During its 70-year history Pakistan has had few ‘free and fair’ elections. With the next elections due this year, there are fears that the powers that be will once again try to manipulate the results. With this in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called for “the importance of ensuring an even playing field for all—without interference from any state agency.”
Demands for rolling back the 18th Amendment, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, mainstreaming extremist groups, and exclusion of civil society from the affairs of the state were only some of the key issues that concerned the HRCP.
According to the statement released after the HRCP’s 32nd Annual Meeting: “There must be special efforts to ensure that both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation. In this context, mobile polling stations could be a way of ensuring that people who might otherwise be unable to vote, are able to exercise this fundamental right.”
Further “The shrinking space for progressive thought in Pakistan is especially disconcerting. The fact that NOCs are apparently in the control of the security agencies and that donor money is not going to the areas where it is most needed—such as ‘no-go’ areas in Balochistan and FATA—means that human rights are increasingly under strain.” “Pointing to the recent case of Geo TV having inexplicably been taken off air, the continual harassment of journalists, the closure of the Quetta Press Club and restrictions on circulations of newspapers in the city, HRCP has underscored the fact that freedom of expression in Pakistan remains under attack.”
HRCP lamented that: “The space that has opened up for religious and militant organizations to operate with impunity is reflected in the hero’s welcome that awaited the 26 people acquitted by the courts in the case of Mashal Khan’s mob lynching.”
HRCP also welcomed the Pashtun Tahafuz movement “in the spirit that all people have a right to express their grievances peacefully. The legitimate concerns underlying the movement reflect a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the people. We urge the government to listen to these concerns and to refrain from interfering in the Pashtuns’ right of association as well as that of others.”
HRCP was also appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that “proposes making 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. Such requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”
Finally the HRCP criticized the increasing trend of judicial activism, “Rather than relying on vague interpretations of morality, the superior judiciary should decide cases of public importance based on established constitutional and legal principles. The excessive number of suo moto cases in the last year have in no way served to strengthen democracy.”