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Pakistan: Military Undermines Government on Human Rights

Battling Taliban No Excuse for Complicity in Abusive Counter-terrorism Practices

(New York) - Pakistan's military actively undermined the civilian government's human rights agenda in 2009, Human Rights Watch said today in its new World Report 2010.

The 612-page report, the organization's 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide.

The report says that Pakistan's military publicly and privately resisted the government's reconciliation efforts in the troubled province of Balochistan and attempts to locate people "disappeared" there during General Pervez Musharraf's military rule. The military also opposed the international community's attempts to end military intervention in the political and judicial processes through aid conditions.

"The Pakistani military continues to subvert the political and judicial systems in Pakistan," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "After eight years of disastrous military rule and in spite of the election of a civilian government, the army appears determined to continue calling the shots in order to ensure that it can continue to perpetrate abuses with impunity."

In October, US President Barack Obama signed into law the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, promising US$7.5 billion in non-military aid over five years. Known as the Kerry-Lugar Act, the law places conditions on the military component of the aid. This includes a requirement for the US secretary of state to certify, before aid can be delivered, that the Pakistani military is combating terrorism, not engaged in nuclear proliferation, and not "materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan."

The Pakistani military led a backlash against these requirements, in an apparent attempt to destabilize the elected government and force the resignation of President Asif Zardari. It publicly rebuked the government for not opposing these conditions and pressed the foreign minister to travel to Washington to ease them.

"For constitutional rule to take root in Pakistan, the military needs to accept the primacy of civilian rule," said Hasan. "The military needs to recognize that it no longer runs the show in Pakistan."

Human Rights Watch said that Pakistan's civilian government took a major step forward in December by formally acknowledging serious human rights abuses against the Baloch, including the enforced disappearance of hundreds of people during eight years of military rule, and announcing a reconciliation process in the troubled province. However, the military has blocked attempts by the government to locate the "disappeared" and continues to exercise sway over the province, muzzling the local media and using its intelligence agencies to undermine the provincial and federal government's reconciliation efforts.

There were new reports of torture and arbitrary detention of Baloch nationalists at the hands of the military's intelligence agencies, and targeted killings by Baloch nationalists of non-Baloch settlers also spiked sharply, Human Rights Watch said.

Hundreds of Pakistanis were killed in dozens of suicide and bomb attacks perpetrated by Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The attacks targeted civilians, political leaders, educational institutions, hospitals, and marketplaces. These armed groups also continued to recruit and use children, including for suicide attacks.

 "The Taliban's actions amount to war crimes, and the Pakistan government should use all legal means possible to hold them accountable for these heinous abuses," Hasan said. "But Taliban atrocities are no justification for new laws that violate fundamental rights or unlawful counter-terrorism operations by Pakistani and US forces."

The government's response to militant attacks routinely violated basic rights, Human Rights Watch said. Hundreds were detained in a nationwide crackdown on militant groups, particularly in the conflict zones in Swat and the tribal areas. Many of these suspects were detained in two military facilities in Swat, one in the Khyber agency of the tribal areas, and at least one more in Northwest Frontier Province. The military has not allowed independent monitors access to most of these detainees.

Since September 2008, US aerial drones are believed to have carried out dozens of missile attacks on suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan's tribal areas, killing hundreds of civilians in addition to alleged militants, and prompting allegations that US attacks have violated the laws of war. The areas of the attacks are generally inaccessible to independent monitors, making it difficult to assess the allegations, Human Rights Watch said.

In October, the government amended the country's anti-terrorism laws through presidential ordinance to curtail further the legal rights of terrorism suspects. Under the ordinance, suspects can be placed in preventive detention for 90 days without judicial review or the right to post bail. Confessions to the police or military are admissible as evidence thought Pakistan's police and the military's intelligence services routinely torture suspects.

Other human rights concerns include the breakdown of law enforcement in the face of terrorism across the country, the failure of the judiciary to transform its newfound independence into non-partisan dispensation of justice, military abuses in operations in the tribal areas and Swat, and discriminatory laws against and mistreatment of religious minorities and women.

"Pakistan's elected government took several political and legal steps to improve human rights protections in the country in 2009," Hasan said. "However, serious challenges remain unaddressed, and the government's soaring rhetoric on rights remains unmatched by commensurate actions. This year should be a year of action, not just words."

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