Gunmen have killed at least 18 Shia Muslim bus passengers in a sectarian attack in the northern Pakistani district of Kohistan, officials say.
The attackers are reported to have checked the identity cards of all the passengers before removing the Shias and shooting them.
About 27 other passengers on the bus were spared.
Meanwhile, a Chinese woman was shot dead with a Pakistani male companion in the city of Peshawar, police say.
Kohistan is not known for militancy, but it borders the Swat valley, which has had a Taliban presence in the past.
The attack took place close to the remote and mountainous area of Harban Nala, approximately 130 miles (208 km) north of the capital, Islamabad.
Four buses were travelling in a convoy from the city of Rawalpindi to the northern town of Gilgit.
“Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked,” local police chief Mohammad Ilyas told the Agence France-Presse news agency. Local officials say that the men who ambushed the bus were wearing military fatigues.
It happened in an area dominated by Sunni tribes, Reuters quotes a policeman as saying.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has condemned the attack, insisting that such incidents would not deter the government in its resolve to fight “the menace of terror”.
Correspondents say that more than two-thirds of Kohistan’s 500,000 people live a nomadic life and move up and down the country in search of pastures.
Kohistan is 7,400 sq km of sheer mountains, rising from 2,400m (7,874 ft) to 3,700m (12,139 ft) with virtually no plains.
Sunni extremists allied to or inspired by al-Qaeda and the Taliban routinely attack government and security targets in north-west Pakistan, in addition to religious minorities and other Muslim sects they consider to be infidels.
The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad reports that there are frequently complaints from Shias that the Pakistani state does little to stop the attacks and has even released from custody notorious militants accused of carrying them out.
Last month more than 30 Shias were killed in an attack on a mosque in north-west Pakistan.
The Chinese woman, 40, and her Pakistani companion, 22, were killed by gunmen on motorbikes while walking in the Kohati bazaar area in the historic centre of Peshawar, police said.
It was the fifth shooting or bomb attack in north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province since Thursday, raising concerns that violence is worsening following a relative lull in recent months.
The father of the dead Pakistani said that his son had been working as a translator for the Chinese woman while he was on holiday from studying English literature at university.
The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that while a motive for the attack is unclear, it is not unusual for Chinese people to be targeted in Pakistan.
In 2009 a Chinese engineer was kidnapped in the Dir region of north-west Pakistan. He was released after five months
A Chinese beautician kidnapped during the Red Mosque siege of 2007 was released several months after being abducted
One of two Chinese engineers kidnapped by militants loyal to Taliban commander Abdullah Mehsud in 2004 was killed during a rescue bid by Pakistani forces.
QUETTA: The Functional Committee of Senate on Human Rights has rejected a report presented by the Provincial Home Department over law and order situation and human rights violations in Balochistan.
The committee expressed serious concerns over the recovery of mutilated bodies of missing persons, targeted killing of labourers, doctors, teachers and an increasing number of kidnappings for ransom in the province.
The committee met under the chairmanship of Afrasiab Khattak here on Wednesday and was briefed by Home Secretary Naseebullah Bazai. Other members included Senator Surriya Amiruddin, Senator Farhat Abbas and Senator Hafiz Rasheed.
Addressing a news conference, Senator Khattak said the committee held its meeting in Quetta to assess the current situation of the province in detail. “The human rights situation is grave here, particularly recovery of mutilated bodies and incidents of kidnapping for ransom are matters of great concern. These issues must be taken up seriously and sincere efforts are needed by the government to normalise the situation,” he said.
The recovery of mutilated bodies, Khattak said, gave a message that the state and its institutions did not consider them their own people but rather their enemy. “The people will definitely look up to others for help if they are continuously pushed against the wall.”
The committee chairman said federal and provincial governments should take notice of this serious issue and bring the culprits to book. “There is a common perception that secret agencies are involved in enforced disappearances and dumping of mutilated bodies. If this is true, then government should control its institutions as they are damaging Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he urged.
He said some militant groups are also targeting labourers and teachers. “Violence in any shape is wrong and unjustified. Those who are involved in these killings are not the well wishers of Balochistan,” he said.
The functional committee said that targeted killing of people belonging to the Hazara community was not sectarian violence, rather an act of terrorism and that terrorist groups are behind these killings. The committee sought a report on the murder of police surgeon Dr Baqar Shah, key witness of Kharotabad massacre of foreign nationals.
The committee further suggested that laws should be introduced to curtail the power and influence of security agencies and that they should be brought under parliamentary control.
Kidnapping of Hindu people was also discussed during the meeting and the committee stated it will pressurise the provincial government to ensure the protection of life and property of minorities.
Senator Khattak said that the government cannot get away by just stating that foreign elements are involved in destabilising this province. “They should investigate what circumstances have paved way for foreign involvement. The people will look towards foreigners if their rights are trampled down by their own people,” he said.
