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Op-Ed: Pakistan’s High Stakes Review — Amjad Mahmood Khan


Much has changed since 2008.  Pakistan can no longer hide behind its own laws or Constitution to justify or sanitize the continuing human rights abuses of its vulnerable religious communities.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit:  Exclusive to Ahmadiyya Times
By Amjad Mahmood Khan | October 29, 2012

On October 30, Pakistan will take the proverbial human rights “hot seat” in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s second ever Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  This unique process mandates that all 193 U.N. Member States submit to an examination of their human rights record once every four years.  In the span of four hours, all U.N. Member States will be afforded the opportunity to ask Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister and UPR designee, questions about Pakistan’s human rights performance since 2008.

Unlike Pakistan’s first UPR session in 2008, which came with little visibility or consequence, this year’s session carries enormous stakes for the fate of Pakistan’s image in the world.  The timing of the human rights session could not come at a more crucial time for Pakistan.  Malala Yousafzai—the 15-year-old Pakistani girl and vocal education crusader who the Pakistani Taliban shot in the head on October 9—remains in critical condition at a U.K. hospital.  The world over, including millions within Pakistan, have treated Malala as a symbol of courage in a nation unable to thwart the Pakistani Taliban’s brutal human rights abuses.  These are the same Taliban that openly planned for months a mass shooting of Ahmadi Muslims in Lahore, made true to their plans and massacred 86 Ahmadi Muslims on May 28, 2010, openly claimed responsibility for the massacre, and yet quickly roamed the streets again without prosecution or punishment.  U.N. Member States will reasonably question why Pakistan repeatedly permits its most dangerous human rights abusers to act with impunity.

But this question is but a tip of the iceberg when it comes to Pakistan’s human rights record since 2008.  Pakistan’s notorious “anti-blasphemy” laws—which religious hardliners have used for over twenty-five years to oppress Pakistan’s vulnerable religious communities, including Ahmadi Muslims, Christians and Hindus—face unprecedented scrutiny after a Muslim cleric framed an 11-year-old mentally disabled Christian girl this past summer for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an.  Despite near universal condemnation of the laws’ deadly grip on innocent religious minorities, prospects of the laws’ repeal or reform are grim.  In 2011, two prominent Pakistani officials and outspoken critics of the laws—Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shehbaz Bhatti—were assassinated in Islamabad just months apart.  Since these assassinations, for fear of their safety, few officials and lawyers within Pakistan are willing to advocate for even the slightest reforms of the laws.  U.N. Member States will reasonably question whether Pakistan can repeal or reform arguably the world’s most lethal laws.

With Pakistan’s elections set to take place in 2013, Pakistan’s apartheid-like voting regime should also be front and center in Geneva.  While all Pakistani citizens currently vote under a joint electoral list, Ahmadi Muslims, with an estimated population of several million, are the only section of the populace that cannot freely vote.  How Pakistan arrived at this tragic reality is worth reflection.

Prior to 1978—when President Zia-ul-Haq declared his intent to abolish the joint electorate system—all Pakistani citizens had an equal vote irrespective of faith.  In 1985, President Zia decreed that the electorate be split so non-Muslims would have to register on separate “non-Muslim” electoral rolls.  Non-Muslim minorities, including Christians and Hindus, could only vote for non-Muslim candidates, comprising only 5 percent of the National Assembly seats.  Apart from disenfranchising non-Muslims who did not want to be segregated in that manner, the decree was specifically targeted against Ahmadi Muslims because it would force them to disavow their Muslim identity by registering as “non-Muslims” on the electoral rolls. Naturally, Ahmadi Muslims, forced into a Hobson’s choice that would require them to declare themselves non-Muslims regardless of which option they chose, have had to sit out national, state and local elections.  On February 27, 2002, President Pervez Musharraf issued Chief Executive’s Order No. 7, which abolished Pakistan’s separate electorate system—an apparent human rights success story.  However, within a matter of months, relenting under the pressure of extremist organizations, President Musharraf amended the order and issued Chief Executive’s Order No. 15, which provided that even though “elections for the members of the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies shall be held on the basis of joint electorate”, the “status of Ahmadis [was] to remain unchanged.”

Thus, unlike any other religious group in Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims remain effectively disenfranchised.  Adding insult to injury, Pakistan enforces this system of religious segregation at the voting booths through voter registration forms, national identity cards and passport application forms that require each individual to list their confessional creed, and anyone wishing to be listed as a Muslim must denounce the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s founder—Mirza Ghulam Ahmad—as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim.  U.N. Member States will reasonably question whether Pakistan can re-enfranchise Ahmadi Muslims by repealing Chief Executive’s Order No. 15 and removing Ahmadi-specific declarations in voter registration forms, national identity and passport application forms.

Much has changed since 2008.  Pakistan can no longer hide behind its own laws or Constitution to justify or sanitize the continuing human rights abuses of its vulnerable religious communities.  On June 23, 2010, Pakistan acceded to the most important human rights covenant in the world—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  More significantly, on June 23, 2011, Pakistan agreed to withdraw several of its reservations to the treaty, including Articles 6, 7, 8, 18 and 19.  In the face of its current international legal obligations under the ICCPR, none of Pakistan’s discriminatory laws and procedures against vulnerable religious communities can withstand legal scrutiny.  Pakistan must immediately redress the ongoing human rights abuses of its vulnerable religious communities or risk continuing egregious and embarrassing international legal violations.  Pakistan’s first step towards rehabilitation is on October 30, and the world will be watching.

NOTE: A slightly modified version of this article was later published in Daily Times, a Pakitani English newspaper, with authors’s permission. The exact link is here … 

————————–
Amjad Mahmood Khan, a practicing lawyer from Los Angeles, is President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Lawyers Association USA.  He can be reached at: amjad@post.harvard.edu.

  — Pakistan’s High Stakes Review
  — Ahmadiyya Times Exclusive
  — By Amjad Mahmood Khan. Follow via Twitter: @waxeloquent

This content-post is archived for backup and to keep archived records of any news Islam Ahmadiyya. The views expressed by the author and source of this news archive do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Ahmadiyya Times.

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