HRCP seminar concludes Pakistan and Taliban cannot co-exist

Press Release, April 5

LAHORE: The people of Pakistan cannot accept peace at the cost of surrendering citizens’ rights to militant groups, a seminar organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Sunday observed. It concluded that Pakistan and Taliban cannot co-exist.

The speakers at the seminar, “Militancy in FATA and Swat: Impact and remedies”, said that the militants in Swat and FATA were not all indigenous. Militants from other parts of the country and foreigners were imposed on them. They emphasised that in Swat conflict could be over soon if the government and the military were determined and sincere. However, they said that such determination and sincerity were not in evidence. They said the military operation in Swat had been a failure and had only caused large-scale suffering and displacement for the civilian population.

They said that the government had failed in its primary responsibility of protecting the lives, liberty and property of citizens.

Speakers hailing form Swat and the tribal areas said that the militancy had spilled over from those areas and now the whole of NWFP was at its mercy.

They said that alienation had grown among the residents of the affected areas, who think that there is a lack of care in addressing their suffering.

They said the militancy will spread to all parts where there was a lack of governance and failure to implement rule of law and constitutional guarantees. Pakistan’s Northern Areas, could be the next target.

All speakers vehemently criticised the so-called peace deal struck with militants in Swat and emphasised that it was regrettable that a government bargained with such elements who had no respect for basic rights. They highlighted that even though the residents of Swat have suffered the most at the hands of militants, not a single person from Swat had been consulted before striking a deal. They said the contents of the “peace deal” violated the constitution and law of Pakistan.

Speakers from the tribal areas said the State had left the citizens and armed private lashkars to shoulder the responsibility of law and order and confront the militants. This has also increased militarisation of society, which will further disturb peace.

They said even though the legal vacuum in their areas had not caused the militancy, it had certainly been used as a justification to give militants a foothold in the area. They added that laws allowing collective punishment in FATA had no precedent in the civilised world.

The speakers unanimously agreed that the ideas of Taliban and the people of Pakistan were incompatible. They urged the government to ensure that Pakistan’s interest takes precedence in Islamabad’s dealings with other partners in the so-called war on terror and come up with a comprehensive policy to ensure that security is not achieved at the cost of sovereignty or human rights.

The role of the media in glorifying militants was criticised and the importance of calling a militant a militant was emphasised.

Speakers included Asma Jahangir, Iqbal Haider, Sher Muhammad Khan, Kamran Arif, Waseem Shah, Zarteef Afridi, Ihsanullah Afridi, Shaukat Saleem and Zainul Abideen.

Afzal Khan Lala addressed the seminar on phone from his native Swat, which he has refused to abandon in the face of extremist threats.

I. A. Rehman

Secretary-General

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CSOs’ Joint Statement

A large group of civil society organisations and concerned citizens of Pakistan have called upon the governments of India and Pakistan both to resist any temptation of violating one another’s territorial integrity. These organizations have demanded that both governments must give priority to: elimination of poverty, provision of food, shelter and jobs to all, ensure security of life and guarantee essentials such as water, gas, electricity and social services. As for terrorism it will be overcome by better understanding and constructive action rather than confrontation between states. The government of Pakistan must no longer stay in a state of self-denial. India too must bear in mind that militant groups and extremists thrive in a state of conflict and polarization. Both governments must sincerely redouble their efforts at addressing the rise of militant groups in the region. This may well be done through the composite dialogue that must be resumed forthwith. At the same time, the joint statement urges the Pakistan government not to miss the opportunity of devising an effective strategy to overcome the menace of terrorism that is posing a greater threat to this country than any other nation.

A joint statement issued by the CSOs says:

We condemn the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai and extend our heartfelt condolence and sympathy to the victim families. Likewise, we condole and sympathize with the victims of terrorism in Delhi, Kabul, Swat, other parts of NWFP and FATA. Pakistan’s civil society is alarmed at the loss of life, denial of education to girls and large-scale displacement of civilians in FATA and Swat. The militant groups are acting without any effective challenge by the government. Regrettably, there appears to be a total absence of a cohesive policy by the government of Pakistan to protect its own citizens or any strategy to challenge militant outfits that operate with impunity within and outside the country.

We regret that the media in both India and Pakistan failed to present the Mumbai outrage in a proper context and, instead, used the event to fuel hostility between the two countries. It aided warmongers on both sides to whip up a war hysteria. Quite ironically, terrorism, which should have brought India and Pakistan together to defend peace and people’s security, pushed them to the brink of a mutually destructive war. Confrontation between these two closest neighbours has never had such a puerile basis.

