Saturday, October 9, 2010

COAS orders inquiry into Swat video footage in whcih Pakistan Army killing Taliban

The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has ordered setting up of a board of inquiry to establish the true identity of uniformed personnel and veracity of the video footage posted on a website showing what looked like to be Pakistani soldiers executing blindfolded men in Swat.

Initially, the DG of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Athar Abbas, while speaking to some foreign journalists, had denied the role of the Pakistan Army, saying: “No Pakistan Army soldier or officer has been involved in activity of this sort.”

But on Friday, according to the ISPR, General Kayani ordered the setting up of a board of inquiry to establish the true identity of the uniformed personnel and veracity of the video footage.

“The board will be headed by a major-general, a two star officer of the Pakistan Army. He will be assisted by two/three senior officers with experience of investigating into such incidents. Necessary technical expertise will be made available to the board,” says the ISPR.

In this regard, the COAS referred back to his command directive on the issues of human rights and extrajudicial killings, and stated that such violations of his orders, if true, would not be tolerated.

He categorically stated that it had not been expected of a professional army to engage in excesses against the people whom it was trying to guard against the scourge of terrorism.Expressing his determination to take strictest possible disciplinary action against the perpetrators, if identified to be soldiers of the Pakistan Army, he termed the incident as unacceptable under any circumstances. He emphasised that the Rules of Engagement (ROE) were sacrosanct.

The Army chief, however, cautioned against reaching hasty conclusions about involvement of the Pakistan Army soldiers. He pointed out that in order to hide their identities, cause confusion and malign the Pakistan Army, terrorists had previously been disguising themselves as the Pakistan Army soldiers during a number of attacks, including the one on the GHQ.

General Kayani also directed commanders at all levels to be vigilant and follow the Army policy of zero-tolerance in such cases in letter and spirit. It was not only the US officials, whose government is pouring in massive funds to Pakistan’s military, but also the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan which claimed that extrajudicial killings by the military are common in areas under military control.

The commission reported that 282 such killings had taken place in the Swat Valley since the country’s military officially ended a battle for control there in 2009. The human rights report also said other sorts of abuses were taking place and warned: “Terrorism must not be resorted to to defeat terrorism. The focus of the government must be on bringing terrorists to justice through legal means, with guarantees of fair trial and due process. HRCP implores the government to ensure that the actions of security forces in the region are consistent with human rights standards.”

According to a report in The Times, after initially denying the video, the Pakistan Army acknowledged that the execution video was genuine, but portrayed the killings as an isolated episode.

Last year, a military officer serving in the Swat Valley during a large-scale offensive against the Taliban insurgents had showed The Times photographs of suspected militants who had been executed while in custody.

The officer, who insisted on anonymity, also said he had a video, shot on his phone, that he did not want to share. He claimed to have recorded images of the extrajudicial killings, which he called rampant, because he opposed them and was concerned that such practices would damage the Army’s struggle against militancy.

US officials point out to the Leahy Law, or Leahy provision, which is a human rights stipulation in the US congressional foreign assistance legislation, as one reason for General Kayani to order an inquiry of the website footage.

Leahy Law prohibits US military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. The Leahy provision is named after its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. It first appeared in the year 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, and has been attached to all subsequent acts. Since it is impossible to know in practice the names of the individuals who committed the human rights violations, the US government applies the law by examining the human rights history of a unit.

The US State Department has interpreted a unit to mean a brigade, which is approximately 3,000 soldiers. Each US embassy has established a “vetting procedure” to review the backgrounds of military units for which assistance has been proposed. To date, foreign aid to Colombia has been the main focus of the law, but now it could also be applied to Pakistan.

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