US alarmed at thousands of Taliban, rebels missing in Pakistan

Thursday, December 30, 2010

WASHINGTON - The US is alarmed over reports that thousands of captured Taliban insurgents and political separatists have disappeared into the hands of Pakistan’s police and security forces, and that some may have been tortured or killed.

According to the New York Times, a State Department report presented to the Congress last month had urged Pakistan to address the issue of disappearance and other human rights abuses.

The concern is based on a stream of accounts from human rights groups that Pakistan’s security services have rounded up thousands of people over the past decade, mainly in Balochistan, a restive province far from the fight with the Taliban, and are holding them incommunicado without charges.

Some US officials think that the Pakistanis have used the pretext of war against terrorism to imprison members of the Baloch nationalist opposition that has fought for generations to separate from Pakistan. Some of the so-called disappeared are guerrillas; others are civilians, the daily said.

“Hundreds of cases are pending in the courts and remain unresolved,” said the Congressionally mandated report that the State Department sent to Capitol Hill Nov 23. A Congressional official provided a copy of the eight-page document to the New York Times.

The report also described concerns that the Pakistani military had killed unarmed members of the Taliban, rather than put them on trial.

“The Pakistani government has made limited progress in advancing human rights and continues to face human rights challenges,” the report said. “There continue to be gross violations of human rights by Pakistani security forces.”

The administration of President Barack Obama has largely sought to confront Pakistan in private with evidence of human rights abuses by its intelligence and security forces, fearing that a public scolding could imperil the countrys cooperation in combating Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups.

After the Sep 11 attacks, the US administration of the then President George W. Bush urged Pakistan to capture militants and Islamic extremists linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Since then, human rights groups have said that Pakistan’s security forces used that campaign as a cover to round up hundreds of political activists and guerrilla fighters in Baluchistan and hold them in secret detention.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik Wednesday said in Islamabad: “We are trying to ensure law and order in Balochistan”.

In August 2009, he acknowledged that 1,291 people were missing in the country.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, said Wednesday that “the courts and the government are investigating cases of disappearances with a view to establishing the whereabouts of the disappeared persons and the circumstances under which the alleged disappearances took place.”

Under pressure from Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which has held hearings on petitions filed by family members of missing Baloch men, as well as public rallies in supported of the disappeared, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari has been forced to respond to the outcry.

A judicial commission established to investigate the disappearances is scheduled to present its report to the Supreme Court Friday.

Pakistani intelligence officials say that human rights groups have exaggerated the number of people held incommunicado.

American officials have dismissed these claims for years.

“‘Disappeared’ Pakistanis - innocent and guilty alike - have fallen into a legal black hole,” the Us embassy in Islamabad said in a cable dated Feb 8, 2007, that was disclosed by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.

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