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Friday, August 30, 2019

Victims of abduction in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Nepal & Ugyhur

Women shout slogans during a protest following restrictions after the government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir, in Srinagar August 14, 2019. Photo: REUTERS
As the world observes the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on Aug 30, another hundred or more people will be abducted silently by state security agencies globally.
Their relatives will hold portraits of disappeared family members and call upon governments to stop such abductions, and seek accountability for the enforced disappearances, killings, and abductions, in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Palestine and elsewhere.
Families cry for answers on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30, a day declared by the United Nations.
Since its inception in 1980, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has registered 56,363 cases across 112 countries — but thousands of other cases were simply not reported!
Unfortunately, governments are often reluctant to respond. Besides, security agencies engaged in enforced disappearances, while non-state actors also settle their scores in muddy waters. They enjoy their impunity as they rub shoulders with the mighty in the corridors of power.
The impunity is extended to these forces, often because their crimes against humanity may have had government sanction.
The legal explanation does not, however, convey the horror families endure as they try and grapple with the enforced disappearance of a loved one.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch says, under international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is taken into custody by government officials or their agents and the state refuses to acknowledge the person’s fate or whereabouts, placing the victim outside the protection of the law.
In South Asia, the recent history of violent conflicts ------ whether the war in Afghanistan; insurgencies in Balochistan, Pakistan or Kashmir, India; the civil war in Sri Lanka and Nepal; or political violence in Bangladesh and the Maldives------ has witnessed serious human rights violations including secret detentions and enforced disappearance, states the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Bangladesh authorities have traditionally trashed allegations of the disappearances even after the security forces have taken someone away in front of witnesses. Instead, the agencies claim that the ‘disappeared’ are hiding to evade banks loans or are felons dodging arrest.
In Indian administered Kashmir, they use the shocking word ‘half widow,’ for women whose husbands are missing.
In Kashmir, hundreds of unidentified foreign jihadists are buried in unmarked graves, but the government is yet to order forensic tests to determine whether the remains of "disappeared" Kashmiris also lie buried in those graveyards.
In Sri Lanka, families of the tens of thousands of people who disappeared during the three-decade-long bitter ethnic civil war are camped in street corner protests. The war ended in 2009, and these families are still hoping that their loved ones will be found.
In Nepal, a Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons received nearly 3,100 complaints but failed to explain the causes and origin of the scary social phenomenon experienced so widely during the country’s ten-year civil war.
The victims experience egregious form of human rights violation, removed from legal protections, remaining at the mercy of their captors, at severe risk of torture or inhumane treatment, and of extrajudicial killings, says Meenakshi Ganguly.
"The families of missing ones spend the rest of their lives waiting for their loved ones to return home, or at least be told where they are buried. This is a severe form of psychological torture," said Leonce Byimana, a psychologist and Executive Director of TASSC, a US-based Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.
On this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, human rights leaders will be speaking on behalf of missing loved ones---- for the Sindhis in Pakistan, the Kurds in the Middle East, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and Uyghur Muslims in China at the National Press Club in Washington DC.
Sufi Laghari, Executive Director of the Washington DC-based Sindhi Foundation also coordinating the Washington Press Club event, said: "We want people to understand how governments carry out enforced disappearances to silence their dissidents."
Until their whereabouts are determined, families of the disappeared should have access to effective remedies and reparations, including regular updates on the status of the investigations. This cruelty needs to stop.

First published in the Bangla Tribune, 30 August 2019

Saleem Samad, is a journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

Monday, August 26, 2019

Baloch, Sindh, Pashtun nationalist dreams shattered after the arrest of Bangabandhu

