Peshawar Review: Bombing, droning civilians, torture, extra judicial killings major factors leading to army school massacre

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Nadeem Hussain Bangash, Ibrar Hussain and Imran Ali —killed during attack on Army Public School and College Peshawar (photo Iftikhar Danish)

(First published on Radical Sister December 23rd 2014)

The ferocious attack on Peshawar Army Public School and College on the 16th December 2014 by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) who killed over 140 schoolchildren and adults with 122 injured is condemned by many in the strongest terms. The choice of what is termed a “soft target” hit the youth and future of the city, putting fear into the hearts of youngsters and parents not only locally but in a much wider ripple effect throughout Pakistan and around the world. Details of the attack can be read on the following link,

“Pakistan mourns after Peshawar school massacre”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-30507836

This was a carefully calculated assault intended to inflict maximum damage on families perceived to be connected to the military though other non -army families were caught up in the horror too. The older boys selected for assassination was chillingly reminiscent of the guidance given by President Obama on which males could be targeted for a US drone strike.

Islamic Emirate (Afghan Taliban) Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamaat -ul-Ahrar (TTP JA) all moved to condemn the killing of civilians, especially children. AQIS spokesperson Osama Mehmood stated “our hearts are bursting with pain and grief over this incident” whilst the Islamic Emirate pointed out that, “the intentional killing of innocent people, women and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government and movement must adhere to this fundamental essence.”

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The men who planned, participated in the attack (photo TTP) 

TTP released a statement after the attack in which all participating men were killed and a video accepting responsibility stating the following,

“yesterday morning the TTP’s special unit MSG (Mujahideen Special Group)
successfully entered to a School under the management of Pakistan Army located
in a high security zone of Peshawar, and killed the army officers and the young boys inside the School who were determined to be part of the Army and their operations in the country and tribal areas.

 The attack was under the supervision of the operational commander of TTP and
Ameer (Commander) of Peshawar and Dara Adam Khail, Khalifa Umar Mansoor,
he was in contact and giving instructions to the Fidayeen during the attack.”

The immediate feeling in the aftermath of the attack is one of revenge with multiple demonstrations from the public and a knee jerk reaction from the Nawaz Sharif government to execute up to 500 prisoners in coming days. However this is also a distraction away from what is a most astonishing security lapse of government, military and security services who ignored the very clear warnings given by Taliban groups in the days BEFORE the attack. This was a catastrophic failure in terms of prevention and now what we have for the most part is a misguided reaction to target those not involved in the Peshawar massacre through hanging.

There is a big difference between justifying an attack and attempting to analyse where issues were missed and the motivating factors in order to try to prevent future incidents. This is being side-lined to protect individuals within key institutions and therefore the predominant narrative is that, if you dare to question, you must be labelled a “traitor”. Some of the biggest alleged traitors however are those who committed acts that very likely provided the “tipping point” for the TTP in recent weeks. It is ESSENTIAL to examine the lead up to recent events and try to determine where security lapses took place and what warnings could have been gleaned from militant statements.

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Victims of bombings in North Waziristan (photo of girl 7, Dr Noor Wazir)

As expected TTP make reference in their press release on the Peshawar assault to military operations Operation Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijaat, Sherdil, Zarb-e-Azb, Khyber 1 and operations against the army from insurgents are daily and anticipated. The assault on children was not generally considered. Attempting to maintain the moral highground, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claimed on Sunday that, “the Pakistan Army has never targeted the families and children of militants” and that they “do not target non-combatants.” However any respected local journalist that has managed to slip into bombed out areas of North Waziristan will tell you otherwise and produce the evidence quietly through photos and video clips. The international media and human rights organizations are kept away from the affected area and any that do manage to gain access do so under carefully stage managed supervision from the military.

