Influenced by events
As controversial as the coming into power process of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) was, it pales in comparison to the policies is has had to, sometimes reluctantly, institute over its recent tenure. Gross negligence, heavy handedness, nepotism and corruption are frequent allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet, but the situation shouldn’t be seen in Black and White – because it isn’t.
Law and order
An end to the electricity crisis and a restoration of economic stability in the land were the chief slogans of the PML-N election campaign. However, an escalating law and order situation in Pakistan has, since, taken the limelight away from other, contending, issues. Whether it was the ever-worsening situation in Karachi, repeated terrorist attacks in KP and Punjab or the ongoing war for Balochistan – things were certainly not easy for the incumbent Sharif brothers.
A continuing lack of political will or, rather, boldness to take the bulls by the horns has been a trait of not just the PML-N but targets almost all political parties across the spectrum. But it was one incident in particular – the attack on a school in Peshawar – that jolted the army and, consequently, the political elite into some semblance of action.
What followed was a litany of meetings, All Parties Conferences, parliamentary debates and, eventually, the much vaunted Operation. But perhaps the greatest (reluctant?) achievement of the sitting prime minister has been a radical shift away from the old narrative of “misunderstood freedom fighting Taliban” to that of a more rationalised and internationally appreciated narrative of the “Terrorist Taliban”.
Even in Sindh, the PML-N (in league with the local establishment) has had to institute an operation against the mafias and terror cells that inhabited Karachi. According to most Karachi residents, this operation has resulted in a return to normalcy for the city so it is definitely a step that should be appreciated.
However, lifting the moratorium on capital punishment in the wake of the Peshawar school massacre has not been received so well abroad. Even in Pakistan, the timing and selection of inmates sent to the gallows suggested that perhaps the only terrorists in Pakistan were the ones who attached Musharraf at some point in time. Popular opinion in the land, however, sways between outright rejection of the death penalty and begrudging compliance with ‘the greater good’.
All in all – a mixed bag, to be sure. But it must be said that the PML-N government has done more to put a dent in the terrorist machine than its predecessors.
Business is a theme that the Sharif brothers understand, innately. While it is not to say that ever policy enacted by the PML-N government in the sphere of economic rejuvenation has met with acclaim but one must note that they have got the ball rolling again.
Under the PPP government, large industry had all but shut down due to mismanagement, corruption, ineptitude and a general lack of policy implementation; foreign reserves had been eroded significantly, foreign investment was next to nothing. That has changed in recent weeks and months. The deal that has been brokered between China and the PML-N government has done much to heal the broken back of businessmen and workers, alike. Pakistan is, once again, slowly but surely returning to the focus of foreign investment and plans for diminishing the electricity shortfall are encouraging local industry owners to revamp operations.
But there is a dark side to all of this. Much like most “Laissez Faire” models of developing country growth – this Sharif government is also undertaking massive privatisation of national assets. The context of this criticism is the non-transparent (read: corrupt) way in which the same policy was enacted in previous PML-N tenures. Those that hold this opinion say that this not only undermines the rights of the workers in the to-be-privatised units but also degrades national holdings by selling units labelled as ‘sick’ to private investors for peanuts.
Whether it was the ever-worsening situation in Karachi, repeated terrorist attacks in KP and Punjab or the ongoing war for Balochistan – things were certainly not easy for the incumbent Sharif brothers
The prime minister has failed to focus on key areas of socio-economic importance despite promises and commitments during election rallies and during engagement meetings with people from civil society. The PML-N government has failed to set its priorities right. During the current government’s reign, there has been no improvement on issues that concern a common citizen. Almost half of Pakistan’s population continues to dwell below the poverty line and the unemployment rate lingers below six percent.
In the words of political economist Mobeen Ahmed Chughtai, the bottom line is despite (valid) criticism; the PML-N (either due to timing or actual effort) has pulled off a miracle in the darkest times of the country’s history – its deal with China that ensures investment in Pakistan. Will the plans on paper translate into actual improvement in living conditions for poor citizens?
Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that one.
YouTube ban and cyber crime laws
Before the elections when PML-N was in the opposition, current IT Minister Anusha Rahman was the champion on internet freedom and assured the nation several times to unblock YouTube and it will be the first priority of ministry of information technology, if PML-N wins the general elections.
After the elections it went on the contrary, YouTube is still blocked, hundreds of other websites are blocked without giving any valid reason justification and legitimate authority which was responsible to decide which content should be banned was restrained by Islamabad High Court.
PML-N’s government has been working on cyber-crime bill for the last two years, without the inclusion of digital rights organisations and experts working on the same issue. However, in a few meetings on cyber-crime draft businesses and IT industry was involved.
In the words of Digital Rights Activist, Nighat Dad, “IT Ministry brought almost four drafts till now and the recent one which was leaked in April was not even the one which was consulted with the businesses and IT industry and made under National Action Plan which is even more dangerous.”
In a recent development, NGOs were included in the IT standing committee meeting, to give their input and as a result a sub-committee was established by the chairperson of the committee, so let’s see how this new development will help in making of comprehensive and civil liberties friendly cyber-crime laws.