The Senate committee said that the government should hold talks with angry Baloch people to address their grievances for a durable peace in Balochistan.
“All the Baloch political parties must be taken into confidence because if government can agree to hold talks with Taliban militants then why not with our Baloch brothers?” the committee questioned.
Gilani concedes there is a problem in Balochistan
With the Senate too taking notice of human right violations in Balochistan, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani too admitted on Wednesday that there was a problem in the country’s largest province. He intends to convene an All Parties Conference (APC) to discuss and address the issues of Balochistan, particularly the law and order situation, through collective wisdom.
“There is a law and order situation in Balochistan, which has to be addressed. We are also talking with the coalition partners in this respect,” Gilani said in an interaction with senior newspaper editors at the Prime Minister House. The Prime Minister also mentioned the incumbent government’s initiative of “Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan” to remove the sense of deprivation of the people of that province, conceding, however, the law and order situation in Balochistan had overshadowed the initiative.
KABUL, Jan 28 — Several Taliban negotiators have begun meeting with American officials in Qatar, where they are discussing preliminary trust-building measures, including a possible prisoner transfer, several former Taliban officials said Saturday.
The former officials said that four to eight Taliban representatives had traveled to Qatar from Pakistan to set up a political office for the exiled Afghan insurgent group.
The comments suggested that the Taliban, who have not publicly said they would engage in peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, were gearing up for preliminary discussions.
American officials would not deny that meetings had taken place, and the discussions seemed to have at least the tacit approval of Pakistan, which has thwarted previous efforts by the Taliban to engage in talks.
The Afghan government, which was initially angry that it had been left out, has accepted the talks in principle but is not directly involved, a potential snag in what could be a historic development.
The former Taliban officials, interviewed Saturday in Kabul, were careful not to call the discussions peace talks.
“Currently there are no peace talks going on,” said Maulavi Qalamuddin, the former minister of vice and virtue for the Taliban who is now a member of the High Peace Council here. “The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo, which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar. We also want to strengthen the talks so we can create an environment of trust for further talks in the future.”
The State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said only that Marc Grossman, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had “a number of meetings” related to Afghanistan when he visited Qatar last week.
The Taliban’s announcement this month that they would open an office in Qatar, which could allow for direct negotiations, drew fire from some Afghan factions as well as some American policy makers, who fear the insurgents would use negotiations as a ploy to gain legitimacy and then continue their efforts to reimpose an extremist Islamic state in Afghanistan.
Mr. Grossman, at a news conference in Kabul last week, said that real peace talks could begin only after the Taliban renounced international terrorism and agreed to support a peace process to end the armed conflict.
The Afghan government and the Qataris must also come to an agreement on the terms under which the Taliban will have an office. Mr. Grossman has been regularly briefing the Afghan government but Afghan officials have complained that they were being kept out of the loop.
The Taliban officials now in Doha, Qatar, include a former secretary to the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, as well as several former officials of the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, according to Mr. Qalamuddin and Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban minister of higher education.
The former Taliban officials here described fairly advanced discussions in Qatar about the transfer of prisoners. One former official, Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, who had been a Taliban military commander, said that five Taliban prisoners were to be transferred in two phases, two or three in one group and then the remainder.
There has also been discussion in Qatar of removing some Taliban members from NATO’s “kill or capture” lists, the former Taliban officials said.
Mr. Grossman, in his comments last week, played down talk of detainee releases, saying the United States had not yet decided on the issue. “This is an issue of United States law first of all, that we have to meet the requirements of our law,” he said.
He said the Obama administration would also consult with Congress. Under American law, the defense secretary must certify to Congress that the transfer of any Guantánamo prisoner to a foreign country would meet certain requirements, including that the country maintains control over its prisons and will not allow a transferred detainee to become a future threat to the United States.
If any detainees were released, Western and Afghan officials said, they would likely be transferred to Qatar and held there, perhaps under house arrest.
The former Taliban officials said that they were most surprised by Pakistan’s decision to allow the Taliban delegates to obtain travel documents and board a plane to Qatar. The former officials have long contended that Pakistan has obstructed talks. “This is a green light from Pakistan,” Mr. Rahmani said.
Pakistan “definitely supported this and is also helping,” Mr. Qalamuddin added. He said that if Pakistan did not approve of the talks, it would have arrested the Taliban delegates to Qatar, just as it did with Mullah Baradar, a senior Taliban official, after he began secret talks with the Afghan government in 2010.
Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Sharifullah Sahak from Kabul.
WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has urged Islamabad to release a Pakistani physician who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2 last year.
In an interview for an episode of “60 Minutes”, a programme run by the Colombia Broadcasting Service (CBS), Mr Panetta acknowledged that the doctor provided vital clues to the United States about Osama’s lair.
