Pakistan police arrest gang accused in bombings
By RIAZ KHAN (AP) – 2 hours ago
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Police commandos acting on a tip killed one militant and arrested five others Sunday in a raid against a bombing cell accused in recent attacks around the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, authorities said.
Police said they encountered fierce resistance when they stormed the compound in the village of Kaka Khel near Peshawar, the largest city in the area and the main gateway to the Afghan border region where many al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents are based.
Militants have carried out a wave of deadly attacks in and around Peshawar in apparent retaliation for an army offensive in the tribal area of South Waziristan.
Three suicide jackets as well as a number of bombs, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons were seized from the compound, regional police Chief Liaquat Ali Khan said.
He said one suspect was killed and five others arrested following a gunbattle that lasted more than two hours. A search operation for more militants continued in the area, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Peshawar.
The detained are suspected of involvement in recent bombings and other attacks not only in Peshawar but in Islamabad and its sister city of Rawalpindi, Khan said, declining to be more specific.
Police have been on high alert since Friday's bombing-grenade attack in Rawalpindi that left 37 people dead, including several senior army officers.
Pakistani security forces also killed 13 suspected militants, including a prominent commander identified as Gul Maula, in gunbattles in two other parts of the volatile northwest over the weekend.
Maj. Mushtaq Ahmed, a military spokesman, said Maula and four others were killed in the Dangram area of the Swat Valley, where the suspected militants were spotted trying to sneak through the mountains to the main town of Mingora. Pakistan's army has waged an offensive against the Taliban in Swat for much of this year.
In the neighboring region of Lower Dir, security forces killed eight alleged militants hiding in a house in the Maidan area, said Maj. Suleman Hanif, another army spokesman.. The soldiers recovered weapons including two rocket launchers and eight assault rifles.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan contributed to this report from Islamabad.
The other battle for Pakistan
Now that an amnesty providing immunity to thousands has expired, Pakistan's supreme court has the chance to showcase its merits
Mustafa Qadri guardian.co.uk, Saturday 5 December 2009 18.00 GMT
It may be more a matter of wits than weapons, but the battle for control of Pakistan's executive branch of government is as significant for the country as the war against the Taliban. Resolving this latest crisis, the fiercest tussle over the stewardship of the country since Pervez Musharraf was ousted from the presidency in August 2008, will determine the future of Pakistan's parliamentary democracy for many years to come.
Although ostensibly centred on current President Asif Ali Zardari's immunity from a raft of court cases, the dispute has engulfed many of the most senior members of government.
It all boils down to a national reconciliation ordinance drawn up by Musharraf in November 2007 when he was still president. As his popularity and legitimacy plummeted, the Bush administration pushed for a power sharing arrangement between the general and one of his great rivals, the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was living in exile between Dubai and London at the time. But a raft of court cases against Bhutto, her husband Asif Zardari, and many of their cohorts precluded an easy return to Pakistan to contest national elections. The NRO effectively gave them the immunity they desperately need to return to politics.
Following victory in national elections last year, the Pakistan People's party, under Asif Zardari's stewardship following Bhutto's assassination in December 2007, formed a coalition government with a number of other parties and pressed for the NRO to be passed as law. But parliament and the supreme court conspired to scupper those plans, leaving the controversial amnesty to expire last Saturday, 28 November.
As far as we know, 8,041 individuals were given immunity under the NRO. They include Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's influential ambassador to the United States, and Rehman Malik, a key Zardari lieutenant and spearhead of the civilian administration's push against extremists. Pakistan's high commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, is also on the NRO list. So is the Britain-based head of the Muttahida Quami Movement, Altaf Hussain who, along with two of his deputies, faces more charges than any other individual on the list.
The charges against the thousands on the list, alleging everything from corruption, abuse of authority and even murder, make for harrowing reading. And although the government claims it will not protect anyone from the court's findings, there can be no doubt that many of the charges are politically motivated. Virtually every prominent politician in Pakistan has faced or is facing a court case lodged by their foes.
But in among the mudslinging and the uncertainty it has created, the move to refer the NRO to the courts is a powerful, if indirect endorsement for the rule of law and parliamentary democracy. The government, faced with a hostile mix of political opponents and opportunists, says it will abide by any court rulings against those on the NRO.
A revitalised supreme court headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry, the fiercely independent chief justice who survived first Musharraf and then Zardari's attempt to remove him, is expected to rule on the legality of the NRO in the not too distant future. He has already set a supreme court bench to commence hearings against those named in the NRO from Monday 7 December.
What the court eventually determines will also likely determine the fate of the present government.
So long as he remains head of state, President Zardari will retain immunity from any prosecution. Desperate to remain in office, however, he has already ceded control of the country's nuclear arsenal to the prime minister. It is expected that he will also concede the powers to dismiss the national assembly and appoint military chiefs. That would be a welcome move as the prime minister is more answerable to the parliament than the president.
