Friday, April 28, 2006

I tell y'all this man is not a Poodle!


Musharraf has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth quite frequently and he has obviously done it again while giving an interview to the UK Guardian.

The UK Guardian's editors, for reasons known to them, chose the heading and twisted the knife ever so slightly by adding the word ‘insists’. By choosing this word it made it sound as if the newspaper didn’t quite believe Musharraf’s protests to the contrary. So it goes:

Musharraf insists: I'm not George Bush's poodle

Well, what else could you expect from a liberal newspaper.

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Blogger's Comment on the Interview

With his popularity in a tailspin, it does seem as if Musharraf is a worried man. Part of the problem lies in the fact that he has opened one too many front for his own good. But then again he is a Pakistani commando – he acts before he thinks.

His regime’s position in Waziristan is fast becoming untenable. A couple of days he had to eat humble pie when he declared ‘Troops will be pulled out of Waziristan if the tribesmen cooperate’. A one-way compromise in Waziristan seems definitely on the cards, but I fear it will make no difference to the Taliban.

In Balochistan it appears to me that it is more of a case of personal ego. One can surmise this from the language he uses when talking about the Baloch leadership. Even in this latest Guardian interview he cannot refrain from calling them ‘pygmies’ and 'mercenaries', and the insurgency mere 'pinpricks’. The use of thousands of troops, helicopter gunships and air force bombers clearly belies his rhetoric.

A Baloch acquaintance recently told me this:
Fifty-five plus years ago when Musharraf was still in his shorts playing gulli-danda people like Akbar Bugti and Khair Buksh Marri were men of social and political significance. Culturally arrogant, these men remain disdainfully contemptuous of him, treating him as somewhat of an upstart. Musharraf, who has in recent times become accustomed to being feted in the White House, Downing Street and the Kremlin, is personally outraged by their behaviour, especially when the rest of Pakistan happily kowtows before him (however temporarily). It has become a personal issue with him and he sees red whenever mention is made of them.

I think there is more than a grain of truth in what he said.

Anyhow, do read the interview.


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Musharraf insists: I'm not George Bush's poodle

· General says US air strikes infringe sovereignty

· President denies running military dictatorship

Declan Walsh and Simon Tisdall in Rawalpindi, Friday April 28, 2006

The Guardian

General Pervez Musharraf, facing a surge of anti-American sentiment, yesterday warned that covert US air strikes against al-Qaida inside Pakistan were an infringement of national sovereignty.

Admitting that his popularity was waning, the Pakistani president insisted he was "not a poodle" of George Bush and rejected accusations he was running a military dictatorship.

Speaking to the Guardian at Army House in Rawalpindi weeks after a tense visit by the US president that brought a torrent of domestic criticism, Gen Musharraf insisted he was his own man.

"When you are talking about fighting terrorism or extremism, I'm not doing that for the US or Britain. I'm doing it for Pakistan," he said. "It's not a question of being a poodle. I'm nobody's poodle. I have enough strength of my own to lead."

If necessary he had "teeth" to bite back, he added. "Yes sir, I personally do. A lot of teeth. Sometimes the teeth do not have to be shown. Pragmatism is required in international relations."

Gen Musharraf pledged to hold free and fair elections next year as urged by Mr Bush during his visit to Islamabad last month. Opposition parties fear the poll, which government officials claim will be the most open since Gen Musharraf seized power in 1999, will be rigged.

"It is ironic that I'm sitting in uniform talking of democracy ... but to bring democracy into Pakistan I thought I needed it," he said.

An American Predator drone fired Hellfire missiles at a house in Bajaur tribal agency in January, killing 18 people but missing their target, al-Qaida's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The attack near the Afghan border caused public uproar and brought renewed accusations that Gen Musharraf was a US puppet.

Local journalist Hayatullah Khan, who photographed missile fragments linking the strikes to the US, disappeared four days later and is still missing. A western diplomat said he was probably being held by Pakistani intelligence and may have been mistreated.

The strike underlined tensions in the anti-terror alliance between Pakistan and the US, which has also been strained by Washington's nuclear deal with India, its insistence on democratic reforms, and alleged American meddling in the sprawling south-western province of Baluchistan. "The strike was an infringement of our sovereignty and I condemned it," said Gen Musharraf.

Pakistan also faces criticism from the US and Afghanistan for not doing enough to flush extremists from its tribal areas. Mr Bush said he had come to Islamabad "to determine whether or not the president is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice".

Gen Musharraf insisted yesterday there was no question of Pakistan submitting to American scrutiny and said claims that his government acted at Washington's bidding were nonsense. "There is no need of any checks - that is the reality," he said.

Gen Musharraf, who faces revolts in Baluchistan and along the Afghan border, admitted to feeling embattled. He added that there was a growing problem of "Talibanisation" in Waziristan, a troubled tribal area where several hundred al-Qaida suspects have been killed.

The battle against al-Qaida was almost won in Waziristan, he said. "Because of our successes in the cities where we got 600-700 of them, and then in the mountains where we occupied their sanctuaries, thankfully they are on the run."

But a new form of local fundamentalism was taking its place in Waziristan, which is ruled directly from Islamabad under colonial-era laws. "Extremism in a Talibanised form is what people are now going for. Mullah Omar and the Taliban have influence in Waziristan and it's spilling over into our settled areas."

This week militants occupied a market in the regional capital, Miran Shah, for several hours, burning newspapers and threatening local people. Two taxi drivers accused of collaborating with coalition forces in nearby Afghanistan were found beheaded. More than 150 pro-government elders and officials have been killed in the past year.

Gen Musharraf defended his tactic of using military force instead of negotiation to quell the violence and said some collateral damage was inevitable when militants' hideouts were attacked.

"We take extreme care to be 100% sure of the target from all sources of intelligence ... There is minimum collateral damage. If someone happens to be very close to [the target], that somebody is an abetter and they suffer the loss. Sometimes, indeed, women and children have been killed but they have been right next to the place. It's not that the strike was inaccurate but they happen to be there, so therefore they are all supporters and abetters of terrorism - and therefore they have to suffer. It's bad luck," he said.

Gen Musharraf also played down unrest in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan, where nationalist militants are blowing up gas pipelines and trains and attacking army positions. He described the rebels as "mercenaries" and their attacks as "pin pricks", and said the disturbances were confined to one-twentieth of the province's area.

