Pakistani Operations Against Miliants Cost Women Dearly

Posted June 19th, 2014 at 6:50 pm (UTC+0)
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Pakistan Women IDPs

By Wagma Jalawan

Ameena’s life has changed for the worst since 2008, when Pakistani jets started pounding suspected militant positions in the mountains of Khyber tribal area.

The mother of two and her family were forced to flee their home and village as militants began fighting the military onslaught and the ensuing fighting made life perilous for civilians in the rugged region, near the Afghan border.

Ameena then became another number in the thousands of people who fled Khyber and what were labeled as ‘internally displace persons’ or IDPs, in official jargon and registries of foreign and international aid groups.

Since fleeing her home Ameena, her kids and other family members have been reduced to living in a tent in a squalid camp near Peshawar, the regional capital.

Ameena’s fate and that of the thousands of other IDPs from Khyber tribal area now living in Jalozai brings into focus residents of North Waziristan, who have started to leave their homes in the thousands after the Pakistani military began an offensive in the area.

Since June 15, when Pakistani military announced that a broad operation has been launched to clear North Waziristan of local and foreign militants, the army says scores of insurgents, mainly suspected Uzbeks, have been killed in airstrike and ground offensive.

As had happened in other tribal areas, where military operations against militants has also caused massive displacement of civilian populations, officials expect the same pattern to repeat in North Waziristan. But with most parts of the region under a curfew, the region’s residents say they were facing severe hardships in trying to leave their homes for safety.

Figures vary, but media reports and Pakistani government officials say thousands of families have already left North Waziristan, with some families traveling to neighboring Afghanistan.

FATA Disaster Management Authority, FDMA, a government relief agency responsible for the tribal areas, say a camp was being set up to house IDPs from North Waziristan in Bakakhel, a dry, dusty, windswept plain on the gateway to North Waziristan.

IDPs with means and relatives in other towns have put up with them or have rented homes. But those with fewer resources would be forced to take shelter in Bakakhel, a place that not many consider suitable to live in, especially in the summer heat and scare facilities to protect from the elements.

Getting to Bakakhel is arduous too. IDPs have to pass military checkpoints before they exit North Waziristan. But lines of vehicles stretch for miles at the checkpoints as security officials screen the passing flow of people for suspected militants.

New stories, tales of woes and miseries, specially of women and children, a mostly overlooked segment in the conservative region, seem to be born again, similar or worse than Ameena’s, who said at VOA Deewa Radio’s women show on June 19, that since she has left her mountain home, she hasn’t seen a single normal day. From a lack of enough food to feed the entire family, to children’s sickness and a scarcity of medicines, Ameena sees all of it as part of her everyday existence.

Government helps residents of Jalozai camp, but Ameena says it’s not enough and her family has to make their best efforts to survive, while she longs to be able to return to her home in Khyber.

Khyber Pukhtunkhwa: From Tobacco to Lethal Addictions

Posted June 17th, 2014 at 8:25 pm (UTC+0)
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By Niala Mohammad and Wagma Jalawan

Pakistan International Drug Day

According to a recent UNDOC survey conducted in Pakistan, 5.8% or 6.45 million people of the population in Pakistan between the ages of 15 and 64 use drugs. The thought of a third world country and its people entrenched in war, terrorism and poverty almost justifies these staggering statistics however Muhammad Shahid, the Director General of Narcotics Control Division of Pakistan told VOA Deewa that 70% of the population uses drugs for “fun seeking” and “peer pressure”, an issue that seems more akin to first world problems.

Naswar to Needles

The most prevalent drug use occurs within Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Province, which was the highest compared to other provinces within Pakistan. An estimated 11% per cent of the population in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa uses illicit substances. An astounding 70.7% percent of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa’s population injects drugs daily.

UNODC PWID

Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is more commonly known for its use of natural or plant based substances like naswar (snuff), charas (cannabis) and opium. The derogatory image of a Pashtun male rolling a piece of the green textured snuff under his lip is common visual depicted in Pakistani media. In fact Pashtuns and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa have become synonymous with terms naswar and Taliban.

However UNODC’s recent survey, suggests that the population of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is shifting towards the use of more lethal, synthetic drugs. The most commonly used drugs in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa are cannabis, opioid, tranquilizers and sedatives. The survey shows that 30,000 men and women use amphetamine-type stimulants (or ATS), a synthetic drug created by processing chemical ingredients. These drugs are available in powder, capsule and liquid forms, some popularly known ATS drugs include Ecstasy and Speed.

