(New York) - The Pakistani government should immediately investigate reports of summary executions, torture, and mistreatment perpetrated during counterterrorism operations in the Swat valley, Human Rights Watch said today.
Since September 2009, when the Pakistani military re-established control over the valley, Human Rights Watch has received numerous credible reports of extrajudicial executions allegedly committed by soldiers operating in Swat or police acting at the behest of the military. Human Rights Watch has since February researched alleged human rights violations in Swat based on an initial list of 238 suspicious killings provided by local sources and the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Human Rights Watch has corroborated about 50 of these cases. In no case examined by Human Rights Watch was a killing falsely reported, suggesting that the total number of killings is as high as or greater than those reported. The information for each case includes names or numbers of victims, place names, and dates. To date, the Pakistani military has not held any of the perpetrators accountable for these killings.
"The Pakistani military has yet to understand that a bullet in the back of the head is simply not the way to win hearts and minds in Swat," said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Killing terrorism suspects and their relatives in cold blood is vicious, illegal, and constitutes an appallingly bad counterterrorism practice that just creates more enemies."
On March 28, 2010, for example, Farman Ali, a resident of Matta sub-district, surrendered to the 12th Punjab regiment of the Pakistan Army during a search operation in the Kokari Jambeel area of Swat. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that two unidentified men were also taken into custody at the same time. The bullet-riddled bodies of the two unidentified men were later produced by the military authorities as those of Taliban fighters killed in a military "encounter" with Taliban fighters. Farman Ali remained in the custody of the 12th Punjab regiment, without access to family members.
In mid-May, local residents in Matta reported to Human Rights Watch that military authorities told them to "expect Farman's body soon." On May 26, his body was found dumped in a field with a gunshot wound to the head. Human Rights Watch research indicates that from March 28 until the day his body was found, Farman Ali was continuously in military custody.
"It beggars belief that Farman Ali was killed by anyone other than members of the 12th Punjab regiment given that he never left their custody," Hasan said. "Those responsible for ordering and carrying out Farman Ali's execution need to be held accountable."
Local residents also told Human Rights Watch that on February 21, the bodies of two wanted Taliban commanders, Mohammad Aalim (alias Mullah Banorey) and Shams ul Hadi (alias Mullah Shanko), were found in the Maidan sub-district along with the bodies of two men named Murad and Saleem. While the local residents agreed that the former were Taliban commanders, they said that Murad and Saleem had no connection or involvement whatsoever with the Taliban. Yet military commanders claimed at the time that all four men were killed in an "encounter."
These residents told Human Rights Watch that all four men had been rounded up four months earlier in a military raid in the Fatehpur sub-district.
"I knew Murad and Saleem personally," one resident said. "They were absolutely innocent. They had nothing to do with the Taliban. I saw them grow up."
The residents said all four victims had been transferred to an unknown military detention center upon arrest.
Another resident told Human Rights Watch: "On February 16, 2010, the army shot all four dead in the area of the Grid Station in the town. We heard the shots that killed these individuals. The corpses of Mullah Banorey and Mullah Shanko were tied behind military vehicles and dragged publicly in the areas of Char Bagh, Bagh Dheri, and Matta as warning. The people were encouraged to spit at and throw garbage on the bodies of the two dead Taliban commanders, who were feared and hated. But the entire local population knew that Saleem and Murad were innocent. Why did the army kill them?"
The resident said that the local population was afraid to raise the case with the authorities.
"The local people are very angry at their murder but dare not say anything for fear of the army," the resident said. "When the television shows these days that certain numbers of militants are killed during an ambush, this is not fact. We have seen so many people picked up from their houses by the army and then their dead bodies thrown in different areas."
The reported cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in Swat follow a similar pattern. In mid-January, 12 corpses, including that of a prominent Taliban leader, Abu Faraj, were found near the Swat River riddled with bullets and bearing torture marks.
The other dead are believed to include nine villagers who had earlier been picked up by the army and remain missing. The body of Ghani, an alleged Taliban supporter picked up and publicly beaten by the army in July 2009, was found in a field in Kuza Bandi on January 10 with one bullet wound in the head and three in the chest. On January 2, the body of "Humanyun" (an alias) was found dumped outside his house, showing visible torture marks and broken bones; the military had detained him and his brother on October 27 on their return to Swat. Humanyun's brother was released on December 29. He had been tortured, and both of his legs had been broken.
The army picked up Ayub Khan at his home in Lunday Kase, Mingora on November 23, badly beat him in front of his family, and took him away in a military vehicle. On December 28, local residents saying their dawn prayers heard a shot and found his body, covered in torture marks, in a nearby stream as an army vehicle drove away. Islam Khan was picked up in October 2009 from his house in Imam Dheri, Swat in an army raid. His body was found 15 days later near the Swat River with extensive torture marks and his hands and legs broken. Shortly after the body was recovered, a team of soldiers and police came to his house, told his family not to mention the incident or their house would be demolished, and took the body away.
"By abusing local people, the Pakistani military is perpetuating the lawlessness on which the Taliban thrives," Hasan said. "Real peace and security will remain elusive in Swat so long as the military neither follows nor seeks to establish the rule of law."
Human Rights Watch said that while reports of alleged summary executions linked to the military had declined in recent months, they had not ended. The military should investigate reported killings and send unequivocal orders down the chain of command that those responsible for such killings would be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch noted that since the military regained control of the Swat valley, there had been a marked improvement in the overall security situation. Public floggings and hangings perpetrated under Taliban control have largely ended. Local residents told Human Rights Watch that under military control, Taliban vigilante activities and tribunals have also largely ended.
Meanwhile, Taliban militants have continued to carry out suicide bombings and targeted killings, especially against police and civilians deemed to be army informants and members of local peace committees set up by the government. On July 15, at least five people were killed and nearly 50 wounded in a suicide bomb attack near a crowded bus stop in the main town of Mingora.
"By killing and abusing civilians, the Taliban are showing their desperation in the face of the Pakistani military's success," Hasan said.
The United States provides substantial military assistance to Pakistan, yet that support is conditioned on compliance with the Leahy Law. That law requires the US State Department to certify that no military unit receiving US aid is involved in gross human rights abuses, and when such abuses are found, they are to be thoroughly and properly investigated.
Human Rights Watch called upon the United States, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan's other military allies to urge Pakistani authorities to end abusive practices in Swat and to hold accountable all personnel, regardless of rank, responsible for serious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch called upon the United States to review the possible responsibility of military units receiving US military aid for alleged abuses in Swat and to take appropriate action.
"Civilians already enduring Taliban abuses should not have their misery compounded by the military's behavior," Hasan said. "Pakistan's allies need to press the country's military to ease the suffering of the people of Swat, not exacerbate it."