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  • Pakistan bleeds

    January 1, 2010 -- Pakistan today suffered one of its deadliest atrocities in recent years when a suicide bomber killed scores of people at a volleyball tournament near the North-West Frontier province town of Lakki Marwat. A local television station, Express 24/7, said as many as 70 people were killed, 65 wounded and more than 20 houses destroyed in what was seen as the latest deadly reprisal for a government offensive against the Pakistani Taliban. Ayub Khan, a local police chief, said the bomber blew himself up in an SUV in the middle of the field while a second vehicle possibly carrying a bomb raced from the scene. "One was blown up here while the second fled to an unknown location. We believe it may be used to attack some other place," he told Reuters by telephone. Officials said the village had been targeted after residents formed an anti-Taliban militia. "The locality has been a hub of militants," Khan said. "Locals set up a militia and expelled the militants from this area. This attack seems to be reaction to their expulsion." The bomber, driving a car packed with an estimated 250kg (550lb) of high explosives, struck as young men were playing volleyball in front of hundreds of spectators, including elderly people and children, officials said. Khalid Israr, a senior regional official, who spoke from a hospital treating the victims, said the dead included people in a nearby mosque where a group of local tribal elders were meeting.

    An attack on a sporting event is highly unusual, although militants have recently started bombing crowded areas such as markets to inflict maximum casualties. Lakki Marwat is close to north and south Waziristan, two tribal regions where militants have a strong presence. They launched a wave of bombings, killing more than 500 people, in response to an army offensive in south Waziristan that began in October. The latest suicide attack came as Karachi, Pakistan's commercial capital, nearly ground to a halt amid calls by religious and political leaders for a protest against violence after a suicide bomber killed 43 people at a religious procession this week. The streets were nearly empty and the stock exchange, which normally operates on the first day of the year, was closed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday's attack on a crowd of Shia Muslims and threatened more bloodshed. The bombing targeted thousands of Shias marching to observe Ashura, the most important day of a month-long mourning period for the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein. The attack was one of the bloodiest in Karachi since the October 2007 attack that killed Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, and 130 others on her return from exile. The interior minister, Rehman Malik, who was visiting Karachi, denounced the perpetrators as "enemies of Pakistan" and "enemies of Islam".

    President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida, but cuts an increasingly forlorn figure because he is seen as too pliant to the U.S. in a country where anti-American sentiment is high. In addition to having to deal with a growing insurgency, Zardari faces the threat of renewed corruption charges after the supreme court last month ruled that an amnesty protecting him from such charges was null and void. Zardari's domestic troubles can only complicate matters for the U.S. as it seeks a stable partner at a time when Barack Obama is sending an extra 30,000 troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. In addition, escalation of the U.S. war effort against militants on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is fuelling anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. Pakistanis are particularly incensed at U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani territory, some of which have resulted in civilian deaths. In the latest such strike a U.S. missile struck a car carrying suspected militants in north Waziristan, killing three men, intelligence officials said. A strike on a house on Thursday killed three people. The U.S. has been targeting militant commanders who use Pakistan as a haven to plan attacks in Afghanistan and the west. U.S. officials rarely discuss the air strikes. Pakistan publicly condemns them, but is widely believed to help the U.S. military by providing information on where militants are to be found. In a sign of growing anxiety, the UN has said it is withdrawing some of its staff from Pakistan because of safety concerns.

    Bombings in Pakistan


    27 December: Benazir Bhutto is assassinated as she leaves a political rally in Rawalpindi. One hundred and thirty-nine people die in the shooting and bomb attack.


    16 February: A suicide bomber rams his car into the election office of an independent candidate in the city of Parachinar, killing at least 47.

    20 September: A suicide bomber blows up a truck packed with explosivesat the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing at least 60 people.

    10 October: At least 85 people are killed and about 200 wounded at an anti-Taliban meeting in a tribal area.


    27 March: A suicide attack on a mosque on the Peshawar-Torkham highway kills 83 people, including 16 security personnel, and leaves more than 100 injured.

    October: Forty-nine people, including a woman and seven children, die and 90 others injured when a suicide bomber blows himself up at a bazaar in Peshawar and a suicide car bomber kills 125 people at a market in Pakistan's worst attack in two years.

    28 December: A suicide bomber kills 43 people at a Shia procession in Karachi. The Taliban have claimed the attack and threatened more violence.

  • #2

    January 11, 2010 -- A record number of Pakistani civilians and security forces died in militant violence last year as the country reeled from an onslaught of Taliban suicide bombings that propelled it into the ranks of the world's most perilous places. Pakistan saw 3,021 deaths in terrorist attacks in in 2009, up 48% on the year before, according to a new report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based defence thinktank. Researchers counted a total of 12,600 violent deaths across the country in 2009, 14 times more than in 2006.

    At least half of the dead were militants who were killed in U.S. drone strikes or, mostly, sweeping army offensives against their mountain strongholds of Swat and South Waziristan along the Afghan border. Another 2,000 or so Pakistanis died in bloodshed unrelated to militancy: political clashes, tribal feuds and border skirmishes. In comparison just over 2,000 civilians were killed in war-torn Afghanistan during the first ten months of 2009, according to the UN. In Iraq 4,500 civilians were killed during the year, said Iraq Body Count, an independent monitoring organisation.

    The high militant death toll in Pakistan was driven by the army operations, although battlefield casualty figures are notoriously difficult to confirm. The army dislodged the Taliban from their Swat stronghold but failed to capture the local leader, Maulana Fazlullah, who reportedly slipped into Afghanistan. In October the army moved into South Waziristan, capturing roads and towns but not the militant leadership, which is thought to have moved into North Waziristan, a hornet's nest of militancy, where speculation is growing that the army will open a third front.

    The army has failed to stop the suicide attacks, which surged by one third to 87 bombings that killed 1,300 people and injured 3,600. PIPS researcher Abdul Basit said the militants were using "innovative tactics" such as targeted assassinations, kidnapping and the use of sophisticated bomb materials. "This year they were more technologically savvy," he said.

    The strife is frazzling public opinion. A recent Gallup poll found that four-fifths of Pakistanis feel unsafe in public. "Life has completely changed for everyone," said Ali Mustafa, a doctor whose best friend was gunned down during a "swarm" attack on a Rawalpindi mosque in December. The new year started as badly as the last one ended: a Taliban suicide attack on a volleyball match near South Waziristan on January 1 killed over 90 people. In recent days, Karachi has been wrenched by a spate of politically driven killings, unlinked to Taliban militancy, that have killed about 40 people.

    Imtiaz Gul, author of a book on militancy, said that although only a small number of al-Qaida fighters were hiding in Pakistan, the group provided the inspiration for much for the mayhem. "What we see in this region right now is a fusion of interests and ideologies," he said. "Al-Qaida is connecting people." The tight bond between homegrown and foreign militants was underscored at the weekend when a video emerged showing the Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, sitting beside Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives at a base in southern Afghanistan on December 30.

    Pakistan has become a magnet for aspiring jihadis across the world, partly thanks to the power of the internet. Yesterday five young American Muslims went on trial in the eastern city of Sargodha. They are accused of coming to the country to try and plot terrorist attacks. The men deny the charges.


    • #3

      PESHAWAR, January 22, 2010 -- A senior minister from the NWFP Bashir Ahmed Bilour on Friday confirmed the presence of Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, in the NWFP. Bilour further disclosed that not only do Blackwater officials exist in the NWFP, they have also been imparting training to Pakistanis. However, he added that Blackwater is operating in a limited capacity in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also acknowledged the presence of U.S. security agencies in Pakistan after several months of denial. Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary also admitted during an interview with a private television channel that Blackwater and DynCorp have been operating inside Pakistan.


      • #4

        January 22, 2010 -- On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that Blackwater is operating in Pakistan. In an interview on Express TV, Gates, who was visiting Islamabad, said, "They [Blackwater and another private security firm, DynCorp] are operating as individual companies here in Pakistan," according to a DoD transcript of the interview. "There are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they're contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves." Today, the country's senior minister for the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Bashir Bilour, also acknowledged that the company is operating in Pakistan's frontier areas. Bilour told Pakistan's Express News TV that Blackwater's activities were taking place with the "consent and permission" of the Pakistani government, saying he had discussed the issue with officials at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, who told him that Blackwater was training Pakistani forces. When Gates was asked what the U.S. response would be if the Pakistani parliament passed a law banning private security companies, Gates said, "If it's Pakistani law, we will absolutely comply." As Gates's comments began to make huge news in Pakistan, U.S. defense officials tried to retract his statement. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "Defense officials tried to clarify the comment Thursday night, telling reporters that Mr. Gates had been speaking about contractor oversight more generally and that the Pentagon didn't employ Xe in Pakistan."

        Bilour's statements are consistent with what a former Blackwater executive and a US military intelligence source told me in December - that Blackwater is working on a subcontract for Kestral, a Pakistani security and logistics firm. That contract, say my sources, is technically with the Pakistani government, which helps cloak Blackwater's presence. From my article in The Nation:

        Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. "Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship," he said. "They've met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another." Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral's forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry's paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as "frontier scouts"). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater "is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral's folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they're having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they're executing the job," he said. "You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas." He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. "You've got BW guys that are assisting...and they're all going to want to go on the jobs--so they're going to go with them," he said. "So, the things that you're seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that--in some of those cases, you're going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house." Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, 'Hey, no, we don't have any Westerners doing this. It's all local and our people are doing it.' But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work."

