Miles to go
AT the UN Human Rights Council this week, the foreign minister presented a brighter picture of the human-rights situation in Pakistan than many would be willing to accept. But quick as we are to critique the country’s performance on this front, it’s only fair to acknowledge the progress that has been made. An elected government is about to complete a full term. The 18th Amendment and the reformulated NFC award have strengthened democracy and given increasing rights and resources to the provinces. Pro-women legislation has been passed, including against sexual harassment, acid throwing and forced marriages. While there is a long way to go to reform the legislation that governs Fata, the extension of the Political Parties Act to the tribal areas and the weakening of the Frontier Crimes Regulation were steps in the right direction. Any analysis of Pakistan’s human-rights record wouldn’t be a balanced one without factoring in the progress made in terms of constitutional and legislative reform.
The problem, of course, is that the proof of any of this lies in implementation, which ranges from successful in a handful of cases to piecemeal or nonexistent in most. And none of it negates the very real problems many groups of Pakistanis face, among them attacks on just about every religious minority, including a rash of Shia killings; enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings; the harshness and misuse of the blasphemy laws; and the condition of IDPs fleeing militancy and natural disasters. Both state and society have become desensitised to the value of human life and the rule of law, and it is hardly surprising that calling Pakistan “pluralistic and progressive”, as the foreign minister did, was met with disbelief from her audience. If there is one bright spot, it is that the Pakistani media continues to report more rights violations today than it ever has before. There was a time when this kind of news came from foreign sources. Though at the cost of too many journalists losing their lives in the process, today the country’s own media is at least able to report on much of the abuse that takes place.