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Pakistan avalanche brings call for glacier demilitarization

April 19, 2012 1 comment

By Faisal Mahmood and Salman Rao

GYARI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s army chief on Wednesday made a rare call for the demilitarization of the world’s highest battlefield after touring the site of an avalanche that buried 129 Pakistani soldiers near the border with rival India.

General Ashfaq Kayani was speaking 11 days after a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near the Siachen Glacier in the disputed Kashmir region was engulfed by up to 80 feet of snow. Eleven civilians were also trapped.

The tragedy has revived criticism of the 28-year conflict over the glacier, which critics say is futile.

Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, said the standoff has been costly in many ways, from defense spending to the environmental impact of deployments in the area.

“I think this is one good enough reason that this area should not be militarized,” he told reporters in the northern town of Skardu after viewing the avalanche site with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari from a helicopter.

Generals have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64-year history, through coups or from behind the scenes.

They set security and foreign policy, even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now. Military spending consumes just over 17 percent of the state budget.

Rescue efforts were still under way near Siachen, with workers pushing through snow, mud and boulders using heavy machinery, life-detection equipment or even their gloved hands.

Brigadier Saqib Malik, the Siachen brigade commander, said a 200-feet deep mix of snow, ice, boulders and small rocks have covered the headquarters.

Highlighting the constant dangers of operating in the forbidding expanse, he instructed reporters to drop their equipment and run to a safe spot if avalanche warning whistles are heard.

The army has listed the names of the missing soldiers and civilians on its public relations website. There have been no death announcements and the military says it will not abandon the search and rescue effort.

“We will continue to make all efforts. Whether it takes 10 days or 10 months or if it takes three years, we are not going to give up on this,” said Kayani.”If we have to dig out this mountain, we’ll dig it out.”

Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man’s-land is 20,000 feet above sea level.

Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars.

Indian and Pakistani troops in Siachen have fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.

Although Kayani stressed that it was the duty of Pakistani soldiers to defend their country no matter how harsh the conditions, he also said a political solution was needed to end disputes like Siachen.

“It is for the leadership of both countries to find a solution,” he said.

“We hope and we wish that the issue is resolved, so that both countries do not have to pay this cost, pay this price.”

A tentative peace process is under way and ties between Islamabad and New Delhi are at their warmest in years, with recent high-level meetings.

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Source: MSN NEWS PK

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Categories: Uncategorized

US asks for Pakistan army secret info

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

US military officials have urged Pakistan to regularly
disclose classified information regarding Pakistani military facilities and installations along the border with Afghanistan.

Commander of the US Central Command General James Mattis made the plea on Monday following a November 26 incident in which NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military border posts in northwest Pakistan and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

“The strongest take-away from this incident is the fundamental fact that we must improve border coordination,” Mattis claimed in a statement.

He also called for establishing a shared database between the two countries, saying that an increase in information could help NATO forces in Pakistan avert similar incidents.

In addition, Mattis ordered the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to seek ways to improve its relations with Islamabad.

Air Force Brigadier General Stephen Clark, who led an investigation into last month’s incident, said on Thursday that US forces bore some responsibility for the deaths as they relied on the wrong maps, were unaware of Pakistani border post locations and mistakenly provided the wrong location for the troops.

The investigation, however, claimed that the US forces “acted in self-defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon,” and that there was “no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials.”

The Pakistani military has dismissed the investigation and said it does not “agree with the findings of the US/NATO inquiry as [it is] being reported in media.”

Pakistani officials accuse US-led forces of deliberately carrying out the air strikes from inside Afghanistan.

Following the November incident, US President Barack Obama offered condolences for those killed in the attack but failed to issue an official apology.

Pakistan decided to halt the supply convoys destined for US-led foreign soldiers in Afghanistan in retaliation for the deadly airstrikes.

This is while foreign forces in Afghanistan rely heavily on the Pakistani supply route into the landlocked country.

US-led planes and helicopters have increasingly violated the Pakistani airspace over the past months.

The US claims its air raids target militants who cross the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. But locals say civilians are the main victims of the unauthorized attacks.

Categories: Uncategorized

US removes Mullah Omar from terror list

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reportedly removed the name of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar from the list of “most wanted terrorists.”

The report came following Washington’s secret meetings with the Taliban after one decade of war, Pakistani media reported.

US officials have held several meetings with representatives of the Afghan Taliban leader, headed by Tayyib Agha, in Germany and Qatar over the past months.

During the meetings, the US and Taliban negotiators reached a deal to transfer five Taliban militants, who are under custody in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, to Qatar. The removal of Mullah Omar’s name from the terror list comes after the prisoner deal.

The founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, has been in hiding since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Washington removed Mullah Omar’s name despite allegations that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden was behind the September, 11 attacks in the US.

The United States invaded Afghanistan 10 years ago under the pretext of eradicating the Taliban, but its failure has forced Washington to turn to negotiation with militants.

The US government has planned new round of talks with the Taliban in early 2012.

Categories: Uncategorized

Kashmir issue internationalised!

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the previous months, Kashmir has increasingly become a subject of international attention. Comity of nations is no longer ignoring the Indian brutalities, and the ensuing loss of innocent lives. Recently, Amnesty International has once again urged the Indian government to allow UN’s special representatives to visit occupied Kashmir for making a spot study of the cases of fake encounters and extra-judicial killings in the territory. It has also urged Indian Prime Minister to fulfil his promise of zero tolerance to human rights violations in the occupied territory by the Indian security apparatus.

While recently reporting on Kashmir, ‘Wall Street Journal’ has indicated that if India does not heed to the popular demand of Kashmiri people for their right of self-determination, the ongoing spate of protests would continue to intensify. Indian security forces have tried to suppress these protests with their typical brutality and state terrorism, which has led to the loss of life of over 60 peaceful protestors since June. To deceive the general public, Indian security forces have been conducting these acts of brutality while wearing blue headgear resembling UN forces’ headwear. UN has already launched its protest with the Indian government on this act of impersonation and has demanded that Indian security forces must desist from this practice.

Gradually, the international community is beginning to realise that it is the Indian state which is terrorist, and not those who are struggling against the Indian occupation of Kashmir. India should see the writing on the wall, and move towards UN-supervised plebiscite which it itself had agreed to, in the shape of acceptance of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It is quite evident that its illegal occupation cannot continue, indefinitely. Recently, China denied visa to an Indian military delegation because delegation because it included Lt-Gen B S Jaswal, a senior filed commander of IHK. India’s Army chief was to head the delegation. As a consequence, India had to cancel the defence exchange visit to China. China has persistently maintained its principled stance over Kashmir issue and has a legitimate claim over Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese border dispute with India dates back to a 1914 conference, hosted by British colonial rulers. The ensuing demarcation of the border came to be known as McMahon Line. Ever since, China has never recognised this arbitrary line, and hence it rightfully claims around 90,000 sq km; inclusive of nearly entire landscape of Arunachal Pradesh. From Chinese perspective, McMahon Line is a legacy of colonial encroachment on their country. To counter balance China’s claim, India put forward a farce claim that China has occupied 8,000 sq km of its territory in Kashmir. By taking this position, India virtually axed her own feet by making China a party to the Kashmir dispute. China has always condemned Indian acts of state terrorism against peace loving people of Kashmir. India has always tried to draw a wedge between China and Pakistan. These days, a travesty claim is being raised that Chain has moved its troops into Gilgit-Baltistan area. A sponsored report authored by one Selig Harrison, an analyst well known for presenting Indian point of view, forms the basis of this claim. Moreover, RAW has since long been involved in target killing and harassment of Chinese workers commissioning various civil sector developmental projects in Kashmir. Now even an increasing number of US Congressmen are raising their voice about the gravity of Kashmir issue. They are frequently mentioning the issue of Kashmir and the urgent need for its settlement. ‘The Kashmiri-American Council and Association of Humanitarian Lawyers’ held its Annual International Kashmir Peace Conference in Washington. Theme of the conference was “India-Pakistan Relations: Breaking the Deadlock over Kashmir”. Conference unanimously adopted the Washington Declaration, its main thrust was: ‘there must be an early, just and durable resolution to the Jammu & Kashmir dispute taking into account the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir’. As a by product of Kashmir issue, water issue has emerged as another irritant between the Pakistan and India. Pakistan has to frequently refer these water disputes to neutral arbitrator for adjucation. Diversion of Pakistan’s share of water by India has surfaced so many times. Every time water issue is raised at international fora, the Kashmir dispute is highlighted automatically.

