Human rights in times of civil war
In times of civil war human rights are endangered. Pakistan is no different. The only difference is that it is labelled as “war against terrorism.” Irrespective of what it is called we are in a state of war indisputably. And an undeclared emergency has been imposed in a soft coup.The real power has shifted to Rawalpindi from Islamabad. Courtesy indecisiveness and inefficiency of civilian government. But to be fair with them it has to be underlined that the domain of handling the militant non-state actors was always guarded by Rawalpindi.
Let’s have a cursory look at facts that support the contention — the country is in a state of war. In Balochistan, territory-wise largest but population-wise smallest province of the country, the fourth militant movement for independence has been going on now for over a decade. Instead of dealing it politically the establishment has erroneously always opted for a military solution. Even the Baloch who are with the government privately yearn for independence, such is the romance of this slogan. But they are conscious that independence is not in sight in the distant future, unless geopolitical situation changes radically.
The establishment tells us that resistance is petering off. Only Balochistan Liberation Army led by Dr Allahnazar is left in the battle ground but is badly bruised. Independent Balochistan sources agree but hastily add that their province is under siege of non-Baloch forces. This shows that a low intensity war is likely to continue.
A Baloch lady told me that Gwadar, the kingpin in CPEC, has too many checkposts much to the irritance of local. She had to fly back to Karachi from Gwadar to go to Turbat, although it was only a two-and-half hour drive between the two cities in peace times. Still activists are kidnapped and their dead bodies are found all over the province. In this situation human rights are violated with impunity in the name of national security. In this paradigm people are irrelevant, only territory matters. Sad!
In Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) the war is against Islamist terrorists. As they have their ideological comrades spread in all provinces the war has spilled over. The FATA war has forced the people of the war zone to move out. One such internally displaced person from North Waziristan said he returned home when it was allowed only to find out that everything they had was destroyed in the military operation against Taliban. A senior Pashtun says the people from Mir Ali and Miramshah left 11,000 well-stocked shops when they were asked to evacuate at a short notice, once the operation started. But on return they found most of the shops demolished and stocks looted. While the FATA people supported Zarb-e-Azb to get rid of Taliban’s tyranny, they are bitter about lack of support by the government for their rehabilitation and no compensation for the damages incurred by them.
Almost all human rights activists gathered in Lahore at HRCP annual meet have been supporting war against terrorism. But they are also worried about the lack of transparency as there is no independent reporting about the operation. Only official version is coming out. Same is the case with most of encounter reports from all over the country. All we hear is the law enforcing agencies’ version that terrorists were killed in the encounter. Neither the media dares to investigate the background of those killed or injured, nor is it proved in the court that these alleged culprits were terrorists and they really opened fire on the police/Rangers. In cases where law enforcement agencies’ personnels are injured or are killed in the line of duty official version has more credibility.
This is not all, the human rights activists are also concerned about the fact that the country is under a de- facto emergency. The proclamation of Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA) and the creation of military court under the 21st amendment proves the point. Though these laws were passed unanimously by the parliament to combat terrorism, a leading lawyer Asad Jamal pointed out at the Lahore seminar that ‘our detention regime is in violation of Pakistan’s obligations under the international human rights law framework and therefore must be changed.’ Human rights champion Asma Jehangir says that the extra-ordinary power acquired by law enforcement agencies makes it imminent that such broad powers are dispensed with transparency and utmost care. She is right because in practice such absolute powers are often used arbitrarily and create hatred against the state which is indeed counter-productive.
The President of Supreme Court Bar Association Zaffar Mehmood thinks that the courts should play their role to regulate that these emergency powers are not misused by the enforces. But the legal course is arduous and lengthy. For instance if a person is wrongfully arrested under POPA he/she can be detained for 90 days. Meanwhile as the ongoing practice is the agencies leak allegations as if they are proven facts. The media trial begins, hanging the alleged person’s reputation without trial. Even if one gets relief from the court it is likely to be way past 90 days. Who will compensate this unlucky person for the trauma, detention period and lost reputation?
The fact is that the number of terrorist attacks has dropped as a result of the operations. But the terrorist attacks now have become more lethal. Slick PR campaign by the ISPR has rallied public support. Only those whose human rights are trampled in this war and rights activists are demanding transparency and prompt oversight of judiciary.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org