ICRC urges Pakistan to grant access to detention centres
Rare public intervention by ICRC official as south Asia chief says organisation is talking to Islamabad about access to detainees
The Red Cross is urging Pakistan to give it access to detainees as security forces are rounding up thousands of people in what the authorities describe as law enforcement operations.
The head of operations for south Asia for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jacques de Maio, told the Guardian today: “We are engaged in discussions with the Pakistani authorities with the goal of achieving access to places of detention.”
Arrests of people described as threats to security throughout Pakistan have not received as much attention or scrutiny as the situation in Afghanistan, where an armed conflict is plain for everyone to see and
humanitarian agencies and western governments are privately deeply concerned about the potential consequences of transferring power and responsibility to Afghan forces and officials.
Though this is key to the British and US governments’ exit strategy, it could lead to what one official described yesterday as a “fragmentation of the political and security landscape” in Afghanistan against the background of a weak central government in Kabul.
“Our greatest challenge consists in maintaining access to the areas hardest hit by the fighting, but the multiplication of armed groups is making this much harder for us,” Stocker said last week. A concern is that the greater the number of different groups detaining people, the more difficult it will be to gain access to the detainees.
De Maio’s public intervention, rare for the ICRC, comes at a time when humanitarian agencies and other independent experts in the region are expressing growing concern about the number of the victims the conflicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan are producing.
Just last week the ICRC revealed that the number of war casualties taken to Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, had hit record levels. The ICRC-supported hospital registered nearly 1,000 admissions with weapons-related injuries in August and September – almost twice as many as during the same months last year, it said.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg, as those who suffer other sorts of injuries or contract disease as an indirect result of the conflict far outnumber weapon-wounded patients,” said Reto Stocker, the head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul.
Concern is also growing, experts say, about the legality and pragmatic consequences of British and US forces targeting mid-level Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan. Over the past three months, more than 300 Taliban leaders have been killed or captured, General David Petraeus, the US and Nato commander in the country, said in London last week. “These are important figures. This is the so-called jackpot – the target of a particular operation”, he said.
However, well-placed sources warned today that apart from the difficult legal issues involved, and the definition of what constituted “assassination”, Taliban commanders who have been killed or captured are being replaced by younger ones more ideologically extreme and much less likely to agree to join any moves towards reconciliation.