War against the Taliban: Govt tramples on civil rights in tribal areas

Published: July 29, 2011

Perhaps what is most disturbing about the bill is the fact that the testimony of any military officer would be deemed sufficient to prove a person’s guilt. PHOTO: APP

PESHAWAR: 

In a little-noticed presidential ordinance promulgated on June 28, security forces operating in Fata and Pata have been given virtually unbridled powers to act as judge, jury and executioner for anyone held on charges of terrorism in the tribal areas, in a bill that is likely to undermine the civil rights of people living in the tribal areas.

Under the ordinance titled “Action in Aid of Civil Power”, security forces would have the power to detain any person they deem a threat to public order for as long as 120 days, with relatively little oversight.

The security forces would have the power to imprison any person in the tribal areas indefinitely, conduct a trial in which they could award life imprisonment or even the death penalty to anyone accused of terrorism or collaborating with the militants.

The citizens of the tribal areas would have no judicial recourse if they are abused by the military since the ordinance calls for any such allegations to be investigated within the military hierarchy.

But perhaps what is most disturbing about the bill is the fact that the testimony of any military officer would be deemed sufficient to prove a person’s guilt.

“Any member of the armed forces, or any authority official deposing on his behalf in or any official statement or before the court to prove any event offence or happening, shall be deemed to have proved the event, offence or happening by his statement or deposition and no other statements, deposition or evidence required,” states the ordinance.

The safeguards for civil rights under the new system would be minimal at best. A four-person panel will review any detention decision, which will consist of two civilians and two military members. But such a panel is only empowered to report to the provincial government and does not appear to have any powers to order the release of any person held by the military.

While the rest of the country appears not to have noticed, legislators from the tribal areas have been alarmed at the introduction of the ‘draconian law’.

A delegation of 10 senators and members of the National Assembly from the tribal areas met with President Asif Ali Zardari last month to voice their concerns over the ordinance.

While the president has the power to promulgate ordinances, they must be approved by parliament within 90 days of promulgation, or else stand void. The president has, in the past, re-promulgated ordinances that were not passed by parliament within the specified timeframe.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.

Reader Comments (34)

  • Jul 29, 2011 - 5:28AM

    This is ridiculous! This is like turning the entire FATA and PATA into Guantanomo Bay. Talk about winning hearts and minds? Talk about treating fellow Pakistanis as second class citizens.Military officials are going to be turned into gods, who is going to make sure that justice is being served? Empty rhetoric of “disciplined institutions” will not suffice!

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  • Khadim Husain
    Jul 29, 2011 - 5:33AM

    I always stress for rule of law, and that is what politicians have been doing since long. Don’t worry same laws would be applied against politicians when security agencies would save their neck from sword of extra judicial killings and human rights violations.
    Country has many type of courts and Laws, now it is another form of Kangro court.

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  • Jul 29, 2011 - 6:21AM

    Btw, what legal cover does the state have to pick up and do what they please to Baloch nationalists? Even if they are rebelling against the state do they not deserve justice? Is the state not supposed to be better than the militants or are they supposed to be more brutal!

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  • BruteForce
    Jul 29, 2011 - 7:42AM

    This is similar to the Armed Forces Special powers act in Kashmir. All newspapers in Pakistan speak ghastly of this act. Now, when confronted with an insurgency they end up doing the same thing!!!!

    What do you call this? The word that you are looking for begins with an ‘H’.

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  • Hafsa
    Jul 29, 2011 - 8:30AM

    acording to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 2700+ people are in illegal detention in Swat alone. Lots of families have been collectively punished for having a family member allegedly supporting Taliban. Minors haven’t been spared in this regard. Also, quite a few journalists harassed/killed by security forces. A recent example:
    http://www.zamaswat.com/st​ory-tv-journalist-sherinz​ada-tortured-by-security-f​orces-12576.html#.TjCmaLF​XTA.facebook
    I also support operations against those who terrorise common man & challenge writ of state, but that does not mean that military should be given a free hand. Also, people should ask for more transparency & endorse HRCP+HRW to make sure no human rights violations are committed

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  • Wah
    Jul 29, 2011 - 9:59AM

    Extremists do not abide by human rights so they should be denied human rights .They must be treated as brutally as they treat others. The bill is very much right , if military just avoid miseries of common people .Recommend

  • DAUD AZIZ KHOKHAR
    Jul 29, 2011 - 10:08AM

    I respect the views of the author but in my sight there is a little exaggeration. A bare reading of the text of the bill will make the readers know about the protection of human rights of the detainees. Moreover, the bill is totally in compliance with the internationally recognised human rights and humaintarian norms. The armed forces of Pakistan are facing an extra-ordinary situation there and it requires extra-ordinary measures to be taken.

