Kyrgyzstan to close US air base

Kyrgyzstan to close US air base

MOSCOW: News agencies are quoting Kyrgyzstan’s president as saying that his country is ending U.S. use of a key airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan.

A decision to end the U.S. use of the Manas base could have potentially far-reaching consequences for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Interfax and RIA-Novosti quoted Kurmanbek Bakiyev as making the statement just minutes after Russia announced it was providing the poor Central Asian nation with billions of dollars in aid.

Bakiyev is being quoted as saying that the Kyrgyz government “has made the decision on ending the term for the American base on the territory of Kyrgystan and in the near future, this decision will be announced.”

Kyrgyz government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Another Shia killed in Quetta

Another Shia killed in Quetta

Staff Report

QUETTA: Gunmen killed a Shia trader in a drive-by shooting on Monday, in an attack apparently linked to the recent cycle of sectarian killings in the provincial capital. Syed Iqbal Zaidi, a resident of Quetta’s Shahbaz Town locality, was driving home when two men on a motorcycle shot him near Sariab Bridge on Zargoon Road and fled, police said.

Zaidi ran a furniture shop in Liaqat Bazaar. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack so far and no arrests had been made by late Monday.

Banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi organisation had claimed responsibility for the murder of a Shia leader heading the Hazara Democratic Party in a similar attack last week. The murder had sparked a wave of violence in Quetta city when his supporters burnt two banks, several vehicles and attacked the office of a news TV channel. Also on Monday, gunmen riding a jeep shot dead two civilians in Dasht area of Trubat district. The dead were identified as Muhammad Ibrahim and Taufeeq Ahmed. Police said they were searching for the assailants. The motive could not be ascertained.

Faith Trumps Fear For Anti-Taliban Politician In Pakistan

Faith Trumps Fear For Anti-Taliban Politician In Pakistan

“There is no question of surrending,” says Afzal Khan. (photo courtesy PSDP)

February 03, 2009

The Swat Valley, where for two years local Taliban have been trying to establish Shari’a law, is at the center of the Pakistan government’s efforts to root out extremism. Military operations launched in late 2007 in the once-popular tourist region of Northwest Frontier Province has cost the lives of some 2,000 civilians and hundreds of government soldiers. And as the effort gains fresh momentum — 35 Islamist militants were reported killed in an overnight raid conducted on February 2-3 — thousands of desperate locals, fearing reprisals from the Taliban, are looking to flee.

Afzal Khan, whom locals refer to as “lala” — or “elder brother” in Pashto — is an 82-year-old Pashtun nationalist politician who has emerged as a symbol of the resistance to Taliban extremism in the Swat Valley. Khan has survived numerous assassination attempts, but he nevertheless continues to oppose the Taliban and their representation of Islam. In an interview with RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Najib Aamir, Khan explains why.

RFE/RL: You top the “hit list” recently issued by the Taliban, and which includes a number of politicians and prominent residents of Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Do you intend to surrender to the Taliban’s Shari’a court, as they have demanded?

So your life reaches a point when going to mosque is virtually equal to running to a trench…Imagine living under such circumstances.

Afzal Khan: If the Taliban had their own state, and they had a president or a prime minister or a king, and it functioned like a [legitimate state] system — then they would have a judicial system and courts that would follow Islamic law, Shari’a. But if they don’t have a state or a political system, then whose court should I go to and why?

Thus, there is no question of surrendering to such a court. I am a Muslim and, therefore, I believe that only almighty God, who has created us all, will decide how and when to take someone’s life. This is my homeland and my people are here, so what can I do? Should I leave my home and my people? But where will I go? Why should I leave — just because of the fear of death?

RFE/RL: Being a leader of the Awami National Party that leads the provincial government, are you satisfied with the policies it is pursuing to restore peace and stability to Swat?

Khan: I was part of the central and provincial governments [as a cabinet member] in the past, and I know that the central government exerts the real authority. The situation here is [really alarming] because the police have collapsed. And we don’t have another [local] armed force. The army is a last resort that the state is now using [to establish its authority]. If this fails, unfortunately, we will have a revolution. I believe that if all institutions honestly play their respective roles, then we won’t face a real problem in [establishing authority].