        When I tried to get confirmation of Blackwater's work with Kestral, I was bounced around from agency to agency. Eventually, a spokesman for the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to U.S. corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. "We cannot help you," said department spokesman David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. "You'll have to contact the companies directly." Blackwater's spokesman Mark Corallo said the company has "no operations of any kind" in Pakistan other than one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to my inquiries. Kestral's lobbyist, former assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, would not provide comment on the contract either. Noriega, according to federal lobby records, was recently hired by Kestral to lobby the U.S. government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues "regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States."

        All of this appears to be a contradiction of previous statements made by the Defense Department, by Blackwater, by the Pakistani government and by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, all of whom claimed Blackwater was not in the country. In September the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, denied Blackwater's presence in the country, stating bluntly, "Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan." In December in The Nation, after I reported on Blackwater's work for JSOC and Ketral in Pakistan, the Pentagon did not issue any clear public denials, and instead tried to pass the buck to the State Department, which in turn passed it to the U.S. Embassy, which in turn issued an unsigned statement saying the story was false. Shortly after my story came out in The Nation, ABC News reported that in 2006, "12 Blackwater "tactical action operatives" were recruited for a secret raid into Pakistan by the U.S. military's Joint Special Operations Command, according to a military intelligence planner. The target of the planned raid, code-named Vibrant Fury, was a suspected al Qaeda training camp, according to the planner." In Pakistan, there appears to be egg on the face of the country's Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who has said on numerous occasions that he would resign if it is proven that Blackwater is operating inside Pakistan. Today, Express TV rebroadcast Malik saying in November, "There is no Blackwater." What's that old saying? "Never believe anything until it has been officially denied."


        • #5

          ISLAMABAD, January 23, 2010 -- The government came under criticism in the Senate on Friday over secret activities of the controversial U.S. firms Blackwater and Dyncorp in the country. Speaking during question hour and later on a point of order, Zafar Ali Shah of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said the government should explain why the presence of the two “infamous agencies” was kept secret while U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates openly admitted their presence in Pakistan. He said: “I do not wish to ask the government to take any action against Interior Minister Rehman Malik who offered to resign if the presence of Blackwater was proved.” Mr Shah, who later staged a walkout for the remaining period of the proceedings, said: “It was not a simple thing which the government could ignore, for it involves several bomb explosions and the abduction of several persons wanted by Americans.” The treasury chose not to respond to the legislator’s outburst. Chairman Farooq Hameed Naek prorogued the house after 12 working days during which not a single bill was passed and only one adjournment motion and one privilege motion were disposed of while no single call attention notice was presented. Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan informed the house that the next session of the upper house was expected to take place in the first week of February.


          • #6

            ISLAMABAD, January 30, 2010 (KUNA) -- More than fifteen people including security personnel were killed and over twenty others were wounded in a suicide blast on Saturday in a Pakistani tribal agency, close to Afghan border, said officials. A suicide bomber exploded himself at a security checkpost in main bazaar of Khar district in Bajaur tribal agency, security officials told KUNA. They said the bomber exploded himself when the deployed security personnel stopped him for checking. Sources said that at least nine people were killed including two security personnel. They added that several wounded have been rushed to nearby hospitals. However, tribal sources and the local Express News channel put the death toll at more than fifteen. They said over twenty others were wounded, adding that at least five of them are in critical condition. The bazaar was immediately closed and the security forces cordoned off the area, said sources.


            • #7

              February 3, 2010 -- Three American soldiers were killed and two injured in a bomb attack on a military convoy in north-western Pakistan today that marked a surprise coup for Taliban fighters reeling under a barrage of CIA drone attacks. Dozens of teenage girls were also caught by the blast, which occurred outside their secondary school in Lower Dir district, killing three of them along with a paramilitary soldier. In a statement the U.S. embassy said the Americans had been assigned to help train the Frontier Corps (FC), a paramilitary force deployed in the tribal belt along the Afghan border. Local reporters initially mistook them for western journalists because they were wearing civilian clothes and carrying cameras.

              The explosion, apparently a remote control roadside bomb, occurred as their military convoy passed the Koto girls' high school, where teenage girls were streaming out for their mid-morning break. Television footage showed distressed villagers scrambling to pull wounded girls from the rubble of collapsed buildings amid scattered books and bags. "What was the fault of these students?" said Muhammad Dawood, a rescuer quoted by the Associated Press.

              The wounded were rushed to the main district hospital at Timergara where doctors from Medécins sans Frontières said they had treated more than 100 people, most of them schoolgirls. "Most of them are have splinter injuries all over the body — in the face, abdomen and feet," said Dr Ashraf Alam, chief medical officer at the hospital, speaking by phone. Sixteen of the wounded were seriously injured and three had died, he said. Among those awaiting major surgery was a girl aged about eight or nine. "We are busy in the operating theatre," he said, excusing himself.

              Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement that the attack would "only serve to fortify Pakistan's resolve to eliminate the menace of terrorism". The dead and wounded Americans were flown to Islamabad, where the survivors were treated at the city's al-Shifa hospital amid tight security.

              The bombing shone a light on a little-publicised American military programme. The Department of Defence sees the Frontier Corps as a key element of Pakistan's fight against the Taliban in North West Frontier province, and has quietly pumped millions of dollars — and dozens of personnel — into an initiative to improve the force's capability. In most cases the U.S. personnel train senior FC officers — an approach known as "training the trainers". The attack also highlighted an even less well-known civilian aid programme. A retired senior U.S. official with knowledge of the programme said the Department of Defence has been discreetly funding development projects such as schools in NWFP for years. The targeted soldiers may have been going to the school in Dir as "a show of solidarity" with their Pakistani colleagues, he said.

              The risks of the trip were vividly apparent in retrospect today. Lower Dir is one of the most volatile corners of NWFP. Last year the district saw fierce fighting between the army and Taliban fighters spilling out of the neighbouring Swat valley during a major military offensive. Dir is home to Sufi Muhammad, an elderly Taliban ideologue whose son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, is the fugitive leader of the Swat Taliban. After the operation the army declared that Dir had been cleared of militants. Also next to Dir is Bajaur, a tribal agency bordering Afghanistan that is embroiled in heavy fighting. On Tuesday the army said it had captured a Taliban stronghold and that troops were advancing towards another militant hub in Damadola.

              The American casualties will boost Taliban morale in difficult times. Earlier this week Pakistan state television reported that a major Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, had died of wounds suffered during an American drone strike last month. The Taliban have denied the reports, but declined to provide proof of life. Last autumn the militants were flushed from their South Waziristan stronghold after a sweeping army offensive that forced the leadership to flee into neighbouring North Waziristan, where CIA-controlled drones now strike almost every day. In the most intense barrage yet an estimated eight drones fired at least 17 missiles at different compounds and vehicles in North Waziristan yesterday. So far at least 31 people have reportedly died. At the same time the Taliban has stepped up attacks on schools, with reports of 10 incidents in the last two months. In the most recent assault, on 18 January, militants blew up a primary school for boys in Khyber tribal agency.


              • #8

                KARACHI, February 5, 2010 -- Two suicide bombers on motorcycles struck a bus and hospital in Karachi on Friday, killing 22 people in the second attack in as many months targeting Shi'ite Muslims in Pakistan's financial capital. The attacks in a city largely isolated from Islamist attacks highlighted the terrorist threat in Pakistan, which is on the frontline of the U.S. war on al-Qaida and where militants have killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Women and children were among 12 people killed when a motorcyle rigged with explosives rammed into a bus of Shi'ites travelling on one of Karachi's busiest roads to join a procession at the end of the holy Muslim month of Muharram. A second bomb attack near the emergency ward at Jinnah Hospital, where the dead and wounded were being rushed, killed another 10 people. Witnesses and officials said the bus was packed with Shi'ite Muslims heading to a religious procession to mark the last day of Muharram in Karachi, a city of 16 million people with a sprawling port on the Arabian sea.

                "I saw a man riding a motorcycle. He hit the bus on the wrong side of the road, on the left, and then there was a huge explosion," said Jaafar Ali, a mechanic in his mid-20s, who had been travelling in another vehicle. "Some of my friends were sitting in that bus. I'm going to the hospital. I don't know whether they are dead or survived," he told AFP in tears. Nails, of the type often packed in bombs, pierced the walls and doors of a bungalow on the side of the road. Blood stained the inside of the bus and shoes were lying nearby on the road, said an AFP reporter. "We have counted 12 dead bodies and more than 50 injured. There are children and women among the killed and wounded," Doctor Seemi Jamali, chief of Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, told AFP. "Twelve of the injured are in a critical condition. The injured told me a man riding a motorcycle hit the bus and then the explosion came," she added. "Ten people were killed and more than 20 were injured in the second bomb blast. This happened in front of the emergency ward of Jinnah Hospital," Jameel Soomro, a spokesman for the government in Sindh, where Karachi is the capital. The attacks were carried out by suicide bombers on motorcycles, a bomb disposal official said. "Both of the blasts are of the same nature. Both were suicide and both were on motorcycles," Munir Ahmad Sheikh, told private television channel Geo from Karachi. "In the first attack, the bomber hit the bus. In the second attack, the bomber sitting on a motorcycle exploded himself," he added.

