Sri Lanka suicide blast kills 14, wounds minister

13 03 2009

Source: AP

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – A suicide bomber attacked government ministers leading a procession to mark a Muslim festival in southern Sri Lanka, killing 14 people and severely wounding one of the officials.The government blamed Tamil Tiger separatists for Tuesday’s blast, which wounded 45 other people, saying the rebels had grown desperate in the
face of an army offensive that has driven them close to defeat after more than 25 years of civil war.If the assault was carried out by the Tigers, it shows that the guerrillas can still launch strikes far from their traditional strongholds in the north and east even as they face battlefield defeat.
As the military has pushed the rebels into an ever-shrinking sliver of territory in the north, human rights and aid groups have voiced concern for the fate of the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the pocket. Heavy artillery attacks Tuesday killed at least 49 ethnic Tamil civilians and wounded hundreds of others, the top government health official in the war zone said.While fighting rages in the north, the suicide attacker struck in the southern town of Akuressa as six ministers led a procession toward a mosque for a ceremony to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.Television footage showed men in white robes and caps slowly parading down the street before the blast sent them running in all directions. Afterward, charred bodies lay scattered among their torn clothes and severed limbs just outside the mosque compound’s gates.?I heard a huge sound, and then I saw people had fallen everywhere.

They were covered with blood and flesh, and the wounded people were screaming,? Ahamed Nafri, 29, said by telephone from the hospital in the nearby town of Matara.Police and bystanders hauled the badly bleeding Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara into a van. He was later flown to the capital for treatment to a head wound.Dr. Hector Weerasinghe, director of Colombo National Hospital, said the minister underwent three hours of surgery and was still in serious condition late Tuesday.The government said the attack killed 14 people and wounded 45 more.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office said selecting a mosque on an Islamic festival for the attack showed the rebels ?hatred? of Muslims and strengthened the government’s resolve to defeat them.There was no indication Muslims were specifically targeted on Tuesday. However, the Tamil Tigers used violence to drive many Muslims and ethnic Sinhalese, who are mainly Buddhist, from areas dominated by Tamils, who are mostly Hindu.

In one of the bloodiest incidents, suspected rebels attacked a mosque in an eastern town in 1990 with guns, grenades and machetes, killing 140 worshippers.Muslims, many of them descendants of Arab or Indian traders, make up about 7 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. Many speak Tamil but the community has largely stayed out of the war.With most communication to the north severed, rebel spokesmen could not be reached for comment.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed.

Advertisements




Window on Pak Press: ‘Swat deal not sign of weakness’

18 02 2009

Source: Indiatoday

As the liberals inside Pakistan and the Western governments felt that the Zardari-Gilani government has fallen into the deadly Taliban trap by signing the deal with the militants to allow Sharia law to be imposed in the Swat Valley, the two leaders clarified that it (the deal) should not be seen as a ‘sign of weakness’. The newspapers on Wednesday splashed the meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to review the Swat peace deal and hoped it would pave the way for permanent peace in the whole country.

The Dawn, Daily Times among others said that the two leaders were of the view that the deal signed with Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) should not be construed as a ‘weakness’ as it was inked to restore peace for benefit of local people.

Daily Times quoting President Asif Ali Zardari said the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations 2009 in Malakand division will not affect the government’s policy on the war against terror, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday. During a meeting with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, he said the agreement between the Taliban and the NWFP government was one part of an overall strategy for peace, a private TV channel reported.

Dawn explained that there have been mixed reactions from different quarters within the country and the international community over the deal. Some have termed it a ray of hope in restive Malakand Division and eventually in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) but some consider it a defeat for the government and security forces who. They say, are bowing their heads before militants and allowing them to implement their self-styled Shariat (Islamic laws) in the area.

According to Dawn, the President told Chinese newsmen that the government was pursuing a multi-dimensional policy in the war against terrorism and using economic, political and military options to eliminate the menace of extremism and terrorism. However, he added that, limited resources were compounding problems for the government.

He was of the view that force alone could not win the war against terrorism. “Maintenance of peace in Fata and the NWFP is the foremost responsibility of the government and providing protection to people is a challenge,” Zardari said.

But the Daily Times said Pakistan has gambled that an offer to implement Sharia in parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat Valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement is likely to embolden the Taliban.

Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that would only benefit Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistanis poses a greater danger. The central government has said the Sharai Nizam-e-Adl – or the judicial system governed by Sharia – would be implemented in the Malakand division of NWFP, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

Islamic Law – Part of Constitution: Dawn also reported that the US State Department said on Tuesday that there’s provision for the Islamic law in the Pakistani constitution and the government’s decision to introduce religious laws in the Swat Valley was not an issue for anyone outside Pakistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was equally careful when asked to comment on an agreement between Pakistani authorities and the Swat militants that allows for the implementation of sharia in the valley.

