Pakistan | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2002

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Two years after deposing a corrupt and autocratic elected government, General Pervez Musharraf's military regime continued to rule Pakistan. Though Musharraf pledged to return Pakistan to civilian rule by the end of 2002 after cleaning up the country's finances and politics, he declared himself president in June and also dismissed the hitherto suspended national and provincial assemblies. Authorities cracked down on activism by several political parties, but did hold several rounds of nonparty elections to newly restructured local councils throughout the year. After the attacks of September 11, Musharraf's pledge to support the United States-led war on terrorism unleashed opposition from a number of Islamist parties and terrorist organizations based in Pakistan, some of whom had ties with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime. However, in early October, Musharraf consolidated his own political position by engineering a major reshuffle of top military positions that greatly reduced the influence of pro-Taliban supporters inside the army.

Pakistan came into existence in 1947 as a Muslim homeland with the partition of British India. Following a nine-month civil war, East Pakistan achieved independence in 1971 as the new state of Bangladesh. Deposing civilian governments at will, the army has ruled Pakistan for 27 of its 54 years of independence. As part of his efforts to consolidate power, the military dictator General Zia ul-Haq amended the constitution in 1985 to allow the president to dismiss elected governments. After Zia's death in 1988, successive presidents cited corruption and abuse of power in sacking elected governments headed by Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in 1990 and 1996, and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in 1993.

With Bhutto having been discredited by corruption scandals during her second term, the PML and its allies won more than 160 seats in the February 1997 elections, although only 35 percent of eligible voters bothered to vote. Over the next 30 months Sharif largely ignored Pakistan's pressing economic and social problems while undermining every institution capable of challenging him. This included repealing the president's constitutional power to dismiss governments, forcing the resignations of the chief justice of the supreme court and of an army chief, and cracking down on the press and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Sharif's downfall began in June 1999, when Indian troops bested Pakistani forces in skirmishes in Kashmir after Pakistani-backed Islamic militants seized strategic heights on the Indian side of the Line of Control. The fighting raised international concern because both countries had carried out underground nuclear tests in May 1998. Sharif ended the Kashmir crisis in July by ordering the militants to withdraw, but was blamed by the army for the debacle. On October 12, 1999, the army deposed Sharif in a bloodless coup after the prime minister had tried to dismiss Musharraf, then army chief. Musharraf appointed himself "chief executive," declared a state of emergency, and issued a Provisional Constitution Order suspending parliament, the provincial assemblies, and the constitution.

In December 2000, eighteen of Pakistan's political parties, including archrivals PML and PPP, joined to form the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), an umbrella group calling for an end to military rule. However, Musharraf neutralized his primary political opponents when he exiled Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia for ten years; Sharif had earlier been convicted of corruption, terrorism, and hijacking charges and faced an extended prison sentence. In June 2001, Benazir Bhutto was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison for failing to attend a trial for corruption charges and was warned that she faced arrest if she returned to Pakistan from self-exile in London and Dubai. Several times during the year, ARD leaders were placed under house arrest and their demonstrations were broken up by the authorities, who placed hundreds of political activists under preventative arrest.

Having justified his coup in part as a response to Pakistan's dire economic situation, Musharraf has tried to increase government revenues. Authorities began documenting the black market economy and imposed a 15 percent retail tax in a country where less than one percent of the population pays taxes. Islamabad successfully concluded a three-year loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September 2001, and in December the IMF approved a new $1.3 billion loan for Pakistan. In November, the United States promised Pakistan more than a billion dollars in aid as a reward for its support for the war on terrorism, including funds for border security, refugee relief and antiterrorism measures, debt forgiveness, and trade and investment incentives. In addition, economic sanctions, which had been imposed in the wake of the 1998 nuclear tests, were lifted. In an added boost for the economy, Pakistan's official creditors agreed in December to restructure $12.5 billion of the country's external debt.

