This is the latest installment of a series of podcasts entitled Another Pakistan, a co-production of the Asia Society and the Watson Institute at Brown University. Click here to learn more. Scroll to the end of this post to listen to the podcast.
LAHORE — Ali Dayan Hasan polices the shaky, wavy line of free speech and civil rights in Pakistan with iron conviction, a booming parliamentary baritone, and not much else. He was the first to sound the alarm last May at the abduction of the journalist Saleem Shahzad, and then to charge the Army's dreaded ISI (for Inter-Services-Intelligence) with Shahzad's murder. But he's reminding us in conversation that the ISI — "the principal human rights abuser in this country" — has never been held to account for scores of such disappearances and deaths, and probably won't be nailed in the Shahzad case either.
As Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan is the man who gets away somehow with asking persistently how the ISI gets away with it. He is speaking of a mutually abusive marriage of American and Pakistani secret agencies and political elites — a marriage from which there may be no way out. The even longer history — the "multi-generational fight for the soul of the country" — is "this ongoing standoff" between the "praetorian" politics of military intervention and an apparently unsinkable tradition of law and rights.
In all the uncertainties of 2011, Hasan is not discouraged: "We're going through another one of those phases where it seems there is space for civilian rule."
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Christopher Lydon is the host of Radio Open Source, a conversation on arts, ideas and politics from Brown University's Watson Institute.