Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Afghanistan's civilians continue to die in record numbers, according to a new report released Wednesday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
From the start of the year to the end of September, the U.N. documented 8,050 civilian casualties, of which 2,798 died, and 5,252 were wounded.
In the 17 years of conflict, the last five years seem to have been the deadliest for civilians, a chart in UNAMA's report indicates.
Most of the casualties resulted from the actions by non-state actors, including the Taliban and Islamic State. The use of improvised explosive devices used in suicide attacks increased in their "frequency and lethality," according to the U.N.'s Quarterly Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
"Of the 65 percent of civilian casualties attributed to anti-government elements, 35 percent were attributed to the Taliban; 25 percent to Daesh/ISKP; and 5 percent to unidentified anti-government elements (including less than 1 percent to self-proclaimed Daesh/ISKP)," the U.N. report specified.
The second leading cause for civilian casualties, 29 percent, was ground engagements between warring factions.
The report said casualties from ground engagements have declined, which may be due to efforts by various parties to protect civilians from harm, like advance warnings.
The province with the most casualties was Nangarhar, where ISKP, Islamic State's Afghan branch, still has a stronghold. It was also the deadliest province for U.S. forces in 2017.
The increase in NATO and U.S. airstrikes on Taliban and ISKP targets, particularly since President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia policy in August of last year, led to an increase in civilian casualties from air operations, the report said. The U.N. called the trend "worrying."
More than 60 percent of the civilian victims of air attacks continued to be women and children, with the number of child victims increasing 53 percent over the same period last year, according to the report.
Many attacks were on anti-government elements hiding among the civilian population, the report said.
UNAMA has recommended to both Afghan and international forces that they review their targeting and battlefield criteria, including "considering all persons to be civilians unless determined otherwise."
Reports of human rights abuses during government search operations is another concern of the U.N. mission.
"The mission received consistent, credible accounts of intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal detention, and other abuses carried out by NDS Special Forces and pro-government armed groups, including the Khost Protection Force," the UNAMA report said.
The report also documented the "killing, maiming, sexual abuse and recruitment and use of Afghan girls and boys."
Meanwhile, 366 civilian casualties were a result of election-related violence. Afghanistan plans to hold its parliamentary election on Oct. 20.
Calling the upcoming election "bogus," the Taliban announced this week that it would use all means to disrupt the elections, giving rise to fears that election-related violence will increase in the next two weeks.
"The Islamic Emirate instructs all its Mujahideen to halt this American-led process throughout the country by creating severe obstacles for it, while taking extensive and intensive care of civilian Afghan lives and their properties," the Taliban statement said, asking fighters to attack anyone involved in helping hold the elections.
The U.N. report also pointed out that civilians paid the heaviest toll during several days of fighting in Ghazni city when the Taliban launched a multipronged attack in August.
"All parties can and should do their utmost to protect civilians from harm," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.
As 18th Year of War in Afghanistan Begins, Sen. Warren Says: 'Long Past Time to Bring Our Troops Home'
By Jessica Corbett
To what extent can the Imran Khan leadership, voted in by the majority, allow the far right's penetration into official discourse? A question that political mainstreaming struggles to answer.
These past six-weeks have left the nation with plenty to consider.
Despite their limited numerical strength and firm sectarian roots, Pakistan’s far right — led by Tehreek e Labbaik (TLP) – continues to stake its claim to key policy matters. From deciding who sits on the nation’s Economic Council, to dictating the fate of Pak-Dutch ties in wake of the blasphemous caricatures contest, their ability to demand leadership compliance through violence is a perilous practice. One which calls for a critical revision of Pakistan’s deradicalisation strategies, of both past and present.
Political mainstreaming of hardline outfits has clearly not paid off. Hundreds of candidates tied to outlawed groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaah (ASWJ) took part in the 2018, general elections, on the false premise that political integration shall render violent elements peaceful. Rather, outfits such as TLP have added to their anti-Ahmadiyya support base, using newfound political legitimacy to impose blasphemy checks on the PTI government. Just last month, its threat of marching on the capital to replicate the violent 201, sit-in, against the Dutch government, evoked endorsement from 2.2 million voters nationwide. While still a fraction of Pakistan’s overall population, TLP’s ability to override democratic autonomy, and take religio-political matters into its own hands, is alarmingly effective.
Despite their limited numerical strength and firm sectarian roots, Pakistan’s far right — led by Tehreek e Labbaik — continues to stake its claim to key policy matters. From deciding who sits on the nation’s Economic Council, to dictating the fate of Pak-Dutch ties in wake of the blasphemous caricatures contest, their ability to demand leadership compliance through violence is a perilous practice
To what extent can the Imran Khan leadership, voted in by the majority, allow the far right’s penetration into official discourse? A question that political mainstream struggles to answer.
A more plausible approach to dealing with the religious-right, is to let progressive economic and social commitments take their due course. Qualities of merit and integration drive this progression — both of which stand contrary to the divisive inclinations of the far-right.
A glimpse of this correlation was evident in Imran Khan’s decision to reconstitute an 18-member Economic Advisory Council, early in September. The need to deliver on Pakistan’s soaring debt crisis prompted PTI’s appointment of Dr. Atif Mian, whose association with the oppressed Ahmadi sect evoked mounting pressure from religio-political parties, including TLP. However, the government’s decision to publicly back the academic’s appointment, citing “the protection for minorities” and “a refusal to bow down to extremists”, came as a rare defiance to a highly contested issue.
Previous governments have steered clear of the disputatious Ahmadi issue, following the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in 2011, and the resignation of PML-N Law Minister Zahid Hamid last year, at the behest of violent TLP protestors. For PTI to confront the deep-rooted dogma in its first month — through an Ahmadi’s nomination to the Council — set a positive precedent for future times.
In order to deliver on this precedent, however, the PTI government must learn to firmly resist pressure. Imran Khan’s last-minute decision to exclude Atif from EAC, amid fears of countrywide religious protests, was more a case of retaining long-term rule at the center. Moreover, Atif’s removal was contingent upon a ‘calling attention notice’ submitted in the Senate. Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and Tehreek-e-Labbaik, the two parties pushing for a majority vote on the notice, made up for their dearth of seats by eyeing PML-N’s support. PML-N’s well-known differences with the serving government lay the groundwork for maximum signatories, and the economist’s immediate removal. The core message for Pakistan: if it wants to deter extremist-ideologies from aligning with big party interests, it must rethink its stance on political mainstreaming.
Amid inclusive economic and health reforms, Imran’s chances of demonstrating flexibility against the far-right rest on how accurately his political rhetoric aligns with his actions. For instance, electoral advocacy for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and presidential support from TLP members, make it increasingly difficult to design policies that are independent of far-right interests.
There are also important foreign policy implications. The United States continues to demand stronger checks on terrorism financing, specifically Jamaat-ud-Dawa, whose operations under the guise of charity, have long questioned Pakistan’s terror-financing regulations. Furthermore, the implementation of a 26-point FATF action plan is integral to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism narrative.
Despite repeated assurances, Pakistan’s efforts to scrap JuD’s fundraising operations remain inconsistent. On September 13, the Supreme Court allowed JuD and FIF to continue its ‘welfare operations’, dismissing the interior ministry’s plea for a ban. The plea, aimed at giving legal force to Pakistan’s crackdown against JuD, was dismissed because a petition by JuD chief was ‘still being heard’.
The fact that prohibited outfits continue to acquire legal stake, raises questions about the trichotomy of power in the nation. The decision also questions the judiciary’s application of Pakistan’s Anti Terrorism Act, amended via presidential ordinance in February, to facilitate the seizure of JuD and FIF properties across Punjab and KP.
If Pakistan is to come clean on its FATF commitments, and restore democratic autonomy at the center, it must determine what constitute its national interests. Especially, when radical outfits derive the benefit of the doubt under law, and emerge unscathed.
The case of Asia Bibi is a test for Pakistan. The Supreme Court has found itself as the arbiter in many crucial verdicts that have shaped our political landscape in the recent past - now it faces another momentous decision. Asia Bibi’s case has become the touchstone for the debate on the misuse of the blasphemy law in the country, post 2009. Not only are its legal contents important – as their interpretation will act as a precedent on key questions related to the misuse of the blasphemy law – the chain of events which the case set off – culminating in the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and the death sentence given to Mumtaz Qadri – are veritable benchmarks in our nation’s collective journey down this contentious debate.The detailed judgment of a special three-member bench of the SC is yet to come before the public as the verdict has been reserved. Till then the honourable Chief Justice has directed the media not to comment on the issue. His instructions are apppropriate and in fact necessary. Media, indeed, needs to show restraint considering the emotional response to issues relating to blasphemy.
From the legal point of view the case has two important aspects: firstly there are certain discrepancies in the case against the defendant, which if not identified and finally snubbed, will be a blot on Pakistan’s reputation on the treatment of its minorities. Secondly, the case carries importance for there are many jurisprudential misconceptions regarding the blasphemy law that have been deliberately used and misused to muddy the environment in our beloved country.
The courts in Pakistan should be wary of interpreting the vague and generalised section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in the most conservative fashion. The importance of the precedent that will be set in this case cannot be overemphasised.
