Describing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - the main theatre of anti-Taliban operations in Pakistan - as a ``human rights black hole'' where civilians are being killed by the militants and the Army, Amnesty International has asked the federal government to give up its ``ambivalent'' attitude towards this region and back ongoing military action with reforms that would bring the area under national and international law.
Releasing its report on the human rights crisis in North-West Pakistan here on Thursday, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi sought to fix some responsibility on the international community by stating that FATA is more than just a stage for geo-political rivalries as millions inhabit these areas. The U. S. and China, in particular, must urge Pakistan to ``initiate political reform that will end the area's political isolation and deprivation of rights''.
According to the report titled `As If Hell Fell On Me', many areas of northern FATA now resemble the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan of the late 1990s. ``Many of the Taliban's acts constitute crimes under international law. They are also crimes under Pakistan's law but in the absence of suitable judicial structures and the Pakistan government's inability or lack of will to protect the local population from such crimes, these crimes have been committed with impunity.''
Since FATA is still governed by the 1901 vintage Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) which keeps the area out of the purview of the law of the land, Amnesty International is of the view that this should be amended in line with Pakistan's international human rights obligations or done away with entirely so that the natives have the protection of the regular law and judicial institutions of the country.
According to Mr. Zarifi, the present situation offers an in-built option to amend or abolish FCR. Since the Taliban has destroyed the old tribal order, there is a vacuum and an inherent possibility of putting in place a new administrative mechanism, he told reporters at the launch of the report.
Critical of the Government's ``ambivalent'' FATA policy, the report traces how the federal administration first treated the area with disdain before oscillating between appeasement of Pakistani Taliban through a series of `peace deals' and heavy-handed military operations including ``indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks''.
The report finds the Army and the Taliban guilty of using human shields as both have stationed fighters in schools, thereby making them prone to attack. Also, as per the report, ``Pakistani military is trained and equipped for fighting a mechanized campaign against India, not to fight counter-insurgency in difficult terrain''.
Add to this the tribal lashkars (militia) which apparently operate in `cleared areas' with the tacit support of the military. Citing abuses by these lashkars - who often use the situation to settle personal scores - the report notes that ``without reliable command and control structures in place, the lashkars are a law unto themselves''; so much so that locals often refer to them as `government Taliban'.