"So what revolt are you talking about? People talk about an East Pakistan situation," he said, referring to the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. "I understand strategy. These people are pygmies."
Criticism of his military-driven strategy came from "people who sit in drawing rooms and talk", he said, but added that a political solution was also being sought.

Gen Musharraf has survived two assassination attempts but elections scheduled for next year are expected to pose the greatest threat yet to his grip on power. Overt and behind-the-scenes US and British pressure for a free poll has become another friction point in the west's relationship with Islamabad.

The leaders of the two main opposition parties, Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, are in exile and face arrest if they return home. Meeting in London this week they launched a fresh political alliance and called for western support.

Gen Musharraf said his mission was to democratise Pakistan. "My popularity has gone down ... but at this moment my country needs me. I've put a strong constitutional democratic system in place. That will throw up a successor. I'm a strong believer in democracy."


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Mush the Nervous


Today’s Daily Times reported that the Musharraf regime has blocked local access to a number of Baloch websites.
The PTA cited “misinformation” as the reason for banning the websites. The banned sites are:
www.baloch2000.org
www.sanabaloch.com
www.balochfront.com
www.balochvoice.com
This news got me thinking.

First thought that occurred to me was that the military regime does not appear to be so sensitive about news from Waziristan as it is about Balochistan.

Why would this be so?

Well after a few moments though I concluded (rightly or wrongly) it’s because Waziristan is recognised as an international issue because of its ‘War on Terror’ dimensions and its complexities are well understood.

The same is, however, does not apply to Balochistan. The insurgency in the province is an act of political dissent against Islamabad (to be more precise: Mush & his Khakis) and has not, as yet, acquired an international dimension. Hence the regime is quick to quell all stories contradicting the official sanitised version originating from Islamabad.
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As your Blogger believes that undemocratic regimes generally resort to banning alternative news sources, especially more so when they fear being caught out lying, so he decided to check out these banned websites to see what this bout of official nervousness was all about.

(If the reader is in a hurry, then I suggest you skip over the review of the first three websites and get to the last on the list)


Baloch2000.org
This website provides information on the culture, history and geography of Balochistan and its people. It is basically non-political and insists it ‘doesn’t belong to any specific group or organisation.

Comment: What probably annoys Islamabad about this website is that it lists dozens of links to other Baloch websites while carrying an advisory: ‘listing a web site herein does not mean we approve of such web sites’. Sorry Baloch2000, obviously the Mush boys don’t like you providing those links to anyone no matter how innocent your claim may be.


SanaBaloch.com
This website belongs to Sanaullah Baloch, a senior representative of Balochistan National Party and currently member of Pakistan’s Senate. The website is currently under re-construction but I was able to obtain a Google cache of its previous main page which contained nothing more harmful than a brief political bio of Sana Baloch

Comment: As the website is currently under construction and therefore unavailable, Islamabad’s ban is inexplicable. One can only imagine is that they are already nervous about its potential to spread news contrary to the official version.


BalochFront.com
The website belongs to an organization called the Balochistan United Front of Iran (BUF-Iran) which uses this Balochi language website ostensibly: “to let the world know what is going on in Balochistan as well as in Iran. One of the aims of BUF-Iran is to voice the grievances of an oppressed people whose weeping and cry cannot be heard by the outside world”

Comment: As 99% of the people in the world don’t understand a word of Balochi, the websites’ aim ‘to let the world’ is doomed from the very start’. Preaching to the already converted is not going to get them very far.


BalochVoice.com
At first sight this website seems to provide articles and news items on the Baloch insurgency but then you hit the jackpot – there are downloadable photos and videos that clearly contradict all of Islamabad’s recent assertions.

The Baloch Voice website insists that Pak air force jets has been busy bombing Marri tribesmen using MK-82 bombs and provides digital photos to prove its case.

The crater shown in the above photo (taken from this website) clearly demonstrates that aerial bombing is indeed taking place in Balochistan.

There are several photos showing shattered metal parts from aerial bombs with US markings still on them. There is one solid metal cylinder piece marked ‘Valve Solenoid’ manufactured by ‘Wright Components Inc, Clifton Springs, New York”. Other bits and pieces have things like ‘Fin Guide’ and ‘For use on MK’ visibly written on them.

Comment: Just by Googling ‘MK-82’ and ‘Valve Solenoid’ your Blogger discovered the following:

From Wikipedia:
The Mark 82 is an unguided, general-purpose bomb…and one of the most common air-dropped weapons in the world.
Add in the 'valve solenoids' and the 'fins' then you get an upgraded version: Mk82 Snake-Eye which is described in a defence discussion group as:

The Snake Eye uses folding fins to slow the bomb down and give a more precise hit, also on low level missions it gives the plane a chance to escape the blast zone. The fuse extender is used for anti infantry type work and it may also work on the soft skinned APCs and such. All it does is explode the bomb several feet above the ground. The ultimate troop dispersal weapon.
Hmmm…I would also ban Balochvoice.com instantly, otherwise unsuspecting people will quickly discover that Musharraf and co have been lying through their teeth once again.

Clearly apart from being rocketed by the US provided helicopter gunships (actually given to deal with Al-Qaeda/Taliban) the Baloch insurgents have also been getting pummelled by the Air Force jet bombers as well.

Bravo Mush the Courageous!






Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Musharraf's Wisdom

Musharraf has had unbridled power in Pakistan for nearly eight years. To the best of my knowledge no one has so far bothered to collate some of his notable utterances. To make up for this deficiency I have attempted to make a start.
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I will set up a small-sized federal cabinet headed by myself – Nov 1999

Comment: As of April 2006 we have a federal cabinet of 61 (including ministers of state) - the largest in Paki stan’s history.


I think now, frankly, Osama bin Laden is dead - Jan 2002

Comment: So we now seem to have his perfect double that keeps sending videos to Al-Jazeera threatening murderous doom to all the Bushites in this world.


My brothers and sisters I want to assure you that this Presidential referendum will be free, fair and transparent - In an address to the nation on 29 April 2002

Comment: The only thing ‘free, fair and transparent’ about the preposterous referendum was the money the crowds were given to watch Musharraf don strange looking turbans and other peculiar head apparel in the belief they enhanced his appeal.


There is no corruption at the top of my government - June 2003

Comment: Now which government could he possibly be alluding to?


The allegations that Taliban or Al Qaeda elements are reuniting in Pakistan are lies - Dec. 2003.

Comment: The man obviously doesn’t regard FATA (Waziristan, etc) as part of Pakistan.


Defence Housing Authorities are the top residential societies which are contributing to the country’s development, so why should ‘pseudo intellectuals’ keep questioning military’s involvement? – August 2004

Comment: The military is the largest real estate agent in Pakistan – can’t think of any other country in the world where the military plays a remotely similar role.


I emphatically deny that either the Pakistani civilian governments or the Pakistan military had any knowledge of Dr Khan’s operations. I personally knew nothing, nothing absolutely, about what was going on - Dec 2004

Comment: Read my blog Messrs.Dr. No and Dr. Khan & The little matter of North Korea



Army is in the barracks and have no role in politics. It is the prime minister and his cabinet who run the affairs of the country - April 2005

Comment: Isn’t it time Shaukat Aziz was made aware of this as well?



Sharon is a bold man, a great soldier, a courageous leader – May 2005

Comment: While trying to please Bush the man takes leaves of his senses by confessing admiration for the coldblooded swine who, among other things, arranged for their Phalangist mercenaries to massacre 3500 innocent civilians unarmed men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.


The current local government system is not simply ‘my’ system; it belongs to the people of Pakistan - July 2005

Comment: Yup, as all elections so far have been rigged, his logic suggests the failure in leadership has to be "the damn fool public’s" fault


I personally ordered a travel ban on Mukhtar Mai from travelling to the United States because she would bad-mouth Pakistan - June 2005

Comment: I wonder which law our law-abiding leader invoked to legalise the travel ban? Could it have been a borrowing from an ancient Mughal law of imperial tantrum?


I have decided that I will remove my uniform by December 2004 and relinquish the office of the Chief of the Army Staff- In an address to the nation on 24 Dec. 2003

Comment: Nothing needs to be added here.


Al-Qaeda does not exist in Pakistan any more - July 2005

Comment: All the foreign militants the Pakistanis soldiers having been chasing and getting killed by in Waziristan were simply figments of their imagination.


Leave the developing world aside; I think we are better than all of them. Bring the developed world and let us compare Pakistan's record, under me, a uniformed man, with many of the developed countries. I challenge that we will be better off. -
12 Sept. 2005

Comment: What planet is the man living on? Today Pakistan is often being compared to sub-Saharan African countries.


This has become a moneymaking concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped - 12 Sept. 2005

Comment: The guy deserves the misogynist jerk of the year award for this statement.


Stunned by the reaction to his comments on women 'queuing to get raped', Musharraf went on record and emphatically denied making them by
saying:"Let me say with total sincerity that I never said that, and it has been misquoted. These are not my words, and I would go to the extent of saying I am not so silly and stupid to make comments of this sort.

Comment : I pass it over to the Washington Post Editorial staff who threw back his very words at him - i.e. for being ‘silly and stupid enough to make comments of this sort’ . The newspaper then placed a damning Internet video recording of Musharraf in which he is seen uttering the very words he had so vigorously denied as saying, thus proving him to be a complete liar.



Let me tell you, the people of Punjab will topple any government which tries to shelve the Kalabagh dam after it has started – Dec. 2005 (Contributed by a reader

Comment: Thanks for reminding us just who really matters in Pakistan.


Consensus or no consensus, the Kalabagh dam will go ahead – Dec 2005

Comment: Musharraf, a month later: ‘Public opinion…is not fully on board. I respect this public opinion’. I wonder what happened to the resolute determination he so adamantly displayed a month earlier?



Unlike previous leaders I have courage to face problems squarely – Dec 2005

Comment: If he is so courageous then why hasn't he fulfilled his constitutional commitment as 'President' to address the joint assembly of parliament for the past number of years?


Every soldier in the Pakistan Army is on my side - April 2006

Comment: An absolute raving miracle! Not even the greatly celebrated commanders in history who actually won battles – such as Alexander, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Napoleon – could lay claim to such incredible devotion. Musharraf's claim to be able to walk on water can’t be that far away.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BBC on Waziristan (Part Three)




In his third piece Aamer Ahmed Khan tells us that in Waziristan:





  • The Pakistan government has completely conceded its writ to the Taliban.
  • There was not a government soldier in sight throughout the three-hour journey he took from Dera Ismail Khan District to Wana.
  • It is "Al-Qaeda Central"- armed to their teeth Taliban fighters can not only be seen patrolling the main roads in small groups but the local town bazaars are also ‘crawling’ with them.
  • The only military options open for Pakistan is to either carpet-bomb the place - killing every man, woman and child - or engaging in hand-to-hand combat outside every house in area to flush out the foreign militants. Either option would cause heavy military and civilian losses.

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The Taleban stronghold of Waziristan
By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, South Waziristan, Pakistan

Waziristan's new landmarks speak eloquently of the intensity of the conflict that still rages between Taleban and al-Qaeda militants and the Pakistani security forces.

Not long ago, visitors from outside the lawless tribal belt along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan were shown a different version of history.

They would see the mountain passes where Waziristan's fiercely independent tribesmen inflicted crushing defeats on the British army.

Or they would be shown the first concrete bunkers built by the British to protect themselves from raids by the locals.

'Most dangerous'

Today, visitors are shown the house where Pakistan's most wanted tribal militant, Abdullah Mehsud, was hiding Chinese hostages when government forces attacked him.

It is possible to be taken to the house where a US military strike killed emerging Taleban leader Nek Mohammed.

Freshly dug graves of tribesmen - some killed in battle with security forces, others by "unknown assailants" - dot the roadside along the only metalled road in South Waziristan.

But even these are perhaps insignificant landmarks for a place that has become known for blunting the self-declared American war on terror.

American officials describe Waziristan as one of the most dangerous places in the world.

"Everyone here calls himself a Pakistani," says BBC Urdu Service reporter Dilawar Khan Wazir.

"And they do actually look at themselves as Pakistanis."

Destabilising

But it is not an identity that is easy to define.

