Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.
The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.
Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.
In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]
Tom Hussain reports: The recently formed South Asian chapter of ISIL has made a military alliance with the Pakistani Taliban and other militants to resist advancing security forces in the Khyber tribal area bordering Afghanistan, militants and security analysts said.
The alliance has been formed to marshal scattered manpower and weapons, and deploy them under a unified military command supervised by a committee of representatives of the four member factions: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Khyber-based Lashkar-i-Islam, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and ISIL “Khorasan”.
Khorasan is a historic term used by militants to describe a region including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India.
The involvement of ISIL Khorasan in the alliance represents the group’s first political and military activity in the region after announcing its formation in a video posted on militant websites on January 10.
In the video, a collection of former Pakistani and Afghan Taliban faction commanders swore an oath of allegiance to ISIL chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, and named a Pakistani militant, Hafiz Saeed Orakzai, as head of the South Asia chapter. Other commanders were introduced in person and by rank — a risky, defiant move, according to security analysts based in Islamabad.
ISIL Khorasan has a force of fighters numbering in the hundreds, all of them Pakistani tribesmen. [Continue reading…]
Conflicts that were under-reported in 2014: Libya, Yemen, Assam, The Sudans, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya
Ishaan Tharoor writes: 2014 has been a brutal year. The death toll of Syria’s ongoing civil war likely eclipsed 200,000, while the hideous rise of the Islamic State spurred a U.S.-led bombing campaign. A separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine led to thousands of deaths and clouded relations between the West and Moscow, which is believed to be aiding the rebels. And an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants saw whole stretches of the Gaza Strip reduced to rubble.
Sadly, there was plenty of other mayhem and violence that didn’t make newspaper frontpages as often. Here are seven awful conflicts that merited more attention. [Continue reading…]
Sebastian Rotella, James Glanz and David E. Sanger report: In the fall of 2008, a 30-year-old computer expert named Zarrar Shah roamed from outposts in the northern mountains of Pakistan to safe houses near the Arabian Sea, plotting mayhem in Mumbai, India’s commercial gem.
Mr. Shah, the technology chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terror group, and fellow conspirators used Google Earth to show militants the routes to their targets in the city. He set up an Internet phone system to disguise his location by routing his calls through New Jersey. Shortly before an assault that would kill 166 people, including six Americans, Mr. Shah searched online for a Jewish hostel and two luxury hotels, all sites of the eventual carnage.
But he did not know that by September, the British were spying on many of his online activities, tracking his Internet searches and messages, according to former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.
They were not the only spies watching. Mr. Shah drew similar scrutiny from an Indian intelligence agency, according to a former official who was briefed on the operation. The United States was unaware of the two agencies’ efforts, American officials say, but had picked up signs of a plot through other electronic and human sources, and warned Indian security officials several times in the months before the attack.
What happened next may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. The intelligence agencies of the three nations did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11.
“No one put together the whole picture,” said Shivshankar Menon, who was India’s foreign secretary at the time of the attacks and later became the national security adviser. “Not the Americans, not the Brits, not the Indians.” [Continue reading…]
Pervez Hoodbhoy writes: The gut-wrenching massacre in Peshawar’s Army Public School has left Pakistan aghast and sickened. All political leaders have called for unity against terrorism. But this is no watershed event that can bridge the deep divides within. In another few days this episode of 134 dead children will become one like any other.
All tragedies provoke emotional exhortations. But nothing changed after Lakki Marwat when 105 spectators of a volleyball match were killed by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or, when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club died in a double suicide attack. The 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar, or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer, are now dry statistics. In 2012, men in military uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later corpses lay on the ground.
If Pakistan had a collective conscience, just one single fact could have woken it up: the murder of nearly 60 polio workers — women and men who work to save children from a crippling disease — at the hands of the fanatics.
Hence the horrible inevitability: from time to time, Pakistan shall continue to witness more such catastrophes. No security measures can ever prevent attacks on soft targets. The only possible solution is to change mindsets. For this we must grapple with three hard facts.
First, let’s openly admit that the killers are not outsiders or infidels. Instead, they are fighting a war for the reason Boko Haram fights in Nigeria, IS in Iraq and Syria, Al Shabab in Kenya, etc. The men who slaughtered our children are fighting for a dream — to destroy Pakistan as a Muslim state and recreate it as an Islamic state. This is why they also attack airports and shoot at PIA planes. They see these as necessary steps towards their utopia. [Continue reading…]
In Peshawar army school attack, more than 130 children have died. “And to him we belong and to him we return”. On this tragic incident, our hearts are deeply saddened. There is no doubt about the oppression of pakistan army and that its crimes have exceeded all limits. Truth is that, Pakistan army has exceeded all limits in its subservience to Americans and the massacre of Muslims. Its also true that, America is totally dependent on Pakistan’s army to silence any voice for Shariah.
