While We Read About Drones, Civilians Are Suffering in Pakistan

Amnesty International recently released a new report and website on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan. This posting is part of our Eyes on Pakistan blogging series.

We have written extensively on this blog about the human rights crisis in northwest Pakistan over the last few weeks. The northwest region of the country is covered on a daily basis in the mainstream media. However, the focus in reporting is on counter-terrorism issues, and no attention is given to the impact of the conflict on civilian communities who live in the area. You just have to check today’s news to find that the top stories in regard to Pakistan are on a new drone strike and the five Americans who were recently convicted on terrorism charges.

To counter this trend and to change the debate about northwest Pakistan in the US media, we are launching the Eyes on Pakistan Writing Contest. Since this is such a frequent topic, we encourage you to challenge the current media reporting and raise human rights concerns in northwest Pakistan by writing op-eds, letters to the editors, blog entries or news stories on the human rights crisis in northwest Pakistan (Take a look at this example). The best entries will receive a Flip HD camera and get a chance to be re-published on this blog and the Eyes on Pakistan website!

We are providing enough resources to get you started, and you should especially check out our new website Eyes on Pakistan. Through the Eyes on Pakistan project, we have a powerful new tool to track and monitor the human rights situation on the ground. Policy makers from Islamabad to Washington would be well advised to heed the alarming trends it demonstrates. Eyes on Pakistan reveals the human toll of a conflict that is all too often described in the abstract. The site presents irrefutable proof that northwestern Pakistan has become the scene of a grave human rights and humanitarian crisis.

Change the debate now: Start writing and send us your published piece.

Visualizing the Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

Amnesty International recently released a new report and website on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan. This guest-posting is part of our Eyes on Pakistan blogging series.

The Northwestern Pakistan region is remote and has a mountainous physical geography. Over the past several years it has become a dangerous place to collect data and conduct research. Relatively little is known about the overall situation in the region, as no one has gathered enough relevant data to make sense of the situation.  Using geographic information techniques, AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science) at the request of AI-USA, worked to visualize the ongoing human rights situation in Pakistan through Eyes on Pakistan. Focusing on the years 2005-2009, we have created a database of human rights incidents for the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This database is meant to increase understanding of the situation occurring in Pakistan, both in terms of its recent developments and to determine major trends in the events.

Screenshot of Dawn.com

Media outlets report daily on a wide range of events occurring in the area and were key to the creation of the site. Researchers gathered media reports from popular news sources such as BBC, the Dawn, and the New York Times and created a coding system to identify the main facts of each incident, including: the number of people killed or wounded, the agent of the incident (the group or source responsible for an incident), and the attack methods used (tactic or method employed by agents). Agent was an important category to include in the database so that incidents could be looked at for trends of particular groups acting in certain locations within the two provinces. Agents were parsed into 14 categories, ranging from air strikes, ground offensives, insurgency targeting civilians, collective punishments, to extrajudicial executions. The category attack method was a distillation of the various types of weaponry or attacks used in the incidents reported within the database. Again, it was important to derive spatial trends from the database of media reports, and the ability to see which types of attacks were prevalent in which areas were seen as a crucial set of facts for later data analysis and access by users of the website. Many attack methods were documented, including air strikes, drones, suicide attacks, arrests, and others.

US Must not Turn Blind Eye to Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

This piece was originally posted on Huffington Post.

“I lost my sense when I reached the door of my house and saw and heard the crying of my close neighbors and relatives—as if hell fell on me. When I saw people putting the dead bodies of my children, parents, and other relatives in bed I couldn’t bear it anymore and fell on the ground…”

A 25-year-old man who lost nine family members when two shells fired by security forces hit his house during the battle of Loi Sam (FATA).

A young girl from Maidan flees her village carrying her younger brother on her back, they are trying to escape the fighting between the Taleban and Pakistani government forces in Lower Dir, North West Frontier Province, 27 April 2009. (c) AI

This shocking testimony by a resident of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) is a reminder that it is civilians who suffer as a consequence of the fighting between the Taleban and Pakistani government forces in northwest Pakistan. In the United States, this conflict is too often described from a pure counter-terrorism angle: “For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” President Obama forgot to mention that this region is also home to millions of people, who do not support or take part in the violence and are simply trying to farm, raise livestock, weave fabrics, transport goods, raise families, build, repair, or teach.

We too rarely hear their stories. They give a human face to the suffering of millions of Pakistanis in the northwest tribal areas.

The consequence of this ignorance is that today many of the residents in northwest Pakistan live in a human rights free zone  where they have no legal protection by the government and are subject to horrific abuses by the Taleban. Unfortunately, many areas of northwest Pakistan now resemble the Taleban-ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s. The world should be alarmed by the way living conditions have deteriorated under the increasingly brutal control of the Pakistani Taleban and its allied insurgent groups; instead, the suffering of the people of this area has been largely ignored, sacrificed in the name of geopolitical interests. Most disturbing is the fact that civilians are increasingly hit on three different fronts: by the Taleban, by the Pakistani army and by U.S. Drone strikes.


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).