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Malik Siraj Akbar

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Pakistan's War Against Human Rights Watch

Posted: 02/04/2013 12:18 pm

"A pack of lies" is Pakistan army's favorite defensive phrase whenever it is blamed for committing human rights abuses or covertly sponsoring Islamic extremist organizations. On December 13, 2012, the Pakistan army described an Amnesty International report, The Hands of Cruelty, as "a pack of lies" when the London-based international human rights watchdog exposed the involvement of security forces in widespread human rights violations in the country's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

On February 2nd, the Pakistan army once again used its favorite 'a pack of lies" phrase to reject the Human Right Watch (H.R.W.) World Report 2013. The Pakistan section of the report has blamed the Pakistan army for committing human rights abuses in the country's largest province of Balochistan and assisting Islamic extremist groups that attack Shia Muslims and other religious minorities. The army says the H.R.W. report is "propaganda driven and totally biased" which is "yet another attempt to malign Pakistan and its institutions through fabricated and unverified reports, completely favouring an anti-Pakistan agenda."

Before explaining why the Pakistani military reacts so furiously to allegations of human rights abuse, it is important to understand the level of influence the military enjoys in the Pakistani State. Unlike most democratic countries of the world, the army in Pakistan in reality is not under the control of the civilian government. The military closely scrutinizes the performance of the elected government and makes sure that the civilian authorities do not question or undermine the economic interests and political power of the army.

Also, the army continuously tries to make sure that it remains absolutely immune to any kind of criticism, allegations and accountability for any reasons. Over the years, the military, with the help of the right-wing political parties and the media, has developed a state narrative that depicts the army as the most disciplined organization in the country. The rare occasion when the army's ego is shattered when nonpartisan international groups bring into public attention the wrongdoings of what otherwise remains an uncontested military.

So, what contents in the H.R.W. report irritated the Pakistan army?

Considering its overwhelming influence on almost every sphere of the state, the army has been blamed for rights abuses on a number of fronts.

For instance, H.R.W. observed that:

Pakistan's government has failed to act against abuses by the security and intelligence agencies, which continued to allow extremist groups to attack religious minorities... the authorities did little to address attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, and committed serious abuses in counter-terrorism operations.

In the mineral-rich Balochistan, where ethnic Balochs are seeking maximum fiscal and administrative autonomy, the H.R.W. said it had "recorded continued enforced disappearances and killing of suspected Baloch nationalists and militants by the military and affiliated agencies."

In addition, the H.R.W. has drawn attention to the "links between Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies with extremist groups." The organization observed that at least 400 members of the Shia Muslims, including 125 in Balochistan, were killed in 2012 in attacks perpetrated by Sunni Muslim extremist groups. These groups are suspected to have deep connections with the country's army.

In 2012, Pakistan, according to the H.R.W., remained "unable or unwilling" to dismantle these networks of terror:

Sunni militant groups, including those with known links to the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi, operated openly across Pakistan, as law enforcement officials turned a blind eye to attacks. The government took no significant action to protect those under threat or to hold extremists accountable.

Instead of providing an honest account of its covert operations, the Pakistan army said the H.R.W. "has no credibility and has been criticized worldwide for raising controversies through its biased reports and funding from certain quarters." For Pakistan, reports that highlight the security forces' involvement in rights violations are a "clear attempt to further fuel already ongoing sectarian violence and to create chaos and disorder in Pakistan."

The Pakistan military does not solely suffice with rebuttals. It oftentimes turns unimaginably nasty against those who question its authority. In this case, the H.R.W.'s Pakistan Director Ali Dayan Hasan, a widely respected human rights defender, has become the focus of a malicious and misleading campaign in the national media. The military has unleashed a media trial of Mr. Hasan with the help of Pakistan's largest media group, the Jang, questioning his integrity and even patriotism to the extent that it now raises genuine concerns about his personal safety and that of his family.

The News International, an English language newspaper published by the Jang media group, has become a tool in the hands of the military in the extremely dangerous campaign against Mr. Hasan. Last year, the newspaper bullied the human rights activist so much that it even published his U.S., Pakistan and London U.K. telephone numbers. This was a clear violation of journalistic standards but the newspaper apparently did so in order to encourage Islamic fundamentalists to directly threaten him on the phone numbers printed in the newspaper.

Ahmed Noorani, a young, angry and highly opinionated journalist, has been bullying Mr. Hasan and his organization for more than one year in his dispatches which, whenever attacking the H.R.W., hardly undergo the routine process of fact-checking, language correction and copy editing which is essential to sift opinion from reporting.

On February 24, 2014, the Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, a group of professional Pakistani journalists, sent a letter to the publisher and top editors of the News International, to express "our dismay at the unethical and false reporting in your paper ... that is not only inaccurate and based on lies, but also endangers the life and safety of a Pakistani citizen." One year later, the newspaper still continues to publish unsubstantiated personal attacks against Mr. Hasan which seem to be caused by the reporter's personal dislike for the H.R.W.'s Pakistan head.

The Pakistani military and sections of the media must stop harassing Mr. Hasan. Such childish and unprofessional behavior does not help Pakistan's democracy. Reports issued by H.R.W. and other international think-tanks and human rights groups are professional analyses of different countries. It is absolutely irresponsible and unethical to respond to such criticism with personal attacks on individual professionals affiliated with these organizations. It amounts to shooting the messenger. In a countries like Pakistan Mr. Hasan is a rare breed of bravery and hope for millions of citizens who want their rights to be respected and protected by their government. Human rights activists and journalists in Pakistan risk their lives on a daily basis to speak up for the citizens' democratic rights and Pakistan's largest media outlet should appreciate courageous Pakistan rights activists, such as Mr. Hasan, instead of endangering their lives.

 

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