UNODC DRUG TYPE STAT

Women and Drugs

Many would not assume the sight of a Pashtun female using drugs, even the thought bends the norms of traditional cultural conservatism. Surprisingly, drug use amongst women in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is becoming more common. Shaukat Ullah Khan, a National Research Officer for the UNODC in Pakistan told VOA Deewa that there are 45,000 women in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa who are addicted to one or more drugs. The reasons for the increase in drug use amongst women in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa are unknown but many psychologists believe stress and anxiety to be a major correlating factor.  

Conversely, other research on substance abuse among females in Pakistan suggests drug use as a form of social recreation. Muhammad Shahid, who is spearheading this research, suggests that drug use in women is becoming more prevalent amongst college and university students as a form of “fun”. He also submits that the association to existing drug users and easy access to substance seem to facilitate drug use amongst females in Pakistan.  Muhammad Shahid stated, “the majority of female drug users have fathers, brothers or husbands who are addicts”.

A Regional Dilemma

Muhammad Shahid, told VOA Deewa that 74% of the world’s opium is produced in Afghanistan and 40% of that is routed through Pakistan via Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Baluchistan and supplied to the rest of the world. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa’s proximity to drug trade has made access to illicit substances comparably easier than other provinces.

UNODC MAP2

Drugs and HIV

The survey sheds light on the HIV epidemic in Pakistan. HIV is an issue that Pakistan can no longer ignore, according to a report issued by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Pakistan is said to have an estimated 98,000 people living with HIV. Out of this estimate 51% were said to have contracted the disease from injecting drugs. Dr Fazle Maula, the Project Director HIV/Aids Control Program, Peshawar told VOA Deewa that there are 1,700 reported cases of HIV/AIDs in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

HIV Stats

Many cases go unreported because of societal shame due to lack of awareness. People in the region perceive HIV/AIDS to be a “dirty” disease associated with West and sexual promiscuity, a theory especially popular amongst conservative circles whose source often stems from religious extremists.

Contributions Hameed Ullah, Syed Mudassir Shah

Universities Help Fighit Extremism, says Dr. Ihsan

Posted June 17th, 2014 at 6:17 pm (UTC+0)
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Dr. Ihsan

Deewa Radio Report

Establishing a net-work of Universities and institution of higher education standard across Pakhrunkhwa and particularly in FATA will not only attract more and more students, but help in countering the growing extremism in the region, Prof. Dr. Isan Ali Told VOA Deewa Radio.

“We have enrolled about 7000 students including 36 percent of them girls in the past three years only at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan and efforts are on to accommodate 6000 more students in the near future”, said Dr. Ihsan Ali. He told Deewa Radio that at present, 64 Ph.D teachers are teaching at the University and an equal number have been awarded with scholarships to complete Ph.Ds in different subjects.  He said that state of the art libraries and laboratories have been set up in several newly established universities.

Prof. Dr. Ihsan Ali (SI), Vice-Chancellor, Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan is an eminent researcher, academician and administrator with outstanding record of distinguished services rendered in various fields.

As a student, he got gold medal in his MA Archaeology from University of Peshawar with record marks unbeaten to date, followed by his MA in Field Archaeology from The University College London, UK through British Council scholarship. He did his PhD from one of the world renowned seat of learning, Cambridge University, UK. He travelled worldwide and delivered lectures, in various universities of the world including New York, Pennsylvania, Harvard, Boston, Ohio and California State University in USA, Cambridge, Leicester, Southampton, Sheffield and Glasgow Universities in UK, ULM University Germany etc. He has published over 63 research papers and edited 17 different Volumes of Journals in Archaeology, for University of Peshawar, Peshawar Museum and Hazara University.

After being the Chair of Archaeology, University of Peshawar for three years (1997-2000), he was appointed as Director Archaeology & Museums, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2002, and during his tenure, he has established six Museums and started a new Journal “Frontier Archaeology”. He was appointed the Vice-Chancellor of Hazara University in 2006 to reset the University which was turned into ruins by the devastating earthquake of October 2005. He not only rebuilt the university in the shortest possible time but also established its two campuses at Haripur & Havalien and later upgraded into independent universities.
In 2008, the Govt. assigned him the task of establishing Abdul Wali Khan University at Mardan, with nine Campuses, two of which have now attained the status of independent universities (Bacha Khan University, Charsadda & University of Swabi) and taken to a level where they are rated very high amongst the Public Sector Universities of Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan, recognizing the services, contributions and achievements of Prof. Dr. Ihsan Ali, awarded him with the distinctive Civil Award of “Sitara-e-Imtiaz” in 2013 in the field of Culture in which alone he has to his credit establishing nine Museums in different parts of Pakhtunkhwa.

