Posts Tagged ‘Pakistani army’

Amnesty International Calls on Pakistani Army to Stop Harassment of Mehsud Tribe

October 23, 2009

Amnesty International, October 22, 2009

WASHINGTON – October 22 – The Pakistani military must stop its harassment of civilians from the Mehsud tribe as they flee the government’s latest offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest of the country, Amnesty International said today.

The Pakistani military refused to allow Mehsud members to use major roads in fleeing the conflict zone, witnesses told Amnesty International. Some of the tribe members are involved in the senior leadership of the Pakistani Taliban.

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The Destabilization of Pakistan

May 30, 2009

The Main Result of the “War on Terror”

By Gary Leupp | Counterpunch, May 29 – 31, 2009

So far the principle result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the events of 9-11 has been the destabilization of Pakistan. That breakdown is peaking with the events in what AP calls the “Swat town” of Mingora—actually a city of 375,000 from which all but 20,000 have fled as government forces moved in, strafing it with gunships. We’re talking urban guerrilla warfare, house-to-house fighting, not on the Afghan border but 50 miles away in the Swat Valley. We’re talking about Pakistani troops fighting to reclaim the nearby Malam Jabba ski resort from the Tehreek-e-Taliban, who since last year have been using it as a training center and logistics base. We’re talking about two million people fleeing the fighting in the valley and 160,000 in government refugee camps.

And of course, “collateral damage”: As was reported in The News in Pakistan May 19:

Several persons, including women and children, were killed and a number of others sustained injuries when families fleeing the military operation in Swat’s Matta town were shelled while crossing a mountainous path to reach Karo Darra in Dir Upper on Monday, eyewitnesses and official sources said. Eyewitnesses, who escaped the attack or were able to reach Wari town of Dir Upper in injured condition, said they were targeted by gunship helicopters. However, police officials said they might have been hit by a stray shell. Local people said they saw some 12 to 14 bodies on a mountain on the Swat side but could not go near to retrieve them or help the injured for fear of another aerial attack.

What a nightmare scenario for Pakistan.

We’re talking about the Pakistani Army sometimes fighting over the last year to retake towns from Taliban forces in the Buner region of the North-West Frontier Province that are closer to the capital of Islamabad than the Afghan border. And while the Talibs apparently lack popular support, even among the Pashtuns (who are 15 % of the Pakistani population—26 million and 42% of the Afghan population—14 million) they have been able to inflict embarrassing defeats on the army.

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Residents seethe as Pakistan army destroys homes

May 29, 2009

By Chris Brummitt, Associated Press, May 28, 2009

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A Pakistani woman carries her soon as she walks through the rubble of houses destroyed in an air strike in Sultanwas village, in Buner district, Pakistan, on Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SULTANWAS, Pakistan (AP) — When Pakistan’s army drove the Taliban back from this small northwestern village, it also destroyed much of everything else here.

F-16 fighter jets, military helicopters, tanks and artillery reduced houses, mosques and shops to rubble, strewn with children’s shoes, shattered TV sets and perfume bottles.

Commanders say the force was necessary in an operation they claim killed 80 militants. But returning residents do not believe this: Although a burned-out army tank at the entrance to Sultanwas indicates the Taliban fought back, villagers say most fighters fled into the mountains.

Beyond any doubt is their fury at authorities for wrecking their homes — the sort of backlash the army doesn’t want as it tries to win the support of the people for its month-old offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwest frontier region near the border with Afghanistan.

“The Taliban never hurt the poor people, but the government has destroyed everything,” Sher Wali Khan told the first reporting team to reach the village of about 1,000 homes.

“They are treating us like the enemy,” he said as he collected shredded copies of a Quran from the ruins of a mosque, one of three that were damaged, possibly beyond repair.

The anger in this village is an echo of recent years, when previous army offensives against the Taliban in the northwestern frontier area caused widespread civilian casualties and damage to homes. The military’s heavy-handed approach here shows it may still be more equipped to fight conventional war with India than guerrilla warfare in the shadows of mountain villages and towns, where militants use civilians as cover.

The Associated Press traveled to Sultanwas on Wednesday after the Pakistani army briefly lifted a curfew in the Buner district to allow residents to return.

But the fight for the region is clearly not over. Just beyond the village, a makeshift army checkpoint shows where its control ends. Beyond that, the army and villagers say the Taliban are in charge, patrolling streets on foot and in pickup trucks.

