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Human Rights: Limited Pakistan progress

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has made only limited progress in improving human rights with reports of thousands of disappearances despite US pressure on its wartime partner, the State Department says.

Family members of missing Baloch people protest in Quetta. A US State Department report said that Pakistan “continues to face human rights challenges” with reports of thousands of disappearances in Balochistan

Family members of missing Baloch people protest in Quetta. A US State Department report said that Pakistan “continues to face human rights challenges” with reports of thousands of disappearances in Balochistan. –Photo by APP

In a report mandated by Congress, the State Department assured lawmakers that the United States was vetting forces’ human rights as it extends billions of dollars to the frontline nation in the battle against extremism.

In October, President Barack Obama’s administration said for the first time that it had cut off training to several units after a graphic video emerged that appeared to show summary executions.

The State Department, in the report completed in late November, said that Pakistan “has made limited progress in advancing human rights and continues to face human rights challenges.”

The State Department continues to press military and civilian authorities in Pakistan, at the highest levels, to take serious and sustained action to eliminate extrajudicial killings, provide humanitarian access and investigate all cases of disappearances,” it said.

The assessment, which was first reported Thursday by The New York Times, voiced particular alarm about Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan where a long-running insurgency — separate from the US-backed campaign against extremists — has grown more violent in 2010.

Non-governmental organizations “have reported thousands of disappearances, mostly in Balochistan. Hundreds of cases are pending in the courts and remain unresolved,” the State Department said.

The State Department also pointed to some progress, such as hearings by the Supreme Court of Pakistan into the missing in Balochistan.

Amnesty International, in a report in October, called on Pakistan to investigate the alleged torture and killing of more than 40 political leaders and activists in Balochistan.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch said that at least 22 teachers and other education professionals were killed by suspected militants in Balochistan between January 2008 and October 2010.

T. Kumar, the international advocacy director of Amnesty International USA, praised the Obama administration for putting greater concern on human rights in Pakistan but said: “Obviously, they can do more.”

Kumar feared that Pakistan was using cooperation with the United States as cover to crack down in other areas, particularly in Balochistan. He called for the United States to make human rights an integral part of all dialogue.

He said a focus on human rights would help the United States in one of its key objectives in Pakistan — assuaging widespread anti-American sentiment.

“In the long run, you’re going to be the losers by keeping the population resentful,” Kumar said. “Instead you can send a message to Pakistanis that live in an area that the US is not against civilians.”

The United States entered a complicated partnership with Pakistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, with the Islamabad government providing crucial access for US forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan returned to civilian rule in 2008 and the Obama administration, which took office the year afterward, has focused efforts on supporting the nuclear power’s democratic institutions and troubled economy.

But the administration has also made sure to preserve cooperation with the powerful military. In October, it promised two billion dollars in new defense aid, separate from its 7.5 billion dollars in mostly civilian assistance.

In diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks, the US embassy in Islamabad said there was credible evidence of abuses by Pakistani forces but hoped to raise the matter quietly so as not to alienate the military.

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