 

Carrot Or Stick? What to Give Tailiban? Pakistan’s Dilemma

Posted June 11th, 2014 at 6:32 pm (UTC+0)
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Taliban Talks Committee

By Mujeebur Rahman

Pakistan government finds itself in a catch-22 situation whether to launch a full-scale military operation in the tribal areas or to give yet another chance to the hitherto failed peace negotiations to curb the growing militancy in the country.

After the attack on the airport in Karachi leaving 36 people dead including the 10 militants, pressure is mounting on the government to deal with terrorists entrenched in their strong base of North Waziristan. Taliban faction headed by Maulana Fazlullah claimed responsibility for the Karachi attack. The government has not shown any indication whether it plans to launch a military offensive or continue to stick to negotiations with the Taliban. Initial rounds of talks between the two sides bore no fruit.

Support for the negotiation process has narrowed down compared to the hopes when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced, at an all parties’ conference in Islamabad, that he was in favor to talk peace with the militants. Secular political parties like the PPP, MQM and the ANP, which has seen hundreds of its leaders killed by militants in deadly attacks, backed Sharif’s initiative. Imran Khan’s PTI, known for its soft stand on the Taliban and has in the past opposed use of force against the Taliban. Khan, however, supported taking stern action against terrorists in wake of the terror unleashed at Karachi airport by TTP.

Analysts favor use of military means to deal with the Taliban.

Former Ambassador and member of Pakistan’s government nominated peace committee, Rustam Shah Mohmand told VOA Deewa Radio that he was in favor of military operation against perpetrators of the Karachi attack. “Those who do not want to talk and continue to carry out attacks on civilians and the security forces should be brought to justice,” he said adding the government should hold talks with Khan Said, known as Sajna. The Sajna Group has broken away from the mainstream TTP. Mohmand also said government should renew its peace treaty with Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a pro government Taliban commander in North Waziristan. Hafiz Gul Bahadar has been sticking to a 2006 peace agreement with the government.

The right wing political party Jumaat e Islami still wants to own the Taliban. In a tweet from his account, the Amir of Jamaat-e-Islmai, Siraj Ul Haq said “Taliban should not be pushed to the wall, instead, should be embraced.”

Rahimullah Yousafzai, a senior Peshawar-based journalist, who stepped down as member of the

Government Taliban peace committee, told Deewa Radio that the government peace process with the Talbian cannot move forward under the situation. He said “the talks practically are over and the situation is moving in a direction where military operation or fighting between the government and the Taliban is inevitable.” He warned, however, that Taliban have the capability to launch attacks anywhere, anytime.

This is not the first time that talks between the government and the Taliban have been in jeopardy. The TTP accepted PML (N) government’s offer to start a negotiation process but backed out after its leader Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in November 2013. The process resumed later, though, followed by reports that Gen. Sharif told the Prime Minister that time for talks ended after attacks on soldiers in Waziristan.

TTP used US drone strikes as an excuse for launching its attacks, which happen mostly in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. And that is a narrative that right wing political parties and Pakistani media own. But in fact December 26, 2013 was the last day the U.S. carried out a drone strike inside Pakistan. Even after drone strikes had stopped, militants continued to carry our terrorist attacks, killing dozens of people, mostly civilians. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, a web site tracking casualties in militant attacks, about 1893 people were killed in 2014, many of them civilians. Almost after a gap of six months, suspected drone strikes have once again been resumed in Waziristan on Wednesday.

New America Foundation, a U.S. think tank, claims to have tracked every drone strike that has happened inside Pakistan. The group puts the total number of drone attacks over the past decade at around 370. The group says drone strikes have so far claimed the lives of 258 civilians and nearly 1600 militants including more than 50 senior Taliban, al-Qaida and leaders from other affiliated groups. The foundation says no civilian casualty from a drone strike has been reported in 2013. The Pakistani media puts the civilian toll far higher than these figures but they fail to attribute it to a source or where or how they get the data.

