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Old Wednesday, January 25, 2006
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Inexplicable commissions and omissions

Shireen M Mazari

It must always be an ego-boosting experience for American officials to visit Pakistan after New Delhi. After all, in India they meet only their equivalent Indian officials and political leaders. Hence we saw Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns meet with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran. On arrival in Pakistan, in the wake of the Bajaur missile attacks that killed innocent Pakistani civilians and in the face of an arrogant American refusal to even express regret, forget about apologising, Burns had access to all tiers of Pakistani officialdom and leadership.

No one bothered to recall Mr Burns's defence of the Indo-US nuclear agreement in terms of India's so-called 'impeccable' non-proliferation record. Conveniently suffering from amnesia, Burns chose to forget India's nuclear and other military dealings with the Saddam regime and with Iran. And it is now abundantly clear that one of our major failings is our excessive politeness and accommodation when it comes to foreigners, especially from the West. So of course we were not about to correct Burns's politically correct amnesia.

However, what was truly astounding to learn was that many Pakistani politicians who had been taking on the government on the Bajaur issue adopted silence at a meeting the US ambassador had arranged at his residence, on January 21, for select to meet with Burns. Yet another meeting was held a day or so later, which was reported in some sections of the press. Of course one would have thought that, as a protest against Bajaur, the Pakistanis would have refused the invite. After all, so many in the opposition were wanting the government to take a strong stand on the issue and some politicians were advocating cancellation of the prime minister's visit to the US. But there they all were, at the US ambassador's residence, greeting Mr Burns and - barring the MQM representative -- maintaining a deafening silence on Bajaur (at least in the Saturday meeting).

Worse still, instead of discussing US policies in this region and the unacceptable efforts of the US to delink India's nuclear status from that of Pakistan's, the Pakistanis present chose to embark on a harangue against the state of affairs within the country and the terrible acts of commission and omission by the present government. Now what was the purpose of discussing Pakistan's internal issues with a US official? Are we seeking US intervention on an even greater level within our domestic affairs? It is no wonder then that while the US discusses security and foreign policy issues and cooperation with India, in Pakistan they make pronouncements on our democratic dispensation and other internal problems.

This is truly our national tragedy: we cannot decide whether we want to assert our sovereignty and keep foreign powers like the US from meddling in our internal affairs, or if we want them to listen to us vent against the state and intervene. After all, there is no point in ranting and raving to a US official unless we are seeking his country's intervention in our domestic affairs. Is this what our opposition is seeking? If that be the case, they can hardly complain about the government's seeming compliance with US policies. One wonders where our national self-respect and circumspection is when we come into contact with US officials? Is it any wonder they can kill our citizens with impunity?

We now have our Foreign Office spokesperson declaring that Pakistan has not sought an apology from the US. Why? Do we hold our citizens lives in such contempt that we can simply accept their deaths as so much acceptable 'collateral damage'? What is extremely disturbing is a report in the US weekly Time magazine stating that Islamabad has an understanding with Washington that the US can conduct military attacks within Pakistan's border regions following which Pakistan will conduct formal protests to deflect domestic criticism. One hopes this report will be strongly contradicted by the Government of Pakistan for it totally undermines the country's basic sovereignty.

Meanwhile, as a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), I am disturbed by the latest HRCP Report on Balochistan - not only by what is included but also by what has been ignored or merely mentioned in passing. I have always held the HRCP and its chairperson in the highest esteem and admired the latter's indomitable courage in the face of extreme personal dangers. While we may disagree on many issues, there is never any doubt as to her commitment to the upholding of human rights. That is why the new report on Balochistan is a surprise, because it focuses on only one side of the story.

It documents abuses by the state but does not examine the root causes that have militarised the situation. It merely touches on the tribal system and the tribal leaders who continue to maintain private armies, massive armaments and their own system of justice. It condemns the state's use of military action but does not recommend how the state should deal with the land mines laid by 'militants' and rockets launched by unknown groups and individuals against not only military personnel but also the head of state. The militarised response of the state has not come about in a vacuum and rocket fire cannot be countered simply with political dialogue.

Interestingly, the report does accept the existence of 'militants' and expresses concern "over the fact that militants had placed land mines along roads". However, in its recommendations, it merely requests these militants to de-mine these areas! But how should the state deal with those who indulge in such militarised activities?

The report is also unwilling to recommend ways to bring tribal leaders into the mainstream of national laws, even though it admits that "Balochistan is awash with arms". The report does recommend that "all steps" be taken to end penal sanctions, jirgas and private prisons, but how does the state compel the tribal leaders to disband their private militias, jails and hand over their large arsenals? The report also mentions inter-tribal feuds but again does not focus on these as one major source of human rights abuse. As for tribal norms, these are also not examined and condemned for their multiple human rights abuses.

In terms of disappearances and the deaths of innocent citizens, the report gives a harrowing account which cannot be condoned by anyone. But it is interesting that the report especially notes that "the dead included some Hindus", as if that makes the killings worse. The report talks of "alarming accounts of summary executions, some allegedly carried out by paramilitary forces." Who are the other parties who may have allegedly carried out these executions? Why have these not been mentioned? Elaboration on this count would give a clearer picture of the brutal tribal system. If the people fear the state, they also fear the wrath of the tribal chiefs.

The recommendations should be heeded but there are some noticeable omissions. Why a crucial recommendation to deweaponise the province has been left out is inexplicable. After all, unless there is deweaponisation, violence will always remain endemic. Of course, it is a weakness of the state that the tribal system continues to follow its own writ. But it is also easier to condemn the state while ignoring the ground realities of the violence and abuse of human rights, especially of women, that are part of the tribal system. If a rational assessment is to be made of the present situation in Balochistan, all aspects of the ground realities have to be examined fully and the fault lines exposed across the board. This is where the HRCP's latest Report on Balochistan is found wanting.
[SIZE="4"]soul searching is better than back biting[/SIZE]
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