"A dozen governments can change in Pakistan and few in Waziristan will even talk about it," says Mr Wazir.

"In comparison, the slightest change in Afghanistan can destabilise the entire tribal belt."

It was perhaps inevitable that the conflict in Afghanistan between the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai and remnants of the ousted Taleban regime would spill across into Waziristan.

Over the last couple of years, this has led to the emergence of local Taleban commanders and brought droves of Arab and Central Asian militants to Pakistani territory.

Ahmed Rashid, author of the authoritative bestseller Taliban, calls Waziristan "Al-Qaeda Central".

Apart from the Pakistan government, few in the area seem inclined to challenge this description - for good reason.

Fortresses

Entering Waziristan feels like travelling back in time.

The sparsely populated and dramatic barren hills show few signs of having encountered modern times.

The fortress-like houses that occasionally dot the landscape add to that image.

These houses have walls that are just under a metre (three feet) thick and just over six metres (20 feet) high.

In most cases, they are built around the entire landholding of the occupant that can be anything between five to 20 acres.

Originally meant to protect locals against invading Afghan tribesmen, many now serve as potential sanctuaries for militants on the run.

The sanctity of these fortress-like homes is considered inviolable in the tribal belt - its invasion a crime deemed worse than murder.

A top military source with knowledge of the tribal areas told me that the government had compelling reasons for halting its military activities in South Waziristan, even if it meant accepting peace on the Taleban's terms.

"We could either carpet-bomb the place, killing every man, woman and child or we could risk hand-to-hand combat outside every house in order to flush out the foreign militants," the source said.

Either option would cause heavy military and civilian losses.

"And every death would have given birth to a new tribal vendetta which would have prolonged the war for ever."

No writ

From inside Waziristan, the argument seems logical enough. And it explains why the government has conceded its writ to the Taleban so completely.

Armed to their teeth, Taleban fighters can be seen patrolling the main roads in small groups.

There is not a government soldier in sight throughout the three-hour journey from Dera Ismail Khan district to Wana.

The five check posts up to Wana are manned by Waziristan Scouts, a paramilitary forcetraditionally employed to keep an eye on the traffic.

The scouts mostly avoid checking vehicles, not wishing to engage armed tribesmen over their often dubious cargo.

Thousands of regular army troops deployed in South Waziristan remain bunkered in a fort that is visible from the main bazaar of Wana, one of the largest in the tribal belt.

The bazaar crawls with Taleban fighters.

Their trademark long hair, beards and perpetually sullen expressions distinguish them from the non-militant tribals.

The Russian assault rifle AK-47, commonly known as Kalashnikov, seems to be a part of the dress.

Some fighters can be seen with hand grenades dangling from their jackets - a typical tribal response to the government's call for a ban on the display of arms across Waziristan.

The scene is such that one has to keep reminding oneself of the fact that this is a time of relative peace for South Waziristan.

Relative, because peace as it is understood in the modern world has perhaps never existed in this lawless part of Asia.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

BBC on Waziristan (Part Two)


Continuing the series of articles written by BBC's Aamer Ahmed Khan who made a clandestine trip to Waziristan to ascertian the realities on the ground vs. Islamabad's continued line of propaganda declaring 'all is well'.

In this one he talks about the leader of the local Taliban Haji Mohammed Omar, who met him openly in the Pakistan town of Wana without any shadow of fear.

During this meeting Haji Omar made obvious that he has publicly declared a violent Jihad against the US Forces based in Afghanistan and all US supporters, including Musharraf and his regime. And he made it abundantly clear that he and his men would willingly provide shelter and protection to any foreigners (aka Al-Qaeda) at the cost of the lives of his family and his men.
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Pakistan Taleban vow more attacks
By Aamer Ahmed Khan

BBC News, South Waziristan, Pakistan


The head of the Taleban in Pakistan's tribal areas has warned that there can be no peace in Afghanistan for as long as US forces remain in that country.

"We will not stop our jihad [holy war] against the Americans," Haji Omar told the BBC News website.

The Afghan government has repeatedly complained that militants in Pakistan are freely crossing the border to carry out attacks.

Pakistan denies that it is helping the Taleban fighters.

Haji Omar was chosen to lead the Pakistani Taleban after their first declared leader, Nek Mohammed, was killed in a US air strike in 2004.

This was Haji Omar's first face-to-face interview with a Western news organisation.

"The easiest way to end this very violent conflict is for the US to pull out of Afghanistan," Haji Omar said.

"We are not even willing to discuss anything with the Americans. We just want them out."

Tribesmen
The interview was held in Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal area where the Pakistani Taleban have established their control.

Haji Omar now commands thousands of tribal militants who call themselves Taleban, a name normally used for the student militia that took control of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.

The Afghan Taleban were bombed out of power from Afghanistan by the US after 9/11.

Their fall inspired thousands of armed Pakistani tribesmen in the areas bordering Afghanistan to call themselves Taleban.

Based largely in the Pakistani tribal belt of North and South Waziristan, the Pakistani Taleban joined their Afghan counterparts in the latter's battle against the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Hundreds of Pakistani troops have been killed fighting the Taleban in the tribal areas since 2004.

Pakistan accuses the Taleban of harbouring al-Qaeda members who are also fighting US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Haji Omar said the Taleban have no quarrel with the Pakistan government.

"We understand that Pakistan attacks us only under American pressure."

He alleged that the Karzai government was sending a regular stream of spies into the Pakistani tribal areas to seek out Arab and Central Asian militants.

"They go back and provide false information to the Americans who then put pressure on Pakistan to attack us.

"Pakistani forces bomb us and destroy our houses, so naturally we have to fight back," he says.

Foreigners
While denying that the Taleban are harbouring foreign militants in the tribal belt, Haji Omar says they would not hesitate to do so if there was a need.

If any foreigner, a Muslim, came to us looking for protection, we are bound by our religion to protect him," he says.

"We are willing to lose our homes and even our families to protect such people."

Haji Omar said the government had made an offer to the Taleban to set up special camps for foreign militants where they would be well looked after.

"They said they were willing to house the foreigners, provide them with food and all their basic needs and even to give them a monthly stipend," Haji Omar said.

"But we rejected the offer because it is up to the foreigners to decide where to live and who they want to live with."