According to official figures, more than 60,000 people, mostly Pashtuns have lost their lives to terrorism and Pashtuns continue to pay a deadly price for what is an ongoing scenario on their land.

 

Music For Social Change in Pakistan

Posted June 11th, 2014 at 6:07 pm (UTC+0)
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Laal

By Aurangzeb Khan

“I listened to you a lot-Maulana! But my fate didn’t change so far.”

Many would have tuned into this song of the Pakistan-based Laal musical band. Laal’s music products address issues such as low wages, military might and religious bigotry which led to a short-term ban on the band’s  Facebook page.

It was an attempt to muzzle independent voices on social media, said Taimur Rehman, Laal’s founder. Laal means red and unlike the Laal Mosque in Islamabad, red, stands for progressive thinking in Pakistan too, like the color of progressive leftists world over.

Pakistan recently introduced 3G and 4G technology for mobile phone users to enhance internet speed. Internet speed may increase but the space for free speech and liberal voices is shrinking, despite calls for media freedom by leftist social and political activists. Youtube is still inaccessible in Pakistan. Pakistan has blocked the video sharing since 2012 when the web site featured a video that some deem offensive to Islam.

Laal-a band promoting social and political activism:

Founder of the Laal band Taimur Rehman told VOA Deewa his page was reopened after a two day ban and members of civic society pressed demands the ban be revoked. He said there were some 162 pieces of contents that could not be accessed in Pakistan.  Laal sings Urdu poetry of revolutionary poets of Pakistan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib. They are considered Pakistan’s progressive thinkers who spent years in prison for challenging the state narrative and the all time powerful Mullah.

Laal started sending out its messages in songs in 2007. The band was offering its talent in protest demos of labor unions in the beginning. Its products are available on the social media outlets. The state and private media in Pakistan, however, can’t air  its products as most of them  pointing out the weakest links of the powerful military, government and pro-Taliban mindset. Taimur Rehman said that he didn’t do any thing against state but only point out the injustice in society and government is trying to keep silent such voices by putting ban on media and social media.

Other Music Bands Facing Censor:

Beygairat Brigade (Shameless Brigade) is another Pakistani rock band, formed in 2011. The band became popular when they released their first song ‘Aalu Anday’, a song ridiculing Pakistan’s top politicians and generals. The band’s other song ‘Dhinak Dhinak’ released in May 2013 is criticizing the military’s direct and indirect empowerment of Pakistan. The song was  blocked on the video sharing site Vimeo and no reasons were cited.

Ali Gul Pir is another famous artist for pointing out social injustices through his songs. He has profiled the ban on youtube in Pakistan in his product KholdoBC. The video criticizes the ban on youtube and grills the mainstream TV anchors, cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan tsunami and loopholes in Pakistan’s judicial system. The youtube was banned in Pakistan in 2012 and despite a resolution passed in the parliament, the government has not yet unblocked the access to the youtube.

Taliban websites in Pakistan:

Lahore-based Pakistan high court ordered the government in September 2011 to block access to all websites spreading religious hatred. The order was executed as some were made inaccessible in the country. However, the websites of Taliban and other extremist groups have not been touched. Taliban use their websites for sharing videos of their attacks on military and anti-state messages on such website. The Afghan Taliban website, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is also accessible in Pakistan. Interestingly, either government has blocked these sites not someone has approached a court for requesting ban on websites of the extremists.

History of state censorship in Pakistan:

The muzzling of Pakistan’s leading private Geo News TV during an elected government is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Media censorship is a recurring gin haunting freedom of speech. Its manifestation was seen in the very early years of Pakistan when the state ordered the then famous Civil & Military Gazette (C&MG) in 1949 after it published a story that Pakistan and India were devising a formula on partition of Kashmir

The then military Dictator Gen Ayub Khan within the first week of his coup detained progressive writers Syed Sibt-e-Hassan, Ahmed Nadim Qasimi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who worked for Progressive Papers Limited (PPL), a leftist publication house. The government established National Press Trust and the PPL papers were handed over to the newly state body.

The elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto didn’t spare the media freedom, However, Bhutto’s successor and military ruler general Zia ul Haq used the heaviest hand against media. The general flogged four journalists within 90 minutes in 1978 four after a phony court delivered the verdict.

The democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were no better than military dictatorships. The two civilian leaders had failed during their rule to protect media against military excesses or threats by religious extremists.

 

CPJ and RSF Reaction on GEO Suspension

Posted June 6th, 2014 at 7:04 pm (UTC+0)
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By Rahman Bunairee

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) regard PEMRA’s action as “punitive and an overreaction on the [Pakistani] governments part.”

CPJ RSF

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), has suspended GEO TV’s license for 15 days and fined them Rs 10 million for a complaint issued by the Defense Ministry.  The complaint was issued to PEMRA by the Defense Ministry in regards to Amir Mir’s accusations, which claimed that the ISI and their Chief General Zahir ul Islam were behind the assassination attempt on his brother Hamid Mir; a renowned journalist and anchor for GEO TV. Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), have denied these accusations.

Bob Dietz of the CPJ told VOA Deewa that “there is a real vendetta being taken out against GEO for the way it handled the attack on Hamid Mir. It is not a good indicator of who is controlling the media in Pakistan.” 

Bob Dietz

This isn’t the first time that GEO TV has had their license revoked by PEMRA. On May 9, 2014-PEMRA announced that GEO’s license had been suspended but this controversial decision was overturned within hours.

Both International and regional reporters associations believe that PEMRA was under duress by the ISI. While Bob Dietz of CPJ believes, “It is easy to blame the ISI, but PEMRA has to take responsibility for its actions”, others like Iqbal Khattak of RSF believe GEO TV license was suspended due to “pressure from certain quarters”.

Over the past month, cable operators in Pakistan had stopped providing GEO TV broadcast to 90% of Pakistan. Many suspect that the country’s powerful spy agency is behind this halt. GEO issued a statement expressing that they felt as if the regulatory body of PEMRA has “been punishing the channel” in regards to the Hamid Mir case. They further added that the channel has apologized and suffered Rs 2 billion in losses.

Employees of Pakistan's biggest television station Geo TV attend a protest in Karachi

Meanwhile regular viewers have been suffering alongside with GEO TV. Laila Khan told VOA Deewa, “My father usually watches GEO news on TV and I watch GEO’s dramas…but we can’t watch our shows anymore.” 

Iqbal Khattak stated, “closing GEO TV for 15 days is the worst decision in regards to freedom of press.”

contribution by Niala Mohammad

The US-Taliban Prisoner Swap

Posted June 6th, 2014 at 3:30 pm (UTC+0)
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Obama Captured SoldierU.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is pictured in handout photo provided by U.S. Army

by Niala Mohammad

On May 31st, 2014 the US-Taliban prisoner swap took place, just weeks after President Barack Obama announced his withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan. Reactions about the prisoner exchange have been mixed. Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the Middle East Institute told Deewa Radio that although Americans applaud the release of the American soldier, they are critical of the terms and conditions under which the exchange took place. However, it may seem that the suspicion of the terms and conditions have overridden feelings of joy for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release. There has been a drastic drop in support for Bergdahl, the local hero of Hailey, Idaho. Rumors of Bergdahl deserting his post and fears that he has “gone native” have swept social media where #BergdahlTraitor is trending on Twitter.  In fact, Bowe Bergdahl’s hometown has cancelled his homecoming celebrations due to security concerns.

Initiating Talks

Many think that the exchange took place as a show of good will, in order to initiate talks. Anand Gopal, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes”, told Deewa Radio that the exchange creates the possibility of promoting talks between the US and the Taliban.

On the other hand, many consider this exchange as undermining of the authority of the Afghan Government. President Hamid Karzai, has been particularly disturbed by what he refers to as a “secret” exchange and was quoted in Reuters by a source from the presidential palace saying, “How come the prisoner exchange worked out so well, when the Afghan peace process failed to make any significant progress?”.

karzai obama

Propaganda Victory

The Taliban view the prisoner exchange as a “major propaganda victory”, says Anand Gopal. In fact, the Taliban produced videos of the prisoner exchange has gone viral. One such video of the 5 detainees arriving in Qatar is dubbed over with “Jihadi music”, with vocals and lyrics in Pashto such as “Marhaba, bandi janana khi raghley, wayam tabriki janana khi raghley” (Translation: Welcome and good tiding imprisoned soul, I say congratulations and good tidings) welcoming the prisoners back. Taliban spokesman Mujahid told VOA reporter Ayaz Gul in Islamabad that shortly after posting the video, their website “Voice of Jihad” went down for a few hours due to overwhelming visitor traffic.

