Pakistan cannot hide its HR abuses

Harsha Kakar
Pakistan had always accused India of violating Human Rights in Kashmir. It screamed in every international forum on India’s actions at eliminating terrorists, claiming them to be innocent civilians and sought UN intervention. Firing on stone throwers was termed as brutal actions. On occasions it demanded visits by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to the valley and POK. Their prime and foreign ministers have termed Burhan Wani as a leader and an innocent youth. India has either ignored, rejected or challenged Pak claims.
In June last year, towards the termination of the tenure of ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein, a Jordanian, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Pak pushed forth a report in June last year, based on fake news, accusing India of violating HR in the valley. The report stated, ‘It is a conflict that has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to this day to inflict untold suffering.’ It added, ‘It is also why I will be urging the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.’ The report was based on media inputs only.
In another case the UNHRC raised issues of 76 cases pertaining to the post 1990 period. This was sent by a letter to the Indian government in Mar this year. It also referred to the report issued by ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein. India rejected this report and refused further engagement on the subject. Pak as expected exploited these instances.
Pakistan had never thought that its own actions, which it sought to hide by denying access to the media along its western provinces, would soon blow into an international scandal. It had banned media entry into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Waziristan and no media could report against army atrocities.
However, the truth could never stay hidden for long. The office of the UNHRC issued a letter to Pak’s foreign minister with a copy to Shireen Mazari, the Minister for Human Rights, on 04 June this year.The letter was signed by Georgette Gagnon, Officer-in-charge of the office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
The letter commenced by expressing ‘deep concern regarding recent threats and attacks against human rights defenders associated with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and the violence in encounters between security services and members of the PTM’.The letter stated the concern of the UNHRC on the issue of arrest warrants against Ms Gulalai Ismail and Ms Sanna Ejaz, both human rights activists. It is worried that they may be eliminated, a common phenomenon for human rights activists in Pak.
The letter mentions, what most of the world believes, ‘We understand that the PTM is a non-violent advocacy effort started by young Pashtuns following extra-judicial killings and are asking for ending of military check posts, clearance of landmines and accountability in enforced disappearances.’ It adds that PM Imran Khan had expressed his support for the PTM members.
It also states, ‘for many years various UN Human Rights mechanisms had urged your government to take concerted action to address the widespread phenomenon of enforced and involuntary disappearances.’ The final sentence is interesting. It states, ‘Likewise we believe that the demands of the PTM warrant attention.’
The Pak government has neither acknowledged this letter in public domain nor has it released the same to its press. Even if the press gets wind of it, the ISI would never permit the same to be printed.
Simultaneously, there is a video doing rounds in social media that the arrested leader of the PTM, MoshinDawar, had stated that in a television interview that a list of over 5000 Pashtuns missing since the army crackdown have been given to the army. Of them only 300 were returned. Post this an additional 500 names were added.
Neither the army nor the government is willing to discuss these cases. Such brutality has never existed anywhere on earth. Everyday tortured and brutally killed Pashtun bodies are located.
Recently, Pak DG ISPR, General Ghafoor, met the Chairperson Defence of Human Rights, Anima Masood Janjua, on the missing persons case. The press release was extremely vague. It emphasized that every missing person is not the responsibility of the state. Those with the state are under legal process. To create a cover up, the Pak army has opened a special assistance cell for assisting the process. There was no mention of the letter of UNHRC.
The Pashtun demands are seeking security and a right to live. Instead of being heard, they are being targeted with brutal force. The Pak army, considering itself the guardians of the nation have refused to accept genuine concerns raised by people of any province other than Punjab. It has sought to subdue the Pashtun population. Such is the power of the army that even the senate chairman is hesitant to issue production warrants for the Pashtun members of the national assembly arrested by the police.
While addressing various organizations in London during his recent visit, the very mention of the PTM, in a question, led to an angry retort by the Pak army chief. At regular intervals their DG ISPR, General Ghafoor, issued them a warning of firm military action if they persist with their peaceful protests. Attempts to broker peace by the Pak senate is blocked by the army, which considers the PTM as an enemy.
PTM protests faces a media blackout, yet crowds gather in tens of thousands, the message spreading on social media. Internationally, Pashtuns settled abroad hold protests at prominent locations highlighting their plight in Pakistan. They are a non-violent group seeking the right to survive, not independence from Pak, but are treated as enemies.
It is possible that during the forthcoming visit of Imran Khan and Qureshi to Washington, the protests by the PTM will be visible outside the White House and embarrass the Pak leadership. Possibly there would be pressure on Trump to raise the PTM issue of human rights with Imran Khan. The observations of the UNHCR in its letter, which Pak hesitates to release are factual and the same must be placed on the UNHCR website for the world to read. It is unlikely that Pak would even respond to this issue.As far as the Pak press is concerned, it is so tightly controlled that it cannot even mention this letter.
(The author is Major General (Retd)