Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest by security forces on May 9th, 2023, led to hundreds of thousands of his supporters taking  to the streets demanding his release and an end to military interference in politics. The recent escalation of arrests of civilian protests and political leaders, and the storming of the Supreme Court by supporters of the current government has exacerbated fears that the rule of law and constitutional rights are under a concerted assault by the government.  

Pakistan’s armed forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have long prioritised foreign interests over domestic concerns. Following 9/11, Pakistan aligned itself with the USA, joining the ill-fated ‘War on Terror’. Under General Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship, they supported the calamitous invasion of Afghanistan. By granting NATO forces access to border crossings with Afghanistan, the government escalated the conflict and prolonged the suffering of innocent lives. Furthermore, the security establishment consented to routine and indiscriminate drone bombings, wreaking havoc on Afghan and Pakistani villages.

Within Pakistan, the military and ISI became complicit in the CIA’s rendition program, turning Pakistan into one of the agency’s many black sites. So called “suspects“ were abducted, interrogated, tortured and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Cash rewards from the USA incentivised forced kidnappings and disappearances, allowing security forces to target innocent individuals with no connections to Al Qaeda. According to Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, in a statement made in 2005 [1], over 600 foreign nationals were  arrested since 2001 with a large number being handed over to US forces. The former PM General Musharraf in his memoirs confirmed that his government made millions of dollars by simply selling people to the Americans.

In another report prepared by the country’s security agencies in 2006, 600 individuals  were arrested with a further 850 alleged ‘terrorists’ killed [1]. Separately, according to the Pak institute for Peace Studies, between 2002 and 2006, over 1,000 alleged members of Al Qaeda were  arrested [1]. In the absence of  impartial data, the true number of kidnappings and disappearances, as well as deaths, are unknown. Furthermore, the official narrative pushed by the military that those kidnapped, killed and extradited to the US were members of Al Qaeda and thus terrorists  is undermined by the fact that such actions were carried out outside the rule of law with no due process.

Moazzam Begg and Dr. Aafia Siddiqui represent some of the egregious examples of the policy of torture and rendition. Begg, a British citizen, was kidnapped from his home in Islamabad in January 2002 by Pakistani security forces and through his account we learn of the collaboration and assistance between Pakistani and US security officials who were present in the country. According to Begg: “I saw a very badly disguised American, dressed to look like a Pakistani. He had a cloth wrapped around his head in a style that attempted to be, but was obviously not, Pakistani. Then the person on the other side of me, also an American but dressed a little better in an Afghani cap, produced a pair of handcuffs…” [1]. 

The British national was refused the right to contact his lawyer, family and even the UK consulate. Begg was  handed over  to US authorities and flown to Bagram prison in Afghanistan and later Guantanamo Bay where he would be imprisoned, tortured and abused without being charged or tried.  As was the case in   Begg’s case , Amnesty International also reported  US officials being present during the kidnapping of individuals, many of whom would later be held incommunicado and subject to torture and abuse. 

Unlike the case of Moazzam Begg, who was eventually released in 2005 without charge or trial, the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui stands out as one of the most shocking and horrific examples of the injustices and excesses of the ‘War on Terror’. Dr Aafia and her family were kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003. Prior to her forced disappearance, she had decorated academic career in the US where she earned a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at MIT. For five years, the whereabouts of Dr Aafia and her family were unknown until 2008 when a group of escaped prisoners from Bagram prison in Afghanistan confirmed that Dr Aafia was imprisoned in the infamous secret American prison where many victims were tortured and abused. 

Thereafter in an alleged staged escape  a US soldier shot and seriously injured her. Dr Aafia was forcibly rendered to the US against international law where she was charged with “attempted murder” of US personnel in Afghanistan, despite being obviously unarmed and in an incredibly weak and vulnerable state. She was also found guilty of other bogus charges brought about by a biased prosecution with highly questionable evidence. Following her ‘trial’, Dr Aafia was sentenced  to serve an 86 year life sentence in Texas [2]. The forced kidnapping, disappearance and unjust life sentence of Dr Aafia would likely not have occurred without the collusion of the Pakistani security establishment. Their cooperation and intelligence allowed the US to kidnap, and unjustly imprison an innocent individual. 

The harrowing and horrific accounts of Moazzam Begg, Dr Aafia Siddiqui and many others as innocent victims of the disastrous ‘War on Terror’ reveal the callous , illegal and horrific actions  Pakistan’s security establishment t.  Many distinguished commentators have written extensively about the fact that since  independence in 1948, Pakistan’s military has enjoyed and consistently exerted major political influence, either directly through military coups or indirectly by influencing civilian governments. 

