As published at 18/8/2011

Envisioning a future dystopia, in his book “1984”, George Orwell wrote about living in a security state carefully engineered by crude and repressive forms of control, dominated by constant surveillance. Orwell warned of a state that manifested thought control – one so strong that every thought and conversation were monitored and every dissent amounted to treason. Eventually causing a lethal compromise of one’s civil liberties and a society frightened into submission.

One of the most appealing characteristic of this dystopia – and perhaps one that is most readily used today – is the ways where corrupt authoritarians romanticise this form of thought control, engendering fatal optimism that portrays fearful enslavement as patriotism.

The response to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report, on the state of Baluchistan, would be amusing – as it bears semblance to the kind of arguments antsy teenagers would come up to support an unfounded whinge – had it not come from the higher-ups in our military and intelligence services.

In trying to refute the claims of HRW’s report on human right abuses in the province, Director General (DG) Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) called for a probe to decide funding links between human rights organisations and forces working to destabilise Pakistan. The response is humiliating not only to human rights organisations but also to the hundreds of victims – whose stories are forever silenced.

Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director of HRW, dismissed the accusations made by the ISPR as unsubstantiated: “Human Rights Watch, or any other credible organisation with a reputation for integrity, is not going to allow the same to be compromised through an unverifiable allegation”.

Dayan, who worked as a researcher – authenticating and writing reports on Human rights issues across Pakistan and Bangladesh – for HRW before serving as Pakistan’s head explained HRW’s work, which puts great emphasis on research and authentication before publishing a report

“The non-partisan evidence presented by Human Rights Watch, General Kayani’s denial of abuses by security services in Baluchistan is highly disappointing. The DG ISPR’s call for a “probe” into the finances of human rights organisations such as HRW and accusing them of destabilising Pakistan is preposterous and can only be dismissed”  Hasan said.

“The 132-page report, ‘We can torture, kill, or keep you for years: enforced disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Baluchistan’,” documents dozens of enforced disappearances, in which the authorities take people into custody and then deny all responsibility or knowledge of their fate or whereabouts. The report details 45 alleged cases of enforced disappearances, the greatest in 2009 and 2010. While hundreds of people have been forcibly disappeared in Balochistan since 2005, dozens of new enforced disappearances have occurred since Pakistan returned to civilian rule in 2008”

The situation in Baluchistan has worsened over the years and as human rights organisations continue to voice concerns about extra-judicial killings and increasing incidence of abductions, the response from the security agencies has been defensive and redundant – lauded with terms such as ‘sovereignty’, ‘maligning’ and ‘destabilising’. In fact those aware of the civil-military or even political discourse would testify to the innumerable times this rhetoric has been used for almost every issue under the sun, provided it is critical and calls for debate.

Denying claims of the HRW report, Inspector General (IG) of Frontier corps (FC), paramilitary force deployed in Baluchistan, said that the FC was not involved in any extra-judicial activities, he further remarked by accusing the human right’s organisations, “to project law enforcement forces in a bad light was in the interest of such human rights organisations”.

Such allegations – specially without substantial evidence – hurt the credibility of human rights organisations already struggling to work in areas with minimal outreach “It is torture and human rights abuse – of which there are credible and multiple allegations against the military, that destabilizes the country rather than highlighting the abuses”, Dayan remarked.

“HRW’s finances, including a list of donors, is found on its website. Further, the Pakistan military’s finances to date are not subject to significant audit. The facts speak for themselves. The military’s official statements on Baluchistan and its name-calling response to those local and international NGOs that demand accountability betrays a deep callousness for the suffering of citizens and a dangerous myopia that prevents the military from putting its own house in order. By refusing to end abuse and seeking to “shoot the messenger,” the military is doing itself and Pakistan a great disservice.

“While human rights activists have long been hounded by the ISI and other security agencies in Pakistan, such statements only create greater danger for them. Instead of threatening human rights activists further, the military must seek to end its own abusive free-for-all and the barbarism that it considers counter-terrorism practice.”

It is worth noting that HRW is not the only organisation (see Human rights commission of Pakistan’s  report here) to have reported such cases, nor is it the first time that a human rights organisation has called for attention on the deteriorating situation of law in order in the province. In a report published in February Amnesty International, a human rights organisation working to end human right abuses across the world – the same organisation has been actively advocating closure of illegal detention centers operated by the US including Guantanamo and Bargram – provides a breakdown of victims of reported disappearances and alleged extra-judicial and unlawful killings in Baluchistan.

Repetitive appeals from various human right organisations and reporters narrating stories of people’s misery have fallen on deaf ears. The narrative that the FC is involved in countering separatists and bringing them to justice has remained unchanged, while families of missing persons and victims speak of frequent abductions subsequently followed by appearance of their loved one’s corpse; severely mutilated and disposed off in the streets.

The history of counter-insurgency operations has taught us that, state sponsored lawless violence only intensifies the cycle of violence. On one hand, we have nationalists being abducted, tortured and murdered and on the other, the plea of the settlers who are readily being targeted. The least that could be expected of the security agencies is introspection.

In the face of such tyranny the politics of treason foists a false dichotomy that very few have been able to shake off. As a result we have devised a monochromatic system of information, proclaiming all those who dare to criticise, debate or even think beyond the set parameters as agents working with the supposed enemy, unpatriotic and traitors.
This sets a dangerous precedent, when questioning the status quo becomes treason; totalitarianism triumphs and civil liberties are gradually surrendered.


One thought on “The politics of treason

  1. The Balochistan issue has been out there for a long time. Balochistan is an interesting piece in the Pakistan puzzle – minerally rich, economically poor and politically backward. The British were eager to leave the sub-continent in 1947 and hurriedly carved out the boundaries between India and Pakistan on a religious basis. Parts of Afghanistan that were aquired in the 19th century should have been handed back to Afghanistan and Balochistan should have been left independent.
    But the bottomline is – wherever military is present, human rights are bound to be violated – no matter how meticulous the military tries to be. The sad state is that the Human Rights watch groups tend to be ignored and get easily bullied by a more powerful administration.

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