DAWN - Opinion; July 8, 2002

Published July 8, 2002

Controversial milestone on the road map

By Firozuddin Ahmed Faridi

ON August 14 last year 140 million Pakistanis had a “Devolution Plan” from which they have yet to recover. On April 30 this year they were made to suffer the referendum. On June 26 a supraconstitutional 10-member super-authority called the “National Security Council” has been proposed for our good governance.

This council will serve as a consultation forum on:- (a) strategic matters pertaining to the sovereignty, integrity and security of the state; (b) structures, system and state of democracy and governance; (c) removal of the federal or provincial cabinets, dissolution of the National Assembly and the proclamation of emergency.

This idea is, at least, two decades old. Ziaul Haq floated it in the early eighties but could not implement it on account of the suspicions it understandably aroused and the opposition it bitterly encountered. Zia died in 1988 but the idea did not. It remained dormant but always close to the chest, the mind, and the heart of the invisible government. A decade later, in 1998, it was again put on public display with fanfare by Jehangir Karamat. He resigned but the idea still remained on the drawing board, waiting for the right hour. The right hour has struck in 2002 — or so they think.

The idea is said to have been borrowed from the Turkish Constitution, and it would, therefore, be logical to start by quoting, and then analyzing, the relevant article of the Turkish Constitution. Article 118 of the Turkish constitution of October, 18, 1982 reads “the National Security Council is formed under the president, with the prime minister, ministers of defence, interior, foreign affairs, chief of general staff, commanders of the land, air and naval forces and general commander of the gendarmes.”

The Council thus consists of ten members, half being civilians and the other half from the armed forces (we, too, propose to have ten members). The agenda of the meetings of the National Security Council (NSC) is prepared by the president of the Republic, after taking into consideration the proposals of the prime minister and the chief of the general staff. The NSC submits to the Council of Ministers its opinion on the determination and the implementation of the national security policy of the state.

The Turkish army got a role in politics because circumstances forced its young and junior officers to become revolutionaries and lead a people’s revolt against an internal despotic monarchy and wage a people’s war, on land and sea, against formidable foreign foes who then comprised almost the entire Christian Europe. What is the history of the Pakistani army, and its role in the freedom movement?

Before August 14, 1947, the commissioned officers of the army of undivided India were as much the well-paid and obedient servants of their British masters, as the covenanted officers of the civil service of undivided India were. Neither the civil service of Turkey nor that of the undivided India can claim a pride of place or performance in the national struggle against the foreign masters. In fact, if anything, the converse is true. The same applied to the Indian army. However, the same does not apply to the modern Turkish army. It was the people’s army.

After August 14, 1947, both the civil and the military officers in Pakistan became the well-heeled, obedient servants of the forces of status-quo which ruled, and continue to rule, this land of 140 million and 0.8 million square kilometers, under various mandates, labels and guises. The Pakistan army does not have the history of revolutionaries or even of reformers. It cannot play the role of either. There is no parallelism between the Turkish and the Pakistani armies, in this respect.

The second fact worth noting is that the Turkish army, over the decades, has regressed from an open and active involvement in the national politics to a low profile posture, whereas the Pakistani army which, like the Indian Civil Service, was a completely apolitical and professional body, has advanced from a neutral role and a low profile to an open and active involvement in politics, without possessing the formidable and impeccable credentials of the Turkish army which acted as the vanguard of the people’s movement. On this score, what to speak of the absence of parallelism, there is a reversal of roles.

If a supraconstitutional authority is still deemed unavoidable in Pakistan for an indefinite period, in the 21st century, for and in the name of national security, let it be noted that Turkey is not the only model in the world for designing such an “overseer.” Just across our western borders stands the Iranian model having not one but two such supraconstitutional superauthorities. We must also study the Iranian model. As in the case of Turkey, it would be best to quote the relevant article of the Iranian constitution.

Under article 176 of the Iranian Constitution of 1979, as extensively amended a decade later in 1989, the “Supreme Council for “National Security” consists of: the head of the three branches of the government; the officer incharge of the planning and budget affairs; ministers of foreign affairs, interior and information; a minister related with the subject (which comes up on the agenda of the Council); chief of the armed forces; the highest ranking officials from the armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards; and two representatives nominated by the “Rehbar”, i.e., the “Leader” who has a veto power over the decisions of the “Supreme Council for National Security”. The Council has thus fourteen permanent members and one ad-hoc member, 2/3rd being civilians and 1/3rd from the armed forces.

