Pakistan jets strike insurgents

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by Haji Mujtaba

Reuters

July 16, 2014

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MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, June 16 – Pakistani fighter jets pounded North Waziristan on Monday, a day after the army announced the start of a full-scale drive to flush Islamist insurgents out of the volatile region bordering Afghanistan.

In a long-awaited military operation precipitated by a deadly insurgent attack on Pakistan’s biggest airport a week ago, Islamabad has deployed troops, artillery and helicopter gunships to fight insurgents in North Waziristan.

The Taliban and their ethnic Uzbek allies holed up in North Waziristan have both claimed responsibility for the June 8 commando-style attack on Karachi airport, which was seen as a strategic turning point in how Pakistan tackles the insurgency.

In a chilling message issued in response to the offensive, the Taliban said foreign firms operating in Pakistan would bear the brunt of their revenge.

“We are in a state of war. Foreign businesses, airline companies and multinationals should immediately sever their ties with Pakistan or they will have only themselves to blame for any damage,” said Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

The army said combat aircraft destroyed six hideouts in the Shawal sector of North Waziristan, home to some of Pakistan’s most feared militants and al Qaeda commanders, early on Monday.

“In these precise strikes, 27 terrorists were killed. There is no (civilian) population in the area,” it said.

“North Waziristan Agency has been isolated by deploying troops along its border with neighbouring agencies and FATA (Federally Administrative Tribal Areas) regions to block any move of terrorists in and out of the Agency.”

The army chief, Raheel Sharif, said the operation would continue until “all terrorists along with their sactuaries” were eliminated but gave no specific timeline.

“The operation is not targeted against our valiant tribes of North Waziristan but against those terrorists who are holed up in the agency and have picked up arms against the state of Pakistan,” an army statement on Monday quoted him as saying.

 

PUBLIC SUPPORT

The army said troops had cordoned off militant bases, including the town of Mirali where ethnic Uzbek and other foreign fighters are based, and the regional city of Miranshah.

The Taliban appear determined to fight back. In the first attack since the start of the operation, at least six Pakistani soldiers were killed on Monday when a roadside bomb hit an army convoy just north of Miranshah, the army said.

The all-night attack on Karachi airport all but destroyed prospects for peace talks with the Taliban militants, who are fighting to topple the government and impose a strict Sharia-based theocracy in the nuclear-armed nation.

The airport has since resumed operations after suspending flights twice in the aftermath of the attack.

Public opinion appears to have swung in favour of a military operation after the Karachi attack, even though such a response in North Waziristan means a higher risk of revenge attacks by the Taliban outside the tribal region.

“Operation at last!” The Nation daily said in a front-page headline.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long insisted that he could bring insurgents to the negotiating table but the start of the offensive is seen as a victory for hawks in the army who have long called for tough military action.

“We know the difficulties of picking this option (of launching an operation), but the enemy has left us no choice,” Sharif told parliament in his first remarks on the operation.

“The world knows that on the one hand we were engaged in dialogue with these people, and on the other hand our children, women and youth were being bathed in blood.”

He added: “It is a matter of sorrow and pain that after four and a half months of talks, we could not make a breakthrough for peace.”

 

OPERATION “PROPHET’S SWORD”

The army imposed an all-day curfew in North Waziristan as the operation got under way and turned off mobile phone services to undermine the insurgency and restrict people’s movements.

Independent confirmation of the events or other details were not available immediately from a region where journalists are not allowed to operate freely.

Expecting an escalation of violence, two-thirds of families have fled from the ethnic Pashtun region, residents said, many heading for the Gorbaz district of Afghanistan’s Khost province.

Mohammad Akbar Zadran, Gorbaz district chief, told Reuters nearly a thousand families, or around 10,000 people, had now entered Gorbaz district, and the number was growing.

“We have packed up everything and are ready to leave as soon as the curfew is lifted,” said Ethasham Khan, a resident of Miranshah, where the usually bustling streets were empty.

The curfew would be relaxed in the next few days to allow residents to leave the area, a security official said.

Tellingly, the Pakistani military’s operation against the Islamist militants in North Waziristan is called Zarb-e-Azb in Urdu, or “Strike of the Prophet’s Sword”.

For now, ground troops – numbering some 80,000 in North Waziristan, according to military sources – have not been involved in direct military action, leaving F-16 combat jets to lead the offensive with air strikes.

It was also unclear how long officials expect the operation to last in a region of forbidding mountainous terrain that has never been subdued by any government.

Separately on Monday, Omar Jillani, an intelligence official who police said is the nephew of Pakistan’s powerful chief justice, was kidnapped in the eastern city of Multan by suspected Taliban gunmen, police said.

Security is visibly tighter in the capital, Islamabad, as well, with street patrols by paramilitary Rangers and police. In Lahore, the cultural capital, police have added checkpoints.

Islamabad’s central Kohsar market, a shopping and dining spot for foreigners and rich Pakistanis, was largely deserted as the operation got under way on Sunday afternoon.

(Additional reporting by Asim Tanveer in Multan, Elyas Wahdat in Khost, Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Security Tight, Taliban Threaten Voters

Afghanistan Elections

Afghan women enter a poling station to vote in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Saturday, April 5, 2014.  They’re doing the run-off vote this weekend…

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By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ
Associated Press June 12, 2014

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan police and soldiers manned checkpoints at almost every intersection Thursday, searching vehicles and frisking drivers in a massive security operation ahead of elections to choose a new president to guide the country after international combat forces withdraw.

Insurgents fighting the Western-backed government have intensified attacks ahead of Saturday’s runoff vote, and the Taliban issued a new statement warning voters to stay away from the polls. The first round in April passed relatively peacefully, but a recent assassination attempt against one of the two presidential hopefuls left in the race has stoked fears of more violence to come.