This has the effect of dulling public reaction… what you can’t see often doesn’t upset you. In the case of the Public Army School these children were not living in rural areas or likely to be from poor families in North Waziristan and no detail was spared updating news followers all over the world with graphic minute by minute updates of their suffering. Even with bombings there is a 2 tier system of reporting in operation and only a few in Pakistan and hardly anyone outside would have heard of the intense bombardment that took place hitting civilians in the tribal areas in December last year or the family that lost 27 members in May of this year.

In a press release from 23rd December 2013 Pakistan Tehreek -i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan referred to bombing in Waziristan where women and children were killed, he said,

“if the military had intended to respond with an attack it should have cleared the area of women and children at least before they bombed Mir Ali through helicopter gunships and artillery. Already civilians, especially women and children, have been innocent victims of drone attacks and now military action is causing more suffering on these innocent victims of a war they are not responsible for. We cannot regard our women and children of FATA with the callousness and unconcern that is presently being displayed towards them by the state of which they are citizens.”

He went on to conclude and accurately predict that,

“military operations in one’s own country do not resolve problems; instead they exacerbate them and the same will happen if a military operation is launched in NWA. Already there are reports of people fleeing the area and civilians being killed. With no civilian control or responsibility the country will be further destabilised, divided and weakened which is what our detractors are seeking. Our history should teach us the human and political costs to the nation of military operations” 

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US drone missile severely injured Nabila (9) and brother Zubair (13) and killed their grandmother 67-year-old Momina Bibi.

With regard to US drone strikes on Pakistan, The Bureau of Investigative Journalismreported the following statistics.

405 CIA drone strikes on Pakistan, from 2004 to present

2,400-3,888 people reported killed in drone strikes in Pakistan

700 (only) have been named so far but nearly half – 323 – of the people identified are reported to be civilians, including 99 children.

Many Pakistanis have cheered for military operations despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced, expected to sacrifice all for their country. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are suffering badly and anger has exploded at recent demonstrations. Few cared about US drone strikes hitting the Federally Administered Tribal Areas over the last decade. Many argued that killing children was justified, written off as “collateral damage”. This demonstrated double standards again because there have been recent calls for a “no drone zone” over Karachi to prevent small drones being used as bombs so the children of this city would be protected. The life of those in urban areas is valued far higher than rural Pashtuns.

An advocate at Lahore high court bar association Mian Arshid Farooq had no problem with drone strikes, he told me, “the killings of innocent people in their area are unintentional or if you like to say ‘collateral damage” but what they (insurgents) are doing is quite intentional. You cant place them side by side. There is no apology onward.”

Consider this, when did you ever see the US use drones against their own, home grown terrorists on American soil. There would be an outcry if the children of New Jersey were incinerated and decapitated like those in Waziristan. Americans, like those in urban Karachi also protect their children.

What has been another very noticeable issue of late for Taliban groups has been the increasing number of “enforced disappearances” and the torture, killing and dumping of young men in detention. Farooq had no problem with this either, referring to the legal system he said, “state coercion is a subject concerned for rights of civilians, not pathetic terrorists. There is no universal one tier system in all the world.” Certainly not in Pakistan.

Torture has become institutionalized and “normal” towards alleged insurgents and many others who dare to criticize the state whilst those attached to state authorities carrying out criminal acts often go free. The consequences of torture and extra- judicial killings have been catastrophic leading up to the massacre at Peshawar. That is very clear to see.

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Human Rights Commission of Pakistan activists held a protest demonstration in Hyderabad on Thursday to mark UN’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. PHOTO: ONLINE

It is shocking to see large numbers of Pakistanis justifying and indeed celebrating torture, time after time despite this being against the law. In her article, The Poisoned Orchard of Torture, Professor Danielle Celermajer (University of Sydney) argues that “torture does not occur because of depraved people, but because of pathological situations – or as one social scientist put it, poisoned orchards not bad apples.” The poisoned orchards of Pakistan have been bearing fruit at an alarming rate. Celermajer highlights the correlation between certain beliefs and resulting behaviours towards those in detention stating,

“beliefs such as; “they don’t have feelings like we do,” and “they are not open to reason so you have to beat them” legitimate and normalise torturing people who have become less than human.