Saner voices from within India are advocating a political settlement to the dispute. There is a growing realization within Indian intelligentsia that use of brute force is not likely to bring peace to Kashmir. During a recent conference in New Delhi, high ranking participants have acknowledged the home grown nature of the uprising. They have expressed their consternation over the Indian establishment and the media for following a beaten approach of blaming Pakistan and cross border militant groups for sponsoring violent acts in Indian held Kashmir.

However, Indian establishment and a handful of Kashmiri politicians who are direct beneficiaries of Indian rule, continue to support status quo. Such politicians are fully aware that whenever people of Kashmir are given a chance of making a free and fair choice, their political business would be over. Therefore, they continue to support the suppression of movement through application of force. Though India has fielded around 700,000 troops in IHK, the best they could claim is a shaky stalemate.

Current surge of resistance owes its sustenance to the resilience of the people of Kashmir, who are now better aware of their legitimate rights. There is no indication that the UN will act in this regard in a foreseeable timeframe. United Nations’ protracted indifference towards implementation of its Kashmir related resolutions has attached a negative tag of impotence to UN in the context of resolution of this dispute. People of Kashmir feel that they have to themselves rise to the occasion, yet once again, to secure their inviolable right of self determination. Likewise, people of Kashmir view with utter dismay how the US has given up its effort to solve the issue; they also express their utter disappointment the way ‘Candidate Obama’ committed to the resolution of Kashmir issue has cowed down, as ‘President Obama’, in the face of expediencies.

Onus for solving the Kashmir dispute lies with India, Pakistan and the leadership of Kashmir. However, international community will have to exert its pressure on India. There is an urgent need that India adopts a clear approach to the dispute and effectively engages the Kashmiri leadership along with Pakistan. Gimmicks of farce negotiations on the Israel-Palestine pattern will not work.

A genuine political process would certainly provide yet another opportunity to work out a solution acceptable to all parties to the dispute. People of Kashmir are struggling to keep the issue alive. Pakistan needs to undertake a supportive campaign to correct the international perception and facilitate un-knotting this legitimate freedom struggle from an unjust stigma of terrorism. Likewise, UN needs to wake up to the reality and implement its resolutions on plebiscite.

2050: Muslims to be 20% European Union’s population

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

2050: Muslims to be 20% European Union’s population

By 2050, Muslims will account for over 20 per cent of the European Union’s population, according to a recent forecast by an American institute. Currently, Muslims make up around four per cent of Europe’s population, but a combination of immigration and higher birth rates among Muslims mean that the Muslim population is growing at an exponentially faster rate than other segments of the European population. So much so that we are likely to reach one in five in forty years time, so how will that change the face of Europe?

Muslims are a very diverse group. Globally, Muslims currently make up a little over 23 per cent of the world’s population, a little like the projection for Europe in 2050. Though it is easy to think of a Muslim Umma and to idealise the concept of a unified Muslim population, the reality is far from it. Similarly Muslims in Europe are a highly diverse group and tend to organise themselves along their countries of origin rather than their shared faith. We may well all pray together on a Friday— even then different Mosques tend to attract different groupings—but we all go home to our individual enclaves.

