Pakistan army accused of extrajudicial killings, human rights abuses

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010; 11:04 AM

ISLAMABAD -- The Pakistani army has allegedly committed hundreds of retaliatory killings and other ongoing human rights abuses in the Swat Valley since the end of its successful anti-Taliban offensive there in September, threatening billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid to a crucial ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The extrajudicial execution of up to 300 alleged Taliban supporters and sympathizers in the area around Mingora, the Swat capital, has been documented by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which conducted interviews with more than 100 Swat families in February and March. A report on the alleged abuses, including torture, home demolitions and illegal detentions and disappearances, is scheduled for release this month.

Based on a continuing pattern, "we can only assume it is part of the counterterrorism effort by the security forces to shoot people in the back of the head," said Ali Dayan Hasan, the organization's senior South Asia analyst.

"When the Taliban was in charge, they did the same thing," Hasan said. "Summary execution has become a symbol of control. If you're in control, you leave corpses around."

Amnesty International reported "credible information" about extrajudicial killings in September, immediately following the military offensive.

The Obama administration has been aware of ongoing abuse reports since last summer, officials said, even as it has strengthened its relationship with Pakistan. Last month, the administration held a "strategic dialogue" with top Pakistani military and government officials.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Monday that the U.S. military was "working with the Pakistanis to address" the situation and was pleased with their progress.

"While our strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan and our close partnership in combating terrorism are very important to us, we take allegations of human rights abuses seriously," Morrell said.

A senior U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration has provided Congress with regular updates on the allegations since last summer and on "steps to address them." The White House, he said, is "mindful of the legislative requirements."

Most U.S. assistance here falls under congressional restrictions requiring the administration to certify Pakistan's adherence to human rights laws and norms. U.S. aid to Pakistan has included $11.6 billion in military assistance since 2002, along with $6 billion in economic and development aid, according Congressional Research Service figures, with an additional $3 billion in combined aid requested in the administration's 2011 budget.

Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas denied allegations of abuse. He said in an interview that the military had invited human rights groups to investigate earlier charges of abuse made during the June-to-September offensive in the former Taliban stronghold.

The army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, issued written directives ordering troops operating in Swat and other regions to respect the rule of law, Abbas said, adding that maintaining control of its own soldiers was crucial to Pakistan's anti-Taliban campaign.

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