After a first attack by gunmen on August 16, the office of the Express Tribune in Karachi was attacked yesterday by men with guns and small improvised explosives made from tennis balls. In response, journalists in the Karachi area are calling for a rapid response from police and have threatened massive demonstrations if the culprits are not caught within 72 hours.
Police responses to both the August attack and yesterday’s appeared to be very slow. From the August story:
The police reached the site 40 minutes after the incident even though both the Defence and Baloch Colony police stations were at a stone’s throw from the media office.
In response to that attack, the same story noted that a “permanent” police presence was being put into place at the office:
A police mobile has been deputed outside the Express Media office permanently to avoid any untoward incident.
Except that the presence was not permanent. From the story on yesterday’s attack:
The attack follows an earlier attempt by terrorists against the Express Media Group on August 16, when unknown gunmen opened fire at the building. Following the first attack, a police van was stationed at the Express Media Group’s building to provide security. However, the police van had suddenly disappeared around two weeks back without intimation.
With the police van gone, and even though police stations are nearby, the response was once again slow:
Following the attack, which lasted for about 15 minutes, a contingent of police reached the scene of the crime almost 10 minutes after the attackers had fled.
Private security for the Express Tribune managed to turn back the attackers:
According to eyewitness accounts, the attackers hurled a tennis-ball bomb towards the main entrance of the building from an overhead bridge running perpendicular to the Express Media Group building. The first bomb attack was followed by another within 30 seconds, and was accompanied by a hail of intermittent gunfire, both between and after the two attacks.
Following retaliatory fire by security guards stationed at the entrance, the assailants fled the scene of the attack towards Korangi Road.
Providing more evidence that perhaps the best move President Obama can make for world affairs is to quickly appoint a new Secretary of Defense so that Leon Panetta can retire to a soundproof booth, five more polio workers in Pakistan paid with their lives for Panetta’s leak that conclusively tied Dr. Shakil Afridi and a vaccination ruse to the CIA effort to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. The tragic shootings in Pakistan consisted of three separate incidents in Karachi and one in Peshawar.
Dawn summarizes various news services’ reports on the shootings:
Four were killed in three different incidents in the port city of Karachi and the fifth in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the second day of a nationwide three-day drive against the disease, which is endemic in Pakistan.
All of the victims were Pakistanis working with a UN-backed programme to eradicate polio.
Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for Sindh province said he had ordered a halt to the anti-polio drive in the city in the wake of the shootings.
These killings come on the heels of previous incidents:
On Monday, police said a gunman killed a volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign was shot dead on the city outskirts in Gadap Town.
Earlier in July 2012, a local paramedic associated with the polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana along with his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.
WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan’s largest city in July after a spate of bloody shootings.
These killings come just under three weeks since it was announced that Dr. Afridi had started a hunger strike at Peshawar Central Jail after the jail retaliated against him for his telephone interview with Fox News. Since the report of the start of the hunger strike, the jail has fired the guard whose phone was used for the interview, but I’ve seen no further reports on the status (or whereabouts) of Afridi. That is striking, since the report on Afridi’s hunger strike appeared within 24 hours of its apparent start. Further, we learn from the New York Times today that US funds for Pakistan’s military have once again begun to flow, despite repeated threats from various members of Congress that these funds would be blocked until Afridi is released from jail. These events also take place in the wake of Panetta’s ham-handed “clarification” last week on the status of Pakistan’s cooperation in anti-terrorism activity.
The Times article tells us that the Pentagon notified Congress of the release of funds to Pakistan on December 7, just a week after the Afridi hunger strike started on November 30. Is Afridi still in Peshawar Central Jail or has he been quietly released and removed from the country as part of the normalization of US-Pakistan relations?
The Express Tribune reports today that despite the fact that the NATO supply route through Pakistan reopened three weeks ago, the huge backlog of thousands of trucks at the port in Karachi has still not yet seen the first truck leave. The trucks that are moving along the supply route at this time are those that were at or close to the border at the time of the closing. We also learn that today marked the first attack on a supply convoy inside Pakistan since the route reopened, with one driver being killed by gunmen.