To sum up one learns the following lessons and draws the following conclusions from the above discussion. One, there is neither any historical parallelism between the Turkish and the Pakistani struggle for national independence nor between the evolution, the experience and the traditions of their armies. Pakistan got its independence through a political struggle, under an elder statesman. Turkey defended its independence through an armed struggle, under a young colonel. Two, over the last decades, the Turkish army has been retreating from the political arena whereas, in the last four and a half decades, the once apolitical Pakistani army has been getting involved in Pakistan’s politics.

Three, once a nation decides to appoint a few permanent paid servants of the state as the permanent overseers of the nation’s elected representatives, the process does not stop at such initial appointment of the overseers. The assignment of a political role to the armed forces in the national politics, e.g., through a National Security Council, is just the first step.

When the armed forces take their cosy seats in the National Security Council as the defenders of the “sovereignty, integrity and security” of the state, there are others, not sitting at that table, who genuinely think and strongly feel that they have a better claim to sit at that table. Once the sanctity of the vote and the status of the elected and the democratic government is gone, a bitter political and armed struggle between these contenders begins, within the national frontiers. History has shown a uniform pattern of victory in this struggle.

The greatest lesson of history, however, is that nobody ever learns any lesson from history. People rather tend to learn lessons, after the event, from their own follies, mistakes and experiences. This is, without doubt, the best school of learning but its fee is tragically high. Can we who owe, at least, $36 billion — almost half of our GDP — to others, afford to pay this fantastic fee?

On August 14, 2001, we woke up to find ourselves in a new and neatly-chiselled police and administrative super-structure which is causing considerable and avoidable confusion in everybody’s everyday life. Almost a year has since passed in this confusion. The confusion is being worse confounded everyday. The problem was not with the concept which was good and sound, but in the way it was conceived yesterday and in the hands which are implementing it today, and will implement it tomorrow — and the day after.

As if one super-structure were not enough, we shall now have a supraconstitutional structure called the National Security Council. If it is not too much to ask, though perhaps too late to enquire, have we also thought of the day after?

The writer is a retired additional secretary, government of Pakistan.

Why this march of folly?

By Roedad Khan

AS I read the proposals of the government on the establishment of “sustainable democracy’, I could only shake my head in despair. This administration seems determined to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past military rulers with a vengeance.

Involving the army in politics is bad enough, but formalizing this involvement and incorporating it in the Constitution is an act of folly, a perverse persistence in political adventurism, patently unwise and demonstrably hazardous. Einstein once said that to keep trying the same thing over and over with the expectation of a different result is the definition of insanity. This is exactly what this government is doing.

General Tanvir Naqvi, Chairman, National Reconstruction Bureau, on June 29 said the role of the armed forces in politics was being formalized through the National Security Council. It was, he said, “an open secret that the armed forces played a part in politics and their de facto role was recognized by the politicians as well”. It will be a sad day for Pakistan if this proposal is adopted and incorporated in the Constitution. It will enshrine military rule and dictatorship forever and undermine whatever little faith people still have in democratic institutions. Above all, this is not what Mr. Jinnah envisioned for Pakistan.

On the day of Pakistan’s independence, August 14, 1947, Mr. Jinnah, who had just become governor-general, scolded one young Pakistani army officer. The officer, according to Asghar Khan, had complained that “instead of giving us the opportunity to serve our country in positions where our natural talents and native genius could be used to the greatest advantage, important posts are being entrusted, as had been done in the past, to foreigners. British officers have been appointed to head the three fighting services, and a number of other foreigners are in key senior appointments. This was not our understanding of how Pakistan should be run”.

Mr. Jinnah was deliberate in his answer. He warned the officer concerned “not to forget that the armed forces were the servants of the people and you do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted”.

Months later, during his first and only visit to the Staff College, Quetta, he expressed his alarm at the casual attitude of “one or two very high-ranking officers”. He warned the assembled officers that some of them were not aware of the implications of their oath to Pakistan and promptly read it out to them. And he added: “I should like you to study the constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the constitution of the dominion”. The supreme irony of the event is that the constitution of Pakistan was to be abrogated or suspended by some of the officers present in Mr. Jinnah’s audience.

Years later, General Zia, while addressing a press conference in Tehran, said, “What is the Constitution? It is a booklet with ten or twelve pages. I can tear them up and say that tomorrow we shall live under a different system”. Why did the army get involved in the politics of Pakistan in the first instance? Why did Ayub Khan stab Pakistan’s fledgling democracy in the back? Why was he allowed to commit the original sin? No one can undo the past but why must we persist in this folly?

It is now abundantly clear and it gives me no pleasure to say that whatever the constitutional position, in the final analysis de facto sovereignty in Pakistan (Majestas est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque soluta potestas — that is, ‘highest power over citizens and subjects unrestrained by law, in the words of French jurist Jean Bodin’) resides neither in the electorate nor in the parliament nor in the executive, nor in the judiciary, nor even in the constitution — which has superiority over all the institutions it creates. It resides where the coercive power resides.

In practice, it is the ‘pouvoir occulte’ which is the ultimate authority in the decision-making process in Pakistan. They decide when to abrogate the constitution, when it should be suspended, when elected governments shall be sacked, and when democracy should be given a chance. The political sovereignty of the people is a myth. To apply the adjective ‘sovereign’ to the people in today’s Pakistan is a tragic farce.

But as Rousseau said, “however strong a man is, he is never strong enough to remain master always unless he transforms his might into right and obedience into duty”. This has been the problem of all military dictators of Pakistan. In order to convert their might into right and obedience into duty, they devised devious ways and means. Ayub Khan faced the same dilemma. How was he to acquire legitimacy? He created 80,000 basic democrats. Ziaul Haq held a fraudulent referendum. President Musharraf followed Zia’s example and held a dubious referendum in a bid to acquire legitimacy.

Why make structural changes in the Constitution now? Why open the Pandora’s box? Why follow this tortuous, circuitous, devious road back to nowhere? Why not follow the straight path and restore the unamended 1973 agreed Constitution? Far from detailing a system of checks and balances, the proposed constitutional framework is a veritable time bomb with the fuse box in the custody of the president. Even a cursory examination of the proposed amendments would show that the powers of the president far exceed those normally bestowed upon a ceremonial head of state in a parliamentary system of government.

Before independence the mighty viceroy could be recalled by London on a simple request by the parliament, but the president of Pakistan in the proposed set-up would be practically irremovable. Instead of introducing a presidential form of government based on the American pattern, the military government has ingeniously super-imposed it on a distorted version of the British parliamentary system.

The flirtation with parliamentary democracy and federalism is equally light-hearted. An examination of the statutory powers of the president — whether in relation to the cabinet or the parliament — furnishes proof of the troubles the authors of the amendments have taken to ensure the continued infirmity of the parliamentary government. The prime minister is described as the chief executive, but it is the president who would, in his discretion, appoint and dismiss the cabinet, thus undermining its collective responsibility to the parliament.

The only stipulation against the president’s powers is that he use his ‘discretion’ and appoint as prime minister a member of the National Assembly, not one who ‘commands’ but is ‘most likely to command’ a majority in the house. He will also have the power to remove the cabinet along with the prime minister as its head in exercise of his discretion even if the prime minister commands a majority in the house.

The president will have enormous powers of patronage. All cabinet ministers would be selected by him from among the members of the assembly. The president would have authority to interfere in the working of the cabinet. But nothing in the proposed amendments compels him to act on its advice. In the event of disagreement, the head of state would be sure to win hands down, not least because the prime minister remains in office at the pleasure of the president.

The proposed amendments do not lay down precisely the conditions and the circumstances under which the president could justifiably decide whether or not a prime minister enjoyed the confidence of the National Assembly. A mere stroke of the presidential pen could suffice to make a perfect travesty of parliamentary government.

The president would have the power to appoint all key personnel in the state hierarchy. As the supreme commander of the armed forces, he would select the three service chiefs. The provincial governors would be chosen by him and would exercise powers, identical to his, with respect to the provincial cabinets and assemblies. The president would nominate the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

So, without recourse to the emergency provisions in the Constitution, the president could direct and control the functioning of the entire state apparatus. He could at any time intervene in provincial affairs, disrupt the political process and take charge of the entire administration either directly or through the governors. To put it plainly, the president could arbitrarily suspend the entire political process indefinitely in the provinces as well as at the centre.

Pakistan is again at the crossroads. Fifty-five years after its creation, its quest for a stable political order remains elusive. In the absence of a constitution, the country is, to borrow George Washington’s words, united only by a “rope of sand”. The number of choices that are available to it to determine how it will organize itself politically are fast diminishing. One lesson of our history is that army rule, with or without a civilian facade, is a recipe for disaster; that by itself no army, no matter how strong, has ever rescued a country from social upheaval, internal disorder or prevented its disintegration. Cohabitation — the tortured, ineffectual, coexistence between the president and the executive of conflicting ideological stripes has not been a great success in France. How can it work in Pakistan?