While making some progress on the economy, Musharraf has been less successful in reining in the activities and influence of Islamic fundamentalist groups. Last year, he was forced to backtrack on pledges to curb abuses of the blasphemy laws and to bring under state control the madrassahs (religious schools) run by Islamists. However, in February 2001 the government banned public fund-raising and the display of weapons by militant groups. After several high-profile incidents of sectarian violence in Karachi, Musharraf on August 14 banned two militant groups, the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Shia Sipah-e-Mohammed, and temporarily arrested hundreds of activists in Lahore and Karachi in the week that followed. Following the September 11 attacks and Musharraf's subsequent decision to support the United States, Pakistan faced an intensification of activity by Islamist groups, who organized numerous anti-U.S. protests at which several protesters were killed and dozens injured. As a result, authorities arrested hundreds of alleged fundamentalists and imposed travel bans on several prominent religious leaders. Pakistan's two main religious parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema Islam, had earlier allied themselves with a number of smaller parties to form the Afghan Defence Committee, which supported the Taliban regime. By the end of the year, a suicide attack on the Indian parliament building by members of an organization based in Pakistan had increased international pressure on Musharraf to intensify his crackdown against militant Islamic groups.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Pakistan continued to be ruled by a military government, headed by General Pervez Musharraf, that operated with limited transparency or accountability. While civilians still ran many agencies, the army set up "monitoring teams" to supervise civilian bureaucrats. According to records cited by The Friday Times, about 175 serving and retired military officers held high-level civilian posts at the beginning of 2001.

The 1973 constitution provides for a lower national assembly, which is directly elected for a five-year term, and an 87-seat senate, whose members are appointed by the four provincial assemblies for six-year terms. The constitution also vests executive power in a prime minister, who must be Muslim, and authorizes an electoral college to choose the largely ceremonial president, who also must be Muslim, for a five-year term. The provincial and national assemblies were suspended shortly after the military coup and were finally dismissed by Musharraf in June 2001. At the same time, he declared himself president, dismissing elected incumbent Rafiq Tarar, in a move calculated to strengthen his position ahead of bilateral talks with India in July.

In an August 14 speech, Musharraf pledged that provincial and federal elections would be held starting on October 1, 2002, thus standing by a May 2000 supreme court ruling (the ruling also validated the 1999 coup and empowered the government to amend the constitution unilaterally). In what the government had called the first step toward returning the country to democracy, local elections were held in 18 out of Pakistan's 106 administrative districts in December 2000. Further rounds of local elections were concluded in March and July of this year. Although the candidates were made to run as independents, most were informally affiliated with political parties, local clans, or powerful families. In August, more than 100,000 recently elected local councilors voted for candidates to hold the positions of head and deputy head of district councils. These councils, intended to be part of Musharraf's initiative to democratize the political process, have replaced the British colonial system whereby deputy commissioners ran each district's administration and judiciary with little accountability. Although the exact role of the district council heads has not been spelled out, they are expected to have some tax-raising powers and control over the local police. In preparation for some form of democratic process at a national level, Musharraf promised to reform the election commission, prepare accurate election rolls, and introduce constitutional changes that would create checks and balances in the election system. He also plans to set up a powerful National Security Council, to be dominated by the military, whose purpose would be to "ensure continuity of the democratic process and reforms."

Pakistan has not formally annexed its Northern Areas-Hunza, Gilgit, and Baltistan-which form part of the disputed territory of Kashmir. Consequently, the roughly one million residents of the Northern Areas are not covered under the constitution and had no representation in the now-suspended federal parliament, although elections for local government posts were held in July 2000. In Pakistani-administered Kashmir, also called Azad (free) Kashmir, almost two million voters participated in elections held in July 2001 for the regional legislative assembly. However, Pakistani authorities barred 25 candidates from the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) from contesting elections after they refused to sign a declaration supporting the accession of all of Kashmir to Pakistan. Several dozen JKLF supporters, including its chief, Amanullah Khan, were arrested while protesting against the decision.

Voting laws have prevented several million bonded laborers throughout the country from voting because they lacked a fixed address, and have forced Christians and other minorities to vote on separate electoral rolls for a limited number of candidates from their communities. Many voters belonging to religious minorities boycotted the local elections after authorities disregarded their call for a joint electoral process. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), tribal leaders prevented many women from voting in the 1997 elections. Despite the reservation of 33 percent of all seats for women by election planners, conservative religious parties backed by militant groups successfully initiated a move to prevent women from contesting the July municipal elections in several districts of the NWFP.