He said there was no question of handing over any foreign militant to the government.

"Instead of bombing its own people, Pakistan should tell the Americans to leave Afghanistan," he concluded.

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Get a Life Guys!


In the short eight or so months since AAJ television began airing "The Late Show with Begum Nawazish Ali" the host of the show has been propelled to instant fame and become the leading television personality in Pakistan.

For those who don’t know much about Begum Nawazish Ali, an explanation is necessary. She is in fact a cross-dressing 27 year-old guy by the name of Salim Ali who seems to enjoy donning flashy saris and sleeveless low-cut blouses while he purrs and flirts with his guests. In the process he has managed to captivate Pakistan by often asking questions other TV hosts would not dare or could not ask without risking their jobs.

Salim Ali is so adept at his assumed persona that even that perpetually randy, near octogenarian Ghulam Mustafa Khar fell for Begum Nawazish’s charms and began openly flirting with her during his televised interview. Watching him, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he wasn’t hoping for a more private rendezvous with the hostess later on. Someone ought to tell the old lecher to get a new set of spectacles.

The UK Guardian calls Salim Ali ‘The chat show queen of Pakistan’

By day Ali Salim has stubble, scruffy jeans and a taste for cigarettes. But at night he pulls on a sequinned sari and high heels to become Begum Nawazish Ali - catty chatshow queen and South Asia's first cross-dressing TV presenter. 'She's every woman's inspiration and every man's fancy,' smiles 27-year-old actor Salim, his nails painted gold and his eyebrows plucked after filming the latest episode of Late Night with Begum Nawazish Ali, Pakistan's answer to Dame Edna Everage.

His creation - a snobby, gossipy, middle-aged woman who flirts with her guests and flashes her dead husband's jewels - has captivated a young audience eager for satire of Pakistan's staid politicians and unafraid of sexual ambivalence. Politicians, showbusiness people and even Islamic leaders crowd on to her velveteen couch for conversation that veers from sympathetic to smutty to downright bitchy.

The show pushes the boundaries of the acceptable - and, critics say, the tasteful - in conservative Pakistani society. In one recent episode Ali sneered at the lipstick worn by an actress, then turned to Aitzaz Ehsan, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer. 'Would you mind if I call you "easy"?' she purred, batting her eyelids. 'It's so much easier on the tongue.'

Another guest was Naimatullah Khan, a former Karachi mayor and member of the Jamaat Islami party. The white-bearded Islamist appeared on the show seated beside a leading model. 'I'm trying to show that we can all connect,' says Salim at the Aaj television studios in Karachi, Pakistan's bustling largest city. 'At the end of the day it's like a threesome - it's an awesome time.'

But now it appears our stern Chowkidar custodians of the state have expressed their disapproval and have threatened to take the programme off the air.

As the UK
Telegraph reports:

How Pakistan's 'Dame Edna' has upset Musharraf

By Isambard Wilkinson in Karachi

Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, has tussled with Islamist terrorists, fundamentalist mullahs and liberal intellectuals in the struggle to shape Pakistan's identity.

Ali Saleem, 27, has shot to fame as the most famous television personality in the predominantly Muslim, male-dominated country by donning a silk sari and adopting the alter ego of a flirtatious widow hosting a chat show.

Such is the popularity of Late Night Show With Begum Nawazish Ali, that Pakistan's military leadership has threatened to take the programme off air.

The Begum [the honorific in Urdu for Mrs] has ruffled feathers in a country where, despite the existence of a marginalised group of transsexuals that performs at weddings and birth blessings, cross-dressing is generally frowned upon.

"We decided to create a larger-than-life character to host a talk show where the host would be flirtatious and look good so she would be on a strong footing with her guests," said Mr Saleem.

Posing controversial questions that journalists routinely steer clear of, Pakistan's Dame Edna Everage tackles taboos as a routine.

He questions prominent Islamic religious figures, celebrities and politicians on issues such as Pakistan's support for the US-led war on terror, Gen Musharraf's dictatorship and discrimination against women.

Obviously it is not the cross-dressing that irks the boys in Islamabad. After all it was the all powerful intelligence agencies themselves who in the recent past bestowed Sindh with a chief minister who also loved donning saris.

The show is at risk simply because of some of the awkward questions Salim Ali ends up asking in front of a viewing audience that runs into millions.
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Thursday, April 20, 2006

BBC on Waziristan (Part One)


In last Tuesday’s Blog I referred to a journalist who spent has a week in South Waziristan – the first member of the press to do so in over a year. Travelling through Jandola, and by successfully dodging all the military check posts in route, he made it to Wana and beyond. While there he got the exclusive opportunity to interview the ‘Amir’ of Pakistani Taliban Haji Mohammad Omar (pictured above.

Here is the interview which came out only a few hours ago.
(I hope to be publishing the rest of his reports on Waziristan as they come out).

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Meeting Pakistan's Taleban chief
By Aamer Ahmed Khan, BBC News, South Waziristan, Pakistan

Not many outside Pakistan's troubled tribal zone of Waziristan along the country's north-western border with Afghanistan will be familiar with the name of Haji Omar.

But in Waziristan, it is a name that is commanding increasing respect and awe with every passing day.

Haji Omar is the amir (chief) of the Pakistani Taleban that have risen over the last year to take control of large parts of Waziristan.

His writ runs virtually unchallenged in South Waziristan and he seems confident that his commanders will soon establish Taleban control in North Waziristan as well.

'Al-Qaeda ally'
Meeting him in Wana, South Waziristan's largest town, was not exactly what I had expected when I sought an appointment with him through an intermediary in Peshawar.


He was, after all, a supposed al-Qaeda ally, a man on the run from Pakistani authorities who claim to be in control of South Waziristan.

Thus far, he has also successfully dodged the extensive American aerial and human intelligence network in the area.

I asked my escort where we were headed as we left Dera Ismail Khan - the second largest city in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province - at sunrise to meet Haji Omar.

"Wana, where else?" he grinned.

"We will send him a message when we get to Wana and he will come and meet us," the guide told me.

That was exactly how it happened.

Haji Omar drove up to the compound where I was in a simple pick up truck, the kind that one sees in the use of traders and merchants in Waziristan.

