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    Bhutto and Shariff: Be Careful of What You Wish For

    On 3 November 2007, President General Parvez Musharaff declared a State of Emergency in Pakistan. Clearly the purpose was not to defend the State in a time of crisis. Rather it was  to short-circuit an impending Supreme Court judgement on whether he could hold two offices i.e. of President and Chief of Army Staff while ‘contesting’ for re-election to President. The real purpose of martial law is to provide a favourable environment to ensure Musharaff’s re-election but it has backfired badly.

    On 18 October 2007, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan. Bhutto has sought to hijack the spontaneous movement for democracy, rule of law, independence of judiciary and freedom of the press as part of an ongoing negotiation with President Musharaff. Bhutto’s support for democracy is a negotiating tool for power in autocratic government. While calling for democracy she has continued the negotiation. It  was only on 12 October 2007 Bhutto severed talks.

    And as Bhutto began to negotiate with deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff, who had maintained an absolute silence on democracy and human rights, boarded a flight to Islamabad. On arrival he began making democratic noises. He was deported back to Saudi Arabia on 10 September 2007.

    Musharaff must go. His declaration for elections before 9 January 2008 cannot be taken seriously. Bhutto’s declaration that it was an important ‘first step’ demonstrates nothing more than her cynicism.


    Free and fair elections cannot be held under martial law; they are diametrically opposed.  A State of Emergency imposes limits on freedom of association, assembly, freedom of expression and independence of judiciary.  The deployment of the law enforcement personnel for conduct of peaceful elections does not require imposition of emergency as Musharaff has stated. With even the Saukat Ali Cancer hospital locked and thousands in detention or hiding, who is going to participate in the elections?


    If Musharaff must go, Bhutto and Shariff are dubious replacements.   There are well-founded corruption charges against both Bhutto and Shariff and they have deplorable human rights records. Their commitment to democracy is limited to a means to power. Both claim that democracy and the rule of law will be restored if Musharaff goes. This sits uneasily with Pakistan’s troubled relationship with democracy.  For democracy to have any chance in Pakistan requires real institutional and political change, not least dramatic change in the security sector. Democracy is not just about swapping one dubious leadership for another.


    The judges, lawyers, journalists, trade union activists and human rights advocates must demand that Bhutto and Shariff lay out  their vision for democracy in Pakistan. And for once the international community must recognize that democracy is not simply reduced to demanding an election date. The international community needs to focus for once on the conditions that should be in place before a meaningful and credible election can be held.


    I. Human rights records of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff

    Former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff are attempting to paint themselves as the saviours of democracy. One wonders what measures would they have taken had they served in the post September 11th period. In fact, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff failed to condemn illegal counter-terrorism measures taken by President Musharaff including handing over of the terror suspects to the United States without trial in Pakistan and disappearances in Balochistan where the Balochis have been fighting for their rights and not for the Jihad.

    a. Human rights abuses under Ms Benazir Bhutto


    Benazir Bhutto served as Prime Minister for two terms: 2 December 1988 to 6 August 1990 and from 19 October 1993 to 5 November 1996.


    In 1994, extrajudicial killings, torture, persecution of religious minorities, arbitrary detention, discrimination against women etc continued. There were several reports of extrajudicial executions in Sindh as a direct result of conflict between the government and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, a political party.


    The Pakistan Peoples Party dealt with MQM the same way Musharaff has been dealing with the Balochis. Throughout 1995, the security forces resorted to indiscriminate house-to-house searches in Karachi and were responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, custodial deaths, and extrajudicial executions. [1] In 1995, the Bhutto government put opposition political leaders under house arrest, denied bail and even denied permission to attend parliamentary sessions to the legislators. [2]



    Ms Bhutto was also responsible for muzzling of the independent media. On 29 June 1995, the government banned six Karachi-based news dailies for 60 days under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance (MPO) of 1960 and canceled the publishing licenses of another 122 publications linked to the banned dailies. On 14 September 1995, Farhan Effendi, a correspondent of Urdu daily Parcham, was arrested by the paramilitary Rangers and tortured in custody. Journalists namely, Bux Ali Jamali of Kawish, Kamran Khan of The News and Razia Bhatti, editor of Newsline faced music for being critical to the government. [3]


    b. Human rights abuses under Mr Nawaz Shariff


    Mr Nawaz Shariff also served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan for two terms i.e. from 6 November 1990 to 18 July 1993 and 17 February 1997 to 12 October 1999. Shariff was equally responsible for gross human rights violations.


    Following the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in India by the Hindu fundamentalists in December 1992, the Hindu minorities faced persecution throughout Pakistan. According to Human Rights Watch, at least six people including a woman and her five children were burned to death; hundreds of homes and about 120 temples were burnt or damaged by the mob while the administration failed to intervene to stop the violence. [4]


    During the first term of Shariff, even human rights defenders were oppressed. On 1 April 1993, three staff members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, including its director, I.A. Rehman, were detained by police and documents were confiscated from the HRCP’s office. [5]


    Extrajudicial killings were rampant during the regime of Nawaz Shariff. In 1993, custodial torture and custodial deaths were reported throughout the country, particularly in Sindh province where about 40 cases of deaths in custody and encounter killings of suspected criminals or political detainees were reported during January– June 1993. [6]


    The second term of Shariff was worse. In 1997, about 35 persons died in custody and at least 50 persons were allegedly extrajudicially executed. [7] In 1998, at least 50 persons died in custody due to torture and at least 120 persons were allegedly extrajudicially killed. [8] In 1999, at least 260 people, both criminal suspects and political prisoners, were allegedly extrajudicially executed and at least 52 custodial deaths were reported. [9]


