bereaved relatives, I will go along with the view that it was a complete fabrication.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Pak Taliban attacks from Afghanistan rising

Interesting fact: there have been 17 large-scale, cross-border incursions of militants from Afghanistan to Pakistan - mostly Bajaur Agency - since February this year, according to Pakistani military commander Major General Ghulam Qamaran. He said there were 69 clashes last year in which 225 people died. Read more in an article by Zia ur Rehman in CTC Sentinel.

Peace activists denied access to Pakistan march

UK Peace activist and filmmaker Carol Grayson has been denied a visa to take part in a peace march in Pakistan aimed at highlighting the use of drones by the US military.
Grayson and another filmmaker, Yacine Helali, were invited to take part in the protest by Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) is organising the motorcade to South Waziristan later this week.
Grayson told the Lahore Times: “Officially I am being told no one can guarantee my security, but surely that is the case for Pakistanis also. They have to live with risks every day, they have no choice. I am told that Waziristan is a “no-go” area and that there is a lengthy process and many hurdles to overcome if you want to film a documentary as we do. I understand this would be under the eye of a government “minder”. This may put people off from being interviewed. I think that there are other reasons, the fact that PTI have invited me to participate in the peace march and are gaining significant support in the run up to the elections. That might be threatening for some who fear change in Pakistan. I have also nurtured strong contacts in the Tribal Areas; there is mutual respect and support for one another as human beings trying to make a difference. These people are my friends; I am not a native person. I have spent time trying to understand the politics of the region; it is not so easy to pull the wool over my eyes. I have a good idea what is happening on the ground and have excellent sources for information that continue to enlighten and educate me.”
In a statement the PTI "condemned this act of stopping the international media to come to Pakistan for a cause which is in the interest of Pakistan,”.
However, a delegation of 30 US activists and parents of US Army soldiers has arrived in Islamabad, where they plan to join the march and rally which Imran Khan has predicted will involve up to 100,000 people. Ann Wright, a retired US Army colonel and former US ambassador, is leading the delegation. Wright resigned from the US army at the beginning of the war against Iraq in 2003. She is now an anti-war activist and a member of CODEPINK.
On Sunday afternoon, Wright told a press conference in Islamabad that "We came from the US for this historic march against drone attacks. We also went to the places in US from where the drones are operated and we registered our protest. We are also protesting US war policies and we are telling you that American people are also against these attacks," she said.
Ann Wright and Imran Khan speak at a press conference in Islamabad
She added that the US is violating the sovereignty of Pakistan by carrying out drone strikes. "The U.S. president has a hit list on his desk and he looks at it every day to know who will be killed in Pakistan. This is criminal... We believe that travel warning is issued because the US government does not want us to see what they are doing. We believe the President of the US is killing innocent people in Pakistan that is wrong... We as Americans stand up against our government and you [have to] stand up against yours," Wright said.
There are still some doubts about whether or not the march will take place. The Pakistan Taliban, which initially opposed the march, now says it will protect it. But military commanders and politicians are jittery and may yet try to stop it.
Starting from Islamabad, the march is due to pass through Balkasar, Talagang and Mianwali, reaching DI Khan on 6 October. On 7 October the participants will gather in Tank and then will move towards South Waziristan where a public meeting will be held at Kot Kai. According to Imran Khan, the Mahsud, Burki and Bhittani tribes of Waziristan have agreed to provide security to the participants of the rally.