A million displaced in Pakistan’s war with Taliban

Pakistan’s offensive against the Taliban has forced a million people to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

Air strikes rocked Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley, on Friday as the armed forces pressed ahead with the latest assault designed to clear the area of Taliban insurgents who have claimed swathes of the country in recent months.

The latest assessment from the UN High Commission for refugees laid bare the scale of the fighting. The UN said that 200,000 civilians have already fled the Swat Valley and two neighbouring districts, while another 300,000 are either on the move or preparing to leave. Earlier offensives against the Taliban in other regions of the rugged North West Frontier Province near the Afghan border displaced another 500,000 people, bringing the total number displaced by the offensives to a million. [continued…]

Cynicism among Pakistani refugees

Most displaced people say they have left their homes not because of the Taleban’s excesses, but because of shelling by the army.

“The Taleban captured our area and started patrolling the streets, they snatched vehicles from NGO staff, government officials and private individuals, and they threatened local people,” says Nasir Ali, a high school student.

“But it wasn’t as bad as the shelling by the army – that was what actually forced us to leave our homes.”…

I interviewed a large number of refugees in Swabi, but I did not meet a single person who actually saw the army and the Taleban as members of opposing camps.

Instead, I heard, they were “two sides of the same coin”.

“The Pakistani army has hurt us badly – but while they have killed civilians, I swear I haven’t seen a single shell directed at the Taleban,” says Shahdad Khan, a refugee sheltering at a camp in Swabi’s Shave Ada area.

Others question the Pakistani military’s stated commitment to “eliminating” the Taleban.

“No way,” Siraj tells me.

“The army brought the Taleban to our area! It’s politics. The Taleban and the army are brothers.” [continued…]

Adroit envoy states case for Pakistan

On May 4, 1999, Husain Haqqani was yanked off a Pakistani street and bundled into a car, a blanket thrown over his head. He managed to keep his cellphone hidden in his pocket, and surreptitiously dialed a friend’s number to let her know he was in trouble.

That may have saved his skin, said Mr. Haqqani, now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. The news of his detention made it harder for his captors, Pakistani intelligence agents, to hurt him, Mr. Haqqani said, though he was roughed up and kept in jail for two months until a court ordered his release.

As the Obama administration struggles with another darkening crisis in Pakistan, Mr. Haqqani has become an influential figure in Washington — a silver-tongued interpreter in public of his country’s bewildering politics, but also a relentless, unyielding defender of Pakistan’s image and reputation….

Since moving to the United States, Mr. Haqqani has developed an affinity for American culture. He taught international relations at Boston University from 2004 to 2008, and he roots for the Red Sox. The American experience has only added to suspicions about him back in Pakistan.

“They see him more as a U.S. envoy than a Pakistani envoy,” said Mowahid Hussain Shah, a Pakistani lawyer. “They see him as someone who is competent and bright, but slick.”

Mr. Haqqani readily admits shifting his allegiances over the years. But he denies being an opportunist, saying he underwent a personal journey from being an Islamic activist in his youth to a conservative supporter of Mr. Sharif to an acolyte of the populism of the Bhutto clan. [continued…]

Afghan’s Karzai demands U.S. halt air strikes: report

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday called on the United States to halt air strikes in his country, following attacks this week that Afghan officials said killed 147 people.

“We demand an end to these operations … an end to air strikes,” Karzai said in Washington in an interview with CNN.

Farah Province deputy governor Yunus Rasooli told Reuters on Friday that residents of two villages hit this week by U.S. warplanes had produced lists with the names of 147 people killed in the attacks. [continued…]

Afghan war costs to overtake Iraq in 2010: Pentagon

The cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan will overtake that of the Iraq conflict for the first time in 2010, Pentagon budget documents showed Thursday.

On top of the basic defense budget of 533.7 billion dollars, the White House is requesting a further 130 billion dollars for overseas missions, including 65 billion for Afghanistan and 61 billion for Iraq.

“This request is where you’re going to first see the swing of not only dollars or resources, but combat capability, from the Iraqi theater into the Afghan theater,” Navy Vice Admiral Steve Stanley, director of force structure for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. [continued…]

Israel’s bad-faith negotiating position

Israel has always believed in “creating facts on the ground,” whose existence may later come as an unpleasant surprise to others. Iran now seems to have learned from this Israeli precedent, to Israel’s disadvantage.

In diplomatic circles, in Europe as well as the Arab states, there has been discussion of the possibility of Iran’s being designated a “civil nuclear power,” exercising its right, under the Nonproliferation Treaty (which it has signed), to develop power for civilian uses.

This is what Iran has persistently claimed to be all it wants. The proposal goes on to say that whatever military work Iran has done is already faits accomplis—“created facts,” that are useless to contest. [continued…]

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