Dr. Marvin Weinbaum stated, “It’s not surprising that the Taliban would use this exchange to suggest that perhaps they have scored a victory. But in realistic terms it doesn’t change anything on the ground. It’s going to be very difficult to say that somehow that this has boosted moral to the point where they become a more effective fighting force.”

The Future of the Released Detainees

What is the guarantee that the released prisoners; Mullah Mohammad Fazil (also known amongst his peers as “Mazlum” or oppressed-an ironic title for a man with an alleged human rights violations record), Noorullah Noori, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Mohammad Nabi Omari will not rejoin the Taliban? The fact is that there is no guarantee that they won’t re-join the Taliban. However, Anand Gopal mentioned that “over the years there have been 12 or 13 high ranking Taliban who have been released from Guantanamo; most of them have returned to civilian life but there are a couple of prominent exceptions who rejoined the fight.”

But even if these men were to rejoin the Taliban, what would their impact be now? Kate Clark, a senior member of the Afghan Analyst Network told VOA reporter Ayaz Gul in Islamabad, “If they were extremely important people in 2001, we do not know what they are now, what sort of men they are now. They have been in detention for 13 years. They have been away from a movement that has changed erratically. They Taliban now is very, very different from how it was in 2001.” 

Indeed the Taliban is very different from what it was in 2001, time will tell how much authority and recognition they gain worldwide or lose amongst their peers from this exchange. 

Links for VOA Deewa Radio interviews with Dr. Marvin Weinbaum and Anand Gopal

Niala IV with Dr Marvin Weinbaum on Prisoner Exchange

Niala IV with Anand Gopal on Prisoner Exchange

“Analysts Unclear on Impact of Taliban Prisoner Release” by Ayaz Gul (VOA Islamabad) http://www.voanews.com/content/analysts-unclear-on-impact-of-taliban-prisoner-release/1930151.html

 

Release of US Soldier Brings Taliban Gitmo Detainees Into Focus

Posted June 4th, 2014 at 7:45 pm (UTC+0)
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Guantanamo Bay

By Iftikhar Hussain

 

I am not sure whether I have seen any of the five former Taliban detainees, who have been released in exchange for the U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but I have seen prisoners at the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a visit in the summer of 2010. Behind barbed wire fences and guard towers the dark prison cells were clustered together. On that summer day, some of the Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners could be seen clothed in light white and half white dresses in the courtyard of their camps.

The five Taliban released last week by the U.S. in exchange for its soldier Bergdahl are high ranking Taliban leaders and have spent roughly 13 years of their life in Guantanamo Bay. American officials say “war criminals” captured from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan are being held since 2001.

The released Taliban leaders identified by the U.S. and as well as by a Taliban video released Wednesday, are Khairullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, 47, who was Taliban’s interior minister and governor of Herat province and administrative chief for southwestern Afghanistan; Mullah Mohammad Fazil Mazloom, also 47, is a former Taliban army chief; Mullah Noorullah Noori, 47, was Taliban’s administrative chief for northern regions; Abdul Haq Wasiq, 43, was the deputy chief of intelligence for the Taliban and Mohammed Nabi Omari, 46, was Taliban’s border security commander.

Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Odierno, said in a statement Wednesday that “It was always a high priority that every soldier deployed to Afghanistan would return home.  We will never leave a fallen comrade behind.”

On the way to Guantanamo or Gitmo: The weather was hot and humid. About 40 reporters from across the world lined up at the Gitmo main military media facility to get ready for a visit. “Keep in mind the ground rules, all you have the copies,” said Major Tanya Bradsher, the U.S. military coordinator for media, pointing out to the visiting reporters that each one has been given copies of rules on what they could or could not do during the visit.

The group of media persons was divided into print, radio and television. At first news briefing that afternoon, the U.S. officials told us, “the initial figure at the beginning was 751 but now we have only 180 detainees. They come from 30 countries. Out of them 40 are from Yemen.” Later, answering my questions on different occasions, the U.S. officer said that there were detainees from Afghanistan and Pakistan but they would not provide the break down.