European Muslims also differ greatly in the extent of their integration into their new homelands. The key question is how much more will they integrate by 2050? Will European Muslims become fully fledged European citizens, and by that I mean citizens who are second, third, fourth generation born and who no longer label themselves as children of immigrants? And will they be seen that way by those whose ancestry goes back centuries rather than decades?

During the football world cup earlier this summer, much was said about the German football team. It was young and dynamic, moreover it was ethnically diverse. Of the 23 players in the squad, 11 had foreign backgrounds. This ethnic diversity was seen as both something to be proud of and as an asset for the team. As the national coach Joachim Loew put it speaking about Mesut Oezil, one of the two players in the team with Turkish parents, it is ‘a gift for German football’. Is that team – talented, passionate, proud and united – an example of what will become the norm in 40 years?

There are an estimated 2.9 million Germans of Turkish origin. They make up Germany’s largest Muslim community. How long before they stop being classed as being of Turkish origin and become Germans pure and simple? But religion is a different matter. If integration succeeds, they will no longer see themselves as Turkish-born German citizens, but as German Muslims. Since integration is a two-way process, this new Muslim identity will bring with it German characteristics and enrich Islamic identity. Extrapolate that to the 27 countries that make up the European Union and you can see the opportunities that it could bring.

Of course, Germany did not win the World Cup, Spain did. Spain’s Muslim population is around one million, roughly two per cent of the population. Quite a bit smaller than neighbouring France which has Europe’s largest Muslim population. Spain however has recently seen a surge in immigration. In the space of a decade, the percentage of the population that is foreign born has risen from three to over 13 per cent. Has Spain lost any of its national identity as a result of this influx?

And yet, the knee-jerk reaction to any news that relates immigration figures is one of alarm and panic. Immigrants are scary. Muslim immigrants are terrifying. In some British newspapers, there was talk of a ‘Muslim demographic time bomb’ and as always that kind of talk is accompanied by the face of dominant Islam: the woman wearing a niqab.

The fear of a radical Islam taking over Europe like some kind of black veiled cultural bulldozer could be amusing were it not for its resonance with a growing segment of the European population.

In Spain for instance, a Pew survey found that 65 per cent of Spaniards are somewhat or very concerned about rising Islamic extremism in their country. The fear of extremist Islam is understandable not only because of the atrocities that have been carried out by terrorists branding themselves as Muslims but also by the visibility of a minority of Muslims who practice extreme interpretations of Islam. It is no coincidence that the moment there is talk of a ‘Muslim demographic time bomb’ the image that is shown is of a woman in a niqab. The burka as the niqab is wrongly described has become a flag issue. Of the millions of Muslim women living in Europe only a few thousand wear it and yet several countries – France, Spain and Belgium to name just three – are bringing in legislation to ban it.

A sense of perspective is needed. One in five is still a minority. Islam is hardly going to become the dominant religion in Europe. Furthermore the Islam that is practiced by European Muslims is generally more tolerant and open than the Islam practiced in countries that are overwhelmingly Muslim.

But if Muslims do end up making up one fifth of Europe’s population by 2050, this should be good news. Good news for Europe because it will have incorporated some of Islam’s richness into its already rich cultural heritage, and good news for Islam because it will feed the existence of a more tolerant, critical and spiritual Islam that will better challenge the genuine extremist threat. No Muslim threat to Europe by Iman Kurdi, 12 August 2010

Iman Kurdi is an Arab writer based in Nice, France. For comments, write to opinion@khaleejtimes.com

