Independence Betrayed in Pakistan

Today the Islamic Republic of Pakistan celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence from India. For more than half of Pakistan’s existence as an independent homeland it has been ruled by the armed forces, who have never worked seriously to allow a viable political system to evolve. A nation without direction from its birth, the state has become a rogue because of continuous interference from the army.

As Pakistan celebrates its independence, it does so in the knowledge that the United States has threatened to defy the sovereignty of its air space and strike at suspected “terrorist” targets along the border with Afghanistan. Apart from that, NATO forces have also threatened to follow “terrorists” into Pakistan despite the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign state.

It is the country’s foreign debt that makes it so vulnerable to the influence and pressure of Western powers. It is said that every unborn child will have to pay Rs1,500 in interest on the country’s loans even before coming to into the world.

Until July 20, 2007 there was a nexus among the armed forces, led by the Pakistan army, the bureaucrats and the judiciary. However, this nexus has invariably opposed civilian government whenever the political forces and peoples’ movements tried to assert themselves. A political class arising from feudal and tribal backgrounds served this nexus to sabotage the fundamental rights of the people and take control of the national resources.

After July 20, however, the judiciary and legal community asserted themselves and won a major victory over military and bureaucratic powers. Even after the struggle of the lawyers led to the restoration of the chief justice, Iftikhar M. Chaudhry, there is a long road ahead to achieve the complete restoration of democracy and fundamental human rights, supremacy of the rule of law, abolition of “black” laws and reforms in the policing system.

Therefore, Pakistan is celebrating Independence Day at a time when there is still strong military rule and in which a general who has ruled the country for eight years after dismissing the civilian government is insisting on another five years in office and the right to wear his military uniform.

Though fundamental rights have been restored with the reinstatement of parliament, these rights are denied by the powerful ruling elite. Policy decisions are made by a group of five-star generals , the Corps Commanders, and the cabinet has little choice but to approve these decisions. The parliament – the National Assembly and Senate – are virtually rubber stamp institutions.

Pakistan is celebrating Independence Day despite the fact that a military operation has been going on since 2001 in the southern province of Balochistan. The army and air force are bombarding the civilian population regularly and have to date killed more than 3000 people, along with several political activists including Akbar Bugti, a former chief minister and tribal leader. More than 5,000 people have been arrested including another former chief minister, Akhter Mengal. Several hundred people are missing after being arrested by state intelligence agencies. The civilian government has no control over the province and Balochistan is controlled by a military installation situated in the province capital. It is the army that has checkpoints on the highways and ensures that natural resources are out of the reach of the local population and even the local government.

Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day at a time when the war on terror has made every citizen a suspected terrorist. In the North West Frontier Province, people are being arrested, disappeared and killed through massive military actions on the pretext of the war on terror. Disappearances after arrest have become common throughout the country. More than 4,000 persons have disappeared or been kept incommunicado, their whereabouts unknown. The state agencies, particularly the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence and military intelligence have the power to arrest without producing anyone before a court of law.

Every city has military cantonments where there are torture cells. Torture in custody is increasing every year. People generally do not report torture because of the threat of police brutality. In 2005 about 1,200 cases of torture were reported. In 2006, 1,319 cases were reported and during the first half of 2007, 1,100 cases have already been reported.

Torture in custody to obtain confessions is now a common practice. However, these are only the reported cases; it is believed that the actual figure is probably twice as high. Sadly, the lower judiciary works in connivance with the police to extract money on the basis of confessional statements. There are cases of torture including one in which the penis of a detainee was severed and in another lime water was poured into a man’s anus. In yet another eight arrested persons were forced to act like dogs and bite each other.

Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day at a time when women do not have equal rights. They are still threatened by the Hadood Law introduced by the former dictator Zia ul-Haq, which makes it difficult and dangerous for a woman to allege rape, among other things. Nothing changed after the introduction of new family law in November 2006 and more than 1,000 women have been victims of honor killing.

The incidence of rape remains high and more than 3,000 cases, including gang rape, have been reported throughout the country. No equal opportunity of employment is provided. Religious violence is endemic and there is a struggle for the creation of a separate Islamic home land. Sectarian violence accounts for more than 500 deaths a year, mainly Shia and Sunni but also those who base their beliefs on the Brelvi and Deobandi schools of thought. Bomb attacks on mosques of different sects are very common.

Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day despite the fact that minorities, who have always claimed equal rights as citizens, do not even have the right to perform their religious duties. They also do not have equal rights in the election process. They number among the highest victims of the blasphemy laws, the use of which has instilled insecurity and fear among the religious minority groups. Christians, Hindus and others are denied equal wages and job opportunities. Even the Ahmedi sect of Islam is denied the right to bury their loved ones in the common graveyard.

Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day with more than half its population living in shantytowns and slums without drinking water, sanitation, access to health care and education. Every year more than one million people are displaced without compensation from their homes or threatened with displacement. Old villages are demolished on the pretext of construction of mega-projects despite the fact that the inhabitants have been living in them for more than a century. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening day by day.

According to the State Bank of Pakistan more than 34 percent of the population is living below the poverty line, whereas independent sources claim that the figure is closer to 42 percent. Prices of essential items are almost 300 percent higher now than in October 1999 when the Pakistan Army took over control of the country. Due to privatisation without transparency, unemployment has increased and the working hours for those fortunate enough to have jobs has increased from eight to twelve hours a day.

The government’s statistics about unemployment are generally believed to be incorrect but there is no way to check. It is because of unemployment and job insecurity that cases of suicide have increased.

It is in this atmosphere that the Pakistani elite is celebrating Independence Day with great enthusiasm. The media is talking more about freedom and independence than it is about the truth of how a nation is being betrayed in the name of nationalism and Islam.

Baseer Naveed is a Senior Researcher on the South Asia Desk at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong