Friday 11 June 2010

The Hell of life in Pakistan's FATA

It should never be forgotten that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan - probably the most dangerous area in the world - have never been consulted over whether or not their land should be used as a launchpad for jihad against Western forces in Afghanistan and as a battleground against the Pakistani Army by local insurgents.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has no mandate from the tribal people and exerts its authority primarily through murder and intimidation. Its foreign 'guests' - Islamist militiamen - are there because it has suited the Pakistan military to have them there as its pursues its long-term strategy in Afghanistan of limiting India's infuence and making the Kabul regime into as much of a client state as possible.
The seven tribal agencies that make up FATA have been ignored by Islamabad and starved of investment. The people there are subject to disgraceful Colonial-era laws and receive little or no protection from the state.
A new report from Amnesty International - 'As if Hell fell on me': the human rights crisis in Northwest Pakistan - sets out in detail the impact this situation has had on FATA. Based on 300 interviews, it argues that the residents of FATA live in a human rights-free zone and that over a million have been turned into refugees: "The people of FATA - overwhelmingly members of the Pashtun ethnic group - already suffer from some of the lowest standards of living in Asia, and are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the conflict and insecurity caused by the Pakistan Taliban insurgency and the government's harsh response."
It notes that the overall literacy rate in FATA is around 17 per cent, with only seven percent of women being able to read. Nearly two-thirds of the population live below the national poverty level. There are only 33 hospitals covering over three million people. Millions of people have left, either to work in the Gulf, or to live in poverty and fear in cities like Karachi and Lahore.
Amnesty note that the Pakistani Taliban has combined a harsh interpretation of Islamic doctrine, unprecedented violence (particularly against civilians) and intimidation to drive out what few legal institutions existed in FATA.
"Taliban forces in FATA have prohibited music, forced men to grow beards, destroyed hundreds of schools and effectively stopped the operation of all schools in the area. They have used force to enforce their dictates that both women and girls be veiled and accompanied by male relatives when going outside their homes and have severely limited the operations of health clinics and humanitarian agencies. The Taliban have systematically abused the right to life and to freedom from arbitrary detention, torture, gender, religious and ethnic discrimination and the right to free expression - among other internationally recognised human rights."
This is a very well researched document and should be read by anyone with an interest in understanding the complexities of politics in Pakistan and the dynamics of the insurgency along the border with Afghanistan.

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