ISLAMABAD - The intensity of the Pakistani military’s anti-Taliban operations in the country’s restive northwest could have been avoided “if the militants had been confronted, discouraged, deported and captured earlier, after several emphatic public denials of support to them”, a prominent rights body says.
“The military operation was an unfortunate option also because no effective measures had been taken in the past to meet the challenge,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement.
The statement, signed by HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir, was drafted on the basis of reports by HRCP activists in the Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and other parts of the province, visits to refugee camps in the area, and talks with the displaced people, government representatives and public figures.
“While the ongoing military operation had become unavoidable, it was not adopted as a measure of the last resort,” the statement said.
This apart, the plight of the internally displaced people “has been aggravated by lack of planning and coordination by the agencies concerned, and the methods of evacuation of towns/villages and the arrangements for the stranded people have left much to be desired”, the statement maintained.
HRCP said it was convinced that “the cost of the insurgency in the Malakand division has been increased manifold by the shortsightedness and indecisiveness of the non-representative institutions and their policy of appeasing the militants and cohorting with them”.
In a series of wide-ranging observations and recommendations, HRCP called for issuing a White Paper on the official patronage extended to the militants in the Malakand division.
“Government officials and other individuals who helped the militants in their unlawful pursuits, exploited the situation for narrow personal gain, and played with the lives of innocent citizens must be made to account for their misdeeds,” it said.
Among other observations and recommendations:
* The implications of the use of force, even when unavoidable, were not taken into consideration, particularly in relation to the principle of proportionality and the need for due regard to the safety of non-combatants, specially children, women and the disabled.
“Not enough time was given to people who were required to flee to safety, no transport was arranged by the government and the people had to walk for miles without help or guidance. The safety of passage was not guaranteed. Not even a warning of mines was issued in some sectors.”
* The government must develop a well considered plan as to how the Malakand division will be administered after peace is restored.
“In particular it is necessary to decide what kind of judicial system will be followed in these territories and what arrangements will be needed to protect women, children and the minorities that have borne the brunt of the militants’ atrocities.”
* The authorities must have a sound exit strategy - how the civilian administration will be restored once the operation is over. Who will guarantee the people’s security and how? Who will ensure that the law enforcement staff is adequately trained and equipped?
* No proper count of civilian casualties has been issued. They appear to be significantly higher than the figures mentioned by the ISPR.
* The displaced people have suffered in the camps because of quite a few problems that could have been managed. These include: lack of coordination among the various administrative services, shortage of trained personnel, flawed staff orientation, and lack of transport. The supply of goods to these camps often does not match the displaced people’s needs. The various agencies have no institutional framework for consultation and problems are addressed on an ad hoc basis.
* The camps do not have oversight mechanisms to check corruption, misappropriation of relief supplies, and exploitation of the vulnerable.
* The policy of censoring reports about the military operation and its impact on the citizens’ life and matters is manifestly counter-productive.
The military operations had begun April 26 after the Taliban violated a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.
The military says that some 1,300 Taliban fighters have been killed in the operations, which have displaced an estimated 3 million civilians in the Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts of the NWFP.