                The attack happened in a smart residential area on the main Faisal highway that intersects the city. Volunteers helped evacuate the wounded as ambulances raced past armed security forces patrolling the area. On December 28, a bombing killed 43 people and reduced to a bloodbath a parade marking the holiest Shi'ite day of Ashura earlier in Muharram. Pakistan's feared Taliban network claimed responsibility for that attack, sparking riots that caused huge financial losses. Sectarian violence periodically flares in Pakistan between Shi'ites, who beat and whip themselves in religious fervour during Ashura, and the country's majority Sunnis, who oppose the public display of grief. Shi'ites account for about 20 per cent of Pakistan's mostly Sunni Muslim population of 167 million. More than 4,000 people have died in outbreaks of sectarian violence in Pakistan since the late 1980s. Pakistan has seen a recent decline in militant attacks, attributed both to the success of a U.S. drone war and Pakistani offensives in the tribal belt by the Afghan border where Taliban and al-Qaida networks are based. Last month, 153 people were killed by militants in Pakistan — nearly half the 275 killed in October, according to an AFP tally. But security had been stepped up in Karachi with a wave of political violence killing at least 37 activists from rival parties in the local government in the last five days, following 48 similar killings last month.


                • #9

                  February 18, 2010 -- A bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan's north-western tribal belt killed 29 people, including some militants, today, underscoring the relentless security threat in the region, even as Pakistani-U.S. co-operation against extremism increases. The attack in the Khyber tribal area came as the U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke met Pakistan's prime minister in Islamabad, the capital. It followed revelations that Pakistani authorities have been picking up Afghan Taliban leaders on their soil, a longtime U.S. demand. The explosion tore through a mosque in the Aka Khel area of Khyber, killing at least 29 people and wounding some 50 others, a local official, Jawed Khan, said. Earlier reports had said the blast occurred in the Orakzai area at a cattle market. The two areas border one another, and the market is apparently near the mosque. Officials were still investigating whether the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber or a planted device. No group claimed responsibility, but Khan said the dead included militants from Lashkar-e-Islam, an insurgent group in Khyber that has clashed with another militant outfit known as Ansarul Islam. Both espouse Taliban-style ideologies.

                  Earlier this week officials confirmed that a joint CIA-Pakistani security operation had captured the number two Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. An Afghan official told AP that around the same time – some two weeks ago – two Taliban leaders from northern Afghanistan also were arrested in Pakistan by Pakistani authorities. The U.S. and Pakistan have said very little on the record about the arrests, but they could signal a shift in Pakistani policy. Pakistan has long frustrated the Americans by either denying that the Afghan Taliban use its soil or doing little to root them out. The arrests could mean that Pakistan has decided to turn on the Afghan Taliban, a group that it helped nurture as a strategic ally against longtime rival India, though some suspect the Pakistanis were forced to act because the U.S. had solid intelligence on Baradar that it could not deny. The arrests come as western and Afghan troops fight the Taliban for control of the town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

                  Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, told Holbrooke that the U.S. should take into account Pakistan's concerns that the Marjah offensive could lead to Afghan refugees and militants heading to Pakistan's south-west and north-west, according to Gilani's office. The pair also discussed U.S. humanitarian aid efforts, with Gilani pressing for a quicker release of funds. The U.S. has pledged $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years. Talking with reporters in Kabul yesterday, Holbrooke said the U.S. was restructuring the way it doles out aid to Pakistan and intends to consult more with the Pakistanis and pursue more visible projects. "It is very, very time-consuming work because of the huge, long lead times of contracts, because of the congressional role," he said.


                  • #10

                    February 26, 2010 -- The story began with a chance meeting on a train between a British care worker and a young Pakistani chef. It ended in tragedy this week when Belinda Khan was among eight people killed by a suicide bomber in a marketplace in troubled northern Pakistan. Yesterday relatives and friends told the tragic story of how Khan, a 44-year-old woman from Cardiff, came to be in one of the world's most dangerous places. They described how her relationship with pizza chef Yahya Khan ended when he was shot dead in Pakistan by the Taliban two years ago, and how she married Yahya's younger brother, Saeed, just a fortnight before she was caught up in the suicide bomber's attack. Saeed, 25, also spoke of the horror of the moment when he and his new wife were caught in the terrorist bombing as they paused for a snack at a market in the Swat valley in the country's North-West Frontier province. He said he wished he could have died with his bride. "Me and my family are missing her very much," he said. "She was a brave woman and gave a lot of love to me and my family members."

                    Belinda's journey to the Swat Valley began some five years ago when she stepped on to a train in the UK and met Yahya Khan. Their backgrounds were very different. Belinda was born in Cardiff maternity hospital and her family were industrious working-class people. Her grandfather Frank was a boatman while Belinda's father, Terence, was a steelworker and a hospital porter. Belinda, who has an older sister and younger brother, attended Glan Ely high school and afterwards became a care worker. Her father died young and in June 1991 Belinda married her school sweetheart, Clive Gardiner, at St David's church in Cardiff. Belinda and Clive, who worked on the railways, moved to a bungalow not far from Barry Island. Belinda enjoyed gardening and the couple would take trips to the seafront when the weather was fine. They had no children.