Confrontation would be fraught with dangerous consequences for the very survival of the country. On the other hand, unless the principle of civilian supremacy is accepted, it will never be possible for Pakistan to break out of this vicious cycle of civilian governments followed by military regimes and the country will go on swinging between fake democracy and naked dictatorship, going from one extreme to the other as has been the case throughout our troubled history. Isn’t it time to end the permanent civil war among the people of Pakistan?

Right answer, wrong branch

In explaining his decision to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff wrote that it is “fully foreseeable that in enforcing the death penalty, a meaningful number of innocent people will be executed who otherwise would eventually be able to prove their innocence.

It follows that implementation of the Federal Death Penalty Act . . . deprives innocent people of a significant opportunity to prove their innocence and thereby violates . . . due process.” We could not agree more that having a death penalty nearly guarantees the state-sponsored murder of innocent people. This is intolerable morally, and it should be intolerable legally as well. In his 31-page opinion, Judge Rakoff makes a compelling case that ought to convince reasonable legislators — including those in Congress — that the death penalty needs to go.

There is only one problem with Judge Rakoff’s otherwise impeccable logic, which is that it does not happen to be the logic of the Framers of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

—The Washington Post

The time it takes

By Gwynne Dyer

Back in South Africa, looking for signs of hope again, and having to work even harder than usual.

In the province of KwaZulu, employers have begun limiting the number of times a month their workers can take time off their jobs for funerals: the enormous HIV infection rate is beginning to translate into large numbers of actual AIDS deaths.

More factories are relocating from South Africa to places where the labour laws do not resemble those of pre-Thatcher Britain. Politics at every level is infested with clowns and crooks, and the avalanche of illegal immigrants from all over Africa continues.

A kind of miracle happened when the old apartheid system surrendered without a huge civil war, and the attempt to build a modern, colour-blind democracy on the ruins of that terrible system caught the imagination of the world. But we are most of the way through the first decade of the experiment now, and it’s not looking good.

The worst news is that the economy, the source of the wealth that makes most other changes possible, has averaged less than two percent annual growth since the end of apartheid. That’s slower than most developed countries, and disastrously bad for a developing country. South Africa’s post-apartheid economy is not even creating new jobs fast enough to keep the horrendous unemployment from getting worse.

Disheartening stuff, but on the day I arrived here one of the local papers ran a story about the Russian Duma, which had finally got around to passing a law allowing the private ownership and sale of farmland in Russia — ten and a half years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.. And it suddenly occurred to me: maybe that’s how long it takes.

There were remarkable similarities in the way that non-violent democratic revolutions beat the totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and in South Africa, so different in their ideologies but so alike in their methods. What hadn’t occurred to me until now was that the aftermaths have also been very similar.

The immediate aftermath of democratisation in Russia was deeply disappointing. Living standards dropped and unemployment soared for most of the population. The average annual growth rate for the first post-Communist decade in Russia, even taking into account the recent improvement in the country’s fortunes, is just about one percent. Clowns and crooks took over politics at every level, and violent crime grew so bad that Russia’s murder rate is now exceeded by only one country on Earth — South Africa.

But maybe there is some very painful but unavoidable transitional period after the fall of any long-ruling totalitarian regime. It’s starting to look like that in Russia, where the mere replacement of Boris Yeltsin as president by a sober and serious man like Vladimir Putin has already begun to turn the country’s fortunes around.

Russia is still a country of vast resources, full of talented and well-educated people. As soon as they are given a stable framework within which to live their lives and make their plans, the long climb back can start. Nobody who knows South Africa doubts that the same turn-around could happen here, given the right leadership. But will it?

Things never got as crazy in South Africa as in Russia. Both post-apartheid leaders, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, are serious and competent men. There has been no South African equivalent to Russia’s disgraceful wars in Chechnya, and the economy has just plodded patiently along rather than going through Russia’s soaring booms and spectacular crashes. Nevertheless, the basic patterns of this transitional phase (if that’s what it is) do seem to resemble each other. Why?

Maybe it has to do with post-revolutionary power vacuums, and who’s most prepared to step in. In Russia, the nimbler members of the old Communist elite simply took over the leading roles in the new democratic system. There was no rival elite, because the Communist system had successfully suppressed organised opposition until very near the end, so loose alliances of ex-Communist cronies, combining traditional ruthlessness with capitalist greed, were free to loot the country over the next decade.

