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US report raises questions about governance in Pakistan

Updated March 15, 2019

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Report notes sectarian violence "decreased significantly" in 2018 but attacks continue. — Dawn/File
Report notes sectarian violence "decreased significantly" in 2018 but attacks continue. — Dawn/File

WASHINGTON: The annual US report on human rights in Pakistan raises basic questions about the country’s political structure, alleging that security agencies have an undue influence over the electoral process and governance.

“The military and intelligence services in Pakistan nominally reported to civilian authorities but essentially operated without effective civilian oversight,” says the US State Department’s 2018 report on the human rights situation in Pakistan.

“There was a lack of government accountability, and abuses often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among the perpetrators, whether official or unofficial. Authorities seldom punished government officials for human rights abuses,” the report added.

The report noted that “sectarian violence decreased significantly across the country” in 2018, although some attacks continued. Targeted killings of religious minorities also continued.

The report includes a detailed analysis of the 2018 elections, pointing out that independent observers noted “technical improvements in the Election Commission of Pakistan’s management of the polling process itself”. But the observers also raised “concerns about pre-election interference by military and intelligence agencies that created an uneven electoral playing field”.

The report noted that there were no restrictions on political parties participating in the 2018 elections, with the exception of those prohibited due to terrorist affiliations.

“Security agencies, however, used pressure tactics — including threats of prosecution for corruption — to convince politicians associated with the former ruling party, PML-N, to switch affiliations prior to general elections,” the report alleged.

Organisations that monitor press freedom reported “direct pressure on media outlets to avoid content regarding possible military influence over judicial proceedings against politicians and to refrain from reporting on PML-N leaders in a positive way”.

Internet freedom: Since 2012, the government practices nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that is deemed un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. Laws gave the government sweeping powers to censor content on the internet and were used for the continued clampdown on civil society.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019