Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pakistan's Nelson Mandela

Pakistan's continued detention of the Baluch nationalist hero, Akhtar Mengal, is fanning the flames of insurrection

By Peter Tatchell

(Courtesy The Guardian)

The years of western-backed dictatorship in Pakistan are coming to an end. Candidates supporting the tyrant Pervez Musharraf were trounced in last month's elections. Now, the democratically elected government of Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, has ordered the release of the judges that Musharraf deposed and detained. They were dismissed because they dared uphold the rule of law and challenge his regime's systemic violation of human rights.

The next big democratisation step being urged by the people of Pakistan is the release of the vast, unknown numbers of political prisoners. As well as the hundreds of people who are known to be detained, there are thousands more who have simply disappeared into hidden detention centres.

One of Pakistan's most celebrated political prisoners is the former chief minister of Pakistan-ruled Baluchistan, Akhtar Mengal, the president of the Baluchistan national party.

To the people of Baluchistan he is a nationalist hero. Many see him as their Nelson Mandela - unjustly jailed for defending the human rights of the oppressed Baluch people. His continuing detention without trial is fanning the flames of nationalist resentment and popular insurrection against Islamabad's tyranny.

According to Amnesty International and the Asian human rights commission, Mengal is illegally detained. Held in solitary confinement in Karachi prison since December 2006, he has been denied justice by the use of delaying tactics. In all this time, he has never been tried in an open court. Cursory court hearings have been conducted inside prison. No one, except one family member, has been allowed to witness any of the legal proceedings against him.

Mr Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the human rights commission of Pakistan, was present at the first hearing of Mengal's case in Karachi prison and this is what he saw: "Mr Mengal was brought into the courtroom and shoved into an iron cage with bars all around that stood in a corner away from his counsel."

Akhtar Mengal has not been arrested on corruption charges nor has he been charged with the abuse of power. He is facing trial for the alleged "abduction" of two undercover agents of Pakistan's security forces.

He was arrested, along with 500 party activists, in November 2006, the day before President Musharraf was due to visit Baluchistan. The mass arrests were apparently intended to stop party members from protesting against the savage Pakistani military operations on Baluch territory, and against the widespread arrests of Baluch human rights activists and their enforced "disappearance".

The events that led to his arrest began in April 2006. Mr Mengal reports that he and his family had been receiving threatening phone calls at the time. Because of these threats, he personally chauffeured his children to school.

On April 5, two men on a motorbike followed his car as he was taking his kids to school. Feeling menaced, Mengal stopped his car and asked the men who they were. They refused to explain themselves. Fearing for his safety, Mengal's security guards detained the two men and took them back to the Mengal residence, intending to hand them over to the police. By this stage, the two men admitted being army personnel.

The Pakistani senator, Sanaullah Baloch, recently recounted what happened next:

"Almost immediately, a large party of law-enforcement agency men arrived on the spot and took away their two colleagues who had been picked up, and laid siege to the house and its occupants.

On the intervention of the Sindh chief minister, it was agreed that no case would be filed if Mr Mengal's guards who were involved in the case were handed over to the police for questioning ... Akhtar Mengal remained free till November 28, 2006, when the Baluchistan police arrested him, along with senior members of his party.

Since then, all proceedings are being conducted in camera. Repeated humiliation of the Baluch and their political representatives will intensify the animosity felt by the troubled Baluch population. The judiciary's tilted role and the unproductive hearings ... have already shattered the credibility of the bench."

Akhtar Mengal is not the only political prisoner. Many other leaders from Pakistan's minority nationalities - Baluch, Sindhi and Pashtun - have been detained and abused on trumped up charges.

Veteran Baluch nationalists Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Nawab Khair Bux Khan Marri, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo, Sher Mohammed Marri and Mir Gul Khan Naseer have spent many years in prison for defending the human rights of the Baluch people and refusing to act as quislings for the Punjabi-dominated political and military establishment in Islamabad.

Senator Sanaullah Baloch has noted:

"Mengal's prolonged detention, mortification and the delay in the dispensation of justice has exposed the inequality that characterises our system. They also point to the inability of our courts to act independently without being influenced by the powers that be.

The (Pakistan) constitution guarantees that 'all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law'. The international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination also emphasises 'the right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice'. However, the Baluch have not been treated according to national and international laws. Constitutional guarantees and the courts have failed to protect their fundamental rights.

Akhtar Mengal, as a senior leader of a political party, is entitled to all basic rights and facilities. But he has been denied basic legal and human rights because of his political affiliations. The large number of political activists in Baluchistan, who have been detained and denied legal and prison rights, are entitled to just treatment in accordance with UN conventions. The government of Pakistan must abide by the laws of the country and international law and respect the rights of the Baluch. There should be an end to the injustice, intimidation and harassment being meted out to them."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There’s clearly an array of powers at work creating the case right now for a war on the Pashtun tribal regions. These things don’t just happen in a vacuum. Wars seem to start with the careful choreography of the news media. The war masters, the maestros, start feeding their lap dogs, the press. The music is then played by the press for the rest of us to hear.

Notice how all the papers are beginning to play the same thing about the Afghan and Pakistan border? The theme of “lawless frontier” is being played every week. The sound drowns out the reality of a noble 5000 year old culture of some 42-million people.

We hear instead about the vilified denizens of a “lawless tribal frontier.”

What you missed it? Well, it’s only been playing for about two weeks. You need to tune in to the inside pages. The maestros have been composing for a while longer…. Their creative juices kicked in about the time Sen. Obama, answering one of those deadly sucker-punch sound bite questions showed us his war face telling us he would take action on “high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf "won't act.

That’s the sunshine it took to start the war-sap flowing. War-sap is sticky stuff, its residue has been known to encapsulate the creatures that get too near and preserve them there for posterity.

There is a legal system in place of course, in this lawless frontier. It’s been there for 5000 years. The Pashtun call the system the jirga. But its not part of the sharia law, it’s unique to the Pashtun and precedes Islam by thousands of years. But we don’t sing about that just now.

Please, I definitely don’t want the Pashtun to start signing their homeland song either. I don’t want to learn that an 1893 border line drawn with the blessing of Queen Victoria divided a group of mountain dwellers along the Afghan and Pakistan boarder in two.

I thought mountain ridges where proper borders. Everybody uses them. I just can’t handle the sound of another this-a-stan or that-a-stan popping up. So please, I don’t want to know about a Pashtunistan. And I definitely have no interest in anything 5000 years old, if it means Obama can catch Osama on good intelligence, bring it on! That should be Commander Obama’s war face call: “Bring it on!” Hmmmm, that sounds familiar.

What is this Pashtuni-whatever, Pashtunwali, anyway?

It’s a code of conduct. The Pashtun openly express somewhat defiantly, total cultural independence and have seen conquering armies and powers come and go through the millennia. Probably because of their original geographic high mountain foothold they could stand off vast armies with terrain advantage. Well it’s about time maybe for all that to stop.

If the Pashtun just hang in there with there non-violent thesis a few more generations, they'll be the dominant culture of the entire region with the new awakening of intellectual prowess and coming Islamic Reformation which is beginning right now. Their hopes of control over their resources, a name for themselves, and an end to fundamentalist radical Islamic persecution will fade away and they will be the dominant culture. They would be wise to muster whatever assets are needed, magically go find Osama bin Laden and turn him over to the world court thus avoiding a coming war in the tribal area.

And, how come they sound more like American cowboys than foreigners? Darn it, if we are going to start another little war, can’t we start it with some body that doesn’t live like my great, grandfather? The old Pashtun nationalist non-violent Kahn Abdul Gaffari Kahn 1930's photo, even looks like grandpa!

Setting aside the Pashtun mostly pray to the same God I do, grandpa did, and great grandpa too, how on earth did they adopt the same code as the old cowboy code of the west?

According to “lawless frontier” musical score, the first impressions I hear is Pashtun love rifles, chewing green tobacco, and appreciate a good sense of humor. So what's not to like? I can’t go to war on that.

If I fell out of the sky and landed in a group of people like that, I'd get along just fine, especially if I were being chased by the law. What they call Nanawateh we call asylum. Nanawateh is extended even to an enemy, just like the Cowboy Code of the Old West. Except if you are granted asylum (called Lokhay Warkawal) by the Pashtun elders as a group you're in like Flynn! They protect you even if it means forfeiting their own lives. Man that is lawless. Imagine a code of living where a principal was so honored, that it exceeded my duty to the state. Hmmm. Now that is lawless. Isn’t it?

