From Bacha Khan to Manzoor Pashteen

The Pakistani state, whose identity is framed around religion, has always viewed any ethnic identity as a threat to its existence. Right from 1947, all Pashtun, Baluch, and Sindhi leaders have been viewed as separatists, traitors and anti-national. That is how the Pakistani state views the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and its leader, Manzoor Pashteen, as well.

The arrest on Monday of Pashteen on five charges, including those of conspiracy and sedition, demonstrate how weak and frightened a state is that it is scared of a non violent movement that simply demands accountability for extrajudicial killings and kidnappings.

As The New York Times reported “Mr. Pashteen and his movement, widely known by the initials P.T.M., have presented one of the most influential challenges to the military’s dominance of Pakistan as it has cracked down on minorities, journalists and other critics in recent years. While the P.T.M. focused on demanding justice for the country’s sizable Pashtun minority, its influence quickly grew larger than the movement itself. The large crowds P.T.M. drew to the streets, and the boldness of its leadership in openly challenging the security forces, inspired other advocates to join in.”

Pashteen’s arrest was immediately condemned not only by international human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International but also Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Leading Pakistani intellectuals and leaders also spoke out.

Even President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and his predecessor Hamid Karzai tweeted asking for Pashteen’s release.

The Day of the Endangered Lawyer

A few days before the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the Islamabad Bar Association issued a notification that made it mandatory for lawyers to submit affidavits regarding their faith. The notification was clearly targeted towards members of the Ahmadi sect. Facing backlash in the public and also a pushback from the Pakistan Bar Council, the notification was suspended.

However, as noted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a roundtable they held “it was critical to discuss the threats faced by lawyers who defend human rights. HRCP Honorary Spokesperson I. A. Rehman underscored the need to document all such instances of threats to lawyers. Participants shared a range of experiences, from lawyers who said that they had been threatened openly by their own colleagues for representing clients from the Ahmadiyya community, to those who had faced intimidation from state agency officials in cases related to torture or death in custody. Politically sensitive cases, such as those pertaining to enforced disappearances, also put lawyers at risk. Lawyer and digital rights activist Nighat Dad pointed out that ensuring lawyers’ security extended to their digital security: if this became compromised, it would immediately put clients at risk.”

Further, “An important consensus was that women lawyers and lawyers from religious minorities were subjected to greater harassment, not only from male colleagues, but also from judges. Advocates Jalila Haider and Alia Malik recounted the number of instances in which they had been harassed in court or been threatened with physical violence. Vice-chair of the Pakistan Bar Council Abid Saqi pointed to the structural discrimination existing in the Constitution and laws. He recommended that a permanent body be constituted to develop strategies for countering threats to lawyers handling sensitive cases, such as those related to blasphemy and forced conversion. He also agreed, among other things, to a proposal for establishing committees to counter the harassment of women in the legal profession. HRCP Council member and senior lawyer Hina Jilani said that lawyers must engage with the state, and especially the judiciary, to sensitise them to such threats and the need to perform their due role.”

Conflict of Interest: Imran Khan, Davos, & Businessman Ikram Sehgal

While attending World Economic Forum (WEF), at Davos in January 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that his stay had been sponsored by a Pakistani businessman, Ikram Sehgal, and did not involve expenses to the exchequer. Anywhere else, a businessman paying for a head of government’s foreign junket would raise at least some question. But not in Pakistan. Retired Major Ikram Sehgal seems to be able to be a businessman, a newspaper columnist, and a facilitator of Prime Minister Imran Khan without Pakistan’s establishment and its many defenders even wondering if a ‘conflict of interest’ is involved.

Ikram Sehgal is a retired Pakistan army officer. He is the Chairman of Pathfinder G4S, a company that owns defence and logistics businesses across Pakistan. He was previously also associated with Pakistan Security & Management Services (Private) Ltd and Wackenhut Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd, SMS Couriers (Private) Ltd, Pathfinder (Private) Ltd (Trade and Countertrade).