She told reporters in Tokyo that the United States was studying the agreement and was trying to understand the Pakistani government’s ‘intention and the actual agreed-upon language. But the secretary warned that ‘activity by the extremist elements in Pakistan poses a direct threat to the government of Pakistan as well as to the security of the United States, Afghanistan and a number of other nations not only in the immediate region.’

The News on the other hand said the US State Department spokesman said, “We are in touch with the government in Pakistan, we are discussing the issue, but that is all I have for you at the moment.”

The News also reported that NATO too has expressed concern on Tuesday after Pakistan signed a pact with TNSM to introduce Islamic law in the Swat valley. “We would all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have safe haven,” Nato spokesman James Appathurai told a news briefing. Nato heads an international force battling Taliban militants in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan and Appathurai said he did not know if the pact would make its task more difficult. However, he added: “It is certainly reason for concern.”

But peace was still elusive in the militancy-ravaged valley. The Nation reported as many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area here Tuesday, police said. As many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area on Tuesday, police said.

The blast occurred a day after the NWFP government signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Swat. The blast damaged outer walls of the Nazim’s house and two neighbouring homes, besides two other cars, however, the nazim remain unhurt.

The deceased included Zar Muhammad, Ali and Qari Khalid, while the names of the killed attackers could not be confirmed till the filing of the report. The attackers were killed when people sitting in the residence of Faheemur Rehman opened fire at them.

The police the local people had apprehended three suspected persons who were being interrogated. The police also said that no one had claimed the responsibility for the attack so far. Around 15 to 20 kg explosive had been used in the blast, he added.

The other side of the story: Meanwhile, Dawn headlined an Associated Press story as “Pakistani Taliban militants publicly flog an alleged narcotic smuggler in Charbagh in Pakistan’s troubled Swat valley”

The story said: Pakistan has gambled that an offer to introduce Islamic law to parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement will embolden the Taliban. Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that will only benefit al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistani posed a greater danger.

The central government has said the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl, or the judicial system governed by Islamic sharia law, won’t be implemented in the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

The Taliban announced a 10-day ceasefire on Sunday, while the NWFP government has said that while the military will remain deployed in Swat, there won’t be any offensives, only reactive actions.

Amnesty International estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled their homes since late 2007, when the Taliban revolt began in Swat, an alpine region 130 km northwest of Islamabad. Tens of thousands have fled since August last year after an earlier peace deal broke down.

Public Beheadings: Known as Pakistan’s ‘Switzerland’ and once a popular tourist destination, Swat has become associated with sickening sights.

People in the scenic valley witnessed public beheadings and summary executions by Taliban fighters administering their brand of justice.

Bombs have targeted security forces, schools have been torched as part of a campaign against female education, and aid workers running immunisation programmes for children have been chased away by militants.

“If peace comes through this agreement, then we wholeheartedly accept it. After all, we’re Muslims and want Islamic system,” said Mohammad Naeem, a teacher in Mingora, the main town in Swat, whose own school was destroyed.

Analysts, however, see the pact as little more than a tactic to buy time, as the government seeks a firmer foothold in a region over which it had lost control.

They fear reluctance to permanently deal with reactionary forces will lead to greater problems later on. That has certainly been Swat’s history in the last two decades.

“I think this is going to be another blunder by the government,” said Khadim Hussain of the private Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. “There may be a lull for awhile, but I think the government will again be trapped in more fighting. There will be more violence.”

Monday’s agreement was the third such pact signed by Pakistani authorities with Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who began a violent campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region in the 1990s.

The first agreement provided for the appointment of a Qazi, or an Islamic jurist, to assist a judge in deciding disputes in line with Islamic injunctions, though the jurist’s advice was non-binding.

In the second pact signed in 1999, the advice of the jurist was made binding though it was never enforced.

The latest accord, sets time limits on how long a court can take to decide a case, and establishes a designated appellate bench, meeting two key desires by the people for better justice.

Analysts say the government may be trying to drive a wedge between hardline followers of the elderly Mohammad and even more radical militants led by his young son-in-law, Fazlullah.

Bad precedent? They said: It is a risk.

Even if the laws being brought are far softer interpretation of sharia than the harsh Taliban version, giving ground to religious hardliners would set a ‘bad precedent,’ analysts said.

It could convince the most irreconcilable militants that their violent campaign was working.

“The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of sharia,” Asad Munir, a former military intelligence official who served in NWFP and adjoining tribal areas wrote in a Pakistani daily. “The mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision-making in the social system of Pashtun society.”

Pakistani authorities have struck a number of deals in the past with militants in the tribal areas, known sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Generally, the violence dies down for awhile and then flares again. Analysts didn’t foresee Fazlullah and his fighters staying quiet for long.

“The militants are not going to give up their control…They will be getting more capability to launch more strikes, more violence if the agreement does not work,” Hussain said.





