Islamabad, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — A dozen plainclothes Pakistani security forces attempted Thursday to raid the former home of a human rights activist who recently fled to the United States seeking asylum.
Gulalai Ismail's elderly parents said they were ordered to come outside "just to talk," but refused. The security men eventually left after nearly an hour.
"I told them you have weapons in your hands and no uniform — I won't come out," said Ismail's father, Mohammad, a retired professor living in the capital of Islamabad.
Raids like this are part of an expanding push by Pakistan's security services to crack down on anyone who voices criticism of their activities.
Gulalai Ismail's parents are facing charges of financing terrorism, allegedly for funneling money from their daughter toward terrorist activities. They deny the charges and are currently out on bail but have been ordered not to leave Pakistan.
Their daughter went into hiding for several weeks after her criticism of the Pakistan army and its powerful intelligence made her a target. Last month she surfaced in the U.S. seeking asylum.
The family supports an ethnic Pashtun movement known as the PTM that is stridently critical of the army's war on terror, particularly in the country's border regions. Millions of people have been displaced from those areas, and thousands of mostly young men have disappeared, often after being picked up by security forces.
While Gulalai Ismail was criticized and even arrested for her support of the PTM, her father said the real trouble began when she criticized the security forces of sexually harassing and abusing women in the tribal regions, particularly Pakistan's Waziristan region.
"In Waziristan, young girls told stories of how army and non-state actors are harassing young girls and women," her father told The Associated Press. "She returned saying: 'My job should be to help women who suffer sex abuse in conflict.'"
Mohammad Ismail, who taught Urdu literature, is a self-avowed communist who traces his activism back to the 1980s. At the time, he opposed Pakistan's military dictator Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul Haq, whjo worked with the U.S. to fund, arm and train the Islamic militants fighting in neighboring Afghanistan against the former Soviet Union. Some of those fighters, including Osama bin Laden, would eventually go on to form al-Qaida.
Ismail also drew the ire of the Taliban, another hard-line Islamic militant group born out of the war in Afghanistan. His house was ransacked several years ago in retaliation for his criticism of the group's activities in his home province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, which borders Afghanistan.
Activists with the PTM charge that Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies harass and intimidate ethnic Pashtuns who are critical of the war on terror. They also claim the Pakistani government continues to separate insurgents into "good" and "bad" Taliban.
Pakistani security services are still undecided about whether to break all ties with groups they have long considered "assets," particularly against neighboring India, Pakistan's longtime nemesis.
In an earlier written response to questions from the AP, army spokesman Gen. Asif Ghafoor dismissed allegations of turning a blind eye to some Taliban militants while fighting others.
"Pakistan Armed Forces have undertaken military operations against terrorists of all hue (and) color," Ghafoor said. He asserted that military operations in the mountainous border regions since the early 2000s had simply targeted the most dangerous groups first, followed by those that pose less of a threat to Pakistan.
He also fiercely denied human rights violations. "Genuine grievances of affected population in cleared areas are being addressed in post conflict environment," he said.
But Gulalai Ismaili, her father, the PTM and other human rights organizations in Pakistan disagree.
Bushra Gohar, a politician and human rights activist, was among the women activists who went to Waziristan. She said the stories of abuse were harrowing.
"Several women and girls narrated horrifying stories of sexual harassment, threats and intimidation by the security forces," she told the AP.
"One woman had kept a record of the security forces breaking into her house for illegal searches and terrorizing her family in the absence of male household members by drawing a line on a piece of paper for each visit. She showed the paper to us and gave a video statement," she said.
Ghafoor, the army spokesman, did not directly address the accusation of sexual abuse but denied human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch is among the many organizations who have spoken out in support of Gulalai Ismail, whom the spokesman said faces charges of "using derogatory language against the state institutions."
Kabul, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Afghan civilians are dying in record numbers in the country's increasingly brutal war, noting that more civilians died in July than in any previous one-month period since the U.N. began keeping statistics, according to a U.N. report released Thursday.
The report also said that for the first time this year insurgents were responsible for more casualties than U.S. and pro-government forces.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, said neither side is doing enough to protect civilians.
The report said 2,563 civilians were killed and 5,676 were wounded in the first nine months of this year. Insurgents were responsible for 62 percent. July to September were the deadliest months so far this year.
"Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations," said Yamamoto.
"Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable, especially in the context of the widespread recognition that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan" he added.
The U.N. report said that pro-government forces caused 2,348 civilian casualties, including 1,149 killed and 1,199 wounded, a 26% increase from the same period in 2018.
Besides detailing civilian casualties and their causes, U.N.'s latest report indicates that 41% of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan were women and children. In the first nine months this year, a total of 261 women and 631 children were killed.
"The impact of Afghanistan's conflict on civilians is appalling; every verified number is a person, someone's relative - mother, father, daughter, son," said Fiona Frazer, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's Human Rights Chief. "The United Nations will continue its advocacy work with all parties to the conflict until Afghanistan reaches the only acceptable number of civilians killed and injured in the conflict: zero."
Efforts have been stepped up to restart talks to end Afghanistan's 18-year war.
Earlier this month, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan, where he met with the Taliban's top negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the hard-line Taliban movement and head of a Taliban delegation to the Pakistani capital.
The Taliban said they were in Islamabad to discuss the condition of roughly 1.5 million Afghan refugees living in the city. U.S. officials said Khalilzad was in the Pakistani capital to follow up on talks he held in September in New York with Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan.
They insisted Khalilzad was not in Pakistan to restart U.S.-Taliban peace talks __ at least not yet.
The meeting was significant and the first that Khalilzad has held with the Taliban since last month, when President Donald Trump declared that the talks were "dead," blaming an uptick in violence by the Taliban that included the killing of a U.S. soldier.
Earlier this week in a special report the U.N. described the severe toll of election-related violence on Afghanistan's civilians. A total of 85 people killed during the process with 28 killed on the polling day across the country.
Afghans voted on Sept. 28 despite the militants' threats and violence. However, the polling was marred by widespread misconduct and accusations of fraud.
Meanwhile, in eastern Nuristan Province, Taliban fighters stormed a police checkpoint, killing at least six Afghan security personal, said Ismail Atekan, a parliamentarian form Nuristan. He added that two policemen arrested by the insurgents during Thursday morning's attack in Nurgram district.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban's spokesman claimed responsibility.
In a separate report form the capital Kabul, a government employee was shot and killed by gunmen, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
Zenatullah Zabi's body was found Wednesday afternoon after he was kidnapped earlier the same day form Kabul, the statement said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul.
Tokyo, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday visited northern towns devasted by the deadly typhoon and promised residents his government's support for their speedy recovery.
Abe told reporters during the visit that he is considering postponing a royal parade scheduled for Tuesday to celebrate Emperor Naruhito's enthronement as the government needs to tackle the disaster.
"I'm determined to provide ample support for the reconstruction of your daily life. I know you are concerned about your health, but please hold up," Abe told one of the elderly female residents sitting on the wooden floor of an elementary school gymnasium in Koriyama city. He later visited the site of a damaged river embankment that flooded another city in Fukushima.
During a trip to a town in neighboring Miyagi prefecture, Abe told reporters that the royal parade was likely to be postponed. Media reports cited Nov. 10 as a possible new date.
Chief Cabinet Secretary said the rest of the ceremonies, including Naruhito's proclamation and banquets, will be held as planned.
Rescue and relief efforts for stranded or missing people in flooded mountain villages continued Thursday, as the death toll climbed. NHK television counted 77 killed, while the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 65 were pronounced dead.
Typhoon Hagibis hit northern and central Japan last weekend with historic rainfall that caused rivers to overflow and left thousands of homes flooded, damaged or without power.
Fukushima prefecture, struck by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, was among the hardest-hit with at least 26 dead.
More than 4,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami eight years ago, though no deaths were linked to the direct impact from radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant meltdowns. About 42,000 people are still dislocated due to the lingering effect of the initial radiation.
Manila, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte fell off his parked motorcycle on the palace grounds, suffering bruises and scratches, but the minor injuries won't affect his schedule, his spokesman said Thursday.
"While it is true that the president roamed around with his motorcycle," he fell after he had already parked it Wednesday night, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. Duterte was reaching for his shoe when he fell and had "light bruises and slight scratches to his elbow and knee," he said.
The president was resting Thursday and his recovery will not require any "major medical procedure," Panelo said.
Other officials, however, gave what seemed to be conflicting accounts of the accident. Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, a former longtime aide of Duterte, said the president was driving his motorcycle when it skidded and he fell. As a result, the president was feeling some pain in the hip but Go said he was fine.