It’s worth connecting the dots between the dehumanisation we saw in the “war on terror” and the more banal but pervasive dehumanisation that takes place in the US every day.”

The same can be said of Pakistan and every person that carried out or supported torture and the breaking of the law has contributed to the killing of the children of Peshawar and might as well have pulled the trigger themselves.

As the bodies piled up in recent weeks in places like Kohat Detention Centre, so the anger grew from Taliban groups TTP and TTP JA who gave warning after warning to stop these unlawful actions. Why did no -one take notice and work within the law. Many civilians (even a well known Amnesty International advocate for Pakistan) argued it didn’t matter when I raised this issue as he argued that Taliban don’t have any rights. However with this attitude, those that torture prisoners turn into the very people they are opposing … and in the end its hard to distinguish one from another… then we have state terrorists versus terrorist groups, both using similar tactics.

Using the American example of dehumanization, Celermajer stated,

“dehumanisation of African American men has reached a point where police shootings have been so normalised that a council of peers do not even feel it necessary to call police to legal account.

Extreme, violent and ideological war creates the exact conditions under which the meaning of torture is easily recast. Torturers did not see what they were doing as violating the most basic human dignity or acting with unspeakable cruelty.”

This can be seen throughout Pakistani society. For very action there is a reaction. Taliban splinter group, TTP JA spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan (who condemned the Peshawar attack) relayed frequent warnings to both police and army regarding retaliation, this one from 21st November 2014 reads,

“the Pakistan Army has continued its previous evil tradition of executing the prisoners from their jails and we shall not remain silent over the extra- judicial killing of our companions, InshaAllah. We also have many soldiers in our prisons and Pakistan Army should not force us to treat those prisoners as we treated 23 FC personnel a few months ago.”

Twenty-three Frontier Corps men were killed by Taliban after the government refused to listen to their demand to stop torturing in custody and dumping bodies. Taliban waited three weeks for a response to a letter on the subject but no reply was forthcoming. Clearly no lessons were learnt that from that incident which can be read here,

“Pakistan: Warning letter on human rights abuses in custody was ignored, Taliban kill 23 FC men in retaliation.”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/pakistan-warning-letter-on-human-rights-abuses-in-custody-was-ignored-taliban-kill-23-fc-men-in-retaliation/

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Amina Masood Janju hold press conference on deaths in detention

On August 28th 2014, DAWN media reported that Chairperson Defence of Human Rights (DHR) Amina Masood Janjua held a press conference in Islamabad alleging that 91 missing persons had been killed in the detentions centres across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) many of these were young men. Families are often to afraid to file reports against those they accuse of being involved in the killings. They inform human rights activists that there are signs of torture on the bodies when they go to collect them. In one such case, theNews on Sunday quoted Noor Mohammad, the father of detainee Minar Khan who died in detention, who stated,

“I received a phone call from Kohat informing me about the death of my 22-year-old son. I went there along with some relatives and received the body,”…. 

“The officials told me that my son had died a natural death when both his legs were blackened. We suspect poisoning or electric shocks”

From article “Kohat, A Living Hell”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/kohat-a-living-hell-with-deaths-of-detainees-at-internment-centres-in-khyber-pakhtunkhwa/#.VJjoU14gA

The News on Sunday reported that Khan had been taken into custody by members of a Qaumi Lashkar, established by the security forces to fight militants, two-and-a-half years previously and was subsequently handed over to the security forces, dubbing him a militant.

TTP Commander Khalifa Umar Mansoor referred to the killing and dumping of bodies in his statement when he wrote,

“Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan warned the government and security agencies many
times to stop their cruel action, the negotiations (referring to peace talks) were also failed only on the issue of missing persons’ thrown dead bodies.”

