Indian Express, November 10, 2006
More than five years have passed since General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime declared that it had given up support for Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and allied itself to the US in the global war against terrorism. The Bush administration periodically praises Musharraf for cooperation in fighting terrorism. Musharraf and his spin machine, too, do not tire of recounting Pakistan’s status as a crucial western ally.
But hardly a day goes by when questions are not raised about Pakistan’s role either as a half-hearted western ally or a continuing centre of terrorist recruitment and training. Musharraf’s government does not help its case with constantly getting its stories mixed and living in a state of denial.
General Musharraf and officials in his regime have consistently denied that there was any significant Al-Qaeda or Taliban presence on the Pakistani side of the Pakistan-Afghan border. At one point, Pakistani authorities imprisoned a French media team and its Pakistani journalist collaborator for “staging” a Taliban training camp in Balochistan while insisting that there were no Taliban camps inside Pakistan.
Now, it seems, that the journalists accused of being anti-Pakistan were telling the truth after all. It is official Pakistan that has been “staging” high profile acts in the war against terrorism, most likely for the hundreds of millions of dollars in bounty that General Musharraf is so proud of bringing into Pakistan’s economy.
The October 30 air attack on a madrasa that reportedly killed at least 82 persons at Damadola, near Khar in the Bajaur tribal district on the Pakistan-Afghan border highlights the confusion and dishonesty that surrounds the Musharraf regime’s role in the struggle against terrorism.
The Pakistani regime claims that the madrasa was a terrorist training facility, something that runs contrary to its earlier claims that such facilities simply do not exist on the Pakistani side of the border. How could the Pakistani military “attack” and eliminate a terrorist training camp in the Northwest Frontier province if, as General Musharraf and his spokesmen have repeatedly claimed, there is no terrorist training infrastructure within the country?
According to the Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Pakistan army’s claim of responsibility is contradicted by eyewitnesses who have been quoted as saying that an “unmanned United States aircraft fired missiles at the school compound before Pakistani helicopters arrived.” It is known that the government of North-West Frontier Province knew nothing about the attack in advance, and the government’s decision to bar journalists from the area creates doubts about the official version of events.
One must not forget that earlier too a journalist had produced pictures showing parts of a US missile, fired from an unmanned CIA Predator drone, in an attack in Waziristan that was claimed by the Pakistani government as its own action. The journalist, Hayatullah, was later kidnapped and murdered under murky circumstances.
The Pakistan military spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan has asserted that all those killed in the attack were militants training for suicide attacks. General Musharraf justified the attack before diplomats and scholars from abroad, saying that none of the persons killed were innocent.
But AHRC has cited reports from local authorities, politicians and media personnel that the persons killed were all 10 to 25 years old, most under 20, and were only madrasa students. Amnesty International has expressed concern that those killed in the air strike on a madrasa in Bajaur Agency, might have been executed “extra-judicially.” According to the Amnesty statement, children “as young as six years old” had been killed in the attack.
Even before the Bajaur attacks, Amnesty International had accused the Musharraf regime of human rights abuses as part of its role in the global war against terrorism — several hundred people in Pakistan have disappeared, apparently taken into detention in connection with the war on terrorism.
So called “enforced disappearance” has long been a problem in several conflict-ridden societies such as Nepal and Sri Lanka but if Amnesty is right, Musharraf’s regime would be the first to introduce it in Pakistan. An enforced disappearance occurs when intelligence services take a person away and then deny or refuse to acknowledge that he or she is under state detention.
In case of Pakistan, officials are apparently making money by claiming rewards offered by the US for Al-Qaeda terrorists.
An Amnesty International press release explained, “The routine practice of offering rewards running to thousands of dollars for unidentified terror suspects facilitated illegal detention and enforced disappearance. Bounty hunters — including police officers and local people — have captured individuals of different nationalities, often apparently at random, and sold them into US custody.”
It is unfortunate that instead of joining the war against terrorism because it is morally the right thing to do, General Musharraf and his associates look upon this struggle as an economic opportunity for Pakistan and as a means of perpetuating themselves in power.