There seemed to be nothing remarkable about him - barring the formidable posse of Taleban guarding him.

This impression, however, was quickly dispelled as he started talking.

"Don't listen to anyone who says we have ordered people to grow beards," he laughed.

It was an easy, friendly kind of laughter.

"You don't have a beard and yet here we are sitting as friends, no?" he laughed some more.

Mullah Omar lieutenant
Haji Omar is 55 but appears much younger, his looks belying the fact that he has spent half his life fighting on various fronts in Afghanistan.

Born in the village of Kalushah some 10km (six miles) from Wana, Haji Omar spent several years fighting the Soviets in Bagram and Kabul.

He was injured several times but disengaged from the war only when the Soviets withdrew.

Not wanting to be a part of the fratricidal war between various Mujahideen factions, he left for Dubai in the late 1980s.

Haji Omar returned to Waziristan and then went to live across the border in Kandahar when the Taleban took control of Afghanistan.

He remained there, serving as one of the many lieutenants of Taleban leader Mullah Omar, until the fall of the Taleban in November 2001.

Since returning to Wana in late 2001, he has been organising the Pakistani Taleban in Waziristan.

Haji Omar has two wives - one in Wana, and one he married later in Kandahar.

Islamabad 'scared'

Tall and well built, he speaks halting, uncertain Urdu being more proficient in Pashto and Arabic.

There is nothing uncertain about his views though.

"Your government is very happy with us because we have established peace in South Waziristan," he says.

"It is only scared that we may enforce the Sharia [Islamic moral code] here."

Perhaps that is not the government's primary worry at this stage.

Intelligence officials dealing with the tribal areas had earlier told me that their real worries stemmed from the composition of the group calling itself the Pakistani Taleban.

One senior official had alleged that a large number of criminals had entered the Taleban ranks in order to make money from the Arab and Central Asian fighters seeking refuge in Waziristan.

"What do I need money for?" Haji Omar seemed genuinely surprised at the intelligence analysis.

"The government has destroyed my house. If I was getting money from the Arabs, I would have rebuilt my house by now. But I and my people are living in caves and tents," he said.

"Jihad is never for money. If I take money from anyone, I will suffer even in death," he added.

Traitors
Irrespective of whether money is involved or not, foreign militants are the crux of the problem, aren't they? I asked him.

"The issue is the government's poor understanding of the issue," Haji Omar says.

"Afghanistan was an Islamic country with an Islamic system. It has now descended into anarchy.

"The only way for us to put an end to the anarchy there is to wage a jihad against the Americans and anyone who supports them."

That includes Pakistan, the key American ally in the region.

"Yes, we treat all American allies as enemy. We have caught many people who were trying to help the Americans, either directly or through Pakistan," he said.

What happens when they catch such people?

"We do not waste our bullets on them," Haji Omar said with a smile.

"We slaughter them."

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Our Colonial & Cultural Insecurities


There is a tendency among some in Pakistan to pay undue, at times quite daft, reverence to outmoded British norms.

A decade ago the British High Commissioner in Islamabad received a knighthood for years of industrious service to his masters at Whitehall; these knighthoods are standard handouts for senior civil servants on eve of retirement. In Pakistan the newly elevated Sir Nicholas Barrington was awarded celebrity status, some even began addressing him, quite misguidedly, as ‘My Lord’ (when he was simply plain old Sir Nicholas, soon to join the ranks of hundreds of other similarly knighted retirees twiddling their thumbs in the restful surroundings of the Home Counties).

Pakistan is probably one of the few places still left in the world where people still insist on addressing ambassadors, high commissioners and suchlike as ‘your excellencies’ at social (as opposed to official) gatherings. The rest of the world simply call them ‘Ambassador’ or ‘High Commissioner’ to their faces (and I suppose lots of others things behind their backs).

I once wondered why we obsess about such inconsequential matters until I realised that we, the Pakistanis, for some reason possess a deep-seated passion for titles.


Since Partition a large number of people have awarded themselves new-fangled titles – there are so many more princes, nawabs, sardars, pirs, syeds, mians, chaudhries, khans and maliks then can be historically accounted for. And there are of course a plethora of maulanas, mullahs, qazis, hafizes, professors, and yes, doctors. In our country anyone with an educational certificate in a quasi-medical subject, such as physiotherapy, feels perfectly entitled to call himself a doctor and does so.

While not quite a title, my all time favourite was an elderly gentleman from the rural areas who, much to my mystification, referred to himself as ‘BA plucked’. Later I was to discover that in the 1940s and 1950s this type of nomenclature was often used by those who had attempted a Bachelors degree and failed. Another quaint practice belonging to this period was the inclusion of the words ‘London Returned’ on one’s calling card. Peculiar as these practices may sound in the 21st century, these were simply ‘Native’ insecurities carried over from the days of the Raj.

Tolerant I may or may not be but one seriously stupid leftover from the Raj still manages to get my goat. And that is the practice of addressing judges in Pakistani courts as ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’. This is a strictly British legal custom, something that was never followed by the other ‘white’ members of the Commonwealth; in Australia and New Zealand senior judges are addressed in courts as ‘Your Honour’ and simply as ‘Judge’ outside the courtroom.

Now for nearly sixty years we have continued with this bizarre practice of addressing our judiciary as if they were members of the British House of Lords – a place where senior judges in Britain are still routinely elevated to. And if addressing judges as British nobility is not enough, our unfortunate lawyers have to wear ties and black coats in a country where courts can be stiflingly hot - a case of idiocy multiplied by stupidity.

So it was with much satisfaction that I now learn that India, after nearly sixty years of following similar inanities, has suddenly seen the light.

This is what BBC reported today:

Indian judges 'no longer lords'

Judges in India will no longer have to be addressed in court as "my lord" or "my lordship" - terms dating back to the days of British rule over India.

The Bar Council of India said "your honour" or "honourable court" can be used in the courtroom instead. Lawyers can also address the court as "sir" or its regional equivalent.

Lawyers welcomed the move, with a top lawyer telling the BBC it was time to get rid of a "colonial hangover". India won freedom from British rule in 1947.

"Maybe [such words] should have been given up earlier," lawyer Subhash Kashyap said.

"It is perhaps psychological, like removing statues of former British governors and Viceroys in the country." Mr Kashyap added that it was also high time to meet a long-standing demand to change the dress code for lawyers.

