UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
PAKISTAN: Year-ender 2002
ISLAMABAD, 18 January 2003 (IRIN) - The year 2002 was a testing one for Pakistan. In addition to growing poverty - 32.2 percent of its population of 140 million now live below the poverty line - the country has been plagued by major human rights and security issues.
Moreover, Pakistan, which spent 18.6 per cent of its 2001-02 budget and 16.5 percent of its 2002-03 capital outlay on defence, was embroiled in a nuclear stand-off with its arch rival and neighbour, India. Events after 11 September caught Pakistan in the international limelight, and its international prominence continued throughout 2002.
As events unfolded in Afghanistan and opposition to the US-led military campaign continued, security in Pakistan deteriorated, with numerous attacks on foreigners and the Christian community. Human rights experts in the country believe that the situation can only be brought under control if the government intervenes comprehensively to root out those responsible.
Commenting on poor security in the country, Samina Ahmed, the project director for Afghanistan and South Asia for the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN: "In the internal context, I think the immediate issues are Islamic extremists and the security of the Pakistani state."
In 2002, the ICG released a report on madrasahs (religious schools), which, it concluded, constituted a real threat to the country's security by producing a certain breed of extremist, Ahmed said.
Describing the schools as narrow minded and intolerant as well as a continuing threat to security, she went on to say: "We said in our report how important it was for the government to come to terms with this threat by reforming the madrasahs."
Conceding that the government was trying to introduce stricter controls over such schools, Ahmed noted that Islamabad had not really taken any real steps to reform them. "The change will only come about if there is a shift in where the policy making circles lie. That means a shift from the military to the civil. So far there are no signs that there has been a shift under this new government," she said.
However, Islamabad says it remains firm in its commitment to cleaning up the madrasahs. "The madrasahs are registered, so we know where they are and what they are doing," Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told IRIN.
President Musharraf led Pakistan back to parliamentary politics after three years of military rule, following the October election, but still retained the power to dissolve parliament and sack the prime minister.
Ahmed asserted that there was a great need for enhanced democracy in Pakistan. "When the mainstream secular parties are constrained in their political activities, the religious parties thrive in the political vacuum. I think the elections showed that this analysis is a reality," she noted.
Predicting a bleak political future, Ahmed said that "unless the political parties and parliament get their act together, I think there will be more of the same in 2003". She maintained that there was still very little understanding of how the issue should be tackled. "The short-term goal will not be achieved unless security is good and unless institutions are supported," she concluded.
Pakistan's renowned human rights lawyer, Asma Jehangir, asserted that there had been poll rigging to an unprecedented extent during the October poll. "We have never seen so much blatant manipulation as there was in this election, because they know they can get away with it," she told IRIN from Lahore.
She claimed that intelligence agencies were openly visiting people's houses and asking them to vote for certain people. "It has never been seen on this scale before," she said.
While admitting that international observers had done a good job, she stressed that reports produced by various bodies such as the EU had been merely "diplomatic". "The reports produced in this country following the elections were far more gripping and damning, so people are aware of what is happening," she asserted.
She criticised the international community for not being more heavy-handed. "The US at least should have done something. They [Americans] have become mindless and need to revisit their foreign policy," Jehangir said.
In short, the activist asserted, there was "no governance" in Pakistan. "People feel they can get away with anything."
She blamed much of the problem on the nazim (the head of local government) system of rule, imposed after the general election. "The nazim is always a partisan person," she said.
Having spoken to police following several incidents of human rights violations, noted that there was no doubt that the local administrations were being manipulated.
The ICG had concluded similarly, she said. "The pre-election changes and the mechanisms used during the elections themselves - and these are constitutional changes, were such that the process itself was flawed and because the process was flawed the outcome was inevitably flawed," Ahmed said.
"I am a sitting minister and I lost a seat in a by-election: We hear this criticism time and time again. But we maintain that the elections were free and fair and that there was no malpractice," Rashid said.
2002 was also a year in which women’s rights were very much at the forefront of the national agenda in Pakistan. The gang rape of an innocent woman in the Punjab Province, sanctioned by a tribal council, hit national and international headlines.
Jehangir said there had been no change in women’s rights under Musharraf’s rule this year, despite his assurances to the contrary. "Crimes against women have increased this year, according to human rights documentation," she observed. "We can safely conclude that there has definitely not been a decrease in abuses of women’s rights."
This view was echoed by prominent NGOs in the country. "Cases of domestic violence and acid burning have continued, and the government has made little progress on this," Salman Abdi, the programme coordinator for the Aurat Foundation, told IRIN from Lahore. According to Pakistan's Human Rights Commission (HRCP), honour killings and other forms of violence against women are increasing throughout the country.
The Aurat Foundation did, however, praise Islamabad's efforts in involving more women in the political sphere. "There were lots of positive changes for women in the elections," Abid said. "In 1997 there were only seven women in parliament. In 2002, we saw 74 women in parliament." The local elections cemented the positions of 36,000 female councillors and just over 500 in the provincial and national assemblies.
"We have never seen women's participation in the government at this level, and Musharraf dealt with this very well," he added. Abid also commended efforts by the authorities to empower women economically by the introduction of loans for women through the Khushali Bank. "This was a positive sign giving women more opportunities to enter the workforce and become equal breadwinners," he maintained. "2002 was a good year for women in some respects, but a lot more needs to be done in 2003," he concluded.
Meanwhile, government officials say women's issues, including domestic violence have received more attention from the media under Musharraf than any other leader. "We have moved forward
on the women's issue in all aspects. Our law covers these incidents," Rashid asserted.
Regarding the overall situation of human rights in the country, Jehangir noted that the government was exploiting the war against terrorism to abuse rights, citing an example of peasants in the Punjab Province in 2002 being asked to vacate land under the terrorism law. "The government has used its position and indispensability to the US to deprive people of their rights," she said. "The FBI is also picking up Al-Qaeda suspects, and while we have no sympathy with this group we want to see respect for the law of the land," she added.
Jehangir concluded that the overall situation regarding human rights in Pakistan was not optimistic. "We have to try even harder to mobilise people, because there is great apathy," she stressed. "The army has its own agenda, and people don't feel empowered, which could be dangerous in the long run," she said. "Unless this changes, 2003 will be more of the same."
Themes: (IRIN) Other
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