Pak­istan anti-terror fight in new phase de­spite rights fears


Pak­istan’s army is pre­par­ing for a fi­nal push in the com­ing weeks in its fight against mil­i­tants, but there are con­cerns that rights are be­ing rolled back in the name of de­feat­ing terror.

A year on from the launch of a ma­jor of­fen­sive to erad­i­cate strongholds of Tal­iban and other mil­i­tants in North Waziris­tan tribal area, the mil­i­tary says the job is 90 per­cent done.

It is now po­si­tion­ing troops around the Shawal Val­ley, a key lo­ca­tion close to the Afghan bor­der that is home to some of the last re­doubts of the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP), ac­cord­ing to lo­cals and se­cu­rity sources.

The army says it has killed more than 2,700 mil­i­tants since the launch of the of­fen­sive — dubbed Zarbe-Azb — last June, and de­stroyed more than 800 of their hide­outs.

A se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial di­rectly linked to the of­fen­sive said the army was gear­ing up for the fi­nal push and us­ing air strikes be­fore mov­ing in ground troops.

“We are turn­ing hard tar­gets into soft through aerial bomb­ing be­cause forces ex­pect a re­sis­tance in Shawal,” he told AFP.

The troop move­ments were con­firmed by lo­cals, though some tribal el­ders warned mil­i­tants were slip­ping across the por­ous moun­tain­ous bor­der into Afghanistan.

“Up to two dozen mil­i­tants are leav­ing the area ev­ery day and around 200 mil­i­tants re­cently moved into part of Afghan ter­ri­tory,” el­der Ajab Khan told AFP.

He warned the re­main­ing ar­eas where TTP fight­ers are holed up will be dif­fi­cult fight­ing ter­rain — moun­tain­ous and thickly forested.

Re­form, De­vel­op­ment Needed

But se­cu­rity an­a­lysts cau­tion that mil­i­tary gains will serve lit­tle pur­pose un­less and un­til the law­less, semi-au­ton­o­mous tribal ar­eas see ad­min­is­tra­tive re­form and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas (FATA) are among the poor­est in Pak­istan, and are gov­erned un­der a dra­co­nian le­gal sys­tem in­tro­duced by Bri­tish colo­nial rulers more than a cen­tury ago.

“The longevity of the ‘fi­nal push’ would largely de­pend on the con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus of the re­gion,” said Im­tiaz Gul, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Cen­ter for Re­search and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies (CRSS).

“Un­til the FATA re­gion is main­streamed and brought un­der the law of the land, keep­ing it clear of mil­i­tants and crim­i­nals would be dif­fi­cult.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians were forced to leave North Waziris­tan by the of­fen­sive. Re­tired Lt. Gen. Talat Ma­sood said rein­te­grat­ing them was key to suc­cess.

“These mil­i­tary gains will only be a part of the ex­er­cise. Com­plete suc­cess de­pends on the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the dis­placed peo­ple and de­vel­op­ment in the tribal re­gion,” he told AFP.

Zarb-e-Azb does seem to have had a pos­i­tive im­pact on mil­i­tant at­tacks, which have been down over­all, with some shock­ing ex­cep­tions, such as the De­cem­ber mas­sacre by Tal­iban gun­men of more than 130 chil­dren at a school in Peshawar.

Doubts, Con­cerns

But doubts have been raised about the trans­parency of the op­er­a­tion and the iden­ti­ties of those killed.

There have been re­peated re­ports of civil­ian deaths, but the mil­i­tary tightly con­trols ac­cess to the con­flict zone, pre­vent­ing in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment.

I. A. Rehman of the in­de­pen­dent Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (HRCP) said there was no way to know for sure who the army had killed.

“We don’t know the truth about the ca­su­al­ties — what is the ac­tual num­ber of ca­su­al­ties, how many of them are ter­ror­ists and how many of them in­no­cents?” he told AFP.

“They should make this ac­tion trans­par­ent. Peo­ple should have ac­cess in the ar­eas of op­er­a­tion.”

Con­cerns have also been raised about the re­sump­tion of ex­e­cu­tions and in­tro­duc­tion of mil­i­tary courts, which have sat in se­cret, un­der a gov­ern­ment Na­tional Ac­tion Plan (NAP) to de­feat terror, launched in the wake of the Peshawar mas­sacre.

The Euro­pean Union, the United Na­tions and var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional rights groups have been alarmed by the pace of ex­e­cu­tions — around 160 since they be­gan again in De­cem­ber af­ter a six-year hia­tus.

Rehman said HRCP did not ac­cept the le­git­i­macy of the mil­i­tary courts, which handed out their first rul­ings in April, sen­tenc­ing six mil­i­tants to death and another to life in jail.

The news was an­nounced in a Twit­ter post by the chief mil­i­tary spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Ba­jwa, with no de­tails given on the na­ture of the crimes, when or where the tri­als were held, the ev­i­dence pre­sented or even the iden­tity of those con­victed.

The Supreme Court is cur­rently hear­ing chal­lenges to the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the mil­i­tary tri­bunals.

More­over there are doubts the NAP will do much to deal with the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of young peo­ple by hard-line sem­i­nar­ies that un­der­lies much of Pak­istan’s terror prob­lems.

“They have re­sumed hang­ings through the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan but the sem­i­nar­ies are still work­ing and there is no check on them,” Rehman said.


A Pak­istani com­mando stands guard out­side a house raided by se­cu­rity forces in a sub­urb of La­hore, Pak­istan, Mon­day, June 29. A Pak­istani po­lice of­fi­cer says author­i­ties have killed four mil­i­tants, ar­rested two and seized a large cache of weapons that were sus­pected to be used in an up­com­ing at­tack.

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