News from Pakistan: Deadly missile strike in Pakistan
- Deadly missile strike in Pakistan
At least nine people are reported to have been killed in north-west Pakistan in a suspected US missile strike.
One or two missiles targeted a compound in the village of Dande Darpa Khel in the tribal region of North Waziristan, Pakistani officials said.
The village is believed to be frequented by associates of an Afghan Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
There have been dozens of such drone strikes in the past year in the restive region, which borders Afghanistan.
Residents of the main town in the region, Miran Shah, reported hearing a huge blast which shattered windows and blew out doors, said the AFP news agency.
Officials said some people had also been wounded in the attack.
The US military does not routinely confirm drone attacks but the armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are believed to be the only forces capable of deploying drones in the region.
Pakistan has been publicly critical of drone attacks. The government says that they fuel support for the militants.
Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, is though to have died in a similar drone strike on 5 August.
But some Taliban elements have denied he is dead.
Pakistan suicide bomber blows self up during raid
(AP) – 4 hours ago
MINGORA, Pakistan — The army says a suicide bomber has blown himself up to evade capture during a raid in a town in Pakistan's troubled northwestern Swat Valley.
The army says they spotted the bomber Saturday during a search of a residential area of Kanju, a town north of Swat's main city of Mingora. Spokesman Lt. Col. Akthar Abbas says security forces chased the man, who ran into a house and blew himself up.
Abbas would not say whether anyone else was wounded in the explosion. Local media said two security officials were killed and two others were wounded.
Troops move in after Pakistan riots
Pakistan has deployed paramilitary troops on the streets of Gorja, a day after eight Christians were killed in religious riots in the eastern city.
Troops patrolled the city on Sunday following the violence by Muslim-led mobs after rumours circulated that a Quran had been defaced.
Hundreds of Muslims burned and looted Christian homes in the city and six people, including a child and four women, were killed after shooting broke out.
Two men died later in hospital from gun shot wounds sustained in the riots.
Officials suggested the disturbances, which began on Thursday but calmed before flaring again Saturday, had been instigated by members of a banned Muslim organisation.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister, said: "Usually, Muslims and Christians live together peacefully. There have been some miscreants involved in this incident. We are investigating that."
Mohammed Saleem, a correspondent with Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, told Al Jazeera: "It's yet to be ascertained what caused the incident, but the government officials say that ... they have taken into custody two dozen people associated with the banned organisation of Sipah-e-Sahaba."
The outlawed group has in the past been accused of attacking security forces.
Rana Sanaullah, the provincial minister for law, who is also responsible for security matters of Punjab, condemned the attack and said that a preliminary investigation had showed there had been no desecration of the Quran.
"It was just a rumour which was exploited by anti-state elements to create chaos," he said.
The riots prompted angry protests by Christians and human rights activists in Lahore, the Punjab's provincial capital.
Rights groups accused the police of failing to respond quickly enough to prevent the violence from escalating.
Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim nation and religious minorities, including Christians, account for roughly four per cent of the 170 million population.
Muslims and minorities largely live in harmony but there have been periodic attacks on Christian targets in Pakistan.
The ISI, Pakistan's notorious and feared spy agency, comes in from the cold
The entrance is suitably discreet: a single barrier near a small hospital off a busy Islamabad highway. Bougainvillea spills over long walls with barbed wire; a plain-clothes man packing a pistol questions visitors. Further along, soldiers emerge to check for bombs.
Then a giant electric gate slides back to reveal a sleek grey building that would not look out of place on a California technology campus. With one difference: nothing is signposted.
Welcome to the headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan's premier spy agency. Powerful and notorious in equal measure, for decades the ISI has operated behind a dense veil of secrecy, impervious to allegations of election rigging, terrorist training, abduction and assassination. Many Pakistanis call it the "state within a state".
Now, though, the ISI is coming in from the cold. Over the past year the agency has invited a stream of western journalists into its swish, modern nerve centre. Over tea and PowerPoint briefings, spies give details of some of Pakistan's most sensitive issues – the Taliban insurgency, the hunt for al-Qaida, the troubled relationship with India.
"We've started to open up a little," said an ISI official authorised to speak to the press. "In the past, irrespective of whether we did something, we were getting blamed for it. Now we want to reach out and get our point of view across."
Yet rehabilitating the ISI's image would tax the most inventive spin doctor. For 30 years its covert operations have been at the sharp end of Pakistani policy, supporting Islamist extremists fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir, and boosting the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.
At home the agency is viewed with awe and dread. It is the eyes and ears of military power, with huge phone and email monitoring capability and a wide network of informers.
Some Pakistanis refer to its agents – who often wear white shalwar kameez – as "the angels". Under President Pervez Musharraf they abducted hundreds of people, some of whom were allegedly tortured.
