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Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Coup Pakistan

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

Asma Jahangir: In the first place, Nawaz Sharif was a gift of the army to you. He would have never been there had it not been for our great army. And if you ban Kakul Academy you will never get good generals. We have banned political activities since when? What do you expect to have, a Nelson Mandela in a desert of politics?

So I think that yes, you were right that the political leadership was not bright at all. But many of the political leadership of today, if you pick up the Parliamentarian's names, they were really propped up by the army. You talk about democracy. You know that now it is no secret that the elections were always rigged. Mr. Zia-ul-Haq had left that structure so that one tilt this way and another party comes in. But there is no way that the army is going to come and give you a formal offer of excellent democracy. We had to go from here. Yes, you're right, that the 15th amendment was introduced by Nawaz Sharif. But because it was a democracy, it never went through.

Look at the brighter sides of it. Had it been a military government, could we have stopped it? Democracy has its own dynamism, its own dynamics. Come March, there may have been people who may have resigned. There could have been a movement. So it doesn't happen that easily. Plus, whenever there is that process, I am saying it is a process. I never say democracy. Whenever there is a process, guess who gets marginalized? The Mullah. Because when he opens the box, there's no vote. Because you have political party leadership also having an opinion, now we are alone. I mean there is just nobody except the Mullah in the field. So they are going to have a super time now.

Plus, you talked about Jihad and Mujahideen by the West, and by America. Yes, of course. But you see, I cannot sleep at night by saying and justifying it that, "The Americans did it, so let's go to bed." It's not an American kid who has to live there. It's my kid who has to live there. It's me who has to live there. And when I see hundreds of children studying here in the universities and not wanting to come back, what do you say to them? What do we have to offer? Do we say to them, "Come back, please, and get killed and be suffocated?" Or can we say to them, "We have hope you will come back one day." Or do we leave things as they are?

Question: I have two questions, if you don't mind. One is handing over what is happening now. This hasn't happened with the three former Generals that you reported. General Musharraf is taking more Generals and putting them into civilian positions. That is civilian authority in Pakistan is passing to the military. How does this appear to you, and what will be the political consequences? The reason is that the army is dominated by two provinces, Punjab and NWFP. Sindh and Balochistan, the smaller provinces, and you mentioned provincial autonomy and the emergence of Bangladesh. What will be the political consequences because the threats from the smaller provinces are already emerging?

My second question is, how are the terrorist courts functioning in Pakistan? Thank you.

Asma Jahangir: Well I think you have just added to what I have said. Thank you very much. As usual, you have done it. Yes, not only do you see Army Generals going into being Ambassadors and in positions of power. There's something called the monitoring cellars. I mean, it's all very well done. I have had some people coming from the west, saying, "Well, what kind of military government is this? You don't see military on the road." You want to tell them, "Just keep one step ahead. This is a new kind, now."

But these monitoring units monitor everything. If you go to jails, they are monitoring them. Airports, hospitals, schools, universities, post offices. The result of that is that there has been a turn around very soon. The way the Army was welcomed, or perceived to be welcomed -- I always say "perceived," because if you have the electronic media in your hand, it's not difficult to show 50 people who are dancing - so, "perceived" to be welcomed. The turn around was rather quick. Because (a) they'd made those tall promises of bringing everything back to something that was unachievable.

Secondly, these monitoring cells have made a nuisance of themselves. I mean, their thinking is very much like administrative. For example, they picked up a lot of these encroachments, as they called it. But these were poor people who had been sitting there for forty or fifty years. They were just simply, overnight, their homes were plowed and they were told to go look for housing elsewhere. Plus, I mean, naturally when everybody has somebody watching over their shoulders, people are very tense there. There is that kind of a tension that is prevailing there.

