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IDP Crisis: A tragedy of errors and Cover-ups – HRCP

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has published a very comprehensive report on the IDP situation in NWFP titled A tragedy of errors and Cover-ups:The IDPs and outcome of military actions in FATA and Malakand Division its quite a comprehensive report. I have taken the liberty to extract some critical sections which caught my attention, but I would strongly suggest people to read the entire report at the HRCP Blog

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is 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. While the ongoing military operation had become unavoidable, it was not adopted as a measure of the last resort. Further, 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.


Background Summary of the Crisis

For over two decades the government of Pakistan, in particular the military, tolerated, if it did not collude with them, the religious militants and extended impunity to them as well as to all forms of acts of religious intolerance. It was common knowledge that international as well as national religious militants had safe havens in the country. After September Eleven, militants of all shades were reinforced and given a free hand to organize themselves at the cost of the freedom of the local population in FATA. Other parts of the country also continued to suffer but initially parts of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) became the central hub of all militant groups, local, national, regional and international. The Musharraf government did not simply turn a blind eye but by all accounts, (including those of IDPs), several incidents revealed a policy to protect certain leaders of militant groups. The government has never given a satisfactory explanation on the supply lines of finances, vehicles, arms/ammunition and petrol that the militants have never been short of. This is particularly questionable in the case of Swat, which is a settled area and surrounded by territory in control of the government.

A number of credible sources (including official sources) confirmed that in December 2006, a vehicle was impounded by SHO Amir Zaman of police station Kabal, which was full of explosives. The destination of this pick-up was the Dera (house) of Fazallullah, popularly known as Maulana Radio. The SHO who impounded the vehicle was ordered by phone to stop all proceedings till higher police officials instructed him to proceed in the matter. As the DIG of the area was on leave, SP Qudratullah Marwat is said to have personally ordered that the van be released with the explosives as he had instructions from “higher authorities” to release the pick-up. In addition a number of other well placed sources confirmed that groups of militants from Waziristan were officially escorted to Swat in 2007.

During the last few years nine military operations were carried out and nine compromises made with militants operating in FATA and Swat. None of these succeeded in bringing peace. Almost all the IDPs and interlocutors interviewed by HRCP complained of having been let down by the government. They strongly felt that the government machinery lacked the will rather than capacity to dismantle the militant force in the Malakand Division. As regards FATA they were less sure of the capacity of the government to deal with the enormous challenge. They complained that the problem was deliberately ignored for many years and now the militant groups, criminal elements and drug traffickers had formed a formidable network.

Reports of the devious role played by a former commissioner of Malakand were common. Earlier Syed Muhammad Javed, former Commissioner of Malakand, was posted as DCO Swat. It was common knowledge that he fully patronized Maulana Fazalullah, son-in-law of Sufi Muhammad. While posted as DCO he is reputed to have exhibited strong leanings towards the Al-Qaeda-style ideology. He would drive from Mingora to Pevchar where Fazaullah led Friday prayers. The presence of the highest official in Swat in the congregation of the faithful led in prayers by Fazallullah was a strong incentive for others to join. It is reported that there was vigorous recruitment of local people by the militants during that period. There are other allegations of abuse of human rights by the former Commissioner.

The government defended the appointment of Commissioner Syed Muhammad Javed on the ground that he had strong connections with the Taliban and could therefore be used for the purposes of brokering a genuine peace deal. However, it is now evident that the former Commissioner advanced the cause of the Taliban and exposed the locals to their wrath. The IDPs from Buner were particularly disturbed by the destructive role played by the former Commissioner. In April 2008, the Taliban tried to enter Buner. The local people resisted and hurriedly called for a jirga. They armed themselves and were supported by the DCO and the DPO of the area. Commissioner Javed, who was in Dir with Sufi Muhammad, heard of the resistance by the local armed groups. He called up the DCO and the DPO ordering them to halt the local resistance till he visited Buner the next day. According to eyewitnesses, the Commissioner arrived escorted by the Taliban and gave a dressing down to the DCO and the DPO. He ordered the local jirga to come to the Karakar forest rest house on the Swat Buner border for talks with the Taliban. The jirga members refused to go to the rest house and were then invited to the Commissioner House in Swat.

