Posts Tagged ‘HRCP’

Afghan refugees choose to go home as the situation worsens in Pakistan

By Zia Ur Rehman

published in The News



“Pakistan had been a haven for war-affected Afghans for decades, but now Pakistan itself is facing the same problems of terrorism and militancy that Afghanistan has been suffering for the last three decades. We are going back to Afghanistan because Pakistan no longer offers jobs, security and peace of mind,” says Jahan Sher while returning to his home town Mazar-e-Sharif. The economy of Afghanistan has improved during the last four years, he boasts.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that more Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from Pakistan this year than in the previous year. Increasing incidents of harassment and arrests by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies following terrorist activities in the country, poor socio-economic conditions, floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and increase in forcible deportation are key factors compelling the refugees to go back, refugees’ leaders and rights activists believe.

Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s.

Currently there are some 1.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 per cent residing in refugees camps and the rest scattered amongst the host communities. Last year, Pakistan and the UNHCR signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees until the end of 2010. About 3.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the past 9 years, according to UNCHR.

“A total of 1,09,383 Afghans have gone back in March-October through the UNCHR’s return programme, while the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan in 2009 was 51,290,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, UNHCR Pakistan’s Assistant Public Officer. “The number of returnees this year has increased by 51 per cent when compared to the number of people that returned in 2009. Refugees registered in the country are receiving a better assistance, transport and reintegration package, including a grant of $100,” added Khan.

“Most of the returnees cited the difficult situation in Pakistan, worst economic factors and improvement in some provinces of Afghanistan as the important reasons for their decision to return,” said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesperson in Kabul.

“After the continuing terrorist attacks on offices of Pakistan’s security agencies, the crackdown against Afghan refugees, both registered and unregistered, has been accelerated across the country. Thousands of refugees have been arrested and forcibly deported,” said Haji Sohrab, the representative of Afghan refugees appointed by Afghan Consulate in Karachi. “Many Afghan refugees who do not have Proof of Registration (PoR), a document given to these refugees jointly by the government of Pakistan and UNCHR, face strict action by the police,” informed Sohrab.

“Thousands of Afghans, especially students in religious seminaries, daily wage workers and scavengers, have been arrested under the Foreign Registration Act (FRA) during the last two years and deported to their homeland,” said Iqbal Shah Khattak, a law teacher at Urdu University, Karachi.

However, refugees complain that police and law enforcement authorities have time and again raided houses in the refugee camps and other areas and arrested even those community members who had PoR.

“Refugees lived without any legal document for 28 years, till the 2007 registration when they were provided the PoR cards. This gave rise to a lot of legal problems. They could be stopped, searched and arrested under the FRA,” said Khattak, who has worked extensively on refugee rights in Karachi. Afghans in Pakistan have been regularly complaining about harassment and detention at the hands of police, he added.

“The registration process is flawed, leaving many refugees unregistered. Hence, these refugees are vulnerable to harassment and possible deportation,” maintained Sohrab. “The registration process was also marred by problems like lack of guidance, transport, translators and female registration.”

Amid crackdown against illegal Afghan immigrants across the country, industries are now forced by the government not to hire foreign workers without documentary proof, thus adding to the employment problems of refugees.

Denying the reports of arresting refugees with PoR cards, police claim they are arresting only those Afghan immigrants who are living illegally and without documentary proof. “We arrest illegal Afghan immigrants under FRA as well as the refugees involved in crimes,” said police officials, requesting anonymity. Media reports suggest hundreds of Afghan refugees have been detained by police across the country as a pre-emptive security sweep ahead of Muharram.

Majority of refugees are returning to Afghanistan because of worst flooding in Pakistan. Twenty out of 29 refugee camps across the province were swept away by flooding, destroying thousands of homes and leaving about 85,500 refugees homeless. One of the worst hit refugee villages is Azakhel in Nowshera where 23,000 people lost homes.

“Our houses were completely destroyed by the floods and the government is not able to help us,” said Khan Muhammad, an Afghan refugee living in Azakhel camp. “We are planning to go back to Afghanistan where, at least, some of our residential problems would be solved.”

Instead of going back to their villages, most of the returning refugees are settling in cities where they could find jobs easily. “Due to the prevailing insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns are coming to Afghanistan for jobs,” said Basir Ahmed Hotak, an Afghan journalist.

