Pakistan: Government must protect people from Swat valley's 3,000 Taleban

Half a million people displaced; over 100 girls’ schools closed; ‘bloody square’ punishments; half of all police deserting their posts

The Pakistani government should act immediately to protect hundreds of thousands of people from Taleban insurgents in the Swat valley, Amnesty International said today.

According to official estimates, over the past year more than 1,200 people have been killed and up to half a million people have been displaced from their homes in the Swat valley as a result of fighting between government forces and Pakistani Taleban groups, who are ideologically affiliated with Afghanistan’s Taleban.

Over the past two years, radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his followers have increasingly established control over the region, imposing a de-facto administration. The group has:

* consolidated its control by setting up a parallel justice system with over 70 “courts” to administer “speedy and easy justice”, in practice meting out cruel physical punishments;

* used their nightly FM radio broadcasts to announce “wanted” lists of local politicians and government workers to appear before their courts, or face the consequences;

* recently threatened to kill all lawyers and judges if they fail to stop working with the state judicial system;

* caused at least half of Swat’s 800 police officials, too afraid to remain on duty, to take leave of absence or desert their ranks;

* publicly whipped men for shaving their beards, destroyed shops for selling music and forcibly prohibited Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights from leaving their houses unless escorted by a male relative.

The main square of Mingora, the area’s largest city, has been locally dubbed Khooni Chowk, or “bloody square”, in reference to the more than two dozen bodies the Pakistani Taleban have publicly displayed there.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said:

“The Pakistani Taleban have shown their contempt for the lives and rights of the people of the Swat valley.

“For the past five years the government’s response to the rise of insurgents in Swat and the Tribal Areas has vacillated between launching often indiscriminate and disproportionate military operations that mostly harm civilians, and abandoning Pakistani citizens to abusive insurgent groups. Fear of government military operations, rather than the Taleban, has been cited by tens of thousands of people who have fled the area.

“The Pakistani government needs to implement a strategy that focuses on respecting the rights and the well-being of its citizens and refrains from heavy-handed military operations which put civilians at risk. The government should also ensure it does not leave its citizens at the mercy of the Taleban.”

Amnesty International has condemned the Pakistani Taleban’s campaign against education, especially for girls. Over the past 18 months, the Taleban have destroyed more than 170 schools in Swat, including more than 100 girls’ schools. These attacks have disrupted the education of more than 50,000 pupils, from primary to college level, according to official estimates.

Amnesty International urged the government to take protective measures to guarantee that pupils of both genders, including those who have fled their homes, have access to education when schools reopen on 1 March. If the government cannot protect schools in the area, it should ensure that displaced Children's rights have access to alternative means of receiving an education.

Sam Zafiri said:

“By disrupting education, the Taleban are threatening the rights of another generation of Pakistanis.”

Swat valley is normally home to around 1.5 million people. It is a “settled area” distinct from neighbouring tribal areas on the Afghan border.

Since 2007 the Pakistan Taleban has managed to take effective control of nearly 80% of the Swat valley territory, once a tourist destination only 100 miles from Islamabad. There are an estimated 3,000 Taleban insurgents located in the Swat Valley. They often endanger civilians by seeking shelter in villages, knowing that this might provoke military reaction.

In May 2007, a peace plan between the government and the insurgents in Swat, which purportedly allowed the militants to regroup, broke down. Since then, the government has not articulated any clear policy about how it intends to protect the rights of the residents of the Swat valley.

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