The revelation came on the heels of a Friday speech by Vice President Joseph Biden in which he disclosed that he had cautioned President Barack Obama against raiding Osama bin Laden’s hideout, but the president took the decision all alone.
Speaking at a conference of House Democrats in Maryland, Mr Biden said President Obama ignored his reservations and Leon Panetta, then CIA chief, was the only member of the inner circle who backed the president.
In the CBS interview, Leon Panetta said he believed Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding before US Navy SEALs found and killed him on May 2, last year.
“There is a Pakistani doctor who, as we understand, was helping our efforts there, a man named Shakil Afridi, he is now being charged with treason in Pakistan and I wonder what you think of that?” asked the interviewer.
“I am very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual. This was an individual who, in fact, helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regard to this operation.
“And he was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan. He was not in any way doing anything that would have undermined Pakistan,” Mr Panetta replied.
Dr Afridi ran a vaccination programme for the CIA to collect DNA and verify Osama bin Laden’s presence in the Abbottabad compound. Media reports claim that Islamabad had charged Mr Afridi, an employee of the Pakistan government, with treason for working for a foreign intelligence agency.
Mr Panetta headed the CIA when Dr Afridi worked for the agency. Pakistan has so far not issued any official statement on Mr Afridi’s whereabouts. “As a matter of fact, Pakistan and the US have a common cause here against terrorism, have a common cause against Al Qaeda, have a common cause against those who will attack not only our country but their country. And for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think it is a real mistake on their part,” said Mr Panetta.
“Should they free him?” the interviewer asked. “They can take whatever steps they want to do to discipline him, but ultimately he ought to be released,” Mr Panetta replied.
Reports in the US media quoted senior Pakistani officials as saying that they wanted to resolve the issue amicably. Pakistan would release Mr Afridi quietly to US custody, once media attention died down, the reports said. Asked if he believed Pakistani officials knew Osama was hiding in Abbottabad, Mr Panetta said: “I don’t have any hard evidence, so I can’t say it for a fact. There’s nothing that proves the case. But as I said, my personal view is that somebody somewhere probably had that knowledge.”
Mr Panetta said Pakistani military helicopters were reported to have passed over the compound where the late Al Qaeda chief was found. “I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what — what was happening at this compound. Don’t forget, this compound had 18 foot walls. … It was the largest compound in the area.
“So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, ‘What the hell’s going on there?’” Mr Panetta said.
The defence secretary also explained why Pakistani officials were not informed when the United States raided the compound.
“We had seen some military helicopters actually going over this compound. And for that reason, it concerned us that, if we, in fact, brought [Pakistan] into it, that — they might … give bin Laden a heads up,” he said.
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that Mr Panetta’s statement was aimed at exerting pressure on Pakistan to release Dr Afridi.
BIDEN EXPLAINS HIS ADVICE: Mr Biden said in his speech he advised President Obama not to carry out the mission because he believed “we have to do more things to see if he’s there”.
The vice president gave an insider account of the internal discussions in the White House before the order was officially carried out and praised Mr Obama as a person with a “backbone like ramrod”.
Mr Biden said that for a four-to-six week period early last year, only six people knew that Osama bin Laden might be hiding in Abbottabad.
When enough information finally surfaced, the president convened his national security staff on April 28.
“The president, he went around the table, with all the senior people, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he said ‘I have to make a decision, what is your opinion’. He started with the National Security Adviser, the Secretary of State, and he ended with me,” recalled Mr Biden.
“He (Obama) went around the table with all the senior people. … Every single person in that room hedged their bet except Leon Panetta. Mr Leon said, ‘go.’ Everyone else said 49, 51 (percent in favour),” Mr Biden added. “It got to me. (Mr Obama) said ‘Joe — what do you think?’ I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said we owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go.” “You end up having to make decisions based on the moon, will there be enough light. And we had to make a decision,” said Mr Biden.
According to the Vice President, Mr Obama left that meeting and said he would make the decision in the morning. “The next morning he came down to the diplomatic entrance, getting in a helicopter I believe to go to Michigan, I’m not positive for that. He turned to Tom Donilon (then national security adviser) and said “go,” Mr Biden related.
The Vice President was not the only person who had second thoughts about pulling the trigger.
Former defence secretary Robert Gates has also admitted he had reservations about the raid.
President Obama, Mr Biden argued, showed leadership. “He knew what was at stake. Not just the lives of those brave warriors, but literally the presidency, and he pulled the trigger,” Mr Biden said.
“This guy doesn’t lead from behind — he just leads.”
A Pentagon official told Fox News that Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, “certainly recognised the risk, but he did not hesitate in offering his advice that we should go.”
Another official said that Gen. James Cartwright, who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time, was leaning against a raid and more toward an air strike in that final meeting.
Karachi, Jan 14: That the judicial commission’s report on Saleem Shahzad’s murder is inconclusive should not be surprising, experts say. Its shortcoming lies in its very foundation – the formation of a ‘judicial panel’ to investigate a murder.
