A few days back I.A. Rehman Sahib Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in his piece, “Of prisoners’ rights” (November 14th, Dawn) wrote about the recent Federal Judicial Academy seminar, attended by luminaries of judiciary here, on prisoners’ vulnerability. Among other problems faced by the prisoners the overcrowding of jails in Punjab and Sindh received special attention because Punjab jails having a total capacity of 21,527 prisoners house 52,318 and while in Sindh there are 14,119 prisoners against a capacity of 11,939; this was termed as simply unbearable.
The jail overcrowding a worldwide problem often leading to riots in which prisoners invariably suffer. In USA at least seven states are currently at 25 percent over capacity with Alabama the highest at 196 percent followed closely by Illinois at 144 percent above maximum capacity. According to a 2012 ‘Economist’ survey; in Haiti the jail overcrowding is nearly 350 percent, Venezuela nearly 275 percent, Iran around 200 percent and Pakistan 175 percent; even British jails are overcrowded.
The overcrowded jails create tremendous problems for the prisoners who certainly deserve better conditions however the real problem lies with the state which spends millions daily on its royal prisoners the President and the Prime Minister, who indeed are prisoners because they hardly venture out and even inaugurate faraway schemes from respective residences, but refuses to ameliorate the common prisoners’ conditions. Incidentally in 2012 alone the expenses for Presidency and Prime Minister House were Rs1.68m, Rs1.92m daily respectively. Rehman Sahib rightly says, “Pakistan’s prisons, with their oppressive rules, rampant corruption, discrimination between rich and poor, and unbridled resort to violence, only present a microcosm of the general state of affairs in the country. There is no rational communication between the jailers and the detainees, just as there is no meaningful discourse between the rulers and the citizens.”
The plight of prisoners deserves unreserved sympathy; however it wasn’t the problem of overcrowding which jarred my senses. The figures of prisoners in Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan jails which shocked me; Rehman Sahib wrote, “In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the number of prisoners (8,113) was marginally higher than the capacity (7,996) and in Balochistan the difference between prison population (2,483) and capacity (2,473) was even lower — only 10.” Aren’t these figures amazing despite the fact that there is a long running political insurgency in Balochistan and a state of war in some areas of KP?
This low prison population there should have raised questions at the seminar but apparently was considered something normal though it certainly is an indicator to something ominously sinister that has been going on in these two provinces. Attention was devoted to the jailed prisoners but the unfortunate ‘missing prisoners’ were totally ignored; this extremely large elephant of ‘missing prisoners’ walked in aisles of the seminar but wasn’t even noticed. It is indeed surprising as well as frightening that those who decide fates of people and laws adorned the seminar but didn’t have the sense to see this anomaly of difference in prison population in different areas and its implications. Figures speak loudly but to be able to hear them something more than literacy is needed.
These luminaries overlooked the fact that there can be no overcrowding in Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan jails because a systematic ‘dirty war’ with motto of, “Give no quarter, show no mercy, take no prisoners” is being waged there. Those who could be in jails are killed extra-judicially thus keeping prisoners in Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan jails at capacity level. The thousands of missing Baloch and the more than 700 Baloch killed and dumped in different parts of Balochistan and Karachi has kept the Balochistan jails uncrowded.
Similar practices have kept the prisoner population in KP jails at a manageable level. Like Balochistan extra-judicial killings in KP have been going on for a long time. The situation in KP is indeed appalling. In May 2011 an Amnesty International report regarding KP said extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and forced disappearances at the hands of security agencies continued, while lashkar (armed groups) sponsored by the army killed hundreds of civilians without any monitoring or checks. Citing HRCP statistics, Amnesty said 282 bodies of suspected insurgents were found between the end of military operations in Swat Valley in July 2009 and May 2011. These killings, it said, were attributed to security forces by locals of the area. Moreover it said thousands of people, including children related to suspected insurgents continued to be held in military custody after search and military operations in Swat.
On January 16th tribesmen from Khyber tribal region carrying the coffins of 15 relatives found dead in the tribal region’s Bara tehsil the previous night staged a sit-in protest in front of the Governor House in Peshawar. They accused security forces of the killings and demanded that the Governor and authorities provide them justice. Again in July this year bullet-ridden bodies of as many as 21 suspected militants were found in Khangai area of the troubled Bara division of Khyber Agency. These deaths followed an operation by security forces against militant strongholds in the area.
Moreover apart from insurgency in Balochistan the Hazaras and other Shia are targeted while in KP too Shia are viciously and frequently attacked but the culprits are never caught. In fact those arrested escape in jail breaks as in Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu while in Balochistan prisoners were allowed to escape from high security prisons. This too helps keep prison population low there.
On the 12th November 2013 Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan during the hearing of habeas corpus petition claiming that the intelligence agency personnel picked up Rohullah from the Central Prison Peshawar after Anti-Terrorism Court acquittal said, “What is the purpose and advantage of the courts if the agencies whisk away persons from the prisons after the state and prosecution fail to prove charges against them. This practice should be stopped forthwith.” He added that the intelligence agencies should stop ‘humiliating’ the judiciary by whisking away inmates from the prisons acquitted of terrorism charges.
This is how the KP jail population is controlled while in Balochistan the issue is settled long before that stage and persons suspected of resenting state policies are killed by the Frontier Corps (FC), intelligence agencies and their proxies funded from secret funds like Investigation Bureau’s Rs. 400 million utilized for counter-insurgency in 2008-2009. In March 2011 Balochistan’s Advocate General Salahuddin Mengal had told the Supreme Court that, “We are recovering dead bodies day in and day out as the FC and police are lifting people in broad daylight at will, but we are helpless. Who can check the FC?” It seems no one is willing to put brakes on the atrocities against Baloch and therefore Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) under Mama Qadeer Baloch and Farzana Majeed with twenty families undertook a grueling 750 kilometre long march from Quetta to Karachi which has just ended in Karachi.
Interestingly but unsurprisingly evil of corruption goes hand in hand with human rights abuses and tyranny. Khurram Hussain in his article, “The hidden economy” (February 28th 2013, Dawn) gave the data of 16 State Bank-operated clearing houses. He says, “Following 9/11, half the cities in the total sample will show a sharply rising trend in the amount of money going through their clearing houses. For the other half, the line is flat. The cities that show a rising trend are led by Peshawar, with Faisalabad, Multan, Rawalpindi and Quetta in close succession. For Peshawar, the amount of money being cleared via cheque in the year 2011 crosses Rs1.3 trillion! For Quetta, in the same year, the amount is just under Rs900 billion, meaning between them these two regional cities are seeing almost Rs2tr going through their clearing houses in one year alone. This figure compares with Faisalabad at Rs1.3tr, Rawalpindi at Rs1.4tr, and Multan at Rs826bn.” Truly amazing, isn’t it!
He attributes this to the hidden economy which “briefly appears on the official record, then disappears from view again”. It seems those supposed to know where this money goes are exactly those who it goes to. Certainly the illegally transacted money, apart from SB, is definitely a lot higher than that transacted legally and these figures would be lot higher if this too was recorded. It is this massive turnover of money that tempts the powers to keep the situation turbulent so that they keep making massive profits.
The black economy thrives in turmoil and it in turn promotes turbulent conditions. Those in authority exploit it to make billions. Apart from the state’s attempt to crush dissent and diversity the ‘dirty war’ is nurtured by the massive corruption in all the institutions of establishment. Corruption sustains dirty war and also is one of the reasons behind it. Those responsible for and those conducting the ‘dirty war, benefit by the money poured in and from the other lucrative business of smuggling, kidnapping for ransom and bribery. Corruption is so rampant and blatant both in Balochistan and KP that only blind would refuse to see. As the prison population figures expose the ‘dirty war’ so do the State Bank figures expose the corruption that it engenders but no one wants to see it. As long as those responsible for the ‘dirty war’ keep profiting the jails in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will remain uncrowded and the human toll will keep rising and will certainly break the camel’s back if it isn’t already.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org