Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Coup Pakistan

Asma Jahangir (

Asma Jahangir
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

New York, May 30, 2000

My name is Vishakha Desai and I'm the Senior Vice-President of the Asia Society and Director of the Cultural Programs and its galleries. It's a great honor for me to welcome our Speaker, Asma Jahangir, tonight. I know many of you know her. I actually think about the last time that she was here at the Asia Society, which was in our building that's being renovated. So one of the reasons why all of you are here is because, as you know, we are renovating that building. Some of you have asked me, and I should tell you that it is on schedule. It will open in the Fall of September, 2001. We hope that Ms. Jahangir will be there again, when we go back.

Last time when she was here, it was on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, when we organized a series called "Empowered Women of South Asia." I have to say that as a public speaker, it's not very often that you see that after somebody speaks there is a standing ovation. This was the case with Asma Jahangir when she gave that lecture last time in 1997. As you know, she's an internationally renowned human rights figure, and in particular, for women's rights. She's been an activist for a very long time. Asma Jahangir and her sister, Hina Jillani, founded the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, and the first all-women's law practice in the country. Together, they lead efforts on children's rights and prisoners' rights, on women's rights, and on judicial and constitutional reform.

As you also know, she has been an outspoken critic and speaker on the issue of honor killings. I know that a number of you have heard about this, because of the recent coverage about this issue in The New York Times. It's also very important that she has been speaking for giving women more choice in choosing their husbands. In 1998, Asma Jahangir was appointed by the United Nations to be the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. In that role, she is mandated to investigate all actual or threatened killings or those that are tolerated by government officials.

You're also all aware that on 12 October 1999, the elected government of Nawaz Sharif was deposed. A new military government, headed by General Musharraf, was put into place. The General suspended the Constitution, abolished the National Assembly and all provincial legislatures. He also announced the formation of a six-member National Security Council, to give guidance to the Cabinet of Ministers. He also banned the Supreme Court from challenging his authority. Yet, it is very important that we recognize that his agenda is noteworthy and very clear. He wants to weed out corruption. But he does want to and attempts to weed out corruption, get the economy back on track, and in order, and to prosecute tax-evaders, among other things. And now, Pakistan's Government has announced its intention to hold democratic elections within the next three years. The Government has also recently inaugurated the Convention on Human Rights and Human Dignity; but at a social level, and at a societal level, achieving democracy and upholding human rights will require a lot, not just at the Government end, but also from the citizens.

Tonight, I think we are very privileged to have the opportunity to hear Asma Jahangir give a citizen's view of democracy and human rights in post-coup Pakistan, and to provide some insights and thoughts on deepening of democracy and human rights in Pakistan. This evening's lecture and the discussion are part of Asia Society's new and very exciting initiative called the Asian Social Issues Program. This new initiative, and I should say personally, it's probably one of the most important things that the institution has embarked on in recent years. This initiative is committed to looking at how individuals and communities in Asia's poor and poorest economies and among the most disadvantaged groups in the region respond to poverty, violation of human rights, environmental degradation, and migration flows. As you know, the institution has been known for its arts and cultural programs, for its policy programs, for its business programs. This is a venture that we have only done occasionally, but we really intend to keep that as a very important and a central part of the institution's mission. So through a series of creative public education programs, the institution will show-case work of Asian leaders of non-governmental organizations, and convey how Asia's efforts to solve its social problems offer Americans new perspectives on social issues in the United States as well.

Please join me in welcoming Asma Jahangir.

Asma Jahangir: Well, thank you very much, Ms. Desai. I am very pleased to be here. Not only because it's Asia Society, which does bring around many speakers who have varied points of views. But I think that amongst the crowd, I also see people who have different points of view and are eager to learn what is happening in Pakistan, post-coup.

I wrestled with myself this evening, thinking of how I'm going to start my talk. I have never had this difficulty earlier. Because on the one hand, it is rather a sober moment in any country's history when a military comes back after transition to democracy. On the other hand, there has been a failing of the leaders of political parties to push forward the process of democracy. Nevertheless, the answers never do lie in a military intervention. So I thought that I would start my talk by simply reading out to you extracts from the four generals who have stepped into Pakistan's history.

