PAKISTAN’S FRONTIER CORPS ABANDON COLONIAL-ERA FORT TO TALIBAN
Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps is pulling out of fortified positions in the Taliban hotbed of South Waziristan, including a 1930s-era colonial fort at Ladha that was the center of heavy fighting last January, when it came under attack by 250 to 300 insurgents in the largest of a series of recent assaults by tribesmen on the stronghold (Pakistan Times, January 12). 20 to 30 militants carrying rockets and small arms were killed in that attack, which was repulsed only through the use of artillery and mortars (PakTribune, January 19). Tribesmen have also made a habit of abducting soldiers stationed at the fort. Rumors are now circulating in the region that the pullback is only a preliminary step in a large-scale offensive by NATO or Pakistan government forces (The News [Islamabad], August 1). The Ladha garrison of several hundred soldiers appears to be relocating to the town of Razmak in Northern Waziristan (The News, August 1). Smaller posts in the Saam region of South Waziristan were also being abandoned. Many of these posts were located in areas belonging to the Mahsud tribe, from which local Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud hails.
Frontier Corps spokesmen cited difficulties in supplying Ladha Fort and a decision to transform the building into a hospital as reasons for pulling out the garrison. The latter reason has left some locals perplexed – a hospital was recently built only ten kilometers away but has never been fitted out with medical equipment or supplies. One elder told journalists that elders from several sections of the Mahsud tribe had been urged by government officials to demand a hospital in Ladha (The News, August 1). The Frontier Corps Inspector General, Major General Muhammad Alam Khattak, noted that the fort had lost its strategic importance after local people erected housing outside its walls, pointing out that “a tribal jirga (assembly)” had requested the fort be turned into a hospital (Daily Times, August 1). Addressing speculation that the fort was being turned over to the Taliban as part of a negotiated peace settlement with the new government in Islamabad, General Khattak would only say; “The fighting phase is over in this area, and now negotiations are being held with the people” (Gulf News, July 31).
In an optimistic vein, General Khattak suggested it would not matter if the Taliban seized the fort after it was turned into a medical facility, as local tribesmen would then rise up to expel the Taliban (HI Pakistan, July 28). A spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan declared; “We will definitely capture all those posts vacated by the FC in Ladha and Saam” (The News, August 1).
TRAITORS OR POWS? KHARTOUM SENTENCES JEM REBELS TO DEATH
In recent days thirty fighters from Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have been sentenced to death in special ad-hoc counter-terrorism tribunals created by the Sudanese government. The fighters were taken prisoner during last May’s surprising but ultimately unsuccessful JEM raid on Omdurman (see Terrorism Monitor, May 15). After being sentenced to hang, the JEM guerrillas responded with cries of “In the name of Darfur, God is Great” and “Thanks be to God” (Sudan Tribune, July 31; Reuters, July 31).
If not considered POWs, insurgent prisoners are still entitled under international law to protection from torture, confinement in secret prisons and summary execution. They may, however, be tried for treason and sedition. Sudan (unlike the United States) is a ratified signatory to the 1977 Geneva Convention Additional Protocol 1, in which section 1.4 states POW status must be given to prisoners from “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination.” While some may argue JEM prisoners meet this definition, JEM, like the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) of southern Sudan, has always styled itself it a “national liberation movement,” rather than a regional separatist movement.
The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) has urged that the JEM prisoners be pardoned. According to Yasir Arman, the SPLM Deputy Secretary General for Northern Sudan, the JEM rebels are clearly prisoners of war (Miraya FM [Khartoum], July 31). In June, the SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum (Cabinet Affairs Minister in the Government of National Unity) also called on the government to treat the rebels as prisoners of war (Sudan Tribune, June 23). During its 22 year war with southern rebels, Khartoum routinely explained the absence of SPLA POWs by denying that any rebels had been taken prisoner.
After claiming POW status for its captured fighters, an official JEM statement declared; “Execution of Prisoners of War is a breach of the International Law and considered an act of assassination and another murder in cold blood” (Sudan Tribune, July 29). JEM spokesman Ahmad Hussein promised the movement would retaliate “at the appropriate time and place” (Afrique en Ligne, July 31). Hussein added; “This is a butchery of justice in Sudan and yet another example of [an] impotent judiciary that is under the influence of the executive branch… This proves there is no genuine judiciary in Sudan to prosecute anyone let alone perpetrators of genocide and war crimes” (Sudan Tribune, August 1).
Defense lawyers for the JEM accused, who must mount appeals in the next few days, say that the special courts are unconstitutional. Once the sentences have been ratified by an appeals court, the execution orders must then be signed by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is himself wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes. The question is whether al-Bashir will commute the death sentences to moderate his image, or fall back on his regime’s customary recourse to quick and decisive punishment of those who challenge its authority. With JEM still operating openly in Darfur and threatening another raid on Khartoum, it will be hard for al-Bashir to resist demonstrating the regime’s willingness to ignore international opinion when it comes to matters of internal security.