Majority of refugees hailing from worst-hit provinces of Afghanistan, where security situation is still critical, were reluctant to go back to their homeland. “Majority of those returning belong to northern provinces like Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat where the security situation is better,” informed Arshad Khan, a refugee from Helmand. “How can we return to places like Helmand and Kandahar where security situation is worst?”

UNHCR’s officials and refugee leaders confide to TNS that a large number of repatriated refugees are coming back to Pakistan after taking money from UNHCR. “Going back to Afghanistan was a mistake as the security and economic situation is not good in Afghanistan,” said Hafeez Shah, who recently returned to Karachi from Afghanistan.

Some of the returning refugees complain that there is no shelter, electricity, schools, hospitals and employment opportunities in Afghanistan which compelled them to come back to Pakistan.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its report tilted ‘Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Push Comes to Shove’ expressed concerns over closure of refugees camps and intimidation of refugees at the hand of police.

But Najamuddin Khan, Federal Minister for SAFRON (Ministry of State and Frontier Region) said their repatriation was completely on voluntary basis and the government wants their respectful return. The ministry had suggested to UNHCR to give $5000 to each Afghan family returning to Afghanistan for shelter and livelihood there.

(The writer is an independent journalist and researcher and works on human rights, conflict and development. Email:



By Jane Perlez

Zia Ur Rehman Contributed Reporting

For New York Times

Published : Nov 18, 2010

KARACHI- Pakistan, The chaotic city of 18 million people on the shores of the Arabian Sea has never shrunk from violence. But this year, Karachi has outdone even itself.

Drive-by shootings motivated by political and ethnic rivalries have reached new heights. Marauding gangs are grabbing tracts of land to fatten their electoral rolls. Drug barons are carving out fiefs, and political parties are commonly described as having a finger in all of it.

Angry Pakistanis in Karachi, responding to a political killing, set a bus on fire in August; the city has had more than 1,350 such killings in 2010, a report says.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently reported that more than 1,350 people had been killed in Karachi in targeted political killings so far this year, more than the number killed in terrorist attacks in all of Pakistan.

That tally has solidified Karachi’s grim distinction as Pakistan’s most deadly place, outside its actual war zones, where the army is embroiled in pushing back a Taliban insurgency.

Indeed, it is the effect of the war, which has displaced many thousands of ethnic Pashtuns from the northern tribal areas and sent them to this southern port, that has inflamed Karachi’s always volatile ethnic balance. For the most part, extremists who torment the rest of Pakistan with suicide bomb attacks exploit the turmoil here to hide, recruit and raise funds.

The attack last week on the police headquarters by a suicide bomber that killed dozens was the exception, the first attack by extremists against a government institution in the city. Far more common have been killing by gangs affiliated with ethnic-based political parties hunting for turf in a city undergoing seismic demographic change.

Karachi has long been dominated by ethnic Mohajirs, Urdu-speaking people who left India in the 1947 partition and who have been represented politically by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, commonly known as the M.Q.M.

The M.Q.M. has a long association with violence. In 1992, the army moved into Karachi to suppress it, accusing it of a four-year rampage of torture and murder. During what amounted to a two-year occupation by the army, “several thousand” people were killed, according to accounts at the time.

The latest challenge to the M.Q.M.’s hold is the influx of Pashtuns who have fled the war to seek work and shelter in Karachi’s slums. Though the Pashtuns number some five million here now, they remain politically underrepresented, and the frustrations of the newcomers have increasingly been channeled into violent retribution by the Awami National Party, or A.N.P.

The two sides have set their gangs on each other. In August, after a senior M.Q.M. member was shot to death at a funeral, more than 100 people were killed in a weeklong orgy of violence.

The army, asked by some political parties to move in again and keep the peace, declined. During the by-election last month to fill the provincial assembly seat left vacant by the murder, more than 30 people were killed.

In that rampage, members of a self-styled people’s peace committee affiliated with the Pakistan Peoples Party, which leads the national government and considers this province, Sindh, its base, stormed an outdoor market on motorcycles and shot 12 Mohajir shopkeepers, the police said.

Hours later, seven men of ethnic Baluch origin were killed, apparently in revenge for the deaths of the Mohajirs, said Zafar Baloch, a spokesman for the peace committee.