In South Africa, unlike Russia, there was an organised opposition ready to fill the vacuum: the African National Congress. But most of its leaders had spent half their lives in exile or in jail, and their ideology and loyalties were decisively shaped by those decades of struggle..

So the South African government’s policies towards business and labour continue to be dominated by the socialist principles of their youth, no matter what that does to the growth and unemployment rates. The borders remain open to a flood of illegal immigrants because the veterans of ‘the struggle’ find it unthinkable to close them to ‘fellow Africans’. They can’t even bring themselves to take the AIDS plague seriously.

They did a fine job of guiding South Africa through a non-violent transition to democracy, but they’re not running it very well. However, they won’t be there forever. They are a TRANSITIONAL political generation, and as in Russia their time in power will come to an end.

That will open up new possibilities for change — and the country’s human and natural resources are still there. It may take some time, but the first ten years after the French Revolution weren’t exactly a success story either. —Copyright

Of wildfires and trust

IN the last 10 months, we’ve become more accustomed to seeing firefighters as heroes. Now, how “gut-wrenching,” as one official put it, to see two of them — a Forest Service worker and an Arizona contract firefighter — accused of igniting two of the summer’s largest, most damaging Western wildfires, destroying hundreds of homes and millions of dollars in property, including timber.

The damage is much greater these days than in generations past because more buildings are near forests, and after decades of fire suppression, poor maintenance and drought there’s much more to burn.

Tons of volatile kindling per acre await a heat source. In frontier times, wildfires were regular occurrences, sometimes set purposely to ease travel, clear land or aid wildlife foraging (and thus hunting). Today’s conflagrations are extraordinary events.

It’s not unprecedented in low-income areas, as idled woodlands often are these days, for wildfires to be set by those seeking seasonal work fighting them. Nor is it unknown for fires to be started by regular firefighters with arson in their hearts.

In recent times, Americans also have seen the occasional nurse who murdered patients; too many priests who violated their calling; greedy corporate chieftains who lied, bilked companies and hid their doings; accountant watchdogs who became lap dogs; inattentive government regulators; stock advisors with financial conflicts. Their motives _ including derangement, revenge, laziness and pure profit _ matter less than the accumulating wounds to collective trust.

Think of the myriad ways we each trust daily _ children and parents, husbands and wives, employee and employer, driver and driver, friend and friend. Now imagine distrust there. Frightening, isolating, weakening.

By next spring, the fires’ nitrogen-rich ashes will nourish a bounty of grasses, wildflowers and seedlings. But nature works on more enduring cycles than humans. It will take 80 or 90 years for this summer’s fire damage to heal. That’s far longer, we hope, than our own recovery from so many seemingly coincidental wounds to our collective human trust.

—Los Angeles Times

Where women feel unsafe

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE recent incident of gang-rape of a young woman in Meerwala (Muzaffargarh) on the orders of a tribal jury is a blot on the nation’s conscience. Tragically, it has many appalling dimensions and it is impossible to express the sense of outrage one feels at something so barbaric which can take place in a country that claims to be civilized.

Pakistan has never had an impressive human rights record. The state itself has emerged as the biggest violator of human dignity and civil freedoms. Society has followed suit. If a person has the ill fortune of having been born to parents from an under-privileged class or caste, he is most likely to be abused by his fellow men as well. The Meerwala case was the outcome of a caste conflict. The victim belonged to the Gujjar clan which is socially regarded to be inferior to the supposedly superior Mastoi tribe.

It is shocking that social conventions and tribal customs continue to be so strong that people in many parts of the country still turn to a panchayat to seek redress for a perceived wrong. What is worse is that in such cases the jirga manages to convene and overrule the law of the land. That is precisely what it amounted to in Meerwala, for isn’t rape a crime under the country’s laws? Drunk with power and driven by a frenzied desire for vendetta, the Mastois were not deterred from the criminal path they took.

It is equally disturbing that it is common practice in many parts of the country to have jirgas operating as a parallel system of justice — to sit in judgment over what should be the prerogative of a court of law. This reflects a lack of faith in the judicial system of the country. In Meerwala the panchayat usurped with impunity the function of the judiciary, as it pronounced and executed a verdict which has shocked the world.