Pakistan government and military refer to the attack on Karachi airport by militants as being the turning point which led to military operations, Zarb -e-Asb. However there is compelling information in a report which alleges a serious of state supported assassinations against insurgents DURING the peace talks BEFORE Karachi incident after an alleged shooter was captured and confessed to his role. He gave details of targets, where he was trained and who had paid him. See link,

“Pakistan: Alleged target killer for ISI and Blackwater executed after confessing to assassinations during peace talks”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/pakistan-alleged-target-killer-for-isi-and-blackwater-executed-after-confessing-to-assassinations-during-peace-talks/

Unfortunately it would appear that many of the public are either naive or with ostrich syndrome, their heads buried in the sand. In their anger following Peshawar attack, they rushed to Lal Masjid (the scene of a military assault in 2007 against those viewed as radicalized) to take up protests there against the clerics and scholars. In the Peshawar case, time would have perhaps been better spent supporting Amina Masood Janjua (DHR) in her many protests against killing and torture in detention, a significant factor leading up to the attack on the Army Public School. If the public had done so before, instead of applauding torture, the attack may have been prevented.

The candle-lit ceremonies (which looked more like the Catholic Church than Islam) have provided a focus for public grief but how many of those attending challenged the unlawful behaviour of those in authority before 16th December 2014 which some are now referring to as “Pakistan’s 9/11.” There is a rush to judge and moralize against anyone that dares raise the issue of causation. Exploring why violent incidents occur is a very important part of learning and prevention for the future.

The government has now embarked on a reactionary “hanging frenzy” which will only incite more anger and retaliation. If they were truly wanting to tackle extremism and terrorism they could start by disengaging from the US and its War Of Terror which has led to much of the mayhem, unrest and violence in the first place. Sadly US dollars have always come before the wellbeing of the Pakistan’s children. The “land of the pure” is becoming increasingly grubby.

The question should be asked, why is no one in the prisons and detention centres being held accountable for torture and extra judicial killings that, as stated many times over the years, is a risk to the national security. Two tier systems of law and committing torture all lead to unrest in society. Injustice radicalizes. As Asma Jahangir pointed out in a recent DAWN article, “the powerful walked away free after murder while the vulnerable could easily get death under the weak judicial system.”

The situation has got so bad in Pakistan that there are finally efforts to introduce a Bill to prevent torture, custodial deaths and custodial rape. This is being moved by Senator Farhatullah Babar and admitted by the Senate which prescribes stringent punishments for torture.

It defines ‘torture’ as an act intended to inflict physical or mental pain on a person in custody for securing a confessional statement or as a punishment for committing a suspected crime.

Those found guilty of torture would face up to ten years in prison and a fine up to Rs 1 million, or both with the amount of the fine going to the victim. Custodial deaths and custodial rape would be punishable with life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 3 million. If the fine is not recovered, the guilty would have to undergo an additional 5 year imprisonment. The fine amount to be paid to the victims or heirs of the victim.

Another point of division and anger, double standards on the deaths of children in Pakistan are the order of the day. Referring to Peshawar, many times in the last few days, people of Waziristan have voiced the opinion, why did people not grieve in the same way for our children who were droned and bombed in military operations or died of thirst during enforced displacement.

With regard to the use of US drones, the reality is, no amount of drone strikes or jet attacks will eradicate every last militant. Its a ridiculous statement to make when a new generation of those whose fathers have been killed are already being prepared from a small age to fill their shoes. The CIA has now admitted in a recent report that drones may not be so effective as they radicalize people (what human rights campaigners have said all along).

Far from uniting all Pakistanis, the Peshawar attack has widened divisions in society as the double standards and hypocrisy become ever more apparent. The line now being used “you are either with us or with the terrorists” is a naive statement to make. A person can be against violent and extreme behaviour but realize the truth regarding some issues raised. For example it is possible to be horrified at acts of terror but also stand against torture of insurgents in custody.

