Pakistan’s Human Rights challenges

At a time when Pakistan is facing international and regional isolation on multiple issues, Pakistan has once again missed an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to human rights through the process of Universal Periodic Review and thus try to improve its image.

In an oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 37th session in Geneva on 19 March 2018 the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “regret that the government of Pakistan missed yet another opportunity to show its commitment to address key human rights issues. Despite having accepted nearly 60% of the recommendations it received, it is apparent that the government lacks the political will to address the most serious human rights violations, such as enforced disappearances, the persecution of religious minorities, the use of the death penalty, and extrajudicial killings.”

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was established in 2006. It is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The UPR “is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights.”

According to HRCP “The government’s blanket refusal to commit to end the death penalty, including for juveniles and for offenses that do not meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’, is particularly disappointing because this practice is in clear violation of Pakistan’s international human rights obligations. Freedom of expression continues to be silenced through the harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance of voices critical of the government or Islam. In this context, it is concerning that the government did not accept any of the recommendations that called for the repeal or amendment of blasphemy laws.”

The HRCP welcomed “the government’s positive response to over 30 recommendations that called for the protection of women’s rights and the adoption of measures aimed at preventing discrimination and violence against women and ensuring punishment for all perpetrators of violence against them. We sincerely hope the authorities will translate this commitment into action.”

However, HRCP also expressed its disappointment at “the government’s failure to accept all recommendations that are meant to protect persons from violence and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. FIDH and HRCP further urge the Pakistani government to immediately begin the implementation of the recommendations that it did not accept and that are consistent with its obligations under human rights treaties to which Pakistan is a state party.”


Military’s ‘Political Engineering’ to Ambush Democracy

For the last few years Pakistan’s democracy was subject to a creeping coup undertaken by the security establishment. Removal of prime ministers under charges of corruption, backroom manipulations to create splits within political parties and decide who among the civilians will be allowed to be in power. The recent Senate elections, however, demonstrate open and public erosion of democratic institutions.


These events need to be seen alongside the Pashtun long march and discriminatory attacks against Pashtun and Baloch students in Punjab. In the words of former Senator Afrasiab Khattak the establishment’s use of ‘political engineering’ in the recent Senate elections needs to be seen in context of attempts to roll back the 18th Amendment “by constitutionally and legally questionable means.” These, have sent “a very wrong message to the population wise smaller provinces.”


In a recent piece former Senator Afrasiab Khattak argues that instead of debating about national priorities “the brazen manipulations, corruption and intervention by intelligence agencies in the recent Senate elections has exposed the hollowed and farcical nature of the current ‘republic’ which doesn’t qualify anymore to be called even a mere facade of democracy.”


According to Khattak the recent Senate elections “From overthrowing of provincial government in Balochistan through a parliamentary coup orchestrated by the prime Intelligence agency of the country in January for paving ground for election of a group of ‘independent’ senators, to using pressure and dirty deals for getting a little known and totally inexperienced senator elected as chairman Senate, everything smacked of mala fide.”


The purpose of these elections Khattak remarks was not simply to control the Senate to block future legislation by any “undesirable elected government” but “to create conducive atmosphere for rolling back of 18th Amendment.” He argues that the recent demand by the Army Chief Qamar Bajwa that the 18th Amendment should be rolled back should be seen for what it is “direct intervention in the country’s politics, something which is not permitted by law” and that such “statements also raises questions about army as a national institution. How can it take a position that is a challenge to the interests of the three federating units? Insistence on such a position will give the impression as if the army represents only the population wise biggest province.”


The reason why the 18th Amendment is opposed by the generals according to Khattak is “The basic thrust of the 18th Amendment was to restore the original federal, democratic and parliamentary 1973 Constitution by cleaning it of distortions and deformations imposed on it by General Zia’s Martial Law and General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule. Although some of the “land mines” ( like Gen Zia’s Article 62 and 63) could not be taken out because of the lack of political consensus but substantial reforms were implemented. Presidential power to dissolve assemblies were taken away and given back to elected Parliament. Concurrent list of legislative powers was abolished and powers were devolved to the federating units as envisaged by framers of the 1973 Constitution. Eighteenth Amendment was supported by fourteen political parties and groups, practically by every political party present in Parliament at that time. But this Amendment is a thorn in the side of authoritarian circles for many reasons. Like it has done away with the authoritarian instruments inserted in the Constitution by military dictators for subverting the democratic process ( dissolution of assemblies by the President) that were used time and again by putschists in the past. The emergence of stronger provinces makes the undemocratic intervention more difficult. Although the prolonged existence of the Apex Committees has some what diluted it but even than greater access to financial resources has given edge to the federating units.”


Further, “the most important aspect in this whole thing is a competition for share the national financial cake. The National Finance Commission ( NFC) Award decides the formula for distribution of resources between the federation and the federating units. Under the NFC Award of 2009 declared by elected government the share of provinces was raised to 57 per cent (unlike 45 per cent under General Musharraf in 2006 Award) and Constitutional protection was given to the provincial share in the 18th Amendment. This formula was agreed upon in 2009 and the 18th Amendment was passed in 2010 ( it was implemented in 2011). In the CCI meeting in June 2011 it was agreed that the federation would provide financial resources to the provinces for health and education as provisional arrangement till the next NFC Award which was to be declared in 2014. It’s pretty clear that provinces will demand further rise in their share on the basis of the logic of 18th Amendment. This will further reduce the quantum of federal resources putting constraints on allocation to all federal ministries including defense. That’s why the present government hasn’t declared a new NFC Award in the last four years. This is the actual reason of the attack on 18th Amendment.”


