Monday, May 25, 2020

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#Pakistan - The missing girls


SINCE 1986, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has acted as a conscience keeper of the nation. Its flagship, the annual State of Human Rights in Pakistan, should jolt any government out of its stupor.
How did this government respond to the latest report? The human rights ministry, headed by Shireen Mazari, had a knee-jerk reaction and apparently without reading the report carefully issued a statement accusing the HRCP of having “overlooked several major milestones towards securing and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups” in 2019. It even questioned the ‘intent’ of the HRCP.

The HRCP immediately issued a statement giving meticulously the page numbers indicating the locations of all those ‘milestones’ that Ms Mazari’s ministry had overlooked.
The fact is that the working of the government is tardy and inefficient — especially in matters affecting the common man, woman or child like Zainab, the little girl who was raped and murdered. Take the case of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020, (adopted in March) that took two years to legislate in the National Assembly. It still has to become functional. No director general has been appointed so far to head the Zarra Agency. This was pointed out to me by Naeem Sadiq, that intrepid champion of the Right to Information Act, 2017, and Citizens against Weapons. He has written to the prime minister and Ms Mazari’s ministry asking for information on this matter.
The state cannot safeguard the security of its women and children.
While the government hems and haws, we do not know how many little girls will be meeting a fate similar to Zainab’s or would be there being trafficked for prostitution.
This is another issue that needs the government’s immediate attention. I hope the HRCP will also single it out in their future reports rather than garb it under the cloak of ‘violence against women and girls’. The annual report states, “Despite the legislation enacted to protect and promote women’s rights in recent years, violence against women has escalated.” The report mentions all kinds of use of force and discrimination against women. But it fails to take explicit note of trafficking for prostitution. The closest it comes to this taboo issue is when it reveals that “629 women had been trafficked as brides to China”. This is nothing to be made light of.
I have been following this issue closely since I stepped out to help a ‘vulnerable woman’, my domestic help, recover her two teenage daughters who vanished after being abducted by her stepson in 2016. When she confided in me and accepted my offer of help, the gravity of the situation dawned on me.
I managed to have her FIR registered and the stepson was arrested, though he somehow succeeded in obtaining his release on bail without the mother even being summoned before the judge to plead her case. I was told by the police that the stepson refuses to divulge the whereabouts of his sisters who were sent by him to work as “domestics in a household for Rs120,000 a month”. The police also expressed their inability to trace the girls. One officer, however, indicated that he had found some clues and was preparing for a raid. We were excited but suddenly he was transferred from his post at the Anti-Violent Crime Cell (of the CIA) where I had managed to take the case with the help of Roshni Trust, an NGO working for the recovery of abducted children. The case drags on at the City Courts.
I would like to remind the HRCP as well as the Minister for Human Rights, that M and S, my protégées, are not the only girls whose childhood has been devastated because the state of Pakistan cannot safeguard the security of its women and children. A seminar held last year in Islamabad in which representatives of the FIA (the security agency concerned with cases of human trafficking), UN Women and other agencies dealing with this heinous crime estimated that the number of the victims runs into the thousands.
If the custodians of human rights still need to be convinced of the magnitude of the crime they would do well to look up the website of the US State Department which publishes every year an international report on the Trafficking in Persons covering 177 countries. The last report covers 2018 and places Pakistan on Tier 2 with the comment: “The Government of Pakistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” It obviously gets its data from reliable sources. According to this document, Pakistan reported investigating 2,367 alleged cases of sex trafficking and initiating prosecutions in 2,212 cases in 2018 while the data for conviction was glossed over. Here it must be clarified that each case would be involving several girls.
My heart goes out to Zainab as it also does to the Ms and Ss who met a somewhat similar fate, except that they may still be alive somewhere with their agony continuing night after night.

