Whither Pakistan 70 years after UNDHR

Seven decades after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNHDR) where does the land of Muhammad Ali Jinnah stand. That is the question asked at a public lecture hosted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

 

In a statement issued the HRCP expressed its gravel “concern at the exponential rise in the number of recommendations Pakistan has received from its peers with respect to human rights concerns in the country. In 2008, it received 51 recommendations, of which it accepted 43 and rejected eight. At its second UPR in 2012, Pakistan received 167 recommendations, of which it accepted 126, “noted” 34 and rejected seven. ‘It is encouraging to note that many of the recommendations “supported” in principle under the third UPR relate, among others, to the reduction of poverty and inequality; to making enforced disappearance a criminal offence and ensuring that all allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions are thoroughly investigated; to ensuring that all perpetrators of torture are brought to justice; to ensuring the right to a fair trial for all; and to preventing impunity for crimes against journalists and media workers.”

 

The theme of the lecture organized at the Dorab Patel Auditorium “was to assess Pakistan’s performance during its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2017. Under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, all member states are given the opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to meet their human rights obligations.”

 

Attended by civil society, including students, lawyers, human rights activists and media persons, the HRCP noted with concern “that Pakistan has chosen to “note”, rather than “support” key human rights principles such as reporting the investigation and prosecution of security forces that commit human rights violations and abuses; amending discriminatory laws against marginalised groups, including women and girls and ethnic and religious minorities; protecting the rights of the child more effectively, particularly during counter-terrorism activities; desisting from issuing death sentences and executing juveniles; and taking effective measures to prevent the abuse of blasphemy legislation and the use of violence against religious minorities.”

 

The HRCP urged the state of Pakistan “to commit to its willingness to continue cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanism, and to apply both in principle and practice the UPR recommendations it has “noted” as well as “supported”. By 2022, the country’s human rights record must be seen to improve substantially – not merely to uphold an international image, but because these principles are part of the state’s moral and responsibility to its citizens and residents under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which it is a signatory.’”

Tahir Dawar: State Must answer says former senator

It is almost one month since the kidnapping and subsequent murder of SP Tahir Dawar, and yet are yet to understand what really happened and why. According to former senator and PPP intellectual, Farhatullah Babar, this case has “raised some serious questions” that the Pakistani state “must answer.”

According to Babar, “The official response from the day Dawar was kidnapped on October 26 till his body was found across the border defies comprehension. It ranged from callous indifference to outright lies to political gimmickry.” There are “some two dozen intelligence agencies working separately under civil and military command structures. Under the National Action Plan (NAP) they are also supposed to work together under the same roof in the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) headed by the prime minister. It should have been possible for them to point out the existence of some foreign hand instead of waiting until the body was found. The reaction of Islamabad police was no different from its reaction to such disappearances and as if investigations were doomed to fail.”

Babar also refers to what he calls “downright comical lies. Talking to the VOA, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Iftikhar Durrani not only flatly denied any kidnapping but even insisted that SP Dawar was already in Peshawar. When a bewildered anchor expressed surprise that this had not been reported anywhere, Durrani literally ridiculed her. He snubbed her that while sitting in Washington she believed she knew better than him. His confidence was so overpowering that it forced the anchor to retreat into silence.”

Further, when reports of the body found in Afghanistan started circulating on social media, “the official reaction was bizarre. It is photoshop, said one federal minister. The state minister for interior surpassed all; it is a matter of national security and I will not talk about it, he said. Taking the same plea, the information minister also refused to comment. None realized the implications of their words. Citing ‘national security’ implied that Dawar had been detained by security agencies for reasons of national security. Who told the ministers that his disappearance was a matter of national security? Words that once escape the lips cannot be easily recalled. Both ministers will rue their words. Their irresponsible national security mantra will have to be explained.”

Finally, when the body was finally found and brought back to Pakistan, “the policy statement bordered on ridiculous. The minister of state for interior stated on the floor of the House that the agencies failed to detect the movements of the kidnappers because none of the 1,800 security cameras installed in Islamabad had the capability to read number plates or recognize faces of commuters in the vehicles. He called for probing corruption in the purchase of security cameras as a way forward.”

According to Babar, “The perpetrators of the crime have demonstrated frightening capabilities. Besides capabilities of surveillance, kidnapping, holding the victim for almost two weeks, they had the capability to transport the victim, or his body, from Islamabad all the way into Afghanistan, crossing the Punjab, KP, tribal areas and the Pak-Afghan border. None of the scores of security check posts manned by police, paramilitary, Frontier Constabulary, Frontier Corps and the army personnel detected anything.”