When I was being treated in the hospital, I told journalists that if I ever met our attackers, I would ask them, ‘What was our crime? I have never even slapped anybody. Why then are you trying to kill us?’

RFE/RL: Mountainous Swat was once a tourist haven. But considering the prevailing insecurity, what is it like living in Swat today?

Khan: We have a lot of problems here. Imagine that mosques are being targeted in suicide bombings. So your life reaches a point when going to mosque is virtually equal to running to a trench. Going to a market [is equally tough], because you think somebody will attack you or there will be a bomb blast. Imagine living under such circumstances. This is [very unfortunate] in a place like Swat because it had been peaceful for centuries. The people of Swat didn’t even think about violence.

RFE/RL: Given that some of your relatives were killed in the numerous attempts on your life, how concerned are you about the security of your relatives and people working for you?

Khan: Two of my young grandsons were killed together. One of their friends was also killed and three were injured. When I was attacked, my driver and a bodyguard were martyred while two were injured. My nephew, Abdul Jabbar Khan, was hit by four bullets, and I was hit by two. If you have to face such circumstances in your home region, how worried would you be? You would definitely ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?’

When I was being treated in the hospital, I told journalists that if I ever met our attackers, I would ask them, ‘What was our crime? I have never even slapped anybody. Why then are you trying to kill us?’

RFE/RL: With the insurgents blowing up schools, hospitals, and bridges, there is a strong perception among Swat residents that they are the victims of an elaborate insurgent plan to establish a new kind of political order in this region. How do you look at this issue?

Khan: The people who are doing this, if they want to establish a new [political] system, then they should know that they cannot institute a new order on the back of murder. They cannot establish a new political order by bombings or suicide attacks. You have to go to people [to talk to them], to change their minds, and to convince [and win over] their hearts. Islam is a religion of peace and one that emphasizes helping the poor and the oppressed.

RFE/RL: You recently met the head of the Pakistani military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. What did you discuss? Do you see the military winning in Swat?

Khan: He told us that this is a national issue. We told him that it can only be resolved [when it is prioritized] as such an issue. The military is the last option available for a state trying to restore its authority. If they fail, then we will be confronted with a revolutionlike situation. It is the law of nature when you have a vacuum, somebody will come forward to fill it.

I don’t think the military operation will fail. But for it to succeed, everybody will have to fulfill their responsibilities diligently and with honesty.

A military solution to a war on terrorism is doomed

It’s a sore temptation to hunt down Osama bin Laden – one of the most consistent campaign promises made by President Obama – and yet there are strong arguments against it. U.S. forces would have to penetrate deep into provincial Pakistan and perhaps even conduct house-to-house searches. Such incursions would destabilize Pakistan’s already shaky regime and inflame the extremist element. More troops would have to be committed to the Afghanistan war zone, with no positive outcome in sight. And making a martyr of bin Laden would probably incite a crop of new terrorists as deadly as he and his cohorts.

But the most compelling reason is that any solely military solution to terrorism is doomed to fail. Right now, U.S. intelligence knows that the jihadist movement is endemic in the extremist sects of Islam. It exists from neighborhood to neighborhood, dinner table to dinner table, across a vast swath of the globe. Although terrorism is a tactic, what lies behind it is an idea, and once an idea seeps into people’s brains, bombs and mortar attacks won’t defeat it. That’s why Israel’s overwhelming military superiority to Hezbollah and Hamas hasn’t defeated those movements and never will – this is an enemy for whom death is a victory of the spirit.

Our only hope against Islamic terrorism is to police it in the short run, and offer a more enticing idea in the long run. Peace and social reform are both enticing ideas. Changing our strategic relationship with corrupt regimes that receive significant foreign assistance from the United States is a second important step. The United States must shift its anti-terrorism policy in those directions. Because the United States kept pursuing a military solution, the 2004 presidential election was a poisoned chalice. Whoever won it would be plunged into the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2008 election was better. Both candidates pledged to leave Iraq, Republican Sen. John McCain under the face-saving banner of “victory;” Democratic Sen. Obama under the more realistic banner of ending an unjust war that should never have been started.