Khattak concludes by stating that “this isn’t a zero sum game” and “undermining the sanctity of the Senate which is the house of federation doesn’t augur well for the future of the country.”

‘Sun has set on Pakistan’s democracy


‘Sun has set on Pakistan’s democracy’


Recent events in Pakistan demonstrate the sad and tragic path that appears to be taken inside Pakistan. In the words of former head of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan I.A. Rahman the recent Senate elections demonstrated a reversal in Pakistan’s efforts to develop into a democratic state. According to former head of Pakistan Radio and veteran journalist Murtaza Solangi subterfuge led to the election of Sadiq Sanjrani as Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate.


According to Rahman there are five reasons why the “sun went down” on Pakistani democracy.


First, “the threat that the Senate could play a vanguard role in the consolidation of democratic norms was warded off. The sequence of events that began with the change of government in Balochistan concluded with the passage of the Senate into the establishment’s ward. The country was denied the possibility of having a Senate chairman who enjoyed the trust of both the treasury benches and the principal opposition group, an opportunity any democratic country should have welcomed.”


Second, “Mr Zardari has dealt the PPP a grievous blow. What persuaded him to throw away the chance of having his party member in the Senate chairman’s seat may not be impossible to fathom. If he thinks he has saved his skin forever, he could be disillusioned sooner rather than later.”


As Rahman points out Pakistan’s political landscape is now “dominated by the right and extreme right. The disappearance of the PPP even as a nominally left-of-centre party and the elimination of any difference between it and right-of-centre parties will make the state even more vulnerable to pressure from the extreme right than it already is. This will reduce the state’s ability to meet the challenge of religious extremism and undermine its capacity to evolve a rational policy towards the nations of the world, especially Iran, India, the US and Afghanistan.”


Thirdly, “the PML-N was again found wanting in strategic planning required to meet the call of the moment. It should have known from the very beginning of the process to elect new senators that its nominee for the chairmanship of the upper house had no chance of winning. The steps taken to queer the pitch for the Senate elections were not going to be wasted by allowing a PML-N party member to fill the chairman’s slot.”


Fourthly, “the possibility of using the Senate elections to educate the people in the role of the upper house in the country’s affairs, especially in promoting a democratic dispensation, was ignored by all the parties concerned as if they had a compact not to let the people know how important the Senate’s democratic role is.”


Fifthly, “The election of a member from Balochistan as the Senate chairman would have been considered a step towards democratic development if the manoeuvring that preceded it had been above board.”

Solangi’s article provides the detailed political intrigues that led to the Sanjrani election and dates it back to the election of the Chief Minister of Baluchistan in late 2017.


According to Solangi while “TV pundits went into a frenzy, predicting the dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly by the new chief minister of Balochistan to be followed by that of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, to shatter the electoral college for the Senate elections” the real “plan was first to rout the PML-N government and reduce its upcoming majority in the Senate to stall any legislation in future that could possibly reincarnate a disqualified and humiliated Nawaz Sharif. Many attempts were made in the recent past to bring a motley of forces, including religious zealots, against Nawaz Sharif to weaken and bruise him, rather than politically kill him.”


First “Soon after the nomination process was completed for the Senate elections, the Supreme Court issued a detailed verdict on the Election Act 2017 and struck down its Article 203 under which a disqualified Nawaz Sharif had become king maker again, despite his disqualification. Under the verdict, all decisions made by Nawaz Sharif were not only declared illegal but no protection was provided to his decisions either. All of a sudden, all PML-N ticket holders in the Senate lost their party affiliation and the Election Commission stripped them and declared them Independent candidates.”


Second “The next round was to gain as many Senators as possible to prevent the PML-N from securing a simple majority in the upper house and finally deprive it of the posts of chairman and deputy chairman. A split in the MQM ranks deprived it of two Senators and forced it to settle on just one Farogh Nasim. Raza Rabbani, one of the top architects of the 18th Amendment, was given a Senate ticket after many old guards and Chairman Bilawal threw tantrums before former President Asif Zardari. Huffing and puffing Farhatullah Babar’s wings were already clipped from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Asif Zardari was able to pull two Senators with barely five MPAs. The biggest surprise in Punjab was Chaudhry Sarwar not only getting elected but also getting the highest votes. Even the PPP who got nothing in Punjab, got three times more votes than their actual number of MPAs.”