Current prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has undoubtedly been the biggest winner in this saga. Although installed by Zardari to be a pliant prime minister, he has increasingly drifted away from his orbit. It is well known that he has courted the Sharif brothers, former prime minister Nawaz and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz, who control the largest opposition party and dominate politics in the most populous province of Punjab. If key members of the PPP-led government falls due to the NRO , Gilani, who was a member of Sharif's party until falling out of favour in the 1990s, could form government with them. To his distinct advantage, Gilani was not on the NRO list because the courts have already cleared him of corruption charges.
The political wrangling certainly reduces Pakistan's capacity to deal effectively with the three largest crises plaguing the nation: the ongoing war with the Pakistan Taliban, the inability to match energy supplies with demand, and a weak, highly inflationary economy.
With so many Pakistanis sceptical of a democratic process that historically has failed to deliver, however, now is the best opportunity to showcase the merits of Pakistan's fragile secular institutions.
Pakistan militants launch deadly attack on Rawalpindi mosque
At least 40 killed in suicide attack during Friday prayers at mosque near Pakistan's army headquarters
Declan Walsh in Islamabad guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 December 2009 16.29 GMT
Suicide attackers have swarmed through a Pakistani mosque frequented by senior army officers, shooting randomly, killing worshippers at close range and exploding bombs in a frenzied attack that killed at least 40 people.
The bloody assault jolted even violence-weary Pakistanis because it occurred during Friday prayers in Rawalpindi, the country's most heavily guarded city. The army confirmed two serving generals and four other officers were among the dead.
At least four gunmen stormed into the mosque on Parade Lane, a five-minute drive from army headquarters, firing guns and throwing grenades at a crowd of at least 150 men, women and children.
The crowd scattered for cover but the militants singled out some for murder in cold blood, according to witnesses. "They took the people, got hold of their hair and shot them," a retired officer who survived the attack told a local television station.
Two of the attackers blew themselves up inside the mosque, destroying part of the building, while another two kept firing outside. They died in an hour-long exchange of fire with soldiers and police who surrounded the building.
"Their objective was to kill and be killed," said the retired officer. "From the terrorists' point of view it's a very successful raid. One could not imagine they would enter such a high-profile target."
Afterwards soldiers combed the area around the mosque, which is surrounded by army housing, and sealed it off from the media. Survivors said the mosque was covered in blood.
"It was terrible. We were helpless and hopeless," one man who cowered in a corner for 20 minutes told reporters.
City officials said at least 40 people were killed and more than 80 injured. Interior minister Rehman Malik said 10 children were among the dead.
"I believe they are not just the enemy of Islam but also of the country. They want to finish the upcoming generation," he said.
The attack followed a brief lull in a wave of attacks that started two months ago, on the eve of an army drive into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan.
More than 400 Pakistanis have died since early October in attacks on UN offices, security installations and crowded bazaars. The capital, Islamabad, increasingly resembles cities such as Kabul, with rising sandbagged walls, checkpoint-clogged streets and shopping areas bereft of foreigners and, increasingly, Pakistanis.
Nearby Rawalpindi has suffered even more attacks, including a 22-hour siege of the army headquarters in early October that left 23 people dead and badly embarrassed the military.
The South Waziristan operation has gone better than many expected – the army now controls most of the main routes through the mountainous area while incurring fewer casualties than feared.
But the Taliban leadership, headed by Hakimulluah Mehsud, remains at large, and this latest attack demonstrates it is capable of inflicting painful blows at the heart of Pakistan's security complex.
The violence also feeds anti-Americanism. After the bombing some Rawalpindi residents blamed the US presence in Afghanistan for fuelling militancy.
The strain is showing among army personnel, who have never suffered such targeted violence inside Pakistan. In a live television interview Brigadier Shaukat Qadir described the militants as "beasts in human clothing".
"Everyone is agreed to we have to get rid of these damn bastards," he said.
Report warns of Pakistan's younger generation losing faith in democracy
Pakistan faces a "demographic disaster" if its leaders fail to invest in a youth population that is disturbingly cynical about democracy, has greatest faith in the military and is resentful of western interference, according to a study published tomorrow.
The report, commissioned by the British Council, says the nuclear-armed country is at a critical point, with its population forecast to swell by 85 million, from its current 180 million, over the next two decades.
"Pakistan is at a crossroads," said David Steven, an academic who helped write the report. "It can harness the energy of that generation, and collect a demographic dividend. But if they fail to get jobs and are poorly educated, it faces a demographic disaster."
Pakistan has never had such a high proportion of young adults: half of its population are aged under 20, with two-thirds still to reach their 30th birthday. But they are deeply divided about how the country should be run.
