The Nawaz Sharif government and parliament should take ownership of the litany of challenges facing the country, rather than ceding space to the establishment. It is critical for the political leadership to realise that no army operation can be effective or stabilising unless it is carried out under civilian oversight.
A climate of fear has gripped large parts of the country.
A range of human rights challenges afflicting the country. Some of these have reared their head in the last few months, but others have decidedly grown worse. It is particularly crucial to attend to the following issues without delay:
- By ceding space to the military the elected government and parliament not only betrays the trust that the people repose in the democratic dispensation, it has also given rise to serious human rights challenges. The constitutional amendment on formation of military courts and the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA) are just two of the more worrying examples. Even as the hasty establishment of the military courts has been justified in view of shortcomings in the justice system, yet no effort has so far been made to reform the administration of justice.
- The provisions of the Bill on cyber crime certainly constitute an attack on the freedom of expression. The sweeping statements and the generalized language of the draft law have caused worries over the high likelihood of the abuse of bill. It opens doors to persecution by dogmatic forces in society.
- Intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists remains widespread and the intelligence agencies’ visits to civil society organisations’ offices have been creating an atmosphere of fear. Reports have also been received of humiliating and abusive behaviour by security agencies against ordinary citizens.
- The media campaign against Dr. Taimur Rahman of LUMS, following the cancellation of a discussion on Balochistan and protests against it. The media campaign, led by a particular TV channel, amounts to hate speech and must be taken note of as it poses a threat to Dr. Rahman’s security.
- The security forces’ operations under the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism suffer from a lack of even-handedness. The emphasis seems to be on going after political dissidents while space is being created for banned militant groups.
- There is a lack of transparency in the military operations in FATA. It is vital to keep record of the civilian casualties, introduce protocols to minimise the risk of loss of life of innocent citizens, and to pay compensation to the affected families.
- There are many aspects of déjà vu in the tribulations of the internally displaced persons from Khyber and North Waziristan in FATA. It is obvious that lessons have not been learned from the previous displacement crisis. There are reports of indignities suffered by IDPs. The military has retaken the territory from the militants but they have transferred the responsibility of holding the territory to untrained local communities. There are no signs of rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure. This is not only devastating for the IDPs but also mars the future peace prospects.
- The killing of Punjabi labourers in a terrorist attack in Balochsitan is highly condemnable. Killing innocent and marginalized workers is highly deplorable. Perpetrators of this massacre should be brought to justice.
- The excessive response by the security forces in which around a dozen people have been killed – instead of being brought before the court–is also a cause of grave concern. It is important to reassess the strategy of military action in Balochistan. The recent statements of the Army Chief and the Interior Minister do not bode well for any reconciliation with the Baloch population of the Province.
- It is highly regrettable that the Peshawar school carnage has been made a basis for doing away with the moratorium on death penalty and to resume executions. Whereas the resumption of executions was initially stated to be limited to convicts of terrorism offences alone, it was later extended to all death row convicts without citing any plausible reason for the change in the earlier decision. More than 100 people have been hanged since the executions resumed in late December last year. Many of the death row prisoners hanged were not convicted of terrorism offences.
- Extra-judicial killings are on the rise, especially in Sindh and Balochistan. In Karachi the law and order situation has improved, though there is no transparency in the manner in which the Rangers operate there. There are no figures on how many people have been taken into custody by Rangers personnel and for how long. Many of them have been released, but there has been no information on the reasons for picking them up or for releasing them.
- Attacks on religious minorities and sects, particularly on their places of worship, have greatly increased across the country, with an Imambaragh targeted in Shikarpur, churches in Lahore and temples in many areas of Sindh. In its response to attacks on religious minorities the government has continued to look at symptoms alone and the root cause has been ignored.
- There have been many brutal and fatal sexual attacks on minors in the last few months. They have been seen as or responded to, in whatever limited manner they have been responded to, as unconnected individual crimes. The trend of violence against children and a holistic effort to prevent these has been conspicuous by its absence.
- The economic rights of the people and the economic crisis afflicting the country are not being tackled and unemployment and poverty are rising unchallenged. It is worrying that there does not seem to be a plan to overcome the growing shortage of electricity, clean drinking water and gas. Because of a lack of budgetary allocation, the promise of universal education under Article 25-A of the Constitution is not being fulfilled. The insufficient budget for healthcare is contributing to the deaths of infants and children across the country. The incidence of polio has risen to an unprecedented high and killing of vaccinators and their security escorts have made it more difficult to ensure a healthy future for Pakistan’s children. The Federal and the provincial governments should not be distracted but pay attention to these important issues that are vital for the welfare of the ordinary people.
- Democracy will take root only if power is devolved to the grassroots. It is imperative to hold local bodies’ elections and transfer power to them. There should be earliest possible finalisation of a new NFC award and a streamlining of the functions of the council of common interest. All efforts, overt or convert, to roll back the 18th Amendment must cease forthwith.