The first one, General Ayub Khan, I will only read out portions of. When he came into power, this was his first speech. Amongst other things, he said, "This is a drastic and extreme step. When with great reluctance, but with the fullest conviction that there was no alternative to it except the disintegration and complete ruination of the country. History would never have forgiven us if the present chaotic conditions were allowed to go on any further. Let me announce in no uncertain terms that our ultimate aim is to restore democracy. But of the type that people can understand and work. When the time comes, your opinion will be freely asked. But when that will be, events alone can tell." He concluded by saying a word for the "disruptionists, political opportunists, smugglers, black marketeers, and others [...]. The soldiers and the people are sick of the sight of you, so it will be good for your health to turn a new leaf and begin to behave. Otherwise, retribution will be swift and sure."

After him came General Yahya Khan. He said, "Fellow countrymen, I wish to make it absolutely clear to you that I have no ambition other than the creation of conditions conducive to the establishment of a constitutional government. The Armed Forces belong to the people. They have no political ambitions, and will not prop up any individual or party. At the same time, I wish to make it equally clear that we have every intention of completing the mission that we've embarked upon to the nation's satisfaction."

"We are passing through the most fateful period of our history. The recent events have dealt a serious blow to our national prestige and progress. The Martial Law Administration cannot and will not tolerate agitational and destructive activities of any kind."

The third one was General Zia-ul-Haq. He said, "The reactions to this takeover have so far been very encouraging. A stream of congratulatory messages have been pouring in from different quarters. I am grateful for this to my nation, as well as to momin [pure Muslim] Armed Forces of Pakistan. The Army takeover is never a pleasant act because the Armed Forces of Pakistan only want that the administration of the country should remain in the hands of the representatives of the people, who are its real masters. The people exercise this right through their elected representatives, who are chosen in every democratic country, through periodic elections. But I genuinely feel that the survival of this country lies in democracy and democracy alone. I want to make it absolutely clear that neither I have any political ambition, nor does the Army want to be detracted from its profession of soldiering. I was obliged to step in, to fill in the vacuum created by the political leaders. I have accepted this challenge as a true soldier of Islam. My sole aim is to organize free and fair elections, which would be held in October of this year. I give solemn assurance that I will not deviate from this schedule."

Then we have our very recent, the new century, modern military government. They say, "Today we have reached a stage where our economy has crumbled. Our credibility is lost. State institutions lie demolished. Provincial disharmony has caused cracks in the federation. People who were once brothers are now at each other's throat. The Constitution has only temporarily been held in abeyance. This is not martial law, only another path toward democracy. The Armed Forces have no intention to stay in charge any longer than is absolutely necessary to pave the way for true democracy to flourish in Pakistan."

Dear friends, I read this because I think that it is not only the people of Pakistan, but also the Generals who actually do agree and believe that it is only true democracy that can take Pakistan to any path of survival, to any path where people can live in dignity. But all of them point out to at least four problems.

First is provincial autonomy, provincial disharmony. Secondly, the crumbling of the economy. Thirdly, the law and order situation created by political dissension. Fourthly is the isolation of Pakistan. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, "Is the Armed Forces of Pakistan a part of the problem or a part of the solution?"

When you talk about economy, we know where the major economy of the country is drained. When you talk about provincial autonomy, we know that there were serious tensions between East and West Pakistan, from the days of Mr. Ayub Khan, where the seeds of disharmony were sown. Then it came to an ultimate end at the time of Mr. Yahya Khan, and Mr. Zia-ul-Haq again, when he came, centralized government. Any military government will have a centralized power. So to talk of provincial autonomy in the face of a centralized power, I think, is actually rubbing salt on peoples' wounds.

Then you talk about the law and order situation. We in Pakistan have seen that when there is sectarian violence, and how this sectarian violence started, and who are the people who have been patronized because of the sectarian violence, it has for many years and now openly, there is no secret about it, was patronized by General Zia-ul-Haq's regime. And they became a part of every institution in Pakistan. Today, they're still being patronized by the Intelligence Agencies, which are very much the center of a military government.

So, when we are talking about a military government, we have to look at it from the time of how they operate, and what of the disinformation that is given out to the public. They are all well-intentioned, as you saw. They all came to give us democracy, as you saw. They are all democratic people, as we do know. They all went away in time, as we discovered through history. And thirdly, they are the ones, actually, who brought Pakistan back to the right path. As we see it today, many of the institutional and stubborn problems that Pakistan is facing have been in fact because of consistent intervention by the Armed Forces themselves.

I would just like to recall some of the events that took place before the coup took place in Pakistan. India detonated its bomb, its atom bomb. We were compelled to detonate ours. That was the day that the fate of civilian governments was sealed. Because no Armed Forces, particularly one which has always retained power because the Armed Forces of Pakistan never went back to the barracks, could not afford to have a civilian in charge of something like a nuclear bomb. Therefore, we had a desperate, limited prime minister, who wanted to reverse the process by starting what is called the Lahore process. There are people who have written about it and these are people who know Pakistan. These are people who know the history of Pakistan and the actors at play.