'Many will starve': locusts devour crops and livelihoods in Pakistan


Mir Gul Muhammad, a farmer in Balochistan province, was blunt. “The worst that we have ever seen, ever, in our whole life,” he said of the swarms of locusts that descended on his village of Gharok.
“I cultivated around 50 acres of cotton crops and all of them have been eaten and destroyed by locusts,” he said. “Besides cotton, my other crops – onion, chilli and tomato – have been affected badly too. It is a loss of around 10m rupees [£51,000]. As a farmer, it will take years to recover from this loss.”
Farmers across Pakistan are suffering the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages.
The Pakistani government declared a national emergency this year after the locusts began to decimate winter crops. The first swarm came from the United Arab Emirates in mid-2019, and in the next few weeks time a new infestation is expected to arrive from Iran.

Locusts swarm in Hyderabad, Sindh province
 Locusts swarm in Hyderabad, Sindh province. Photograph: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Muhammad said he had no means of dealing with locusts and that the government was in “deep slumber” about farmers’ plight. “The government is not doing anything. It’s a helpless situation,” he said.
One of the worst hit provinces is Sindh, where Moti Lal said his livelihood was destroyed last week in one fell swoop.
“All my green crops, such as wheat and mustard, were attacked and ruined by locusts,” he said. “We had borrowed 40,000 rupees [£400] through micro-financing schemes to invest in farming. Now, all that amount is gone.”

Pakistan will incur losses of about £2bn in winter crops, such as wheat, and a further £2.3bn in the summer crops being planted now, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This will be economically devastating for a country where agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas. Pakistan is already suffering from crippling inflation, which is now at a 12-year high, and the unprecedented economic burden imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The cost of flour and vegetables had already risen 15% this year, and the locust infestation could make even basic food staples unaffordable.
Ismail Rahoo, state minister of agriculture for Sindh, described the plague as a “dangerous and catastrophic threat to the economy, agriculture and food security in Pakistan”.
“This year it will be ten times worse than last year. They are attacking from three sides,” he said. “The locusts and their eggs have now covered 50,000 square kilometres of farmland. We are expecting them to infest more than 5m hectares. And they are not just attacking Sindh province, but also the agricultural areas of Punjab and Balochistan.”
Heavy rains on the Arabian peninsula in 2019 triggered explosive growth in the locust population, and they began causing problems in India, Pakistan and a number of African countries last year. The second generation is 20 times bigger. Locusts move in swarms of up to 50 million, can travel 90 miles a day, and lay as many as 1,000 eggs per square metre of land.
Rahoo said the federal government had ignored various requests to spray pesticide from the air, something he said the Sindh state government did not have the resources to do.
Muhammad Akram Dashti, a senator from Balochistan, gave a speech in parliament in May 2019 urging the federal government to start preparing for the locust plague that had just emerged in his province.
“It could have been prevented,” he said. “I raised this issue when it was confined to a division of Balochistan province. It’s the responsibility of federal government to help farmers against such destruction, but the federal government didn’t take it seriously. I requested for spraying of crops times and again. Nothing happened.”
Now, he says, it is too late. ‘“Many people will starve,” he said.

#Pakistan - Murders by any name - killings of two girls in the name of‘ honor’ in South Waziristan