Sehgal regularly appears on Pakistani tv, writes for The News, The Daily Times, Pakistan Today and even travels the world claiming to be a strategic affairs and defense analyst. However, the reality is that Sehgal is first and foremost a businessman who makes his money from defence and security contracts, including contracts with foreign governments.

In 2009, Sehgal wrote pieces in The News titled ‘Just Say No’ and ‘The Ultimate Defining Moment’, praising Hilary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan. What he didn’t disclose while writing those pieces was that he was head of SMS Security Company which is tied up with Wackenhut Services, a US-based private security services provider. Wackenhut-SMS was one of the contractors who provided security to the American embassy and to Americans in Pakistan.

In 2011, Sehgal wrote a piece for The News arguing that the Supreme Court of Pakistan should give up trying to enforce rule of law and that it should instead accept that military intervention may be necessary. One year later in 2012 he wrote another piece in The News calling on the Chief Justice of Pakistan once again to give military dictatorship a chance.

Every year since 2002, Ikram Sehgal’s Pathfinder Group has organized the Pakistan Breakfast at Davos. For the past 6 years the Martin Dow Group has been a co-host as well.

Ever since 2011, Sehgal has been promoting Imran Khan in the international media and at fora like Davos. While in previous years, either Pakistan’s then President or Prime Minister would be the chief guest, between 2011- 2013, the Chief guest was Imran Khan, even before Khan became Prime Minister.

At WEF Davos in 2013, Sehgal told Bloomberg that “Imran represents the hope for the future of Pakistan.”

In 2011, Sehgal told Los Angeles Times that “Khan is speaking the language of the streets.” Over the last few years, Sehgal has mentioned Khan often in his writings and analysis.

At the 2012, launch of Sehgal’s book, ‘Escape from Oblivion: The Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India,’ Imran Khan was the chief guest and other speakers were Javed Jabbar, Lt Gen. Ali Kuli Khan, Brig. Muhammad Taj, and Brig. A.R. Siddiqi.

 In 2018, when Imran took over, Sehgal said in a quote to the New York Times “Mr. Khan needs to sit down with the military and figure out what are the national security objectives. Everyone should be on the same page.” He also wrote an OpEd titled “Imran Khan begins the task by speaking for the long-ignored people” in which he said “Imran Khan won over the hearts of the masses by his very candid and honest manner in his address to the nation as PM. Delivered from the heart in plain words, his talking points scribbled in his own handwriting he meant what he said. The nation has been waiting to hear from their leaders for the last 71 years about the poor-rich divide and the vital issues haunting the masses on the poverty line or barely above it.”

Sehgal’s OpEds on Imran Khan appear to simply fawn over Khan, instead of providing any analysis.

Imran Khan at the UN,’ Daily Times, October 5, 2019

“In Imran Khan Pakistan has for the first time a Prime Minister who has an entirely different background than all previous ones. Not belonging to a feudal family like the Bhuttos and Sharifs with all the restrictions that come with that. Western educated and well connected in the understanding of the western world and its rules and sentiments, he is a middle class person with no assets ‘beyond known sources of income’ which makes him able to really feel the pain of the poor. And he has charisma and is emotional that makes him resound with Pakistanis and – as we have seen – even with the representatives present at UNGA.”

Proud of you, Imran,’ Daily Times, July 23, 2019

“All of Imran Khan’s trips abroad as PM has been of great importance to Pakistan. The most anticipated (and more important than others) was his 3-day trip of the United States (US). Primarily Pakistan badly needed to mend fences with the US on a number of thorny issues, secondarily we had to attract very much needed investment. Travelling with a small delegation to Washington DC on a Qatar Airways commercial flight to save money, this trip has cost the national exchequer about US$ 50,000 cost of former PM Nawaz Sharif’s last trip to the US was reportedly US$ 470,000. Imran Khan opted to stay at the Pakistani Ambassador’s residence instead of a hotel in order to further cut costs.”