While living in exile in Canada during the ultra-rightist government of Khaleda Zia and later 1/11 military-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh, I was curiously exploring the political agendas of the nationalist organizations spearheaded by Pakistan born Sindhi, Baloch, and Kashmiri leaders who were living in exile in the US and Canada.
In 2005, I was first invited by the Sindh Foundation, and again by Baloch International in 2007 in Washington DC. I also attended the World Sindhi Institute conference in Toronto, Canada in 2006.
I was requested to speak out about the genocide, war crimes, and rape committed by marauding Pakistan military in collaboration with their henchmen Jamaat-e-Islami during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
I deliberately took opportunities to participate in several protest rallies, mostly organized by Free Balochistan, United Kashmir, and Free Sindh movements in Washington DC, New York, and Toronto and spoke on atrocities committed by the Pakistan army. The rallies were told that the Pakistan army was committing atrocities in Balochistan similar to the ones experienced in Bangladesh.
The thousands of Baloch nationalist leaders and activists living in North America and Europe dream to regain the independence of Balochistan, which they lost in March 1948 after the Pakistan army invaded the princely Kalat State and acceded the country. Balochistan became the largest province of Pakistan with rich mineral resources.
My story is centered on an elderly person, Rasool Bux Palijo, a Sindhi nationalist and a renowned lawyer. He was introduced to me in 2005 by my friend Munawar Laghari, founder of Sindh Foundation in Washington DC.
Rasool Bux Palijo was Pakistan’s Marxist leader, scholar, and writer. He was a leading human-rights lawyer and was the founder and chairman of Awami Tahreek, a progressive leftist party.
He and his party Awami Tahreek played a crucial role against the “illegal Pakistan Army crackdown” in Bangladesh and also in Balochistan.
Politician Rasool Bux Palijo dashed from Karachi to Dhanmondi Road 32 to hold crucial parleys with Bangabandhu during post-1970 elections. He stayed for two weeks in Dhaka and met the acclaimed leader Sheikh Mujib. 
Bangabandhu passed extremely busy hours with party meetings and political leaders visiting the crowded residence overlooking Dhanmondi Lake. Palijo took the opportunity to talk to Bangabandhu during his break for tea, lunch, and dinner, at what is today Bangabandhu Bhaban.
After having words from Bangabandhu that he would ensure the political rights in the framework of provincial autonomy, based on the six-point mandate, he and others returned to Karachi with satisfaction to achieve political autonomy in the Sindh region.
In January 1972, the popular Sindhi leftist leader wrote his first-ever book on Bangladesh war crimes and organized a peasant protest in Sindh for the freedom of his political comrade Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also demanding trial of military officials accused of war crimes.
Another regional party Jeay Sindh, founded by charismatic leader GM Syed, was a nationalist political party in the Sindh province of Pakistan, demanding freedom of Sindhudesh from Pakistan.
Sindhudesh is an idea of a separate homeland for Sindhis who lived in the Indus basin centuries before Alexander the Great invaded Sindh in 326 BC.
The Sindhi nationalist dreamed of the creation of a Sindhi state, which would be either autonomous within Pakistan or independent from it. GM Syed’s movement collapsed after the bloody War of Independence of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh independence architect Sheikh Mujib promised the Baloch, Sindh, and Pashtun nationalist leaders that he would ensure their political autonomy if only he could lay his hands on the government after the 1970 elections.
Unfortunately, the Pakistan junta betrayed Bangabandhu and the dreams of Balochis, Sindhis, and Pasthuns were shattered after the “Operation Searchlight” crackdown. What followed were his subsequent arbitrary arrests and detention in Mianwali prison in Pakistan throughout the 1971 Liberation War.
Both GM Syed and Rasool Bux Palijo were imprisoned and tortured in 1971 for extending political support to Bangabandhu. Both Sindh nationalist leaders died, leaving behind a tumultuous political legacy for Sindh.
GM Syed was posthumously conferred a “Friends of Liberation War Honour” by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a recognition for his role in the independence of Bangladesh. Several other Baloch and Pasthuns leaders were also honored for their contribution in 1971.
The new generation of Balochi, Sindhi, and Pasthun nationalists still admire Sheikh Mujib as a “role model” but regret that he could not be their savior.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 26 August 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Rohingyas decline to return to Myanmar?

Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before, walk after they received permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue on to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, near Cox`s Bazar, Bangladesh Oct 19, 2017. REUTERS
The first step was to develop confidence-building measures among the refugees. The Myanmar government should have invited a delegation of refugee leaders along with Bangladesh officials to visit the strife-torn Rakhine State.
As feared, the Rohingya refugees refused to return to Myanmar, despite all arrangements made for them to go back, as finalized by two neighbouring countries.
The second attempt in ten months to repatriate the Muslim refugees living in Bangladesh to Myanmar has fallen flat. It is understood that they would not return unless their demands were met by the Myanmar government.
Nearly two years after thousands of Rohingyas were forced to flee from Rakhine State, Myanmar enlisted 3,450 as genuine refugees for repatriation on August 22. But Most feared reprisals and refused to return. A similarly botched effort last November to ensure their return sowed confusion in the refugee camps and sparked protests.
On August 25, 2017,  Myanmar security forces began an ethnic cleansing that drove an estimated one million Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The refugees have information that an estimated 500,000 Rohingyas who remained in Rakhine State are living in appalling conditions and Myanmar security forces have confined them to camps and villages, severely restricting their freedom of movement.
For those Rohingyas confined in several hamlets, the authorities have denied freedom of movement, deprived their access to sustainable livelihoods and basic humanitarian services including adequate food, medical care, and education. These facts have raised alarm among the refugees here.
Moments after the botched attempt, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Momen explained that the refugees eligible for repatriation declined to return to Rakhine State as they did not feel secure and safe.
Bangladesh, aspiring to attain the middle-income threshold by 2021, had been generous with a million Rohingyas –  authorities felt the refugee should not be compelled to return to their villages that were not safe.
He lamented that the Myanmar government had the larger responsibility to be proactive in their political commitment to ensure voluntary, safe, and dignified repatriation of Rohingyas languishing in the world's largest refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.
The senior-most Bangladesh official in charge of foreign affairs spelled out two pressing issues, which needed immediate administrative attention.
Second, Bangladesh was planning to set up an International Commission on Rohingya Refugees with members drawn from different countries, maybe also from international organizations.
However, Dr Momen was hopeful in that Myanmar had twice implemented the provisions of the memoranda of understanding (MoU) to repatriate Rohingya refugees in 1993 and 1988.
Accordingly, on 19 December 1993, an Operational Plan for mass repatriation was presented by the UNHCR, facilitating the voluntary repatriation of approximately 190,000 refugees.
From the second refugee influx, in December 1998, over 229,000 refugees had officially returned. But the story of Rohingyas was not over; the cycle of the exodus had not ended.
Aljazeera TV alleged that international media, rights groups, and United Nations were not allowed to visit Rakhine State, especially to the villages from where the Rohingyas were forced to flee in the wake of genocide.
New York-based Human Rights Watch argues that their repatriation carries possible risks exposing refugees to ethnic violence.
A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission found sufficient negative information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior military officials for grave crimes, including genocide, in Rakhine State.
The international rights group claimed that the Myanmar regime had not made any effort to probe widespread crime against humanity against the Rohingyas.
The regime also obstructed international efforts to investigate the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims to protect their basic rights, facilitate international justice for victims, and ensure that any returns of Rohingya refugees were voluntary, safe, and dignified.
Meantime, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the crisis as yet.

