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Human Right Groups Must Take Note Of Civilian Deaths

By       Message Muhammad Khurshid     Permalink
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American troops' performance is far better in the war on terror as so far according to reports, they have avoided the civilian casualties while hit the high-valued targets in tribal areas. But the Pakistani forces have been bombing tribal areas ruthlessly killing civilians mostly women and children. The Pakistani troops have not been abiding by the law in fighting against terrorists. Terrorists have also not been following the rule of the game resulting into killing of innocent people.

Most of the tribesmen have appealed to the Amnesty International and other human right organisations to take note of the killing of innocent people. Dawn has also written an editorial on the issue.

CONSIDERING the deep roots that the Taliban have struck in the tribal and some settled areas of the north, it is clear that there is a need to retrain the military option when it comes to eliminating the insurgents' positions. However, the validity of strikes such as those witnessed in Barthana village, Swat, on Sunday must be questioned. Apparently more than 20 innocent civilians were killed in the Swat attack alongside 25--as officially reported--militants, while several houses were damaged. Such assaults come across more as a measure of the level of frustration in the military than an expression of the government's commitment to wiping out the Taliban in the country's militancy-infested areas. The probability of civilian casualties in any attack, howsoever meticulously planned, will always be there, especially with militants using civilians as human shields to defend their positions. Nevertheless, it is essential to the success of the war against militancy to keep collateral damage to the minimum by refraining from indiscriminate strikes that could kill men, women and children and destroy hearths and homes.

Obviously, the war against militancy is not only about repelling an implacable foe. Part of it is also a battle for hearts and minds that must be won over to make any military strategy effective. That, unfortunately, does not seem to be happening in Swat. Caught in the crossfire, non-combatants are being displaced as they lose their homes or flee to safer areas while the military and the Taliban fight it out. This suits the Taliban whose base becomes stronger as the level of public anger against the armed forces for killing civilians, however unintentional, grows. Conversely, for the military such a situation implies that it cannot count on the support of the locals, something it badly needs to build up public opinion against the Taliban. The promising signs of tribal lashkars--empowered and encouraged by the provincial and federal governments--challenging the Taliban in some parts of Fata may dissipate if a flawed strategy is in operation.

It is important then for the military to act on sound intelligence and with caution when it attacks Taliban hideouts, especially in the settled areas where the population density is greater than in the tribal regions. It must dispel any doubts regarding its counter-insurgency tactics and show itself to be a pro-people force that is ready to target the militants but only when it has ensured the citizens' safety in any planned operation. The fact that the military is, at least theoretically, acting under a political dispensation that has the people's mandate should go in its favour and the opportunity to gain the people's goodwill must not be lost. Failure at this point will only strengthen the militants' hand.
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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)

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