The government continued to place pressure on political parties throughout the year. According to an October 2000 report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, laws governing sedition, public order, and terrorism were used to raid party offices and detain scores of party activists and leaders in Punjab and Sindh for criticizing the army in party meetings or attempting to hold demonstrations. Moreover, the regime amended the Political Parties Act in August 2000 to bar anyone with a court conviction from holding party office, while the National Accountability Ordinance, introduced in 1999, automatically prohibits persons convicted of corruption under the law from holding public office for 21 years. If applied, these laws could end the political careers of Bhutto and Sharif, as well as other high-ranking political figures.

The Musharraf regime undermined the supreme court's reputation for independence in January 2000, when it ordered all supreme court and high court judges to swear under oath to uphold the state of emergency and the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf. Authorities removed the chief justice of the supreme court and 14 other judges for refusing to take the oath. Like Musharraf, Sharif and Bhutto had also tried while in office to manipulate the judiciary, which consists of civil and criminal courts and a special Shariat court for certain offenses under Islamic law. Lower courts remained plagued by corruption; intimidation by local officials, powerful individuals, and Islamic extremists; and heavy backlogs that led to lengthy pretrial detention.

The criminal courts include antiterrorism courts that operate with limited due process rights and must conclude trials within seven days. The November 1999 National Accountability Ordinance vested broad powers of arrest, investigation, and prosecution in a new National Accountability Bureau and established special courts to try corruption cases that operate with limited procedural safeguards. From January 2000 to June 2001, the bureau investigated 871 cases (350 of which had been brought before the courts), which involved 270 politicians, 440 bureaucrats, and 18 former military officials. While the first phase targeted individuals, authorities are now also investigating government departments as well as financial institutions in an attempt to recover a larger share of an estimated $2.75 billion in bad bank loans. In April, the supreme court ordered the government to amend the ordinance to restore the right to bail and reduce pretrial detention to a maximum of fifteen days.

The Shariat court enforces the 1979 Hudood Ordinances, which criminalized nonmarital rape, extramarital sex, and several alcohol, gambling, and property offenses. The ordinances provided for both Koranic punishments, including death by stoning for adultery, as well as jail terms and fines. In part because of strict evidentiary standards, authorities have never carried out the Koranic punishments. The FATA are under a separate legal system, the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which authorizes tribal elders and leaders to administer justice according to Sharia (Islamic law) and tribal custom in proceedings that lack due process rights. Feudal landlords and tribal elders in rural Sindh province continued to adjudicate some disputes and impose punishment in unsanctioned courts called jirgas.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that police continued to routinely engage in crime; use excessive force in ordinary situations; arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens; extort money from prisoners and their families; accept money to register cases on false charges; rape female detainees and prisoners; commit extrajudicial killings; and torture detainees, often to extract confessions. Prison conditions continued to be extremely poor. Some landlords in rural Sindh province and factions of the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) continued to operate private jails.

Violence among rival factions of the MQM, which represents Urdu-speaking migrants from India, and between the police and the MQM, killed several thousand people in Karachi in the 1990s, but has abated in recent years, although harassment of their activists continues. Sunni- and Shia-based fundamentalist groups continued to engage in tit-for-tat killings, mainly in Punjab and Karachi. In a series of high-profile killings in late July, four prominent Shias were gunned down in Karachi. Shias constitute roughly 20 percent of Pakistan's population. Media reports estimated that incidents of sectarian violence had risen by 140 percent during the first half of the year, with 108 deaths being reported. Shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces around the Line of Control in Kashmir continued to kill and displace numerous civilians.

The constitution and a series of colonial and postcolonial laws authorize the government to curb freedom of speech on subjects including the constitution, the armed forces, the judiciary, and religion. Governments have rarely used these provisions against the mainly private print media. However, under Sharif and Bhutto, authorities frequently detained, threatened, and assaulted journalists; attacked newspaper offices; and interfered with newspaper distribution. While official intimidation of the press has subsided under Musharraf, there were several instances this year when blasphemy laws (under which the accused is subject to immediate arrest and if convicted is given a mandatory death sentence) were used to suppress the media. On January 29, the NWFP police shut down the offices of The Frontier Post, as well as charging seven staff members with blasphemy, after the newspaper published a letter which included derogatory references to the prophet Muhammad. In June, editors at the Urdu-language Mohasib faced similar charges. Islamic fundamentalists and thugs hired by feudal landlords continued to harass journalists and attack newspaper offices; in the cases described above, religious groups pressured authorities to pursue blasphemy charges as well as committing arson. While journalists practice some self-censorship, Pakistan continued to have some of the most outspoken newspapers in South Asia. Nearly all broadcast media are state-owned, and coverage favors the government, although plans were announced in March to privatize the electronic media.