There is, of course, Punam which has come up, now, which is of the oppressed nations, as they say. Those are the smaller provinces, particularly Balochistan and Sindh, that perceive the Pakistan Army as a Punjabi Army. There is always that bitterness and heart-wrenching against Punjab. So there is that tension which has increased a great deal particularly because of this drought. Our chairperson of the Human Rights Commission when to the drought areas and his was the first report that came out. The Government had not been there. They felt that the help came too late and too little. They are now saying that yes, this is because had their been a drought in Punjab, there would not have been that kind of reaction. So I do not see that this army is going to hand over, in three years, a healthy Pakistan back to us. I don't know what is going to be the future, but I don't see a bright future at all, in many ways. Yes, there are terrorist courts. What are you talking about, terrorist courts? I mean, courts per se. I mean, it's just amazing. I mean, if you have judges of superior courts giving political statements from the bench, almost sort of giving an inviting statement from the bench to those in power. "Come on, if I do this, will you do this for me?"" I mean, it's abysmal. It really is.

Question: What comment would you make to a group in the Pakistani elite, especially when you hear this discussion here quite a bit that the military should be given a permanent role in the politics of Pakistan. They should be somehow brought into a national security council, etc. because for some reason, Pakistan is such a special place that that's the only way it can make a transition to democracy.

Asma Jahangir: Well, this is the agenda. So we know the agenda. If you recall, this came up even with the previous head of the Army. So this agenda of the Army has been there, ever since there has been a transition to civilian rule. Now, the point is that you bring them. The tensions between the civilians and the Army will remain the same. Probably, it will come to a worse head. There will be complete lack of governance. That is the reason I do not wish to see it. Plus, I do not want to be ruled by the military. Simply that. I have a fear that the elite of Pakistan has never really gone into a political process themselves. They've never really done street politics themselves. They've never really done electoral politics themselves. So if you're talking about democracy, you never see them coming into power as such, through their own, because of themselves, but through the back of a political party. But that also is something where they have to at least go and talk and meet the ordinary person. But military governments, it suits them very well, because they don't even have to go to the next lane to talk to a person. You know, through the back door, they are all Ministers and Advisors and Think Tanks and what-have-you. So it's really very luxurious, that kind of a power that you get sitting at home, through a telephone call. So that's why I fear that yes, when we are fighting for democracy, there is a larger vested interest of the elite of Pakistan that we also have to fight for.

Question: I suffered personally while being in Pakistan and I was deprived of my fundamental human, legal and constitutional rights, being a citizen of Pakistan. On what grounds, whether it is a democratic government or a military government, demanding the same kinds of rights for the people of Kashmir?

Asma Jahangir: Well, governments never have a good motive for asking for rights and we all know that. Whether it is the Pakistani government or the Indian government. But we as people must speak up for every group or every kind of people whose rights are being violated. And expect from them that they must also broaden their horizons in talking about other peoples' rights, too. When they work with certain partners, they should expect and hope that those partners are such that are not violating peoples' rights. So that is our message to our beloved Kashmiri sisters and brothers and their leadership.

Question: I want to address the topic of "Honor Killings." Well, we all read the article in The New York Times. I have two points to it. Are the people in Pakistan concerned about honor killings, when there are so many other problems to worry about? Or is that something that we women in New York carry as our anxiety? I know your own personal feelings on it, but what can women do? You know Bejing Plus Five is coming into New York next week. What can women do to address that topic?

Asma Jahangir: Well, I am glad you asked this question. Because you and other women in New York would never know if women and people in Pakistan had not made honor killing an issue. It's not through The New York Times that you know alone. The New York Times certainly knows from Pakistan. It has been an issue in Pakistan for many years now. There is a very strong movement of people that have actually opposed it, have created awareness of it. Last year, our Senate refused to pass a resolution condemning honor killing. The result of that was that in every single city of Pakistan, small and big, there was a procession against the Senate. The Senators had to one by one, eat their words. Some of them, in fact, even wrote to the press that, "Well, in fact, it didn't happen this way, it happened that way." So honor killing, and this is something that you must understand about Pakistan, that there are very strong movements that are not afraid of bringing these issues up. For example, you probably have not heard here, but there are honor killings in Jordan. There are honor killings in Turkey. There are honor killings in Kuwait. There are honor killings in Bangladesh, and in Peru.

