The Pakistan Army has been hunting down innocent Baloch and Sindhis in the name of terrorism while real terrorists have been enjoying the patronage of the state in safe sanctuaries….writes Kamal Mohiyudeen
Despite the loud claim of Pakistan Army that it was safeguarding the interests of Pakistan, people live under a growing shadow of fear and uncertainty. People have been bearing the brunt of terrorists for now a decade with the army and the civilian government merely making empty noises and deceptive posturing about tackling terrorism.
The number of killed and attacks may have come down but the fear of terrorism has never loomed so large over the horizon for people. People are not sure whether to celebrate their cultural or religious festivals without being bombed and attacked by all kinds of terrorists groups, some of whom, the army has admitted, are not in the control of the state.
But that is only one part of the over-arching fear that pervades the country. The army itself is a cause of greater terror, especially to the people of Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit Baltistan. The army has been hunting down innocent Baloch and Sindhis in the name of terrorism while real terrorists have been enjoying the patronage of the state in safe sanctuaries.
The army has made life extraordinarily difficult for ordinary men and women in Balochistan, Khyber Pakthukhawa and Sindh in particular. Any voice of dissent is crushed ruthlessly. With the army now setting up military tribunals to try terrorism cases, the army has become the prosecutor, judge and the executioner. It is not known how many of the men and women tried by the military tribunals are really guilty of the charges levelled against them.
These observations are not hearsays or propaganda but drawn from the latest report issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for 2016. The report showed no significant improvement in Pakistan’s human rights record; in fact it underlined how it was getting bleaker by the year.
The report also discussed at length the issue of the ‘half-widow’, a term used to describe the state of married women whose husbands have become victims of enforced disappearance and the psychological stress these women have been undergoing
A single statistics contained in the report is perhaps the most alarming of all findings. In 2016, as many as 728 persons were added to the growing list of disappeared persons. This is the highest number of people disappearing, a euphemism for the army’s policy of abducting people, keeping them in illegal confinement and often killing them and dumping their bodies. It is also known as the “kill and dump“ policy.
Officially, 1219 persons remain unaccounted for till the end of 2016. In reality, the number is many times over. A media report, quoting the government sources, said nearly 1000 dead bodies of political activists and suspected armed separatists had been found in Balochistan in the last six years. A majority of these unfortunate people were Baloch who have been struggling getting justice from the state of Pakistan. Others among the disappeared were Sindhis and residents of Gilgit-Baltistan.
A research conducted by the Defence of Human Rights, a local NGO, which examined the plight of women relatives of disappeared persons, pointed out that 98 percent of the 100 families interviewed felt insecure in the absence of the disappeared person. The report also discussed at length the issue of the ‘half-widow’, a term used to describe the state of married women whose husbands have become victims of enforced disappearance and the psychological stress these women have been undergoing.
Though the study’s scope and focus was limited, it did succeed in pointing out the hidden dimensions of the “kill and dump“ policy adopted by Pakistan Army to quell dissent. There has been little understanding, if any, of the impact of such extra-judicial abductions and killings on the children, aged parents and society itself.
Dissent, a prime requisite for a vibrant democratic society, remained under serious threat. Journalists and social media activists came under greater scrutiny and repression. The new cyber laws have only made fear of state repression more palpable. Several bloggers were threatened, some “disappeared“ while others were silenced.
Journalists, who dared to report fact, came under attack from several quarters, mostly from terrorist groups and the security agencies. Even major newspapers were not spared in the state’s onslaught against the media. Respectable newspaper, Dawn, for instance, came under severe attack both from the Nawaz Sharif government and Pakistan Army, for reporting the rift between the military top brass and the civilian government over the action to be taken against terrorist groups.
The journalist, who reported the incident, was not only put under scrutiny and on the exit control list, the newspaper management was under severe pressure to retract the story and apologise. The recent outburst against the military by Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister and younger brother of the Prime Minister, only confirmed that the Dawn report was credible.
The Human Rights Report also highlighted the rise of bigotry and gross discrimination against minorities in the administration of justice, at educational institutions and at workplace. It said several forms “ low-level biases and social attitudes of the majority faith remained prevalent, almost attaining acceptance. The state lost the discourse space to clerics, leaving no room for the common people to even discuss issues the clergy considered sacrosanct. Voices challenging orthodoxy were either hushed forever or scared into silence. “
According to the report, minority communities like the Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and recently, the Kalash and Zikris“remained prime targets of verbal abuse, target killings, desecration of worship places and mob attacks. Ahmadis remained disenfranchised from participating actively in the country’s political system.“It pointed out that the law against blasphemy “spurred religious fanaticism“.
The story of Pakistan, as brought out by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its annual report, is so dismal that the people have lost any hope in the state becoming a people-friendly state in any foreseeable future.