Mercifully, the tension between India and Pakistan seems to have abated somewhat and this is some relief. But the danger of an armed conflict persists and we call upon both the governments not to take peace for granted. Better understanding and constructive action rather than confrontation between states will discourage militant groups that are growing in strength in both countries. The government of Pakistan must no longer stay in a state of self-denial. It must not miss the opportunity of devising an effective strategy to overcome the menace of terrorism that is posing a greater threat to this country than any other nation. India too must bear in mind that militant groups and extremists thrive in a state of conflict and polarization. Both governments must sincerely redouble their efforts at addressing the rise of militant groups in the region. They need to quickly compose their differences over ways of dealing with terrorism. This could be done through the composite dialogue that must resume forthwith because neither country can bear the cost of keeping defence forces on alert and suspension of normal peacetime duties.

We should also like to caution the government of Pakistan against lapsing into its traditional complacency with the disappearance of the war clouds. Blinking at the existence of terrorist outfits within the country, some open and others disguised, will amount to self-annihilation and greater isolation from the comity of nations. The state’s commitment to root out terrorist groups must be total. It must ensure, as far as possible, that Pakistan is not even accused of allowing cross-border terrorism by any group, alien or indigenous. But everything must be done within the canons of law and justice. Killing of innocents and extra-legal excesses will not end terrorism. They will only fuel it.

Islamabad must also repudiate the suggestion that its firmness in the ongoing standoff with India has contributed to national cohesion, revived the Kashmir issue, and enriched the national coffers. Nobody can forget the cost paid by the country for unity behind Yahya Khan in his war on fellow Pakistanis, for the financial windfall during Zia’s agency for the Afghan war, and for the ‘revival’ of the Kashmir issue through adventurism is Kargil. The hazards of living in a make-believe environment are all too clear.

Success neither in the fight against terrorism nor in defending the nation’s integrity can be guaranteed by arms alone. The way to end the abuse of belief for politics or for terrorism, there being little difference between the two, is going to be long and hard. The task cannot be accomplished without the whole-hearted support of a fully informed and wide-awake society. The returns on investment in people’s food security, education, shelter, health cover, creation of adequately rewarding employment for both men and women and ensuring regular supply of water, gas, petrol and electric power will be infinitely higher than on resources expended on guns and explosives. This can be best achieved through regional cooperation and trade liberalisation.

It is these pre-requisites to national unity, solidarity, and survival that we urge the state to address and the people shall not fail it. Pakistan can beat off all challenges but only through people’s fully mobilized power.

HRCP for concrete steps to stop FATA raids

Press Release, September 9

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has asked the government to take meaningful steps to prevent loss of life and property in the Tribal Areas in raids by US-led coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.

A statement issued by the Commission on Tuesday said: Attacks in the Tribal Areas, the killing of civilians and violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by the US-led coalition forces have assumed the form of a regular series. Each attack is followed by stereotyped official protests by Islamabad, threats of ‘befitting replies’, statements of condemnation by all and sundry and the occasional summoning of the US envoy to the Foreign Office. Such gestures achieve little, nor do they convince the people of the government’s keenness to protect innocent lives or to assert its sovereignty.

Securing the life of its people is a responsibility the government owes to all its citizens, including those living in the Tribal Areas.

Pakistan must urgently hold earnest negotiations with its allies in the so-called war on terror to ensure that such attacks on its territory and killings of innocent Pakistanis in the Tribal Areas cease. The issue is much too serious to be addressed only through angry and reactive statements after every attack.

It must be emphasised in these talks that such attacks are counter-productive. The killing of innocent people creates hatred and militants faster than any military action can eliminate.

Iqbal Haider

Co-chairperson

HRCP, Awaz demand urgent attention to Punjab’s tribal area

Press Release, August 22

 

Lahore: The participants of a national consultation organized by Awaz Foundation Pakistan and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Friday demanded the government pay immediate attention to alleviating the problems faced by the people of the Provincially Administered Tribal Area in southern Punjab.

 

The themes for discussion at the consultation included the social, economic and political rights in PATA; the government’s responsibility to ensure basic rights to all without discrimination; its failure to integrate the area with the settled area since the creation of Pakistan; political parties’ responsibility to ensure representation of honest and competent people; and possibilities for ensuring opportunities for the area that are available elsewhere in the country.