Better to just seek hospitality, then they’ll treat you like a king, which makes me want to open a 5-Star hotel somewhere in the snowy peaks along the boarder if I can find a few acres for a ski-lift not planted in opium poppies, viewed on Google Earth satellite, not that anyone is actually checking the carefully cultivated fields above 6,000 feet along the borders. I would feel right at home there, not unlike parts of Tennessee or California.

Look at the forces arrayed here. My little fantasy war is going to happen.

The Democrats need to show they can be trusted with national defense again, be it Hillary or Obama. And McCain says fight to win.

The second verse of the song is still being written: Floating the contingency balloon. Up, up, and awa-a-a-ay, in my beautiful ball-o-o-o-on….

Obama or Hillary, or McCain get sworn in January 20, 2009. By mid June, whoever is President is going to make a push into the boarder regions the so-called "lawless frontier tribal zones” and “on good intelligence,” unless of course my leader does it first before June 20th. The operation will be Pakistan’s (well okay we’ll give them a few billion). It will be a fast coordinated air-ground attack with airborne US intelligence and lots of surrounding US air cover as a safety check to insure the operation stays within operational parameters. Pakistani’s will not go into Afghanistan and vice a versa. Meantime the Pakistan Navy will be backed up (some would say surrounded and outgunned) by the US Navy to keep a lid on the operation seeing to it they don’t launch an attack on India by Pakistan Islamic fundamentalist-leaning ground forces. We’ll hold India’s hand throughout the entire episode and offer security where needed.

Up, up and awa-a-a-ay in my beautiful …. This thing’s going to happen regardless of who wins.

You can’t deny the poetic justice in someone with a Muslim name (Obama) catching a renegade terrorist (Osama). Can you imagine the songs that we could write about that? To the tune of “Froggy went a courting.”

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh
Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh
Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, he hunt Osama on the Mount
Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, un-huh. …..

The best time to wage this little war would be during the Chinese Olympics. China would likely remain quiet with their hands temporarily full with the Olympics.

So my fantasy, glorious, contingency war needs to be brief, violent, and force the Pashtun jirga to rethink their long term cultural interests. It needs to end with Osama in a holding tank, brought up on charges in the world court.

If it fails? Well what do you expect from the lawless tribal frontier area in Pakistan with questionable army allegiance? Corruption is everywhere.

I’d still like to open a 5-star hotel with some good ski-runs. You don’t suppose the opium production their so good at, has anything to do with the foolishness of some of our drug laws? Nah.

Victor Davis Hanson says you have to look at war with a long term perspective in order to understand its meaning. Long term is real long term. It may well turn out that while many say Bush's legacy must be a failure, history may have a completely different take on things, long after both you and I and our great grand children have come and gone. It may turn out, that doomed legacy of a Bush Presidency we hear so often this campaign-cycle ends up being written 1000 years from now as the President who started Islamic Reformation (* See Footnote) and brought freedoms that enabled thinking people to ask questions about religious practices that eventually changed the world and started the east and the west talking again.

The Ritz, I like that franchise, a 5-star Ritz, 18-hole world class golf course, mini-conference center with A Pashtun bag-piper paying my old favorite, “The Ass in the Graveyard” with double malt scotch, in the bracing night air.


Footnote: Reformation: "Christianity has the advantage of having been able to interpret its religious texts in their historical context, thus arriving at the distinction between what belongs to the bedrock of faith and what is related to culture: a distinction that Muslims have difficulty making." ... This was a topic of discussion in Muslim and Christian dialogue in Brussels, April 17, 2008. And from Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the US in April 15-21, while visiting a synagogue in New York, with about 200 representatives of other religions, including Islam, to the Muslims the Pope said that interreligious dialogue "aims at something more than a consensus for advancing peace." The greater objective of dialogue is "to discover the truth" and keep the deepest and most essential questions awake in the hearts of all men. "Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue.... Dear friends, in our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity..... The higher goal of interreligious dialogue requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenants."