The military’s media wing on Monday issued a strongly worded response to a BBC story that documented alleged human rights abuses in the tribal areas of former Fata, and termed the report a “pack of lies”.
The BBC story published on June 2, titled Uncovering Pakistan’s secret human rights abuses, looks into Pakistan’s long battle with militants as part of the post-9/11 “war on terror” and carries the accounts of locals as well as the top leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), Manzoor Pashteen.
According to the report, local rights activists “say scores of civilians have been killed in successive air campaigns and ground operations by the military”. They have been collecting video and documentary evidence to back up their claims, adds the article.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in its statement on Monday, however, said the story “carries conjecturing implicating Pakistan Army without any proof”, adding that the report is “in violation of journalistic ethos”.
“The angling, spinning and creditability of the story is exposed from the fact that contrary to published claim, ISPR only received a judgmental questionnaire via email,” the statement said, adding that the ISPR in response offered the broadcaster “full opportunity” for interaction to know the facts, but the “BBC team never responded and did a preconceived conjectured story.”
The military’s media wing specifically responded to a 2014 incident mentioned in the BBC story, which said that a civilian’s house in North Waziristan tribal district was wrongly hit by air strikes in early 2014 after it was misunderstood to be the hiding place of a senior Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander.
“Quoting security officials, news channels reported on 22 January 2014 that Adnan Rasheed’s hideout had been targeted two nights earlier in the Hamzoni area,” says the report.
“Instead of taking out a top militant, Pakistan’s military had actually killed the family of a local man who had his home blown to pieces,” the report adds.
It then quotes Nazirullah, the man whose house was allegedly hit, as saying: “It was as if the house had exploded. My wife and I were shaken out of our sleep. There was a strong smell of gunpowder in the air. Both of us rushed to the door and stepped out, only to discover that the entire roof of our room had already collapsed, except a corner where our bed was.”
Four of Nazirullah’s family died, including a three-year-old girl, the BBCreport says.
The Army’s media wing negated the reporting, saying the story was “void of the context and understanding of the prevalent environment at that time”. It added that contrary to the impression made in the story, the military operation in North Waziristan had not even started by the date the alleged misstrike mentioned in the BBC story took place. The ISPR appeared to be referring to Operation Zarb-i-Azb, which was launched in North Waziristan on June 15, 2014.
According to ISPR, the area of North Waziristan was being used by terrorists “to plan, coordinate and execute terrorists activities across the country” and on an average, 6-8 terrorist incidents were taking place across the country per month.
“People were being slaughtered in NWD and terrorists were playing football with heads of their victims. NWD and local population was actually hostage to hardcore terrorists.”
The statement added that the BBC story “lacks any credible and authentic source” and relied on hearsay, with its claims regarding the “so-called strikes” that allegedly wrongly targeted a civilian’s house based on news aired by an “unauthentic private TV channel” on January 22, 2014.
“The only source interviewed also didn’t point at anyone or talked about strike or operation,” the ISPR said, adding that the incident mentioned in the report is of North Waziristan whereas the activist quoted as a source belongs to “a particular group from South Waziristan District”.
Kharqamar check-post clash
The article also featured an interview with PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen.
“The PTM says 13 of its activists were killed on 26 May when the army opened fire on a large group of protesters in North Waziristan. The army said at least three activists were shot dead after a military checkpoint was attacked. The PTM denies this but two of its leaders, who also serve as MPs, have been arrested,” the BBC story reads, referring to a recent clash between army soldiers and protesters at Kharqamar check-post in North Waziristan.
“It has taken us almost 15 years of suffering and humiliation to gather courage to speak up, and to spread awareness about how the military trampled our constitutional rights through both direct action and a policy of support for the militants,” Pashteen is quoted as saying in the report.
The ISPR in its statement accused the BBC of ignoring “available official government stance” on the Kharqamar incident.
“The writer surely lacked knowledge of environment, ground situation, geography of the area and about conduct of operations. The story remains ill intended, biased and part of a larger agenda. It also amounts to undermine Pakistan’s efforts for fighting global menace of terrorism and Pakistan’s unparalleled achievements in war against terrorism [that have been] contributing to regional peace.
“The people of Pakistan are well aware of the fake news phenomenon of all types and design behind such undertakings,” the ISPR said, adding that the issue was being formally taken up with BBC authorities.
Meanwhile, DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted a screenshot of his office’s correspondence with the BBC, which says: “Before undertaking the story an interaction is suggested to know the facts.”