The Pakistani state has organised itself to be authoritarian and abusive. Its relationship with the citizenry is coercive. This is seen in blatant abuse and violence by those who wield power and also through discriminatory legislation.

Because power is always transferred from the military to civilian authorities for brief interludes, there has been little opportunity and less will to change that equation through meaningful devolution of power, greater transparency and accountability, moves towards a non-discriminatory legal framework and institutional checks and balances. Civilian power generally amounts to the capacity to dispense patronage to selected interest groups. The military perpetrates abuse with impunity, including against politicians when it tires of them.

The way out of this begins with reining in the principal human rights abusers — the military and its intelligence agencies, and making clear to these that the social cost of such practices will be excessive. If there is external pressure on the military from its paymasters to adhere to the law, this should be welcomed. Elected governments should be assured security of tenure but subject to accountability through an independent, non partisan judiciary.

I am hopeful that Pakistan is at such a moment where stakeholders realise that the abusive free-for-all is no longer tenable. While the military remains abusive, the government seeks to evade accountability, a section of the judiciary engages in partisan behaviour and upholds discriminatory laws, these institutions are simultaneously seeking to improve themselves. If the democratic process continues, Pakistan can become a more equitable, just and rights-respecting society. But this will not happen painlessly.

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