Following this “The heroes of the coup d’etat in Balochistan got six Independent Senators elected. They also had the backing of two PML-N Senators who were close relatives of Sanaullah Zehri. The PML-N had 33 Senators but Ishaq Dar, despite his election, couldn’t come, so they were already one vote short. FATA Senators always swing to the side of Miltablishment, and most of them did. Everybody in the know, knew of the late night huddles in Islamabad under the supervision of the engineers of the anti-Nawaz change. A remarkable feat was accomplished by Imran Khan’s backers when he announced that he would hand over his 13 Senators to the newly liberated Independent Senators of Balochistan. Asif Zardari didn’t lose the opportunity and gunned straight for this non-entity group. It was politically immature, so it was quickly awed and gave its power of attorney to Asif Zardari to make the final decision. As soon as the news came out, this riled the PTI rank and file.”


Next, “This disheartened the PPP old guard and the young Chairman Bilawal. They tried their best on the night of March 11 to persuade Asif Zardari to change his mind and accept a ruling alliance offer to announce Raza Rabbani for the top slot. Zardari knew better to stick to the Miltablishment that has been speaking against the 18th Amendment and its architect Rabbani. Zardari not only stuck to his guns but forced Bilawal to make the unpopular announcement of bowing before the Askari group and demoting Saleem Mandviwalla as the deputy chairman option. Nawaz Sharif’s plan B in case Raza Rabbani was not accepted was Hasil Bizenjo. But Akhtar Mengal upped the ante and said his Senator would not support Hasil Bizenjo. PkMAP and the JUI-F were not too excited about Hasil Bizenjo. As Nawaz Sharif found himself in an awkward position, Bizenjo bailed him out by dropping out of the race, leaving him with no choice but to choose Raja Zafarul Haq over the others. Now the battle for the deputy chairman’s nominee began. JUI-F and PkMAP both wanted the slot. Nawaz couldn’t anger any one of them. Cricket came to the rescue and the toss was decided in favour of PkMAP, angering the JUI-F. On the afternoon of March 12, when the voting began, all JUI-F Senators disappeared from the Senate hall, causing panic in the government ranks. After half an hour later, ministers and party big guns were able to bring them back.”


Finally “As the counting began and the ballots were being dropped in the baskets clearly marked for Sadiq Sanjrani and Raja Zafarul Haq, journalists kept counting. As the magic number 53 for Sadiq Sanjrani was counted, the face of his polling agent, Farooq Naek, broke out into a smile that was so wide it was visible even from the press gallery. Raja was still in the 40s range at that point. The die was cast. The empire and the umpire had ensured that the victory of the coerced coalition and the Noon saw its worst afternoon. The rest, as they say, is history.”

HRCP: Government Should Appeal IHC Ruling on Declaration of Faith

HRCP: Government Should Appeal IHC Ruling on Declaration of Faith

On March 9, 2018, the Islamabad High Court announced its verdict on a case concerning controversial amendments made to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the 2017 Elections Act. The court ordered that it was critical that all citizens be easily identifiable by their faith and that applicants for public offices would need to declare their beliefs before being considered eligible for any jobs.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, interpreted to Article 5 of the Constitution to mean that it was “mandatory” for every citizen, Muslim or non-Muslim, to “declare their true faith”, otherwise they could be guilty of “betraying the State” and “exploiting the Constitution.” The Judge also expressed his alarm that referred to ‘one of the minorities’ as being those who were “often mistaken for being Muslims” due to their names and general attire and that this was wrong as it would “lead them to gain access to dignified and sensitive posts, along with benefits.”

In a recent press release the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan asked the federal government to appeal this decision of the court.

The HRCP “is appalled by the recent IHC ruling that makes a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants, including for the armed forces, judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Requiring a faith declaration for computerized national identity cards, passports, birth certificates and entry into voter lists will further choke the capacity of minorities to exercise their fundamental rights. These requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”

The HRCP noted that “it was he state’s responsibility to protect all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic, religious and regional identities. The honourable court’s ruling, it cautioned, could lead to an increase in instances of aggression and violence against the Ahmadiyya community in particular. The consequences of this ruling could be deadly for members of this community, given their already precarious personal safety situation in the country.”

HRCP on expulsion of Pashtun and Baloch students by Punjab university administration

For the last few days a large number of Pashtun and Baloch students of Punjab University have been observing a sit-in outside the office of the vice chancellor, demanding the administration restore their fellows expelled recently. Their argument that they are being discriminated against simply because of their ethnicity is cause for tremendous concern.

In January 2018 a clash between different student groups at Punjab University’s Quaid e Azam campus in Lahore resulted in cases of terrorism being registered against a number of students and over 200 students were arrested. The majority of these students were Pashtun and Baloch students.

In a recent press release the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed “grave concern” over these actions of the administration of the Punjab University. Soon after the incident the university administration followed up by sending show cause notices to these students and suspended some of them in February 2018. The arrested students were eventually released on bail and were promised that the terrorism related charges would be dropped.

However, as the HRCP statement points out: “The cases that were registered against the arrested students are still in effect and the bail of the students, who were released, can be cancelled at any time which can result in their arrest.”

Further, “The students demand to be treated with respect and any campaigns against the Pashtun and Baloch students branding them as being “Anti-Pakistan” in the university should be taken notice of by the administration, which should further ensure that such campaigns are not allowed in the university campuses. The impression that the university administration has been targeting Pashtun and Baloch students because of their ethnic identities is cause for grave concern.”