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Human Rights In Pakistan Essay

The human rights commission of PakistanSince independence and partition from British India in 1947, Pakistani political institutions have been dominated by the military. Pakistan has had a military government for thirty of its fifty-eight years of independence. The Pakistani military is a descendent of the British Indian Army and has retained the institutional structure, culture, and imperial ethos of its colonial predecessor. (Ghafoor 2007 101-18) Similar observations can be made about the next most powerful institution in Pakistan, the civil bureaucracy. Most analysts of the Pakistani state and politics have described the governance structure in the country as an oligarchic relationship between the landed feudal elites and the civil and military bureaucracy. Most accounts of the Pakistani state and society have adhered to a narrative structured around civil and military bureaucracy, landed feudal elites, and ethnic and religious nationalist forces. The traditional narrative has also typically blamed the asymmetrical power of the tripartite oligarchic structure for the attenuated development of the civil-society institutions. (Abbas, 2005 74-79)

Partially in reaction to the excesses of the Zia regime and its allies, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was formed in 1986. In the two decades since its inception, the HRCP has become the most influential nongovernmental actor in the cause of human rights in Pakistan (UNDP 2000). The immediate impetus for the HRCP’S formation was opposition to a battery of regressive laws passed by the Zia regime, including the separate electorate for non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan and the Hudood ordinance, in addition to vastly enhanced powers of the state for arbitrary arrests, censorship of the press, and limiting political dissent .Although women and religious minorities were the main victims of Zia’s Islamization drives, the progressive elements in the society were especially targeted for state oppression because they were deemed to be aligned with the main leftist opposition, the People’s Party. It was in this environment that a group of prominent citizens, primarily lawyers, including Asma Jehangir, Justice Dorab Patel, Malik Qasim, and Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim met and decided to merge many organizations and prodemocracy groups under the umbrella of the HRCP.

Among the organizations were the Malik Ghulam Jilani Foundation for Human Rights and some political-prisoner-release and legal-aid committees. (Zaman 2004 689-716)Democracy and human rights in PakistanEach of the three discourses of national security, developmentalism, and identity politics have pulled Pakistani civil society in conflicting directions, as has the process of mobilizing social capital. The two organizations discussed here–Jamaat-e-Islami and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan–serve as exemplars of the larger tensions within Pakistani society and not as moral opposites. (Ghafoor 2007 101-18) All organizations/movements are deemed to be part of civil society unless they or their subsidiaries espouse and/or practice violence against noncombatant civilians. A civil society by definition does, and should, contain a range of agendas. Promoting a certain interpretation or vision of religion, state, and society is inherent to the dynamics of a vibrant civil society. But when support of an agenda leaves the political sphere and becomes a violent armed struggle, questions can legitimately be raised about its place within civil society.

The issue of what type of violence will qualify a nonstate actor to be excluded from the ambit of “civil” society is debatable and echoes the very contentious contemporary debate on the definition of terrorism. (Rana 2004 48-52)Military democracy and human rightsThe social-capital literature, despite its conceptual ambiguities and political pitfalls, provides intriguing insights into progression beyond the crude structural determinism of the past, but not to the extent of dispensing with structures altogether and embracing the cruder neoliberal celebration of individual and collective agency. (Daechsel 2007 141-60) All human societies have norms, networks, and horizontal associations that facilitate the agendas of individuals and groups. The more important question is, what are those norms and networks mobilized to achieve? How do certain norms become more ascendant than other norms, such as exclusivist and violent religiosity versus tolerant and nonviolent piety, or discrimination versus democracy? (Inayatullah 2007 27-42)Benazir and Pakistan human rights

Pakistan’s economic liberalization programs during Benazir Bhutto’s second term (1993-1996) encountered frequent political crises. While growth was steady during this period, external debt soared and the Karachi Stock Exchange plunged. Bhutto avoided certain quick fixes that were politically risky. She refused to impose taxes, for example, on agriculture and the politically influential feudal landlords who supported her staunchly. In 1995-1996, for instance, landlords paid only $79,000 in wealth tax–or 0.0036 percent of the direct taxes collected. Following the assassination of Benazir in late December 2007, the human right situation of Pakistan worsens due to dictatorship of President Pervez Mushrif. The announcement of emergency rule in the country has raised the chance of violation of basic human rights in the country. (Malik 2007 117-28)Marshal Law and human rightsSince its creation as a Muslim country in 1947, Pakistan has undergone a tumultuous process of nation building, seeking to create consensus and institutions sufficient for its stability.

The straggle to establish a parliamentary democracy in a federal setting has been hampered by interethnic strife, fragmented elites, praetorian rule, and regional and global influences. Since 1947, the military officers have three times (in 1958, 1969, and 1977) administered governments by martial law, seeking to gain legitimacy en route to nation building. (Kennedy 2007 14-33)In Pakistan, the civilian rulers have often relied on the military to preserve their power. Dominated by Punjabis and representing landed and industrial interests, the military regards its dominance of Pakistani politics as vital to any attempt to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country in the face of bewildering ethnic, linguistic, and regional diversity. Military and non-military governments have equally appealed to Islam in order to maintain their legitimacy and to uphold different political, economic, and class interests. Because Islam has been, throughout Pakistan’s brief history, manipulated for political and non-political purposes, one can argue that the religion has had a divisive rather than a unifying impact there. General Zia ul-Haq (1977-88) used Islam not only as a means to suspend democratic elections and constitutional liberties but also to legitimize his own power.

