Poetic Justice for French Imperialists, If True

Islamist Rebels Withdrawing En Masse from Northern Syria

antiwar

Fighters ‘Headed to Mali’ According to Reports

by Jason Ditz

According to the rebel-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, hundreds of foreign rebels have been fleeing from the Idlib Province in Northwestern Syria through Turkey, claiming they are planning to “join jihadists in Mali.”

The reports come amid intense fighting in the Idlib Province, and suggest that while foreign Islamist fighters were eager to flock to Syria to fight the Alawite President Assad, they don’t have any particular ties to the nation and are willing to ditch that civil war for a more promising fight.

This could prove to be extremely bad news for the French troops invading Mali, as if these reports prove true they will end up facing Islamist troops that the French government was openly bankrolling, and who likely have far more fighting experience against modern military forces than the existing insurgency.

Whether this will significantly change the situation on the ground in Syria is unclear, as the overall size of the rebels there is not well understood, nor is it clear if the Syrian military will attempt to retake Idlib Province in the face of the pullout or just focus their attention elsewhere.

Erdogan Surprises Everybody At the UN, Calling-Out Zionism As the Crime Against Humanity That It Is

Erdogan says Zionism crime against humanity

JPost

PM speaking at Vienna forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN forum for West-Islam dialogue; Kerry set to visit Turkey Friday.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Photo: REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called Zionism a “crime against humanity” likening it with anti-Semitism, fascism, and Islamophobia  while speaking at a UN forum on Wednesday.  Erdogan was speaking Wednesday before a Vienna forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN framework for West-Islam dialogue.

UN Watch urged UN chief Ban Ki-moon who was present on the stage yet stayed silent, according to UN Watch, to speak out and condemn the speech. It also called on Erdogan to apologize.

“We remind secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that his predecessor Kofi Annan recognized that the UN’s 1975 Zionism-is-racism resolution was an expression of anti-Semitism, and he welcomed its repeal,” UN Watch stated.

In its condemnation of Erdogan’s remarks which it called “Ahmedinejad-style pronouncements,” UN Watch stated that the remarks “will only strengthen the belief that his government is hewing to a confrontational stance, and fundamentally unwilling to end its four-year-old feud with Israel.”

Israel sent messages to Ankara over the last two weeks that it is interested in creating a more “positive dynamic” in its badly strained relationship with Turkey so the two countries can work together to further common interests, government officials said on Monday.

The messages were sent prior to John Kerry’s maiden trip abroad as US secretary of state, a trip that will take him to nine countries including Turkey. Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Turkey on Friday.

It is widely expected that Kerry will raise the issue of ties with Israel during his talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara.

The US has long been pressing both Ankara and Jerusalem to take steps to improve relations that went into a nosedive following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

Hazara Militia Being Formed To Defend Quetta

( Jafria Alliance urges Swat-like operation in Quetta )

Pakistan’s Hazaras to take up arms over attacks

dawn

In this Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 photo, Pakistanis gather at the rubble of a market which was destroyed by a bomb blast on Saturday, February 16, 2013, in Quetta, Pakistan.  — Photo by AP

QUETTA: Ismatullah holds an AK-47 and checks vehicles on the road. “Enough is enough. We have no trust in the security forces any more and we’ll protect our community ourselves,” says the teenage Shia student.

Extremist bombers killed nearly 200 people in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta in the two worst bomb attacks to strike Shia Muslims from the minority Hazara community, just weeks apart on January 10 and February 16.

After each attack, thousands of Hazaras, including women and children, camped out in the bitter cold demanding that the army step in to protect them.

The government brokered an end to the protests, but refused to mobilise the troops.

Outlawed extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility and has threatened to exterminate all Shias. Few believe that dozens of men rounded up after the bomb attacks will ever be brought to justice.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court and rights groups accuse the authorities of failing to protect Hazaras and now young men like 18-year-old Ismatullah are taking up arms to defend themselves and their families.

