Interview: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

February 1, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

At a time of intense uncertainty in Pakistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) gave us their view on the ongoing crisis.

What has the situation been like on the ground? What can you tell us about the atmosphere and ordinary peoples’ reaction to the events of the past week? Is there still rioting?

HRCP: The situation on the ground is quite unstable. The election campaign is in low key. Wherever it picks up reports of violence emerge. The general atmosphere is of fear. We do not know if the people will come out to vote. There is also frustration among the people as widespread agitation against government has not been able to create any dents.

Has your organization experienced any difficulties?

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has not materially altered the situation so far as our work is concerned. We were having difficulties in operating in areas such as Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the government is using troops to fight militants.

Who do you think is responsible? Do you believe it is the same group who are responsible for the suicide attacks on Bhutto’s motorcade on October 18th?

We do not know who was responsible for the Oct. 18 incident. That attack and the Dec. 27 attack could have been carried out by the same group. But we are not sure which group it was. The safest guess is that the people behind the attack on Benazir were not happy with the prospect of a government opposed to the militancy. The suspects in order of priority are: the ISI-CIA alliance; the ISI-militants coalition; or, religious militants acting alone.

What are the wider implications of this event?

The wider ramifications of the event are that the right wing pressure on Pervaiz Musharraf has increased and he may be obliged to seek accommodation with the militants. The State can also lean further on the side of theocracy.

How have the media in Pakistan covered it?

Extensively, and in some cases they have overdone it.

A British team from Scotland Yard is going to be sent to Pakistan to help the inquiry. What are your comments on this?

The visit by the Scotland Yard team is good as far as it goes, but apparently it does not go very far.

Her widower and others, including your organization, have called for a wider inquiry, perhaps including the UN. Do you think this is likely to go ahead?

We have called for a UN inquiry into Benazir’s assassination, as have several other NGOs, although we are not very hopeful of that happening.

Do you think this event indicates a larger, bolder presence of terrorists in Pakistan and the region?

Yes, obviously. It is also confirmed by what is happening in the northern areas of Pakistan. The former interior minister, Aftab Sherpao, himself targeted in two suicide bombings in 2007, said yesterday that Pakistan’s policy on Taliban is failing and gave a grim assessment of the situation in Pakistan in general. He talked about the risk of “total Talibanization” of the North-West Frontier Province.

What are the implications for security in the region?

Security is difficult. But obviously, it’s not as bad as to cut off Pakistan from the rest of the world.

There have been disputed accounts about the cause of Bhutto’s death; the PPP say it was gunshot wound to the neck, while the interior ministry claims she injured her head inside her armoured car dodging the bullets. This has sparked discussions of a cover up or a sidestep of responsibility in terms of her personal security. What are your comments on this?

Official security arrangements for Benazir were not satisfactory. Hosing down the crime scene within hours, not conducting a post mortem, and the government claims ,before subsequent withdrawal, that she died after hitting her vehicle’s sunroof lever did not inspire confidence in the government. Government’s negligence and incompetence, if nothing else, was all too obvious.

The election has been postponed until February 18th due to violence and damage caused to election buildings. What do you think the results will be on February 18th and how do you think they will be influenced by this tragic event?

We cannot predict the outcome of the elections, but their fairness has been widely and consistently questioned. The security situation makes electioneering difficult and the voter turnout, which has been steadily decreasing with each election might be very low on account of the atmosphere of fear. The caretaker interior minister stated two days ago that politicians’ lives were in grave danger.

Do you think the elections will be fair?

We have serious doubts.

Do you think someone will be able to fill her shoes in terms of her charisma and commitment to human rights and democracy?

It would be difficult.

What is the future for democracy in Pakistan? How has this event affected it? What do you think needs to be done to improve the situation, and what role can organizations such as yours play?

Democracy in Pakistan is still far away. We are trying to persuade political parties to be firmer in their defence of democracy and explore the possibility of united elections.

What’s next for the PPP? And for Musharraf?

The PPP will go through a difficult period of reorganization, but for a couple of years it has been saved from breaking apart. As for Musharraf, he is enjoying a charmed life and losing his cool. But at the moment, he is apparently firmly in the saddle.

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This post was written by Alexa Van Sickle

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