RUMOURS of delayed elections, tales of corruption at the highest levels of government, pre-poll deal-making, judiciary-executive tussles — these stories dominate public discourse for days at a stretch and trigger hectic activity within the government and opposition. When a bomb kills Shia worshippers, Ahmadi graves are desecrated, a journalist dies in mysterious circumstances, a Baloch activist disappears or a mentally ill person is charged with blasphemy, the news is quickly forgotten and the state barely responds. In rare instances, such as in the cases of Malala Yousufzai and Rimsha Masih in which children were involved, the story might linger for longer, prompting protests and some state action. More often, though, as is apparent from the Pakistan section of Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2013, human rights abuses are simply treated as a routine feature of Pakistani life.
It is not clear that the state is really as complicit in some of these atrocities, particularly those carried out by violent religious extremists, as the human rights watchdog claims. What cannot be argued with, though, is the claim that the state is not doing enough to prevent them. Attacks on Shias, for example, have become increasingly frequent and predictable in several parts of the country. But as far as is publicly known, no one has been successfully held to account, sending a signal to those who want to attack other people for their religious beliefs that in Pakistan this crime can be carried out with impunity. The report also talks about extrajudicial detention and killings and drone attacks, pointing to one of the most complicated moral questions Pakistan faces today: in the unique security situation we are in, how do we combat those who violate human rights without violating theirs? How do we balance the need to uphold strict standards of justice with the need to prevent further attacks on the state and civilians?
Distracted by politics, afraid of offending right-wing sentiments and lacking the will to overhaul our security strategy and tactics, the state continues to ignore its responsibility to protect each citizen’s right to life, freedom and justice.