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Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Coup Pakistan

Asma Jahangir (

Asma Jahangir (

After that, we have the "Attock Fort" phenomenon. I am no admirer of Mr. Nawaz Sharif, in the least. But to keep a former Prime Minister in the Attock Fort, to keep the sentence of death hanging over his head, reminds me of the early days of Zia-ul-Haq, if I may be allowed to say so. It also reminds me, because even at that point certain populist actions were taken. When people talked about arbitrary detentions, well, these were Al-Zulfiqar people who were being hung. When you talked about child execution, it was a 15 year-old Al-Zulfiqar little boy who was going around gunning people, and he was being hung. That is how gradually, Zia-ul-Haq de-humanized us. This is what is happening in Pakistan, today.

There is a ban on political parties. But at the same time, while politicians cannot get together, while you cannot go on the street and ask for your rights, the Mullahs can certainly meet together. And the Mullah can certainly hold as many rallies as they want, spitting venom and asking people to kill each other, calling for Jihad. That is very well protected by the State, itself.

There is, therefore, a vacuum in Pakistan. I do not speak because I am inherently against the military. I am a great believer, not simply out of an idealistic belief, but practically, when you look at it, unless and until you do not have something called a democratic process, you cannot reach towards any civilization in a society. The democratic process is not a BMW, fresh from the factory, which is delivered to you. You don't just begin in the driving seat and begin to drive. In our countries, where there has been oppression for many years, where there has been military, where there have been autocratic civilian rulers, we have to pick up the pieces together. We have to begin to build it in the hope that we will get one day somebody better in the driving seat. The pushers will be better. We have to make it roll. Once it begins to roll, then we are back in the process. But to begin to smash it again and again is not going to drive us to any kind of a civil society. Today, it is whatever the General said that the four Generals have been saying. Since 1958, Pakistan has been at crossroads. Until today, Pakistan is at crossroads. That crossroad will not end until we do not, as a nation, begin to give a direction. We must begin to actually believe in the democratic process. We have today, for example, a policy of the Government, which talks about Jihad. They have tried to make a distinction between Jihad and terrorism. Now, to my mind, there could be a distinction. Perhaps terrorism is just simply use of arms without politicization of religion. Jihad only simply adds politicization of religion, making it even more lethal. The result of that is that when we do have something like a human rights agenda by the present government, and I will give you details of the human rights agenda (which really gave nothing).

What the General said was that honor killing should be considered murder. It already is considered murder, in the law of Pakistan. He said that the blasphemy law will now be changed so that the Deputy Commissioner must first look whether a First Information Report to the police should be filed, or not. This was done during Benazir's second government. Ironically, this was agreed to by the Mullah at that time, because she wanted to change the law into saying that anyone who made false accusations will be punished, too. The Mullah went to town. The Law Minister at that time, head money was put on him. He was threatened. So they agreed that, "All right. We can have the Deputy Commissioner first to look at it." This practice had been going on during that time. During Mr. Nawaz Sharif's tenure, one of the lawyers went and filed a FIR against somebody. The Deputy Commissioner didn't want to file it. He went to the court, and the court gave an order that these administrative decisions by the Head of the State do not change the law. The lawyer was under right to file an FIR. That was his inherent right.