The orange dress image: For a person who has not seen Gitmo, the image is of men blind-folded and handcuffed wearing orange jump suits. The first Gitmo camp I saw was just a deserted barbed wired facility. Our military guide pointed out, “it used to be the first of all camps where detainees had to wear the orange suits but the camp was shifted to a full-fledged facility on the next side after a few months.” From behind a female reporter working for a US media outlet said, “And obviously the stand-alone wired make-shift shelter is the place where the Yamani detainee was separately kept because he did excessive masturbation.” What? I said unintentionally.

A journalist view of the Gitmo: On the small, 45 square-mile island of Guantanamo, as we drove on a small bumpy road through the acacia shrubs sprawling on the crusty ground and passed the military barricades, the uniformed men and women escorting media persons disciplined the crew of four reporters. “We are at the Delta camp. Let’s go and keep in mind the ground rules,” the 22-year old American woman soldier said in a nice but imposing voice. The camp, secured by barbed wires and guarded by high positioned check posts was further divided into small cells with a bed and a rest room. I saw the detainees watching soccer on a big screen TV in the court yard with their headsets on. In the next chamber, saw a guard handing over food to a detainee.

 

Guantanamo Iftikhar 2

A detainee’s life in Guantanamo: As a reporter I was curious about the lives of Gitmo detainees inside the cells but I found out the curiosity of a common listener was more than that when they asked me multiple questions in a one-hour show Deewa Radio conducted on the life of Gitmo detainees on June 16, 2010. “A detainee is allowed to pray, keep fast, exercise for hours, read and occasionally talk to his family over the phone, if his status allows,” said the cultural advisor at the facility. They may not like the food, will throw it back and shout at the guard but that’s understandable,” the advisor told me. I saw Quran in the library of Gitmo and 1400 books of different themes and when somebody pray, calm was observed by all around. They prayed together and there was formal Friday sermons were observed.

  Guantanamo Iftikhar

Gitmo trials –inside view of a Gitmo court room: The trials were conducted by military commissions and the judges are unformed military officers.  I saw the Umar Khaddar trial, a Canadian citizen of Egyptian origin, who was 15-year-old. Each time he would be brought to the court room blindfolded in a vehicle to the courtroom. He sat on a chair chained and a pin-drop silence would prevail as the military judge of colonel rank ordered the court proceedings to start. Security is was so tight that looking in a different direction was noted by the military guards behind the chairs in the court. Interestingly, the defense and plaintiff were not present at the same time for arguments but representatives from human right groups and the Red Cross regularly attended the proceedings.

As of May 14, 2014, there were 154 detainees at the Guantanamo detention facility, according to a recent CNN report. The network says At least seven detainees have died in custody. It costs the U.S. Defense Department about $150 million a year to run the detention center.

Pakistan’s New Budget, FATA, KP, Baluchistan Overlooked?

Posted June 3rd, 2014 at 7:34 pm (UTC+0)
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SC Burqa

By Iftikhar Hussain

Pakistan’s budget for the year 2014-15 is an ambitious one and full of promises as usual. If one takes Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on his words that said in his budget speak in Parliament on Tuesday, Pakistan will be a beautiful place and most of its problems would be gone by next year. A deficit budget, with the economic jugglery apart, was missing many things especially for the common man and the peripheries – FATA, KP and Baluchistan. The budget reflecting an industrial mindset targets big infrastructure projects, increase in industrial output supported by high energy sector spending to power the manufacturing sector. Defense spending dominates the annual allocations and agriculture, education, health and human development remains ignored as usual.

Main outlays of the budget/defense’s lion share: The total outlay of the budget is Rs 3.945 trillion and a Public Sector Development Program allocated at Rs 525 billion. Defense allocations are Rs 700 billion increased by 11 percent as compared to Rs 635 billion the previous year. The health allocations are 26.8 billion while the education outlay still remains meagre, under two percent. The government, though, has commitment to make it five percent by 2018.  Defense traditionally takes the lion’s share in the budget of this developing nation with meagre resources where critics say there is no civilian audit of where and how the military spends its huge share. Critics say on top of the annual allocations, Pakistan military aid like the millions of dollars paid under the US coalition support funds remains untracked.

For a common Pakistani what does the budget means/Cheap & expensive items in the budget: The budget proposes tax cuts on construction machinery, fertilizers, medicines, booking charges for wedding halls, cellular phones calls and registration fees for non-governmental organizations.  The budget also puts no additional taxes on meat and beef, milk, creams other dairy products. The impact of his has yet to be seen.

