In Daily Jang and The News, Ahmad Noorani accuses Pakistan Director Human Rights Watch Ali Dayan Hasan of “presenting wrong facts and figures” and presenting a one-sided view of the Balochistan crisis in his testimony at the US Congress earlier this month. Noorani’s article supports a popular narrative – that the American hearing was not a fair and representative discussion of the situation. But is The News being any more fair in its own reporting on Human Rights Watch?
In his spoken testimony at the US Congress, Ali Dayan did allege the military of forced disappearances and target killings. Though PMW has no way to know whether military personnel have or have not been involved in such acts, it is hardly a novel claim. Actually, it is not uncommon to see protests about this very claim.
It should also be noted that the Supreme Court is currently hearing a case about the issue of missing persons possibly detained and abused by security forces also. This does not mean that allegations are true – that is for the court to determine. But it does mean that Ali Dayan’s claim is not unheard of.
Despite Ahmad Noorani’s characterisation, Ali Dayan did not offer a one-sided view or hold security institutions “solely responsible for the whole crisis” as claimed by Ahmad Noorani. In his spoken testimony, Ali Dayan told the hearing that “there are abuses that we have documented by Baloch nationalist militants, particularly against education personnel and against other non-Baloch residents of the province”. He went on to note that “Non-Baloch, particularly Punjabi settlers and Urdu-speaking settlers in Balochistan, are living equally in fear of their lives because of fear of attack from Baloch nationalists”. And it was not just the military and Baloch militants who took criticism from Human Rights Watch. Ali Dayan also pointed out attacks by sectarian militants against Hazara Shia in Balochistan.
In his longer written statement, Ali Dayan goes into more detail about “non-state groups” responsible fore human rights abuses in Balochistan including attacks against “police and security forces and military bases”.
Armed militant groups in Balochistan are responsible for targeted killings and destroying private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, as well as major gas installations and infrastructure. They have also struck police and security forces and military bases throughout the province.
Three distinct non-state groups are responsible for violence against civilians in the province: militant Baloch nationalist groups seeking separation or autonomy for Balochistan that target Punjabis and other minorities; militant Sunni Muslim groups such as the Lashkar-eJhangvi that attack members of the Shia community; and armed Islamist groups that have most recently attacked those who act contrary to their interpretation of Islam.
Militant nationalist groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) have claimed responsibility for most killings of non-Baloch civilians, including teachers and other education personnel. They attempt to justify these attacks as a nationalist Baloch response to grievances against the state, and retaliation against abuses that state security forces have committed against Baloch community members.
Amidst the violence, Balochistan’s long-term problems of governance and the stand-off between the Pakistani military and Baloch militants have deepened a general perception in the province of neglect, discrimination, and denial of rights. These are exacerbated by the continuing tribal system and its archaic social structures, the influence of the tribal chief on the justice system and police, and the consequent denial of citizens’ fundamental rights.
The poor and marginalized, particularly women, are adversely affected by traditional forms of dispute resolution and lack of access to other redress mechanisms. They lack assets and opportunities, have no social safety net, and are bound by practices that affect their welfare. There are frequent reports of both state law enforcement agencies and local power-brokers committing abuses against marginalized populations. Labor conditions are abysmal, and there is no single system of justice despite a uniform civil and criminal code. The widespread use of tribal jirgas (councils) and other informal forums of justice increase the difficulty of seeking redress and obtaining justice, devaluing its quality.
Finally, the violence has denuded the already thinly spread provision of public safety. Organized police services cover only a fraction of the province’s territory (about 4 percent of the land area), while the rest is covered by tribal recruits forming levies.
Unfortunately, readers would not know the facts about Ali Dayan’s testimony because Ahmad Noorani failed to report them in his piece. Ahmad Noorani claims in his article that Ali Dayan presented ‘wrong facts and figures’, but he addresses no facts or figures in his piece. He did, however, give significant space in his article for political statements against the government by Senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif, which has nothing to do with the subject of the article.
Instead of reporting what Ali Dayan actually said, Noorani implied that Ali Dayan blamed the military for all abuses and then reported his phone numbers including his international cell number which serves no legitimate journalistic purpose and only invites abuse and harassment.
Neither is this the first time that Ahmad Noorani and The News have attacked Human Rights Watch. Last month during the ‘memogate’ hearings, The News published multiple hit pieces targeting Human Rights Watch, even accusing HRW of being ‘a foreign organisation working in Pakistan under the cover of human rights’.
Human Rights Watch is an internationally respected NGO, not a political activist group. And Ali Dayan Hasan is a respected human rights advocate, not a Baloch militant. The responsibility of professional news journalists and media groups is to report facts, not hit pieces.