Ismatullah’s best friend was shot dead last June near Hazara Town. He lost more friends when suicide bombers flattened a snooker hall on January 10 and a massive bomb hidden in a water tanker destroyed a market on February 16.

“I couldn’t control myself when I saw scattered pieces of so many children and women of our community,” said the first year college student.

“Our community is only interested in education and business, but terrorists have forced us to take up whatever arms we have and take to the streets for our own security.”

At the moment they operate as volunteers under the name, Syed-ul-Shohada Scouts, registered as part of the Baluchistan Scouts Association, an affiliate of the worldwide scouting movement.

For years, young men like Ismatullah have volunteered to protect sensitive events, such as religious processions during the holy month of Muharram.

But their chairman says the threat is now so great that they should be paid full time as an auxiliary to government security forces.

“We have around 200 young men who perform security duties on specific occasions, but most of them are students and workers, and can’t work full-time,” said Syed Zaman, chairman of the Hazara Scouts.

“We are trying to make a system to start their salaries for permanent deployment and also coordinate with the security agencies. Hopefully, we will be able to form a regular force… and salaries in a month,” he said.

Scouts president Ghulam Haider said it was a mistake to rely on government security when the first of two suicide bombers struck at the snooker hall in the Alamdar Road neighbourhood.

“It resulted in another bomb blast minutes after the first one and we lost many more people,” Haider told AFP.

“We didn’t want that to happen again, so immediately after the blast on February 16, we armed our youth to man the streets and entry points, which helped to prevent the chances of a second attack,” he claimed.

Hazara Town, where the market was bombed, is very exposed, in the shadow of the Chiltan mountains and near the bypass which links the Afghan border town of Chaman to Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi.

While paramilitary Frontier Corps and police patrol the main approaches, they are not visible inside the neighbourhood.

“Security agencies can’t protect us. They don’t know the area because most of them come from outside Quetta. So we’re planning to set up our own permanent posts inside our areas,” said Haider.

The police, however, have their doubts.

“If we start private policing by arming one particular community, it will set the wrong precedent,” said Fiaz Ahmed Sunbal, head of Quetta police operations.

He claimed police were planning to close entrances to Hazara Town, and would recruit 200 young Hazaras to patrol their own areas.

Haider says closing off roads will isolate the community but welcomed the recruitment of Hazara Scouts as a long-term solution.

Others warn that time is running out.

“If they don’t do anything and something happens again, we will take up guns and go out and kill our opponents. There will be open war,” said 26-year-old shopkeeper Zahid Ali.

Counter-Terrorism As An Excuse for Everything Else

[The following article from Russia Today claims to highlight “new thinking” in the effort to counter terrorism, but it is just another Establishment excuse for NOT doing anything to end the flow of drugs, guns, or terrorism.  NEW THINKING on this compound issue would immediately insist that the Establishment end its sponsorship of all of those things.  Recent revelations about drug money serving as a “safety valve” for bankrupt corporations and economies (SEE:  Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor) confirm the direct Establishment connection to the drug “pipelines.” These drug pipelines transport contraband at maximum capacity, twenty-four hours a day, sending drugs, guns and militants/terrorists throughout the world .  It was state suppliers who put powerful weapons like automatic weapons and grenade launchers into the hands of terrorists and other criminals (Fast and Furious).  In the Mexican drug war, it was America’s selective drug war policies which elevated the Sinaloa Cartel over the rest (SEE:  US Government Informant Helped Sinaloa Narcos Stay Out of Jail). 

Finally, and most vital to any real understanding of “international terrorism,” is the link between governments and terrorists.  You can get a glimpse of all of these elements in the reports on Saudis and Qataris buying guns from the Bosnian and Croatian “al-CIA-da”-linked terrorists empowered by the West (SEE: Saudi Arabia Supplies Syrian Militants with Croatian Arms: Report), shipping Bosnian and Croatian heavy weapons through their Albanian “al-CIA-da” drug pipeline, to their Libyan “al-CIA-da” terrorists, who have been relocated to Syria, to overthrow the government there for the Americans and Saudis. 

