MABAD (AFP/Reuters) Human rights group Amnesty International said Thursday that nearly four million people are effectively living under Taliban rule in northwest Pakistan and have been abandoned by the government.
The 130-page report entitled As if Hell Fell on Me: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan saw the government in Islamabad pledge improvements. The London-based organisation called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) a human rights free zone and said more than one million displaced people were in desperate need of aid.
It said there were credible reports that at least 1,300 civilians were killed during fighting in the northwest in 2009. There has been little official word on civilians hurt in anti-Taliban campaigns. Nearly four million people are effectively living under the Taliban in northwest Pakistan without rule of law and effectively abandoned by the Pakistani government, said Amnestys acting head, Claudio Cordone.
The organisation urged Pakistan and the Taliban to prevent loss of civilian life and allow aid workers unfettered access to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to the injured and displaced.
We have an historic opportunity regarding FATA right now, Amnestys Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi told AFP.
The international community has put up donor funds and Pakistani troops are operating in an unprecedented six of the seven tribal agencies, he said.
The old tribal order has been hugely disrupted by the Taliban and we have a civilian government in Pakistan that has talked about short and medium-term reform. There is an opportunity to do something about the people of FATA.
Over the last few years, Taliban have been able to assert their rule, their ideology through combination of violence and fear, said Zarifi.
They have killed anybody who can challenge them. They have killed hundreds of maliks (tribal elders), religious leaders, civil society workers, teachers.
The British colonial-era law governing FATA denies residents basic rights and protections, including their rights to political representation, judicial appeal and freedom from collective punishment.
The Pakistani government has to follow through on its promises to bring the region out of this human rights black hole and place the people of FATA under the protection of the law and constitution of Pakistan, said Cordone.
In response, Pakistans foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said the government was sparing no efforts to ensure that human rights are protected in accordance with the constitution of Pakistan.
We are not denying that there are no problems and there are issues that need to be handled effectively, he told reporters in Islamabad.
The democratic government of Pakistan is fully committed to improving human rights situation in the country.
The international human rights watchdogs report says some 2,500 people are said to have been detained by Pakistani authorities without framing any charge against them. It fears the figures of enforced disappearance could be much higher.
It does no good for justice to simply detain these people in secret places and have them show up dead in encounter killings, Zarifi said asking the government to try them in the courts.
The report also criticises the role of unaccountable and untrained tribal militia raised with the backing of authorities against Taliban militants.
In some they seem to say they target Taliban but other cases theyre simply carrying old vendetta or taking advantage of the situation to settle scores, the Amnesty official said.
Its the opposite of enforcing the rule of the law. This is moving towards chaos.
Amnesty, which based its report on nearly 300 interviews with residents in the northwest, accused Pakistan of launching heavy handed operations, including indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.
It said the Taliban were guilty of systematic abuses, killing those who challenge their authority and imposing their rule through torture and other ill-treatment, targeting women, teachers, aid workers and political activists.
Insurgents increased the likelihood of civilian casualties by dispersing themselves in communities and blocking roads to prevent villagers from escaping heavy bombardment by government forces.
But a Pakistani security official contacted by AFP challenged Amnesty to visit Swat, where commanders say a decisive battle last year returned much of the northwest valley to relative normality after a two-year uprising.
Significant territory that fell to the Taliban had been regained and urgent efforts were being made to stabilise the areas allowing the displaced to return as soon as it was safe, the official said.