Recently, though, it has been the agency's turn to be on the receiving end.
Last May suicide bombers hit an ISI office in Lahore, killing a colonel; in the tribal areas militants have killed 57 agents and wounded 86. Security is tight at the Islamabad headquarters, where last month the ISI asked its next-door neighbour – the city authority – to move to another neighbourhood.
Influencing the local press has always been part of ISI operations, usually through bribes, blandishments or intimidation. But it rarely reached out to the foreign press, until now.
"This is totally unprecedented," said Stephen Cohen, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution policy research organisation in Washington. "It seems to be part of a new openness in the military. They're worried about caricatures of Pakistan, especially in the foreign press, such as people saying the country is going to break up in three months."
The briefings, which take place about once a week, belie the agency's gritty image. Reporters are shepherded into a wood-panelled conference room with soft armchairs, a long table and a wall-mounted screen.
Officials in business suits, who could pass for middle management in any company, introduce themselves without full name or job title.
During the interview liveried servants ferry in trays of tea and fried snacks, served on ISI crockery. Smoking is allowed.
Officials speak openly, but journalists expecting them to gush state secrets may be disappointed. Every talk is carefully vetted in advance. "We're opening up but it's not a total glasnost," said the unofficial spokesman.
The ajar-door policy got off to a rocky start last year when the newly appointed ISI chief, Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha, told Der Spiegel that the Taliban had a right to "freedom of opinion". The agency later said he misspoke. Now, though, it is paying dividends. Two weeks ago a front page lead in the New York Times, highlighting Pakistani concerns with the US military surge in Afghanistan, was sourced from an ISI briefing.
The agency was pleased. "That was the first time [the journalist] carried both sides of the argument," said the ISI official. "I think we are getting there."
The bolder media policy is part of a wider global trend. The CIA and MI6 have always maintained relationships with selected journalists, an engagement whose importance has increased amid the furore over torture and abduction allegations.
For journalists, the challenge is to sift fact from propaganda. In a recent briefing to the Guardian, ISI officials suggested Indian officials had orchestrated last November's Mumbai attacks. The Indians wanted to cover up an investigation into Hindu extremism, they said.
Days later Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman from the massacre, told an Indian court how he had been trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani jihadi outfit with links to the ISI.
In the briefing the ISI also accused New Delhi of supplying arms and explosives to the Pakistan Taliban, even though the Taliban has killed Indians inside Afghanistan.
"Circles within circles," said an ISI official when asked to explain the apparent contradictions. "It makes an excellent plot for a Le Carré novel."
Western officials quietly support some ISI contentions, such as covert Indian support for nationalist rebels in Baluchistan. But more than anything the briefings reveal how the ISI's world view is framed by its decades-old enmity with India.
"They tell you a lot about themselves even when they don't know it," said Bruce Riedel, a retired CIA official, Obama adviser and trenchant ISI critic. The contradiction at the heart of agency policy, he said, is its support for Islamist militants: "That can't be removed by clever briefings."
Still, the old cliches about the spy collective being a "state within a state" or a "rogue agency" are out of date. These days it is said to be firmly in the grip of the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who previously ran the agency for three years.
But the new openness does underscore the country's fragile balance of power. Two weeks ago The Hindu reported that the ISI's Pasha had invited Indian diplomats to deal with him directly, bypassing President Asif Ali Zardari's government.
"Formally, Zardari has a lot of power. But on the ground he's not too strong right now," said analyst and newspaper editor Najam Sethi.
Despite its new openness, the ISI remains in the shadows. One question stands out: as well as improving its image, is it ready to really change its stripes? At headquarters, nobody can give a straight answer. Circles within circles, as they say.
Mohammed Hanif on his homecoming to Pakistan
Many thought he was crazy to swap London for one of the most dangerous countries in the world. But he's happy to be home
After living and working in London for more than a decade, I moved back to Pakistan just over a year ago – and soon realised that the Pakistan I knew had migrated elsewhere. Mainly to the front covers of the sombre current affairs magazines you find in posh dentists' waiting rooms. The world's media had reached a consensus that I had boarded a sinking ship. Time, Newsweek and the Economist have all written an obituary of Pakistan, some twice over. The more caring ones are still holding a wake.
A couple of years ago when we decided to return, Pakistan wasn't exactly the world's safest destination. It was fighting its demons of poverty, the Taliban and a military dictatorship that fostered them. But it very much belonged in this world: a new bank was going up on every street corner and a new generation of media, telecom and property professionals was working overtime to sell bits of the country to each other. It seems that between us negotiating with the removal men and stocking up on jars of Marmite, the various editorial boards across the western world decided that the end of the world was nigh and it would all begin in Pakistan. Channan, my 11-year-old born-and-bred-in- London son, was so miffed by this that when he saw some white people at Karachi airport, he whispered furiously: "What are they doing here? Don't they know it's not a tourist country. They are always saying it's a terrorist country."