This anomaly is not entirely unexpected in a country marked with legal ambiguities. After all, we have on the statute books laws such as the Hudood Ordinance, the Qisas and Diyat laws and the law of evidence running parallel to the Anglo-Saxon laws. Many of these contradict each other and some militate against the modern concept of the rule of law. In this scenario should we be surprised when panchayats set out to enforce their own primaeval brand of justice? When we accept in principle the duality and overlapping of laws, aberrations such as the one in Meerwala become inevitable. What we are witnessing now is also the virtual collapse of the state machinery in many regions of the country. That such an incident could take place under the nose of the district administration is quite scary. It took more than a week for the misdeeds of the jirga to become public knowledge outside Meerwala. Obviously not all the people of Meerwala would have condoned this action of the panchayat. Yet so traumatized were they by the reign of terror which prevails in these rural backwaters where the feudal and other influential classes keep a firm grip on the community so that it would have to be a brave man to break the veil of collective silence.

In such situations even the state becomes a party to heinous crimes when its functionaries connive with the criminals and provide them protection. That is what happened in Meerwala, where the police registered the gang-rape case after one week and that too under pressure when a hue and cry had begun to be raised. Even after twelve days none of the accused had been caught. Some members of the local administration have been transferred. But do such supposedly punitive measures after an event really make any real difference?

It was only when the human rights groups and women activists learnt of what had happened and gave vent to their sense of outrage that the state machinery began to move. Still one cannot be certain that the perpetrators of this tribal atrocity will be punished to make this an example to deter would-be rapists and illegal jirgas from such reprehensible acts? If we go by the past record, it is likely that the rapists and their patrons will come to their rescue and make it possible for them to escape retribution. As is the norm in Pakistan, their class status will provide them the best protection they could ever seek.

At the root of the problem lies the issue of the status of women in our society. It is plain that 55 years after this country was born it has still failed to accord its female citizens, who constitute about half of its population, the rights and esteem which they deserve as human beings. All the pious announcements from the rooftop and the umpteen commissions on women notwithstanding, the fact is that Pakistan is regressing in its treatment of women.

It is painful to observe that they do not enjoy equal rights and opportunities as men in all walks of life. More distressing is the common perception that women are the property of their men, as well as the guardians of the family honour. This perception is reflected in the widely prevalent concept of chadar aur chaardiwari and is responsible for the growing violence against women. It reduces women to being treated as chattels if not vassals of the male members of their family.

Had it not been so why would anyone have sought to punish a “wrongdoer” (assuming he had done something wrong) by punishing a woman from his family? This betrays a primitive approach which our society has still not outgrown. The details of what actually provoked the entire episode in Meerwala are not known. Some reports speak of the victim’s younger brother having an “illicit affair” with a girl of the “higher” Mastoi tribe. There are other reports which allege that the panchayat was a cover-up for the sexual abuse to which the brother had been subjected.

To a perverted mind the natural course to adopt in an inter-clan quarrel would be to take revenge by gang-raping a woman from the other side. Rape has a horrendous political dimension and has been used by one group as an instrument of control over another. That is why war brutalities are generally accompanied by incidents of mass rapes.

In Pakistan’s context, all this is very disquieting. It is now coming to light that in some areas where tribal customs still prevail it is not uncommon to inflict public punishments on innocent young girls or women as a form of retaliation against their family. The world was shocked by the Nawabpur incident in 1984 when influential landlords had paraded some women naked on the streets to punish the men of a lower class. But we now know that many Nawabpurs are enacted in Pakistan every now and then.

The only positive thing to have emerged from this dreadful episode is the discovery by civil society in Pakistan of its capacity to play a role in changing the status quo. The women’s rights activists and the human rights workers have made a useful contribution to consciousness-raising on important social issues. They are serving as a pressure group vis-a-vis the government on issues of human concern. The Meerwala incident has given them the opportunity to define and focus their strategy and mobilize supporters from all over the world behind their cause.

The Internet is globalizing the women’s movement, and now government leaders have to face a barrage of e-mails in situations where a woman is being victimized. Recently the Nigerian president had to put on hold the verdict of a Nigerian court sentencing Amina Lawal to death by stoning. In Pakistan itself, Zafraan Bibi, who was to meet a similar fate, won reprieve, thanks to the efforts of civil society. Way back in 1981, the case of Fahmida, the first woman to be sentenced to death under the Hudood Ordinances, had led to the birth of the Women’s Action Forum which managed to get the verdict changed.

It is time to move on. Vigilance helps keep a check on such abuses. But we can’t continue living in a society where this cat and mouse game becomes a normal happening. More pre-emptive measures are needed so that such incidents do not take place at all. Moreover, there is need for greater gender balance in the activism for human rights and women’s rights. These should be the concern of men as of women in Pakistan.



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