The judicial commission’s failure to point out the murderers of journalist Saleem Shahzad was expected, said Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia Programme Bob Dietz.
“I know a lot of journalists had pressed for the judicial panel, but the report now clearly shows that it hasn’t been able to serve its purpose of pointing out the murderers,” Dietz said while speaking to The Express Tribune via phone.
The judicial panel shouldn’t have been tasked with uncovering the murderers of Saleem, simply because this required expertise that they didn’t possess to begin with, Dietz said.
“This is basically the job of the police who are trained to investigate murder cases. In fact it is only because of the inability of the police and the government to uncover the truth that the panel was entrusted with this job,” he said.
Dietz suggested the case should have been investigated by a panel similar to the one that had been formed in the aftermath of Daniel Pearl’s murder in Karachi. “In Daniel’s case, real police work was done by experts in their fields. This led to the arrest of several suspects and eventually some of them were sentenced and sent to jails.”
When asked what was the way forward if the police investigators were vary of probing into a case that allegedly involved senior intelligence agency officials, Dietz proposed that then the media itself would have to do the job of exposing the murderers.
Senior Analyst Mazhar Abbas said he found the report “interesting” and recommended all journalists to go through it “from an academic point of view.”
Abbas pointed out a number of missing links in the commission’s report. For example, he says, the IGP Islamabad’s testimony has not been included in the report to clarify the important point about how Saleem’s vehicle was able to move out of Islamabad all the way to Jhelum without anyone in the police taking notice: “When Saleem was reported kidnapped, did the police pass on a message on their wireless control system about the disappearance?”
Also, he said, that while the commission leaves the door open about the motive and people involved in the incident, it is clear that normally militant groups claim responsibility for their attacks.
“If even for the sake of argument we assume that the Ilyas Kashmiri group was behind the murder [as stated as one of possibilities in the report], then what was stopping them from claiming the attack on Saleem,” he asked.
Pulitzer prize winning author Dexter Filkins, who had written an article in The New Yorker about Shahzad’s death titled “The Journalist and the Spies”, stood by the revelations he had made in his article.
In his piece, Filkins not only connected the dots between Shehzad’s death and militant commander Ilyas Kashmiri’s killing in a drone attack, but also spoke of senior American officials, who alleged that the orders to kill Shahzad came directly from the top army brass.
When asked to comment on the commission’s report, Dexter said in an email: “I’m going to let my article speak for itself.”
ISI’s Brigadier Zahid Mehmood Khan, in his written testimony to the commission mentioned in the report, had lambasted Filkins for his piece.
Published in The Express Tribune with the International Herald Tribune, January 14th, 2012.
It was Saleem Shahzad’s dedication to investigative reporting and his fascination for the crime-beat that foremost stands out in my memory. Come evening and the slender young man, then working for the affiliate Star newspaper, would enter the Dawn reporters room to compare notes with the crime reporter. His style was single-minded and purposeful – rechecking facts to supplement hours of news gathering for the next day’s paper.
Some 20 years later I saw him again on television. To my shock and horror, his face was mutilated and eyes punched in. It was a stark message, made even more brutal because of its bold display by the electronic media. Investigative journalists who dared report on the murky links of militant outfits in Pakistan, would meet the same fate. The intrepid journalist was not unaware of the dangers. Human rights groups told that for the two days he went missing last May, he had informed them of threats received from the state agencies.
It was a time of flared tempers in Pakistan. On May 1, US Navy Seals had secretly descended in Abbotabad to pick up Al Qaeda’s number one, Osama Bin Laden – found living near a military academy. Unruffled by the international embarrassment caused to Pakistan by that incident, Saleem went on to report on the attack carried out on Mehran Naval base in Karachi – naming ex naval officials for their alleged links to the militants.
His professional development had taken him from being a crime reporter to an international expert on proliferating militant outfits in the region. He had inside information on how Uzbek war lord Tahir Yuldeshev had grown influential within Pakistan – acting on behalf of Al Qaeda to cement the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. It was material that Saleem gathered for his book `Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban,’ – which would provide encyclopedic knowledge on the post 9/11 scenario in the region.
Being an insider, Saleem hobnobbed with militants in a manner that invited real dangers. In 2006, he was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and almost killed on charges of being a spy. When he returned and told me why he had been incommunicado, I called out to him to be careful. He laughed and said, “nothing will happen.”
Saleem’s murder would have a palpable effect on colleagues. As news came in that his tortured body had washed up on the banks of Mandi Bahauddin (some 80 miles from Islamabad) my colleagues told me in hushed tones about an incident that had clearly hurt close to home.
