Pakistan | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Pakistan received a downward trend arrow due to the entrenchment of the military's power over both political and economic life.


A military government headed by General Pervez Musharraf continues to wield effective power in Pakistan, and as 2004 progressed, the influence of the military over political, judicial, and economic structures was further solidified. Despite facing sustained protest from both the secular and Islamist opposition parties, Musharraf was able to replace a recalcitrant prime minister in June and to pass legislation establishing a powerful National Security Council that cements the military's role in governance and allows him in his position as president to dismiss parliament. Furthermore, after he reneged on a pledge to step down as army chief by the end of the year, his supporters in parliament passed a bill enabling him to continue in both roles - as president and as head of the army. In the absence of an independent legislature and judiciary, the media remain one of the only forums that provide oversight of official actions and policy. However, the government became less tolerant of such criticism as the year progressed and, on a number of occasions, harassed or intimidated members of the press. A range of other human rights violations, including egregious legal and societal discrimination against women and religious minorities, continued to be reported in 2004.

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 directly or indirectly ruled Pakistan for 29 of its 56 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.

After the PML decisively won the 1997 elections, Sharif, as prime minister, largely ignored Pakistan's pressing economic and social problems while undermining every institution capable of challenging him, including 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. However, when he attempted to reshuffle the army's leadership, he was deposed in October 1999 in a bloodless coup. Chief of Army Staff 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, 18 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.

Musharraf's primary aim since gaining power has been to ensure a dominant role for the military after Pakistan made the nominal transition back to democratic rule. The controversial Legal Framework Order (LFO) announced in 2002 gave him effective control over parliament and restricted the ability of opposition parties to contest the elections. The regime also openly promoted pro-government political parties, such as the newly formed Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q). In the October 2002 parliamentary elections, no single party won a majority of seats; the PML-Q won 126 seats, while the PPP won 81 and the PML, 19. A coalition of six religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), performed unexpectedly strongly, winning 63 seats in the national parliament and a majority of seats in two provinces. With support from independents and deserters from the other main parties, the PML-Q was able to form a government in November, and Musharraf's nominee, Mir Zafrullah Jamali, became prime minister. The PML-Q consolidated its position by winning a majority of seats in elections to the Senate held in February 2003.

Parliament remained deadlocked throughout most of 2003, with the main opposition parties insisting that Musharraf rescind the LFO and relinquish his position as army chief if he wished to continue as president. The stalemate was broken in December 2003, when Musharraf brokered a deal with the MMA in which it would support a constitutional amendment legitimizing the coup and his actions since then, in return for his pledge not to serve in both offices after December 2004. The party also agreed to support a bill introduced in January 2004 that would establish a powerful National Security Council (NSC), headed by the president, which had the power to dismiss the parliament and prime minister. Despite the fact that the MMA amended its stance and came out in opposition to the bill, it was rammed through both houses of parliament amid much protest in April. In September, the government then announced that a changed "national situation" required General Musharraf to stay on in both roles. Following this announcement, his supporters in parliament passed legislation enabling him to stay on as army chief for a further three years.

Meanwhile, growing clashes between Musharraf and Jamali on policy issues led to Jamali's ouster in June; Musharraf consolidated his position by appointing loyalist technocrat and former finance minister Shaukat Aziz to the post in August.

While managing to contain the secular opposition, Musharraf has been less willing to rein in Islamic fundamentalist groups. Although several groups have been banned since September 2001, when Musharraf pledged to support the United States in its war on terrorism, and hundreds of activists have been periodically arrested, more than 40 groups continue to function under new names and their leaders have generally not been prosecuted. The increased parliamentary presence of religious parties with ties to radical madrasas (religious schools) and to militant groups suggests that the influence of the Islamists will continue to be strong. However, official tolerance for the activities of these groups declined following several assassination attempts against Musharraf (two in December 2003) and one against Aziz in July 2004. Working closely with U.S. intelligence, Pakistani security forces captured a number of high-value al-Qaeda targets in July and August, and troops engaged militants sheltering in the tribal areas of South Waziristan throughout the year, killing or capturing hundreds of fighters.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Despite the election of a civilian National Assembly in October 2002, the Pakistani military, headed by General Pervez Musharraf, continues to wield control over the structures of government. The 1973 constitution provided for a lower National Assembly, which currently has 272 directly elected seats and 70 seats reserved for women and non-Muslim minorities, and a Senate, whose 100 members are appointed by the four provincial assemblies for six-year terms. Shortly after the coup, Musharraf suspended the provincial and national assemblies. In 2001, he declared himself president, and in April 2002 extended his term as president by five years with a rigged referendum. In preparation for national elections (the Supreme Court had mandated that they be held by October 2002), Musharraf further strengthened the powers of the presidency and formalized the military's role in governance. The Legal Framework Order (LFO) gave him the right to unilaterally dismiss the national and provincial parliaments, as well as providing for a National Security Council dominated by military figures that would supervise the work of the civilian cabinet.

The LFO also restricts certain individuals from standing for elected office, as well as restricting political parties in their choice of leadership. Some of these measures were explicitly aimed at preventing former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from contesting the 2002 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. In its statement on the elections, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that governmental machinery had been used to intimidate opposition candidates. The report of the European Union Election Observation Mission concluded that there had been "serious flaws" in the electoral process.

Since the election, secular opposition parties and their leaders have continued to face intimidation and harassment from intelligence agencies and other government organs. In October 2003, Javed Hashmi, the leader of the ARD alliance, was arrested and charged with treason after he publicly criticized the army (he read an anti-Musharraf letter at a news conference), and in April 2004, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison on sedition charges.

On the positive side, women and minorities now have enhanced representation in the parliament. After repeated complaints by religious minorities, the government abolished the system of separate electorates in January 2002, enabling them to vote alongside Muslims and thus participate more fully in the political system. In addition, 10 seats in the reconstituted National Assembly were reserved for minorities and 60 were reserved for women.

Pakistan's government operates with limited transparency and accountability. Over the past five years, military officers have assumed an increasing role in governance through "army monitoring teams" that oversee the functioning of many civilian administrative departments. The army now has a stake in continuing to influence both commercial and political decision-making processes, as well as maintaining its traditional dominance over foreign policy and security issues. Serving and retired officers receive top public sector jobs in ministries, state-run corporations, and universities, as well as being given a range of other privileges. During the past two years, because of ongoing opposition boycotts, parliament did not function effectively and many pieces of legislation were pushed through with limited debate.

Corruption is pervasive at almost all levels of politics and government and appears to be worsening; Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Pakistan in a tie for 129th place out of a total of 146 countries, in a drop from the previous year. Although Musharraf has publicly stated that eliminating official corruption is a priority, the National Anti-Corruption Strategy approved in October 2002 focuses on politicians, civil servants, and businessmen, while virtually ignoring the military and security personnel.

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 have also been used to suppress the media. Islamic fundamentalists and thugs hired by feudal landlords or local politicians continue to harass journalists and attack newspaper offices; Sajid Tanoli, a writer for a regional daily, was killed by unidentified assailants in January as a result of his reporting. On numerous occasions, police or security forces also subjected journalists to physical attacks, intimidation, or arbitrary arrest. While journalists practice some self-censorship, Pakistan continues to have some of the most outspoken newspapers in South Asia, and the broadcast sector has become somewhat more diversified. However, over the past two years, military authorities have used increasingly aggressive tactics to silence critical voices in the media, according to Human Rights Watch. A number of journalists have been pressured to resign from prominent publications, charged with sedition, or arrested and intimidated by intelligence officials while in custody. The Web site of an online newspaper established abroad by exiled editor Shaheen Sehbai remains blocked by Pakistani telecommunications authorities. Musharraf himself has contributed to an atmosphere that is inimical to free speech by making public threats against specific members of the press.

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 increasing in recent years. Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims, but the constitution classifies them as a non-Muslim minority and the penal code severely restricts Ahmadi religious practice. According to the U.S. State Department's Report on International Religious Freedom, as of mid-2004 there were more than 100 blasphemy cases pending in the courts. To date, appeals courts have overturned all blasphemy convictions, but suspects are generally forced to spend lengthy periods in prison, where they are subject to ill-treatment, and they continue to be targeted by religious extremists after they are released. In June, a man accused of blasphemy was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to be guarding him in the hospital where he was undergoing treatment. Religious minorities also face unofficial economic and societal discrimination, and are occasionally subjected to violence and harassment. The government often fails to protect religious minorities from sectarian violence, and discriminatory legislation contributes to creating a general climate of religious intolerance.

The government generally does not restrict academic freedom. However, student groups, some of whom have ties to radical Islamist organizations, violently attack or otherwise intimidate students, teachers, and administrators at some universities, which contributes to a climate of intolerance.

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 political activists to prevent other demonstrations. Some Islamist leaders have been held under house arrest or in preventive 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. Although the military regime generally tolerates the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 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 continues to be widespread; a November BBC report estimated that at least five million laborers are bonded to their employers. 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. The enforcement of child labor laws continues to be inadequate; recent surveys indicate that there are at least eight million child workers in Pakistan.

The judiciary consists of civil and criminal courts and a special Sharia (Islamic law) court for certain offenses. Lower courts remain plagued by endemic corruption; intimidation by local officials, powerful individuals, and Islamic extremists; and heavy backlogs that lead to lengthy pretrial detentions. The military regime undermined the Supreme Court's reputation for independence in January 2000, when it ordered all high-ranking judges to swear to uphold the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf. When the chief justice and a number of other judges refused, they were replaced. Since then, the courts have rejected subsequent challenges to the legality of military rule. An International Crisis Group (ICG) report released in November drew attention to the fact that the executive has extended its influence over the judiciary by using the appointments system to remove independent judges, fill key positions with political allies, and reward those who issue judgments favorable to the government.

Other parts of the judicial system, such as the antiterrorism courts, operate with limited due process rights. A November 1999 ordinance vested broad powers of arrest, investigation, and prosecution in a new National Accountability Bureau and established special courts to try corruption cases. Musharraf has used both to prosecute rival politicians and officials from previous civilian governments. The Sharia court enforces the 1979 Hudood Ordinances, which criminalize nonmarital rape, extramarital sex, and several alcohol, gambling, and property offenses, and provide for Koranic punishments, including death by stoning for adultery, as well as jail terms and fines. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 210,000 cases are currently being processed under the ordinances. In part because of strict evidentiary standards, authorities have never carried out the Koranic punishments. In 2003, the provincial assembly in the North-West Frontier Province passed a bill that declared Sharia (Islamic law) the supreme law of the province and empowered the government to Islamize the economy, the legal system, and education.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are under a separate legal system, the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which authorizes tribal leaders to administer justice according to Sharia and tribal custom. Feudal landlords and tribal elders throughout Pakistan continue to adjudicate some disputes and impose punishment in unsanctioned parallel courts called jirgas. A 2002 Amnesty International report raised concerns that the jirgas abuse a range of human rights and are particularly discriminatory towards women. In April, the Sindh High Court issued a ruling that banned all trials conducted under the jirga system in the province.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that police continue 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. Political opponents, former government officials, and other critics of the regime are particularly at risk of arbitrary arrest or abduction, torture, and denial of basic due process rights at the hands of military authorities, according to Human Rights Watch. Prison conditions continue to be extremely poor. A November 2003 Amnesty International report noted that the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of 2000 remains largely unimplemented and that several thousand children continue to be jailed alongside adults.

Press reports indicate that there may be as many as 200,000 armed militants currently active in Pakistan, and these extremists continue to carry out terrorist attacks both within Pakistan and in neighboring countries, including assassination attempts and suicide attacks on foreign, Shia, and Christian targets. A report released by Amnesty International in April suggested that security forces and Pakistani authorities had committed a number of human rights abuses during the course of their operations to flush out foreign militants from the tribal areas of South Waziristan, including arbitrary arrest and detention, the destruction of property and the displacement of civilians, and possible extrajudicial executions.

Sunni and Shia fundamentalist groups continue to engage in the exchange of retaliatory killings, mainly in Punjab and Karachi. In October, an attack on a Shia mosque in Sialkot left dozens dead, and a week later a Sunni mosque in Multan was bombed; the two attacks were followed by a spate of assassinations in which several high-profile religious leaders were killed. Shia professionals in Karachi, including a large number of doctors, continue to be targeted. The South Asia Terrorism Portal has estimated that almost 200 people were killed and more than 600 were injured as a result of sectarian violence in 2004, a substantial increase over the previous two years.

In an atmosphere where the rule of law is weakly enforced and the military has expanded its control over economic resources, land rights are at risk. According to a Human Rights Watch report, tenant farmers in the Okara district of Punjab who have refused to cede their land rights to the army have faced besiegement, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, "forced divorce," and dismissal from employment

A combination of traditional norms and weak law enforcement continue to contribute to rape, domestic violence, acid attacks, and other forms of abuse against women. 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, and 20,000 are currently estimated to be in prison as a result of being wrongfully charged. The threat of being charged with adultery may prevent some women from reporting rape. The government-appointed National Commission on the Status of Women recommended in 2003 that the ordinances be repealed, but because of the influence of Islamist parties in parliament, the suggestion is unlikely to be acted upon. Gang rapes sanctioned by village councils as a form of punishment for crimes committed by a woman's relatives continue to be reported, despite the fact that harsh sentences have been handed down in some cases.

According to the HRCP, at least 600 women were killed by family members in so-called honor killings in 2003. Usually committed by a male relative of the victim, honor killings punish women who supposedly bring dishonor to the family. In October 2004, the lower house of parliament passed government-backed legislation introducing stiffer sentences and the possibility of the death penalty for those convicted of honor killings. However, given a prevailing environment where authorities generally do not aggressively prosecute and convict the perpetrators of violence against women, activists questioned the effectiveness of the bill. Pakistani women face unofficial discrimination in educational and employment opportunities.