Zia instituted a progressive program of Islamization that transferred the laws of the land from a more secular tradition to an Islamic one. This diminished the quality of Pakistani institutions, notably the system of justice. In his attempts to forge an alliance with Muslim clerics, Zia offered them positions as magistrates. This placed people with no prior legal or judicial qualifications in the seats of judges. The move damaged the integrity of the Pakistani judiciary and also tied its power directly to the state and Zia. (Mustafa 2004 168-84)Feudalism and violent customsPakistan continues to be a predominantly agrarian, rural, and feudal society. The transregional alliance forged by feudals, generals, and bureaucrats has prevented the expansion of civil society. In addition, cultural/religious developments, such as orthodox Islamic influences and the strict enforcement of Shari’a law, have adversely affected the country’s human rights situation. The prospects for the improvement of human rights in Pakistan are bleak, although the country is ranked, according to the comparative survey of freedom worldwide, as partly free. (Malik 2007 117-28)

Death from torture in police custody is epidemic. Indefinite detention without any charges, sometimes up to one year under Article 10 of the constitution, is commonplace. Self-censorship is widely practiced, especially on matters relating to the armed forces and religion. Traditional cultural and religious forces block political and legal equality for women. These forces also discriminate against women in socioeconomic domains. On 2 January 1997, an all-Pakistan Working Women Convention in Karachi expressed concerns over social attitudes towards women. The convention called for an end to abuse of property rights, inheritance, and social traditions. (Khan 2007 181-95)Many human fights observers in Pakistan have objected to the action of a grand jirga of the Affidi sub-clans of the Khyber Agency that has decided to exclude women from voting. The tribal elders’ opposition to rural women’s voting rights in the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan reflects their deeply entrenched tribal hierarchy. Death for adultery in rural areas is commonplace.

The 1991 bill to expand Shari’a law preserves the subjugation of wives in marriage and divorce proceedings. Forced or child labor is widespread in rural areas, and the central government appears unable to prevent it. After the threat of sanction by sporting goods manufacturers and labor organizations, Pakistani authorities have begun a crackdown on child labor in the soccer ball industry. They conducted more than 7,000 raids on various businesses between January 1995 and March 1996. Ethnic and religious discrimination are rampant. Baluchis, Pathans, Ahmediyans (a religious sect), Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, and Hindus are frequent targets. The Federal Shari’a Court has prescribed the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammad. The most active and vocal human rights monitoring groups, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF), have been instrumental in promoting legislation which bans the bonded labor system. (S.V.R 2005 135-36)Human right abuses

Women’s rights, however, are restricted in varying degrees in Pakistan The poor women’s rights condition can often be attributed to de facto underdevelopment, low female literacy rates, and brutal local traditions and customs in the case of Pakistan, and to patriarchy, strict social codes, and male-centered structures in the cases of Pakistan. (Nizamani 1998 317-37) While Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Pakistan have thus far refused to ratify those agreements (Malik 2007 117-28) More than half of Middle Eastern and North African countries have ratified the same covenants. Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

With the exception of Saudi Arabia, which is not a party to any human rights instruments, all Muslim countries are a party to one or more of those instruments. Although the ratification of these human rights instruments is no evidence of palpable improvement of fundamental rights, becoming party to such treaties has at least made their governments vulnerable to international criticism in cases of grotesque violations of global standards. It should be noted, however, that effective enforcement of human rights instruments remains almost entirely within these countries’ purview. (Whaites 2005 229-54)Role of AmericaHuman Rights Watch has also documented Pakistan’s role in the Kashmir conflict. Despite official denials by government officials in Pakistan, there is little doubt that much of the weaponry used by the militants reaches Kashmir from Pakistan. As anyone who has traveled in northwest Pakistan knows, weaponry siphoned off from supplies provided by the United States during the Afghan war is readily available in the arms bazaars of the Northwest Frontier Province. Pressure from the United States and other donor countries persuaded India to take a few steps toward accountability for its security forces. (Daechsel 2007 141-60)

India established a Human Rights Commission and publicized one or two arrests of soldiers who had committed abuses. In March 1994, as noted above, it permitted the ICRC to conduct a survey of humanitarian needs in Kashmir. To ensure that human rights reform in India amounts to more than cosmetic gestures, the international community, through bilateral and multilateral initiatives, should press India to allow outside international investigations of human rights violations in Kashmir, permit international humanitarian agencies direct access to prisoners, and prosecute and punish army and paramilitary forces responsible for murder and torture. Following the Marshal Law and emergency rule the commonwealth suspended the membership of Pakistan on the violation of basic human rights. (Ghafoor 2007 101-18)Constitution and human rightsThe founding members of the HRCP were mindful of the need for political action to bring about meaningful change. But in an atmosphere in which “the political parties had been bludgeoned into oblivion” and, in the opinion of the HRCP founders, “had also lost their way” in the cause of fighting for human rights, the need for a nonpartisan, but not apolitical, watchdog organization to speak up for the rights of the victims of state oppression was urgent.