Then, Pakistan’s vibrant media went into action, mobilizing a Tsunami of support to demand that Saleem’s killers be exposed. They held a sit-down strike in Islamabad – dispersing only until the government promised to set up a commission to get to the bottom of who kiled Saleem Shahzad
Eight months later the commission, led by a Supreme Court judge has delivered its verdict. But, despite 41 witnesses, hundreds of e-mail and phone messages, the 146 page report says it was unable to identify the perpetrators of the crime. Instead, it has called on the Islamabad and Punjab police to continue searching for those responsible.
While the similarities between slain US journalist Daniel Pearl and Saleem Shahzad are unmistakable, the differences have grown even more stark. While Pearl’s killers were exposed and some brought to trial, in Saleem’s case no one has even been identified – let alone punished.
Indeed, no sooner had the commission failed to pinpoint to the accused, when a reporter working for US media – Mukarram Khan Atif – was shot and killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It gave ammunition to journalist bodies to criticize the commission for its failure to name names in Saleem’s murder.
Bottom line. The commission’s recommendation that there should be “greater oversight of secret service agencies,” is as current as the clash between military and civilian institutions being played out today… and as age-old as the problems that have plagued Pakistan from its inception.
By the time Zardari took over as president, the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariati- Mohammedi (TNSM) had established a parallel Taliban state in parts of Malakand division where it ostensibly practiced Nizam-i-Adl (Order of Justice: essentially Sharia law). Awami National Party’s Senator Afrasiab Khattak told me that his new government was taken aback to find it had inherited an ill-trained, ill-equipped police force that was no match for an increasingly ferocious Taliban militancy, which, in Swat, was headed by Maulana Fazlullah.
In Khattak’s words, the situation had deteriorated so rapidly because “Musharraf’s duplicity had suited the Bush administration.”
Toward the end of 2008, a massive suicide bomb attack at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad had destroyed the myth that parliamentarians, diplomats or even armed personnel were safe. Islamabad grew even more strongly fortified. A wide cordon was thrown around the parliament buildings and cars were investigated at checkpoints set up at every few yards. The besieged political leadership traveled in groups and only to fortified locations.
In Swat, residents were too terrified to speak up against the Taliban militants after the group had burnt down hundreds of girls’ schools and beheaded the law enforcement personnel they had kidnapped. While TSNM chief Sufi Mohammed was imprisoned for fighting against the US forces that invaded Afghanistan in 2001, his son-in-law Fazlullah had joined hands with TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud to eliminate hundreds of tribesmen and political opponents in FATA.
Fazlullah’s spokesman Muslim Khan told me with aplomb that it had become necessary to behead political opponents and that the practise fell well within the dictates of Islam.
Under these circumstances, the Zardari government was relieved when TNSM chief, Sufi Mohammed pledged to follow the pacifist road and confine the enforcement of Shariah law to Malakand division in return for a ceasefire and release of Taliban prisoners. It was ostensibly a throwback to 1994 when Sufi Mohammed and his tribesmen had blocked the Swat Mingora road for one week to demand the enforcement of Sharia. Then, Benazir’s government had buckled into supporting the TSNM chief’s demands for a superficial enforcement of Islamic law.
In February 2009, the ANP government signed the controversial Swat peace deal with Sufi Mohammed, pledging to release 300 Taliban prisoners in return for Fazlullah’s promise to disengage from the Tehrik-i-Taliban militancy.
But the TTP promise turned out to be an exercise in duplicity. Fazlullah’s militants, already engaged in shady trade activities in Malakand took advantage of the ceasefire to deploy Taliban militants to take over government owned emerald mines in Mingora and spread out in FATA to demand jaziya (tax for non-Muslims).
As Washington watched with alarm, Pakistan’s civil society was the first to speak out against the Swat peace deal. Talk show hosts in television and radio, print journalists and bloggers expressed alarm as a video surfaced of a girl who was flogged on suspicion of marital infidelity. Fazlullah’s spokesman Muslim Khan defended the flogging as he told incredulous television anchors, “It is the girl’s good fortune that Qazi courts had not been set up, otherwise she would have been stoned to death.”
In April 2009 the Taliban advanced to nearby Bunair, where they sealed the civil courts and announced they would be converted to Islamic courts. Sufi Mohammed issued a fatwa against Pakistan’s courts, embarrassing even for the Jamaat-i-Islami, who admitted the Taliban had gone too far. As the Taliban forces rampaged through the Margalla hills, the ousted leader of the opposition and JUI (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman told the National Assembly with the confidence of an insider that the Taliban would soon be knocking on Islamabad’s doors.
For the incoming Obama administration the situation in Pakistan was a rude awakening to Bush’s failed foreign policy. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill that Pakistan posed a “mortal threat” to the rest of the world, Congress authorized a flurry of diplomatic activities to Pakistan to convince the new army chief Gen. Asfaque Pervaiz Kiyani, that the Taliban could take over the government in Pakistan.