A. Ali

The recent killings of two girls in the name of‘honour’ in South Waziristan reveal not only the paradox of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ but also are a test for the KP police.
Afew days ago, an ‘objectionable’ mobile phone video that went viral on the internet resulted in the murder of two teenage girls of Zangarra village, Shaktui, South Waziristan in the name of ‘honour’. A call for the death of those involved in bringing dishonour to the tribal culture, made by an influential tribal head Badshahi Khan via a Facebook live video, sealed the fate of the girls.
The man who killed both the girls, a few others who abetted him, and the one in the video seen kissing the girls have been arrested by the police after an FIR was registered against them at Razmak police station in North Waziristan.
The murders in the name of ‘tribal honour’ in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now referred to as Merged Areas, is a test case for the civilian law enforcement agency, the police, whose powers were extended to the region after it was merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The initial response has been prompt. The man who murdered the girls, their cousin, Muhammad Aslam (son of Shadar Khan) along with the three who abetted the crime, and Ayaz Wazir who made the video were apprehended and produced in court. An intervention at an earlier stage might have prevented the crime.
How the video went viral
The family of the deceased girls belongs to the Mehsud tribe and has lived in Zangarra village, Shaktui, South Waziristan. They were displaced during the military operation and relocated to the Shaplin village, Garyum, North Waziristan, where they ran a retail shop. According to a local journalist, the man in the video, Umar Ayaz Wazir, was part of a group of men known for having relationships with girls and blackmailing them after making their videos. In this video, one of the girls the man had kissed had had links with a friend of his in the group. After a dispute between them, he sent the video to his estranged friend taunting him that he had kissed the girl he had befriended. The friend was outraged and leaked the video, apparently to expose Umar and get him killed.
How the girls were killed
After the video went viral, the family tried not to avoid identification. They left the area and moved to their native villag,e Zangarra. The murderer, Muhammad Aslam, the husband of the third veiled woman in the video whose fate is still unknown, was in Karachi and returned to look for Umar Wazir in Garyum and Shawwal, but couldn’t find him. He then went back and killed the two girls (his cousins). Since people in their native village didn’t know the details; they were told that the girls had died in a roof collapse. A funeral was held. Later, it was discovered that the girls had been dead before the roof collapse.
The conservative religious circles, however, are having a field day. They found an opportunity to support and advocate strict controls, like in the days of militants’ takeover of the region.
Who is Badshahi Khan?
Badhshahi Khan belongs to the family that has been linked to militants in the past. He belongs to Nazar Khail, a Mehsud sub-tribe. His uncle Khushal Mehsud, a tribal chief, and a few others were targeted and killed by unknown assailants in Gomal, in Tank district. Allegedly, he had had links with Baitullah Mehsud. It is said that the dera of Khushal Mehsud would be used by the TTP kingpin for holding its shura meetings. His house and dera were later bulldozed during a military operation.
Badshahi Khan went to Karachi and allegedly used his links with militants to set up a crime and extortion racket in the name of TTP. Later, he switched allegiances and worked as an informer for Rao Anwar, the former Malir SSP and helped him trace militants who were killed in staged encounters.
Last year, he ‘married’ 12-years-old girl from Quetta after paying a huge amount to her parents as valvar (bride money). A few years back, Badshahi Khan had moved to Dera Ismail Khan, where he still lives. In the viral video, he called for the death of the girls and the man in the video, and spoke against 3G/4G services available in the region, saying these would lead to more of such videos being spread and disseminated, eventually bringing ‘dishonour’ to the tribal culture.
A test case
In a region that has witnessed mayhem and deaths during periods of insurgency and the subsequent military operations, and due to tribal feuds and disputes over lands, murders in the name of ‘honour’, hardly anyone would have raised an eyebrow if this story hadn’t made it to the headlines and the region hadn’t become a centre of attention in the last couple of years due to the political upheavals. It led to a debate over the response of the leadership and supporters of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. Some people said that they didn’t come out as strongly against the killings as they would have had the violence had anything to do with the militants or the law enforcement agencies.
The conservative religious circles, however, are having a field day. They found an opportunity to support and advocate strict controls, like in the days of militants’ takeover of the region. Some of them are trying to make a case against the use of cellular phones and the 3G/4G services.
A youth from Waziristan worries that the incident might be used as a pretext for denying citizens access to 3G/4G services in the area. He says this has been a demand by the extremists. During the prevailing Covid-19 crisis, the shift of universities and colleges to the web and online platforms has made it necessary for thousands of students to have access to fast internet.
“Blaming 3G/4G and the internet for the video going viral means they don’t have an issue with the [apparently] ‘immoral’ acts per se, or killing in the name of ‘honour’, their only concern is stopping the spread of the video. It is ironic on many counts,” he concludes.
The police have apprehended the murder suspect and the person responsible for making the video, but the person who disseminated the video is yet to be identified and apprehended. Prosecuting the culprits while ignoring pressure from influential tribal chieftains would still be an uphill task.