Asia Society Mourns Passing of Pakistani Human Rights Activist Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir speaks at the Asia Society in New York in February 1998. (Asia Society/Jack Deutsch)

Asma Jahangir speaks at the Asia Society in New York in February 1998. (Asia Society/Jack Deutsch)

NEW YORK, February 13, 2018 — Asia Society mourns the passing of Asma Jahangir, a fearless critic of military intervention in politics, and an advocate for women and minorities in Pakistan.

Jahangir was the founding chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the first female president of the Pakistan Supreme Court’s Bar Association. She was also a member of Asia Society’s global council.

In May 2000, in the aftermath of the October 1999 coup that deposed the elected government of Nawaz Sharif and installed a new military government headed by Pervez Musharraf, Jahangir joined the Asia Society in New York to give a citizen's view of democracy and human rights in post-coup Pakistan.

"[The people] were looking for an alternative and hoped that the new military government would perhaps bring in a magic wand and change things around in Pakistan," she told the Asia Society. "But nobody has a magic wand. Military governments are not fairy godmothers. They are people in uniform who know the language of the gun, rather than the language of a person who speaks in terms of non-violence or in terms of peace."

Jahangir added that "human rights is an end by itself… that will only be achieved if there are objective institutions, democratic institutions, and the first thing any military government does is to destroy those institutions."

In 2007, following a dispute with the Supreme Court of Pakistan, General Musharraf declared a state of emergency and placed Jahangir and hundreds of other activists and opposition leaders under house arrest. A few days later, Jahangir joined an Asia Society forum by phone from Islamabad. She did not hold back her criticism of Musharraf’s actions and the U.S. government’s unwavering support of Pakistan’s military.

Jahangir was "the subcontinent’s bravest and most 'incorrigible' liberal," Shekhar Gupta, founder of ThePrint and a member of Asia Society's global council, wrote on Twitter. "No one touched by her came without her touch of kindness. Both Pakistan and India are poorer today."

Related Links

Asma Jahangir, Fearless Pakistani Rights Activist, Dies at 66 [New York Times]

Asma Jahangir: 'Public opinion is key to... democracy' (August 2008)

Interview with Asma Jahangir (October 2005)