Of Pakistan and the Taliban

UPDATE: The BBC reports that the Taliban are “openly” raining money for terrorist attacks in the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Many of us on this blog have been writing on Pakistan lately.  I wrote a couple of weeks back about a horrendous attack on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore; Christoph (AIUSA’s crisis guru) wrote about using the latest in mapping technologies to visually describe the human rights catastrophe in tribal areas of northwest Pakistan; and Larry Cox, AIUSA’s Executive Director, wrote about how the international community, especially the United States, must pay attention to the human rights situation in Pakistan.

I would like to expand upon the brief piece about Ahmadis and link it with the Amnesty report.  The Ahmadis are Muslims that have been persecuted in Pakistan since the 1970s for their non-mainstream beliefs.  In 1974, they were declared “non-Muslims” and Pakistanis of any faith are forbidden to call their places of worship mosques even though that is exactly what the Ahmadis call their places of worship.  This discrimination has meant that Ahmadis face persecution by fundamentalist groups whose purported aim is to “purify” Islam.  These groups include Jamaat-i-Islami which is a legal political party, but espouses a radical form of Islam that would conflict with the rights of the Ahmadis to worship.  Another group, the Taliban (called Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), does not have any apparent political aim expect to kill civilians in brutal attacks such as those carried out against the Ahmadis.

This violence against civilians like the one in Punjab against the Ahmadis is akin to that the Taliban have been perpetrating against those living in the tribal areas of Pakistan and this is one of the areas which the Amnesty report addresses.  The violence of the Taliban in the tribal areas comes in a vacuum of governance that has been the scourge of women, children and vulnerable communities since the British Indian government exempted the region Indian laws in the late 1800s under the so-called Frontier Crimes Regulations.  This has allowed the Taliban to operate with virtual impunity in the tribal areas.  Here is an example from the report, which talks about the destruction of schools by Taliban militants that has gone unpunished:

In 2008 and early 2009, as the Taliban consolidated their grip on the area, they destroyed more than 170 schools, including more than 100 girls’ schools. These attacks disrupted the education of more than 50,000 pupils, from primary to college level, according to official estimates.104 The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that after the imposition of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in April 2009, around 4,000 schools providing education to over 40, 000 girls were shut down.

There has also been a spate of reports in the media that has documented how elements of the Pakistani government, particularly the “shadowy” Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused of providing aid to the Taliban.  This is fairly common knowledge to many.  The perversity of an institution that is supposed to be part of the government, yet acting at cross-purposes to the government should be troubling considering the human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban.

From a geopolitical standpoint, which is how a lot of the news about Pakistan gets to us, the violence by the Taliban (called Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) is threatening not just the state’s control of the NWFP and southern Punjab, but is also destabilizing the region.  But, more importantly to me, the Taliban’s continued violations of human rights in Pakistan means that a life of continued fear and of continued despair in a country that has seen so much fear and despair in the past several years.  From protecting the rights of Ahmadis in Lahore to the women and children forced to live under Taliban rule in the tribal areas, Pakistan must come to grip with its human rights catastrophe immediately.

Ahmadi Mosques Attacked in Pakistan, 70 Worshippers Dead

I just wrote a post earlier in the morning about a Maoist attack and now I hear about another brutal attack, this time against Ahmadi worshippers in Lahore, the “cultural capital” of Pakistan.

Gunmen walked into two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore and started shooting.  At one mosque, three suicide bombers blew themselves up during the service and it is at that mosque where the death toll is so much higher.

When we hear news about Pakistan, we often hear about it in terms of what the United States is doing or not doing in the country.  But, keep in mind that almost all of the victims of terrorism  are Pakistanis.

Maoists Sabotage of Train Tracks Leave 71 Innocent Civilians Dead

Maoists guerrillas supposedly fighting for the rights of the poor in the eastern part of India dismantled part of train tracks in West Bengal (a communist ruled state) causing a train full of people travelling from Calcutta to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to derail, killing 71 people.

Those 71 people were all innocent civilians many of whom were likely the poor that the Maoists claim to be fighting on behalf of.  This is the latest in a series of brutal attacks against civilians West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar.  

Mumbai Attacks Gunman Convicted

Update, 5/7/2010: The trial judge has ordered the execution of Ajmal Qasab.  My hope is that his sentence is commuted because executing Qasab is simply a form of revenge.

The sole surviving member of the squad responsible for the deaths of 174 (almost all civilians) people in downtown Mumbai in late November 2008 was convicted of murder, although two of his alleged associates were acquitted of the charges.  A court was created in Maharashtra (the state were Mumbai is located) to prosecute these cases and this case was the culmination of year long prosecution that had numerous hiccups along the way.  In India, the various states (somewhat like the United States) are responsible for dealing with matters of human rights, criminal prosecution and more generally, internal security.

When Amnesty International calls for justice for the victims of human rights violations, this is an example of what we would like to see.  A fair trial even for someone like Ajmal Amir Qasab is essential to furthering human rights throughout India and throughout the world.  Countries around the world should use the trial of Qasab as a model for how justice can be meted out for gross violations of human rights such as these terrorist actions.

I would urge the trial judge to not impose the death penalty.

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.

Iran Thumbs its Nose at the World

The Iranian government has repeatedly insisted that it cooperates with the international human rights community and abides by internationally recognized human rights instruments and agreements. However, these assertions are belied by Iran’s dismal performance at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva on February 15 and 17. The Iranian delegation incredibly denied its government’s egregious human rights violations, asserting that any criticisms of Iran’s human rights record were merely politically motivated and deliberate mischaracterizations of its efforts to protect its people from “terrorism.”  The Iranian delegation also rejected important recommendations made by the UNHRC which were intended to address the deplorable human rights situation in Iran.

Even before the UPR took place, the Iranian authorities provided evidence that its position would be one of obstruction and denial rather than cooperation and commitment to universally accepted human rights standards. In its submission for the UPR process, Iran claimed full compliance with international human rights mechanisms, and that torture, forced confessions, and other abuses did not occur.  Amnesty International issued a report that thoroughly dissected Iran’s submission. The report’s conclusions were summarized by Hassiba Hadjsahraoui, the Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, who said “The Iranian authorities seem either to have lost touch with reality or are unwilling to acknowledge it.” Although it is true, as Iran’s submission claims, that Iran’s Constitution guarantees many rights such as those of freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial,  those are routinely denied in practice. Even though Iran insists that it permits religious freedom it continues to carry out a harsh campaign of repression against the Baha’i community.  Whereas Iran’s submission maintained that it cooperates with the international human rights community, Amnesty International has not been granted access to the country to carry out research there since 1979 and Iran has not permitted U.N. human rights experts to visit the country in the last several years. And while Iran has made great strides in some areas since the 1979 Revolution—most notably in literacy rates and in education for women and girls—Iran’s overall record is abysmal, as was made clear in Amnesty International’s submission to the UPR process.

At the UPR on Monday February 15, Iran was urged to fulfill many of the recommendations that Amnesty International had been promoting—such as to end execution of juvenile offenders, torture of detainees and the arrest of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly—including peaceful protesters, journalists and women’s rights activists. The response of the Iranian delegation—led by Mohammad Javad Larijani the director of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters—was essentially complete denial. They maintained, for instance, that all of those arrested and sentenced for their involvement—alleged or real—in the post-election protests were actually guilty of terrorism, espionage and endangering national security.


Book Him Danno

Last week Attorney-General Eric Holder wrote to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day 2009.

A plainly exasperated Holder sought to counter the hysterical reaction that greeted the decision to handle Abdulmutallab’s case within the criminal justice system with a few pertinent facts and a solid dose of common sense.

His letter is well worth reading for the insights it offers into the choices facing Americans as they seek to respond to future terrorist attacks.

The debate is not about whether or not the Obama administration has somehow applied a less robust approach to the underwear bomber than the Bush administration did to similar incidents.

It has not, despite Rudy Giuliani’s selective memory loss. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was treated precisely the same way in 2001. Both administrations allowed the law to take its course.

The more important debate is whether or not the law enforcement paradigm is the best method for handling such events. It is.

