Millions of Pakistanis in the tribal areas live in a human rights freezone where they have no legal protection by the government and are subject to abuses by the Taliban. “Nearly 4 million people are effectively living under the Taliban in northwest Pakistan withoutrule of law and effectively abandoned by the Pakistani government,”Amnesty International said in a major report released on Thursday. The130-page report, ‘As if Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, is based on nearly 300 interviews with residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and adjacent areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“There are still more than 1 million people who were displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt by the conflict with the Taliban whose plight is largely ignored and are in desperate need of aid,” said ClaudioCordone. Amnesty International’s review of available information also suggests that at least 1,300 civilians were killed in the fighting in northwest Pakistan in 2009, from a total of more than 8,500 casualties (including combatants).
The report documents the systematic abuses carried out by the Taliban as they established their rule by killing those who challenge their authority, such as tribal elders and government officials. They imposed their rule through torture and other ill-treatment, targeting teachers, aid workers and political activists. The Taliban have particularly targeted women and schools and health clinics catering to their needs. Amnesty International was told of Taliban insurgents blocking roads to prevent civilians from escaping as villages fell under heavy bombardment by government forces.
The insurgents also increased the likelihood of civilian casualties by dispersing themselves among civilians and in and around schools. Successive Pakistani governments have treated the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan with disdain, ignoring the rights of the area’s residents, particularly in FATA. Over the past decade,Pakistan’s government has veered from appeasing the Pakistani Taliban through a series of failed “peace deals” to launching heavy handed military operations that include indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.
The US’s use of drones to target insurgents in northwest Pakistan has generated considerable resentment inside Pakistan. Amnesty International has called on the US to clarify its chain of command and rules of engagement for the use of drones and ensureproper accountability for civilian casualties. Many displaced residents of the area told Amnesty International that they had suffered under the Taliban and felt abandoned by the Pakistani government.
In the words of one teacher who fled Swat with his family in March 2009: The government just gave away our lives to the Taliban. What’s the point of having this huge army if it can’t even protect us against a group of brutal fanatics? They took over my school and started to teach children about how to fight in Afghanistan. They kicked out the girls from school, told the men to grow their beards,and threatened anybody they didn’t like. Our government and our military never tried to protect us from this, the report articulates.
The residents of FATA continue to be governed by a colonial-era law,the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901, which denies basic constitutional rights and protections for the residents of FATA, including their rights to political representation, judicial appeal,and freedom from collective punishment. The report pronounces “Foryears, FATA has been treated as a stage for geo political rivalries and is currently in focus because of the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan and the search for al-Qaeda, rather than the rights of the people living there,” said Claudio Cordone. “The Pakistani government should not just respond using military force; it needs to provide and protect the basic rights of its citizens living there.”
The FCR gives a government-appointed Political Agent ultimate judicial and executive authority, including the ability to carry out communal punishment, including formal detention, by holding all members of a tribe potentially responsible for alleged infractions committed by any tribe member. The Constitution of Pakistan of 1973 explicitly excludes FATA from the legal, judicial and parliamentary system of Pakistan, including barring residents from full representation in parliament and from bringing appeals to a higher court outside the territory.
The government of Pakistan has recently promised to reform the FCR butt his has not yet happened. “The Pakistani government has to follow through on its promises to bring the region out of this human rights black hole and place the people of FATA under the protection of the law and constitution of Pakistan,” said Claudio Cordone. “There is no quick fix for decades of misrule and the conflict of the past few years, but the road to recovery starts with recognising the rights of the people of FATA.”
Amnesty International urges both the Pakistani government and the Taliban to comply with international humanitarian law by taking all measures to prevent loss of civilian life and buildings including hospitals and schools and allowing unfettered NGO access to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to the injuredand displaced. Amnesty International has marvelously brought up the worst situation of FATA before the international community but it has ignored the west role in the worsening of FATA.
The never-ending “waron terror” devoid of influential consequences but nastiest, is strengthening belief among tribesmen and laypeople inside Pakistan that the West has no intent of ending the quarrel in Afghanistan and Tribal Areas of Pakistan consequently all efforts to subside the most terrible situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas go unproductively.
People there contend if United State and west are earnest in fighting terrorism why then the decade prolonged “war on terror” neither could find Osama nor the big wigs of al-Qaeda and Taliban could bring in the court of justice for punishment whereas, the US assaulted Afghanistanin order to punish the culprits of al-Qaeda and Taliban accountable for 9/11 catastrophe. Let us take some obligatory and immediate steps for making FATA a peaceful part on the surface of earth by bringing constitutional reforms, dumping terrorism, opening of employment opportunities, launching of development projects especially in the sectors of education and health.
People there deserve what their counterparts are enjoying in the settled areas of Pakistan and around the world. Minds are fresh, air is pleasing, soil is fertile and people are ambitious, striving and highly motivated there. Pakistan is paying more than any country for war on terror and it is the foremost responsibility of Allies of war to give a hand to Pakistan economically over and above ethically in coping up with this most horrible situation. These are wrong perceptions that tribesmen do not allow development projects in their areas.
No, they too want to lead a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous life but the shell around them, hardened due to political neglect needs our joint efforts to break through. If not now then coming generations will never forgiveus for our blunders and sins of today. Rescuing FATA is the need of hour in sequence to rescue the geography of Pakistan and to safeguard the human rights being an embarrassment in FATA in the hands of very few miscreants. They want their happy, simple, affluent and nonviolent established life back with self-esteemed, adoring customs and strange principles.
By: Riaz Ali Toori (An analyst from FATA)