If it was not for state-sponsorship, then there would be no terrorism of any magnitude today.  If it was not for America and Arab sponsorship of Sunni terrorism in the world then there would be no terrorists to fight.]

New thinking to tackle new terrorism

Russia-Today

Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011).

AFP Photo / Al-Andalus / TV grab

AFP Photo / Al-Andalus / TV grab

Terrorism and violent extremism are very dangerous trends which are spreading under slogans of reformed democracy, and calls for street protest.

Lately there has been a growing destructive wave of radicalism, which provoked tensions in various regions and created favourable conditions for bringing new adherents, especially young people, into the movement.

Recent events show that the threat of terrorism has not diminished but has acquired a new dimension and gravity. It is adapting to new realities, spreading to regions previously untouched. Terrorism has crossed all borders, it is fast-arming, and it develops new funding sources. Al-Qaida and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region continue to generate terrorist threats, with a heavy reliance on the drugs trade. Terrorists have strong connections to organized crime, including in West Africa and the Sahel region.

This is a threat to international peace and security which is hard to predict and address. Transnational cooperation is crucial if this threat is to be dealt with effectively. Much has been done to create the effective global response system, which includes a solid treaty base.

In June 2012 the UN General Assembly recommitted the international community to the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, thus strengthening the resolve to support victims of terrorism everywhere and to adopt a comprehensive anti-terrorism approach based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. No counter-terrorism policy could be effective without addressing conditions that are terrorism’s breeding grounds. Development and security were critically linked.

Three conferences on the subject of terrorism will be held in the near future. In April, the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) Working Group on human rights while countering terrorism, a new project on human rights training for counter-terrorism law enforcement officials, would hold its first conference in Amman, Jordan. In two weeks, the CTIFT United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre would hold an International Conference on National and Regional Counter-Terrorism Strategies, in Bogota, Colombia. And this summer, the CTITF and the Swiss Government would host a conference of counter-terrorism focal points aimed at addressing conditions conducive to terrorism’s spread. States are in need of capacity-building to respond to the financing of terrorism. The Counter-Terrorism Committee’s special meeting on that subject last November, chaired by India’s Permanent Representative, was an important step.

We attach huge importance to the work of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, the “1267” and “1988” Committees on, respectively, Al-Qaida and the Taliban. It is also critical to maintain a focus on sanctions and to prevent nuclear terrorism.

The UN Security Council needs a common approach, yet it displays a lack of unity, especially in the context of the Syrian events unfolding against the backdrop of Al-Qaida-linked terrorism.

The United Nations has an essential coordinating role to play. At the same time, the level of participation must be expanded. Counter-terrorism also requires improved cooperation of law enforcement agencies. Timely and appropriate reaction remains a priority for the United Nations and its Security Council.

Humanitarian, security and politicians have to engage in an open, sustained policy dialogue to ensure that anti-terrorism measures never thwart timely delivery of aid to civilians. It is very important that all states cope with increasing humanitarian emergencies around the world, citing challenges in Mali and the broader Sahel region, where terrorism was feeding on extreme destitution and undermining development through violence, intolerance and human rights abuses.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Turkish and Qatari support for Syrian insurgents is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq

Amiri says Turkey, Qatar hamper peaceful Syria solution

hurriyet

BAGHDAD – Reuters

A man walks in front of a burning building after a Syrian Air force air strike in Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus in this January 27, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Goran TomasevicA man walks in front of a burning building after a Syrian Air force air strike in Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus in this January 27, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Turkish and Qatari support for Syrian insurgents is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq, which will suffer from the fallout of an increasingly sectarian conflict next door, an Iraqi Shi’ite politician said.

Hadi al-Amiri, transport minister and head of the formerly armed Badr Organisation, said SunniMuslim Turkey and Qatar had stymied all efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict peacefully.