Much has been made in some quarters about the need to extract actionable intelligence without delay. This – much like that old chestnut, the ticking bomb scenario – is a meaningless rhetorical device routed in TV drama, not reality.

The idea that an apprehended suicide bomber like Abdulmutallab is likely to possess much actionable intelligence – that is, intelligence requiring an immediate operational response – is patently absurd.

Terrorist groups know that there is a fair chance any operation will fail and that their operative could be detained alive. Indeed, Al Qaeda has seen as many plots fail as it has succeed. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Soccer, Terrorism, Repression and Constitutions in Angola

Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos

Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos

The new decade started off with a bang in Angola-literally. Fireworks exploded in the night sky at the opening games of the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament on January 10th; and, sadly, gunfire shattered the day as the Togo soccer team was attacked on their way to participate in the tourney.

The attack on the Togo national team occurred at they traveled through the Cabinda province. Cabinda is a small spit of land separated from the northern territorial borders of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is rich in oil and struggled with a separatist movement for many years now. Those who live in the region wish for autonomy and there is an armed rebel faction, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), that claimed responsibility for the attack on the Togolese team.

However, there are many individuals in the Cabinda region engaging in peaceful measures to demand autonomy. Journalists, lawyers, priests and citizens argue for the right of self determination. The Angolan government has harshly suppressed these individuals, denying them right of free expression and association by dispersing peaceful protests, arresting individuals and banning organizations. One journalist, Fernando Lelo, was imprisoned following an unfair trial because of his criticisms of the president.

In the wake of the Togo bus attack, the Angolan government has used anti-terrorism policies as an excuse to crack down further on peaceful activists in the region. Francisco Luemba, a prominent lawyer and former member of banned human rights organization Mpalabanda, was arrested on January 17th and charged with crimes against the state. Mpalabanda, the only human rights organization previously operating in Cabinda, was banned in 2006 following charges that the organization incited violence and hatred.


Playing Al Qaeda's Game

Speaking during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Fort Hood shootings last Thursday Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) announced,  “I for one, I know it’s not politically correct to say it, but I believe in racial and ethnic profiling.”

Sen. Inhofe went on to explain his reasoning:

“When you hear that not all middle easterners and Muslims between the ages of 20 and 35 are terrorists but that all terrorists are Muslims or middle easterners between 20 and 35 that is by and large true.”

In his statement, which you can view in full below, Sen. Inhofe did acknowledge that America had experienced acts of terrorism originating from other sources, referencing the Oklahoma City bombing carried out by the right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh which killed 168 people. However, he dismissed this threat as a marginal one apparently requiring no governmental response.

Inhofe: I believe in racial profiling

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center US law enforcement officials foiled over 60 domestic terrorism plots between 1995 and 2005. These include plans to bomb or burn government buildings, banks, refineries, clinics, places of worship, memorials, bridges, and to assassinate government officials and civil rights activists. Fatal attacks include the 1995 derailing of an Amtrak passenger train and the 2009 shooting rampage at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.


A Few Good Men?

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

Writing in last Sunday’s New York Times, former CIA officer Robert Grenier channeled Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup as he slammed the Obama administration for releasing the Justice Department ‘torture memos’ last year.

Grenier described the publication of the memos as “a blatantly partisan act” designed to pour “opprobrium and scorn” on intelligence officers whose only offense had been to follow “lawful orders”.

When you start invoking the Nuremberg defense it is time to take a long hard look in the mirror. The instruction to torture prisoners in US custody was not lawful. It broke established and well-publicized domestic and international criminal laws.

Furthermore, senior military leaders, like General David Petraeus and Admiral Dennis Blair, have testified that these abuses cost American lives and greatly undermined military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those who serve on the frontlines protecting the public from terrorist violence – in many ways the ultimate human rights abuse – deserve our gratitude and respect.

However, as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor observed in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld a state of war is not a blank check for a president. It is still less so for an intelligence officer.

In a democracy how you go about defending freedom matters. We don’t just have the right to know what has been done in our names, in a democracy, we have the obligation to find out.

Just like the police officers we ask to daily risk their lives to protect our communities, CIA officers are not above the law and they must expect to be held accountable for their actions.