South Asia

Pakistan army accused of extrajudicial killings in Swat

A Pakistani army soldier shows victory sign on patrol near Swat Valley, May 2009
Image caption The army said it had driven insurgents from Swat last year

The Pakistani army has carried out 238 extrajudicial killings of people in the Swat Valley since September last year, says a report from Human Rights Watch.

It documents cases where members of the army allegedly took away Taliban suspects, who were later found dead, their bodies riddled with bullets.

A military spokesman denied the army had engaged in extrajudicial killings.

The army said it had driven insurgents from Swat following a massive offensive against them last year.

'Marks of torture'

But on Thursday a suicide bomb killed five people at a bus stop in Mingora, Swat's main town.

Pakistani forces have been carrying out operations against the Taliban in the troubled north-west since May 2008.

The HRW report says that while police have also been involved in the killings, most of them have been carried out by the army.

It details seven cases where Taliban suspects have been arrested and taken away by the army.

Their bodies have later been found with bullet wounds and marks of torture.

In one case, the report names a specific unit of the army, the 12th Punjab regiment, as being responsible.

According to the report, the regiment detained a resident of the Matta area of Swat, Farman Ali, along with two other men on 28 March this year.

The bodies of the other two men were later produced by the military and presented as Taliban militants who had allegedly been killed in a clash with the army.

Then Mr Ali's body, with a gunshot wound to the head, turned up in a field on 26 May.

"The Pakistani military has yet to understand that a bullet in the back of the head is simply not the way to win hearts and minds in Swat," says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan representative for Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the report.

"Killing terrorism suspects and their relatives in cold blood is vicious, illegal and constitutes an appallingly bad counter-terrorism practice that just creates more enemies."

'Extraordinary methods'

Local citizens have told HRW that the men were arrested by the army and that they were not connected to the Taliban.

But Maj Gen Athar Abbas, head of the Pakistani army's public relations wing, says the army has not carried out any extrajudicial killings in Swat or elsewhere.

"We will have to look at the charges before we come out with a specific response," he told the BBC. "But we maintain that the army has never been involved in any such act."

He says that all such previous reports have failed so substantiate the charges.

Other security officials question the veracity and timing of the report.

"This is just another effort to malign the Pakistan army," an officer told the BBC. "The main focus of these reports is to prevent US aid from coming to Pakistan."

"Most of this is meant for reconstruction in areas such as Swat, to promote development to prevent the return of militancy."

He added: "The situation in Swat was extraordinary and required extraordinary methods."

The HRW report does call for curtailment of aid from the US and UK.

But it asks for the target to be the considerable military aid that Pakistan receives from the US.

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