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Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Coup Pakistan

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

Then we have our very recent, the new century, modern military government. They say, "Today we have reached a stage where our economy has crumbled. Our credibility is lost. State institutions lie demolished. Provincial disharmony has caused cracks in the federation. People who were once brothers are now at each other's throat. The Constitution has only temporarily been held in abeyance. This is not martial law, only another path toward democracy. The Armed Forces have no intention to stay in charge any longer than is absolutely necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish in Pakistan."

Dear friends, I read this because I think that it is not only the people of Pakistan, but also the Generals who actually do agree and believe that it is only true democracy that can take Pakistan to any path of survival, to any path where people can live in dignity. But all of them point out to at least four problems.

First is provincial autonomy, provincial disharmony. Secondly, the crumbling of the economy. Thirdly, the law and order situation created by political dissension. Fourthly is the isolation of Pakistan. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, "Is the Armed Forces of Pakistan a part of the problem or a part of the solution?"

When you talk about economy, we know where the major economy of the country is drained. When you talk about provincial autonomy, we know that there were serious tensions between East and West Pakistan, from the days of Mr. Ayub Khan, where the seeds of disharmony were sown. Then it came to an ultimate end at the time of Mr. Yahya Khan, and Mr. Zia-ul-Haq again, when he came, centralized government. Any military government will have a centralized power. So to talk of provincial autonomy in the face of a centralized power, I think, is actually rubbing salt on peoples' wounds.

Then you talk about the law and order situation. We in Pakistan have seen that when there is sectarian violence, and how this sectarian violence started, and who are the people who have been patronized because of the sectarian violence, it has for many years and now openly, there is no secret about it, was patronized by General Zia-ul-Haq's regime. And they became a part of every institution in Pakistan. Today, they're still being patronized by the Intelligence Agencies, which are very much the center of a military government.

So, when we are talking about a military government, we have to look at it from the time of how they operate, and what of the disinformation that is given out to the public. They are all well-intentioned, as you saw. They all came to give us democracy, as you saw. They are all democratic people, as we do know. They all went away in time, as we discovered through history. And thirdly, they are the ones, actually, who brought Pakistan back to the right path. As we see it today, many of the institutional and stubborn problems that Pakistan is facing have been in fact because of consistent intervention by the Armed Forces themselves.

I would just like to recall some of the events that took place before the coup took place in Pakistan. India detonated its bomb, its atom bomb. We were compelled to detonate ours. That was the day that the fate of civilian governments was sealed. Because no Armed Forces, particularly one which has always retained power because the Armed Forces of Pakistan never went back to the barracks, could not afford to have a civilian in charge of something like a nuclear bomb. Therefore, we had a desperate, limited prime minister, who wanted to reverse the process by starting what is called the Lahore process. There are people who have written about it and these are people who know Pakistan. These are people who know the history of Pakistan and the actors at play.

I can repeat one article, which at that point when I read, I thought, "My God, this is going to be prophetic," and it turned out to be prophetic. It was written by Mr. I.A. Rahman, saying, "The Lahore process at what cost, Mr. Nawaz Sharif?" We soon found out that yes, the Lahore process of a friendship with India and Pakistan was something that the civilian Prime Minister wanted to do. But he had to pay a price, and then was followed by Kargil.