 

The participants said the tribal area of DG Khan and Rajanpur in southern Punjab is the least developed region in Pakistan. DG Khan and Rajanpur are at the bottom of the national and Punjab quality-wise scale, but the PATA area contagious to the two districts is even more deprived.

 

The discussion was conducted on the basis of extensive studies done by Awaz Foundation Pakistan. Following the consultation, the assembly called upon the government to:

 

  • immediately create a Punjab PATA Development authority to look at the PATA infrastructure, including roads;
  • that the Ministry of Women Development should ensure its presence in the area to ensure that the issue facing women are addressed;
  • appoint special education officers to the area to ensure a specific focus on women education as the current measures for that have failed;
  • withdraw the Frontier Crimes Regulation from the area;
  • consider replacing the Border Military Police with a more responsible police force;
  • abolish the influence of Sardars;
  • establish a Fort Munroe Development Authority to develop the hill station, which offers the same climate as Murree, and can provide employment opportunities to the area’s population;
  • assign a separate development body to monitor and ensure environmental standards in PATA areas of southern Punjab, especially threats of environmental degradation due to oil exploration and extraction, uranium and other mining and operations of a large cement plant in the area;
  • build small dams and revise local water conservation projects on modern basis to not only avoid the damage caused by floods and hill torrents but also ensure regular irrigation for agriculture;
  • launch a crash programme to ensure that the overwhelming majority of schools in the area that are not functioning become operative;
  • ensure that all government institutions created to address the area’s problems have participation of and input from the local community in the decision-making process.
  • ensure the allocation of financial resources to improve the lot of the people there and the infrastructure in the area;
  • ensure that with extremist elements trying to get a foothold in the area, Talibanisation does not fill the vacuum created by lack of effective governance.
  • ensure that the industrial and mining concerns being run in the area translate into employment opportunities for the local population as well.

 

The assembly particularly requested:

  • The cement and mining companies in the area and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to undertake their corporate social responsibility to ensure that their operations do not cause environmental degradation;
  • The political leaders in the area to ensure, that besides promoting themselves politically, they also make sure that the areas’ problems are addressed.

I.A. Rehman

Secretary-General

 

Background info on the PATA area:

 

Rich with mineral resources, including uranium, PATA — consisting of the tribal area of D.G. Khan and Rajanpur — is by far the most neglected and backward part of Pakistan. Because of its administrative structure, feudal / tribal customs persist in which tribal chiefs and elders have the authority to disputes, whether evidence is available or not. Private jails are not uncommon.

 

Tribal chiefs enjoy the de facto right to represent people by virtue of their status. Only in a few areas are women allowed to cast their vote. Generally male relatives cast votes on behalf of the family’s women.

 

The fate of the people of PATA has remained largely unchanged since the creation of Pakistan. The main change in the last few decades has been exploration for oil and gas, and extraction of iron, gypsum and uranium from the area. This has brought little benefit or employment opportunities to the local people. They have, however, paid a steep price for that discovery. Drilling and mining operations have polluted groundwater, rendering it unusable. People are either forced to consume polluted water or use rainwater from ponds used by cattle.

 

Lack of roads and transportation has deprived people of education, health and employment opportunities. Even obvious income-generation avenues, such as developing potential for tourism, have not materialized for want of roads and of political will.

 

Vani, Karo Kari, exchange of women in marriage, Kala Kali and the sale of women declared Kali is commonplace. Almost 100 percent women in the eight Tummans of DG Khan and Rajanpur suffer from anaemia.

Next president must be non-contentious: HRCP

Press Release, August 25

 

Lahore:  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has demanded that the country’s next president must be non-contentious for democracy to survive.

 

A statement by HRCP said: HRCP has consistently called for a transition to democracy and the departure of President Musharraf has been a significant turning point.

 

The president must be elected by the parliament through a transparent process. HRCP appeals to political parties to make the choice with great wisdom as the country is undergoing serious crises. It reminds the political forces that the democratic process is fragile and still in the very early stages of transition.

 

The Office of the President must be headed by a person who inspires the confidence of all sections of society. Past experience has proved that any aspirants to the Presidency must also have unqualified credibility. A parliamentary federation demands that the president be a person who is neutral in terms of party politics and disassociate himself or herself from any single political party. There should be no shadow of doubt on his or her past.

 

This critical time requires that the “symbol of the federation” should be able to build bridges amongst all democratic forces rather than be seen as partisan or a manipulative politician. The struggle against military dictatorship was a collective effort of all democratic forces and, therefore, they have a stake in ensuring that a proper transition to democracy does indeed take place.