There is a military difference between “deploying” more soldiers to Afghanistan and “employing” them within the country – in an effective way. If President Obama insists on troop buildups in Afghanistan and a promise to hunt down bin Laden, we must all recognize that a country should not pursue two contradictory ideas at the same time: one, that terrorism is stateless, and two, that military forays into foreign states are productive. The chief reason to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, once we entered and found chaos, is humanitarian, as it has been for at least five years. Both are failed states; both are rife with violent extremists. Age-old hatreds won’t die easily in either region, and yet the United States can’t stand by and let those hatreds turn into genocide and endless combat.

The United Nations and NATO must rally to carry out the humanitarian goals that need to be pursued. But that’s not the same as deluding ourselves into believing that we are defeating terrorism. Bush’s war on terror was a horrendous mistake, an ideological delusion and a failed tactic. It alienated most of the world and created as many extremists as it defeated. Obama knows all this. Now it’s time for him to lead us out of a self-created quagmire. The United States can’t have it both ways, talking peace but maintaining a hostile military presence in the region, neither Pakistan, nor Afghanistan has a government seen as legitimate by its population. Neither has the ability, or the national will to police its borders, or seriously confront extremism, or foreign fighters. History has already taught us how these endeavors end, and they do not end well. No matter how just our cause, we are seen as aggressors, and may just as likely suffer the death of a thousand cuts, just like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the British Empire and the Soviet Union. Without establishing a foundation of legitimacy, and hope, or any semblance of the rule of law, a purely military strategy will likely be defeated in the end.

Deepak Chopra is the president of the Alliance for a New Humanity, www.anhglobal.org. Ken Robinson is a former U.S. Ranger and Special Forces officer.

Gazans say Israeli troops forced them into battle zones

Majdi Abed Rabbo stands outside the ruins of his Gaza Strip home, January 30,2009. During Israel's recent 22-day military operation, Abed Rabbo said Israeli soldiers repeatedly forced him to walk into the battle zone to check and see if Hamas fighters were alive or dead. (Dion Nissenbaum/MCT) | Majdi Abed Rabbo stands outside the ruins of his Gaza Strip home, January 30,2009. During Israel’s recent 22-day military operation, Abed Rabbo said Israeli soldiers repeatedly forced him to walk into the battle zone to check and see if Hamas fighters were alive or dead. (Dion Nissenbaum/MCT) |

Gazans say Israeli troops forced them into battle zones

EZBT ABED RABBO, Gaza Strip — The Israeli soldiers outside Majdi Abed Rabbo’s home were after the three Hamas fighters holed up next door, and they wanted Abed Rabbo to be their point man.

For the next 24 hours, Abed Rabbo said, the soldiers repeatedly forced him to walk through the battle zone to see whether the militants were dead or alive.

Abed Rabbo wasn’t alone. Eight other residents in this northern Gaza Strip neighborhood told McClatchy in separate interviews that Israeli soldiers had conscripted them to check homes for booby traps, to smash holes in the walls of houses so that soldiers could use them as escape routes or to try to pull dead Palestinian militants from the rubble.

Conscripting Palestinians during the recent fighting in Gaza would appear to violate not only international law, but also Israel’s court-imposed ban on using civilians as human shields.

“The laws of war make it clear you must distinguish between civilians and combatants and you cannot force a civilian to take on a combat role,” said Daniel Reisner, a legal scholar who spent nearly a decade as the head of the Israeli military’s international law department. “Using a human shield is illegal.”

The issue is especially charged in Israel because its government has said that Hamas fighters put innocent Palestinians in harm’s way by hiding in crowded Gaza neighborhoods and using civilian homes, schools and mosques to stage attacks on Israeli forces.

The Israeli military told McClatchy that it’s investigating a variety of allegations about its Gaza operation but it categorically rejected suggestions that soldiers forced any Palestinians to work for them.

“Of course we don’t use human shields,” Israeli military spokesman Capt. Elie Isaacson said. “Just the opposite. We do everything in our power to avoid harm to civilians, bearing in mind that we know Hamas purposely puts them in harm’s way.”

U.S. and Israeli human-rights groups dispute that.