The United States wants a resounding victory against insurgents who are threatening not only the stability of this nuclear-armed country, but also the success of the American-led mission in neighboring Afghanistan.

The army launched its operation in April to take back the northwest after the militants lost popular support across the region partly because of their defiance of a peace deal with the government. The Taliban have also carried out atrocities in the northwest and claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians elsewhere in Pakistan.

But residents of Sultanwas say the militants in their village threatened no one.

Khan, a 17-year-old who is quick with a smile and hopes to attend medical school, said about five militants occasionally came to a mosque. There, he said, they preached an ultraconservative brand of Islam and called for overthrowing the government because it was not implementing Islamic law. He said he did not agree with either position.

Khan fled with his family and most other residents when the army warned them last week to get out because the offensive was about to reach them.

The Taliban entered Buner last month from the Swat Valley, an advance that triggered the military’s offensive. There was very little damage to buildings in the road leading to Sultanwas, which military officials said used to be one of the Taliban’s major strongholds in the district.

The army says it is making every effort to avoid damaging buildings in the offensive. Reporters on a military-escorted trip to part of the Swat Valley last week saw no significant destruction.

But the army used helicopters, F-16 jets, tanks and artillery in the battle for Sultanwas. While the military says this tactic reduces army casualties by “softening up” areas before troops move in, critics question its effectiveness against a small and, for the most part, lightly armed insurgent force moving in and out of towns.

Khan and others insisted the militants were not living in their homes either before or after the attack.

There were no bodies, blood or obviously buried corpses in the rubble, which spans an area the size of two football fields, roughly a third of the village. A reporter could find no sign any rebels had dug in there or used the area as a base. Residents said the same.

“When the operation started, the Taliban all ran away from the area,” said Rosi Khan, citing an account from the only three villagers who he said stayed behind. He could not say where those villagers are now.

Spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said fleeing villagers had told military officials that militants were using Khan’s house and others nearby. He said 80 insurgents were killed in the operation, and that other militants apparently removed their bodies.

But two officers involved in the Buner operations said most of the roughly 400 fighters believed to be there escaped to the mountains — terrain they know far better than do army troops trucked in from elsewhere in Pakistan. The two officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give information to reporters.

It is a pattern the military says the outgunned and outnumbered militants are following elsewhere in the region, including in the main Swat Valley city of Mingora.

A defense attache for a Western embassy said the Swat operation appeared to be better organized and more coordinated than earlier ones in the northwest. But he questioned whether the 15,000 troops deployed against roughly 4,000 militants were enough to secure the region.

Besides Swat, Pakistan needs to keep troops elsewhere in the border region where al-Qaida and other militants are strong. But most of its roughly 700,000-member army is stationed on or close to the border with India, the country’s traditional rival.

To claim victory, the government will have to ensure the militants do not return to the Swat Valley and Buner, and that the 2.4 million people who fled the fighting stay on the government’s side when they come home.

The army is appealing for refugees to return to Sultanwas, but as elsewhere in Buner, few were heeding the call.

A week after the battle for this village ended, there was still no police, electricity or civilian administration.

“The political leadership is not here, there is no police,” said a senior army officer, who asked not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “How can you expect them to return?”

An AP photographer saw several people looting food and drinks from a damaged store in Sultanwas. They stopped only when other villagers reprimanded them.

At a checkpoint in Sultanwas, young men riding in buses from Taliban-controlled Pir Baba were ordered to lift their shirts and be searched, but there was little sign they were making serious checks of all those leaving the area.

In Pir Baba, Taliban fighters armed with rocket launchers and assault rifles are patrolling the streets, said Mohammed Yusuf, a 50-year-old farmer who was leaving but intended to return after buying vegetables at the nearest open market, several miles away.

“They are on the streets in the morning and evening,” Yusuf said. “They are friendly. Some of them I know from my area.”

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press

Civilians say they’re casualties of Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban

May 15, 2009

MARDAN, Pakistan — The Pakistani army denies knowing that its war against Islamic militants has caused civilian casualties, but patients and family members at a local hospital told McClatchy Thursday that multiple relatives were killed when the military shelled or bombed their homes.