Iraq is calmer than in the communal bloodletting that killed tens of thousands in 2006-2007, but the war in neighbouring Syria is straining its precarious sectarian balance.

Amiri accused Ankara and Doha, which support the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, of arming jihadi groups in Syria, where many Sunni militants are fighting, including the Qaeda-approved Nusra Front, which has links to al Qaeda in Iraq.

“Presenting money and weapons to al Qaeda (in Syria) by Qatar and Turkey is a declaration of armed action against Iraq,” Amiri told Reuters in an interview this week. “These weapons will reach Iraqi chests for sure.”

Sectarian-tinged unrest has been on the rise in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis have staged protests against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government in their western stronghold of Anbar bordering Syria, and al Qaeda has urged them to take up arms.

Al Qaeda-linked militants appear to be regrouping in Anbar’s caves and valleys, with some moving into Syria to join the fight against Assad, whose Alawite sect springs from Shi’ite Islam.

Scores of Iraqi Shi’ite militants are also fighting in Syria alongside forces loyal to Assad, who is backed by Shi’ite Iran.

Amiri, whose Badr Organisation laid down its weapons in 2004, said he was against militias, criticising the recent formation of a new Shi’ite militia named al-Mukhtar Army.

Some people in Baghdad’s southwestern district of Jihad have received death threat leaflets signed by al-Mukhtar Army telling them to leave the mixed Sunni-Shi’ite neighborhood.

“Using militias again is a big mistake,” Amiri said. “If we (Shi’ites) form militia and they (Sunnis) form militia, then Iraq will be lost.”

Kurdish-Shi’ite alliance  

Turning to the Baghdad government’s dispute with autonomous Kurds over land and oil rights in the north, Amiri said this should not undermine traditional ties between Shi’ites and Kurds who were both oppressed under former strongman Saddam Hussein.

“This has nothing to do with this deep strategic alliance. Technical problems have to be fixed based on the constitution and the oil and gas law,” he declared.

Baghdad says it alone has the authority to control Iraqi oil exports, while the Kurds say their right to export from their autonomous northern region is enshrined in Iraq’s federal constitution, drawn up after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

New legislation to govern the world’s fourth largest oil reserves has been caught up for years in a struggle over how to share power between Iraq’s Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish factions, which has intensified since U.S. troops withdrew a year ago.

“Frankly, we are in the federal government and the prime minister is serious about this issue,” Amiri said. “He won’t make a concession … he is a stubborn and won’t bargain”.

Tajikistan’s Sangtoudeh-II Power Plant to Open in Nowrouz as Planned

Envoy: Tajikistan’s Sangtoudeh-II Power Plant to Open in Nowrouz as Planned

farsnews

Nowrouz

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian Ambassador to Dushanbe Ali Asqar She’rdoust said that the second phase of Tajikistan’s Sangtoudeh-II power plant is scheduled to come online during the upcoming Nowrouz festivities although the Tajik Electricity Company has not yet settled its overdue payments to Iran as shareholder of the power plant.

Nowrouz, which coincides with the first day of spring on the solar calendar, is mostly celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. This year March 21 coincided with the first day of Nowrouz. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon will officially inaugurate Tajikistan’s Sangtoudeh-II concurrent with Nowrouz festivities.

The news came while the Iranian embassy in Dushanbe last week in a letter to Tajik Electricity Company asked it to pay back its 12-milion-dollar overdue debt to Iran. Tajikistan’s Electricity Company still owes huge sums to Sangtoudeh-II power plant as it is the main user of its power output.

Sangtoudeh-II power plant has the capacity to produce 220 megawatts of electricity. It will increase Tajikistan’s annual electricity output to 1bln kilowatt/hours.

Iran has contributed $180bln to construction of Sangtoudeh-II and Tajikistan’s share is $40bln. The power plant’s construction work began on September 5, 2011 at the presence of the Iranian and Tajik presidents.