“There is powerful evidence that Israel used the tactic that they are accusing Hamas of using,” said Fred Abrahams, a Human Rights Watch senior researcher who’s investigating what happened in Gaza during the recent Israeli military offensive, which killed more than 1,200 Palestinians.

The Abed Rabbo case also is under investigation by the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem, which led a long campaign that eventually persuaded the Israeli Supreme Court to order the Israeli military in 2005 to stop using Palestinians as human shields.

“The testimony seems pretty extensive and presents grave suspicions that Israeli soldiers forced Palestinians to perform dangerous tasks,” said B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli. “And the fact that we’re seeing these allegations on such a wide scale leads us to suspect that this was policy and not the decisions of one or two random soldiers.”

Abed Rabbo’s appears to be the most extreme of the cases that the two human rights groups are investigating.

Abed Rabbo, whose extended family dominates the neighborhood that bears its name, is a 40-year-old personal guard for the Palestinian Authority intelligence agency, which Hamas forces ousted from Gaza in 2007. He said he was at home on Jan. 5 with his wife and son when there was a knock on his door.

Mohammed Daher, a 23-year-old neighbor, was standing outside with Israeli soldiers, and he said they’d forced him to help them check the area for militants.

Daher, a graduate of Gaza City’s Fatah-leaning Al Azhar University, said that soldiers already had compelled him to use a sledgehammer to break through house walls in the neighborhood so the Israelis could avoid any booby-trapped doors.

Then, Daher said, the soldiers led him down a narrow dirt alley between the neighborhood mosque and a three-story apartment building where Israeli forces suspected that militants were holed up. As they slowly proceeded, Daher said, one of the soldiers kicked a small, remote-controlled explosive buried in shallow dirt.

The soldiers rushed into Abed Rabbo’s home and, guns trained on Daher and him, eventually ordered the two Palestinians upstairs.

On the roof, the soldiers directed Abed Rabbo to smash a hole in the wall so the group could crawl onto the roof of the neighboring building with the militants inside.

“They were holding a gun to my head as we walked down the stairs,” Abed Rabbo said.

When one of the soldiers apparently spotted the militants inside, the group quickly fell back to Abed Rabbo’s roof. Abed Rabbo and Daher said the Israeli unit grabbed them both, rushed down the street and took refuge with them in the mosque as a firefight broke out.

After a series of intense Israeli assaults using heavy-caliber machine guns, Abed Rabbo said, an officer told him that the fighters were dead. The officer ordered Abed Rabbo to go into the house to collect the fighters’ clothes and weapons, Abed Rabbo said.

As Abed Rabbo crept through the hole on his roof and down the stairs, he called out to the fighters. Surprisingly, the three men were still standing.

The fighters, one of whom appeared to be wearing a suicide vest, wore Hamas bandannas and told Abed Rabbo to carry a message back to the Israeli soldiers: “We’re still alive.”

When Abed Rabbo returned with the news, Israeli forces fired guided missiles at the building and then ordered the increasingly reluctant Abed Rabbo to go back inside.

The apartment was on fire, but the militants were still alive. Abed Rabbo said he took back a new message from the militants: “If you are real men, come and face us yourselves.”

The Israeli forces called in an Apache helicopter, which mistakenly hit Abed Rabbo’s empty house. A second strike hit the militants’ building, Abed Rabbo said.

Sent back yet again, he said, he found the militants trapped by rubble but still alive.

The standoff had dragged on for more than 12 hours. The Israeli soldiers were growing angry and began to suspect that Abed Rabbo was lying to them, he said. One of the soldiers taunted the militants over a loudspeaker, telling them that their leaders had abandoned them and they should give up.

At dawn, the soldiers sent Abed Rabbo in yet again. He returned with the same news: The militants were alive.

The Israeli officer, Abed Rabbo said, exploded in anger and grabbed two other men from the neighborhood.

One of them, Zaher Zidane, said the officers gave him a digital camera and told them to go into the house to take pictures of the militants.

The 27-year-old taxi driver said the soldiers threatened neighbor Jamal Qatari and him, leaving them no real choice.

Inside, Zidane said, he, too, found the Hamas fighters badly injured but alive.

Eventually, the Israelis ended the standoff by calling in a bulldozer to bring the building down on top of the Palestinian fighters, Daher and Abed Rabbo said.