First published in the Bangla Tribune, 24 August 2019

Saleem Samad is a journalist, a media rights defender and recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Mock Fight: Over J&K Between India And Pakistan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government made moves to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.
The decision left Pakistan unnerved and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan launched an all-out campaign against India. Khan's first axe fell upon downgrading diplomatic relations and suspension of bilateral trade with India, sent out emissaries to the United Nations, China and to Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to muster support against India.
Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), a landlocked disputed territory in South Asia was the reason for several wars and border skirmishes between India and Pakistan since the birth of two newly independent nations in 1947. The war was fought between India and Pakistan over the princely state of J-K from 1947 to 1948. It was the first of four Indo-Pakistan Wars fought between the two neighbors. Unfortunately, both countries claim J-K as their integral territory.
Well, not an outrageous claim, but ignoring J-K was once an independent princely state and British colonialist had given respect to the status of self-rule.
In 1846, after the Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-Sikh War, and upon the purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler of Kashmir. In October of 1947, the Pashtun tribal militants surprise raid in a bid to occupy the picturesque valley of the Muslim majority Kashmir, backed by not so organized Pakistan Army to occupy the territory on the excuse of much-disputed "two-nation theory" which divided India into Muslim and Hindu nations through a bloodletting partition and mass exodus.
Maharaja Hari Singh appealed to the Indian government for military assistance and fled to India. On January 1, 1949, a ceasefire was agreed, with 65 percent of the territory under Indian control and the remainder with Pakistan. In 1957, Kashmir was formally incorporated into the Indian Union.
It was granted special status under Article 370 of India's Constitution, which ensures, among other things, that Indians Nationals cannot buy property there. The signing of the Instrument of Accession, ceding Kashmir in Jammu on October 26 and was accepted by India's last Governor-General Lord Mountbatten on October 27, 1947.
Since the Accession Day, the Kashmiri separatists observe the date as Black Day. Every year on that particular date, intermittent clashes with security forces are a regular phenomenon.
On the other hand, hell broke loose in Islamabad! The bad news came from the OIC, which called for resolving Kashmir issue through bilateral negotiations after Pakistan sought its support over Article 370. The OIC did not hesitate to state that "following a request from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, an urgent meeting of the OIC Contact Group" on 6 August 2019 to review the recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir.
In the concluding statement, the OIC raised concerns about "gross human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir" but called for a "negotiated settlement" through talks between the two countries.
However, Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi appeal found no weight in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with its president Joanna Wronecka refusing to make any comments. Pakistan's heightened campaign equally failed and gets cold feet at the United Nations. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in response to Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's complaints reminded him of the Shimla Agreement 1972.
The historic Agreement, signed after Pakistan's humiliation defeat in 1971 war which created an independent Bangladesh, the states that India and Pakistan will settle all their issues through peaceful talks bilaterally. Another blow came from the Taliban, which was considered a stooge of Pakistan Army, rebuked Pakistan over the abrogation of special status to J&K. Its spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahed said, "Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand because the issue of Afghanistan is not related."
Recently, Shah Mehmood Qureshi flew to Beijing holding talks with Chinese leaders including Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.  After the meet, China issued a statement which dashed the hopes of Qureshi that its all-weather friend would stand by Pakistan more strongly. The Chinese statement says, "The Kashmir issue is a dispute left from colonial history. It should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement."
China, of course, reacted strongly to the Modi government's move on Jammu and Kashmir but issued a guarded statement. Its response was limited to Ladakh being made a Union Territory. China has laid claim on Ladakh ever since it captured Aksai Chin in 1962 war. Their concern was regarding Modi government's move to declare Ladakh as Union Territory.
In bitter frustration of getting rebuked from International Forums, Shah Mehmood Qureshi has asked Pakistanis to not live in a "fool's paradise" by expecting United Nations Security Council to "wait with garlands" to support Islamabad's contentions regarding India's decision to abrogate Kashmir's special status.
Qureshi's comment came a day after Russia becomes the first P-5 member to support India over the abrogation of Article 370. The United Arab Emirates - UAE, a major ally of Saudi Arabia has reacted to the developments in South Asia, calling for restraint over the Kashmir dispute.
For both nuke-armed countries, the Kashmir conflict is the water-security issue and the growing populations their livelihood depends on the Indus River basin. The basin's four main rivers flow into Pakistan (60%), and in India (20%). Both the countries have constructed several mega irrigation and hydro-electric projects on the rivers and tributaries of the basin. Notwithstanding of crisis of Kashmir, neither India will give up J-K to Pakistan and equally it is true that Pakistan doesn't have much firepower to take Kashmir from India.
Given the strategic gap between Indian and Pakistan, The Pakistani Army is in no position to undertake any adventure against India, especially at a time when Pakistan is going through an acute economic crisis. Any further burden on the exchequer would cripple the economy of Pakistan.  There is also widespread speculation that Pakistan Army doesn't have an appetite to take a risk, at this time, with a puppet government. If there is any misery, the Pak army would not be able to shift the blame on a civilian government.

First published in The New Nation, August 16, 2019

Saleem Samad, an independent journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; Email: