Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poisoning of students and a map of conflict

Its not clear if Taliban in Afghanistan are responsible, but 90 schoolgirls have fallen ill due to poisoning:

The girls experienced headaches, vomiting and dizziness after strong fumes engulfed the school in Kapisa province, north of Kabul. The incident is the third of its kind at an Afghan girls' school recently. Strong fumes were reported on Monday and on 26 April at schools in the nearby town of Charikar. The police say none of the girls is in danger. Blood samples have been sent to the American airbase at Bagram. As yet, officials say there is no clue as to what the fumes may have been, or where they came from.

There has been an increase in reported attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan in the past year. These have mainly been in areas of the east and south of the country, where the Taleban insurgency has been gaining strength.

I think a century or two from now, people will find the Taliban movement a true surreal experience of the 21st century. Bombing schools. Possibly poisoning school girls. Definitely throwing acid on the faces of school girls. They are making every effort to out-compete brutalities associated with the medieval times - and they seem to be succeeding in it.

On the Pakistan front, BBC has produced a map of conflict, that shows that Pakistan government is in control of only 38% of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However, the map is currently in flux because of a major operation to dislodge militants from Swat - and this time Army appears to be more determined - and there is a rare public support (from the urban population) behind it. We'll see. But a military victory here seems to be more important for Pakistan at this point than the Taliban. A standstill will favor the Taliban as that will show that they can withstand a major offensive inside the settled areas of Pakistan.

In any case, here is the methodology for the map and below is the map:

One note of caution: There are different flavors of Taliban (at least three major factions) inside Pakistan. So to a degree, this map (and my post) simplifies that aspect. But we should be mindful of that.

The researchers analysed reports from BBC Urdu correspondents over the past 18 months, backed up by conversations with local officials, police officers and journalists.

They concluded that in 24% of the region, the civilian government no longer had authority and Taleban commanders had taken over administrative controls. Either the Taleban were in complete control or the military were engaged in operations to flush them out.

Another 38% of the region was deemed to have a permanent Taleban presence, meaning militants had established rural bases which were restricting local government activities and seriously compromising local administration.

Read the full story here.

Update (5/14): I had an earlier post about a diary that a 7th grade schoolgirl in Swat is writing for the BBC. Well..she has left Swat because of the recent fighting. Here is her latest entry.


Epiphenom said...

The extraordinary thing is that despite poisoning schoolgirls and all the other awful things they do, they are still quite popular - popular enough to dominate the populace, at least.

That striking fact say a lot both about human nature and also about the nature of the supposed 'good guys' in this conflict.

Salman Hameed said...

That brings up the multi-dimensional aspect of human thinking. Look at Swat. Many people are caught between the brutal Taliban and the indiscriminate Pakistan army (the same is the case in Afghanistan). So what one decides to sacrifice becomes tricky.

By the way, the Taliban were welcomed in Afganistan in the mid-90's as they were bringing an end to a brutal civil war. Similarly, their harsh (so put it mildly) rules for women (i.e. not be seen in the public) were considered better than the kidnaps and rapes that were common during the earlier civil war. This is not an excuse - but it provides a glimpse as to why such a group can gain popularity. Now, of course, the Taliban have become much bloodier than their earlier version - and things are not likely to get better.

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