Brig. Gen. Jose Niembra, who is in charge of forces securing the president, told reporters without elaborating that Duterte did not fall from the motorcycle during the accident.
The 74-year-old president is an avid rider of big motorcycles like Harley Davidsons and has said he once had a serious crash during a long-distance run and could still feel those injuries.
A lack of regular medical bulletins on the president's health sparks sporadic speculation about the state of his health, especially when he has failed to appear in public for days.
When Duterte did not show up in public for more than a week in August, Panelo explained that the president was busy reviewing documents he needed to sign and stressed he was healthy because he managed to bike around in his hometown in southern Davao City.
"He got enthusiastic and rode out of the village enclave on a motorcycle, alarming the Presidential Security Group," Panelo told reporters then.
Hong Kong, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was forced from the legislature for the second day on Thursday by opposition members protesting a bloody attack on a leader of the nearly 5-month-old pro-democracy movement.
The lawmakers shouted and waved placards depicting Lam with bloodied hands, prompting the removal of 14 by guards and the suspension of the question-and-answer session.
On Wednesday, Lam was forced to abandon an annual policy address in the chamber, later delivering it by television.
Disruption in the chamber and the attack Wednesday night on Jimmy Sham by assailants wielding hammers and knives marked the latest dramatic turn in the unrest that has rocked the city since June. Protesters and police have both deployed levels of violence unseen since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lam took just three questions, all from pro-government lawmakers.
In one response, Lam reiterated that her "first priority" was ending the violence that has dealt a blow to the local economy as well as Hong Kong's reputation as a safe, law-abiding center for finance and business with a sophisticated independent judiciary.
Lam said she was working with the city's 180,000 public servants and transport authorities to restore order, although that task was made harder by members of the public sympathetic to the cause of the "rioters," as she termed the hard-core protesters.
Shortly after, she withdrew amid chants and calls for her resignation, with pro-democratic legislator Claudia Mo shouting, "Carrie Lam, you are a liar!"
The protests began in response to a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China. The movement then ballooned to encompass broader clamors for universal suffrage, an independent inquiry of the policing methods used against protesters and other demands, including ending the description of protesters as "rioters."
The demonstrations have also been fueled by widespread concerns that Beijing is chipping away at the separate political and legal freedoms Beijing promised Hong Kong could maintain for 50 years following the transfer from British rule.
Sham has been one of the public faces of the protest movement as a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized large demonstrations. He was on his way to an evening meeting in the district of Kowloon when four or five attackers pounced on him, leaving him with bloody head injuries but conscious, the Front said on its Facebook page.
It suggested the assault was politically motivated, linked "to a spreading political terror in order to threaten and inhibit the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights."
Mo and other opposition legislators on Thursday suggested the attack on Sham may have been designed to frighten others away from protesting, or even to help provide a pretext for the government to call off district council elections scheduled for next month.
"We can't help but feel that this entire thing is part of a plan to shed blood on Hong Kong's peaceful protests," Mo was quoted as saying for government broadcaster RTHK. "If you think you're being peaceful and you're safe, you're not."
Sham spent the night in a hospital and his wounds to the head and arm were not considered life threatening, according to the station.
The assailants escaped in a vehicle and their identities remained unknown, although organized crime elements have long been accused of engineering attacks on protesters and leaders of the pro-democracy camp.
Police last month arrested two people, including a 15-year-old boy, over an assault on Sham and his assistant while they were dining in a cafe. Sham was not injured in that attack.
Lam's supporters and their Communist Party backers in Beijing have strongly protested all foreign criticism of Lam's handling of the protests. They responded with outrage this week to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress to support the protesters. One of the bills requires annual reviews by the U.S. secretary of state of Hong Kong's special economic and trade status, providing a check on Beijing's influence over the territory.
Pro-Beijing legislator Regina Ip said the American politicians were seeking to "interfere mostly in the domestic affairs of Hong Kong and to promote the political interests of their proxies in Hong Kong."
"U.S. interests are bound to be hurt adversely as a result," Ip said.
In an interview with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper, Susan Thornton, a former U.S. senior diplomat for East Asia, said the bills' passage would be a "huge mistake" that would harm "exactly the wrong people."
"To me, Beijing would like nothing more than the U.S. to remove Hong Kong's special status," she said.