NEW YORK: The Taliban and other terrorists in Pakistan increased their deadly attacks against civilians and public places during 2010, while the Pakistani government response was marred by serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2011.
The 649-page report, HRW’s 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarises major human rights trends in more than 90 states and territories worldwide. Suicide bombings, armed attacks, and killings by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their affiliates targeted nearly every sector of Pakistani society, including minorities and journalists, resulting in hundreds of deaths. The country’s largest cities bore the brunt of these attacks. Two attacks in May on the Ahmadiyya community’s places of worship in Lahore killed nearly 100 people. On July 1, a suicide bomber killed 40 devotees at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh.
“Taliban atrocities aren’t happening in a vacuum, but instead often with covert support from elements in the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at the HRW. “The Pakistan government needs to use all lawful means to hold those responsible to account.”
The government’s response to terrorist attacks instead has routinely violated basic rights, HRW said. Thousands of Taliban suspects have been held in unlawful military detention without charge, many of them in two military facilities in Swat, one in the Khyber Agency of the Tribal Areas, and at least one more in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
While the US remained Pakistan’s most significant ally and was the largest donor to its flood relief effort, HRW documented several instances in 2010 in which US aid to Pakistan appeared to contravene the US Leahy Law. The law requires the US State Department to certify that no military unit receiving aid is involved in gross human rights abuses and, when such abuses are found, to investigate them thoroughly and properly. In October, the US imposed sanctions on six units of the Pakistani military operating in the Swat Valley, but at the same time announced a $2 billion military aid package for Pakistan to help the country meet unprecedented counter-terrorism challenges.
“The Leahy sanctions have not ended continuing reports of summary executions by Pakistani security forces,” Hasan said. “Killings by the army need to end, and the US should stop sending mixed signals that allow the army to continue with business as usual.”
Persecution and discrimination under cover of law against religious minorities and other vulnerable groups remained serious problems, HRW said. On November 7, Aasia Bibi became the first woman in the country’s history to be sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy. Attempts by government officials and legislators to seek a pardon and amend the blasphemy law were greeted with threats, intimidation, and violence. On December 30, the government backtracked on its promise to review the blasphemy law.
On January 4, 2011, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a vocal critic of the blasphemy law, was gunned down in Islamabad by a bodyguard who admitted to the killing, saying he did it because of Taseer’s stance on the issue. A former information minister, Sherry Rehman, who proposed amendments to the blasphemy law, also has received death threats in the face of government inaction.
Abuses by Pakistani police, including cases of extrajudicial killing, also continued to be reported throughout the country in 2010.
A package of reforms aimed at improving provincial autonomy and providing redress for ethnic Baloch grievances was passed by parliament, but civilian authorities struggled to implement it as conditions markedly deteriorated in Balochistan. Armed groups launched attacks against security forces. Pakistan’s military publicly resisted government reconciliation efforts and attempts to locate ethnic Baloch “disappeared” during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s military rule.
Pakistan forces continued to be implicated in the enforced disappearance of suspected ethnic Baloch. Militant groups increased attacks against non-Baloch civilians, teachers, and education facilities. At least nine education personnel were killed between January and October 2010.
Violence and mistreatment of women and girls, including rape, domestic violence, and forced marriage, remain serious problems. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, unanimously passed by the National Assembly in August 2009, lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within three months as required under the constitution.
Journalists known to be critical of the military continued to be harassed, threatened and mistreated by military-controlled intelligence agencies, the HRW noted.