Chidanand Rajghatta, 3 Nov, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK
WASHINGTON: Pakistan's massacre of 80 alleged militants in a helicopter attack by its military on a madrassa compound found White House endorsement on Wednesday even though human rights groups charged Islamabad with 'extrajudicial executions' and demanded an investigation into the incident.
The bloody incident, full details and import of which is only now trickling out, has jolted civil society in Pakistan and elsewhere, but is being projected by the ruling dispensation in Islamabad and Washington as yet another strike against terrorists, a version that is being vigorously contested by human rights groups.
"If these killings took place without first attempting to arrest suspected offenders, without warning, without suspects offering armed resistance, and in circumstances in which suspects posed no immediate risk to security forces, the killings are considered extrajudicial executions," Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday, calling for an impartial investigation to bring those responsible for ordering and carrying out the attack to justice.
Human Rights Watch had a similar take on the incident, describing as ''excessive'' the force used and saying given the repeated assertions that most of those killed in Khar were civilians and not combatants or militants, the government of Pakistan must justify the legality of the attack.
The groups cited local reports saying the attack killed many children, some as young as six years old, although Pakistan has insisted that the dead were all militants and there were no children among them.
Pakistan's military junta has blocked all access to the area, especially for the media.
In Washington, the Bush administration backed the operation even in the face of allegations of extrajudicial execution, suggesting that any collateral damage could be as a result of Al Qaeda tactics to use civilians as a shield.
"There was a strike, and it was intended to go after al Qaeda. And the Pakistani government did it on the basis of intelligence that it had gathered, and we support them in this," White House spokesman Tony Snow said, ladling out the familiar dose of praise for Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf's 'courage and determination.'
Snow said it was the tactic of the Taliban and al Qaeda "to do everything they can to create carnage and kill civilians."
Pakistan's slide towards further secession, with two of its four states now in turmoil and pitted against Islamabad and its Punjabi-dominated army, has barely caught the attention of U.S policymakers outside the South Asia ken, with the administration up to its eyeballs in Iraq.
But regionalists are horrified by prospects of a meltdown in nuclear Pakistan.
At a talk in the John Hopkins School of International Studies on Wednesday, India's former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh said U.S policy towards Pakistan and run into a blind alley, without specifically referring to the Bajaur incident.
When the US bolsters Pakistan, it enabled a feeble country to punch much above its weight and create problems for India. When the U.S abandons Pakistan, the country flounders, and this too creates problems for India. This, Singh said, was a reality that India had to deal with independent of U.S policy.
Meanwhile, the mystery of who exactly initiated the attack on the madrassa in Bajaur remains unresolved.
Washington has been happy to let Pakistan claim credit for the attack, but most reports from the region say the madrassa complex was first leveled by an American Predator attack several minutes before Pakistani helicopter gunships appeared on the scene and began firing into a demolished compound.