A country that's frequently under heavy criticism from international human rights groups, Pakistan was the target of strong words once again when New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released an annual report on the global state of affairs recently.
In its 676-page report, HRW assessed progress during the last year in more than 90 countries of the world, including popular uprisings in the Arab world. The report also documented rights abuses worldwide, including Pakistan.
HRW suggested Pakistan was a state where a democratic government under considerable pressure from the army was failing to hold those responsible for serious abuses accountable.
"From Karachi to Quetta, Pakistan is teetering on the edge of becoming a military-run Potemkin democracy," HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
Many rights organizations are of the view that Pakistan is a national security state wherein fundamental human rights are violated on a daily basis. One year ago, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, the largest province in the country and an opponent of Pakistan's strict blasphemy law, was killed in broad daylight in front of dozens of people. The culprit became a hero to many Pakistanis. Months later, Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed over public support for amending the same blasphemy law. As HRW mentioned in its report, the Pakistani government not only failed to protect these high officials -- who like many others had received threats from extremists -- in many cases it has failed to hold extremists accountable for threats and violence.
HRW has also expressed concern over the ongoing situation in Baluchistan Province, where, according to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) officials, more than 200 ethnic Baluchi were abducted and later killed, allegedly by agents of the state security agencies. The deputy chairman of the HRCP's Baluchistan chapter, Tahir Hussain, told Radio Mashaal
that 261 "mutilated, dead bodies" had been found between July 2010 and the end of last year. But he stressed that 85 minority Shi'a died such violent deaths in 2011. "All roads and streets are in danger in Baluchistan," Hussain said, adding that traders are frequent kidnap victims.
Human Rights Watch has also reported more killings in Pakistan in 2011 -- especially in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Karachi -- in bomb blasts and targeted killings.
"There was no rule of law in the tribal areas, but the situation is even worse now as there is a hot war going on," the co-chairman of the HRCP's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter, Kamran Arif, told Radio Mashaal. "Both sides, whether they are security forces or militants, have severely violated human rights. As a result, the common tribal men suffered so much. They were killed in suicide bombings, their educational institutions were closed, and millions of them were displaced."
HRW wrote in the context of journalist killings in Pakistan that freedom of expression was under threat.
"A climate of fear impedes media coverage of military and militant group," HRW wrote. "Journalists rarely report on human rights abuses by the military in counterterrorism operations, and the Taliban and other armed groups regularly threaten media outlets over their coverage."
Voice of America's (VOA) Mukarram Khan Atif was killed on January 17 this year by the Taliban.
Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders called Pakistan the deadliest country for journalists in 2011, saying at least eight journalists had been killed.
Zohra Yusuf, the chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, urged Pakistan's government to take crucial steps against rights abusers.
Yusuf told Radio Mashaal that there had been "a very poor response from the government."
"On one hand," Yusuf said, "the government tries to prove such reports wide of the mark."
Sometimes, she said, "they show a little response in some areas -- whether on the basis of our reports or on their own intentions, such as approving bills on women's rights last year and in previous years."
"But if we look at the realities on the ground, so little has been done whether on our recommendations or on the recommendations of other rights organizations," Yusuf said.
-- Ahmad Shah Azami