Pakistan | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Pakistan

Pakistan

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores

Status

Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.5

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6
Trend Arrow: 


Pakistan received an upward trend arrow for holding free, but not entirely fair, national elections in October 2002.

Overview: 


General Pervez Musharraf continued to perform a delicate balancing act as ruler of Pakistan. The military regime faced criticism in 2002 from opposition political parties, the press, and civil society, all who favored a return to democratic rule. Attacks on religious minorities and Western targets by a variety of Islamist militant groups, some affiliated to al-Qaeda, also threatened to further destabilize Pakistan. An escalation in tensions with neighboring India led to increased pressure from the international community, and in particular the United States, to modify official policy towards the disputed territory of Kashmir. Nevertheless, Musharraf managed to consolidate his hold on power through a dubious referendum that extended his term as president, as well as a series of constitutional amendments that cemented the future role of the military in governance. Flawed elections held in October led to a reintroduction of the competitive political process and a return to nominal civilian rule by the end of the year. However, the dramatic rise in the influence of Islamist parties, many of whose elected members are openly hostile to religious minorities and to Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, remains a threat to the prospects for democracy in Pakistan.

Pakistan came into existence as a Muslim homeland with the partition of British India in 1947. 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 28 of its 55 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 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 that had made incursions into Indian-held Kashmir. Sharif ended the two-month Kargil crisis by ordering a withdrawal, but was blamed by the army for the debacle, and was deposed in October 1999 in a bloodless coup. Army chief Musharraf then 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 was able to successfully neutralize Sharif and Bhutto, his primary political opponents, through a combination of court convictions and exile.

While successfully managing to curtail the activities of the political opposition, Musharraf has been less willing to rein in the activities and influence of Islamic fundamentalist groups. In response to growing sectarian violence in 2001, the authorities banned several militant groups and arrested hundreds of alleged fundamentalists. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, on the United States, Musharraf's pledge to support the U.S.-led war on terrorism unleashed opposition from a number of Islamist organizations. Sectarian violence directed at the Shia minority continued in 2002, and there was a dramatic rise in terrorist attacks against both Westerners and Christian targets. Heightened tensions with neighboring India over the disputed territory of Kashmir, which resulted in a massive troop buildup by both sides along their common border in the first half of the year, led to increased international pressure on Musharraf to intensify his crackdown against the militant groups responsible for incursions into Kashmir and suicide attacks within India. However, militant groups continued to operate throughout Pakistan, and the arrest of a number of senior al-Qaeda leaders in 2002 suggested that the group is still using the country as a base.

Musharraf's primary aim throughout the year was to ensure a dominant role for the military after Pakistan made the nominal transition back to democratic rule. Constitutional amendments announced in July and August gave Musharraf (in his role as president) effective control over parliament and restricted the ability of opposition parties to contest the October elections. The regime also openly promoted pro-government political parties, such as the newly formed Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q), as a way to counter the PML and PPP. Elections held on October 10 did not produce a clear winner; final results (which include both elected and nonelected seats) gave the PML-Q 118 seats, while the PPP won 81 and the PML won 19. A coalition of five religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), performed unexpectedly strongly, winning 60 seats in the national parliament and a majority of seats in the provinces of Baluchistan and the NorthWest Frontier Province (NWFP). After over a month of wrangling between the three largest parties, the PML-Q was able to muster enough support from independents and deserters from the other main parties to form a government. Musharraf's nominee, Mir Zafrullah Jamali, was elected in November by the National Assembly to head a new coalition government.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Pakistan continued to be ruled for most of 2002 by a military government, headed by General Pervez Musharraf, which operated with limited transparency and accountability. The 1973 constitution provides for the lower National Assembly, which is directly elected for a 5-year term, and the 87-seat Senate, whose members are appointed by the four provincial assemblies for 6-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. In June 2001, Musharraf declared himself president and also dismissed the provincial and national assemblies, which had been suspended shortly after the military coup.

In preparation for the national elections scheduled for October 2002, which were intended to mark the end of a three-year period of military rule, Musharraf further strengthened his hold on power throughout the year. A referendum held in April that was marred by fraud and coercion extended his term as president by five years with an official result of 97.5 percent in his favor. In August, he announced a slew of constitutional amendments that formalized the military's role in governance. The Legal Framework Order (LFO) gave him the right to unilaterally dismiss the national and provincial parliaments, established a National Security Council dominated by military figures that would supervise the work of the civilian cabinet, and restricted freedom of association and the right of individuals to stand for elected office.

Provisions in the LFO limited the right to run as a candidate for election to those persons with a bachelor's degree, which disqualified roughly 96 percent of the Pakistani population. It also disqualified criminal convicts and defaulters on loans and utility bills from running. Other rules restricted political parties in their choice of leadership. Some of these measures were explicitly aimed at preventing Bhutto and Sharif from contesting the elections. Although the government lifted the long-standing ban on political rallies shortly before the elections, significant restrictions remained in place, and the ability of opposition parties to mount effective campaigns was circumscribed. ARD leaders also complained that official favoritism was shown towards pro-government parties prior to the elections. In its statement on the 2002 electoral process, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that governmental machinery had been used openly to pressure, intimidate, and harass opposition candidates. The EU Election Observation Mission expressed concern about the degree of impartiality of the Election Commission, the ability of political parties and candidates to campaign effectively, the partisan misuse of state resources by public authorities, equality of access to the state media, the accuracy of the voters' register, and last-minute alterations in the electoral system. Their preliminary report concluded that there had been "serious flaws" in the electoral process.

Religious minorities have long complained about a system of separate electoral rolls by which they vote for a limited number of candidates from their own communities rather than for general candidates. After they boycotted local elections held in 2001, the government abolished separate electorates in January 2002 (except for the Ahmadi sect). Other electoral reforms provided for the reservation of 60 of the total of 350 seats in parliament to be allotted to women under a system of indirect elections. The residents of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, which includes the Northern Areas as well as Azad (free) Kashmir, have no representation in the national parliament. (A new report on Pakistani-administered Kashmir appears in the Related Territories section).

The constitution and other laws authorize the government to curb freedom of speech on subjects including the constitution, the armed forces, the judiciary, and religion. Blasphemy laws (under which the accused is subject to immediate arrest and if convicted is given a mandatory death sentence) have also been used to suppress the media. Concern was raised that three ordinances adopted in August--the Press Council Ordinance, the Registration Ordinance, and the Defamation Ordinance--would further restrict freedom of expression. Islamic fundamentalists and thugs hired by feudal landlords continued to harass journalists and attack newspaper offices. On several occasions, journalists were also subjected to physical attacks by police and political activists. The kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic radicals in early 2002 focused international attention on the dangers of reporting in Pakistan. While journalists practice some self-censorship, Pakistan continued to have some of the most outspoken newspapers in South Asia. However, during the year Musharraf appeared to have become less tolerant of criticism. In March, editor Shaheen Sehbai resigned under pressure and left the country after The News published a story on the links between Pearl's killers and official intelligence agencies. Sehbai and his family continued to face legal harassment throughout the year. Other prominent editors also complained of receiving threats from intelligence agencies. Nearly all broadcast media are state owned, and coverage favors the government.

Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and there are numerous restrictions on religious freedom. Section 295C 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 increasing sharply in recent years. To date, appeals courts have overturned all blasphemy convictions; in August, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Ayub Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy. However, suspects are forced to spend lengthy periods in prison, where they are subject to ill-treatment, and they continue to be targeted by religious extremists even after they are released. 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. There was a sharp increase in terrorist violence directed at Christian targets in 2002, including armed attacks on churches, missionary schools and hospitals. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom designated Pakistan as a country of particular concern for the first time in 2002, citing the failure of the government to protect religious minorities from sectarian violence as well as discriminatory legislation, which created a climate of "religious intolerance."