In May 2009, the Pakistan army sent thousands of forces to battle Taliban fighters in Swat. It triggered the largest and swiftest exodus in recent history. As the army imposed curfew and flushed out the Swat militants, the UN set up tented communities in Mardan and Swabi to support over 1.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Still, as the numbers of the displaced grew dramatically over half the IDPs stayed with their relatives – with the generous hospitality provided by locals to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa proving to be the saving grace for the government.
The 11 percent downturn in overall incidents of violence and terrorism in 2010 does not suggest that the security situation in Pakistan has improved. This declining trend in violence would be short-lived in absence of a comprehensive, all-inclusive and long-term counter-terrorism strategy. It is imperative that the government also takes into account the political, socio-cultural and developmental initiatives in addition to use of force against the militants.
These views were expressed by the participants in the launching ceremony of Pakistan Security Report 2010 held on January 17, 2011 in Islamabad. Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) prepared and published the report.
PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana noted in his opening remarks that the said decrease in violence could be attributed mainly to three factors: military campaigns in Pakistan’s tribal agencies, increased surveillance by the law enforcement agencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and killing of some important militant commanders in US drone strikes.
Despite this decrease in number of incidents of violence in 2010 compared to the previous year, the level of violence in Pakistan during the year was still higher than in Afghanistan and Iraq. Research Analyst at PIPS Abdul Basit presented a summary of Pakistan Security Report 2010, which revealed that the militant landscape of Pakistan had become more complex over the past year. He underlined that the overall downturn in violence in 2010 was visible due to significant decrease in incidents of violence and terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – 60 percent to be precise – compared to 2009.
Such incidents nonetheless had increased considerably in Sindh, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan during the year. Karachi remained the most critical area, where combination of ethno-political, sectarian and criminal violence had caused more than 288 percent increase in the incidents of violence and terrorism in 2010.
Farhat Asif, editor of the Diplomatic Insight, questioned the credibility of the data which was used to prepare the report particularly number of incidents and the casualties. Responding to her, Abdul Basit explained the constraints in collecting and counter-checking the data on incidents of violence and terrorism in Pakistan in particular and in the world in general.
In absence of some officially maintained database of such incidents and lack of access to conflict zones, PIPS has been relying on a wide range of regional and national newspapers along with field resources, available official records, regional correspondents, and strict cross-checking processes with reports of other local and foreign institutes. Amir Rana added that there was relatively more margin of error in the data on military operations and drone strikes while this margin of error for other areas was somewhat between 2 to 3 percent.
John Mottam of CCBLE raised a question about Al-Qaeda’s role in funding the militant organizations in Pakistan. Khuram Iqbal, a researcher at PIPS, argued that Al-Qaeda had more ideological influence among the Pakistani militant groups to resort to its agenda of global ‘Jihad’. Pakistani militant groups have nonetheless developed their indigenous and diverse funding sources such as extortion of money, charities, kidnapping for ransom and nexuses with criminal groups etc.
Navid Shinwari, executive director of Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP) validated that revival of tribal Lashkars without systematic and sustained support by the government could lead towards civil war in the country. Manzar Abbas Zaidi, a counter-terrorism expert, opined that low number of terrorist attacks in southern Punjab is not suggestive of absence of militant infrastructure in that region. Rather, militant outfits are using those areas as a recruiting ground.
NEW YORK: Pakistan remained the deadliest country for the press for a second year, while across the world coverage of political unrest proved unusually dangerous in 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in its year-end survey of journalist fatalities. CPJ’s analysis found notable shifts from historical data: Targeted murders declined while deaths during dangerous assignments such as the coverage of street protests reached their highest level on record. Photographers and camera operators, often the most vulnerable during violent unrest, died at rates more than twice the historical average.
At least 43 journalists were killed around the world in direct relation to their work in 2011, with the seven deaths in Pakistan marking the heaviest losses in a single nation. Libya and Iraq, each with five fatalities, and Mexico, with three deaths, also ranked high worldwide for journalism-related fatalities. The global tally is consistent with the toll recorded in 2010, when 44 journalists died in connection with their work. CPJ is investigating another 35 deaths in 2011 to determine whether they were work-related.
CPJ’s survey identified significant changes in the nature of journalist fatalities. Sixteen journalists died while on dangerous assignments, many of them while covering the chaotic and violent confrontations between authorities and protesters during the uprisings that swept the Arab world. The victims included Hassan al-Wadhaf, a Yemeni cameraman shot by a sniper while covering antigovernment protests in Sana’a, and Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, an Egyptian reporter gunned down while filming a protest in Cairo.“Journalists working in this environment are in no less danger than war correspondents covering an armed conflict,” said Ahmed Tarek, a reporter for the Middle East News Agency who was assaulted by police while covering protests in Alexandria, Egypt. “The greatest danger journalists are facing today in post-revolution Arab countries is the targeting of journalists by political forces hostile to anyone who exposes them.”