Indian lawyers have to wear a tie and black coat, even in lower courts that often have no air-conditioning to counter the heat.


Knowing the Pakistan state of mind it will probably take us another few decades before we sensibly follow suit.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Waziristan Quagmire

On Monday it was confession time for the government, when the Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao admitted to his cabinet colleagues that the situation in Waziristan - despite the deployment of 80,000 army men – had spun out of government control.

As the Daily Times reported yesterday:

Taliban forces have so far killed 150 pro-government tribal Maliks in the North and South Waziristan Agencies and are openly challenging the writ of the government by engaging a number of security forces’ personnel in the area.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told the cabinet that the presence of the Taliban in FATA was a threat to national security and Pakistan’s economic development.


He said that the ‘Talibnisation’ of Waziristan was damaging other parts of the NWFP and that the local ‘Maliks’ and political administration had been limited to their houses and offices, sources said.“The Taliban’s sphere of influence has expanded to DI Khan, Tank and the Khyber Agency, where clerks of the area have started to join them. There has been a sharp increase in attacks on heavily-defended military targets in these areas as well,” Sherpao was quoted as saying.


Today in an
editorial today the same newspaper noted:
  • after three years of war and many casualties on both sides of the conflict, the Taliban are ruling FATA and their influence is spreading to the settled areas.
  • if peace can only be bought by allowing the territories traditionally under Pakistani control to lapse into Talibanisation, the blame for this will be pinned on President Musharraf and his military leadership that was unable to finish the job from 2003 to 2006.
Coincidently last night your Blogger met with a journalist who has just returned from spending a week in South Waziristan – the first member of the press to do so in over a year. Travelling through Jandola, and by successfully dodging all the military check posts in route, he made it to Wana and beyond. While there he got the exclusive opportunity to interview the ‘Amir’ of Pakistani Taliban Haji Mohammad Omar.

As the journalist has yet to publish his in-depth article on the current realties on the ground in Waziristan it would be unfair on my part to steal his thunder but suffice to say he probably wouldn’t mind if I briefly mentioned what he told me about his findings.
  • The old tribal structure of the Waziris and Mahsuds has been completely superseded by the new super-imposed religious structure based upon the local interpretation of Shariat law.
  • North and South Waziristan are under complete control of the Pakistani Taliban led by Haji Mohammad Omar.
  • While the Pakistan military may have played a significant role in the founding of the Pathan Taliban in the early 1990s, it has no influence, despite prodigious recent efforts, on the movement today.
  • Anyone suspected to be a ‘regime spy’ is harshly executed by the Taliban. In their minds the Musharraf regime and the US government are one and the same. Hence 150 pro-regime maliks who have been killed so far are commonly referred to as ‘agents of America’.
  • Over recent decades the foreign Arabs, Uzbeks and Chechens (in other words the Al- Qaeda) have completely integrated with the Waziri tribesmen through familial links created by marriage. According to Haji Mohammad Omar he would willingly sacrifice all his sons rather than hand over a single ‘foreigner’.
So where does that leave our Military regime and its commitment to eradicate all traces of Al-Qaeda from Pakistan? One might say: Up the creek without a paddle.

According to this journalist there is a severe dichotomy in Islamabad’s current stance. He believes that while professing to do all to eradicate Islamist militants on our Afghan border, the establishment has every intention of sheltering the Taliban. Why so? Because in the Establishment’s view the moment the US’s interest dissipates in Afghanistan – whether it be a year from now or five – the Taliban will retake the country, thereby providing Pakistan with strategic protection on its western flank.

It has taken time but, it would seem, the Americans have finally woken to the establishment’s stratagem.
Bush made a telling statement during his recent visit to Pakistan, when he said, ‘Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the President is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice”.

This was followed by the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher stepping out of a meeting with Musharraf and
announcing that the US ‘firmly [believes] in civilian rule and civilian control of military in Pakistan”.

It would therefore be an understatement to suggest that Waziristan is proving to be a real headache for the Establishment.
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Friday, April 14, 2006

A Small Ray of Sunshine?

Your Blogger has neither been a fan of the Sharif brothers nor of Benazir Bhutto. The only ‘democratic’ aspect of the civilian period of ‘democracy’ was the fact that elections were regularly held (and blatantly rigged with Establishment support). Corruption, cronyism, egotism and mismanagement (and a host of other political sins) reigned supreme during their dismal years in power.

Nevertheless, like many Pakistanis, one has hoped that during their years in exile a modicum of common sense might have got knocked into their rigid mindsets. Cynical as I may be, Shahbaz Sharif’s latest pronouncements do provide some rays of (possibly vain?) hope.

Here are some of the sensible things that he appears to have recently uttered:

  • The army's interference in politics must be curtailed.
  • The only way to preclude the army's interference in politics is a pre-election one-point understanding among all parties to form a consensus national government which is to be allowed to complete its tenure without interference or interruption.
  • If the PPP gets a majority in the next parliament the PML(N) will accept Ms Bhutto as leader of the consensus national government.
  • The consensus government would be entrusted to work on a pre-agreed national agenda aimed at ensuring the integrity of the federation and the restoration of people's faith in politicians. This requires among other things a collective endeavour to root out corruption. The judiciary and the members of the army will be included in the accountability process.
  • The defence budge should be debated in parliament.
Truth is that it is looking increasingly difficult, because of international and domestic pressures, for Musharraf to be able to retain his status as Army Chief beyond 2007. To satisfy the voters, the opposition and the international community, the elections have to be widely accepted as free and fair. Further, to retain his seizure of the Presidency, Musharraf will have to negotiate with the opposition.

Shahbaz Sharif seems to be set on the right path but as a
Nation editorial pointed out:

Unless there is an understanding on certain basics among the parties, it would be difficult to bar extra-constitutional interference in national politics. Attempts at dividing the parties have succeeded in the past because of the shortsightedness and intolerance on the part of the political leadership. The proposals by Mian Shahbaz would indicate there is an awareness that this has to end. How deep is the realisation, particularly in the case of the two mainstream parties, will become clear in the next few months as they take vital decisions.