                    Like many young Pakistani men, Yahya Khan had come to the UK three years before he met Belinda to help support his family, who lived in the village of Kuza Bandai in the Swat valley. It is a beautiful place, with high mountains, meadows, lakes and rivers. But it has also been a place of bloody clashes between Taliban insurgents and the Pakistani military. Despite the different worlds they came from and a 15-year age gap, Yahya and Belinda became close. Her marriage with Clive broke down at around this time. Yahya's family say Belinda converted to Islam and married Yahya. They lived mainly in south Wales, though Belinda is understood to have also visited Pakistan, and the Khan family say they were impressed by how she adopted Islamic customs and was even saving money to travel to Mecca. But tragedy struck in August 2008 when Yahya, then 29, visited Pakistan. According to the Khan family, he was at a bus stop travelling back to Kuza Bandai when he was given a lift by a local politician. Half a mile from home the car was ambushed by Taliban gunmen. The politician, who was believed to be the target, Yahya and two others were shot dead. Their bodies were found the next morning. The Khan family advised Belinda not to travel to Pakistan because of the Taliban presence in the area.

                    Belinda moved from Cardiff to the village of Ynyshir, near Pontypridd, in the Rhondda Valley. She lived in a small terrace house and planted a red flower in her garden in memory of Yahya. According to the Khans, Belinda began to exchange texts with Yahya's younger brother Saeed, who is now 25. In Pakistan it is not unusual for a widow to marry her late husband's brother. Belinda agreed to marry Saeed but he could not get permission to travel to Britain. He said: "She was willing to marry me after the death of my brother as I was in contact with her. I tried twice to get the UK visa and she even sponsored me but it was fruitless. Then she decided to come to Pakistan to take me with her to the UK." Extracts from Belinda's journal that Saeed showed to the Guardian reveal excitement and trepidation as the day of departure approached. Of the Khan family, she wrote: "How I've missed them all. It's going to be strange not seeing my Yahya." Just before she left she wrote: "I'm down to one day and my nerves have kicked in." Belinda arrived in Pakistan on February 8. Saeed said she had brought him gifts – anti-malarial tablets, a Collins English dictionary and a pair of boots. Saeed said they were married on February 9 in a simple nikkah (an Islamic marriage ceremony) and exchanged rings. He said she covered her head and said prayers five times a day. Saeed read verses from the Qur'an to her. He said Belinda would tell him that he could seek solace in the Qur'an when he was upset. Saeed said: "I appreciate her love for us and Islam as she came to have a second life with me."

                    Last Monday, February 22, Saeed said Belinda got up after a poor night's sleep and seemed sad. To cheer her up he took her to a picnic spot in the hills. Saeed said he told "Bel" that he loved her more than 1,000 times that day. By late afternoon they were heading home and reached the market at Mingora, the region's biggest town. Saeed got out of the car to fetch food for his wife – she enjoyed biryani rice and mutton tikka. Not far behind them was a group of army vehicles. As Saeed went to fetch food a huge explosion rocked the market. "Belinda was sitting in the back seat of my car," said Saeed. "I looked back and saw that she was silent." He said he tried to speak to her but she did not reply. Her nose and ears were "full of blood". He tried to pull her out of the car when a gas canister in the car exploded. The car filled with flames and both Belinda's and Saeed's clothes caught fire. "I cried for help but nobody was there to help me," said Saeed. Eventually he was assisted by a passing ambulance crew and the pair were taken to hospital. Doctors tried to revive Belinda but without success.

                    It fell to Saeed to break the news to Belinda's family in the UK. He says they agreed that she could be buried in his home village according to local customs. Belinda's family in Cardiff have been too upset to speak. Her former husband Clive paid tribute to a "wonderful" woman. "She loved caring for people," he said. "It is a hell of a shock. I didn't even know she was out there. They have held her funeral over there so I don't even have anywhere to go and lay flowers. I loved her to bits." Friends added their tributes on a website. "Belinda was a great friend and work colleague. A tragic loss of a great person," one said, adding: "Bel, re-united at last RIP." There was shock in Pakistan. One reader of a news website wrote: "She left her country, her family and everything she had for us and this is how we pay them back."

                    The Foreign Office advises against travel to Swat. "There are ongoing reports of military or militant activity," its latest advice states. Last year Amnesty International said the Taliban was guilty of "serious human rights abuses" in the Swat valley, including "the unlawful killing of scores of government workers as well as those whom they view as violating their edicts". It reported: "The Taliban have publicly whipped men for shaving their beards, destroyed shops for selling music and forcibly prohibited women from leaving their houses unless escorted by a male relative."

