Amal Khan was born in 1982 in Swat. When the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan is handed over to the Afghan government in September this year, Amal Khan — who has been held there for 10 years — and the 31 other Pakistani prisoners will not be transferred. Instead, they will continue to be held by the US, their fate hinging on sensitive bilateral negotiations between the US and Pakistan. On May 30, the Pakistani government was ordered to explain to the Lahore High Court (LHC) what steps it has taken to move these negotiations forward. However, there has been no significant progress on these negotiations. Despite supporting documentation, the Pakistani government has failed to recognise most of the detainees as Pakistani — a situation that Justice Khaled Mahmood Khan of the LHC has found to be absolutely unacceptable in his ruling on May 28.
The simple reality is that many Pakistanis do not have proper documentations of identification. Many of the detainees hail from Fata, an area that has been abandoned by the Pakistani state. Ruled under the draconian, colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation, the entire legal framework governing Fata systematically denies residents their fundamental constitutional rights. The Pakistani government is not only denying these individuals their constitutional rights, but is also denying that they are Pakistani — an egregious form of discrimination. Denying Pakistani citizens in US detention consular and other rights is to abandon them to an essentially stateless existence.
Many detainees possess proof of the deep ties characteristic of Pakistani citizenship, having grown up and graduated from school there, worked there, bought property, married and raised families there — the kind of evidence and life stories that more than substantiates their claims. But for these detainees to have any hope, their government first has to recognise them as their own — as Pakistanis. Whether guilty or innocent, they deserve justice and without their nationality, they will never have it.
Disturbingly, the ministry of foreign affairs doesn’t seem committed to the repatriation of its citizens. In an article published in The Express Tribune on May 28, a ministry official stated: “The US military-controlled Bagram prison in Afghanistan is expected to release 33 Pakistani prisoners soon”. But the very same detainees are being taunted by ministry officials in Bagram, who say it is not their duty to help until detainees can prove their Pakistani citizenship.
The Government of Pakistan has an obligation to work constructively with the US to resolve these cases and move forward with repatriation, resettlement and release. The Justice Project Pakistan, which represents nine of the Pakistani detainees at Bagram, is asking the government of Pakistan to do so — and, now, so are the Pakistani courts.
There are many workable solutions to meet these conditions, from probation and house arrest, to granting independent monitors access to detainees transferred to Pakistani prisons. But this requires good faith efforts by Pakistan. The above actions should deeply trouble all Pakistanis who care not only about equality before the law but also national identity and the right to be counted as Pakistani.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.