Press Release, August 29
HRCP urges PM, NWFP CM to address alarming Swat situation
Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has written to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, asking them to urgently address the security situation in Swat district, and ensure that the local population is not targeted by a haphazard military operation and facilitate the internally displaced persons.
Following is the text of the letter that HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir wrote to the prime minister and the NWFP chief minister.
Subject: Alarming situation in Swat district
Dear Prime Minister / Chief Minister NWFP,
The HRCP has been anxiously following the security situation in Swat district. We are aware that it is a difficult and complex issue but recent developments are extremely alarming. Reports from the District show that the life of the residents is at great risk despite the military operation. Individuals who are capable of building public opinion against militancy and excesses of the security forces are being targeted and some have indeed lost their lives. Others are at risk and can be targeted any moment.
According to our information neither the federal nor the provincial government have been able to assist those who are fleeing the area due to the desperate circumstances. We have received worrying reports of attacks on women who are now stranded in the District and despite calls to the security forces have received no protection from them.
It is indeed for the government to draw out a law enforcement strategy and their obligation to protect peaceful citizens from militant groups. A genuine and well-planned action against those who have taken the law into their own hands can only be supported and encouraged. However, the realities on the ground show a different picture. It has come to our notice through a number of reliable sources that the military operation is greatly flawed. There are incidents where innocent citizens had to fight for their lives on their own against militant groups while the security forces looked on and failed to protect those under siege. At least in one incident, even the women in the house had to pick up arms to defend themselves and to unsuccessfully save their lives. They were outnumbered by armed militants attacking them and the law enforcement personnel failed to come to their rescue despite several calls. Those who risk their lives to provide information to the security forces on militant groups and criminals were betrayed and many paid for it with their lives. On the contrary, a large number of testimonies have been received by the HRCP indicating that factions within the security forces are working hand in glove with the militants and criminal elements against the interests of the civil population of the area. HRCP was shocked at the desperation expressed by the locals at the failure of the military action and their resolve to organize themselves for defending themselves against armed attacks. This would lead to civil strife and even a greater exodus of those who stayed behind in the hope that the government would act on their behalf rather than on behalf of the militants or external forces that wish to see an operation of any sorts.
The locals in the area have pointed out that the operation is without a direction and targeting civilians population rather than the militants. They have given numerous examples where militants could have been apprehended or attacks on civilians could have been averted had the security forces acted with diligence. They insist that there is no targeted operation against militants rather it is a haphazard armed invasion on the people of the District of Swat.
Nevertheless, we feel that all may not be lost and the civilian population can still be saved and supported as the district is still accessible, though under great risk.
HRCP calls upon this government to take urgent and immediate steps to:
Provide military convoys and protection to those who wish to evacuate the district and arrange for proper shelter for such internally displaced persons.
That the civilian government both at the federation and in the province must monitor the situation and keep their lines open to the local population who can inform them on the true realities on the ground.
A high-powered, multi-party delegation of parliamentarians should visit the area and hold consultations with the population of the District so that a true picture emerges. In particular the high-powered delegation must give ample hearing to women and religious minorities living in the District who are far more vulnerable.
It is crucial that all organs of the federal and provincial administration as well as the high-powered delegation address the question of collusion between elements of the security forces and the lawless militants.
In view of the seriousness of the situation we are under obligation to share this information and therefore HRCP is compelled to release this letter publicly.
Your Excellencies, our organization has been in the forefront in demanding a transition to democracy. It is our belief that only a democratic political set-up has the capacity to address such intricate issues that have built up over the years. This is the foremost challenge for this government and we feel it is our duty to assist you by bringing to your notice authentic information that we receive on a daily basis.