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  • Realist
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:08AM

    @BruteForce:

    This shows that it is the only way to crush an insurgency. And yes, they indeed are Hypocrites in that regard.

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  • Salim Baig
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:24AM

    It is all very well to talk about human rights while sitting in ones own drawing rooms.
    How about going out in the battle area and spending few days facing the militants.
    They will forget all about human rights.

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  • Bilafond
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:34AM

    CAn you people out there listen to this 30 Minute or so audio clip and tell me who has more human rights if you have to choose one and what to do with the other. Is he treatable…. http://ia700501.us.archive.org/25/items/Mufti_733/FawjimuftiMubahasa-1.mp3

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  • perviaz memon
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:42AM

    Guys this power is given to pak army not to any enemy army and in worlds mostly deadly area so i am with my army

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  • Javed Afridi
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:47AM

    A political agent of the respective tribal areas had these powers ever since. If only the world had noticed, it would have never been the way it is. But then, this is what the world including Pakistan wanted and still want ….

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  • wasim younis
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:51AM

    I certainly do not agree with this new ordinance or law. The people of FATA region deserve all civilian rights. The government should make counter strategies against Talibans in that particular area not against innocent people.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Jul 29, 2011 - 12:00PM

    @BruteForce:
    You are totally wrong in your comments regarding Armed Forces Special Power Act in Kashmir in which Indian security forces can only detain a suspect and interrogate but have no powers to conduct trial or keep any person in their illegal custody. Trial of any accused takes place only in civil courts.

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  • A J Khan
    Jul 29, 2011 - 12:21PM

    The author appears to be the spokesperson of terrorists and does not believe in the rights of peaceful citizens who are foremost in the eyes of law and have constitutional right of protection of life and property.
    So far the history of conviction of terrorists from the courts is extremely low which creates doubts about the judicial system. As a matter of fact two things are hindering conviction of terrorists.
    1. No one appears as witness against the terrorists due to threat of reprisal.
    2. Judges often get threats from the terrorists which influence their decision making.
    This ordinance will help in protecting Judiciary from the wrath of terrorists. As a matter of fact, Armed forces of Pakistan are the only institutions which are ready to give sacrifices in this situation.
    Those who want to see a unending war in Pakistan often support terrorists in the name of civil rights, defaming Armed Forces of Pakistan and taking negative view of every thing that can help Pakistan . Some of the slanderous characters with fictitious names often appear in these comments.
    Pakistan Zindabad

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  • Nabil
    Jul 29, 2011 - 12:23PM

    U kinda have to Have blind faith in the army. Its better than trying them at our judiciary which are
    More likely going to release the culprits after lack of evidence n witnessesRecommend

  • Ali
    Jul 29, 2011 - 12:51PM

    Good move, The army does needs such powers to swiftly carry out the operation is undertaking.

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  • LongLivePakistan
    Jul 29, 2011 - 12:56PM

    That is a great news. Army has been trying to clean up the area for the last many years but they were not successfull. Let us give them a free hand for 3 months and pray for their success.

    I am amazed why ppl are expressing their discomfort on this news. This armys is not an outside army. Our soldiers are dying for the last many years. All this must come to an end. Moreover this law will be void after 3 months as parliment will never approve it. So why not give it a try.

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  • S Khan
    Jul 29, 2011 - 1:51PM

    A time to think why all Terrorist go scot free, can any one recount any terrorist convicted ???????

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  • Khan
    Jul 29, 2011 - 2:48PM

    Though we are in state of war but that doesn’t mean give free hand to some one who holds a gun … otherwise, any innocent tortured will become militant … why can not we make laws?
    We are in this situation from many years now then why are those caught red handed getting away due to lack of evidence? What are those hundreds of law makers doing in the Parliament if they can’t make new tighter anti terror laws in which those people who are delivering hate speeches or found in anti state activities should be put behind bars for a long time?Recommend

  • Naz Ebr
    Jul 29, 2011 - 3:02PM

    If Imran Khan really considers himself dedicated to the safeguard of justice in Pakistan, he should divert all his struggles toward this critical issue of the violation of human rights.

    If we don’t stand up against this. Sooner or later, they will promulgate it in Karachi too.

    And thumbs up for the ET who dared publish the news.

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  • jalal
    Jul 29, 2011 - 3:18PM

    isnt it nice to talk about human rights while sipping caffe latte’s when the army is fighting a war in the most complicated region in the world with too many a forces pulling the outcome their own way…. we will have to be clear on the objective over here. At the end this war is against people or should we call them demons who would make a 5 year old wear a jacket full of explosives to go explode near an army convoy and do not hesitate to use human sheilds as a defence. No body is denyign the importance of human rights but at the end there is a cost to everything, are we willing to pay that cost by significantly increasing the casualty of our troops??

