An Amnesty International (AI) report published on June 10, 2010, is the latest in a series of damaging articles/reports concerning the current state, and future, of Pakistan. AI has claimed that Pakistanis living in the northwest tribal areas live in a “human rights-free zone” under the Taliban, and that the Pakistani government has failed to provide them with protection, “ignoring their plight” and “treating the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan with disdain”.
AI is an institution that researches grave abuses of human rights in order to generate international attention, prevent future violations, and attain justice for the victims involved. Its reporting is usually factual, and it has been widely recognised as influential in shaping policy regarding the ending of abuse of human rights. It is peculiar, then, to see AI slander Pakistan’s democratic government, discredit the success of the military operations being carried out in Swat, Waziristan, and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, in addition to disregarding the immense sacrifices made by Pakistani soldiers in fighting this exhausting battle.
Furthermore, the AI report might just prove to be counter-productive. By painting Pakistan’s efforts in a negative light and denying the progress made, the international community (and the US in particular) will doubt our success and will cease to give us the necessary support required to triumph against the Taliban. The families of our brave soldiers will deem the hardships they have undergone as futile. Pakistanis will be angry and more prone to being anti-West. Global leaders, organisations, and citizens will be embittered — they will shake their heads, and could turn their backs on Pakistan. The Taliban will triumph, and the situation on the ground will worsen. What, if any, purpose would that serve?
I would like to take the liberty to challenge three assertions made in the report. Firstly, that the Pakistan government has “disdain for these areas” is incorrect. There is no reference provided at the end of the report, and no source or scholar to substantiate this claim. The three and a half million people displaced by the war were taken care of in camps provided by the government and returned peacefully to their homes — sans outbreak of famine or disease — within months. With American assistance of about $ 300 million, they were given food, shelter, and identification cards. They never felt that they were not a part of the federation of Pakistan, or that the government had mistreated them. On August 14, in fact, they proudly raised the slogan “Pakistan zindabad”. This signifies both a political and logistical victory. It shows that we handled the immense problem at every level, and in a sophisticated manner.
Furthermore, a body has been set up to deal with Afghan refugees’ problems. The government has raised the FATA uplift budget from Rs 8.6 billion to Rs 15 billion. In Bajaur, just a few days ago, 64 terrorists, including five commanders, have surrendered. The international community has put up donor funds and Pakistani troops are conducting operations in an unprecedented six of the seven tribal agencies. In Swat, a decisive battle last year returned much of the northwest Valley to relative normality after a two-year uprising. Significant territory that fell to the Taliban has been regained and urgent efforts are being made to stabilise the areas, allowing the displaced to slowly return. These efforts qualify as far from ‘disdainful’; they symbolise immense dedication and concern on the part of the Pakistani government for the tribal areas and adjoining districts. It also shows the sagacity of our military leadership.
Secondly, the claim that the army is responsible for “systematic and widespread human rights violations” is not very credible. Unfortunately, some incidents have occurred that have led to involuntary death and destruction. Terrorists have used civilians as human shields, and there has been some unforeseen collateral damage. Despite all precautions, innocent individuals always suffer when war is imposed. Some human rights shortcomings are a part of every nation’s reality. If we want to play the finger pointing game, many first world nations that are democratic and liberal can be held accountable for terrible atrocities every day as well. What makes it different for us is that reports such as the one from Amnesty International cater to the anti-Pakistan propaganda that the world seems to feed off of lately. Pakistan however, appears fully committed to ending the cancer of terrorism that has actually caused these unnecessary deaths.
Thirdly, the application of international humanitarian law in this situation is not as certain as Amnesty International makes it seem. The struggle in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA is not a conflict between two groups, national or international. It is a situation whereby certain individuals and groups that have no regard for human life are terrorising the local population. This conflict is not a conflict of our choice; it is an enemy the current government has inherited. The enemy we face has no morals or values, and prides itself in killing, raping and intimidating the civilian population. Pakistani forces, however, have met considerable success so far. There are few parallels in military history, in fact, of such an operation where an administration went to such lengths to protect its civilians.
Admittedly, our past speaks against us. The corridors of Pakistan’s history echo with the sounds of dictatorships, corruption, terrorist links, and human oppression. We must openly recognise our shortcomings. There is no ‘quick fix’. The current government, however, is working hard to establish a democratic process, which upholds the principles of civil liberties and justice, and which would strengthen over time.
Today, Pakistan enjoys a free, vibrant and robust media and an active and vocal civil society. The judiciary is independent, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan is the guardian of the human rights of not only the people of northwestern Pakistan but all Pakistanis. Furthermore, we are the sons and daughters of the mighty Indus. We have a rich cultural history, and strong, durable traditions. If our institutions have not yet fully strengthened it is because Pakistan is a country in transition, as is its political process.
At this crucial point, Pakistan’s valiant efforts against the terrorists cannot afford to be condemned and doubted. Those men hold in their mortal hands the power to abolish life altogether. The effort cannot just be about what is required of our men in uniform, and where the government spends its time and money. It is an effort on behalf of the entire civilised world. The battle Pakistan is fighting is not just our battle. It is everyone’s battle. Our interests mirror the world’s interests, and our future is the world’s future.