Security Establishment Has Eroded, Not Protected, Pakistan’s Institutions

The frequent interventions have resulted in the concentration of power within the military establishment which have eroded civilian institutions and impeded the rights and freedoms granted to civilians by the constitution. Such a concentration of power has allowed the military to shape policy decisions and maintain a tight grip over key national security and foreign policy matters that often serve their interests to the detriment of the people. As a result, it comes to no surprise that none of the country’s 31 prime ministers since independence has completed a full five year term, each of them having experienced an assassination or military coup d’etat.

The military’s control over key institutions, such as the intelligence agencies and security apparatus, has often resulted in the abuses of rights and freedoms, suppression of dissent, and the curtailment of civil liberties. Furthermore, the military’s privileged position within the state apparatus has allowed it to secure a significant share of the national budget. This disproportionate allocation of resources to defence spending comes at the expense of investment in social sectors such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. As a result, the general population suffers from inadequate social services, widening socio-economic disparities, and a lack of opportunities for socio-economic mobility.

Although he campaigned on a platform that criticised the entrenched nature of corruption within the state and the military’s  shameful role in the ‘War on Terror’, Imran Khan as prime minister failed to address many of the issues mentioned above. Within Pakistan, he remained silent on matters relating to the military fearing they would withdraw support from his administration and his government infringed on the rights and freedoms of media organisations and individuals to express dissent and dissatisfaction. 

Khan also turned a blind eye to the ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan by the Chinese government in exchange for political and economic investment. Nonetheless, the narrative and discourse espoused by Khan represented a break from past prime ministers who were tasked by the military to do their bidding. His overthrow and arrest on accusations of corruption and terrorism reveal the farcical nature by which the military intervenes and governs Pakistan. 

Upholding the rule of law and ensuring fair, transparent, and unbiased proceedings are imperative. The security establishment must cease the use of excessive force against protestors and release all unlawfully detained individuals. Respecting and protecting the rights of peaceful expression and assembly is crucial.

Pakistan’s recent events  underline the urgent need for accountability and reform. The army propaganda paints itself as the only bastion of protection against hostile external forces – namely India. Thus, it makes itself immune from criticism and the media and population are compelled to adhere to a vow of silence. Whilst there may be some truth to this it cannot justify the parasitic and brutal relationship that the army maintains against state institutions and its population. Any challenge is not an act of sedition or disloyalty and the vicious and cruel means used to enrich the senior echelons of the security state must be highlighted. 

Within Pakistan the utterly destructive and inhumane impact  of  the ‘War on Terror’ is not recognised or allowed to be discussed . There is no “truth and reconciliation commission” to explain the disappearance, the unlawful murder and state sanctioned torture of thousands of victims.

Indeed, in much of the Muslim world the so-called nation states function in a similar manner. We only have to consider the recent politics of Egypt, Algeria and Sudan to appreciate that most if not all Muslim majority populations live in what political scientists term either a “garrison state “or “police state”, where the regimes in power are maintained by military power. Moreover, they operate as client states of a major power – invariably the USA which uses the state to achieve its foreign policy objectives. When there is resistance , the state is subjected to civil wars and disruption such as we see in Sudan until a compliant administration is put in control, or invasion as in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The principles of democracy and rule of law are left on the shores of the USA or Europe , and only relevant if and when it suits imperial ambitions . The outcome is a plethora of oppressive and autocratic governments that inflict violence on their populations. The succour given to a liberal elite that infect the media and civil institutions ensure that the majority of the citizenry is exploited and denied access to the wealth of the nation which is firmly held by a chosen few. As such Pakistan is merely another manifestation of the neo colonial project. 

Imran Khan may not have had the capability to live up to his rhetoric against the “war of terror” when in office but he has consistently called for the establishment of the rule of law.  It is a call to unite around the principles of justice and freedom, to resist and dissent against oppression. By standing in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, we can collectively pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future—a future where basic rights prevail over the shadows of tyranny.

For many in Pakistan and across the Muslim world, the ‘War on Terror’ did not begin with the September 11 attacks. The 9/11 attacks were merely a blowback of what had been taking place in the decade before. Following the end of the Cold War and the demise of the USSR, the US and its European allies created a new battle narrative aimed at the Muslim world in order to maintain the growth of their military-industrial complexes. Iraq’s defeat in the first Gulf War in 1991 and the rise of the Neo-Conservatives under US President George W. Bush Senior heralded the beginning of the horrid chapter of the ‘War on Terror’. In many of the Muslim states targeted by the ‘War on Terror’, the elites and security establishments were only so happy to join the US and its allies to further entrench their power and line their pockets. In doing so they sacrificed the people they swore to protect as cannon fodder. 

Had the US and its European allies not funded the elites of Muslim states with money and military resources, it is certain that the citizens of these Muslim states would have taken power for themselves and ruled in a manner that would have met the interests of the people and benefited their nations as a whole.

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)