Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Pashtun Problem

On August 18th 2009 Asma Jahangir, then chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, met with the US mission in Pakistan to brief them about an HRCP report. The report alleged that Pakistani military had engaged in public, extrajudicial killings of suspected Taliban & Taliban sympathisers in the Malakand Division, even referencing mass graves.

Jahangir confided in the US mission however that the more inflammatory incidents of abuse had been ignored by the HRCP so as to avoid arming the Taliban’s propaganda machine. She then asserted that the HRCP would have tried to downplay the abuse allegations if the military had used the “usual tactic” of extrajudicial murders; staged encounter.

A staged encounter is when security forces kill a suspect in custody and then claim he died in an exchange of fire with them, an “encounter”. Such as the one Rao Anwar conducted to murder “Taliban” Naqeeb Mehsud.

This Faustian bargain is at the heart of the trouble brewingin Islamabad right now. To understand the Pashtun grievance, and the ongoing protest, one has to examine how the war against Taliban has unfolded in the last decade, and how it has been covered.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan systemically targeted and eliminated tribal leaders within FATA, establishing their control over the region but also robbing it of leadership and voices that could represent the people there. The Pashtun nationalist party ANP was next on their hit list. They lost many workers and leaders to targeted attacks, Bashir Bilour the most notable among them. Their coalition partners in the KP & Federal government at the time, PPP, of course lost Benazir Bhutto to a terrorist attack.

This meant that when the military operations took place, there was no Pashtun leadership from FATA to protest or identify any abuses and/or profiling that occurred. The Pashtun nationalist party, ANP, & the PPP for that matter, had themselves suffered at the hands of TTP and pushed for military action. Little interest was shown in keeping the military in check.

Rights watchdogs, activists & liberal sections of the press were already willing to back abuses against the population of FATA, which happened to be largely Pashtun, if it meant ridding the country of Taliban. The HRCP’s willingness to downplay extrajudicial murders is only one example of steps taken which, coupled with the appalling state of journalism in the country, presented a distorted image of the war to mainstream Pakistan. One which was completely void of any abuses that the, again largely Pashtun population, suffered at the hands of the state.

The easily identifiable bits are the support for drone strikes & military bombings inside FATA, and the framing of opposition to them as being pro-Taliban. Yet there are other ways of shaping discourse.

Treatment & plight of the Pashtun IDPs, which numbered in millions, never could wade into the national conversation. The missing persons issue has largely been linked with Baloch separatists and is reported in that context. The number of Baloch missing persons cases HRCP could confirm in 2012 is 198, whereas the number of missing person court cases in PHC alone, in the same year, were over 2000. It’s an epidemic for Pashtuns, and it is never in the news.

Then there’s the misreporting about casualties. Over and over completely fabricated figures for the number of people killed by TTP are published. Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies compile the actual numbers by tallying the count from each reported attack in their yearly security reports. As of 1st January 2018, 22,048 people have lost their lives in violent terrorist attacks. This includes lives lost in sectarian & separatist (Baloch) violence, not just the TTP. Yet you hear 45 thousand, 55 thousand, 60 thousand. A fetish for increasing the death count plagues our media. This is to drum up support for the war, to do what is “necessary”.

What is necessary here is military bombings, profiling and extrajudicial killings of suspected Taliban. For which there are no figures. There is no telling how many have lost their lives in bombings or encounters/custodial killings. Even though we know all that has happened, some cases are detailed in Amnesty International report “Hands of Cruelty”.

This comes back again to the necessity of dealing with the Taliban, and the firm belief of our military, rights watchdogs and the press that any information that could hinder that goal should not be shared with the public. The problem with extrajudicial killings in this war however, as it is constructed now, is that the murder you condone is of a “suspected” Taliban, but a confirmed Pashtun.

A Naqeeb Mehsud.

Karachi is where the line has been crossed from “necessary” evil to clear ethnically, politically biased crime against Pashtuns. The demonisation of Pashtuns in the city was started by the terrorist Altaf Hussain and MQM, who had a political interest in doing so and a history of profiting from ethnic hate. Much like when Trump banned Syrian refugees by linking them with “Muslim” terrorists, Altaf Hussain railed against the “Talibanisation” of Karachi by FATA refugees for years.

The difference was that unlike in the case of Trump, the press here were in the corner of Altaf Hussain. Another difference was that Altaf himself is a terrorist and the MQM, not the TTP, and certainly not the Pashtun refugees, are the biggest threat to peace in Karachi.

According to the Police, by end of 2011 alone over 7,000 people had been killed in ethno-political violence in the city. “Ethno-political” is code for MQM & PPP, who the press aren’t at liberty to identify. By the end of the same year the number of people killed in “terrorist” - TTP, AQ, LeJ - attacks in the city was 720.

It is true that TTP militants did find their way into Karachi and established operations there, but the first target killing credited to TTP came in the August of 2012, an ANP leader Amir Sardar. The results of the Karachi operation launched in 2013 show that they remained small players in that respect.

According to a Rangers briefing about the operation in Aug of 2016, they were able to fix responsibility for 7,224 target killings in the city. Only 557 killings were traced back to members of banned organisations; TTP, LeJ, AQ.

Yet it is young Pashtun men that are bearing the brunt of extrajudicial killings in the name of fighting terrorism. Extrajudicial murders in 2014 were 925, and in 2015 were 700 in Karachi. Naqeeb is just one of 450 killed, majority Pashtuns, by Rao Anwar alone. MQM members, according to party claims, that have been lost to extrajudicial killings stands at 62.

You have to be dishonest to not see the contrast here. One organisation has gotten away with murder, with collusion or condoning by rights groups & the press, because they claim to represent an ethnic group.

One ethnic group has suffered at the hands of the state, with collusion or condoning by rights groups & the press, for the crimes of an organisation that doesn’t represent them. It is not difficult to see why the media is as uninterested as it is in covering the Islamabad sit in.

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