 

The candidature of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari does not fulfill the objective criteria that a president is expected to meet. Apart from the constitutional requirements, democratic conventions must also be observed if true democracy is to be achieved in the near future.

 

HRCP recognizes that Mr. Zardari has spent many years in prison and been tortured. This alone cannot be a qualification for aspiring for the highest office of the country in the background of the muddy deals and underhand manipulation that has given legitimacy to a National Reconciliation Ordinance granting blanket immunity to political activists.

 

HRCP fully opposes any form of revenge or victimization but cannot accept indemnities and impunities for past and future holders of public office. The Presidency must in no way be seen as a shelter-home for those accused of serious wrongdoings.  

 

A few good traditions of the past must be retained and a candidate for the Presidency must declare all his assets and tax returns in public. 

 

HRCP reminds the Election Commission of Pakistan of its constitutional duty to organize and conduct all elections “honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”. It welcomes the prompt announcement of an election schedule but laments that the timeframe given for submitting the nomination papers was fixed in an arbitrary manner. There was no consultation with the political parties represented in the parliament. This raises doubts about the motive of an election schedule fixed much before the 30-day deadline was to expire, denying political parties the opportunity to plan for the eventuality of the breakup of the coalition government by Wednesday the 6th of September.

 

HRCP repeats that a healthy transition to democracy is in the interest of the political parties. They must not cut the branch on which they sit. A president with doubtful integrity would lead to precisely that. 

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

Women’s execution in Peshawar worries HRCP

Press Release, August 21 

 

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has expressed its shock and alarm at Wednesday’s killing in Peshawar of two women by Taliban moral police and at the government’s inability to prevent the spread of such brazen violations of individual rights, especially women’s. A note left with the women’s bodies, accusing them of immoral behaviour, warned others of similar repercussions if they didn’t reform.

 

A statement by the Chairperson of the commission said on Thursday: “The killing of women by extremists and the Taliban over suspicion of their character, even for talking to men outside of their family, has not been unknown in the Tribal Areas. The killing yesterday is perhaps the first of its kind in Peshawar where the Taliban have repeated their Tribal Area strategy of advertised executions.

 

Extremists taking lives of human beings at whim is alarming, but even more disturbing is the fact that the government seems unable and sometimes unwilling to stop them.

Among obvious things it points to the feeble writ of the state — that needs to be strengthened across the country — receding in the face of Taliban advances beyond the Tribal Areas. It is beyond belief that the Government, which presented itself as helpless to enforce their writ in Tribal Areas, is letting this blatant violation in settled areas of the country.

 

The state can certainly do something better than abandoning its citizens to live in areas controlled by Taliban moral police.

 

Because of lack of previous action, the state must immediately demonstrate that it has both the ability and willingness to ensure that extremist do not have the audacity to deny the citizens basic freedom and rights, including the right to life.

 

HRCP demands immediate intervention and that swift action is taken to prevent future attacks and thwart Taliban from occupying further territory.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP hails event

Press Release, August 18

 

Lahore: While hailing General (R) Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from presidentship as the logical result of the people’s verdict of February 18, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has stressed the sobering effect of the development and reminded the coalition partners that satisfaction of the people’s heightened expectations will now demand greater sincerity and resoluteness than before. In a statement issued here today, the HRCP chairperson, Asma Jahangir, said:

 

Although General (R) Musharraf’s decision to quit before getting impeached will be considered one of his rare acts of kindness to the people, no tears will be shed for him. If he really cared for Pakistan as much as he claimed in his long peroration today, he should have resigned much earlier, as soon as the February 18 results were out. Indeed he might well have desisted from subverting the constitution nine years ago. But while the coalition partners and the people at large have good reason to celebrate their victory, the present is a sobering moment. Now the people’s expectations, already high after February 18, will soar even higher. The government will be tested to the extreme in meeting these expectations. Unity of democratic forces, effective supremacy of parliament, and consolidation of institutions of governance, the judiciary foremost among them, will be essential for pulling the state out of the mire created by a dictatorship. The issues that will brook no delay are: steps to fight ongoing insurgency in the north and the plight of the internally displaced persons as a result thereof; a crash programme to deal with the economic crisis, especially the rising cost of living and unemployment; and the urgency of guaranteeing the security of life and liberty. The people also must not forget that constant vigil is the price of liberty. And of progress too.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson