Terrorists Kill Civilians in Lahore

Update: Juan Cole, a blogger on the Middle East and South Asia has a good analysis of this bombing.

Suicide bombings are human rights violations.

Normally I don’t cover Pakistan (I cover India, Bangladesh and the Maldives for Amnesty USA).  But, I just want to do a quick post here to condemn unequivocally the wanton killing of innocent civilians in Lahore, Pakistan today.  Suicide bombings that kill or injure civilians are human rights violations and must be condemned.

Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan and it has been subjected to repeated suicide bombings by folks who apparently think that killing innocent civilians can be a justified response to the war that they are fighting in Waziristan against Pakistani and US soldiers.  It’s not. Here is a description of the scene from the BBC World Service:

“I sensed real danger and started running. There were scenes of destruction in nearby restaurants and shops.

“There were broken chairs and tables and other items lying everywhere on the ground.”

Another eyewitness, Afzal Awan, said he had seen wounded people with limbs missing lying in pools of blood.

“I saw smoke rising everywhere,” he told reporters. “A lot of people were crying.”

Exactly what do these people have to do with the operations going on in the northwestern part of the country?  Nothing.  They are innocent civilians, women, children and men going about their lives.  The world must condemn these mass murders unequivocally.  Nothing can justify it.

Aid Organization Under Attack In Northwestern Pakistan

This morning, suspected Islamist militants attacked World Vision, a Christian-based relief agency operating in the Manserha district of Pakistan. Six aid workers, all Pakistani, were murdered and seven others were wounded. Witnesses said 10 gunmen walked into the office building wearing military-style clothing with grenades and machine guns and asked employees “why are you doing this job?”. Some witnesses said that the gunmen singled out aid workers from the laborers before they began shooting.

Those who kill humanitarian workers must be reminded that they are not only killing their own country’s residents, but also people seeking to improve the lives of victims of poverty and injustice.
World Vision Statement

Insurgency attacks on civilians or civilian institutions, for example against schools, hospitals or NGOs, are a common human rights violation in northwestern Pakistan. According to our own research based on publicly available sources, 448 insurgency attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure have occurred between 2005 and 2009 (196 in FATA, 252 in NWFP).

However, today’s attack against World Vision happened in the relatively peaceful district of Mansehra. Our research recorded four attacks against civilian targets over five years in this district, which is close to the capital Islamabad. Most of the past insurgent attacks happened in the neighboring SWAT districts (56 attacks), the place of a major military offensive by the Pakistani army in the spring of 2009. It is too early to tell if today’s attack confirms the fear that the militants might have been pushed into Mansehra following last year’s offensive, but it is something worth closely following.

Wrong Strategy? Pakistan Not Smart to Hit Civilians

Am I the only one that notices that press coverage of the conflict in northwestern Pakistan is completely dominated by a geopolitical and counterterrorism viewpoint? I was reminded of that fact again over the last few days with the spike in coverage following the Afghanistan offensive and the related arrests of key Taliban leaders in joint US-Pakistani operations.

An old women carrying her grandson fleeing from Maidan, northwest Pakistan to escape the fighting between the Taliban and government forces, 27 April 2009. (c) Amnesty International

An old women carrying her grandson fleeing from Maidan, northwest Pakistan to escape the fighting between the Taliban and government forces, 27 April 2009. (c) Amnesty International

The most recent example is an op-ed in yesterday’s Boston Globe, titled Pakistan smart to hit Taliban. Its author, Eric Rosenbach, does a good job of analyzing the most recent events and putting them in a broader (geopolitical, of course) perspective. Like many others, he ignores the fact that many of the military and intelligence operations he describes actually affect civilians on the ground, who are not connected to any of the armed insurgency groups. His piece, like most others, are filled with elegant words like “tactical” and, above all, “strategy” or “strategic” (in this case, these words are used 11 times, in the most creative alterations: “strategic game changer”, “strategic reassessment”, “change in strategic calculus”, and so on).


Girls' Education Under Attack in Northwestern Pakistan

Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released their “Education under Attack” report, in which they have experts discuss the incidence of politically and ideologically motivated attacks on teachers, students and school buildings throughout the world. The report includes both a case study and a country report on Pakistan, both of which paint a stark picture of the impact of the Taliban on education in northwestern Pakistan.

Young girls and men queue separately for cooked rations in Jalala camp, Pakistan, 17 May 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

Young girls and men queue separately for cooked rations in Jalala camp, Pakistan, 17 May 2009. Copyright UNHCR/H. Caux

The report tells us that between 2007 and March 2009, 108 schools were fully destroyed, an additional 64 were partially damaged, and 40,000 children, including 23,000 girls, were deprived of their education. This is occurring in the context of a ruthless campaign by the Taliban against girls’ education, which is part of a larger campaign to impose their strict social rules and norms on the people of Northwestern Pakistan. As UNESCO’s report clearly states, “The Taliban in Swat Valley, Pakistan, left no ambiguity about their intent to target girls’ education.”

As the Pakistani military celebrates the recent capture of several key Taliban leaders, it is important to remember the impact of the conflict between Taliban armed groups and the Pakistani military in the region on civilians. Clearly, the Taliban have been the cause of countless human rights abuses against civilians, including attacks on education. But any government military strategy aimed at countering the Taliban must place human rights concerns at the forefront.