Only a third believe democracy is the best system of governance, one third support sharia law, while 7% think dictatorship is a good idea. Fasi Zaka, a radio DJ and commentator who helped launch the report, called it a snapshot of a "lost generation".
"They don't believe in anything firmly. Maybe they want sharia law, maybe they want democracy. It's all over the place. But despite this there's a lot of patriotism. So it's not a lost cause." Summing up the contradictions, he said young Pakistanis "don't like this country, but they love it".
A virtually unstoppable spate of suicide attacks and bombings has shaken the nerves of residents of Peshawar, the capital of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), hampering the cultural, social and business activities in the city.
"My nerves and confidence have been totally shattered, especially after the ongoing wave of terrorism which has rendered the city an unlivable place," Hashim Khan, who lost two family members to a recent car bomb, told IslamOnline.net.
"Life has become totally miserable here. We have stopped coming out of our home unnecessarily."
A suicide car bomber struck near a busy livestock market in Peshawar on Sunday, November 8, killing 12 people, including Abdul Malik, mayor of Adizai suburb.
The attacker detonated 12 kilograms of explosives close to the market, littering the road with the corpses of cows and twisted metal from ruined vehicles.
Though, the entire NWFP province has been in the grip of violence in the last few years, Peshawar has been the main target of terrorists.
More than 182 people have died only in October 2009 in different incidents of car and suicide bombings in Peshawar.
Some 118 people were killed and over 200 were injured in Peshawar on October 28, the deadliest attack in two years.
Security officials have been the targets of suicide bombers affiliated with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella of various Taliban groups operating in the northern tribal belt as a reaction to ongoing military offensive in South Waziristan.
Over 1500 Peshawaris have lost their lives in terrorist attacks since the US invasion of neighboring Afghanistan in 2001.
The spate of attacks is undermining cultural, social and business activities in the city.
Parks, shopping centers and bazaars, which used to be crammed with people till the late hours of the night a few months back, are now almost deserted.
An invisible fear seems to grip the citizens who try to finish their work as soon as possible and rush home to avoid the "blind death".
Several security checkpoints and barricades have been installed on the entry routes to governor's house, the chief minister's house, cantonment areas and government offices.
"You never know when and where you will be hit, either by a suicide bomber or a blast," says Khan, the elderly Peshawari who owns a small import export business.
"That is why we don’t go out unless it is unavoidable."
The historical Kissa Khuwani bazaar misses the old days when turban-clad Peshawari Pushtuns would spend their evenings in small groups while having Kahwa, (traditional tea), dry fruits and mutton Karahi (local mutton dish).
"Gone are those days when we would sit and chat for hours and hours," laments Khan.
"No one dares to sit in the hotels or in open air in the evenings now. We wrap up our work as soon as possible and move towards our homes."
Imtiaz Hussein, a journalist, says the perpetual wave of terrorism has got on the nerves o Peshawaris.
"Not only the common people, but we (journalists) too have been psychologically affected," he told IOL.
"I remember that a cameraman fell unconscious while covering the last bombing. He simply could not bear to see the charred bodies of the victims."
Hussein says Peshawaris face one terrorist attack and get ready for another.
"People have started forecasting terrorist attacks. Most of the people bet for Friday to be the most dangerous day keeping the track record in mind."
The business community is particularly hardest-hit amid calls for the government to make some drastic changes in its policies.
"The entire business activities have reached the point of standstill. We sit idle for the whole day," Zafar Khattak, the chairman of printing association of Peshawar, told IOL.
He believes the business atmosphere cannot return to normalcy unless the government changes its policies.
"This all is because of the government policies. Playing national songs and empty slogans cannot resolve the crisis and the government must change its policies immediately."
Haji Ihsan, a leader of the local traders association, agrees.
"I appeal to the government to leave this bloody war. Let Taliban and US forces fight each other. What is our business there," an emotional Ihsan told IOL.
"They (US) are killing innocent Afghans and tribesmen and Taliban are killing us."
He scolds the government for failure to protect the lives and properties of common Peshawaris.
"The government is protecting the lives of its ministers and parliamentarians. It has left us on the mercy of terrorists and Blackwater," Ihsan fumed.
"Who is here to save us, except Allah, who too seems to be not happy with us."
Bomb targets Peshawar spy agency
A car bomb explosion has killed at least 10 people and badly damaged a building belonging to Pakistan's national intelligence agency.
Ambulances and security forces were sent to the scene of the blast in the Pakistani city of Peshawar early on Friday, cordoning off the site evacuating scores of wounded.
"Seven military officials and three civilians were martyred and 60 others were injured," a military statement said.
A military spokesman said the bomber's target was the three-storey building belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
"Up to 300kg of high explosives and mortars were packed into the car bomb," Malik Naveed, the North West Frontier Province police chief, said.