Agreeing on a consensus national government requires give and take involving sacrifices. To overcome traditional rivalries and share power requires a level of maturity yet to be displayed by these parties. Unless the entire opposition, the ARD, MMA, and those outside it are willing to cooperate, holding free and fair elections and the subsequent handing over of full powers to the elected government will remain doubtful. Even after successfully overcoming these hurdles, parties will have to strengthen the federation, buttress an independent judiciary, ensure a depoliticised bureaucracy and provide an honest administration to be able to win the confidence of the people that alone can guarantee that there is no acceptance of extraneous intervention in the political process. In the meanwhile any move by a party that creates the perception of brokering a private deal over and above the others with the powers that be can wreck the process.
Your Blogger couldn’t have put it better.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Blogspot Ban Continues



Using the pretext of preventing Pakistanis from accessing the contraversial Danish cartoons our military regime took advantage of the situation by simultaneously blocking a number of what it perceived were unfriendly sites.

In the process, it would appear the Islamabadi Neaderthals discovered what blogs were all about. For brief period the ban on Blogspot.com was lifted but it was soon clamped on again.


While there are still ways of publishing posts on Blogspot.com, I seriously wonder how long it will take before the censors find a way to forestall that as well. Until then I will continue to uphold what I believe is my inherent right as a human to free expression.

Truth is I suspect that the Musharraf regime is getting a bit wobbly. With the US starting to drift away from Musharraf, coupled with all the troublesome fronts that the regime has so unnecessarily opened up, there is a bound to be growing sense of unease and insecurity.

It is when things go awry do dictators, and their associates in power, lose their grip on common sense. If this state of insecurity begins to verge on panic then expect further and possibly harsher crackdowns. But then as they say it is always darkest before dawn.

Bush & Our Neighbour Iran


One of advantages of the Internet is the ability to scan the world’s leading newspapers and find out what others are saying and thinking.

Over the years I have a number of favourite columnists, two of whom happen to be Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman of the New York Times.

Dowd is well known for her humorously caustic wit, which, these days, is largely directed at George W. Bush and his administration. Krugman is a cerebral economist and no less of an ‘admirer’ of the US President.

Their latest columns on Bush and Iran are seriously worth reflecting upon.

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Here is an excerpt from the funny one:

Wag the Camel
by Maureen Dowd

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New York Times

Talk about a fearful symmetry.

Iran was whipping up real uranium while America was whipped up by fake uranium.

Obsessed with going to war against a Middle East country that had no nuclear weapon, the Bush administration lost focus on and leverage over a Middle East country hurtling toward a nuclear weapon.

That's after the Bush crew lost focus on and leverage over an Asian country [North Korea] that says it has now produced a whole bunch of nuclear weapons.

To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if brains were elastic, these guys wouldn't have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet…

Speaking before a mural of fluttering white doves, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bragged that his scientists had concocted enriched uranium. They will now churn out nuclear fuel as fast as they can.

Are they making a bomb? Nah, said the Iranian president, furthest thing from their minds.

Are we going to bomb them before they can get a bomb? Nah, said the American president, furthest thing from our minds.

The nuclear doves announcement was embarrassing for Mr. Bush, who had said on Monday that he was determined to prevent Iran from getting the know-how to enrich uranium. But the Persian logic cannot be faulted. If you pretend to have W.M.D., the U.S. may come and get you. Ask Saddam. If you really have W.M.D., you're bulletproof. Ask Kim Jong Il…


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And now for an excerpt from the scary one:

Yes He Would.
by Paul Krugman

Monday, April 10, 2006 - The New York Times

"But he wouldn't do that." That sentiment is what made it possible for President Bush to stampede America into the Iraq war and to fend off hard questions about the reasons for that war until after the 2004 election. Many people just didn't want to believe that an American president would deliberately mislead the nation on matters of war and peace.

Now people with contacts in the administration and the military warn that Mr. Bush may be planning another war. The most alarming of the warnings come from Seymour Hersh, the veteran investigative journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal. Writing in The New Yorker, Mr. Hersh suggests that administration officials believe that a bombing campaign could lead to desirable regime change in Iran - and that they refuse to rule out the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

"But he wouldn't do that," say people who think they're being sensible. Given what we now know about the origins of the Iraq war, however, discounting the possibility that Mr. Bush will start another ill-conceived and unnecessary war isn't sensible. It's wishful thinking…

And it's not just Mr. Bush's legacy that's at risk. Current polls suggest that the Democrats could take one or both houses of Congress this November, acquiring the ability to launch investigations backed by subpoena power. This could blow the lid off multiple Bush administration scandals. Political analysts openly suggest that an attack on Iran offers Mr. Bush a way to head off this danger, that an appropriately timed military strike could change the domestic political dynamics.

Does this sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. Given the combination of recklessness and dishonesty Mr. Bush displayed in launching the Iraq war, why should we assume that he wouldn't do it again?



Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Oh, Why? Oh, Why?


As if Pakistan didn't have enough problems already, but what has happened is as heartbreaking as any of our previous carnage-ridden tragedies.

It may sound extremely naive but I can't help asking why do we Pakistanis indulge in killing other Pakistanis (or any humans as a matter of fact) when in Islam - and in every other religion on God's earth - the taking of life is considered a mortal sin.

And so once again we end up with dozens of innocents dead, many wives widowed, a host of orphaned children, and many grieving parents.
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Bomb carnage at Karachi prayers

A bomb blast at a huge gathering to mark the anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad's birth has killed at least 40 people in southern Pakistan.

Many others were injured and it is feared the death toll will rise after the powerful blast ripped apart a stage where religious leaders were sitting.

Tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims had been taking part in evening prayers in Karachi's Nishtar Park at the time.

Angry people turned on the security forces following the attack.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said 40 people had been confirmed dead and the number was likely to rise.

Hospital sources said the death toll had risen to at least 45.

No-one has claimed responsibility for the explosion at what was believed to be the biggest of such events being held in Pakistan.

Karachi has a history of sectarian and ethnic violence, but this is the first time in decades that a religious gathering celebrating the Prophet's birthday has been targeted..

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PS: By Wednesday morning the death toll is reported to be 'at least 57'.

Sadly the fatality numbers are expected to rise. At present there appears to be no count of those maimed and injured - 'many dozens' is all that is currently being suggested.