Pakistan Headed for Manipulated Election in 2024

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On the first day of the New Year, and one month prior to Pakistan’s next general elections, it is an opportune moment to take stock of the country’s current human rights. According to Pakistan’s leading human rights organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) there has been an overall deterioration in human rights over the last year.

In a recent statement, HRCP noted “the blatant manipulation of the electoral landscape in which one political party among others has been singled out for systematic dismemberment. While HRCP does not condone violence in any form perpetrated by anyone, the state’s response has been disproportionate and unlawful. This has assumed a familiar pattern, including arrests of party workers and supporters, lack of transparency concerning the charges involved, crackdowns on party workers’ right to peaceful assembly, enforced disappearances, obvious signs of pressure on party leaders to resign or exit politics altogether and, most recently, the large-scale rejection of candidates’ nomination papers. Various other parties have also been subjected to similar tactics to varying degrees.”

According to HRCP, “At this point, there is little evidence to show that the upcoming elections will be free, fair or credible.”

Further, HRCP warned “The rights of vulnerable groups have come under renewed assault by state and nonstate actors in the past year. The wanton destruction of Christian and Ahmadiyya sites of worship—with severe damage caused to over 30 churches in Jaranwala in a single day in August 2023—and increasing use of the blasphemy laws against religious minorities has left these communities fearful for their lives and livelihoods, much less their right to profess and practice their faith. The Christian community’s legitimate demand for an inquiry by a judicial commission in the Jaranwala tragedy must be honoured and all victims compensated fairly. HRCP also calls for the immediate implementation of the 2014 Supreme Court judgment with respect to religious minorities’ rights. The mass expulsion of vulnerable Afghan refugees and asylum seekers—in violation of international customary law and without consideration for their prospects of safety in their country of origin—has put many women, children, elderly and disabled Afghan nationals at risk.”

Furthermore, “The state of law and order, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is cause for serious concern. There can be no tolerance for militancy, for which the military must cede space to law enforcement agencies while the government must ensure that the police have the training and resources they need to protect citizens’ lives and property. The state must not allow militants to gain strength through opaque backdoor negotiations as happened last year. Additionally, the merger and mainstreaming of former FATA is an achievement that must not be reversed.”

Finally, HRCP expressed dismay at “the state’s clampdown on dissent, whether on freedom of opinion, expression or assembly, that further constricted civic spaces in the country at a time when people must be allowed to express their will freely ahead of a national election. The recent crackdown on Baloch women protestors demanding an end to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings was a black mark on the state—such repressive tactics need to end. HRCP expresses its solidarity with the Baloch women protesting outside the National Press Club and demands that the state produce all those missing in a court of law.”

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Author: Ali Chughtai