Babar ends by stating: “An answer to the question ‘Who killed Dawar in Afghanistan?’ will not be found unless the question who kidnapped him in Islamabad and kept him for days is credibly answered.”

Capitulation of the Pakistani state, once again?

The State in Pakistan is unwilling to accept the reality that the latest protests by the Tehreek e Labbai Pakistan (TLP) demonstrate once again that the state has capitulated to the very forces that it helped create and nurture for the last few decades.

According to veteran human rights activist IA Rahman, the reality is that “through their latest dharna, conservative religio-political forces have tightened their siege of the state of Pakistan. And their next attempt to change the character of the state might be somewhat stronger.”

Tracing the rise of these groups Mr Rahman argues that the “recent buckling down of the state to mobs of the radical right is not the first time it has done so in Pakistan’s history. But the repercussions on the country’s social fabric are cumulative.”

Going back to Partition Rahman asserts that “a number of religious groups called upon the government to replace the democratic foundations of the few-months-old state with theocratic pillars, a proposition the Quaid-i-Azam had repeatedly repudiated before independence and, finally, in his August 1947 speech.”

Further, “Throughout the decades since 1949, the state has been yielding to theocratic forces bit by bit, and the latter have used each concession to press for a further erosion of the democratic character of the state. The custodians of power have chosen to compete with them instead of holding on to the pledges made to the people during the struggle for freedom. … Several instruments have been used by the religio-political lobby to force the state to compromise its principles. The first method was to stoke an anti-Ahmadiyya agitation to persuade the Daultana government of Punjab to bring down the Nazimuddin government at the centre. This was the only time force was used to suppress the challenge to the state, though Khawaja Nazimuddin could stay as prime minister for only a few months more. And the anti-Ahmadiyya agitation for the realisation of theocratic goals continues to this day.

Then, “In 1974 the Bhutto government took the extraordinary step of arming the state with the power to decide who is a Muslim and who is not and claimed to have resolved a 90-year-old problem. The problem is still there and has, indeed, grown bigger. The 1974 decision only enabled General Ziaul Haq to destroy the constitution of 1973 and enforce his illiberal version of Islam. Assuming the leadership of the theocratic lobby, Ziaul Haq created a parallel judicial system, sowed the seeds of sectarianism, fostered intolerance, institutionalised discrimination against minority communities, tried to push society, especially women, back into the mediaeval period, and embroiled Pakistan in the Afghan war — with horrible consequences for our state and society both. As a result, the Muslims of the country have been dividing themselves into sects and subsets, each claiming exclusive power to redefine the state and its citizenship.”

Today, “each attack on the state has had serious repercussions on the country’s social fabric. After each round of clash between the state and its challengers, society has been brutalised and has become more divided, more violent and more intolerant. Take the present case. This time, the challengers had literally no section of the public on their side. But even those who deplored arson and destruction of property, including the religious political parties and individual scholars, did not censure the agitators for their indefensible stand. The public will take its cue from this posture of support to the agitators and that will convince the dharna organisers that they have not lost the battle. It is only a matter of time before they, or their more militant siblings, return to mount a fresh charge against the state.”

China Had to Teach Imran a Lesson

For Pakistanis, China is this great friend and the Sino-Pakistani friendship is sweeter than honey, stronger than steel and higher than the Karakoram. The Chinese are not sentimental like us and while they may not openly tweet messages, they have a subtle way of conveying their messages. This was clearly visible during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to China when the Chinese, while reaffirming the strategic relationship did not offer any economic assistance package to Pakistan.

The Prime Minister’s trip to China at a time when there were violent protests in the streets of the country was defended on grounds that “Khan was required to go to China to secure quick money, loans, assistance and investments to shore up the Pakistani economy and state finances.” However, it appears that the trip was decided without discussions on both sides.

The Prime Minister “was already in China for several days when on Saturday, a senior Chinese official, Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, made a remarkable statement. Pledging that China has in principle decided to help Pakistan tide over its current economic difficulties, Mr Kong added: “As for the specific measures to be taken, the relevant authorities of the two sides will have detailed discussions.” On Sunday, a joint statement marking the formal end of Prime Minister Khan’s trip to China appeared to confirm what was stated a day before by Vice Foreign Minister Kong. In the joint statement, there is no assistance package announced, just boilerplate diplomatic language reaffirming the deep strategic ties between China and Pakistan.”