After initially permitting some demonstrations, the military government banned all public political meetings, strikes, and rallies in March 2000. Following the ban, authorities have forcibly dispersed some protests and arrested activists to prevent other demonstrations. In March and April, hundreds of Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy supporters were rounded up ahead of pro-democracy rallies, while several political leaders were placed under house arrest. The military regime generally tolerated the work of NGOs. However, in recent years Islamic fundamentalists have issued death threats against prominent human rights defenders.

Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and there are numerous restrictions on religious freedom. Section 295-C of the penal code mandates the death sentence for defiling the name of the prophet Muhammad. Human rights groups say that instances of Muslims bribing low-ranking police officials to file false blasphemy charges against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and occasionally other Muslims, have been sharply increasing over the past year. To date, appeals courts have overturned all blasphemy convictions, although suspects are forced to spend lengthy periods in prison and continue to be targeted by religious extremists even after they are released. In July, the appeal of Ayub Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy, was rejected by the high court, and in August, Dr. Younus Sheikh, a Muslim doctor and lecturer, was charged with blasphemy for answers he gave to a class about whether the prophet Muhammad followed Muslim practices before becoming a Muslim. According to the U.S. State Department, authorities have charged nearly 200 Ahmadis under the law since its inception. Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims, but the constitution classifies them as a non-Muslim minority and the penal code prohibits Ahmadi religious practice. Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus also face unofficial economic and societal discrimination and are occasionally subjected to violence and harassment. In August, an Ahmadi place of worship was burned down in Punjab, and in late October, 16 Christians attending a church service were killed by masked gunmen.

A combination of traditional norms and weak law enforcement continued to contribute to rape, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse against women. Women face difficulty in obtaining justice in rape cases because police and judges are reluctant to charge and punish offenders. Although less frequently than in the past, women are still charged under the Hudood Ordinances with adultery or other sexual misconduct arising from rape cases or alleged extramarital affairs. The threat of being charged with adultery may prevent some women from reporting rape. The nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a March report that more than 1,000 women died in Pakistan in 2000 as victims in honor killings. Generally committed by the husband or brother of the victim, honor killings punish women who supposedly bring dishonor to the family. Authorities generally do not severely punish these killings either because they simply fail to enforce the law, or because they can excuse offenders or impose minor sentences under laws reducing punishment for actions supposedly caused by "grave and sudden provocation." However, activists hailed a landmark decision in late January which ruled that a married woman was not bound by law to live with her husband or in-laws. Pakistani women face unofficial discrimination in education and employment opportunities.

In recent years, criminal gangs have reportedly trafficked tens of thousands of Bangladeshi women to Pakistan for purposes of forced prostitution in Karachi or domestic labor, often with the complicity of corrupt local officials. As a result of continued civil and political conflict in neighboring Afghanistan, which worsened in October after the onset of military action against the Taliban, Pakistan hosts more than two million Afghans in camps and cities throughout the country. Mistreatment of male refugees, including arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and deportation, continues to be a problem.

Pakistan's underfunded and corruption-plagued primary school system continued to offer limited educational opportunities for children, particularly girls. Filling the gap is an extensive network of madrassahs, some funded by Islamic groups from Saudi Arabia and Iran, which provide free education and living arrangements for some 700,000 boys. Despite some initiatives, enforcement of child labor laws continued to be inadequate. Both male and female children also continue to be subjected to prostitution, custodial and sexual abuse, and trafficking.

Despite 1992 legislation outlawing bonded labor and canceling enslaving debts, illegal bonded labor continued to be widespread. Trade unions are independent. The law restricts the right to strike, and workers in certain "essential" industries face restrictions on bargaining collectively and generally cannot hold strikes. Enforcement of labor laws continued to be limited. However, in August the government ratified International Labor Organization conventions on the prohibition of child labor and on equal remuneration for men and women.