Agriculture and small loans for farmers: The budget says that to encourage use of tractors by the growers it is proposed that the sales tax is reduced by 10 percent. Government has increased credit availability to agriculture sector from a targeted Rs 315 billion to Rs 380 billion, Dar adds. The State Bank has now decided to enhance overall credit to Rs500 billion for the year 2014-15.

Job creation: Signature program and promoted as engine for the new jobs growth is the introduction of 3G and 4G technology in the country and the budget says it will create 900,000 jobs in the country. The details and breakdown is unavailable.

Salaries, pensions and minimum wage: The PMLN government has promised in the budget to raise the minimum wage form 10,000 to 12,000 and keep pension 6,000 at minimum monthly. Federal employees’ salaries been raised by 10 percent but given the two digit inflation in the country the raise would hardly make any difference for the salaried class.

Punjab Vs Peripheries: The only specific announcement the war-hit people of KP, FATA and Baluchistan heard in the budget speech was the exemption of machinery and tax breaks for fruits plants in a region where the already more than 80 percent of the existing industry has closed down or sick due to the prevailing law and order situation. On the contrary, if power subsidy cuts are implemented, Baluchistan farming would suffer and Pakistan would have to lose 60 percent of the apple production to say the least just as an example. Experts say PMLN government usually champions mega project for political reasons and the budget has allocations of Rs 30 billion for a 1186 KM highway from Lahore to Karachi.

Critics accuse PML_N government of overlooking the financial troubles of smaller provinces and focusing more on Punjab, its political power base. A central government can mitigate economic worries of smaller provinces through its budget but has Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government taken care of them, is likely to be raised by opposition lawmakers when they get the chance to speak on the budget.

 

 

Dildar Garai, Charsadda- The Epicenter of Kohl Production in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa

Posted May 29th, 2014 at 8:15 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

By Niala Mohammad & Shoaib Zada

Adorning the eyes and marking the chin with ranjeh or kohl are an essential part of the beautification process for Pashtun women. Ranjeh is a staple beauty product that almost every Pashtun women has in her possession.

Many poets have written about their beloved’s kohl filled “intoxicating” eyes. Hence many traditional Pashto songs are dedicated to ranjeh. Songs such as “Zi che pa thoro stirgo thor ranjeh kam poreh morey, Zwani mey ghoreh morey, judaa la yaarah” or “Sta thorey stirgeh zama yaadegi” come to mind quickly.

Ranjeh-The Family Business

Dildar Garai village in Charsada is popularly known for its production of ranjeh or galena. Galena is the natural mineral form of lead sulfide; it is grinded into a powder and used to adorn the eyes. Masaood Khan and his family have very modestly been living off of the production and sale of ranjeh for generations. It is a family business that has been passed down to him from his father and before that his grandfather.

ranjeh1  

The History Behind “Ranjeh” or Kohl

It was said that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use this in order to reduce the glare of the desert sun and to repel flies, which were a potential source of disease at the time.Similar myths still hold true in Afghanistan and Pakistan where Pashtuns believe “ranjeh” is used to lubricate the eyes. There is also the added religious notion that wearing kohl is “sunnah” of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Hence many women, men and children decorate their eyes with eyeliner as it is widely believed to improve eyesight and strengthen eyelashes.

Ranjeh Becomes Popular in the West

The fad reached the west a few years back and now many top brand cosmetic companies such as Guerlain, MAC, and L’Oreal Paris are using galena in its powder form claiming that it provides “deep, dark, light weight and fully opaque coverage”. Other brand name make-up companies such as Dior, Smashbox, Laura Mercier, and Make Up Forever use kohl in its hardened stick or pencil form. Walking into Sephora, you will find Guerlin sells their loose powder kohl product for $38 a bottle (approximately 3,751 PKR).

Sephora Kohl

Profit Margins Worlds Apart

Unfortunately, the immense profit of this product isn’t known to those who produce it in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Young men in Dildar Garai, like Masaood Khan whose family business is ranjeh production have no clue that the same product is sold by cosmetic companies like Guerlain for $38.Masaood Khan’s family sells their ranjeh for 10 rupees (or 10 cents) per packet or a dozen for 60 rupees (60 cents).

ranjeh5

For a little extra, you can purchase a quilted mini satchel to place the power in or if you prefer something more fancy, you can purchase a traditional silver ampule.

ranjeh2ranjeh4

 

Contribution by Arshad Mohmand (Pakistan)

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