In Pakistani city of Mardan, ‘G.I. Janes’ cross enemy lines

Police women train in Mardan city in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on March 5, 2019. (AN photo)
Updated 08 March 2019

In Pakistani city of Mardan, ‘G.I. Janes’ cross enemy lines

  • Northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 70 trained women police commandos
  • Women police commandos patrol the streets with guns, diffuse bombs and engage in raids against militants and criminals

MARDAN: It was just before dawn in March 2016. Gul Kausar and Faryal Mushtaq lay crouched on the ground, their guns pointed at a suspected militant hideout on the outskirts of Mardan.
For what seemed like hours, only the sound of dogs howling in the distance punctured the silence. Then the storm of gunfire began as the team of Pakistani commandos, men and women, exchanged fire with Taliban insurgents until the night went still again.
“In about 45 minutes, we gunned down both Taliban militants,” Kausar Gul, one of 70 women police commandos in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told Arab News at the main police station in Mardan. “We have faced dozens of such raids, and if not daily, at least once a week, we have to carry out these operations.”




Three women police commandos walk together outside a police station in Mardan city in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on March 5, 2019. (AN photo)


Before 2007, Pakistan’s police women had rarely seen ground combat, their jobs mostly keeping them away from enemy lines. But as Pakistan became embroiled in a long war against an indigenous Taliban insurgency over a decade ago, women have repeatedly had to prove their mettle in battle. 
They have patrolled streets with riffles, diffused bombs, and driven police vans down explosive-laden streets. A small number like Gul, and her colleague Faryal Mushtaq, have even done the hardest job of all: engaging the enemy directly in dangerous raids.




Faryal Mushtaq and Kausar Gul, women elite police commandos in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, sit outside a police station in Mardan on March 5, 2019. (AN photo)


In the deeply conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where women’s lives are heavily policed and a tiny percentage work outside the home, Mushtaq said she decided to become a cop after her father, Mushtaq Ali, was killed in a clash with militants in 2008. 
“My mother was scared when I told her my plans, and rightly so,” Mushtaq said as she adjusted her “Commando Elite Police” cap. “But this was not an emotional decision for me, it was a well thought-out one.”
“Following my father’s footsteps was my biggest dream,” she added, her voice dropping to a whisper. 
When the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa announced in 2014 that women could also train in combatting terrorism under the supervision of the army’s Special Services Group, Mushtaq immediately signed up. She graduated from the six-month-long course, considered one of the toughest in the police force, in 2016 and is one of six women commandos in Mardan.




Police women train in Mardan city in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on March 5, 2019. (AN photo)

On a balmy day in early March, Mushtaq sat with three colleagues outside the Mardan police station, the silver-lined name-tag on her maroon jacket glistening in the sunlight. 
“Since 2016, I’ve been fighting shoulder to shoulder with my male colleagues,” she said. “I take part in search and strike operations against militants and criminals, which is the high point of being a cop.” 
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a total number of 6,570 elite police commandos. Since 2007, as many as 1,655 officers of the provincial police force have died in the line of duty, according to official figures. Hundreds more are injured, spending out their remaining days quietly in wheelchairs, trauma centers and hospitals.
Rabia Ali, 27, said she was inspired to join the force when she was still in high school where her favorite part of the day was the parade drill. She joined the police at the peak of Taliban militancy in 2009 and became a trained elite commando in 2015. 
“The badge and elite force caps make us look different from the rest,” Ali said, chuckling. 
But she got serious when asked how she felt about being a commando. “I have learnt the art of using heavy weapons as well as many other tactics, including how to defuse bombs,” she said. “Elite training has given me such a sense of power.”
Next to her, Gul, who hails from the remote village of Hatian, said she was the first person in her family to get an education and join the police. Her first visit to a major city, Mardan, was only after her selection in the force. 
“Elite training kills your fear and improves combat skills, ” Gul said. “Now we can take part in any raid and fight wanted persons and their women.”
Senior policeman Malik Shaki said in many of the raids, the women commandos led from the front. 
“This is unprecedented in this conservative Pashtun society,” he said.
But though these women have come far, they have had to face their share of obstacles and opposition from family, friends and colleagues. One said her relatives had disowned her when she became a commando, and almost all said they had had family members taunt them for doing a “man’s job.” 
“But I have never cared because I am carrying my father’s flag,” Mushtaq said. “Despite all dangers and risks,” Gul piped in, “we have to protect Pakistan.”


Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Updated 9 min 56 sec ago

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

  • Jimmy Lai currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 12 months on Friday over one of the city’s biggest ever protests in 2019.
It is the first time the 73-year-old – who is currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law – has received a sentence for his activism.


Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Updated 50 min 20 sec ago

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

  • The shooter wasn’t immediately identified
  • At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures
INDIANAPOLIS: Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter has killed himself, police said.
Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.
At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.
The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and Cook said investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information.
Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.
FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.
“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.
Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.
Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.
A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.
“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.
Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in her car in the driver’s seat when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.
“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”
He said his niece did not know the shooter.

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

Updated 16 April 2021

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

  • Many Myanmar citizens have been taking to the streets day after day
  • The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 wanted people

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar observed a “silent strike” on Friday, with many people staying home to mourn the more than 700 people killed in protests against a Feb. 1 coup and others wearing black held small marches in several cities and towns.
Many Myanmar citizens, infuriated by the return of military rule after five years of civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, have been taking to the streets day after day with activists thinking up new ways to show opposition as the security forces step up their suppression.
“Let’s make the roads silent,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on her Facebook page.
“We have to stage a Silent Strike to show our sorrow for the martyrs who have scarified their lives. The most silent voice is the loudest.”
Friday is the fourth day of the five-day traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, known as Thingyan. Most people this year are shunning the usual festivities to focus on their campaign against the generals who overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and locked up her and many others.
Streets in the main city of Yangon were largely deserted, residents said, while black-clad protesters held small rallies in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of violence but overnight, two people were shot and killed in the central town of Myingyan, Radio Free Asia reported.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 people wanted under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces.
Two prominent protest organizers were arrested on Thursday along with an actor and singer, both known for speaking out against the coup.
Late on Thursday, soldiers raided a famous Buddhist monastery in the second city of Mandalay and arrested two people, the Myanmar Now media group reported.
Opponents have been organizing both at home and abroad with the aim of stepping up their campaign.
A previously unknown group called the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army said on Facebook it aimed to fight the military to restore an elected government and protect the people and it called for volunteers.
It gave no details about how it aimed to take on the well-equipped and seasoned army, which has been battling ethnic minority insurgents for decades.
International pressure has also been slowly building on the military, particularly from Western governments, though the military has a long record of brushing off outside pressure.
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the coup and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target the two companies is the most significant response for the bloc since the coup.
EU diplomats said in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
The EU declined to comment and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.


Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.


India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

Updated 16 April 2021

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

  • Total coronavirus cases in India nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States

BENGALURU: India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday.
It was the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days. Total cases reached nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.
India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the data showed.