Of Pakistan and the Taliban

June 22, 2010

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.