Asma Jahangir: Well, our research has shown that this exists in Peru as well, where it is called "passion killing." This has been a report of not only myself, but also the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. And yes, this has happened. And there are honor killings in India, as well. So the forms are different, but why do you find out about Pakistan? Because there is a civil society that is opposing, and that will talk about it. So you had something to say?

Question: What you say about Pakistan is very, very true of Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Indonesia and Malaysia. Guess what we have in common denominators, here? Islam. No democracy, never was, never will be. Women will always, always be down at the bottom. That's what the Prophet has said. The husband is allowed to beat the wife. Not the other way around. Remember. And when, as a good Muslim you die, there are 72 virgins waiting for you in the next world.

Asma Jahangir: Sir, I just want to say. That the women's movement now in the world has to progress, it's a social movement. Such social movements are beyond everything else. I am quite certain that despite all the orthodoxy in our country, they cannot stand in the way of this movement. We are going to progress.

[applause]

Question: If I may actually follow up with that, and perhaps ask Ms. Jahangir what is the prospects then, of building a vibrant civil society sector?

Asma Jahangir: But I mean, you see, one has to look at it also more positively. Yes, there are certain societies that have been left behind. When you look at them, these are also societies that you're talking about where there has also been an absence of a democratic culture, as well. So that is why the democracy and women's rights are also very much inter-linked. There is no such thing anymore as an Islamic country, for God's sake. Or a Christian country.

Question: You mentioned that there's a troika in Pakistan, and in that troika you mentioned that the judiciary is one of them. Now, the usual lament has always been that the judiciary doesn't have any power in Pakistan. So, could you explain that statement?

Asma Jahangir: Well, judiciary has lots of power in Pakistan. They have the power to legitimize a military government. They have the power to execute a former Prime Minister. They have the power to Islamize all laws, according to their wishes. So they have a lot of power. It's not that they don't have power. They are very well selected. The lesser the spine, the better the judge.

[audience humored]

Question: Can you please say whether you think Pakistan should be an Islamic Republic or a secular state?

Asma Jahangir: Look. I am of the view that there is no such thing as a country having a religion. I'm afraid. Even anywhere. Is America a Christian state, for example? I mean, there are Christians, there are Muslims, there are every kind of people living there. Even in Pakistan, we have our Christian Pakistanis, our Hindu Pakistanis who are equally dear to us. At least to me. So I think that we have to be a State that believes in secular values. We have somehow distorted the meaning of secularism. Secularism does not mean that people have to give up their religion. It just means that people have to be tolerant of other peoples' religions.

[applause]

Asma Jahangir: I like my religion. I don't want people to be intolerant towards my religion. Therefore, I would not want that a Christian Pakistani should suffer because people are intolerant about his or her religion. Or a Hindu Pakistani, or an Ahmadi Pakistani, for example. And I have to say that it pains me when I see persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan. This is something that people are not willing to talk about in Pakistan.

Question: I'm Smita Naurila, with Human Rights Watch. It's nice to see you again. I have two questions. One is, what role do you think international civil society and in particular international NGOs can play in helping to develop, especially at this time, what you've termed as the progressive movement in Pakistan? The second question is what your opinions or views were on economic isolationism. In particular, suspensions of grants or loans or aids or sanctions; whether that's something that can be used effectively as leverage against the military government, or if it's something that in the end ultimately hurts the people of Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir: Well, I think that it's very important that you say that. Now is a very critical time for international NGOs. Pakistan and countries like Pakistan, when you take a position, you really must have a brainstorming before you do it. Particularly, with one of your reports I saw about military government and human rights. I was a little bit pained to see that. Because mine is, for example, a second generation that has fought military governments. I would feel that then people like us would be discouraged. The more I see of the world, what I saw in East Timor, I think military governments cannot deliver any more.