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Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Coup Pakistan

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

So, it was (a) not sufficient change in the law, (b) it already existed, (c) it gave a kind of a very lame excuse for the orthodoxy to have an issue to go to street upon. They simply stepped upon the street when the Armed Forces of Pakistan, the brave Armed Forces of Pakistan, retracted. They said that because this was, and these were the words, "This is what is the public opinion about it." According to the general public opinion and the will of the people, we will retract upon it. I guess that the will of the people today is only determined by the Mullah on the street, other people do not matter.

That really made me feel that if I had been a cartoonist, I probably would have made a cartoon saying, "Possibly, the minorities and women of Pakistan are far braver than the Generals of Pakistan."

[applause]

Asma Jahangir: At least they stood across the Mullah, whereas the Generals retracted rather fast, on something that was not even very significant.

Then their human rights agenda calls upon a commission to be set up on the rights of women. We have had several commissions. Partly, I think, some of the recommendations have been implemented, but very, very few. The ones that have been implemented too, have made no difference. A lot of women in Pakistan have become so inferior that unless you do not make structural changes, and you do not begin to make the critical changes, the plight of women in Pakistan is not going to improve.

So to say, "Well, let us get four women out of jail here," and "Let us give treatment to four women with burns, here," and "Let us get two programs done on the television there," is only window dressing. So the issue of women was never addressed. It was said that bonded labor will not exist in Pakistan. I myself am sitting in court today, where the Government is saying there is no bonded labor. This is a Government lawyer. It is said that the rights of women shall be guaranteed. The Federal Shariat Court has ruled in some of the provisions of the family law against women. The Government has not gone into appeal. The Government is banking upon the women going to appeal, but they will not go into appeal. When questioned, one of the ministers said, tongue-in-cheek, "Well, "Taleban will never come here. The women of Pakistan will make sure they never come here."

But this is the kind of expectations that they have from the civil society. Now, when I go back into a lot of things that I've seen have happened. I've got press clippings if some of you would like to look at them. Just two days before I came, a thirteen-year-old Hindu girl, living in Balochistan, it was alleged, has converted to Islam. Her teacher said that she had converted to Islam in front of her. So the girl's parents got scared and took this child away from Balochistan and went into Sindh. The orthodoxy went to the streets. This girl was arranged to be brought into the court. This was a 13-year-old from Sindh, with guards. She came into court and said, "I don't know anything of what this teacher is talking about. I am just a 13-year-old girl. I and my parents are Hindu. I continue to be Hindu." She was sent back with her parents, but there was a strike in Balochistan after which the Hindu Community had to shift from Balochistan. Then there was a strike by the Hindu Community, and again by the Muslim Community, but the Government of Pakistan which had a huge big conference on human dignity did not even utter a single word. They did not even go there to protect the Hindus of Balochistan who were being harassed because of a 13-year old child. They were being tortured into making that 13-year old child say that she was Muslim, and that she belonged to the Muslims of Pakistan. This is one of the things that I felt, that if the Government were serious, and if it had any sincerity, they would possibly be able to say something. So far, there has not been a single case of honor killing where a person has been convicted by the court.

I have figures every single day. There are three cases of honor killings, continuing, in Pakistan. There has been no change on the ground, at all. People are tortured in the same way. There's a 10-year old boy today in the jail of Bahawalpur who has been given 136 years of sentence. There is another boy who is 12-years old, who has been given 46 years of sentence. But the Government of Pakistan is committed to human rights. I wonder whose?

We have, for example, again, when I talked about institutions, we don't have a Parliament, today. Now, it seems kind of a dichotomy. It seems a kind of strange oratory when people talk about democracy and human rights. Where does democracy come from? From the representations of people. But we have no Parliament. We have no Parliament in the provinces. The Judiciary was asked to take an oath, and the oath was an oath of loyalty to the military government and not an oath of loyalty to the constitution. The seven judges, or six judges, sorry, who resigned from the Supreme Court for not having taken the oath. Subsequently, there was a judgement by the Supreme Court which said that the military government could stay for three years, but mind you, they have retained the powers of review. That means that once the three years are over, and the Generals want more, our very generous judiciary shall be obliged to give them more.