I can repeat one article, which at that point when I read, I thought, "My God, this is going to be prophetic," and it turned out to be prophetic. It was written by Mr. I.A. Rahman, saying, "The Lahore process at what cost, Mr. Nawaz Sharif?" We soon found out that yes, the Lahore process of a friendship with India and Pakistan was something that the civilian Prime Minister wanted to do. But he had to pay a price, and then was followed by Kargil.

The Kargil incident was in one way, one realized, the end again of either the civilian rule. It was really at crossroads. Or the civilians would be able to overpower the military. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. There were tensions. There were always tensions between the army and the civilians.

One of the reasons that that does not happen in Pakistan is because whenever a civilian government is in power, they will always ostracize the opposition. So there is a "divide and rule". And these tensions that are built within the political parties are something that the military really takes advantage of.

So we saw that there was a clash of interest. We continue to see that there is a clash of interest between the people of Pakistan and between the power-brokers of Pakistan. When I talk about power-brokers of Pakistan, I mean not just the leadership of the Armed Forces. Here, I am not talking about anybody in the Armed Forces, because the normal people in the Armed Forces have no say in decision-making. It is the leadership of the Armed Forces. It is establishment-born political leaders, or establishment-supported political leaders. And the Superior Judiciary of Pakistan. This is the troika that I see in Pakistan.

In this troika, there is always that vacuum. That vacuum is created purposely, which is filled in time and again by what we call "Leaders of our Islamic Parties." This pattern, now we are beginning to see, is happening in Pakistan. We saw that there is, in Pakistan, now a time where those who talk about peace are considered to be enemies of the People. Those who speak of war and bloodshed are considered to be patriotic people. Militancy is now being officially proposed and condoned. For example, we talk about in the sense of a process, of foreign affairs. Here, I would just like to stop for a minute and just look at it in this way. Where I said, and this is going back to my first point, that there is a clash of interest. Whereas people of Pakistan, the ordinary people of Pakistan, would want peace. That is just a natural phenomenon, anywhere in the world. But the official voice of Pakistan is belligerent. It's hawkish. The people of Pakistan do not want the grandeur of nuclearization. What the people of Pakistan want is economic prosperity, where their children can study, where they can get health services. Now you can argue that this is not the voice of the people. But at the same time, you did not see the ordinary people of Pakistan gushing out in the streets and saying, "Whatever may happen, we want war. We want nuclearism." But what you do see is misery. When you ask the people why they're miserable, they don't say, "We're miserable because we don't have a nuclear bomb." They are miserable because they do not have the next day's meal.

They have no security. Much more, in countries like ours, it is often argued that Pakistan is a country with many illiterates. Pakistan is a country which is very poor. So how is it that people can be aware of something like that? Well, there is far more need to be aware. There is far more need for worry in that country; a country with so much poverty, with so much misery, and at the same time with so much callousness and irresponsibility. Then to have this priority, which is all screwed up, is something to be really looked at far more seriously than in a country where, okay, it may be still affordable. Although, I myself think that such things are never affordable and ill affordable. However, this is the contradiction that I wanted to show you.

Because of this theory that the atom bomb is a deterrent; this has been sold time and again in Pakistan. But now people are beginning to realize that this is a very expensive deterrent. It has isolated Pakistan. It has made Pakistan more into a risky state. Any action on Pakistan will not be a benign kind of an action. It will be a very well-thought out action, because the stakes are much higher. So we are no longer a country which is simply poor and simply ignorant and simply has its problems. But we have a country that also has problems that can actually flow over to other parts of the world. Therefore, it is watched very closely.

We have for example, also in Pakistan, another very confusing new phenomena, which is that people begin to confuse systems with people. When Mr. Nawaz Sharif left, it was as though the "system" was wrong. When our new General came, because a General looks good, therefore the "system" was accepted. That confusion has not only remained in Pakistan. That is a confusion that you find even in the corridors of the United Nations, where they're beginning to de-link human rights and democratic development, where they feel that military governments who give certain human rights, selective, charitable human rights to their loyal subjects, they will be more acceptable. But human rights is an end by itself. To give people dignity, to give people their rights, and that end by itself will only be achieved if there are objective institutions, democratic institutions, and the first thing any military government does is to destroy those institutions. So whatever human rights we have got today has been through the courtesy of the General before whom we have to bow very graciously and thank him many times for it. They can be taken away as easily as they were given.