So far, there appear to be just a handful of civilian casualties from the fighting in Swat, a valley 100 miles from Islamabad. More of them, however, along with damage to homes and businesses and the plight of the hundreds of thousands who’ve been displaced by the fighting, could undermine hard-won public support for fighting the Taliban.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani recognized the danger, telling parliament Thursday: “Militarily we will win the war, but it will be unfortunate if we lose it publicly.”

On a visit Thursday to the District Headquarters (DHQ) hospital in Mardan, the first major town reached by those fleeing the war zone, a McClatchy reporter found doctors and nurses struggling to cope with civilian casualties

Fareedon, a 36-year-old who goes by one name, was lying in a bed at the simply equipped and poorly maintained DHQ hospital. He said that he lost three of his children, a 12-year-old boy and girls aged 8 and 5, when a mortar hit their house in Landkhai village in the southwest corner of Swat. He said that 10 to 12 houses and a school in the village were shelled on May 11. He was injured in the foot and the thigh.

“It (mortars) is falling on our houses,” said Fareedon. “Ordinary people die. Not one Taliban has been killed.”

At Aboha village, also in southwest Swat, a shell killed six people, said Sajjad Khan, 18, who’d brought his injured 13-year-old brother, Sohail, to the hospital. They said they lost a sister and a cousin, and another wounded cousin lay on a nearby hospital bed.

“What is this child guilty of?” said Sajjad, pointing to his brother. “What is the guilt of those that died?”

He said they tried calling an ambulance but none would come because of a curfew.

In another bed was 8-year-old Aktar Mina, with a broken leg. In a two-hour attack, missiles or bombs from fighter planes hit several homes on Sunday in her village in Gut Peochar, a remote part of Swat that reputedly is a Taliban stronghold, according to relatives crowded around her bed.

Her mother carried her for four days until they could find transportation, said the girl’s cousin, 30-year-old Saeed Afzal. Eight people were killed, including the girl’s aunt and seven of the neighbors’ children who were taking shelter in the house, he said.

“When the fighting began, the Taliban all vanished. It is ordinary people being bombed,” said Afzal.

There was no way to verify the stories independently, and according to doctors at the hospital, there are only a few patients with injuries from the fighting in Swat, with four admitted on Wednesday, for instance.

“We were expecting much more than this. There’s no rush of the injured. It is a mystery,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, of the casualty department.

It’s possible that the badly injured haven’t been able to make it out of the war zone, said doctors, who’re also coping with an outbreak of disease among the “internally displaced people” who’re living in giant camps on the city outskirts.

The hospital’s main concern now is a flood of people with diseases caused by poor hygiene and overcrowded conditions. Out of the 582 patients seen at the hospital Wednesday, 283 were refugees from the fighting in Swat and the surrounding districts, and most fell ill in the camps.

There were three or four babies and young children on most of the mattresses in the children’s ward, where 28 exhausted little patients occupied the 10 beds. All the children were suffering from dangerous acute diarrhea.

“Let’s hope this (war) ends soon. Otherwise, as the weather gets hotter, it will be a disaster,” said Ahmed.

The Pakistani army has either declined to answer questions about civilian casualties or said it has no record of any. However, the army has produced precise claims for the number of Taliban it’s killed. Earlier this week, the army said 751 militants had been killed, and Thursday officials added 54 more.

Past Pakistani military operations against Islamic militants in Swat and in the tribal belt along the Afghan border have caused significant civilian casualties and collateral damage to houses, businesses and other buildings.

Human Rights Watch warned earlier this week that the army must avoid civilian casualties, and the army repeated its pledge to take care of civilians.

“The security forces are making all efforts to minimize collateral damage, and therefore we have changed some of our plans to ensure that we do not cause collateral damage,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army’s chief spokesman, at a news briefing Thursday. “We have taken all measures to avoid fighting in populated areas so far.”

Thousands of residents remain trapped in Mingora, Swat’s biggest town, which has no electricity, no running water and dwindling food supplies. Many Taliban militants are believed to be holed up there, and Abbas said that the army wants as many people as possible to be leave Mingora before the anticipated “street-to-street” fighting begins in the town.

On May 8, the Pakistani army launched its “full-scale” operations to wrest back control of Swat valley from Taliban extremists. Some 15,000 troops are involved.