Exiles in ghettos keep fire blazing SANKARSHAN THAKUR Agnishekhar Muthi (Jammu), Aug. 24: They live eight, often ten or twelve, to a room. To call th

25 08 2008
Exiles in ghettos keep fire blazing

Muthi (Jammu), Aug. 24: They live eight, often ten or twelve, to a room. To call them rooms is a stretch; hovels is more appropriate — barely six by eight, the asbestos ceilings knocked low over them, a vast and suffocating narrow-laned warren. They do with temporary power pulled on illicit lines, they have little access to water, they share unsanitary community bathrooms. They live marooned in the putrid discharge oozing from them, amid foraging pigs and pie-dogs.

These are Kashmiri Pandits uprooted from their Valley moorings two decades ago, and Muthi, on the forsaken outskirts of Jammu, is their home — a blistered tinderbox of frustration and rage, spewing communal pus. In Muthi, and other similar “migrant camps” littered around Jammu, could lie some of the clues to why this crisis has caught fires that refuse to die.

It’s so angry, it doesn’t even want to talk. “Go away, just go away,” protests P.N. Dhar, a former government employee and community leader. “What have you come here now for? To use us to douse the fires those (expletive deleted) Kashmiri Muslims are lighting up? Too late, now it’s our turn to light the fires, to get some notice from this country.”

Men from the ghetto have gathered around Dhar and it is instantly evident they have unspent payloads of fury and hatred accumulated over the years; they are now letting it off.

“This country has only been bothered about (expletive deleted) who carry Pakistani flags and spit on patriots,” says Sahabji Chrungoo, originally from Baramulla. “Nobody came when we were thrown out, nobody bothered when we were killed, nobody listened when we warned secession had gripped Kashmir. But how long could you have ignored it? This had to happen. If we have to light fires now to get attention, so be it. But this time, we will have it our way.”

As an unprecedented regional-communal conflict consumes the state, the Valley’s ousted Kashmiri Pandits have become Jammu’s sword-arm in battle. It’s a sword smelted in decades of unassuaged grievance and of rancour and prejudice. It’s a sword that has verily stabbed the celebrated and inclusive notion of “Kashmiriyat” to death and invoked in its place a ghoulish spectre of intolerance that threatens to extend the current rift.

Agnishekhar, convener of Panun Kashmir, the umbrella body of ousted Pandits, isn’t even remorseful or apologetic about pronouncing “Kashmiriyat” dead.

“What about it?” he asks combatively. “Where is composite culture when all Hindus have been driven out of the Valley, out of their homes and farmlands? They killed Kashmiriyat, not us. Don’t expect secularism of us when you are pandering to all shades of Islam and anti-nationalism in the Valley. Who is secular in the Valley that Jammu is being called communal in contrast? Those who are unleashing cries of Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic rule)?”

The Panun Kashmir leader won’t openly admit it, but the strident “Bam-Bam Bole” movement across Jammu is an hour of vindication that he is loath to let go of.

“We have been waiting for this for long,” he says. “Jammu didn’t exactly welcome us when we were driven out of the Valley in 1989-90, we haven’t had it easy here. But now Jammu seems to have understood what the problem with Kashmiri Muslims is, it has risen and we are with Jammu. This is not about land in Amarnath, this is about a deeper malaise of which Amarnath is only a symptom. Kashmir has held India to ransom for too long, now it is our turn. Half the Kashmiri leadership deserves to be put behind bars for sedition, we deserve to be reinstated to our homes.”

Does he realistically believe, though, that he and his fellow Pandits can make their way back to the Valley laden with such loathing? That they can even, in this surcharge, visualise the “yatra” to Amarnath proceeding next year?

“That is for the government to ensure,” Agnishekhar says. “Why does the law of the land not run in Kashmir, can Indians not go there? The government and secularists of this country have nothing to say of the anti-national Islamists of Kashmir, all they can do is blame us. What for? For agitating with the national flag?”

As his Muthi compatriots gather, a little clutch that has mushroomed in minutes, Agnishekhar, also a Hindi writer of fair renown, crossly throws off the burden of bigotry from his doorstep.

“I was once known as a progressive writer, until they threw me out for protesting the ouster of Pandits and began calling me a religious zealot. But should I not even protest my circumstances? Won’t you if you were thrown out of home? Hum aah bhi karen to ho jaate hain badnaam, woh katl bhi karen to charcha nahin hota (I get defamed if I so much as complain, they commit murder and yet get no blame).”

Agnishekhar claims no allegiance to the BJP or the Hindu rightwing, he’s been a Congressman all his life, paid obeisance to Nehru. He does concede, though, that today his worldview is closer to the Hindu rightwing.

“Where are Nehru’s children, where is the Congress, feeding the Muslim communalists of the Valley?” he asks. “It’s the BJP that helped us in crisis, if anybody did, we have to be grateful. And now we have to fight its battle to the very end.”

The assemblage behind him, virulently anti-Muslim and sporting saffron bandannas, is ominously nodding approval.