The three resolutions adopted at the first meeting of the HRCP in 1986 were the holding of free and fair democratic elections, abolition of the separate electorate for the religious minorities in Pakistan and bringing them into the mainstream, and abolition of the death penalty. The last was particularly ambitious, given that the popularity of the death penalty in Pakistani state and society is perhaps matched only by Saudi Arabia and Texas! (Nasr, 2004 95-99)The HRCP was an avowed secular organization in a time when secularism was equated with atheism and antireligion in Pakistani society. In the words of one of its founding members, the HRCP was and continues to be an organization representing a “liberal democratic movement” in the society. Religious revivalist organizations were particularly hostile to the HRCP’S secularist message and have been a source of harassment to the HRCP membership from its inception.

Although the HRCP is not a direct competitor in the electoral arena with Islamist movements, its activism against instances of religiotribalist injustice toward women has particularly rankled many Islamists, who tend to equate many tribal cultural traditions with Islam. Unlike many of its Western counterpart organizations, the HRCP has not limited itself to a legalistic interpretation of human rights, although that is an important element of its advocacy agenda. The annual human rights reports published by the HRCP are notable for their uniquely political view of what constitutes the arena of human rights. (Daechsel 2007 141-60) The HRCP has cultivated close partnerships with trade and worker unions in Pakistan and has highlighted such diverse issues as unemployment, foreign policy, militarization of civilian organizations, media, health, education, and youth affairs in its widely disseminated annual reports and council-meeting statements (HRCP 2003, 2004a, 2004b).

The activist background of some of the HRCP’S founding members and the organization’s declared allegiance to secular democracy and improving human welfare through justice have induced it to take a very broad and admittedly politicized view of human rights in Pakistan, despite contrary advice from some of its Western donors. (Cohen, 2006 18-26)Future of PakistanThere are irreducible differences and rivalries between secularists and Islamists. Precisely how these differences will be settled is difficult to foretell. If both sides refute the cardinal principle of conflict resolution-that is, the truth lies in the middle–the rivalries are bound to be more violent than ever before.

If, on the other hand, they seek a political pact, the amelioration, if not the termination, of the conflicts would be likely (Malik 2007 117-28) a policy that respects pre- and post-elections pacts could minimize the eruption of such conflicts. Thus far, however, the failure to achieve such a middle ground has resulted in political disasters that have not only jeopardized the reign of self-indulgent and corrupt leaders, but also the civil, political, and economic fights of the vast majority of the people. (Daechsel 2007 141-60)


S.V.R. Nasr. (2005) “Islamic Opposition in the Political Process: Lessons from Pakistan,” in Esposito, ed., Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform? 135-36.

Abbas, H. 2005. Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 74-79.

Cohen, S. P. (2006) The Pakistan Army: With a New Foreword and Epilogue. Karachi: Oxford University, 18-26.

Daechsel, M. (2007) Military Islamization in Pakistan and the Specter of Colonial Perceptions. Contemporary South Asia 6 (2): 141-160.

Ghafoor, A. (2007) A Social Engineering Experiment in Pakistan: A Study of Orangi. Regional Development Dialogue 8 (2): 101-118.

GOP [Government of Pakistan]. 1993. National Environmental Action Plan: The Pakistan National Conservation Strategy. Karachi: Government of Pakistan, Environment and Urban Affairs Division.

HRCP [Human Rights Commission of Pakistan]. 2003. Council Statement 2003. Lahore: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Inayatullah, S. (2007) Imagining an Alternative Politics of Knowledge: Subverting the Hegemony of International Relations Theory in Pakistan. Contemporary South Asia 7 (1): 27-42.

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Khan, T.A. 2007. Economy, Society and the State in Pakistan: Contemporary South Asia 9 (2): 181-195.

Malik, I. H. (2007) State and Civil Society in Pakistan: Politics of Authority, Ideology, and Ethnicity. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 117-28.

Mustafa, D. 2004. Pakistan and the September 11th Terrorist Attacks: Back from the Brink? In The Unfolding Legacy of 9/11, edited by J. Haft and M. O. Lombardi, 168-184. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.

Nasr, S. V. R. (2004) The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama’at-i-Islami of Pakistan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 95-99.

Nizamani, H. K. 1998. Limits of Dissent: A Comparative Study of Dissident Voices in the Nuclear Discourse of Pakistan and India. Contemporary South Asia 7 (3): 317-337.

Rana, M.A. 2004. A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan. Translated by S. Ansari. Lahore: Mashal Books, 48-52.

Whaites, A. (2005) The State and Civil Society in Pakistan. Contemporary South Asia 4 (4): 229-254.

Zaman, M. Q. (2004) Sectarianism in Pakistan: The Radicalization of Shi’i and Sunni Identities. Modern Asian Studies 32 (3): 689-716.

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