Therefore, these are only short-term measures. And why I worry about it is that this is not only in Pakistan. The new military face all over the world is using, if I may say so, and politicizing, the human rights aspect of it. Human rights can never be disconnected from democratic movements and democratic processes. We have then, of course, the government which came in and which was welcomed. There is no denial that our previous government had possibly one of the worst human rights records. Apart from the fact that it had a pretty bad human rights record, it was oppressive. It was inaccessible. It was corrupt. It had no respect for the people at large. So there was a kind of a relief in the first few days. They 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. 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. So we saw that the first few days of military government were not only welcomed, but people were thrilled. This is very typical. Why I want to say this here, and I know it's controversial, but this is typical.

You pick up something that is very populist. You do it the first time. Take all of the rich people and put them in the prison. I recall that everybody was happy. But nobody actually questioned the fact that how can people be picked up and kept in prison for so many days, like 90 days, without charges? Nobody was allowed to ask why these people were handcuffed when they were sleeping at night. When these questions were eventually asked, we were told, "These are rich people. What are you talking about? De-human conditions? Every Pakistani lives under de-human conditions." To my utter amazement, half of the hall clapped. So this is how you generate a kind of populism on values which are inherently wrong, but perhaps where the people themselves may not have been as innocent as we may want them to have been.

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.

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."


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.

In this judgement, there are two pages, which say that these judges who resigned actually left a vacuum in Pakistan, and they behaved in a very unpatriotic manner, because there would have been no judiciary, then. I mean, I can imagine the judges trying to justify themselves. But to kind of blacken the faces of those who stood by the constitution, who stood in the face of adversity to uphold some kind of rule of law, were actually castigated in this very judgement of the Supreme Court. Then, we are told that this military government came in because the government of Mr. Nawaz Sharif was poor. But what about the government of Balochistan? What about the government of Frontier? What about the government of Punjab? What about the government of Karachi? I mean, were they all to be gone and sent home? What about every member of the Parliament, to be sent home? Then, we are told, no they didn't come in because of that. They had no choice, because the Chief Executive was being hijacked. Well, he didn't get hijacked. You've come into power. So if you came in because you were being hijacked, you can hold elections and go back, now.

But obviously, that is not the reason. There are agendas within the military itself. When I talk about agendas, that's what I want to talk about. The whole tension between India and Pakistan; the tension has escalated. There has been no initiative by Indian or Pakistani government officials, to lessen these tensions. The only initiative has been taken by the people themselves. That has been people-to-people dialogues, and there have been people-to-people missions.

At the last mission that we took, there were 64 women that went to India. I just want to share with you the kind of things that we were told. We were told it was a pant-diplomacy; the shalwar-diplomacy. It was written in the Urdu newspapers that 64 prostitutes went to India. It was written that there should be a case of treason against me, because I gave sweetmeat to an Indian soldier, and I should have in fact given him Viagra, so that he could go and rape more Kashmiri women. It was said that I and some of my colleagues met Mr. Khushwant Singh, who is a sex-starved person, and we, as Muslim women, had no business to meet him because all Mr. Khushwant Singh can think about is taking women to bed, whether they are Ghazalas or whatevers or Hinas or Asmas.

And then we had taken some pigeons with us, which we released on arrival in New Delhi. There was one article which actually made me think that the discourse had gone to a point where there's no return. It said that those pigeons could not stay in Hindu India and have actually come back to Pakistan.


Asma Jahangir: And I have those press clippings with me if some of you would like to see it with Mr. Masood Haider here.

This kind of oratory does not remain confined to Pakistan. It travels to India. So when we were in India, we met people there, as well. They said, "if Kashmiri women get raped, so what? Women in the United States also get raped. You know?" I said, "So, they should get raped because women in Belgium get raped. So let all women get raped. So we can all sit quietly." So then they said, "There is no problem in Kashmir. It's the same problem as in Bihar."

"Okay. There's no problem in Kashmir. Then why are we fighting across the Line of Control? Why can't we stop it?" "But that's you." "Okay, fine. It's us. It's our Jihadis who are coming. But then if it is only our Jihadis, surely there must be some local people there protecting them. Surely they must be upset. Surely, you have an army there. What is the army doing there?" And they begin to close their eyes like an ostrich, and not look at it. Those Indians, in India, who want to make amends, their hands are as much tied as ours are in Pakistan.