“The Islamic Emirate deems it necessary to alert the people and warn them for the last time that they should not participate in this American process, deliberately or inadvertently,” the Taliban said Wednesday in a statement posted online.

Still, the senior U.N. envoy for Afghanistan expressed confidence Afghan voters would turn out as they did in the first round to decide their future by picking a new leader to oversee the transition after most U.S. and allied forces pull out by the end of this year.

Jan Kubis, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, also called on the candidates to give electoral authorities time to tally the ballots – most of which will come from remote regions, often transported by donkeys – and resolve any complaints amid widespread fears of fraud.

“Give a chance to due process, respect the work of the Commissions, don’t jump to conclusions,” he said. “Don’t make statements or comments in anticipation of the results. it will just mislead the people. control yourself, act as responsible politicians.”

He was referring to the likelihood that the campaigns of front-runner Abdullah Abdullah, the target of last week’s attack, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will start releasing their internal tallies before formal results are announced.

The official timetable is for preliminary results to be announced on July 2 and final results on July 22 in order to allow time for ballots to be secured and fraud complaints investigated.

The stakes are high as the winner will replace President Hamid Karzai, a one-time U.S. ally whose relations with Washington have soured, in the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in the country’s history.

Karzai has governed Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted following the U.S. invasion in 2001, and is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Karzai on Thursday called on Afghans to vote for the candidate of their choice in order to bring about a “stable, secure and developed future” for the war-ravaged country.

“The security forces of our country are fully ready to ensure security with the help of you, the people, for the election,” he said in a statement.

The Obama administration is watching closely. Both candidates have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that would allow thousands of international forces to stay in Afghanistan in a largely training and advisory capacity. Karzai has refused to sign it.

Afghan security forces were widely praised for the April 5 elections, which were held without major violence despite a series of deadly attacks in the weeks beforehand.

Karzai held a video conference with commanders Thursday to urge them to remain impartial and refrain from interfering in the second round balloting.

Traffic was snarled even more than usual on the streets of Kabul as police set up extra checkpoints and barriers on many roads to allow only one car through at a time. They also searched many drivers and passengers for possible explosives or other weapons.

The Afghan Interior Ministry announced that it was banning most trucks and people from other provinces from entering the capital on Election Day.

“Trucks loaded with vegetables that are in danger of being spoiled will be allowed to enter the city after a very careful search process by police,” it said.

The Cabinet also has approved a week off for school and university students that began Tuesday because of security issues.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed a police officer Thursday in the southern city of Kandahar, according to Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial government.

Elsewhere in the south, Taliban insurgents attacked several police checkpoints and killed nine police officers on Wednesday in Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, a provincial official confirmed on Thursday.

Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said reinforcements had arrived and were searching for the attackers. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack in Uruzgan province.

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Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

http://www.kwwl.com/story/25759356/afghans-tighten-security-as-taliban-threaten-vote

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Nuristan Seeks Safer Voting

tumblr_n1gbcci40B1trd5lco1_500

Nuristan province, Afghanistan, 1972, photograph by Laurence Brun…

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by Mahbob Shah Mahbob

Pajhwok Afghan News

May 27, 2014

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JALALABAD: The people of eastern Nuristan province on Tuesday urged the government to bolster security ahead of the presidential runoff vote, scheduled for June 14.

They asked the departments concerned and security agencies to beef up safety measures so that people could cast their votes in the second round in a fear-free environment.

Haji Mirza Ali, a resident of Paron, told Pajhwok Afghan News security was bolstered only in the provincial capital and suburban localities in the last election. Voters in remote areas cast their ballots amid Taliban threats.

He demanded the government devise a stringent security plan to protect remote villages and polling sites so that people could elect a president of their choice.

“Anomalous elections were held on April 5 in Kamdesh, Barg-i-Matal and other far-flung districts because people feared militants’ reprisal if the cast vote,” he alleged.

Sultan Mir, another Nuristan resident, said the insurgents had warned voters to stay away from polling stations during the last polls. The government should work out a strategy to instill a sense of protection among voters.

“People fear their fingers will be chopped off if they cast ballot. It is imperative for the government to boost security ahead of the presidential polls,” he added.

Last time, election could not be held in Mandol district and ballot boxes were stuffed in other areas, he claimed.

Agha Gul, a resident of the district, said elections could not be held in his locality because of stout resistance from militants.

“Casting ballot is the constitutional right of every Afghan but the government should do its job of providing security,” he argued. The villagers were ready to take active part in the polls if security was improved.

A lawmaker from the province, wishing anonymity, said a very small number of women had voted in the April 5 presidential and provincial council election.

Most of the female did not take part in the ballot because of insecurity, she said, adding militants had warned people against voting.

Amanullah Inayatur Rehman, former provincial council member, said deteriorated law and order was a big hurdle hampering people’s participation in the vote. The government should adopt measures to ensure security of all active polling stations throughout the province.

Izzatullah Halim, provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) director, acknowledged most of the districts were gripped by insecurity and problems created by insurgents.

Like much of Afghanistan, Nuristan was a mountainous province where security problems remained higher than other parts of the country, he added.

“We face serious problems and options are needed to be mulled to resolve them,” he reiterated. He went on to say that a strategy had been evolved to keep polling sites open in Mandol, a district where elections could not be held on April 5 due to militant threats.

Mohammad Zaher Bahand, the governor’s spokesman, said all institutions were ready to hold A peaceful second round. The governor has ordered a security boost for the crucial polls.

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origin of photo:

http://kafiristan.tumblr.com/page/3

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