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Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Coup Pakistan

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

Asma Jahangir (frontlinedefenders.org)

This is a new century. They do not have the skills of governance. If we are to even talk about externally, I don't think there can be peace in South Asia unless Pakistan does not go back to the democratic root. So it is vital that it does. So you really have to bring that very clearly to decision-makers here. Please don't take me wrong. I think you have done a fantastic job, and we depend a lot on you. We have to depend on each other because we have the same objective at the end of it, to see peoples' rights being respected.

But very clearly, sometimes I am depressed even with some of the Western diplomats in Islamabad, who are talking in terms of this government being more accessible in the sense that, okay, if you're invited for lunch by the General, that's fine. You know? So, it basically comes down to a very personal thing. That has taught me some lessons, I think.

Socialization does affect, I think. At the end, it's what people send home. So I'm very unhappy to hear that. Odd things like, "Is Pakistan really ready for democracy?" Well, what about Pakistan being ready for democracy? Every time there have been very strong movements in Pakistan, has anybody seen the hundreds and thousands of people who went in the street during Ayub Khan's time? Now this is something I remember. Have people not seen the number of people who went to jail when there was an army action in East Pakistan? I can give you names of people. They were people who were saying, "Crush India" and "Crush East Pakistan." But they were people out there giving pamphlets. I recall there was a man who pulled down his window and spat on all of us at that time. But there were people doing that in that atmosphere.

And were there not people who came out against rigging in 1977? Were there not people who came out for Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto? Were there not people who came out against Zia-ul-Haq? Were there not lawyers who were lashed? Were there not young boys who were executed? Were there not journalists who were lashed? Were there not women who were imprisoned? All this has happened in Pakistan. So we deserve democracy. We want it. That is our only survival.

[audience applause]

Question: We seem to have a real dilemma, here. I mean you just said that it's the elite of Pakistan which is extremely comfortable in letting a military government act. Yet, we know that actually to be democratic, the elite has to be democratic, without this, what would you have? I mean, you could have a revolution in the ultimate sense of a mass breakdown. But without a democratic elite, you do not have, in a sense, a democratic culture. So the issue then here is, what should be the solution here? I mean, are we suggesting that a civilian government could be as bad as Benazir's and Nawaz Sharif's were? There could be a 15th Amendment on March 15 or whatever. It will continue to go down the drain, and we should have no other option?

Asma Jahangir: Well, I'm not actually clear that it's always the elite that has to be democratic, or that leads a path towards democracy. I think it could also be the middle class that can do it. Certainly, I think the elite has to at some point recognize and realize themselves that they are bleeding and hurting themselves. Unless they do not see that democracy is a way in which there is a permanent gain.

I mean, look at their lives, actually. It's quite laughable. All the children are studying here. We are working like slaves to send tuition fees to our children. I mean, what is that life? There is violence all over. We entertain in each other's homes. We have a difficult time just keeping our integrity together. So I think that there will come a time when people will begin to realize that this cannot go on.

And I agree with you that we would all like to see a better form of democracy. But what is so different with this one and Benazir's for example? We said at Benazir's and Nawaz Sharif's time that the justice system was not working. Today, it's crashed. At that time, we said the Parliament is not working. Today it's not there. I mean, at that time we said people were not held accountable. They're not held accountable today, either. Today, one man's word is it. At least in the past, you could fight it.

So let us at least agree on a system. Then the personalities will follow. When you're talking about, for example even Benazir's government, I listed for example, the number of things that she did were far more than this government has even thought of doing for human rights. I'm not saying she had a good record, but I mean, we forget. We judge our civilian leaders much too harshly. They should be, but we misjudge our military leaders.

When we wake up to it, it's too late. Their agenda comes out very, very slowly. I call it the animal's teeth. If you know the Urdu saying for it