But these crimes of Pakistan army and its horrific oppression CANNOT justify that its revenge be taken from innocent Muslims.
Ishaan Tharoor writes: A horrific attack on a military-run high school in Peshawar, Pakistan, has killed at least 141 people, 132 of whom were children and teenagers attending the academy. The slaughter, carried out by six Taliban terrorists, is the single worst terror attack in the country’s history and one of the most brutal assaults on a school anywhere. Even in conflict-ravaged Pakistan, it seems an unprecedented act.
The Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the massacre, calling it retaliation for the military’s ongoing campaign against the militants’ strongholds in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. For the Pakistani Taliban, schools are vulnerable, “soft targets.” By some accounts, the group has struck at more than 1,000 schools in the country since 2009.
These include many schools for girls. In areas under their watch, the militants seek to discourage female education. The conspicuous defiance of one Pakistani schoolgirl, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, nearly got her killed in 2012, when Taliban militants attempted to gun down the teenager and a few of her friends.
In addition to turning education into a security risk for countless children, the Pakistani Taliban has created a public health crisis in corners of the country. Polio has returned among children after the militants banned health workers from distributing vaccines, a consequence, in part, of a CIA vaccination ruse a few years ago in its search for Osama bin Laden. [Continue reading…]
Haider Javed Warraich writes: This morning, I awoke to images of the same school uniform I wore as a kid cloaking dead and bloodied children. The Pakistani Taliban had attacked an Army Public School branch in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan and executed one of the most cold-blooded massacres in recent memory, killing more than 100 children. I spent my childhood moving from one Pakistani city to another as my parents, both members of the Pakistani military, changed postings. Everywhere I went, I found Army Public Schools willing to accept me — five in total.
I spent the rest of Tuesday numb, standing silently in a stairwell at one point as my mother cried for 10 minutes on the other end of the phone. A colleague at Children’s Hospital in Boston sent me an email saying, “I was sitting in our Cardiac Medical-Surgical Conference this morning, discussing cases of complex heart disease and contemplating the fact that we devote prodigious human and financial resources to saving the life of one child while others somehow see fit to kill children at random.” One by one, all of the profile pictures of my friends on Facebook went black. “The smallest coffins are the heaviest,” many wrote.
Tuesday’s horror caps what UNICEF had already called one of the worst years in history for children. “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality,” Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director, recently observed. He was referring to the findings of a UNICEF report showing that 230 million children currently live in countries afflicted by armed conflict. In the latest Gaza war, 538 children were killed and thousands more injured and orphaned; in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, millions are internally or externally displaced; in Nigeria, Boko Haram infamously kidnapped more than 200 school-going girls. Children have also been battered by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, with millions more unable to continue their education because of it. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The United States has handed to Pakistan three prisoners including a senior Taliban militant held in Afghanistan, as Washington rushes to empty its Afghan prison before losing the legal right to detain people there at the end of the year.
U.S. forces captured Latif Mehsud, the former number two commander in Pakistan’s faction of the Taliban, in October 2013, in an operation that angered then Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Mehsud, a Pakistani, and his two guards were secretly flown to Pakistan, two senior Pakistani security officials told Reuters. The U.S. military confirmed it transferred three prisoners to Pakistan’s custody on Saturday, but would not reveal their identities. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Pakistani Taliban militants holed up in Afghanistan are being squeezed by U.S. drone strikes and a revolt against them, a trend that could disrupt the insurgents’ capability to strike in Pakistan.
For years, Pakistani Taliban commanders fighting the Pakistani state have been hiding in remote areas of east Afghanistan, plotting attacks and recruiting.
But in recent weeks, officials say the insurgency has been weakened by a spate strikes by U.S. drones and a rebellion by tribesmen in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are allied and share the goal of toppling their respective governments and setting up an Islamist state across the region.
Their presence on both sides of the border has been a bone of contention between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the two trading accusations of sheltering insurgents.
But the ascent to power of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has raised hopes for more cooperation in tackling the insurgency.
Four Pakistani Taliban commanders told Reuters drone strikes and tension with tribesmen had forced them to move from small Afghan towns to mountainous border areas. [Continue reading…]
Karl Kaltenthaler writes: The landscape of violent extremist Islamism is changing in Asia. Al-Qaida, once a growing and potent threat, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is now a shadow of its former self.
In the late 1990s, al-Qaida co-ran Afghanistan with the Taliban. It also had a strong presence in Pakistan and close ties with many of that country’s myriad jihadi groups. Now al-Qaida’s core group is down to a few dozen members. Security operations against the group in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere have cut its numbers and operational capacity substantially. The organization is fighting for survival in Pakistan, its last real refuge in Asia.
The same cannot be said of the Islamic State group. The militant group, which has had spectacular success in Syria and Iraq, is now making inroads in many parts of Asia, but particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur.
Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.
However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.
Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Across Pakistan, the black standard of the Islamic State has been popping up all over.
From urban slums to Taliban strongholds, the militant group’s logo and name have appeared in graffiti, posters and pamphlets. Last month, a cluster of militant commanders declared their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State.
Such is the influence of the Islamic State’s steamroller success in Iraq and Syria that, even thousands of miles away, security officials and militant networks are having to reckon with the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Its victories have energized battle-weary militants in Pakistan. The ISIS brand offers them potent advantages, analysts say — an aid to fund-raising and recruiting, a possible advantage over rival factions and, most powerfully, a new template for waging jihad. [Continue reading…]
Micah Zenko writes: The most consistent and era-defining tactic of America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies has been the targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants outside of defined battlefields. As one senior Bush administration official explained in October 2001, “The president has given the [CIA] the green light to do whatever is necessary. Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.” Shortly thereafter, a former CIA official told the New Yorker, “There are five hundred guys out there you have to kill.” It is quaint to recall that such a position was considered extremist and even morally unthinkable. Today, these strikes are broadly popular with the public and totally uncontroversial in Washington, both within the executive branch and on Capitol Hill. Therefore, it is easy to forget that this tactic, envisioned to be rare and used exclusively for senior al-Qaeda leaders 13 years ago, has become a completely accepted and routine foreign policy activity.
Thus, just as you probably missed the 10th anniversary — November 3, 2012 — of what I labeled the Third War, it’s unlikely you will hear or read that the United States just launched its 500th non-battlefield targeted killing.
As of today, the United States has now conducted 500 targeted killings (approximately 98 percent of them with drones), which have killed an estimated 3,674 people, including 473 civilians. Fifty of these were authorized by President George W. Bush, 450 and counting by President Obama. Noticeably, these targeted killings have not diminished the size of the targeted groups according to the State Department’s own numbers. [Continue reading…]
Steve Coll writes: At the Pearl Continental Hotel, in Peshawar, a concrete tower enveloped by flowering gardens, the management has adopted security precautions that have become common in Pakistan’s upscale hospitality industry: razor wire, vehicle barricades, and police crouching in bunkers, fingering machine guns. In June, on a hot weekday morning, Noor Behram arrived at the gate carrying a white plastic shopping bag full of photographs. He had a four-inch black beard and wore a blue shalwar kameez and a flat Chitrali hat. He met me in the lobby. We sat down, and Behram spilled his photos onto a table. Some of the prints were curled and faded. For the past seven years, he said, he has driven around North Waziristan on a small red Honda motorcycle, visiting the sites of American drone missile strikes as soon after an attack as possible.
Behram is a journalist from North Waziristan, in northwestern Pakistan, and also works as a private investigator. He has been documenting the drone attacks for the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a Pakistani nonprofit that is seeking redress for civilian casualties. In the beginning, he said, he had no training and only a cheap camera. I picked up a photo that showed Behram outdoors, in a mountainous area, holding up a shredded piece of women’s underwear. He said it was taken during his first investigation, in June, 2007, after an aerial attack on a training camp. American and Pakistani newspapers reported at the time that drone missiles had killed Al Qaeda-linked militants. There were women nearby as well. Although he was unable to photograph the victims’ bodies, he said, “I found charred, torn women’s clothing—that was the evidence.”Since then, he went on, he has photographed about a hundred other sites in North Waziristan, creating a partial record of the dead, the wounded, and their detritus. Many of the faces before us were young. Behram said he learned from conversations with editors and other journalists that if a drone missile killed an innocent adult male civilian, such as a vegetable vender or a fruit seller, the victim’s long hair and beard would be enough to stereotype him as a militant. So he decided to focus on children.
Many of the prints had dates scrawled on the back. I looked at one from September 10, 2010. It showed a bandaged boy weeping; he appeared to be about seven years old. There was a photo of a girl with a badly broken arm, and one of another boy, also in tears, apparently sitting in a hospital. A print from August 23, 2010, showed a dead boy of perhaps ten, the son of an Afghan refugee named Bismillah Khan, who lived near a compound associated with the Taliban fighting group known as the Haqqani network. The boy’s skull had been bashed in. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Through three decades of war, waves of Afghans have fled their homes along the eastern border areas, many of them seeking shelter in the Pakistani tribal regions next door.
Last summer another wave of refugees surged through the area. But in a reversal, it is Pakistanis, not Afghans, who are fleeing war at home.
“There was fighting everywhere,” said Sadamullah, a laborer who fled with his family last month from Dattakhel, a district in Pakistan’s tribal areas. “There was shelling, and military forces were firing mortars on our villages. They carried out an operation in our area, and a woman was killed by them.”
Mr. Sadamullah, who like many tribesmen here has only one name, was speaking about the Pakistani military’s continuing offensive against Islamist militants in the North Waziristan region. The military has been clearing territory in the region since June, forcing an exodus of at least 1.5 million residents. As many as 250,000 of them have since crossed the border into Afghanistan, officials say. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The dramatic rise of Islamic State (Isis) in Syria and Iraq is helping to tear apart the Pakistani Taliban, the beleaguered militant group beset by infighting and splits.
Once the country’s largest and most feared militant coalition, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been on the ropes since a US drone strike killed its charismatic leader Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013, a blow followed this summer by the launch of a military onslaught against the group’s sanctuaries.
But the latest challenge to the TTP has come from the startling military successes of Isis and its demand that all Muslims pledge allegiance to the new caliphate it announced in June.
The claim to global Islamic leadership by the self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi threatens to undermine the TTP, which draws considerable authority from the fact that its symbolic figurehead is Mullah Omar, the one-eyed village preacher who ruled the original Taliban “emirate” in Afghanistan prior to the US-led invasion of 2001.
This week the TTP’s beleaguered leadership announced it had sacked its spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, after the high profile militant announced he had pledged his personal allegiance to Baghdadi.
The statement published on the movement’s Facebook page said the spokesman had left the group some time before and reiterated that the TTP’s leader, Mullah Fazlullah, continued to back Mullah Omar, “the emir of believers”. [Continue reading…]
Hindustan Times reports: Child rights activists Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, in what is being seen as a highly symbolic push to end a decades-old rivalry between the nuclear-armed nations that have been locked in a deadly standoff along their disputed border over the past week.
Little known in his own country, Satyarthi has been heading a more than three-decade long campaign for child rights, pushing for their education and fighting against child trafficking and bonded labour.
“This award is recognition to all activists fighting against the exploitation of children and slavery,” said the 60-year-old activist, the second Indian to win a Nobel Peace prize after Mother Teresa who was given the award in 1979.
“I am thankful to Nobel committee for recognising the plight of millions of children who are suffering in this modern age. It is a huge honour for me.”
Yousafzai, now 17, is a schoolgirl and education campaigner in Pakistan who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago.
The Nobel jury said the prize was going to the two for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
Signalling a larger intent behind jointly awarding the prize, the Nobel Committee said it “regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.” [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Islamic State pamphlets and flags have appeared in parts of Pakistan and India, alongside signs that the ultra-radical group is inspiring militants even in the strongholds of the Taliban and al Qaeda.
A splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban insurgents, Jamat-ul Ahrar, has already declared its support for the well-funded and ruthless Islamic State fighters, who have captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in a drive to set up a self-declared caliphate.
“IS (Islamic State) is an Islamic Jihadi organization working for the implementation of the Islamic system and creation of the Caliphate,” Jamat-ul Ahrar’s leader and a prominent Taliban figure, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told Reuters by telephone. “We respect them. If they ask us for help, we will look into it and decide.”
Islamist militants of various hues already hold sway across restive and impoverished areas of South Asia, but Islamic State, with its rapid capture of territory, beheadings and mass executions, is starting to draw a measure of support among younger fighters in the region.
Al Qaeda’s ageing leaders, mostly holed up in the lawless region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, are increasingly seen as stale, tired and ineffectual on hardcore jihadi social media forums and Twitter accounts that incubate potential militant recruits. [Continue reading…]