Unfortunately, gaining political mileage on the highly delicate topic of the blasphemy law is nowadays a norm in Pakistan. The court has had to deal with an unforetold amount of pressure in the run up to the announcement of the verdict. It cannot be overstated that it is the bravery of the honorable Justices that the case has been fully heard. The urgency of this moment will see a historic judgement from the SC, no matter what the decision is. Aasia Bibi’s trials will end - one way or another.
Chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday requested the Supreme Court to allow him to become a party in a pending reference seeking to revisit the 1979 controversial death sentence handed down to former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
“Applicant’s grandfather Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) was brutally executed in consequence of a stroke of a pen,” the 10-page application drafted by Farooq H. Naek stated, adding that his (ZAB) life cannot be brought back by a similar stroke but his dignity and valour can be restored and reflected correctly to some extent in the books of precedents and legal history of this country.
“At the end of the day, the applicant before this esteemed Court is a ‘Nawasa’ fighting for the cause of his ‘Nana’,” the application stated.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari has moved a reference under Article 186 of the Constitution which was pending before an 11-judge special bench to seek court’s opinion on revisiting the 1979 conviction to ZAB, which critics call a ‘judicial murder’.
Various journalist unions across Pakistan protested Tuesday the direct and indirect intimidation they say they face while trying to do their job.
“The journalist is alive, Ayub saw it, Yahya saw it, now you will see it,” chanted a charged group of protesters in capital Islamabad calling out names of past dictators.
Pakistan has long been a dangerous country for journalists who report on issues like extremism, militancy, religious fundamentalism, or military interference in politics. A country with a history of military coups has recently witnessed an unprecedented period of civilian rule. But journalists say 10 years of democracy has not strengthened freedom of the press.
Veteran journalists Nasir Zaidi was one of the few who was flogged during the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq in the 1980s. He called the current situation worse and more confusing for the working journalists, leading to an increasing trend of self-censorship.
“Today, we have a façade of democracy, the constitution is intact, but behind the scenes dark forces are using all means necessary to control journalism,” he said.
The “dark forces” is a euphemism for the country’s powerful military establishment and its intelligence agencies. According to the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, Pakistan’s military uses both direct and indirect intimidation.
For several years, Pakistan was on the list of countries the CPJ considered most deadly for journalists. Its recent report acknowledges that killings of journalists in Pakistan has gone down. But it says the decline in deaths was accompanied by a decline in press freedom.
The report accuses the military of encouraging self-censorship.
“Journalists who push back or are overly critical of authorities are attacked, threatened, or arrested,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s new civilian government of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf, elected in a July election, said it will ensure press freedom.
“We have a track record of freeing institutions of political interference in KPK,” said Faisal Javed Khan, a young senator of PTI, and additional secretary to the information minister. PTI is the ruling party in KPK province since 2013. He said, however, his government in the center was new and needed time to deliver on its promises.
On the other hand, PTI, which is considered close to the military, has already started facing criticism for its treatment of the media.
Journalist Umber Khairi wrote in her column in the Sunday edition of The News, an English language publication, that PTI had tried to block critical reporting by “threatening certain media groups with denial of access to official functions and personalities, uninviting their reporters and editors from meetings with the PM.”
A senior journalist and television anchor Nusrat Javed said media owners and editors in Pakistan are under pressure to either control or get rid of journalists deemed too critical of the establishment or the new government. The establishment in Pakistan is usually considered to be the powerful military and the intelligence agencies linked with it.
Earlier this week, prominent journalist Cyril Almeida was ordered to appear in court to face accusations of treason, a capital offense. He had published an on the record interview with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in which Sharif talked about cross border terrorism, particularly an attack on Indian financial capital Mumbai in which more than 150 people, including Westerners, died. Sharif seemed to imply that Pakistan should do more to curb such attacks and the people responsible for it. India and the United States have long held Pakistan based group Lashkar e Taiba responsible for the attack. After the attack, the group was placed on the U.S. and U.N. lists of terrorist groups.
Amina Malik, the woman who filed the petition to charge Almeida, along with Sharif and another former Pakistani premier, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, with treason said the Sharif interview damaged Pakistan’s reputation in the world and Almeida should never have published his comments.
“Article 19 of the constitution gives you the right to freedom of expression. But it does not give you the right to speak against your own country or your own institutions,” she said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the journalist was “hounded for nothing more than doing his job” and that the move would “further choke press freedom in Pakistan.”
At Tuesday’s protest in Islamabad, organized by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, another veteran journalist said the combination of the threats to media with apparent freedom led to a culture of self-censorship.
“You don’t know which lines you could cross and which you couldn’t. So, in the fear of crossing the wrong lines, you decide not to publish or air a story,” he said.