Swat execution video: Pakistan awaits fulfillment of Gen Kayani’s promise to hold inquiry – by Mariana Baabar

Related post: Brutal extrajudicial killings by the Pakistan army – where is the media?

Country awaits fulfillment of Gen Kayani s promise to hold inquiry

Mariana Baabar
Sunday, October 09, 2011 (The News)

October 8 marks one year of a high-level inquiry ordered by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani regarding video footage showing the cold-blooded execution of a group of bound and blindfolded detainees allegedly by Pakistani soldiers. Despite the passage of twelve months, Kiyani s office is still reluctant to make the findings public, though an assurance was given that they would be.

The video clips show men in soldiers uniforms gunning down some bound and blindfolded detainees. The two clips were apparently shot using cell phones and were circulated on the Internet. The footage is grainy and shows no time stamps, and the army inquiry s mission had to determine whether those shown in uniform were actually soldiers, General Kayani s statement said.

It is not expected of a professional army to engage in excesses against the people whom it is trying to guard against the scourge of terrorism, the general said, though he cautioned that militants had in the past posed as soldiers. At the time Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch had said, We hope that this will in fact be a meaningful inquiry and not a sham perpetrated to assuage international concerns .

Many had lauded the decision of General Kayani, who is on extension given by the Zardari government, when on October 8, 2010, he had sent up a board of inquiry to establish the true identity of the uniformed personnel and the veracity of the video footage. The board was to be headed by a major general, a two star officer of Pakistan Army. He was to be assisted by two/three senior officers with the experience of investigating such incidents. Necessary technical expertise was made available to the board.

General Kayani referred back to his Command Directive on the issues of human rights and extra-judicial killings, and stated that such violations of his orders, if true, would not be tolerated. He categorically stated that it was not expected of a professional army to engage in excesses against the people whom it is trying to guard against the scourge of terrorism. Expressing his determination to take strictest possible disciplinary action against the perpetrators if identified to be soldiers of Pakistan Army, he termed the incident unacceptable under any circumstances. He emphasised that Rules of Engagement (ROE) are sacrosanct.

The delay in making public the report could see the Leahy Amendment slapped on the army. A Leahy Amendment is a provision in an authorisation act (such as an annual Foreign Operations Authorisation Act, or an annual National Defence Authorisation Act) either limiting support to foreign countries or certain elements of a foreign government (such as a particular military unit) for failure to comply with human rights standards. Leahy Amendments are commonly attached to security assistance and defence authorisations.

To ensure compliance with various Leahy Amendments, the State Department conducts human rights vetting of governments or units the US is considering providing training, equipment, or other support under authorities covered by a Leahy Amendment, prior to the support being provided.

If the committee report says Pakistani soldiers were guilty of human right abuse then according to the US Leahy Amendment, No assistance can be provided to a foreign security force unit if there is credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights . In order for the US government to be in compliance with the Leahy Amendment in Pakistan, it must review the human rights record of Pakistani security force units that are potential recipients of US assistance. The Pentagon is not exempted from this requirement.

In a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations on March 25, US Defence Secretary Gates publicly stated he was mindful of the Leahy Amendment; yet it was unclear that it was actually being implemented. The request by President Obama for an additional $1.496 billion in security assistance for Pakistan for FY2011 makes thorough vetting of Pakistani military units a priority, says the Refugees International.

Each time ISPR DG General Athar Abbas has been approached on the findings of the committee report, he says it is still in process, also admitting that he has no knowledge of how the Leahy Amendment will hit Pakistan if implemented.

According to the Refugees International, the US State Department has documented reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by government agents, including targeted killings of individuals accused of crimes as a result of excessive physical abuse while in custody. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported between 300 and 400 extra-judicial killings by security forces during counterinsurgency operations in 2009, reports of which continue in 2010. In part because of prevailing insecurity in areas of combat and in part because the military restricts access to journalists and society groups, it is difficult to document human rights violations. A number of activists in Pakistan expressed fear to Refugees International of reporting on military abuses.

It is of the view that the US and other donors desire to support the Pakistani military to perform civilian duties because it can get the job done is short-sighted. While the Pakistani Army may have the capacity to implement reconstruction programmes, especially in unstable areas, its dominant role is preventing its civilian counterpart from performing such responsibilities. This is particularly relevant in Fata, where the US should find ways to strengthen the civilian government and enhance the overall development of this impoverished area, on the basis of the communities levels of vulnerability and need instead of military expediency.

Military operations in Fata continue to displace thousands of civilians. The role of the Pakistani military in humanitarian response as well as allegations of human rights abuses in its counterinsurgency operations has yet to be prioritised, particularly by the US government. Simultaneously, US development funding in Fata is not having the intended impact, while projects that could significantly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are not receiving enough support.

While Refugees International recognises the complexity of the US role in the region, greater oversight of humanitarian and human rights issues should inform the US government s strategic partnership with Pakistan.