Tuesday 28 May 2013

Election carnage in Pakistan

Political violence in Pakistan is seldom reported in mainstream media, so the figures for attacks during the recent election campaign, compiled by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), are shocking: 298 people lost their lives and 885 others were injured across Pakistan between 1 January 1 and 15 May in 148 reported terrorist attacks on political leaders, workers and voters, and 97 incidents of political violence. The PIPS report says that the number of terrorist attacks on political leaders and workers significantly increased about six to seven weeks before the 2013 general elections.
Out of total 148 attacks, 108 were perpetrated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and associated local Taliban and other militant groups. These attacks claimed the lives of 156 people and injured 665 others. Baloch nationalist insurgents carried out 40 attacks that killed 14 people and injured another 78.

The Awami National Party (ANP) bore the brunt of the terrorist attacks - 37 - followed by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 12 attacks each. While militants hit the ANP and PPP in almost every region of Pakistan, the MQM was frequently targeted in Karachi. 
Party leaders, workers and candidates of of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were targeted in 10 terrorist attacks, mainly in Balochistan and Punjab. Three factions of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl, Sami and Nazriati or JUI-F, JUI-S and JUI-N, respectively) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) were also targeted by militants in parts of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.
As many as five terrorist attacks hit leaders and workers of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in KP and Punjab. Balochistan’s nationalist parties were targeted in a total of eight attacks. Meanwhile 19 attacks hit independent election candidates, their offices and rallies and 17 attacks targeted polling stations in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The number of terrorist attacks targeting political leaders and workers, election candidates and polling stations by region was reported as 50 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by 49 in Balochistan, 30 in Sindh, 12 in  FATA and 7 in Punjab.
Apart from those killed in terrorist attacks between January  and May, another 128 leaders and workers of different political parties were killed and 142 injured in 97 reported incidents of political violence and clashes between supporters and workers of different political parties during the same period of time.
The highest number of such incidentswas reported from Sindh - 73, including 70 in Karachi alone - followed by nine incidents each in KP and Punjab. Six incidents of political violence were reported from Balochistan.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

SIGAR boss says officials tried to intimidate him

US government bureaucrats have tried to intimidate John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, saying his should stop making public his audits revealing waste, corruption and mismanagement of projects to rebuild the country.

Speaking at an event organised by the New America Foundation on 8 May, Sopko also said that some officials have even complained that they cannot edit his reports before they are published.

“Since my appointment by the President last summer, I have been surprised to learn how many people both in and out of the government do not understand the role of an independent inspector general,” said Sopko.

Sopko told the meeting that the Afghan Ministry of Defense may be unable to buy fuel for the Afghan army once US troops leave; he added that the US government could not account for the fuel it provided the army; that it paid for repairs on police vehicles it had not seen for over a year; that police buildings are lying empty and that creative use of ghost employees and desertions mean that the total number of Afghan troops is unclear.

“It is hard to know if the Afghan army and police are ready if we don’t know how many troops are available to fight insurgent forces,” Sopko said.

“Over the last 10 months, I have been criticized by some bureaucrats for not pre-clearing my press releases with them, for not letting them edit the titles of my audits, for talking too much to Congress, for talking too much to the press … and, basically, for not being a ‘team player’ and undermining ‘our country’s mission in Afghanistan,’ ” Sopko said in his speech. He continued:

“Many in our government, even some surprisingly senior officials you think would know better, seem to believe that an inspector general should be their partner — or, more correctly, their silent partner. In their opinion, my reports should be slipped in a sealed envelope in the dead of night under the door — never to see the light of day — because those reports could embarrass the administration, embarrass President Karzai, embarrass Afghanistan."

Thursday 9 May 2013

Anyone out there listening to SIGAR?

The latest 232-page quarterly report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) contains a useful overview of US aid efforts in the country, showing where more than $93 billion has been spent since 2002.

The report highlights the usual problems– new hospitals in Gardez and Khair Khot that are unlikely to run for very long as their operating budgets are five times the existing budget, or millions of dollars’ worth of electrical equipment sitting around unused by the main power distribution company – as well as a few that ought to have been sorted by now: the Afghan National Security Forces still have no easy way of determining how many people serve in the Army or police forces. 
Yesterday in Washington, SIGAR boss John Sopko revealed that $50m stolen from the US government had disappeared from a Kabul bank vault, despite efforts to freeze the account. Sopko referred to the Afghan government in his speech as a "criminal patronage network".
SIGAR is doing a great job, but is anyone listening?

Fiction writing flourishing in Pakistan

Fiction writing is flourishing in Pakistan, as a glance at the general election manifestos of the main political parties will confirm. Most dishonest manifesto? A strong candidate is that published by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F),  which, according to analysts, leaves out a chapter on sharia law from its English version and in its Urdu version leaves out a chapter on women’s rights.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Pakistan Taliban launches new English-language mag

The first edition of Azan magazine, published by people associated with one of the Pakistan Taliban factions, has made its appearance and can be downloaded here. Although it is attempting to emulate the look and feel of Inspire, the al-Qaeda magazine once published by American zealot Anwar al-Awlaki in the Yemen, it is nowhere near as sophisticated or engaging. Long articles about the 'End Times' that read like Christian fundamentalist poppycock, and badly-researched articles on drones are not likely to impress.
Most telling is the article on Malala Yousufzai, the young Swati girl that the Tehreek-e-Taliban tried to assassinate. The article cannot admit the most basic point about this barbaric act - that it was un-Islamic and that it led to a huge loss of prestige for the TTP. Bizarrely, the writer asks Malala is she has ever heard of Yvonne Ridley: "Did you not hear about Yvonne Ridley? She found Islam with the same Taliban you are running away from!" Somehow I don't think Ms Ridley would agree.