Categories: Uncategorized

Kashmiri intifada

August 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A Kashmiri youth strikes a government vehicle which had been set on fire by a mob during a demonstration in Srinagar on August 4, 2010, who were protesting over the recent deaths in The Kashmir Valley. Five more demonstrators died in Indian Kashmir as new protests erupted in defiance of pleas for calm from the region’s chief minister, the deaths again brought huge crowds chanting anti-India slogans on to the streets of Srinagar as the bodies of two dead men were carried on stretchers to their funerals. The death in early June of a 17-year-old student – killed by a police tear-gas shell – set off the series of almost daily protests during which scores of people have been killed, 27 of them since July 30. At least 44 people have died in the weeks of unrest – most of them killed by security forces trying to disperse angry protests against Indian rule. – AFP Photo

Has New Delhi learnt any lessons from all that has been going on in Indian-held Kashmir — especially since June 11, when the current intifada began? On Tuesday, India obliged Chief Minister Omar Abdullah by rushing more troops to the valley. Does the Indian government really think that 1,500 more troops will succeed where an army of over half a million men has failed? If the Indian troops’ job is to crush the Kashmiri yearnings for freedom, then history says brute force has never succeeded in denying freedom to a people for long.

Five more Kashmiris were shot dead on Tuesday as fresh protests broke out in Srinagar, with a crowd of urban youths shouting anti-India slogans. The extent of Kashmiri anger is obvious, for the demonstrators defied curfew despite police warnings on loudspeakers that violators would be shot dead. Some officials deny that any ‘shoot on sight’ order had been given. But the way the troops have been behaving and given the rising number of Kashmiri deaths make it clear the order exists for all practical purposes.

The second Kashmiri intifada is home-grown. There are no two opinions about it. Even India’s rights bodies and sections of the media acknowledge this truth, and barring those toeing the government line, no responsible Indian sees a foreign hand in what undeniably is a spontaneous reaction — mostly from urban youths — to India’s repressive policies that aim at keeping the Kashmiris in bondage by force. One wishes India realised that the stifling atmosphere in the valley and the violations of human rights by its troops cause more violence and deaths, inviting censure from the world and putting strains on the already tense relations with Islamabad.

The only choice New Delhi has is to talk — both to Kashmiris of all shades of opinion and to Islamabad, for only that solution will be long-lasting and acceptable to the people of Kashmir. Let us hope India doesn’t consider it a provocation when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expresses Pakistan’s concern over the “escalation of violence against the Kashmiri people” and asks New Delhi to “exercise restraint”.

DAWN

Turkey warns Israel of ‘sanctions’

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says his country reserves the right to apply unilateral sanctions on Israel over the Gaza-bound aid Flotilla killings.

“There is an action, a crime here. Turkey’s demand is rather lucid. Since there is a death, the killing side is acknowledged and an international commission should be formed and make its decision with respect to this fact in the frame of objective provisions of law. If Israel does not want an international commission, then it has to acknowledge this crime, apologize, and pay compensation,” Davutoglu said in an interview published in the Newsweek magazine on July 9.

The top Turkish diplomat made the comments after the recent Israeli attack on the aid fleet seeking to break the siege of Gaza Strip.

The deadly attack in the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea claimed the lives of nine Turkish citizens.

“If the international community and the international law do not ask about the causes of these deaths, we, as the government of the Republic of Turkey, have the right to ask. Turkey-Israel relations will never be on a normal footing until we have an answer. And Turkey has the right to one-sidedly apply its own sanctions,” the Turkish top diplomat added.

“If the right steps are not taken (by Israel), the relations would go in the direction of a break-off process. However, I cannot share with you what I have told them behind closed doors. They know what kind of sanctions we would impose,” Davutoglu said.

Asked about Ankara’s “zero-tension policy” with Turkey’s neighbor countries and the recent escalation of tensions with Israel, Davutoglu said: “Zero problems with neighbors is a value. But another equally important value is to establish peace. If any actor blocks peace processes, keeps civilians under blockade, massacres civil people on international waters, the peace value could not be disregarded for the sake of zero problems with neighbors. These policies of Israel are a menace to regional peace. Excusing these policies that go against peace just to develop zero-problem relations is out of the question.”