Since the fighting began, the army said that some 750,000 people have fled Swat and the surrounding districts, increasing Pakistan’s population of “internally displaced people” to 1.3 million. Hundreds of thousands already had been made homeless by anti-Taliban operations elsewhere in the northwest part of the country.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

Pakistani army flattening villages as it battles Taliban

May 5, 2009

By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers, ay 4, 2009

CHINGLAI, Pakistan — The Pakistani army’s assault against Islamic militants in Buner, in northwest Pakistan, is flattening villages, killing civilians and sending thousands of farmers and villagers fleeing from their homes, residents escaping the fighting said Monday.

“We didn’t see any Taliban; they are up in the mountains, yet the army flattens our villages,” Zaroon Mohammad, 45, told McClatchy as he walked with about a dozen scrawny cattle and the male members of his family in the relative safety of Chinglai village in southern Buner. “Our house has been badly damaged. These cows are now our total possessions.”

Mohammad’s and other residents’ accounts of the fighting contradict those from the Pakistani military and suggest that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is rapidly losing the support of those it had set out to protect.

The heavy-handed tactics are ringing alarm bells in Washington, where the Obama administration is struggling to devise a strategy to halt the militants’ advances. Officials Monday talked about the need to train the Pakistani military, which has long been fixated on fighting armored battles with India, in counterinsurgency warfare, but it may be too late for that.

Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the Pakistani army in recent years has undertaken “bursts of fighting and engagement” fighting insurgents, but that its operations were “not sustained” by follow-up measures.

The army is now using force, but it also must hold and rebuild the area it conquers, he said. “There’s a military piece” to the operation, he said, “but there also needs to be a hold and build aspect of it.”

Another U.S. official, who closely tracks Pakistan developments, said the Pakistan army is “just destroying stuff. They have zero ability to deliver (aid) services.”

“They hold villages completely accountable for the actions of a few, and that kind of operation produces a lot of (internally displaced persons) and a lot of angst,” said a senior defense official. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

In Buner, the Pakistani military appears to be losing public support in a stridently anti-Taliban district whose residents had raised their own militia to defend themselves against the militants, who last month seized control of the district about 60 miles from Islamabad, the capital.

Mohammad, who’d walked for two days with his cattle to escape the offensive against the Taliban, and other farmers accused the military of using poorly directed artillery and air power to pound civilian areas.

“They shouldn’t use the army in this (indiscriminate) way. They should be targeted at the Taliban,” said Saed Afsar Khan, who was leaving Buner with 18 members of his family and two cows. He estimated that the army had destroyed 80 of the 400 houses in his village of Kawga, near the key battlefield of Ambela.

“I don’t think they’ve killed even one Taliban,” he said. “Only ordinary people.”

As the fighting raged in Buner, a bigger battle appears likely to erupt in neighboring Swat. Late Monday, fierce gun battles broke out between the army and Taliban in the streets of Mingora, the district’s main town, and a controversial three-month-old peace deal between the government and the Taliban in Swat is disintegrating.

The Taliban were reported to have surrounded 46 police officers at the local electrical grid station. Earlier in the day, they ambushed a military convoy in Swat, killing one soldier and wounding two others.

The Pakistani army waited some 25 days after the Taliban stormed into Buner from Swat before launching their response, which television pictures show involves tanks and helicopter gunships.

“Why did they not nip the evil in the bud? This is criminal negligence,” said Sahibzada, a college teacher, who goes by one name, in Palodand village, just south of Buner, where he helps organize relief to those fleeing from the fighting.

“They have caused huge financial losses for those who’ve been forced to flee and caused hatred among those people for their government.”

Locals said that a key grievance was an order given by the government commissioner for the Malakand area, which includes Buner, to disband the anti-Taliban militia soon after the insurgents entered Buner.

The delay in moving the armed forces against the extremists in Buner may have allowed them to entrench themselves and mass sufficient weapons and men to put up stiff resistance. The Taliban have managed to take hostage some 2,000 villagers in the Pir Baba area in the north of Buner, the army confirmed Monday.

The Pakistan army wouldn’t confirm civilian casualties or damage to civilian villages.

“There are no reports I have of any civilian casualties,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army’s chief spokesman. “Or any collateral damage. We have made maximum efforts to avoid it.”

One reason why civilian casualties are likely is that government officials gave no instructions to ordinary people about how to leave the district, and many were confused about the timing of the curfew, those fleeing said. A cause of further frustration was that little or no preparation was made to accommodate those who’d inevitably be displaced by the fighting.