Yet I want to suggest an old-fashioned British clarification: all the news about Pakistan's imminent demise is premature. It has its civil wars. It has doomsday visionaries who like to send poor kids to blow themselves up and kill other poor people. But if its peasants and workers shared the doomsday vision, they wouldn't be marching up and down the country demanding better wages and working conditions. We have had five-star hotels and mosques full of worshippers blown up. And we have had something even more sacred – a visiting cricket team – attacked. But over the past two years hundreds of thousands of citizens have also participated in the largest peaceful political movement in South Asia in recent history and brought down the most well-entrenched military dictator in the world. (The deposed General Musharraf, by the way, has just bought himself a house on Edgware Road in London. All dictators turn out to be property speculators. If you spot a man
puffing on a sheesha pipe and lecturing some unsuspecting Arabs about enlightened moderation, avoid eye contact.)
Here in Karachi, when people sit down in the evening they do not discuss what we should do because a leading current affairs magazine has declared us dead. They moan about power cuts and rampant urban crime. They talk about the sex lives of their domestic help and the dumbing down of TV drama. During our year in Karachi we have had many power riots, three general strikes and continuous ethnic tension that has more than once turned bloody. But we have also had one hugely successful film festival, about 40 music concerts, more than 20 plays and hundreds of protests.
Unlike a lot of immigrants in London I never had a frozen, idyllic image of a motherland to cherish and yearn for. First, because my motherland was never idyllic, and, second, my day job in London involved covering Pakistan. But yes, places change and they change when Newsweek is looking somewhere else. For instance it seems that when I moved to Pakistan a significant part of the country decided to cover itself in black hijabs and burkas. They weren't shying away from me, they had just decided that dressing like those women in the Arab desert was cool. The purda-fication of Pakistani women had started years ago but as a visitor I always assumed it was nothing more than a bout of seasonal piety. I grew up in a village in Pakistan where the first burka in the 80s was seen as a sign of vulgarity. It was a conservative village but it was open enough that you could walk into anybody's house; surely someone who decided to cover their face either had a deviant
mind or was camouflaging some new perversion imported from some big city? For days, my late mother went around doing the Punjabi version of "there goes the neighbourhood".
Walking along the Karachi seafront after returning from London, I worked myself into a self-righteous rage at these young women in black burkas hanging out at the beach when they should have been at school or in some mosque praying for our collective salvation. But then I looked closely and found out that many of them were on a date. Some were actually making out, in broad daylight, with men with beards. Covered from head to toe in a black robe, this is quite a spectacle – and provides just the right combination of challenge and opportunity. Walking on the beach with my wife the other day, we stared at a couple who were exploring the full possibilities of the burka, using their motorcycle to lean against. With the Arabian sea lapping at their feet.
At the other end of the fashion spectrum, nattily dressed fashionistas on TV have started mixing piety with plunging necklines. (We have two 24/7 fashion channels. Also three food channels and, at the last count, five religious channels.) They talk about their last shopping trip to Dubai by pouting "masha'Allah" (God willed it) and conclude their plans for next season's collection with "insha'Allah" (if God wills). Depending on what else is happening in the name of religion on that particular day on the news channels (23 and still counting), I find it either very cute or another precursor to the destruction of our civilisation as foretold by the leading magazines.
But despite this the real spirit of Karachi still lies with the people who can't rely on divine intervention, who go through the gruelling daily cycle of life to earn their daily bread with a heartbreaking dignity. Those who do not have the luxury to cover up or doll up (or doll up and then cover up), those who cannot afford to invoke the name of Allah in every conversation, those who do not have a TV or time to watch it and those who will never be on TV except as a backdrop to the latest bomb attack: those are the ones who go to work every morning regardless of what any local or foreign media might be predicting. People such as the brightly dressed transvestites who light up the shores of the Arabian Sea in the evening and turn the beach into a catwalk. They are so elegant and poised that even our nosey police don't mess with them. They have their reasons for dressing up. Begging has become very competitive; our transvestites have to compete with kids
so young that sometimes they forget that they have been put on the streets to beg and not to play.
So how are we doing?
We fretted a lot about moving Channan from London to Karachi but my fears were of a parent who consumed too much news. He has taken to Pakistan like those colonial officers who went from grim British suburbs to hot and noisy Indian cities and became men who knew everything. And wanted to own everything. He remembers London only as an opportunity to buy more gadgets. Family members visiting us there used to chide us for not teaching him proper Urdu or Punjabi. Now not only does he read and write Urdu, sometimes I hear a new slang on the street and go home to ask him what it means. And he always knows; he taught me chappa is no longer a police raid; it's that very un-cool thing when you copy someone's style.
