Thursday, 6 December, 2007

Pakistan: Benazir, where is your alternative?

Former Prime Ministers Nawaz Shariff and Benazir Bhutto continue to struggle to reach consensus on how to deal with the elections announced by President Parvez Musharaff. Both filed nominations. Shariff has been disqualified. Benazir announced the Pakistan Peoples Party’s election manifesto on 30 November 2007. Since then, Shariff and Bhutto have been trying to cobble together a pro-democracy alliance but so far they have succeeded only in undermining the democracy movement; the lawyers, journalists and human rights activists – have been sidelined.

Benazir Bhutto’s election manifesto offers no alternative. The proposals lack any substance. She has nothing to offer in terms of governance. There is nothing substantive on human rights.

Some of the key issues of concern are highlighted below.

I. No commitment on an independent National Human Rights Commission

At page 15 of its election manifesto under the heading “Human Rights”, the PPP boasts of introducing a Ministry of Human Rights in Pakistan and promises to respect the life, liberty, property, livelihood and right to freedom of association, expression and movement of every citizen and honour the 'International Human Rights Declaration' in both letter and spirit. This is not a real solution to Pakistan’s deeply rooted rights problems.

The Ministry of Human Rights has failed while the previous administration attempted to establish an independent National Human Rights Commission. A draft National Commission for Human Rights Bill was presented to the National Assembly in February 2005. In May 2005, the Bill was referred to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights for further consideration and deliberations. The mechanism has not moved since.

Pakistan needs a strong National Human Rights Commission. It needs a Commission which complies with the United Nations Paris Principles on National Human Rights Institutions. Strangely, the PPP promised to establish an independent National Commission for Religious Minorities but fails to address the issues of an independent national human rights institution.

The PPP must support the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission.

II. No commitment at international level

On international commitments, the PPP states “It will honour the International Human Rights Declaration in both letter and spirit.”

Despite being targeted by successive military rulers, the PPP’s leadership appears to be illiterate on “human rights”. There is no “international human rights declaration” unless they were referring to the “Universal Declaration on Human Rights”. The issue is not about honouring a UN human rights declaration but rather more about undertaking legal obligations by ratifying the treaties and ensuring their compliance at national level. So far, Pakistan has failed to ratify International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict; and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

For a country with human rights problems on a scale of Pakistan, the poverty of knowledge on human rights is astonishing. For the PPP human rights is only to be invoked to protest the arrest of political leaders. Human rights are only for PPP leaders. When in power the PPP had an appalling record on human rights, see ACHR Weekly Review titled “Bhutto and Shariff: Be Careful of What You Wish For” of 14 November 2007.

III. Improving the plight of the minorities

The PPP promises to establish a national commission on minorities with the powers of a tribunal and review discriminatory laws. This looks like nothing more than rhetoric given that the PPP’s manifesto is silent on amending the 1973 Constitution introduced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Constitution sanctions discrimination. Article 2 of the Constitution declares Islam as “the State religion of Pakistan” and the Holy Quran and Sunnah to be “the supreme law and source of guidance for legislation to be administered through laws enacted by the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, and for policy making by the Government.” Hence, the Constitution justifies Acts or Ordinances which justify discrimination like the “Anti-Islamic Activities of the Quadiani Group, Lahori Group and Ahmadis (Prohibition and Punishment) Ordinance, 1984” promulgated by then President General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, which inserted draconian provisions such as Sections 298-B and 298-C in Pakistan’s Penal Code. Without amendment of the 1973 Constitution, discrimination will be sanctioned by the state.

IV. Empowerment of women

The PPP’s manifesto has a lot of promises on empowerment of women including enunciation of a national employment policy for women; increasing the job quota for women in civil services to 20%; enabling legal ownership of women over assets and resources through legislation; appointment of women judges in the family courts and upper judiciary; prevention of crimes through institutional initiatives etc.