With regards to basic human rights, the country has witnessed distressing new lows. From targeted killing of religious minorities to increased cases of violence against women and diminishing avenues for freedom of expression. The government has failed to deliver at all human rights fronts.
According to a report published by Reat Network in collaboration with South Asia Partnership Pakistan titled ‘Political Parties Pledges and Realities: An Analysis of the Manifestos of Political Parties on Rights of Minorities in Pakistan’, “When Pakistan was founded in 1947, its secular founding fathers wanted to create a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, not as Islamic State. ”
“Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah clearly declared that non-Muslims would be equal citizens in the new country. But Pakistan’s trajectory after independence has been very different. ”
“At the time of partition in 1947, almost 23 percent of Pakistan’s population comprised non-Muslim citizens. Today, according to official figures, the proportion of non-Muslims has declined to approximately three percent.
“The religious minorities do not endorse this figure and claim their population is about six percent. According to the report the distinctions among Muslim denominations have also become far more accentuated over the years. Muslim groups such as the Shias who account for approximately 23-25 percent of Pakistan’s Muslim population, Ahmadis who have been declared non-Muslim by the writ of state, and Non-Muslim minorities such as Christians, Hindus and Sikhs have been the targets of suicide bomb attacks on their neighbourhoods, had community members converted against their will, and had their houses of worship attacked and bombed while they were inhabited by worshippers.”
Violence against women
According to data compiled by Aurat Foundation, 1363 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab during the first quarter of 2015 in which 1463 women were victimised during 2014, the numbers of cases of violence against women were 7010 in which 7548 women were victimised.
Whereas in 2013, 5815 cases of violence against women were reported in which 6216 women were victimised. The above mentioned figures clearly state the need to introduce protection of women against violence bill on war footing but unlike Sindh, Balochistan and Federal government, which has passed such legislations, Punjab Assembly has referred the bill to a Standing Committee of Social Welfare to analyse and further review it.
Civil society is deeply concerned that this legislation emphasises the improvement and strengthening of shelter homes, rather than criminalising the act of violence within a household.
PML-N’s government in Punjab must incorporate the following recommendations in the proposed Punjab Women Protection against Violence Act 2015.
The issue of domestic violence is not between persons only but also a crime against the state. There is no prescribed punishment for domestic violence.
It is true that Pakistan Penal Code covers some of offences against human body as a crime but as it is evident from the thousands of domestic violence cases, the police considers it a private matter and does not take action under criminal law.
The prime minister has failed to focus on key areas of socio-economic importance despite promises and commitments during election rallies and during engagement meetings with people from civil society
The proposed protection law does not consider various forms of physical and non-physical domestic violence as crime.
Definitions of domestic relation, emotional, physical, economic abuse, stalking and cyber-crime are not defined in Act Section 2 (r).
A dependent child is a child below the age of 12, if a women has girl child above that age; she is not dealt in this Act Section 2 (e).
The time period for court to decide the complaint, within 90 days, should reduce to 30 days Section 4) (4).
Some significant measures were also taken by the PML-N’s government after coming into power at the federal level; the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2014, the Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape Act, 2014, and the Anti-Rape Laws Act 2014, was passed by the Senate and is now required to be passed by the National Assembly. Notably, the ministry of law, justice and human rights has also set up a 24-hour helpline for women in distress, to lodge complaints with women police operators (State of Human Rights in 2014 by HRCP).
In Punjab, the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) was set up in 2014, and consistently provided input on 30 policies and laws, including on rape and honour killing related laws, human rights action plan and family law amendments. On February 26, 2015, the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Bill, 2015 was passed by the Provincial Assembly. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the first province to have a Provincial Commission, now has 11 District Commissions on the Status of Women notified on 19 September 2014.
Further, the minimum age of marriage has been raised to 18 years for girls and boys through the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013. Following suit, Punjab merely introduced procedural measures to counter early-age marriage, rather than raising the minimum age itself.
While some of the aforementioned measures are progressive and aim to reduce the incidence of violence against women, there still remain an overwhelmingly high number of women who are victimised across Pakistan. In 2014, 923 women and 82 minor girls fell victim to “honour” killings (State of Human Rights in 2014, HRCP)
Little progress has been made on the implementation of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act of 2011. In Punjab, there are only three women police stations out of a total of 709; one women police station each in District Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad.
In Sindh, the Women Development Department has set up Women Complaint Cells in five out of 24 districts of the province, providing legal, medical, and other assistance to women in need. There are 65 Women Desks in the 205 Police stations in KP. A donor-funded initiative “Aitbaar” set up 3 of the 4 helpdesks in Peshawar and plans to establish 4 more in police stations at Naushera, Mardan, Charsadda and Swabi.
However, there is only one women’s police station, where cases cannot be filed due to absence of jurisdiction. In Balochistan, a Women Complaint Cell is only present in one police station in the provincial capital, while the remaining 110 provincial police stations provide no such mechanism.
Operation of dar-ul-amans, the key rehabilitative structure provided by the state for victims of violence, is abysmal. There are currently only 44 government run DuAs for a population of approximately 90 million women and girls: 35 in Punjab, 4 in Sindh, 4 in KP and 1 in Balochistan.