The Messy Reality of War
The controversial video that surfaced on October 2 showing Pakistani military men beating (kicking, hitting and whipping) prisoners has made the rounds on the Internet. The violence is disturbing.
For months now, accusations against the Pakistan Army claiming torture and extrajudicial killings have been plenty. Mass graves have been found in Swat and claims that Pakistani security forces have killed Taliban militants and then hung their dead bodies in public spaces have made the news. A HRCP report reads, “The most harrowing reports were of dead bodies strewn upside down by the military with notes attached to the bodies warning that anyone supporting the Taliban will meet the same fate.” On a television news programme, HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir said there were also claims that Pakistani soldiers were throwing prisoners out of helicopters, letting them fall to their death.
Throwing your enemies from helicopters is clearly sadistic and wrong. Parading and displaying the dead bodies of your enemies in public squares is medieval and no better than the barbaric tendencies of the Taliban, who relish in delivering public beatings and beheadings, and who have happily dragged ‘sinners’ through towns such as Miramshah tied to the back of pickup trucks.
But can there be a case for extrajudicial killings?
Pakistan is fighting a nasty war. A war for the future of the country. The army is going head-to-head with violent extremists who will bomb markets and mosques in their fight against the government. As such, some argue that people who bomb girls’ schools, kill men who shave, whip others whose pants are too long, use human shields and are caught with a gun in their hand fighting against the state have given up their own rights to humane treatment.
The BBC report that broke the story of the torture video said some of the abused men in the video may not be Taliban fighters at all but rather relatives of militants. This sounds like speculation. Nonetheless, torturing family members to get information and meting out collective punishment are also clearly wrong – and no way to win this war.
We all know that Pakistan’s justice system is extremely flawed: prisoners ‘escape’ while in custody, evidence is lost, witnesses are threatened and judges are bribed. Let’s say the government does want to try captured militants in court. Some would argue – given Pakistan’s track record of dispensing justice – that there is a good chance (and fear) that even though militants are caught shooting at the army or planning attacks on innocent people that many of them would be set free because of institutional links to the terrorists and the generally corrupt nature of the justice system.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, had this to say in May 2009 on the issue facing Pakistan: “Beheadings and use of human shields by Taliban forces are not a blank cheque for the Pakistan Army.”
Do you agree? Should the government and army hold themselves to a higher standard – the one of domestic and international law that the country supposedly adheres to – or should Pakistan fight fire with fire?
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