The number of trucks and cargo containers waiting in Karachi is huge:
The ban on Nato supplies routes through Pakistan may have officially been lifted three weeks ago but the containers carrying goods for international forces stationed in Afghanistan remain stranded at the Karachi Port Trust (KPT).
“There has been no clearance of Nato cargo at KPT so far, but we expect the process will begin in the current week,” Hayat told The Express Tribune adding there was no hindrance on the part of the KPT as consignees needed to get their cargoes cleared from the customs department.
There are 3,851 vehicles and 1,983 containers belonging to Nato currently stranded at the KPT.
NATO owes a large bill for storage during the long closure of the route:
When the supply routes were resumed some three weeks ago, port authorities expected to receive up to Rs2.2 billion from Nato for storing its containers and vehicles for an extended period of time. Known as demurrage charges, the expected amount has now exceeded Rs2.5 billion, according to Hayat.
Meanwhile, a small convoy of trucks was attacked near Peshawar:
Gunmen in the outskirts of Peshawar Tuesday attacked a container truck carrying supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan, killing the driver, officials said.
Tuesday’s attack took place near the market in Jamrud town on the outskirts of Peshawar, the main city in the troubled northwest, local administration official Bakhtiar Khan said.
“Two armed men riding on a motorbike opened fire on a container carrying supplies for Nato troops across the border and killed its driver,” Khan told AFP, adding that the driver’s helper was seriously wounded.
Another administration official said the truck was part of a convoy of three or four vehicles travelling without security protection when they came under attack.
Although they have not yet claimed responsibility, it seems likely the Pakistani Taliban carried out the attack:
However, the Pakistani Taliban had threatened earlier to attack the supply trucks and kill its drivers if they tried to resume supplies to troops in Afghanistan, and right-wing and extremist religious groups have held large demonstrations against the resumption of supply lines.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had told AFP that the Taliban “will not allow any truck to pass and will attack it,” hours after Pakistan confirmed it had decided to reopen vital Nato supply routes into Afghanistan which have been closed since November.
“We will not only attack the supply truck but will also kill the drivers (of Nato supply trucks),” Ehsan had said.
Clearing the backlog from Karachi and getting the supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan is looking like it will be a very long, expensive and dangerous process.
As one of only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic, Pakistan launched a three day vaccination drive yesterday with a target of vaccinating the 318,000 children in North and South Waziristan who have not received their vaccinations. Across all of Pakistan, the goal is to vaccinate 34 million children under the age of five. The drive is being held despite a push by the Taliban to prevent vaccinations in tribal areas. The Taliban’s ban on vaccinations is aimed at stopping US drone strikes in the tribal areas and is in response to the vaccination ruse by the CIA. Dr. Shakeel Afridi pretended to be doling out hepatitis vaccines in a failed attempt to retrieve DNA samples for the CIA from the bin Laden compound when it was under surveillance prior to the attack that killed Osama bin Laden. Today, a UN doctor and his driver were wounded when a shooter opened fire on them in Karachi. The doctor was reported to be working on the vaccine program.
Dawn reported yesterday that a jirga was convened today in the tribal areas to try to find a solution to the Taliban’s vaccine ban. That article gives good background information on the ban:
Although a nationwide anti-polio campaign was launched on Monday, the authorities were yet to convince the Taliban shura on the importance of getting children of North and South Waziristan vaccinated against the debilitating disease.
Commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who leads the powerful Taliban Shura, had banned the anti-polio drive in North Waziristan on June 16 and said that children would not take polio drops unless the government stopped drone strikes in the area.
He was followed by Commander Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and other militant commanders in FRs D.I. Khan and Kohat.
In South Waziristan, the ban is much stricter because it prohibits vaccination against all eight childhood diseases, including polio.
“We have asked health workers to be careful and don’t put their lives at risk,” the official said, adding that they were waiting for the government’s response.
However, the Taliban ban is not the only barrier to vaccines:
He [the official quoted above] said the military operation in Orakzai and Khyber agencies was one of the factors which deprived children of the much needed vaccines.
Just the two tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan account for a large number of unvaccinated children: Continue reading