After initially permitting some demonstrations, the military government banned all public political meetings, strikes, and rallies in March 2000. Following the ban, authorities forcibly dispersed some protests and arrested activists to prevent other demonstrations. Authorities suppressed rallies planned by the multiparty ARD in April and July, and several ARD leaders were arrested. Some Islamist leaders have been held under house arrest or in preventative detention under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance, which allows for three months' detention without trial. Laws governing sedition, public order, and terrorism have been used to raid party offices and detain political activists and leaders in Punjab and Sindh for criticizing the army in party meetings. The military regime generally tolerates the work of NGOs. However, in recent years Islamic fundamentalists have issued death threats against prominent human rights defenders and against female NGO activists who work in rural areas.

Despite 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.

The judiciary consists of civil and criminal courts and a special Sharia (Islamic law) court for certain offenses. Lower courts remained plagued by corruption; intimidation by local officials, powerful individuals, and Islamic extremists; and heavy backlogs that led to lengthy pretrial detentions. The military 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 justices for refusing to take the oath.

The criminal courts include antiterrorism courts that operate with limited due process rights and must conclude trials within seven days. In January 2002, an amendment to the Antiterrorism Ordinance provided for new courts that would sit in cantonments or jail premises to ensure the security of the accused, witnesses, and judiciary, and that would include one military officer as part of the three-member bench. 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. In April 2001, the Supreme Court ordered the government to amend the ordinance to restore the right to bail and reduce pretrial detention to a maximum of 15 days.

The Sharia court enforces the 1979 Hudood Ordinances, which criminalize nonmarital rape, extramarital sex, and several alcohol, gambling, and property offenses. The ordinances provide for 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 Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are under a separate legal system, the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which authorizes tribal elders and leaders to administer justice according to Sharia and tribal custom in proceedings that lack due process rights. Feudal landlords and tribal elders throughout Pakistan continued to adjudicate some disputes and impose punishment in unsanctioned parallel courts called jirgas. In June, a woman in Punjab was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council as punishment for alleged improprieties committed by her brother. A report issued by Amnesty International in August raised concerns that the jirgas abuse a range of human rights, and are particularly discriminatory towards women.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that police continued to routinely engage in crime; used excessive force in ordinary situations; arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens; extorted money from prisoners and their families; accepted money to register cases on false charges; raped female detainees and prisoners; committed extrajudicial killings; and torture detainees, often to extract confessions. Prison conditions continued to be extremely poor. According to the most recent report of the HRCP, the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of 2000 remains largely unimplemented and thousands of juveniles continue to be jailed alongside adults.

Violence among rival factions of the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which represents Urdu-speaking migrants from India, and between the police and the MQM, killed several thousand people in the 1990s, but has abated in recent years, although harassment of their activists continues. According to a report in the Asian Times, intelligence agencies estimate the number of active members of different militant groups to be around 50,000. Sunni and Shia fundamentalist groups continued to engage in tit-for-tat killings, mainly in Punjab and Karachi. In a January 2002 speech, Musharraf said that about 400 people had been killed by sectarian violence in 2001. Attacks on Shia mosques in February and April left dozens of worshippers dead, and Shia professionals in Karachi, including a large number of doctors, were assassinated throughout the year.

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. In April, a woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, although her sentence was later overturned on appeal. The threat of being charged with adultery may prevent some women from reporting rape. The HRCP noted in December that at least 461 women had been killed by family members in so-called 'honor killings' in 2002--an increase of 25 percent over the previous year--and, worryingly, that the practice seemed to be spreading to new areas where it had not previously been reported. Usually committed by a male relative of the victim, honor killings punish women who supposedly bring dishonor to the family. Authorities generally do not severely punish the perpetrators of 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." Pakistani women face unofficial discrimination in educational and employment opportunities.

Pakistan's underfunded primary-school system continued to offer limited educational opportunities for children. Filling the gap is an extensive network of madrasans (Islamic schools), some financed by Islamic groups from Saudi Arabia and Iran, which provide free education and living arrangements for some 700,000 boys. In June, the government attempted to extend some measure of control over this network when it required all madrasans to register with the authorities, as well as provide details of sources of foreign funding and of foreign students and teachers, within six months or face closure. Despite some initiatives, enforcement of child labor laws continue to be inadequate. Both male and female children also continue to be subjected to prostitution, custodial and sexual abuse, and trafficking.