Obscuring Empire

Jan 2013

Amnesty’s approach seeks to surgically extract the conflict in Pakistan from its broader geopolitical context.

Back in April 2012, Pakistan’s Parliament unanimously called on the United States to end its drone strikes in the country. The resolution was backed by the country’s powerful military apparatus. Nevertheless, the US has continued its drone strikes in Pakistan.

In effect, the US and Pakistan are in a state of war. But, it is a lopsided war, one where Pakistan’s people die in the thousands and Americans do not. It is also a rather strange war, because Pakistan’s military continues to aid the US war in what are called the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA).

Though drone strikes have gained the most attention in the media, the ground operations being conducted by the Pakistani Army are perhaps far more significant. There is very little information coming out of FATA, and it is very difficult for outsiders to get into the area. In my own experience, I have had to speak to so-called ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs), of whom there are millions in Pakistan, in order to get some sense of the conditions in the tribal areas.

Last year, I spoke to IDPs from Orakzai Agency who told me that the violence was unbearable. It was often hard to determine which armed group might hold authority over an area in a given time. The lack of clarity was dangerous; as a result, either the Taliban or the Pakistani Army (or both) could suspect people living there of being treacherous with obvious negative consequences for those people. In this back-and-forth, the actions of the Pakistani Army were not very different from those of militant groups.

They also pointed out how poor their living conditions were now that they had left their homes. Authorities outside of the tribal areas could arbitrarily arrest them on suspicion of terrorism and trap them in the grind of the Pakistani legal system without charges. To add insult to injury, they could not find jobs or steady sources of income, and instead, had to rely on inconsistent, photo-op hungry, international non-governmental organizations.

They felt ignored and neglected by the rest of Pakistan’s people.

In this context, a report issued by Amnesty International detailing the problems of the war in FATA is welcome news. The report documents how countless Pakistanis are being arbitrarily detained for indefinite periods of time, disappeared, tortured and murdered by the Pakistani Army. The report confirms that people outside of the tribal areas are also susceptible to arbitrary detention.

Amnesty’s report also notes that people are subject to the violence of the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups and calls on them to curtail their attacks on civilians. Importantly, it raises the fact that the legal regimes governing FATA, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and similar legal frameworks—which are rather different from legal regimes in the rest of the country—facilitate impunity for state actors and prevent residents of FATA from the kinds of judicial recourse that are, at least in theory, available to other Pakistanis.

All of this exists in the context of an insurgency that began in 2002 when the Pakistani Taliban began asserting its control in FATA, the report suggests. Yet, within the context of this conflict, the report asserts that a “key driver” of human rights violations is the “legal wilderness” that exists in FATA. Pakistan’s government has “not only failed to address the absence of rule of law in the Tribal Areas, but fundamentally undermined it” through new regulations.

Yet, there are key issues missing in the report. Read on>>

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