It is all too apparent what Imran Khan gets from Ikram Sehgal: lots of praise and the opportunity to attend the Davos forum at Sehgal’s expense. The questions is, what, if any, interest of Ikram Sehgal is served by this relationship?

The Pakistani newspapers who publish his articles as if these are written by an uninterested party also need to answer why allow a promoter of Khan such access to their columns. Sehgal might claim he only does what he does out of a patriotic duty. But the reason why conflict of interest rules and procedures exist in most governments and most countries is precisely to make sure that someone other than the parties involved determines whether a relationship is above board.

Why are Sanitation Workers in Pakistan Killing themselves? HRCP Explains the Suicides

A society is known by whether or not it is able to protect its weakest citizens. In the last few months there has been a steady rise in suicide attempts by sanitation workers in Pakistan.

These workers are “at the lowest tier of the sanitation services. They maintain, inspect, clean and unclog sewers and, when needed, descend via manholes into fecal sludge, without protection equipment or tools. They do not have a voice. There is no union or federation of sanitation workers — unlike in other countries — to let us hear their collective voice. We only know that the majority of these workers belong to a minority community, discriminated against and shunned by the majority. We come to know of their existence when they suffer fatal accidents in the line of duty, or when they are treated inhumanly in the most unpardonable manner like an injured worker from Umerkot was reportedly treated in hospital.”

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) “arbitrary layoffs and the non-payment of wages have continued for months. This is taking a brutal toll on a section of the workforce that is often considered ‘invisible’, despite providing vital labour.”

HRCP condemned “the indifference of the federal and provincial governments, and of municipal corporations, to such workers who consistently face hazardous working conditions. The Commission aims to work closely with sanitation workers’ associations across the country and demands that their grievances are heard and redressed fairly and promptly. Sanitation work demands the same dignity and welfare benefits as any other occupation.”

HRCP: Where is the sovereignty of Pakistan’s citizens?

If Pakistan seeks to make progress towards becoming a democracy, one of the key issues that need to be tackled are its human rights record. At a recent seminar, held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a high-profile panel of human rights defenders discussed constitutionalism and human rights.

The panel “included HRCP Honorary Spokesperson I. A. Rehman; HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique; HRCP Council member and Supreme Court advocate Hina Jilani; Secretary-General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Nasir Zaidi; former director of the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, Zafarullah Khan; former Senators Afrasiab Khattak, Farhatullah Babar and Taj Haider; Justice Shakeel Baloch; senior journalists Muhammad Ziauddin, Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi; Secretary-General of the Supreme Court Bar Association Shamim Malik; and political activist Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar. The seminar was attended by a cross section of society.”

The HRCP “resolution adopted by the panel urged the political leadership to ensure the supremacy of parliament, rule of law, and the people’s fundamental freedoms and rights. It stated that elected representatives should ensure that the system of governance rests on established laws and constitutional norms, instead of ordinances. The resolution also noted how political engineering by undemocratic forces had damaged the democratic process and encouraged selective accountability. The actions of law enforcement agencies, primarily intelligence agencies, should be brought within the ambit of the law through a strong, independent parliamentary oversight mechanism. As per the resolution, the policing duties in the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa must be handed over to civilian law enforcement institutions. The insidious practice of running internment centres in KP must also cease.”

HRCP also urged “the government to criminalise enforced disappearances in accordance with the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances, and let the public know the outcome of the proceedings at the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Various speeches reiterated that Pakistan’s youth, which has been kept alienated for decades and taken to the streets to claim their rights, must be heeded, not vilified in the form of criminal cases. Human rights defenders and journalists must be allowed to do their jobs and to criticise where criticism is called for. If Pakistan is to progress as a democratic country, the state must form empowered, autonomous local bodies in all federating units of the country. It must restore people’s faith in the judiciary by making it clear that those who abrogate the Constitution will be held accountable. Indeed, HRCP hopes the apex court will overturn the recent regressive judgment of the Lahore High Court. The state must also protect provincial autonomy under the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award. Provincial autonomy is a democratic right of Pakistan’s federating units.”