After the building collapsed, Daher said, the soldiers ordered another man and him to pull the bodies out of the rubble. The dead militants, however, were trapped under the wreckage.

Daher, Abed Rabbo and Zidane weren’t the only ones in the neighborhood who said they were forced to work for the Israeli forces.

Sami Rashid Mohammed, a 45-year-old police officer for the Palestinian Authority, said that Israeli soldiers forced him to enter houses to check for fighters and booby traps.

At one point, Mohammed said, Palestinian militants opened fire on the Israeli soldiers he was with as they crept through a small orchard. Mohammed said the Israeli forces kept him trapped in the middle of the firefight and used him as cover.

“The spent bullets were flying over my shoulder,” Mohammed said.

Rashad Abu Saffi, a 60-year-old businessman who runs a livestock feed business that Israeli forces destroyed during the military operation, said Israeli soldiers forced him to lead them into the neighborhood mosque to check for militants and booby traps.

When the soldiers later ordered Abu Saffi, his wife and two of their friends to leave the neighborhood, he said, soldiers opened fire on the group. Abu Saffi and neighbor Hani Al Mabhooh said that one shot hit Abu Saffi’s wife in the hip and leg.

The two men said they dragged the wounded woman through the empty streets until they found safety in a friend’s home nearby.

In another section of Ezbt Abed Rabbo, Castro Abed Rabbo said that Israeli forces sent him to check homes for fighters and booby traps before they sent in specially trained dogs with high-tech surveillance equipment.

Legal scholar Reisner said that if the allegations were true, they should be the subject of a serious investigation by the Israel Defense Forces.

“Israel had a policy in the past called the ‘neighbor policy,’ where soldiers would ask neighbors to persuade terrorists to come out of their houses,” he said. “The Supreme Court reviewed this procedure and ruled that this was unlawful. The answer is very clear: It is illegal. The IDF should look into such charges.”

(McClatchy special correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.)

Army in controversy after father of four killed in shootout

Majid Jahangir

The army in Kashmir was caught in a controversy regarding the death by firing of a father of four.The army in Kashmir was caught in a controversy regarding the death by firing of a father of four.

Srinagar: Army in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district is embroiled in a controversy after a father of four, Fayaz Ahmad Mir, was killed in a shootout on Sunday evening.The villagers say that the civilian was killed by Army but Army claims that he was killed in crossfire.

The villagers of Kurhama, where Mir was killed allege that the 32-year-old Mir was killed by Army when he was coming out of his home on Sunday evening to attend nature’s call. The villagers accuse the Army’s 18 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) for killing Mir during a patrol.

“He was seriously injured and we rushed him to Kupwara hospital. The doctors at hospital referred him to Srinagar,” the villagers said. “But he succumbed on his way”.

The Army, however, refutes the allegations of the villagers and says that Mir was killed in crossfire. “He (Fayaz Ahmad Mir) was killed in crossfire,” an Army spokesman said. “He was not killed by Army and now that the Police is conducting investigation let us wait for it.”

As the news about Mir’s death spread in his native village on Monday, hundreds of villagers took to streets and shouted anti Army slogans. “It is a cold blooded murder as there was no crossfire between militants and Army,” a local resident said. “The authorities should hold an inquiry in the killing and the guilty should be punished.”

Senior Superintendent of Police, Kupwara, Uttam Chand who visited the village said that they have registered a case.”We have registered a case after locals accused Army of killing Fayaz (Ahmad Mir). We are investigating the case,” Uttam Chand said.

The former legislator and National Conference leader Jamsheed Lone who visited the village also demanded a through probe into the killing. Sources said that he is likely to take up the issue of civilian killing with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and party president Farooq Abdullah.

After Omar Abdullah took over as the J-K’s youngest Chief Minister last month, this is the second killing of a civilian which has embroiled Army in a controversy. Earlier, on January 7, the Army had shot dead a physically challenged man Abdul Rashid Rishi, 45, allegedly trying to intrude into a high-security Army premises housing officers at Gupkar Srinagar. The incident had taken place outside the residence of Omar Abdullah and he had assured that those found guilty by the probe would be dealt with according to the law.