                    There have been reports that the police in Pakistan have questioned Saeed over his marriage but he denies this. The marriage, he insists, was a genuine one, not a tactic to get to the UK. About 1,200 people attended Belinda's funeral. A friend of the family, Jahangir Khan, 33, said: "We appreciate her efforts to come and rejoin this society after the death of her first Pakistani husband." Belinda Khan is buried in the village in a grave decorated with tinsel. A poster placed on it reads: "We are proud of Belinda." Sajjad Ali, Saeed's 16-year-old brother, said Belinda had become a "role model" for the family. "She gave a lot of love to each individual and told us that she would remain with us until her last breath. This promise she fulfilled."


                    • #11

                      march 8, 2010 -- A suicide car bomber has struck at a building where police interrogate high-value suspects in Lahore in eastern Pakistan, killing at least 11 people and wounding scores more, including women and children heading to school, officials said today . The attack broke what had been a relative lull in major violence in Pakistan. It also showed that insurgents retain the ability to strike the country's heartland, far from the Afghan border regions where al-Qaida and the Taliban thrive despite army offensives aimed at wiping them out. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban and allied militant groups. Those groups are believed to be responsible for a wave of attacks that started in October and has killed more than 600 people. Several of the earlier attacks took place in major Pakistani cities. More recent ones have been smaller and confined to remote north-western regions near Afghanistan.

                      The bomb blast today comes amid reports of a Pakistani crackdown on Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida operatives. Among the militants said to have been arrested in that operation is the Afghan Taliban's second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The explosion went off outside a police building in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, a police official said. TV footage showed a huge crater in the ground. Lahore's police chief, Pervez Rathore, said: "This place was used to interrogate important suspects... more then 40 staff were manning the place." No such suspect had been in the building at the time of the bombing, he said.

                      Noorul Huda, a student at a nearby religious school, was in his first class when the blast happened, he told TV reporters. "With the huge bang, blocks and pieces of the roof fell upon us and six of us were wounded," said the young man, who suffered a head injury. "It was total chaos outside and people were running and crying for help." Khusro Pervez, a Lahore government official, said 11 people had died and several of the wounded were in critical condition. The suicide bomber appeared to have rammed his explosives-laden car into the perimeter wall.

                      A hospital official, Jawed Akram, said the dead included at least one woman and a young girl, apparently part of a group heading to a school. Several women were wounded, Pervez said. "People are coming with multiple wounds, many with head injuries and broken limbs." Parts of the brick building appeared to have collapsed, and there were piles of bricks and metal everywhere at the site, the footage showed. Other nearby buildings, including a mosque, were damaged.

                      Militant attacks in Pakistan frequently target the security forces, though civilian targets have not escaped. During the wave of attacks that began in October, and coincided with a major army ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area, Lahore was hit several times. In mid-October, three groups of gunmen attacked three separate security facilities in the city, 28 leaving 28 people dead. Two co-ordinated suicide bombings at a market in Lahore a few weeks later killed nearly 50 people.


                      • #12

                        March 12, 2010 -- A bombing in the eastern city of Lahore has killed at least 43 people – the fifth terrorist attack this week as extremists in Pakistan demonstrate their continued ability to strike. The bloodiest terrorist strike in Pakistan this year was carried out by two attackers wearing suicide jackets who walked into a busy market in a high security military district and blew themselves up. The target appeared to be passing military vehicles but most of the victims were civilians.

                        Shops in the market were ripped apart, with children crossing the road and people waiting at a bus stop among the victims. About 10 soldiers were killed and 100 injured, said the Lahore police chief, Parvaiz Rathore. "There were about 10 to 15 seconds between the blasts. Both were suicide attacks," a senior local government official, Sajjad Bhutta, said at the site. "The maximum preventative measures were being taken but these people find support from somewhere."

                        The bombers struck at 1pm, around the time of Friday prayers, in the cantonment area, home to the local army garrison and one of Lahore's most upmarket residential districts. Lahore is the bustling cultural hub of Pakistan and had enjoyed several weeks of relative peace. It is the capital of the eastern Punjab province, Pakistan's most densely populated area and its political heartland. The suicide bombings were followed in the evening by three smaller blasts in a residential area across town. They caused panic but damage was reported to be minor. The authorities repeated their regular assertion that the Taliban and other extremist groups have been defeated. The provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah , said: "We broke their networks. That's why they have not been able to strike for a considerable time."

