Sunday, November 22, 2009

Update on the Northern Areas and Kurram Agency

The lower Kurram areas have long been a hideout for Taliban militants and criminals from other agencies and even from across the volatile border. And that is one major reason why this agency has experienced violence and turmoil in the last few years, which is however often dubbed as "sectarian" in the media.

The road from Thal to Parachinar has been opened. On Sunday, Nov 15, after another year of blockade (following the short-lived opening last year), 25 trucks loaded with food, medicine, and other basic supplies reached Parachinar, the agency capital. The local people, Kurram Militia, and the Government all worked together to make this happen. The government has also promised to set up 7 check posts along the road. 25 trucks, as should be obvious, is not enough for hundreds of thousands of residents of upper Kurram who are barely surviving. The residents of these areas do not have high expectations from the government. They are not asking for aid, just security and open passage so they can get their regular supplies from within Pakistan and wouldn't have to cross the border into Afghanistan. The Afghan route is both very costly and dangerous. I certainly hope that the government and its security apparatus deliver their promise this time.

25 trucks carrying edibles reach Parachinar
Monday, November 16, 2009, The News

PARACHINAR: A convoy of security forces’ vehicles carrying edibles Sunday arrived here as the Parachinar-Sadda-Thall Road reopened after a closure for three years.

Official sources said 25 trucks of the security forces carrying food, medicines and other necessary items reached Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency. The arrival of the convoy with food items sent a wave of happiness among the residents as they had been facing severe shortage of edibles and medicines due to blockade of roads by militants.

Kurram Militia Commander Col Tausif Akhtar led the convoy named as ‘Peace Convoy,’ which was accorded a warm welcome by the residents at Balishkhel checkpost. The residents hoped the government would continue supply of foodstuffs and other goods to the agency and take steps for reopening of roads.

Gunship helicopters target Lower Kurram
Dawn, November 22, 2009

PESHAWAR: As forces pound militant hideouts in Kurram Agency, residents flee to safer areas due to the threat of a possible military operation.

According to official sources, gunship helicopters targeted various areas of lower Kurram. It is beleived that the hideouts belong to militants linked to banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. On the other hand, residents of central Kurram have started migrating to safer areas.

Also, in Orakzai agency, militant hideouts in Mishti and Shahokhel areas were desroyed in airstrikes. Sources in the area claim that ongoing military operation in South Waziristan has forced militants to flee to areas of Lower, Central Kurram and Orakzai ageny.

Gilgit-Baltistan: next phase
Editorial, Daily Times, November 17, 2009

The Election Commission (EC) has announced the official results in 19 constituencies for the legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Reflecting closely the unofficial results, the EC awarded 12 seats to the People’s Party while the remaining seats were shared by the other parties. The results for four seats are still awaited. The disturbing aspect of the tail-end of electioneering for the first-ever legislative assembly in the recently designated autonomous region is the squabble between political parties over charges of rigging, pre-poll as well as on the polling day. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was quick to refute the charges of unfair electoral practices a day after the election. The second tier party leadership too has echoed the same views. However, the EC has already ordered re-polling in some parts of Diamer District. The PML-Q and MQM have protested against what they termed as “unfair manipulation of the electoral process by the ruling party to get their candidates elected”. However, the PML-Q leadership struck a positive note by announcing that “the result will be accepted for the sake of ensuring the continuity of the democratic process in the country.” This caveat was somewhat at odds with democratic norms. Citing “strategic national interests”, Chaudhry Shujaat demanded a consensus government in the region. The term “consensus” seems to be the newfound panacea for all political forces with poor showing at the ballot box or those elements who wish to paralyse the incumbent government of a highly polarised society. PML-Q has so far won one seat in the GB election. The demand for a “consensus government” when the PPP appears to have won a comfortable simple majority is tantamount to placing “consensus” over and above the electorate’s mandate.

Sadly, the appearance of democratic tolerance displayed by the top political leadership was less evident at the grassroots level where skirmishes broke out among the activists of various political parties and supporters of candidates. In two separate incidents of violence, PPP activists clashed with the supporters of the PML-N and MQM. Several people were injured and when the police appeared unable to pacify the situation, the local administration imposed Section 144 in Skardu. On a pleasantly surprising note, the local religious leaders of various sects were seen helping the administration towards the restoration of normalcy in the area.

Disagreements regarding the fairness or validity of the electoral process or the results thereof are normal, especially in South Asia. However, our constitutional scheme has laid out a clear procedure and a proper platform to seek redress in such a contingency, namely the EC. It is advisable for the aggrieved political parties to approach the EC with any evidence of electoral malpractices. To demand directly from the government that re-polling be held in certain constituencies where alleged discrepancies have occurred appears more like an exercise in political point scoring than observance of genuine democratic procedures. In this context, the statement of the regional PPP chief seems more in conformity with the ground realities. He has hinted at the possibility of forming a coalition government with the parties that are already part of the government at the centre. *

No comments: