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The challenge of being human

A challenge it has always been to be human in this country. And the task is continually becoming more difficult in the face of religious extremism, militancy and intolerance at all levels of our society. We feel deprived of the cultural and social manifestations of what it means to be human. But more oppressive is this rampant violation of the fundamental human rights of citizens.

How frightening this entire situation is has been underlined this week by the adoption of the Protection of Pakistan Bill. There have been other related developments with a bearing on rule of law and democratic dispensation. Besides, the military operation in North Waziristan has entered a crucial phase and not enough attention has apparently been paid to the plight of the IDPs, which has its human dimensions.

We now have a new chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, with the retirement of Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani. I must confess to have been very impressed by his pronouncements and, though his tenure was brief, I am sure he will be remembered fondly by social activists who are aware of our crisis of justice and human rights.

We now have Justice Nasirul Mulk at the helm and his address at the full court reference in honour of the outgoing chief justice on Friday has set the right tone. He was right in stressing that all institutions should work within their constitutional ambit and not interfere in each other’s affairs.

Justice Nasirul Mulk’s tribute to the outgoing chief justice was well deserved. He recalled that in a recent judgement on the rights of minorities, Justice Jillani warned the people about the dangers of sectarian discord by referring to Shakespeare’s prophecy of war and destruction due to sectarian divisions in Ireland. This is a matter I would like to return to, later in this column.

First, the Protection of Pakistan Bill demands careful analysis. Look at the passion passion with which the human rights organisations and activists have expressed alarm over the potential of this law to be abused. This concern has been expressed at a global level. Even though some amendments have been made in the original draft, the law remains unacceptably repressive.

For instance, it allows the officials of the security forces to shoot suspects on sight or arrest them without a warrant and withhold information about where they have been kept. In defence of the law, one cabinet minister argued that it certifies government’s support for the military operation by providing statutory cover to armed forces “fighting against the enemies of the country for the revival of peace and stability”.

In spite of all good intentions, there is little doubt about how our law-enforcement agencies operate. The state of the police is particularly alarming in the context of its capacity and performance. A statement issued by the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that “this vague and overboard counterterrorism law gives a green light for abusing suspects in detention, which is already far too common in Pakistan”.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sees the law as a blatant attack on the fundamental rights of the people and has condemned the government for deliberately following the model of a police state. HRCP fears that the enactment will be abused by the security agencies.

I find it regrettable regrettable that in the midst of all these important matters, a report issued on Monday by the Human Rights Watch was not properly covered by the media and one wonders if our rulers were able to look at it and get the urgent message that it has delivered.

The HRW report is exclusively focused on the sectarian killings in Balochistan, mainly of the members of the Hazara community. The title of the 62-page report is: ‘We are the walking dead’: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan. It was released from London and HRW had interviewed more than 100 survivors, members of victims’ families, law enforcement and security officials and independent experts for this report.

Since 2008, several hundreds of Hazaras have been killed in steadily worsening targeted violence, including two bombings in the provincial capital Quetta in January and February 2013, the report said. It urged the government of Pakistan to take all necessary measures to stop extremist groups in Balochistan from committing further killings and other abuses against Hazaras and other members of the Shia community.

According to HRW, the ongoing attacks have meant that the half million members of the Hazara community in Quetta live in fear, compelled to restrict their movements, leading to economic hardship and curtailed access to education and employment. This oppressive situation has prompted large number of Hazaras to flee Pakistan for refuge in other countries.

In his statement, HRW’s Asia director, Brad Adams, has used some strong words. He said: “Government officials and security forces need to understand that failure to tackle LeJ atrocities is no longer an option. Inaction in the face of the slaughter of the Hazara and wider Shia community is not only a callous betrayal of its own citizens, but suggests state complicity in allowing these crimes to continue”.

Will some resolute action be taken on this front in the wake of the army leadership’s assurances that the operation is intended against all terrorists without any discrimination? Will the new antiterrorism law be invoked to deal with the likes of LeJ and other outfits operating in different regions and cities of Pakistan?

While we wait to see how the present multi-layered and multi-dimensional security and political crises unfold in the coming days, the overall situation is not very encouraging. Much would depend on the success of the military operation against the terrorists – and the scene of action in that respect is bound to be extended to the entire country.

Without going into a debate on why the army planned and did not carry out the operation in North Waziristan in 2011, the point is that even in 2011, it was too late. The establishment has a lot to answer for the strategies that were launched with Gen Ziaul Haq’s jihad in Afghanistan way back in the eighties. Incidentally, I am writing these words in the forenoon of Saturday, July 5.

This day, then, is the anniversary of the military coup in 1977 that ushered Pakistan into a long, dark night of martial law. The seeds of most of our ailments were sown during that night. Forget about Tahirul Qadri’s revolution or Imran Khan’s tsunami. The army has to redeem itself for that original sin. That is the only revolution we need.

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "The challenge of being human," The News. 2014-07-06.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Human rights , Military operation , Supreme court , Terrorism , Terrorists , Militancy , CJ Nasirul Mulk , Gen Zia , Tahirul Qadri , Imran Khan , Afghanistan , North Waziristan , Pakistan , HRCP , HRW