Sangtoudeh-II is located 120 km Southeast of the Capital city of Dushanbe.

Earlier this month, Iran’s Ambassador to Tajikistan Ali Asqar She’rdoust lauded the growing relations between the two brotherly countries in the last two decades.

“Tehran and Dushanbe have had a good volume of cooperation in political, economic, commercial, and cultural fields and their positive results can be seen all over Tajikistan,” She’rdoust said, referring to the 20-year-long relations between Iran and Tajikistan.

She’rdoust, who was addressing a ceremony to mark the 34th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Dushanbe, stressed protecting Tajikistan’s independence, security and stability is a top priority of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Also during the ceremony, Tajikistan’s Minister of Education Nuriddin Saidov lauded the growing ties and cooperation between his country and Iran, and described Tehran as a trustworthy partner of Dushanbe.

Saidov said the trade ties between Iran and Tajikistan have reached $220mln in 2012, and added that the figure was $24mln in 1991, when Tajikistan had just gained independence from the former Soviet Union.

He said that Iran is a Tajikistan’s trustworthy partner in economic, trade and cultural fields.

Iran and Tajikistan have recently accelerated expansion of their ties and cooperation and observers believe that the good achievements gained in area of their mutual cooperation should be deemed as a result of the efforts made by the two countries’ officials.

Waking up in Waziristan

[Pakistan and Afghanistan have begun to deal with each other as if the US and NATO were already long gone.  That will include the opening of new strategic corridors between the two countries, compliments of their friends in the UAE and in USAID, and the commerce which that development will bring.  But, there is little chance that these roads will benefit the US or NATO, since they all pass through hostile territory in Miramshah and in Wana.  This is undoubtedly the reason that the US is so adamant that Pakistan launch an “operation in North Waziristan.” The Wana route would be the shortest route from Kabul to Karachi, but can Pakistan wring a cease-fire out of the Wazir militias before the 2014 cut-off, in order to facilitate the withdrawal of NATO?  Will President Karzai’s stopping of American warfare by proxy (using elements of the TTP against Pakistan), persuade the Pak Army to halt further support to the Afghan Taliban?  If this is an actual opening to bring peace to Afghanistan, then that does not neccessarily mean that it will benefit the NATO withdrawal mission.  The fact that Karzai has taken his actions against the Pentagon and their surrogates in Eastern Afghanistan (SEE: Afghan Nat. Security Council Meeting Evicts Spec. Forces from Wardak and Logar for Employing Criminal Gangs ) indicates that this is a somewhat hostile move by Karzai.  If Pakistan is looking for some sort of revenge against the US for sabotaging their efforts to rehabilitate their local militants (SEE: India/Pakistani Detente’ Went Into the Ground with Mullah Nazir) then there can be little doubt that there will be no NATO convoys getting by the forces of Mullah Nazir Group in either Afghanistan or South Waziristan.  After the State Dept. designation of the Mullah Nazir Group as terrorists (SEE: Terrorist Designations of the Commander Nazir Group and Malang Wazir),look for a major escalation of the drone war upon the group, eventually a resumption of special forces raids, unless other assets like Blackwater and the Mehsud Taliban take-on the Wazirs for Obama.  Will Obama crash Karzai’s party?  Only time will tell.]

Pak-Afghan talks for new trade corridor get boost

dawn

A Pashtun man passes a road sign while pulling supplies towards the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing. – File photo by Reuters

A Pashtun man passes a road sign while pulling supplies towards the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing. – File photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan for opening a third trade corridor through Waziristan got a fresh impetus during the visit of Afghan Defence Minister Gen Bismillah Mohammadi when the two countries narrowed their longstanding strategic differences.

The high-ranking Afghan defence ministry delegation departed on Thursday after completing a five-day visit during which they held meetings with civilian and political leadership and inspected a number of Army’s training facilities.