    The government of Nawaz Shariff also failed to prevent sectarian killings. In 1997, at least 400 persons were killed in Karachi and at least 200 people were killed in Punjab in sectarian violence. [10] In 1998, more than 700 persons were killed in sectarian violence between the Immigrants’ National Movement (Mohajir Qaumi Movement) and the United National Movement (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) in Karachi. [11]


    In May 1998, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff declared a national emergency and suspended fundamental rights after conducting nuclear tests. [12]


    Shariff’s regime continued brutal crackdown of the political opponents. In September 1999, Shariff’s government arrested more than 1,000 opposition activists in Karachi, including senior leaders of Pakistan’s People's Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party. [13] Opposition leader Hussain Haqqani alleged that he was tortured, beaten, and subjected to psychological abuse during his detention by the Intelligence Bureau between 4 May and 7 May 1999. In May 1999, Asif Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, was taken from prison to a police interrogation center in Karachi, where he was allegedly deprived of sleep for four days, beaten, and cut with knives. [14]


    The press faced intense repression during Shariff’s second term to the point that initial years of the Parvez Musharaff’s rule saw improvement of the press freedom. In June 1997, Humayun Fur, Peshawar bureau chief of the daily Mashriq, was detained under charges of “anti-state” activities and sentenced to five years in jail by a military court on 9 September 1997. [15] On 8 May 1999, Najam Sethi, editor of the Friday Times, was arrested in Lahore and held without charge for nearly a month by Inter-Services Intelligence. The government finally charged Mr Sethi on 1 June 1999 with sedition, promoting communal enmity, condemning the creation of Pakistan and advocating the abolition of its sovereignty, and violating the Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act. Two other journalists M.A.K Lodhi of The News International and Hussain Haqqani, an opposition leader and columnist for The Friday Times and daily Jang were also arrested. [16] Rehmat Shah Afridi, editor of The Frontier Post, was arrested in April 1999. [17]


    On 10 May 1999, the government of Punjab revoked the registration of 1,941 NGOs and imposed restrictions on the registration of new NGOs. [18]


    II. Bhutto and Shariff: Be careful what you wish for


    Both Bhutto and Shariff have deplorable human rights records. They are neither democrat nor committed to human rights. Yet, they are posturing as democrats.


    This does not imply that General Musharaff’s dictatorship should continue. The Asian Centre for Human Rights urges the judges, lawyers, journalists, trade union activists and human rights advocates, among others, to demand the following from Bhutto and Shariff:


    a. A new constitution


    The suspended 1973 constitution is not the panacea for Pakistan’s democracy. Both Bhutto and Shariff must promise to draft a new Constitution of Pakistan or amend the existing constitution to bring it in conformity with the international human rights law. The new Constitution must, inter alia, ban discrimination in any form, including against the religious minorities in particular the Ahmadiyya sect, declare other national laws such as Hudood laws as null and void if they do not conform to the Constitution, and explicitly establish the supremacy of international human rights laws and instruments over domestic laws. It must ensure freedom of press.


    b. Independence of judiciary


    Both Bhutto and Shariff must specifically spell out the measures they want to guarantee to ensure independence of judiciary under all circumstances.


    c. Establishment of a National Human Rights Institution


    Both Bhutto and Shariff must promise to amend the Draft National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Bill of 2005 to ensure conformity with the United Nations Paris Principles of National Human Rights Institutions and establishment of such a commission with full and effective participation of the NGOs.


    d. Ratification of international instruments


    Both Bhutto and Shariff must promise to ratify key human rights instruments including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two optional protocols, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and its Optional Protocol and withdrawal of reservations from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the Rights of the Child  and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.


    e. International investigation into human rights violations in the war against terror


    Both Bhutto and Shariff must promise an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the war against terror including the handing over of the terror suspects without any trial and extrajudicial killings and disappearances in Balochistan and other provinces. 


    f. Declare assets and cooperate with investigation


    Both Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff have been accused of corruption. Both must promise to make the findings of the Daniel Zappelli, chief prosecutor of the canton (state) of Geneva, Switzerland which make investigation into charges of corruption against Bhutto and charges made by National Accountability Bureau against Shariff. They must also express readiness to stand trial by an independent inquiry to be conducted by a sitting judge of independent Supreme Court of Pakistan.


    g. Security Sector Reform underwrites everything


    As long as the security sector continues to function under current arrangements Pakistan’s attempts at democracy will continue to fail. It is impossible to de-link security sector reform from the rule of law and democracy. The extraordinary influence of the military will continue to pervert democracy, the rule of law and human rights. It will continue to promote the rise of extremism and insecurity.


    If the international community is serious about democracy and the rule of law in Pakistan, it must stop the unconditional underwriting of an entirely politicised security sector. The approach has been and is short sighted and entirely counter productive.


    The international community must demand a wider concept of counter insurgency efforts from the Pakistan security services; namely counter insurgency that is both accountable and respects international human rights standards. Violating human rights is an unlikely means to promote human rights.  


    1. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1996
    2. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1996
    3. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1996
    4. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1994  
    5. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1994
    6. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1994
    7. Amnesty International, Annual Report 1998
    8. Amnesty International, Annual Report 1999
    9. Amnesty International, Annual Report 2000
    10. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1998
    11. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999
    12. Amnesty International, Annual Report 1999
    13. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2000
    14. US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices- 1999, available at
    15. Human Rights Watch, World Report 1998
    16. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2000
    17. Amnesty International, Annual Report 2000
    18. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2000
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