The jirga (after a day) went to the Commissioner House as instructed. They were shocked to see Muslim Khan there. Maulana Faqir Muhammad was awaited; he was arriving from Bajaur. When Maulana Faqir Muhammad finally arrived, he threatened the jirga members and the Commissioner forced the jirga members to apologise to the Taliban for raising an armed Lashkar against them. A sham compromise was made to assure the Buneris that the Taliban would not enter the area if they disarmed. However, the Taliban, despite the compromise, entered Buner the next day. They burnt down and destroyed the houses of active jirga members, including the Sultanwas houses of Afsar Khan (ANP leader) and Col. Sultanzeb. Within a few days the Taliban had complete control of the district.

Commissioner Syed Muhammad Javed is also alleged to have pressurized the family of Chand Bibi, the video of whose flogging was telecast by national television channels, to deny that the incident had ever taken place. According to some government sources the Commissioner played the lead role in providing a doctored report to the Supreme Court.

The Military Operation

Regrettably, the intensity of a full fledged military operation could have been avoided if the militants had been confronted, discouraged, deported and captured earlier, after several emphatic public denials of support to them. It took a number of years after September Eleven for the Musharaf government to acknowledge that militant groups had taken refuge in FATA. The military operation was an unfortunate option also because no effective measures had been taken in the past to meet the challenge. As one interlocutor commented the country is a patient whose ailment has been ignored too long and who is even now being treated without a complete diagnosis, while his ailment has travelled to all parts of his body. There are several public statements on record where chief of ISI and military leaders have praised the “patriotism” of jehadi groups. Sufi Muhammad was touted out as a saviour and champion of peace and justice. It confuses the population that is consistently misled by those in authority.

Conclusions and recommendations

  1. The spread of the Taliban influence in the Malakand Division and the suffering of the internally displaced people (IDPs) are the result of arbitrary policy-making by non-representative institutions. There has been no evidence of the transparent policies and reference to the people that were vitally needed. The situation though has improved under the democratic government –despite the system being fragile and lacking in many ways. Those criticizing the Taliban and religious fanaticism are not snubbed and most political forces recognize the enormous challenge they face from militant Islamic groups.
  2. A white paper should be issued 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.
  3. 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. The measures needed to protect life through an early warning system and to minimize suffering by mobilizing resources at the earliest to help the civilians fleeing from the conflict zone were either inadequate or not there at all. According to information available to HRCP, 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.
  4. No proper count of civilian casualties has been issued. They appear to be significantly higher than the figures mentioned by the ISPR.
  5. 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 (for instance, supply of wheat instead of flour). The various agencies have no institutional framework for consultation and problems are addressed on an ad hoc basis.
  6. The camps do not have oversight mechanisms to check corruption, misappropriation of relief supplies, and exploitation of the vulnerable. It is necessary to provide for processes for redress of grievances and complaints.
  7. There are gaps in services provided at the camps. There is need for efficient information centres at all camps and effective procedures for the search and recovery of separated or missing members of the displaced families.
  8. The plight of families stranded in towns/villagers must be seriously addressed. Ways should be found to establish communications with them, to ensure supply of food to them and to guarantee their safety.
  9. The large population of displaced people outside the camps should immediately be brought within the support network so that they are not driven by circumstances to rush towards the camps where resources are already stretched and the threat of adverse weather looms large.
  10. The policy of censoring reports about the military operation and its impact on the citizens’ life and matters is manifestly counter-productive. The people will better face the situation if they are taken into confidence and trusted with the truth.
  11. 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?
  12. Finally, the government must develop a well considered plan as to how FATA and 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.