Soldier, Waqar Ilyas Rao was not in favour of Taliban being tortured. He had this to say,

“talking of my opinion they should not reach torture stage, I think you got my opinion. Oh boy!!! You are talking about legislation and stuff. It should not be a difficult thing to understand. You must know how a Talib is captured? Definitely after a fight, or some intelligence cruise does it sometimes. What I say is ” KEEP NO PRISONERS “

Rao proudly displayed a photo on his Facebook page showing what appeared to be a courtyard full of dead bodies. I asked him about the image and he replied, “its a day after Peshawar incident, 32 sent straight up FOR JUSTICE.”

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Taliban killed by military, the day  after Peshawar attack 

Now Pakistan is going into lockdown due to fear of more attacks with alerts issued nationwide. Schools, universities, places of worship, transport hubs, military establishments, prisons, nuclear installations are all at risk. So many opportunities were lost before military operations to address terrorism without resorting to bombardment. The warnings are bleak, hangings are increasing the number of “martyrs” at a fast rate who will embrace death and their power will become stronger than in life. TTP were quick to issue a photo with the following message from one of the first to be subjected to capital punishment after the Peshawar attack,

“salute to your courage Dr Usman and salute to your courage Arshad Mahmood. Happy journey from Pakistan’s worst jail to Allah’s paradise. We will accomplish your mission Inshaa Allah. We will teach a lesson to your enemies especially to army and Sharif’s family that their next generation will remember.”   

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In addition to this, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMMU) have issued the following chilling warning as part of their response to the Peshawar assault,

“Oh Nawas and Raheel! Listen carefully to what we say! You’ll harvest what you sow! You have signed to the death certificate of your children by killing the children of Muslims. Yes, your children have been killed by yourselves, not by the mujahids. Murdering two-year-old children, you shouted to the world that you had killed the terrorists. And when the mujahids killed your 15-17 year-old adolescent children, more importantly they had been being brought up as the servants of kufr, do you cry to the world that they were young children?! Do not show us the tears of crocodile! If you do not take lesson from it and continue your atrocities towards Muslims, then you had better gather all your soldiers in the borders and military camps and re-allocate them as the doorkeepers to your schools and kufr institutions where your spouses work. Because our jihad of blood for blood and life for life has entered to the new stage, insha Allah!”

There is a letter doing the rounds on social media dated 28th August 2014 which allegedly warns of a security threat “threat alert 802″ on Public Army School giving details. This was one of a number as anyone monitoring insurgency could follow the very open threats made in public in recent months relating to families of police and army due to their practice of enforced disappearances, alleged torture, extra judicial killings. To address this issue means serious self-evaluation by the security services and examining unlawful activities which is probably why it is so often swept under the carpet.

Today I was told that seven women from the city of Mingawara Nawakalay, Swat have been taken into custody by Pakistan army, they are allegedly the sisters and mothers of missing persons that remain missing. Their names are Shagufta, Shabeena, Haseena, Zainab, Qamar Zameera, Uroosa and Afshaan. It is to be hoped they will be treated according to the law and have not been taken into custody without valid reason.

Pakistan government and military must take some responsibility for unleashing  what now looks like an unstoppable tide of destruction that has surged from the very measures supposed to counter terrorism. Recent terrorist attacks have shown insider support within army, navy and airforce with ever increasing internal radicalization and may have been present in the Peshawar attack. (Let us not forget investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad who was tortured and murdered for highlighting alleged ACTIVE recruitment of insurgent sympathizers into the armed forces.) Although a united Pakistan is the goal of government, there are a significant number now in Balochistan, Sindh and Waziristan waiting to prize open the cracks which may well become wide chasms. The days ahead look very dark indeed!

Links 

“Drone blowback: Taliban retaliation attack and military violence against civilians, result carnage”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/drone-blowback-taliban-retaliation-attack-and-military-violence-against-civilians-result-carnage/

“Pakistan: North Waziristan impact of military shelling on civilians and property images”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/pakistan-north-waziristan-impact-of-military-shelling-on-civilians-and-property-images-2/

“Pakistan 2014: Enforced disappearances condemned practice threatens security of the state”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/pakistan-2014-enforced-disappearances-condemned-practice-threatens-security-of-the-state/

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

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