During his several interactions, Gen Bismillah is said to have stressed the need for finalisation of the agreement on third trade corridor, which will not only reduce the travel time and distance between Karachi and Kabul, but will also contribute to development of border areas of both countries.

“Afghans have recognised the centrality of Pakistan for peace and stability in their country not only in terms of kinetic military operations, but also with regard to socio-economic development of conflict zones,” an official said.

The third route has been under discussion since 2003, but deep-running mistrust between the two neighbours had prevented its materialisation. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA 2010) had provided for a third entry-exit point on the Pak-Afghan border in addition to the two existing points — Chaman and Torkham, but had deferred its operationalisation till a “mutually- acceptable date”.

The proposed third trade corridor is a three branched route originating from Karachi and ending in Kabul. Once made functional the distance between Karachi and Kabul would be reduced by some 400 kilometres. The traffic on the new trade corridor would pass through less frequently used roads and join the Indus Highway. After crossing the Indus River the route would divide into three branches entering Afghanistan in three different provinces.

The three routes will be Route-1: D.I. Khan-Tank-Makeen-Miran Shah-Ghulam Khan, and onward to Afghanistan; Route-2: D.I. Khan-Tank-Wana-Angoor Adda, and onward to Afghanistan; and Route-3: Bannu-Miramshah-Ghulam Khan, and onward to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the traffic would come into the newly-constructed Afghanistan Ring Road.

“The third trade corridor is set to become a reality because of the construction of 2200-kilometre-long Afghanistan Ring Road which connects major Afghan cities and development of road network in Fata by FWO as part of the counter-insurgency operations,” an official said.

He further said: “The biggest spin-off will be the livelihood revolution and economic prosperity that this corridor will bring in the region.
However, in order to draw its true dividend, security situation has to improve.”

TRAINING OF AFGHAN TROOPS: The six-member Afghan defence delegation visited various military education and training institutions, including the National Defence University, Command and Staff College, Quetta, School of Infantry and Tactics, Quetta, Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, National University of Modern Language (NUML) and National University of Science and Technology to witness training activities.

During their visits to these centres full spectrum of training from low intensity conflict to conventional warfare, and from tactical to higher defence training was exhibited.

The Afghan delegation showed keen interest in getting their troops trained in Pakistan.

Pakistan had long been offering training facilities to Afghans, but the offers were not considered because of differences between the two countries.

The new-found Afghan interest in training in Pakistan is being seen as a major progress in relations.

The visiting delegation reportedly acknowledged benefits of training in Pakistan, including the similarity of operational environment in two countries and a better option for training of female soldiers who have been reluctant to train in other countries.

Waking up in Waziristan

pakistan today

Meet the warm, friendly side of Pakistan

South Waziristan was not exactly where I expected to wake upon my birthday in 2012. It is, after all, not yet at the top of everyone’s ‘must visit’ holiday places. To be honest, most friends had been somewhat horrified that I was making this trip, raising the spectre of all sorts of terrible things that could happen, though the more adventurous ones were envious because it’s a place of mystery that few get to visit. But despite the concern, it was peaceful, exciting and remarkably beautiful. South Waziristan is waking up and coming to life again after truly terrible times.

I visited the areas around Jandola, Chagmalai, Spinkai, Kotkai, Janata and Sararaogha in November to talk with the people who have returned after the military operations against the insurgents, and to see what’s happening in the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities. As a consultant who works across the civil-military divide and who regularly evaluates aid and development projects, I am able to assess the quality and outcomes of such projects.

The first thing I noticed was that the locals were warm, welcoming and they weren’t carrying guns. Nobody is allowed to move in these areas with a weapon. The long tradition of carrying weapons has undergone an enforced but important change. The second thing was that all women were not wearing burqas, were out and many were working in the fields. So, that quickly dispelled two well-worn perceptions.

South Waziristan has extraordinary scenery with mountains and cliffs rising sharply against the skyline with a river meandering through beautiful valleys. However, the spectacularly stark terrain makes it a hard place to conduct operations and it is easy to see why the losses were so heavy in subduing the insurgency.

