By: Asim Jaffry
2010 was a turbulent for Pakistan as the newly formed democratic government struggled to establish its authority in the face of a worsening fiscal crisis, rampant energy insecurity and deteriorating security situation.
Significant political strides were made including the 7th National Finance Commission [NFC] Award which marked the initiation of a process to ensure greater provincial autonomy and reduction of distrust amongst the provinces and between the provinces and the federation and the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment on 8th April 2010 marked the most dramatic devolution of power in Pakistan since the drafting of its 1973 constitution.
At the same time, the fiscal crisis in the country did not improve leading to greater social unrest. Energy insecurity reached unprecedented heights stunting industrial activity and leading to frequent power outrages throughout the country. With the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and military operations in Swat and the tribal areas, acts of terrorism and violence erupted in major urban centers in the country claiming many lives and leading to a breakdown of law enforcement.
In August 2010, Pakistan was faced with its greatest challenge as floods raged in the Indus delta causing destruction of mythic proportions; leaving 20.6 million people displaced, 2 million ha of standing crops destroyed, causing irreparable damage to infrastructure and leading to an estimated 43 billion USD worth of economic losses. Although international human right organizations termed the flood relief activities by the government as being largely free of discrimination against minorities, growing distrust of the government amidst claims of corruption compelled many to turn to the nongovernmental organizations to extend support to the flood victims.
Corruption remained endemic in political and official circles with cases despite being made public could not inspire concrete action. According to revised rankings by Transparency International, Pakistan now occupies the 143rd on the corruption index from 133rd position last year by Transparency International. Efforts by the judiciary to charge officials on the grounds of corruption were met with strong resistance by the government and continue to be an issue of contention between the two institutions.
The media was accorded greater rights and freedom under the democratic government thus emerged as a strong critic of government policies and operations. However voices of dissent in the media continued to be harassed and intimidated by authorities in particular the military backed intelligence agencies. As a consequence many violations by the government especially those transpiring during counter-terrorism activities were prevented from being exposed to the general public.
Social policies of the government did not seek to alleviate the plight of the common man as increases in food insecurity, high unemployment rates, unprecedented rise in prices of food and basic commodities, shortages of gas and energy supplies led to grave social agitation and turmoil. At the same time, voices of religious extremism gained momentum in selected circles which were articulated not only through militancy and terrorist activities but a backlash against religious minorities which only escalated as the year drew to a close.
As a developing country marred with the crisis of underdevelopment, it is no surprise that Pakistan’s record on the protection and safeguard of human rights leaves much to be desired. Institutional weakness and endemic corruption, rising militancy, religious extremism along with a worsening socio-economic condition has rendered Pakistan particularly susceptible to conflict and severe human right violations.
Encouraging developments with regards to safeguarding human rights were made in the country for example no legal execution of the estimated 7500 prisoners held on death row were made in 2010. However the human rights situations remained largely disappointing with gross violations remaining endemic throughout Pakistan. The devastating floods contributed to worsening the crisis as it not only paved the way for further destabilization by overstretching the state’s abilities to handle a crisis of such proportions but also made many in the population became more susceptible to human right abuses
Steps undertaken by Pakistan to ratify the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT) were welcomed as significant strides. However the initial euphoria was displaced as the government voiced reservations on the most important articles of the ICCPR and CAT which in essence negate the very spirit of these covenants. Restricting a broad application of the basic principles of these covenants has been a severe blow to ensuring a guarantee of human rights.
Increased militancy and violence, discrimination and violence against religious minorities and tensions between the judiciary and the government emerged as urgent concerns in the past year amongst the persisting human rights violation in the country.
Acts of terrorism and the spread of militancy did not cease this year despite government assurances to the contrary. As the war against militants continued to rage in Swat and Waziristan, cities and towns were being targeted in the rest of the country by militants. Federal and provincial capitals all witnessed the wrath of militants as suicide bombings and targeted killings increased indicating the present government’s inability to effectively handle the security crisis. Counterterrorism strategies by the government and army also revealed gross violations of human rights as cases of enforced abductions, extrajudicial killings, violation of rights during the army’s military operation were unearthed.
Religious intolerance marked the landscape of the country as discriminatory laws and violence against religious minorities witnessed an upward trend. An adequate response by the authorities was not fostered despite the increasing persecution and killing of religious minorities. The infamous blasphemy law became a serious bone of contention following death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province, who became the first woman in the country’s history to be sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy. Liberal voices in the legislature and government who were pushing for a repeal of the blasphemy law were met with intimidation and threats. In early 2011, the Punjab governor was assassinated for his vocal support for Aasia Bibi and repealing the blasphemy law.
The tussle between the Judiciary and the present government ensuing since the latter’s ascent to power, continued as both parties oscillated between hints of reconciliation and outright confrontation. The year began with the Supreme Court declaring the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which ‘pardoned’ certain individuals who had pending legal cases against them, as void and null.
Some of the pardoned officials included people in the top tiers of the current government and members of the ruling party. Furthermore relations between members of the ‘Lawyer’s Movement’ which played a prominent part in restoring the deposed Chief Justice to power significantly deteriorated prompting each side to use force against the other. The continued confrontation between the judiciary, government and lawyers was marked with severe undermining of rights and overstepping of constitutional power.
Limits on media freedom, treatment of women, child abuse, bonded labor, mistreatment of criminal suspects, violations and discrimination against Balochistan and unsolved cases of enforced disappearances reigned as other pertinent violations of human rights in the country.
An estimated 1,600 lives have been claimed in terrorist and counter terrorist activities throughout the country. Suicide blasts alone which totaled 41 by the end of 2010 have led to the death of 700 people, leaving 2,000 wounded most of whom had been civilians. In 2010, 28 of the suicide attacks took place in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, seven in eastern Punjab, and two each in southern Sindh, southwest Balochistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. With the counter-terrorist activities of the military reducing in Swat and Tribal Areas, the number of suicide attacks in 2010 decreased to about half of that in 2009 that killed over 3,000.
Counter-terrorism activities undertaken in Swat and the tribal areas were marked by human right abuses. The army repeatedly refused to allow lawyers, relatives, independent monitors, and humanitarian agency staff access to persons detained in the course of military operations. There have been no definite estimates on the number of people rounded up security forces but even as generous estimates place the total in thousands, only a few have been brought to court.
During the military operations in these areas, terrorist activities in major urban centers across the country became rampant. With the army gaining control in Swat and tensions diffusing, there has been a noted decrease in suicide attacks in the rest of the country. At the same time however, no actions has been taken against the extrajudicial killings and abuses by security forces in counter terrorist activities.
Moreover, killings on Pakistani territory by US forces continue to go unchecked. During this year around 900 people were killed by drone attacks the US armed forces in more than 100 attacks. However the government has not taken any action against foreign aristocracies on its soil.
Counterterrorism activities by Pakistan and foreign actors have only sparked off more violent and frequent terrorist activities in the rest of the country.
In a similar perspective, Pakistan has witnessed a serious challenge to state policies with the steady growth of terrorist organizations within the country. The menace of terrorism became a serious issue in the region with high number of Bomb blasts, suicide attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, hijacking and other acts of terrorism. It is reported in SATP 2010 that a total of 1796 civilians were killed in Pakistan while 1,774 were wounded. Moreover 179 people were taken hostage and 2,832 people were affected by violence during 2010. 259 children were wounded and six were taken hostage.