The PPP says nothing on the need to strengthen the National Commission on the Status of Women which does not have adequate powers. If strengthened with a wide mandate and supported by adequate resources, the National Commission on the Status of Women can become the nodal agency of the Government for empowerment of women in Pakistan.

The existing National Commission on the Status of Women has not been established by the Parliament but a product of an Ordinance promulgated by General Pervez Musharraf in a state of emergency. This is required to be strengthened through enactment of a law by the Parliament. Besides, the procedure of appointment of the Chairperson and the members compromises the independence of the Commission. They are to be appointed only by the Federal Government and there is no requirement of concurrence of views of the leader of opposition either of the National Assembly or of the Senate. At present the Additional Secretary or a Director General of the Ministry of Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education is acting as the Secretary of the Commission. The functions of the Commission are enormous and daunting and therefore, certainly needs an independent Secretary to effectively carry out the mandate of the commission. Finally the provision that the Chairperson, Members and other staff of the Commission are public servants makes the Commission an extended arm of the Federal Government instead of making it autonomous.[1]

V. PPP’s silence on the American War against terror

The PPP is silent on the policies of President Pervez Musharraf on war against terror. Although the exact number of detainees handed over to the US is unclear[2] it is believed that some 700 suspects have been arrested by the security forces. Many of them have been held incommunicado and many of them have been handed over to the United States for interrogation without any trial in Pakistan.

VI. Deathly silence on the plight of the Balochis

Apart from the promise of inducting 10,000 male health workers in Balochistan along with the North West Frontier Province there is no mention of either the plight of the Balochis or any action plans to solve their problems in the PPP’s manifesto. It makes no mention of redressing the genuine grievances of the Balochis including the killing of hundreds of Balochis by the security forces.

Similarly, it does not talk about repealing the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) currently in operation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It only talks about amending the FCR to enable a right of appeal to the Peshawar High Court and further to the Supreme Court against all convictions under it. It seems that the PPP is not concerned about the widespread human rights violations that are being perpetrated by the Political Agents or Assistant Political Agents under this draconian legislation. The very existence of such a draconian law only in the FATA and nowhere else throughout Pakistan is a clear case of racial discrimination against the tribal peoples of FATA.

VII. Judiciary

On judicial reforms, PPP’s manifesto only promises about establishing a neutral independent judiciary.

PPP has failed to raise the issue of reinstatement of the judges illegally dismissed by General Pervez Musharraf to validate his own election as President.

Moreover, the PPP manifesto fails to state that the PPP government will implement directions/orders issued by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhury. Most important among them is the one on missing persons. In fact, among others, it is the notices issued by Mr. Justice Chaudhury to the General Pervez Musharraf Government which brought the judiciary in direct conflict with the generals. Upon reinstatement, Mr. Justice Chaudhry again issued suo motu notices to Chief Secretary and Provincial Police Officer of Balochistan on 1 August 2007 on the rising number of disappearances of political activists in Balochistan. Again on 29 October 2007, a three member Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry told the interior and defence secretaries that failure to trace and release all individuals illegally detained by secret agencies would result in stern action according to the law.[3]

PPP once again fails to make any commitment.

VIII. Press and media Freedom

On media freedom, the PPP’s manifesto boasts of liberating the Pakistani Press. It promises to establishing a Press Complaint Commission and ensuring participation by the private sector in the press and media industry. However, there is no mention of anything about repealing of the draconian Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) under which scores of journalists and media persons have been booked, arrested and convicted. General Pervez Musharraf widely misused this law to gag the electronic media. Several news channel critical of the military regime have been banned.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had a poor human rights record. After years of exile, she has nothing except to demand that Musharraf be replaced. If her manifesto is anything to go by it is unclear how democracy or human rights would be any better served.

[1]. See the ordinance on the National Commission on the Status of Women; available at:

[2]. Amnesty International’s Report, available at:

[3]. Govt warned of stern action if missing people not released, The Daily Times, 30 October 2007

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