According to an Editorial in Dawn “First, if a formal assistance package had not been already agreed to, what was the urgency for Mr Khan to leave Pakistan in the midst of a national crisis? Surely, Mr Khan was not going to negotiate in person with senior Chinese officials — the Chinese officials have themselves pointed to detailed negotiations needing to take place between the relevant authorities of the countries. Second, and more importantly, given that it is an ongoing issue, why have the “detailed discussions” yet to take place? It is possible that China is driving a hard bargain, but that would not be unexpected. However, did the Pakistani side prepare for hard negotiations? Or have the PTI government’s economic managers once again shown their inexperience and expected that a rescue package will be assembled because of Pakistan’s geopolitical importance or perhaps Prime Minister Khan’s political standing?”

Further, the Chinese in their own way conveyed their displeasure over the PTI’s attacks on CPEC in recent months. According to a news story, Chinese officials “gathered all the statements of Imran Khan and his senior cabinet members about the problems with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and showed them to him in a high profile meeting. The Pakistani PM was then asked to be careful about such statements in future and was also told to rein in his ministers on the subject.”

Further, in the official statements issued “after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Yi especially mentioned that the officials on both sides should be careful about matters of significance, as reported by Chinese media.”

The Begging bowl endures

Crowdsourcing for funding dams, selling buffaloes and cars to boost exchequer reserves and continually seeking bailouts from old allies like Saudi Arabia appear to be Prime Minister Imran Khan’s economic policy. On his recent trip to Riyadh to attend the Saudi investment conference, Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to secure a $ 6 bn bailout package from Saudi Arabia, an immediate $3 bn infusion to bolster Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves— a loan Pakistan has to return after one year – and $3bn in oil imports on a “buy now pay later” basis.  
 
This is Khan’s third visit to Saudi Arabia in just as many months as Prime Minister. He attended the high-profile conference despite calls from Pakistani human rights activists to join many other countries in boycotting the conference to protest the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
 
According to the Washington Post, “In a televised address Wednesday, Khan said he secured a “great package” from Saudi Arabia. He said Pakistan was at risk of going into default if it did not secure aid from friendly countries as well as the IMF, and that without the Saudi aid, the country would have had to seek a much larger bailout from the global lender.”
 
As Imad Zafar states in ‘The desperate begging bowl is no longer metaphorical,’ “Throughout his electoral campaign and even after assuming power, Imran Khan constantly maintained that the biggest hindrance towards Pakistan’s development is debt servicing and taking external loans. In his first speech to the nation, Imran reiterated this and promised not to beg anyone for loans or help.”
 
Yet in an interview to Middle East Eye before Khan went to Riyadh, the Pakistani Prime Minister stated that his country was “desperate” and needed Saudi largesse. “The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity is because in a country of 210 million people right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history. Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF [International Monetary Fund], we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment.”
 
This, Zafar, asserts “s an embarrassment for the entire nation that our prime minister not only refused to condemn what is one of the worst human rights violations in recent memory, but also openly admitted that we are “desperate”. The begging bowl is no longer metaphorical, and now that we have taken their money, we cannot utter a word against Saudi Arabia or its inhumane crimes. Is this the philosophy of the current government? If we have a monetary interest from any country, we will turn a blind eye towards all atrocities, the way we have when it comes to Khashoggi, and the way we have to the thousands of dead bodies in Yemen.”
 
Veteran journalist, Ejaz Haider, message for Imran Khan “To sum up: Mr. Prime Minister, do not ad-lib; do not go anywhere without hard preparation; stick to the prepared text; if you aren’t interested in a particular area, delegate to whoever knows it best.” This is because you cannot “Begin by telling everyone that you are ‘desperate’? Should that be your opening hand? It’s not about keeping something secret. Everyone knows Pakistan needs money and the economy is tanking. So, that’s not the point here. The point is how do you approach the table? As someone who declares, before any negotiations have begun, that he is desperate? Or, as someone with a plan, someone who knows his own weaknesses but also that of the other side in order to create space for himself to negotiate?”
 
The $6 bn package from Saudi Arabia alone is not enough to solve Pakistan’s massive problems, it involves unnecessary moral compromise, it might drag Pakistan into the Yemen conflict, and it is strange that the Prime Minister is bragging about borrowing.