In southern Buner, in the Khudokhel area, on the road out to the nearest town of Swabi, there was no sign of any government-sponsored relief effort. Residents of villages along the road turned out instead, offering food and drink to weary travelers, and help with transportation onward. Those with spare rooms or buildings offered them to the displaced. Villagers in Chinglai, about an hour’s drive into Buner from Swabi, are housing 20 families.

There are no reliable figures so far for how many people have fled Buner. Evacuees describe the district, which had a population of some 500,000, as having practically been emptied.

According to the al Khidmat Foundation, an Islamic charity, more than 150,000 people have taken the road south to Swabi alone. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the refugee arm of the United Nations, has registered around 18,000 people, but counting is tricky because almost none of the displaced have gone into the camps that are being set up for them outside Buner.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.)

Pakistan army to ask Pervez Musharraf to resign

August 9, 2008

Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief will ask President Pervez Musharraf to resign from office within a week, a senior government official claimed today.

Pakistan army to ask Pervez Musharraf to resign

President Pervez Musharraf gestures during a meeting: his resignation would avoid the humiliation of impeachment Photo: AP

The claim was supported by a former military aide to the president who said that the army’s leadership wished Mr Musharraf to be spared the humiliation of impeachment.

The civilian government intensified an attritional, seven-month long power struggle with the presidency when it announced earlier this week that it is to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Musharraf on Monday.

The twin arbiters of power in Pakistan, the army chief of staff, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, and America, which has provided dollars 12 billion in military aid to the country in the last six years, have publicly declared themselves to be neutral on Pakistan’s domestic politics.

However a senior official from the ruling government coalition partner, the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) said that the army has “whispered in Musharraf’s ear that it is time to leave”.

“Over the next few days they will make it clear to him [Musharraf] that a protracted battle [against impeachment] is not in Pakistan’s interests,” he added.

Yesterday Pakistan’s political class had an ear strenuously cocked for hints as to which way the army will move as Gen Kiyani spent a second day in conference with his senior commanders.

The former military aide to Mr Musharraf said: “The army is neutral but is expecting him to resign. It will then influence his honourable safe passage as the army’s senior leadership would not want him to be punished”.

The PPP government official said that his party had given an assurance of “indemnity” to the president.

The official, who has top-level contacts with Washington, said that his party had instigated the impeachment because Mr Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terror, had begun to use intelligence agencies to plot against the government.

He alleged that Mr Musharraf had tried to use a former PPP leader, Amin Fahim, to “instigate a rebellion within the party”.

“Washington was still hoping that the PPP would work with Musharraf, but he was not working with us,” he said.

“America wants Pakistan to be effectively governed and so has realised that the domestic struggle has to be resolved”, he added.

Mr Musharraf’s future remained opaque as it is dependant on the unpredictable brinkmanship of Pakistani politics.

His allies said yesterday that he will defend himself against impeachment, if necessary by dissolving parliament and thereby risking that the volatile country be further mired in turmoil.

Shujaat Hussain, the head of Mr Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), which lost elections in February, said that dissolving parliament would be ” unfortunate” but it may be “necessary”.

He told The Daily Telegraph that he had evidence that the move to impeach the president was made after the usually bickering coalition partners had struck a deal to hand the presidency to Asif Zardari, the PPP leader and widower of the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Mr Hussain said that presidential candidacy of Mr Zardari, who was granted an amnesty by Mr Musharraf absolving him of corruption charges involving hundreds of millions of dollars, would be opposed by the army.

“I have no knowledge of that but Pakistan would be better served by a civilian president with a knowledge of democracy,” a PPP spokesman said of Mr Zardari’s alleged presidential bid.

Provincial assemblies will first be called on to pass resolutions demanding that Musharraf seek a vote of confidence from Parliament, which would show whether he has the support of lawmakers elected in February.

  • The coalition is currently several seats short of the 295 votes it requires out of the 439 in the Senate and National Assembly to remove Musharraf.
  • Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, together with smaller coalition partners, have 266 seats and need a further 29 MPs on side, likely to be from the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
  • The party of ex-Premier Nawaz Sharif said Friday it is rejoining the Cabinet, a gesture of solidarity now that the coalition partners have agreed to seek President Pervez Musharraf’s impeachment.
  • A poll by the International Republican Institute in June showed that 85 percent of Pakistanis believed that the president should resign.

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