Amber Alibhai, the secretary general of Citizens for a Better Environment, said: “If our government is not going to wake up, I fear Karachi will have ethnic cleansing like Bosnia. There’s no one to stop it. Who’s going to stop it? The police? The army? They can’t.”

The cost of Karachi’s violence hurts all of Pakistan. More liberal than the rest of the country in decorum and religious belief, Karachi is the economic engine of the nation, home to petrochemical plants, steel works, advertising agencies and high-tech start-ups.

The rich live in grand houses in gated communities paved with broad boulevards. The poor live in neighborhoods like Lyari, a slum with little sanitation, fleeting electricity and hardscrabble roads that sits under an expressway.

Other megacities in the developing world — like Shanghai and Mumbai — manage law and order through political leadership that is absent in Karachi, said Farrukh Saleem, a political analyst who writes in The News, a national newspaper.

A scared, understaffed and in some cases complicit police force compounds the problem. That was the message of a new report by a parliamentary committee that said 603 police officers had been assassinated since 1996. This year, 33 officers have been killed, the report said.

Many of these senior police officers were targeted, the report said, as retribution for the military action against the M.Q.M. in 1992, a sign of the long memory of the M.Q.M.

But it is the persistent lack of Pashtun representation in the city and provincial governments that underlies the troubles, said Abdul Qadir Patel, the chairman of the committee that wrote the report and a Pakistan Peoples Party member of Parliament. “The Pashtuns are frustrated and the A.N.P. says, ‘We’ll fight back,’ ” Mr. Patel said.

In rare candor for a Pakistani government document, his report said “ethnicity, sectarianism, perceived insecurity due to demographic changes, gang war between mafias and clash of interests among workers of political parties have been the real cause of violence in Karachi.”

Of 178 boroughs in the 18 towns of Karachi, only 4 are controlled by the Pashtuns. Of 168 seats in the provincial assembly of Sindh, where Karachi is located, the A.N.P., the party of the Pashtuns, has just 2.

Based on Karachi’s demographics, Pashtuns “could have up to 25 seats in the provincial legislature,” Mr. Saleem wrote. “That is political power way out of sync with demographic realities.”

As part of the push and pull in the demographic war, the major political parties use armed thugs to commandeer public land so they can gerrymander election districts, said Mrs. Alibhai of the citizens’ group. One of her group’s workers was killed last year trying to protect a park.

“Land grabbing is used by political parties to increase their electoral mandate and enhance their financial position,” she said.

A recent former M.Q.M. mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal, denied that his party, which has long been favored by Washington for its secular outlook, was involved in the killing of Pashtuns.

Mr. Kamal, who as mayor from 2005 until this year is credited with extending running water to several Pashtun neighborhoods, said Karachi was the rightful home of the Mohajirs. The Pashtun, he said, harbor the Taliban and foment terrorist attacks. “We are the victims,” he insisted.

The gruesome clash between the Mohajirs and the Pashtuns has spread recently to the stalls in Gulshen Town, a Mohajir-dominated area, where people sip tea and chat.

There, Pashtun waiters who deliver hunks of roasted lamb to truck drivers at curbside tables, have become targets, said Noorullah Achakzai, the chairman of a union of hotel workers.

In April, Abdul Rehman, 35, said he was eating lunch with a friend when six men on three motorcycles fired at them. “I got one bullet, my friend got one, the others were scattered,” he said.

Mr. Rehman showed a long scar across his stomach. His friend died, one of the first, Mr. Achakzai said, of 52 outdoor waiters killed in Karachi this year.

By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI – Karachi’s anti-gun campaigners, civil society and political parties have asked the government to launch a de-weaponisation campaign during International Disarmament Week, October 24-30.

They say it is essential to stem the growing rate of assassinations in the city, and; governmental officials have hinted they are considering a de-weaponisation programme.

“We are planning for a de-weaponisation campaign as there are sufficient reports about caches of arms in different areas of the city where lawbreakers have been creating a law-and-order situation,” said Karachi Police Chief Fayyaz Ahmed Leghari.

Initiated by the UN, Disarmament Week seeks to educate people about living peacefully without weapons. Pakistan adopted the UN’s Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons in 2001.


”]Citizens, civil society groups and political parties are urging the government to disarm the city as a wave of violence continues in Karachi. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,250 murders have occurred, most committed with illicit weapons, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and media surveys.


Targeted killings are top cause of death in country

Targeted killings in Karachi alone claimed more lives than suicide bombings did nationwide in 2010, media reported, with 1,208 people killed in 335 suicide bombings this year, compared to 1,233 assassinations during the same period.

Some of the victims were activists of political parties, but most were apolitical daily wage labourers, Tarentum Khan, an HRCP Karachi officer, told Central Asia Online. “Last year, 844 people were killed and the rate of slaying has doubled this year,” Khan said.

“Various governments had taken several steps in the past to de-weaponise the city, but they failed to attain the desired objective as these campaigns were politically motivated and targeted only a specific ethnic group,” Jamal said.

The HRCP, Sheri – Citizens for a Better Environment and the non-governmental organization National Social Forum (NSF) are some of the organisations trying to curb weaponisation by organising public gatherings, forums and media campaigns.

“Present waves of lawlessness have necessitated a need to launch a comprehensive de-weaponisation drive in under to cleanse the city from menace of illicit arms, which is the main … factor in the perfect state of anarchy and lawlessness,” said Iqbal Jamil, president of the NSF.

The NSF is running a gun awareness campaign during International Disarmament Week.

“Various governments had taken several steps in the past to de-weaponise the city, but they failed to attain the desired objective as these campaigns were politically motivated and targeted only a specific ethnic group,” Jamal said.

De-weaponisation has been tried before

The first campaign against illicit weapons began during the mid-1980s when an operation took place in Sohrab Goth, a Pashtun neighbourhood in the city.

The area was a supply hub for illegal arms, according to the government, but the operation failed because many law enforcement officials tipped off arms smugglers before the operation started, intelligence sources said.

Pashtun community leaders called that long-ago operation politically motivated.

“When police forces carried out the operation in the area of Sohrab Goth, they found only a few old weapons and some ammunition,” Manan Baacha Advocate, a Pashtun political activist and intellectual, told Central Asia Online. To hide their failure, the police demolished the Sohrab Goth markets, owned mainly by Pashtuns, which aroused fury in the community, he said.

A second de-weaponisation campaign took place in Karachi in the late 1990s. It targeted a political party that had attained a sizable arsenal and allegedly challenged the writ of the government. Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Qamar Mansoor described that campaign as a politically motivated effort to weaken the MQM.

The government of Mian Nawaz Sharif in his second term launched a third de-weaponisation drive, but that government buckled and cancelled it under political pressure.

Under Pervez Musharraf’s regime, authorities did seize illicit weapons – but only several thousand, considered a fraction of the guns on the street.

Pakistani government considers harsh punishments for violations

Karachi’s crisis demands a well-thought-out strategy for launching an effective de-weaponisation campaign, observers contend. All the political and religious parties, especially the PPP, the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP), agree on disarming the city.

The federal government is considering a law that would impose a maximum of life in prison for carrying illegal arms and would send suspects to an anti-terrorist court, Rafiq Engineer, a provincial minister, told Central Asia Online.

A draft law for de-weaponisation to free the country from illegal arms has been prepared, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, adding that the law’s backers have transformed it into an Ordinance to speed up the seizure of illegal munitions and arms.


‘The disappeared’

Posted: September 25, 2010 in The News
Tags: , , ,

As the world commemorates August 30 as the International Day of the Disappeared, we too must remind the government of the hundreds of the missing people in Balochistan and elsewhere.


Zia Ur Rehman

(The article was published in The News on 13 August 2007)

Story’s origional link

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, while hearing the disappeared or missing person case, called for the case-to-case details of each and every missing person from the Attorney General. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for first time after his re-instatement heard this missing persons’ case. The AG made a plea that he wanted to meet the family members of the missing persons, for which, he be given time. The Court adjourned the hearing of the case until August 20 and directed the AG to submit case-to-case details of each and every missing person in the next hearing. (The News, Aug 7, 2007)

In Balochistan, the military has been conducting operation since the year 2000. Since then hundreds of people have gone missing, according to the reports of human rights organisations and Baloch nationalist parties. The current rise of tensions flows from long-standing grievances felt by the local population in relation to severe economic underdevelopment and failures to receive the benefits of large-scale exploitation of the province’s natural resources.



Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini, Acting Vice-President of Balochistan National Party (BNP) told this writer in Noshki that “We have a list of more than 3000 thousands people who have been arrested by the intelligence agencies from different parts of Balochistan.The agencies picked up the Baloch youths from different parts of Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab and tortured them severely.” Aftab Sherpao, the federal interior minister had revealed when talking to media persons in December 2005 in Turbat that nearly 4000 people had been arrested from Balochistan but after a few days, official sources claimed that the federal minister had only referred to those illegal immigrants who had trespassed the Pak-Iran border in 2005.

Similarly a list of missing people was released by Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, central president, Baloch National Movement (BNM) in a seminar on June 19, 2006 organised by Labour Education Foundation (LEF) in Karachi. Few days later, he was picked up by plain clothed officers of unknown law enforcing agencies and till today, no one knows about his whereabouts. Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, a vocal speaker and former chairperson of Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), was very popular amongst Baloch youth and students and disappointed with parliamentary politics.

A list of missing Baloch activists and citizens are also quoted in a pamphlet entitled ‘Waiting for Truth and Justice’ published by Balochistan National Party (BNP).

On the other hand, IG Police, Balochistan ,Chaudhry Muhammad Yaqoob said , “Those who are quoting 3000 or 4000 people as missing are in fact exploiting the figure in view of the present circumstances.” He challenged them to produce the names and addresses of all those 3000 people. Baloch nationalist parties refer to HRCP reports claiming that 3000 people are missing. However, according to the data collected by HRCP, 600 people have ‘disappeared’ in the country over the past five years. There is a very contradiction in figure of missing people in Balochistan.

The reports of HRCP, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Amnesty International (AI) highlighted many cases of torture on Baloch activists under the custody of law enforcing agencies. Dr. Imdad Baloch, chairman of BSO, was detained in a military torture cell for 6 months, when he was finally released; he re-counted his ordeal to Zahoor Shahwani, representative of HRCP Balochistan and media in Karachi in November 2005. Details included how he and his colleagues were detained in an unknown location, where they were blind folded and only in absolute emergencies, they were allowed to take their blind folds off. They were beaten severely and were burned with cigarettes. One of Imdad Baloch’s legs was broken during the torture. When nothing was extracted from him, he was thrown to Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab.

Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, another leader of BSO, who was also arrested, was not only severely tortured but during his unlawful detention, he was forced to consume poison which has resulted in him not being able to recognise people properly an he has been permanently paralysed. Saleem Baloch, a leader of Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and a political activist of Karachi, also narrated his story of illegal detention and suffering at the office of HRCP, Karachi after release but sadly he was again picked up by law enforcing agencies from Lyari, Karachi. Ustad Sattar Baloch, a school teacher, was given electric shocks in the torture cell. HRCP’s annual reports and publications are full of similar stories of Baloch political activists and citizens.

Munir Mengal, missing Managing Director of the proposed Balochi TV channel, ‘Baloch Voice’ has surfaced after more than one year. He has been arrested at Karachi Airport on his return from Bahrain but his whereabouts could not be known for months. Munir had applied to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) for the license of TV channel.

Disappearances work on two levels: not only do they effectively silence those opposition members who have disappeared, they also sow uncertainty and terror in the wider community in general, thus silencing other opposition voices, current and potential alike. Disappearances entail the violation of a series of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. For the disappeared person, these include the right to liberty, the right to personal security and humane treatment, the right to a fair trial, to legal counsel, and to equal protection under the law, the right of presumption of innocence, etc. The families, who often spend the rest of their lives in searches for remains of the disappeared, also become victims of the disappearance’s effects.

Aug 30, as the International Day of the Disappeared is an annual commemoration day created to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned at places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives and/or legal representatives. The impulse for the day came from the Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (Federacien Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, or FEDEFAM), a NGO founded in 1981 in Costa Rica as an association of local and regional groups actively working against secret imprisonment and forced disappearances in a number of Latin-American countries.

This Day is an opportunity to highlight these institutions’ work, increase public awareness, and to call for donations and volunteers. Amnesty International (AI), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are main international bodies and organisations who are the important concerned organisations. In Pakistan, HRCP is the body taking up this issue aggressively.

The human rights organisations, civil society and political parties demand that list of missing people should be made public, an independent tribunal consisting of Supreme Court, members of Parliament and representatives of Human Rights organisations should be formed and The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to be ratified by the government.

The writer is social researcher and political analyst.