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  • Y Khan
    Jul 29, 2011 - 3:56PM

    I am from K-P and I think this law while flawed is necessary in the short term to tackle the terrorists who have butchered thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women and children. Our legal system and Police are basically useless so any militant caught is freed for lack of evidence. I think it makes sense that this law is used for 2 years during which the police and lower judiciary are trained to tackle terrorists.

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  • BruteForce
    Jul 29, 2011 - 5:34PM

    @R S JOHAR:

    You are absolutely right. But, I was using the perception of this act among Pakistanis to make a point. But, yes, in Indian side of Kashmir things cannot get as worse as in could get in Pakistan due to Civilian supremacy. Ultimately, the opinion of the civilian Government in J&K matters a lot.

    @Realist:

    Not the only way. There are other things too like building on the successes of the Army. India is well equipped to do that, but I doubt the Pakistani Government can handle it.

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  • Cautious
    Jul 29, 2011 - 5:36PM

    Having a draconian law is one thing — using the law is another. You regularly release known terrorist from jail so why should anyone believe your going to use a special law to put additional terrorist inside jail? It’s obvious to the rest of the World that Pakistan has little control over the tribal territories so whatever law you put on the books doesn’t really matter – does it?

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  • hamza khan
    Jul 29, 2011 - 8:34PM

    @BruteForce:

    the key difference being, of course, that kashmir is a disputed territory as recognized by several UN resolutions, and kashmiris are under occupation. FATA and PATA, on the other hand, is sovereign territory of pakistan, and there is no occupation occuring there, nor is there a seccesionist movement going on within its borders. Recommend

  • BruteForce
    Jul 29, 2011 - 9:35PM

    @hamza khan:

    Perception is the key here. According to Pakistan it is a disputed Territory, for India it is not. 80% of the Kashmiris voted in the recent panchayat elections. That doesn’t sound like a state under occupation.

    Can you even think of holding an election in FATA and PATA?

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  • j m rafiqi
    Jul 30, 2011 - 9:28PM

    @bruteforce @ r s johar ….i pray to God your next birth take place in a place like Kashmir under indian forces so that u could realise the truth……mr johar though incorrect says security forces only have the right to (interrogate)…..this is where thousands of our missing youth have perished……is then there any need of trial….better both of you acquaint yourself with the facts and figures……then you r welcome…..

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  • BruteForce
    Jul 31, 2011 - 7:00AM

    @j m rafiqi:

    When I have the liberty to go to Kashmir whenever I want, what difference does it make if I was born there? Jammu and Ladakh are some of the most peaceful cities in India. Srinagar, due to its proximity to the Pakistani border has become a security city.

    You talk as if you know everything about Kashmir, and we dont and we dont care. We do know and we do care. The path to a better Kashmir lies in Democracy, that is for sure. With 80% participation in elections Kashmiris are one of the most Democratic communities in India!

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  • JAck
    Jul 31, 2011 - 9:27AM

    @BruteForce:

    Kashmiris always turn out in great numbers in local elections because they are rightly very concerned about who runs their water supply, electricity, road infrastructure, education and health care.

    But these same Kashmiris also turn out in greater numbers in anti-India rallies; which then causes the indian military to shoot at stone throwing kids, rape women and shut down the Valley at times months on end.

    Kashmiris are concerned dearly about their immediate welfare and their freedom. The latter continues to be denied to them by india.

    India should learn: No amount of money or elections can buy out the desire for freedom.

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  • Desputed
    Jul 31, 2011 - 11:59AM

    @hamza khan:
    How is it not disputed territory? Just because it dors not figure in UN? Its as disputed as Kashmir.

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  • BruteForce
    Jul 31, 2011 - 5:34PM

    @JAck:

    Thank you for your reply, turns out I was expecting this one. :)

    Even in Pakistan thousands turn up for Islamist rallies and in Mumbai Shiv Sena Members can cause real harm. But, both these right-wing entities cannot win elections. Because elections are the real barometer of what people actually think.

    No force can occupy a people if they do not want be part of it. Case in point- Bangladesh, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan for the Soviets. The fact that Kashmir is a part of India for so long should tell you where the loyalty of the people of J&K really lie. If mighty US and the Soviets weren’t able to do would you really expect a developing Country like India to do it?

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  • Prometheus
    Jul 31, 2011 - 9:01PM

    This is unfortunate. There should have been some sort of legal protection for innocent civilians who may get convicted. This may undermine the right to a fair trial.

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  • Hasan Mehmood
    Jul 31, 2011 - 9:22PM

    @Wah:
    Absolutely right. You cannot give human rights to those who dont believe in them.

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