The 19 murders recorded in 2011 were the lowest total since 2002. Targeted murders—which historically account for nearly three-quarters of journalist deaths—constituted less than half of the 2011 toll. But murders were reported in both Russia and the Philippines, two countries long plagued by deadly, anti-press violence. In the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, an assassin waited outside the offices of the critical independent newspaper Chernovikand gunned down its founder, Gadzhimurad Kamalov. In the Philippines, CPJ documented the work-related murders of two radio commentators. One of them, Romeo Olea, was shot in the back while riding his motorcycle to work. CPJ is waging a Global Campaign Against Impunity that focuses particularly on these two countries.
Eight journalists died in combat situations in 2011, most of them during the Libyan revolution. The victims included the internationally acclaimed photojournalists Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, who were killed by a mortar round in the western city of Misurata, and Ali Hassan al-Jaber, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera who was shot outside Benghazi by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi. The Libyan conflict was “one of the truly televised revolutions,” said James Foley, an American video journalist for Global Post who was detained there in April. “Everyone was using a camera—and a camera is much more recognizable.”
Photojournalists suffered particularly heavy losses in 2011. Photographers and camera operators constituted about 40 percent of the overall death toll, about double the proportion CPJ has documented since it began keeping detailed fatality records in 1992. Among those killed was Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, a photographer for European Pressphoto Agency who was struck by a tear gas canister fired by security forces trying to quell a massive January protest that led to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Eight online journalists were killed for their work during the year. Among the victims was Mexican reporter Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, whose decapitated body was found near the city of Nuevo Laredo, along with a note saying she had been killed for reporting news on social media websites. Her murder was the first documented by CPJ worldwide that came in direct relation to journalism published on social media. The online death toll also includes Mohammed al-Nabbous, founder of the website Libya Al-Hurra TV, who was killed while covering a battle in Benghazi. Al-Nabbous had been streaming live audio from the scene of the battle when his feed was suddenly interrupted by gunfire.
Internet journalists rarely appeared on CPJ’s death toll before 2008. But since that time, as online journalists constitute an ever-greater proportion of the front-line reporting corps, the number of victims who worked online has increased steadily.
CPJ’s analysis also found a high proportion of freelancers among the 2011 victims. Nearly one-third of the toll was composed of freelance journalists, more than twice the proportion that freelancers have constituted over time. Azerbaijani freelance reporter Rafiq Tagi died in November after being stabbed on a Baku street. He had been threatened over his critical coverage of both Islamist politics and government policies.
Journalists protest the murder of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad. (AP)
Anti-press violence continued at high levels in Pakistan, where 29 journalists have died in direct relation to their work in the past five years. The 2011 victims included Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for Asia Times Online, who was murdered after exposing links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s navy. Five of the seven fatalities in Pakistan were targeted murders, and all are unsolved. Long-term CPJ research shows Pakistan to be among the worst countries in the world in bringing the killers of journalists to justice. “The solution is simple and very difficult at the same time,” said Pakistani reporter Umar Cheema, who was himself abducted and brutally assaulted in 2010. “The government should be taking it seriously and realize it is their duty to protect journalists. If a journalist is threatened, the culprit should be brought to justice. Even if in one case the culprits were brought to justice, that would be a clear message that the crime will not go unpunished.”
The death toll in Libya, while high, was unsurprising given the armed revolt and overall level of violence. That Iraq, with five deaths, matched Libya’s fatality rate illustrates the entrenched level of violence in that country. After record death tolls in the middle part of the last decade, fatalities in Iraq began dropping in 2008. But deaths have levelled out in recent years as journalists continue to die in both targeted murders and insurgent attacks such as the March assault on a provincial government building in Tikrit that took the lives of reporters Sabah al-Bazi and Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad.
In Mexico, CPJ documented three deaths in direct relation to journalism and is investigating the killings of four other journalists. Mexican authorities appear paralyzed in their efforts to combat pervasive anti-press violence; Congress continued to debate legislation in late year that would federalize crimes against free expression, taking the cases out of the hands of local officials who have been corrupted and cowed by criminal gangs. Mexican journalists continue to face a dark choice: Censor their own work or be at risk. Noel López Olguín, whose newspaper column “With a Lead Pen” took on drug trafficking and official corruption, was found in a clandestine grave in Veracruz state in May, two months after gunmen had abducted him.
Afghanistan and Somalia, two conflict-ridden countries with persistent levels of anti-press violence, each recorded fatalities in 2011. CPJ documented the deaths of one journalist and one media worker in Somalia, along with the killings of two journalists in Afghanistan.
The deaths, though a continent apart, bore similarities that illustrate the extreme danger of covering conflict. In Somalia, African Union troops fired on a humanitarian aid convoy, killing Malaysian cameraman Noramfaizul Mohd. The AU called the shooting accidental but released no details. In Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier shot Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, a correspondent for Pajhwok Afghan News and the BBC, during an insurgent attack in Tarin Kot. The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan concluded that the soldier mistook Khpalwak’s press card for a bomb trigger.
Two journalists died in Bahraini government custody. Karim Fakhrawi, a founder of the independent newspaper Al-Wasat, and Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, editor of a local news website in the village of Al-Dair, died within a week of each other in April. Although the government claimed the two died of natural causes, there are widespread allegations that abusive treatment led to their deaths. Al-Wasat co-founder Mansoor al-Jamri said the death of Fakhrawi was a message from the government to its critics: “This could happen to you, and no one will protect you, and no one can do anything for you.”
Here are other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s analysis:
The heaviest losses occurred in nations across the Middle East and North Africa, where CPJ documented 18 work-related fatalities in all. Thirteen work-related deaths were documented in Asia, seven in the Americas, three in Africa, and two in Europe and Central Asia.
In two countries, Tunisiaand Syria, CPJ recorded the first work-related deaths since it began compiling detailed data two decades ago. In Syria, freelance cameraman Ferzat Jarban was tortured and slain in Homs province after he had covered antigovernment demonstrations. “The work of a reporter in Syria before and after the protests is much like working in a minefield,” said Karim al-Afnan, a freelance journalist who was forced into exile in 2011. “The state views a journalist as a rival and their battle with journalists is one for survival.”
Five media support workers were killed worldwide. They include the Ivorian Marcel Legré, a printing press employee who was killed by supporters of Alassane Ouattara who at the time was locked in a presidential election dispute with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Legré’s newspaper was seen as pro-Gbagbo.
At least two journalists were reported missingduring the year, both in Mexico. At least 11 journalists have been reported missing in Mexico over the past decade, by far the highest number worldwide. All are feared dead.
Among murder victims, more than 70 percent had reported receiving threats in the weeks before they died. Long-term CPJ research shows that physical attacks are often preceded by phone or electronic threats.
Of the 35 deaths in which CPJ has yet to confirm a work-related motive, a large number, 20, are in the Americas. In much of the Americas, the web of crime and official corruption, combined with a lack of effective law enforcement, makes the determination of a motive exceedingly difficult.
CPJ began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths in 1992. CPJ staff members independently investigate and verify the circumstances behind each death. CPJ considers a case work-related only when its staff is reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment.
If the motives in a killing are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ’s list does not include journalists who died from illness or were killed in accidents—such as car or plane crashes—unless the crash was caused by hostile action. Other press organizations using different criteria cite higher numbers of deaths than CPJ.
ISLAMABAD: Exactly four years after the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a letter of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), country’s top intelligence outfit, has revealed that the extremists groups related to al Qaeda have had their plan to assassinate Benazir Bhutto six days earlier then 27th of December 2007 the day when Miss Bhutto was assassinated, copy of the letter available to Dawn.com disclosed this here on Monday.
The five lines short letter with the subject of , “ al Qaeda Threat,” is addressed to Kamal Shah, the then Secretary of Interior Ministry by Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana.
The letter reads as, “It has reliably been reported that a few extremist groups related to al Qaeda have made some plan to assassinate Mrs. Benzir Bhutto and her adviser Mr Rehman Malik on 21 December 2007. The exact plan of execution not known.”
The letter is delivered to the Secretary Interior on December 10th, 2007, almost seventeen days before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
The copy of the letter shows that Kamal Shah immediately wrote a short note on the letter saying, “this is a threat with specific date, we should sensitize them,” Kamal Shah had further directed Brigadier (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema, the then Director General of Ministry’s National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) directing him to speak.
The third note which is not readable properly mentions as, “I have informed Mr Malik by fax,’ by some Joint Secretary or Brigadier (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema.
In this letter the specific Intelligence was provided by Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana of ISI, who according to this correspondent is yet not appeared before any investigation committee including the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Joint Investigation Team (JIT) headed by a grade 20 police officer Khalid Qureshi and the UN Commission on Benazir Bhutto.
“Since this was a top secret information provided by the agency and agencies do not give the access to the origin of the information so neither Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana was interviewed by UN Commission nor by anyone else,” confirmed Ch Azhar advocate, the prosecutor of the Benazir Bhutto murder case in Rawalpindi’s Anti Terrorist Court.
It has already come on the public record that the then Security Adviser of Benazir Bhutto, Mr Rehman Malik soon after receiving the “threat information” from Brigadier (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema, had written a three page detailed letter to Secretary Interior Syed Kamal Shah on 12th December 2007. In the said letter he had requested for enhancement of Benazir Bhutto’s security.
An expert, while speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the examination of Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana and further analysis of the information provided by him can further unfold the missing links of on going investigation of Benazir Bhutto murder case.