My wife, Nimra Bucha, says she has found tropical plants and her actor's voice. Her one-woman show The Dictator's Wife has been playing to packed houses in Lahore and Karachi. She has also found more old aunts than I can count . . .
As a family we have come to appreciate the fact that we live in a world where the day a bomb doesn't go off somewhere in the country is a pretty good day. And even the power cuts become bearable. In Karachi, people discuss electricity in the same way we used to discuss weather in London; boasting about the capacity of their generators as if they are showing off their holiday snaps. Initially I liked not having electricity for part of the day, a mandatory media fast. I even started reading War and Peace. Then electricity started disappearing six times a day and the May heat slapped us around. We dropped our eco-friendly posturing and bought a generator.
Karachi is still a combination of oddities and surprises. It is the only city in the world where Pakistani cricket legend-turned-politician Imran Khan is banned. In an election where voters were British celebrity magazine editors, Khan could easily have become mayor of somewhere. However, Hello! has limited influence over public opinion in Karachi. But in a bizarre twist, Khan is barred from Karachi by someone who actually lives in London: Altaf Hussain, Karachi's favourite son and its most powerful politican, has been living in exile for more than 15 years. Since he left, his party has won every single election but he prefers to live in Edgware. Like an absentee landlord he runs Karachi as his personal fiefdom. So in a way my life here is still governed by someone who lives in a London suburb.
A journalist colleague pointed out recently that we, the people of Karachi, would much rather live with secular chaos than the Taliban. And every recent election has proved this. Every few days we hear warnings that the Taliban are coming, but Karachi has seen off its share of militant mullahs in the past and doesn't seem bothered. In fact one of the local parties spearheading the protests against the Taliban, or Talibanisation as they like to call it in Karachi, is Sunni Tehrik. With their regulation beards and fiery rhetoric, outsiders wouldn't be able to tell them apart from the Taliban. Their leaders have titles such as Naked Sword and go around the city with Kalashnikov-carrying bodyguards. But they hate the Taliban as much as the next fashionista.
Even our local liquor shop (which is supposed to sell to non-Muslims only, but runs its business on secular lines) put up a poster recently: Beware of Talibanisation.
I am often asked by friends here and there whether I miss London. I am awright in Karachi, masha'Allah. But occasionally I do miss hanging out with friends in a certain pub on the Strand and saying things such as, "Yes please, another organic lager." I hope there will be an opportunity to visit soon, insha'Allah.
• Mohammed Hanif's novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes won the Commonwealth prize for best first novel and is on the shortlist for the James Tait Black Award.
After Taliban, Swat Dancers Come Back
ISLAMABAD — The “Dancers Street” in Swat, which has been deserted for nearly two years, is going to have its old days back as dancers and singers who fled because of Taliban are planning a comeback.
“I’m for sure going back as thAsiaose barbarians, who forced me and several others to leave our homes, have run away,” Rubina Khanum, a 31-year-old Swat dancer and singer, told IslamOnline.net.
She was among many dancers and singers in Mingora, Swat’s capital, who fled after Taliban threats, especially following the killing of local dancer Shabana who refused to give up her profession.
“This is none of Taliban’s business to tell us what is a sin and what is not. It should be left to us to decide what is right and what is wrong.”
Khanum moved to Peshawar, the capital of North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), where she lives in a well-decorated apartment in the posh Hayatabad suburb.
“I have everything here,” she said, dressed in a low-cut green dress and putting on heavy make-up.
“I can have admirers wherever I go. But I want to go back to my home. I miss my street.”
Swat dancers are famous all over Pakistan and are hired by rich families for wedding ceremonies and other private celebrations.
The government announced early in July that the military had "eliminated" Taliban militants in and around the Swat valley after an all-out offensive launched in April.
It said more than 1,700 militants have been killed, though death tolls are impossible to confirm independently.
Swat, once known as Switzerland of Pakistan, was ravaged the past one and half years by fierce fighting between local Taliban and government troops.
Nearly 3 million people were forced to flee their homes.
Mehwish Khan, another Swat dancer, also plans to go back home.
But unlike Khanum, she is fearful.
“No one wants to stay away from his or her home, and so do I. But I’m little scared because the situation has not returned to normal yet,” Mehwish, living in Peshawar with her family, told IOL.
Mehwish, who has worked as a dance teacher for the past year, fled Swat after receiving direct threats from Taliban.
“We became extra careful after receiving letters and dealt with only trustable and special clients,” she recalled.
“But it could not have been kept totally a secret.”
Six months ago, Mehwish received the “last warning” telling her to either die of leave the valley.
“I had two choices. I opted for the second choice.”
She is just hoping Taliban would never come back.
“We want our street to remain light up, and this is possible only if they stay away from Swat.”