Although casualties have reduced since 2010, peace building will be a long-term challenge given the external influences at play in the region. But much has already been done to restore a peaceful environment for the local people to return to the area to rebuild their lives and it is already making a difference.

For the rehabilitation and reconstruction of South Waziristan, the government of Pakistan is working in tandem with Pakistan Army, and a very small number of international donors, UN agencies and local NGOs. The government has enhanced its footprint. As the security situation further stabilises, more agencies will be able to work in the area. Electricity services for 35 villages have been restored. An impressive new 117km road with excellent bridges transverses the area. This road will join up with a similar road through Wana, to connect with the Indus Highway to form a third trade corridor between the Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics. This will contribute significantly to the economy of the South Waziristan and stimulate development and job opportunities.

Health and education facilities are undergoing reconstruction with 12 health care facilities already completed while some 45 schools for both boys and girls are being rebuilt, many of which are already operating and more are underway.

Although most families have been eager to return, it has been tough for most. Many have returned to damaged or destroyed homes and a complete loss of their livelihoods. UNHCR is building one-room shelters for the more vulnerable returnees such as widows but to date, progress is slow and the shelters are not culturally appropriate as they are mostly built in the open, not with the traditional compound walls. A Pakistani NGO, Resettling the Indus, is building, more culturally, appropriate houses, working with the local communities, and undertaking planning for a number of villages soon to be re-settled.

As part of the resettlement package, families receive food support for a period of six months provided by the World Food Programme and their donors. However, after that, it can be hard as there are still very few jobs and many have to live on whatever savings they have until they can get work or set up a micro-business. Water systems have been restored in 35 areas. Markets have been built in 30 places to help locals re-establish businesses and are handed over at no cost, provided they are used for the purpose agreed. Agricultural practices are being improved to make the small amount of arable land more productive.

Sports stadia have been constructed and are very popular for the favourite pastimes of cricket and football. The sports fields and a new community centre are also venues for festivals and Eid celebrations to bring the communities and those working there together. Discussions with the locals about what life was like in the shadow of the militants, their time away in IDP camps and with host families in other parts of Pakistan, and returning home, were revealing and deeply touching. As a woman, and a foreigner, I wasn’t sure that the men would be particularly comfortable with me. However, they extended their hands warmly to mine, talked freely and laughed with me and were entirely comfortable with me, mingling amongst them to take photographs. It turned out to be rather fun. Many spoke freely but others, still perhaps afraid of repercussions from any lingering militant sympathisers amongst them, were understandably uncomfortable in talking of the past. The terrible atrocities, they underwent at the hands of the militants, are still all too fresh in their minds.

The achievements of the Pakistan Army in South Waziristan are in stark contrast to the experience in Afghanistan of NATO/ISAF with the donor-supported reconstruction through the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Despite billions of donor dollars pouring in to PRTs, they have not been able to achieve their goals. Lack of ability to stabilise areas, sub-standard materials provided by contractors, plus a frequent lack of cultural understanding have been some of the main inhibitors. But the story is very different in South Waziristan. Unlike the NATO/ISAF troops in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army is of the same country, the same people, and although it is still challenging, acceptance and cultural understanding is greater. Also, as the army directly controls the reconstruction process on the ground, working closely with and for the government, donors and humanitarian agencies, there is full transparency and accountability.

South Waziristan was a real surprise not only for me but the many people I’ve spoken to since. There is so little awareness of life there. Unfortunately, good news stories do not attract the same attention as the negative. Yes, there will be many big challenges ahead but people’s resolve is greater. Let’s hope that the goal of long-term stability can be fully realised and the people of South Waziristan can prosper in true peace and harmony.

The writer is a disaster management and civil-military relations consultant, based in Islamabad where she consults for government and UN agencies. She has also worked with ERRA and NDMA. She can be contacted at: jennifer.mckay@gmail.com