                        But it was the second bombing this week in Lahore. A car bombing on Monday at a police interrogation centre killed 14 people. Other attacks this week included a gun and grenade assault on a U.S. Christian aid agency's office in the north-west, killing six of its staff, all Pakistani nationals. "They (the extremists) are trying to project their power, telling the government that they are still alive," said analyst Imtiaz Gul, author of The al-Qaida Connection. "They are still far from broken. It's going to be a long haul."

                        In 2009 Lahore was dragged into the bloody insurgency in Pakistan, which claimed around 3,000 lives last year, with a series of spectacular attacks including a gun assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. The last major attack in Lahore was in December when a market was bombed, killing at least 49 people. The launch of a military offensive in South Waziristan, on the Afghan border, the base of the Pakistani Taliban, in October last year was accompanied by a vicious spate of terrorist reprisals but the country had been relatively peaceful this year.


                        • #13

                          LAHORE, Pakistan, May 28, 2010 — At least 56 people were killed when gunmen wearing suicide vests and carrying grenades attacked two mosques in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday, said police and an administration official. The precise number was difficult to pin down given the sophisticated nature of the attacks on mosques of the minority Ahmadi sect in two separate neighbourhoods of Lahore, where the recovery operation was still under way. "We have recovered 40 to 50 dead bodies, only from Garhi Shahu," Sajjad Bhutta, the top city administrative official in Lahore, told AFP by telephone from the mosque at Garhi Shahu. He said 16 people were killed in a second attack on another mosque in the Model Town neighbourhood, giving a minimum overall death toll of 56. District civil defence official Muzhar Ahmed told AFP by telephone from the scene in Garhi Shahu the death toll was 64. "We have taken as many as 42 dead bodies from Garhi Shahu so far and more are coming," he said. Another 22 died in Model Town, he said.


                          • #14

                            May 28, 2010 -- Armed militants swarmed around two mosques of a minority Islamic sect in the Pakistani city of Lahore today, raking worshippers with gunfire, taking hostages and killing at least 90 people. A spokesman for a group describing itself as the Punjabi Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, during which gunmen lobbed grenades into crowds and opened fire from a minaret. It was the bloodiest ever militant assault on the Ahmedi sect, highlighting how the fusion of Taliban and sectarian militant groups in Pakistan poses a deadly threat to besieged minorities. Considered heretics by many Pakistanis for their worship of a nineteenth century religious figure, Ahmedis have suffered decades of state-sponsored discrimination.

                            Today's assault started during weekly prayers when two teams of militants carrying ammunition-laden rucksacks stormed the mosques in Model Town and Garhi Shah, densely populated areas in Pakistan's cultural capital, Lahore. In Model Town, worshippers barricaded themselves into a section of the mosque as militants opened fire and tossed grenades through the windows. The devices seemed to have slow fuses and some were thrown back out. The attack ended after a short gunfight with police. At least 25 people were killed, including one attacker. Another, a 16-year-old boy, was captured, while a third managed to escape, firing at television reporters as he fled. "He was young, clean-shaven. He sprayed bullets at our van while fleeing the scene," said Rabia Mehmood of Express Television.

                            There was greater bloodshed at Garhi Shuha, where one gunman mounted his assault from the balcony of a minaret. Others took hostages in the courtyard below, starting a four-hour siege that ended with three militants blowing up their explosives vests, killing dozens of people and wounding many more. By late afternoon the Lahore deputy commissioner counted 70 dead and 80 injured, but the toll continued to rise during the evening. Among the victims was the local head of the Ahmedi community and a retired army general. Punjab province's chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, appealed for calm. "Our security forces will fight this menace till the end," he said. "Attacks on places of worship is barbarianism."

                            Last week the country's top television presenter Hamid Mir sparked outrage when he appeared to make derogatory comments about Ahmedis in a tape leaked to the media. Mir says the tape was fabricated; his critics have challenged him to take the case to court. Prejudice against Ahmedis dates back to the 1950s, when Lahore was rocked by riots targeting the sect. They are Muslims, but believe that a 19th century Punjab cleric, Ghulam Ahmedi, was a messenger from God. Orthodox Muslims insist that Muhammad was the final prophet. In the 1970s the government declared Ahmedis a non-Muslim minority and banned their public demonstrations of faith, such as the call to prayer. Ahmedis may not describe themselves as Muslims, while calling their place of worship a "mosque" carries a six-month prison sentence, although many television reporters seemed to forget this today. As police and army installations are increasingly well guarded, the Taliban is turning to soft sectarian targets to assert its authority. Last month Shias queuing to receive food in Hangu district were targeted by a suicide bomber; last year saw a bloody assault on a Shia mosque in Chakwal. Many fugitive extremists from Punjab are thought to be hiding in the Taliban stronghold of Waziristan in the tribal belt, where American drone attacks continue to pound suspected extremist hideouts. Today a suspected CIA missile killed 11 people in South Waziristan, security officials said. The identities of the dead were not clear.


                            • #15


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