One of the questions I asked of my colleagues there was, "Why is it that we can bring buses to each others' countries? Why can't we take two buses to Kashmir? After all, the people are hurt there." And she said, "Would you believe that we cannot do it here?" So there is hawkism in Pakistan. That gives rise to hawkism in India. Then further in Pakistan, it has a kind of a snowball effect. But, however, much worse in our country, because we don't have something called democracy, which works as a shock absorber. We don't have political parties that can actually fill in the vacuum.

Today, we are seeing the same judiciary, which is patting the army on the back. The same army is patting the judiciary on the back. The two of them use the orthodoxy very well. We are being told time and again that yes, Pakistan is directionless. We hear these words. We hear the words that Pakistan is a basket case. But what is unfortunate is what we don't hear, though. That is that Pakistan also has very strong movements they have had for years and years. In Pakistan, there have been people who have been -- people like Habib Jalib -- who sang the songs of revolution and died a poor man. In Pakistan, you also have people like Mr. Nusar Usmani, who stood up to a military dictator, died in a two-room flat, writing with his pen and speaking against everything that was wrong. We also have a civil society in Pakistan.

On the one hand, we may have corruption, but on the other hand we also have hundreds and thousands and millions of honest people who do not have their next-day meal, but go through meals and meals of the rich without touching a morsel of it. Yes, this is true. We do have, for example, people in Pakistan who have that kind of a discourse. Like the "pant-diplomacy." But then we have had people in Pakistan, not one or two, but in scores, who have ultra-progressive views with a vision. People like Faiz Ahmed Faiz who talked about the globalization in his poetry, when none was talking about it. We have hundreds of people like that. Those are the people who are the "threat" to the establishment of Pakistan. Today, what I see is this troika that uses that threat against the civil society of Pakistan.

People have said that the press is free in Pakistan. The NGOs are free in Pakistan. But my friends, the press is not free in Pakistan. The English press is free to a certain extent in Pakistan. The Urdu press is not free, which is accessible to the people. Can anybody in Pakistan today dare write against the fundamentalist forces of Pakistan? Can anybody in Pakistan dare write about friendship with India? Can anybody today dare write against a military role in India, in an Urdu paper in Pakistan? No. There is a self-censorship, and that self-censorship has to come with the presence of the military. There is a kind of an oppression when there is a military in a country. It is suffocating. Can anybody, can any NGO stand up to them and talk against fundamentalism, and there is not a phone call the next morning? What we are seeing is that the military is using these fundamentalist forces, because what are their demands, today? They have demanded end of reform to the blasphemy law. They got it. Next demand is that they should be a Shariat bill […]. There should be shariat in some areas, and that there should be treason cases against people like myself. These are the demands of the fundamentalists today in Pakistan. They have appeared time and again in the papers, and only three days ago our chief executive has addressed those demands by saying, "I have fulfilled the first demand. I do not know yet what the other demands are." They are in black and white in the paper. But these demands will have a way of reaching and getting momentum. And they do take their momentum. We have seen it in the past.

What I predict and I see today is that Pakistan is a directionless Pakistan. What I mean by "directionless" is that whenever there is even a poor democracy, there is a direction. There is a kind of policy which may not necessarily come from the very top, but does come from those establishments in Pakistan that actually do decide the fate of Pakistan. There is a policy of cleansing the progressive people, the progressive forces of Pakistan. So today, I find it ironic when people talk about fatalism of the Islamic leaders. I think it is fatalism by which so many of us live whom we describe to ourselves sometimes, for want of a better name, the progressive forces of Pakistan.

Thank you very much.


Question: I do appreciate whatever you have said during your speech. I don't make a long comment, but little comments. Whereas you have touched about military leaders, you would have touched political leaders as well, and their failures; plus the failure of press, plus the failure of judiciary in Pakistan. They are equally responsible, as the military leaders are responsible for all the failures that are happening in Pakistan.

Now, I'm coming to the question. You have addressed everything, whatever at least we know. But my question is that yes, democracy, yes. Mujuhideen and jihad, these are the two words that are invented by the United States of America, the only superpower in the world. So these are not known internationally. America has invented these words when they needed it. My question is that yes, democracy. But can you tell us that we had democracy in the last ten years? From 1988 to 2000? If this democracy would have prolonged until March 2000, this Nawaz Sharif would have been the Khalifa or Amir-ul-Momineen [caliph] in Pakistan. These leaders were given government twice. Benazir came twice, and Nawaz Sharif came twice. All right blunders and failures the first term, but why in the second term? So can you just put some light on this?

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.


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.


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.

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