The European Parliament has recently, through a resolution, criticised Pakistan’s ‘alarming rate of executions’ as well as the appalling human rights situation in the country. Pakistan’s response as usual has been one of defiance. Our Attorney General Mr Ashtar Ausaf Ali linked this resolution to India’s attempt to hurt the standing of Pakistan in the international community in order to get Kulbhushan Jadhav off the hook.
Mr Attorney General should know that no one hurts Pakistan’s standing in the international community quite like Pakistan itself. Not only are there as many as 27 different offenses for which Pakistan has the maximum punishment but it is also the discriminatory way in which the law is implemented in this country that is a legitimate reason for the international community to be wary of Pakistan. For those of us who heard the European parliamentary debate on this issue would know that the focus was on the continuing misuse of the blasphemy law in the country. The MEPs spoke at great length about the recent conviction of Mr Taimoor Raza with the sentence of death by an anti-terrorism court for blasphemy. Mr Raza to my knowledge is the first Shia Muslim to be sentenced to death for apparently expressing his religious opinion, which was equated with blasphemy. What this means for the fragile sectarian relations in Pakistan is something that our policy makers should consider seriously.
At some point we have to decide whether we want to be a nation known for its humane and sophisticated laws which promote public interest — the kind of nation Jinnah would have been proud of — or do we wish to be a nation known for crazed fanatics, angry mobs, violence and persecution of minorities?
Pakistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is our ratification of the ICCPR that got us the GSP Plus status that has seen our exports grow to 6.2 Billion Euros. Now with the European Parliament’s resolution, all of this in jeopardy and rightly so! Many of Pakistan’s laws stand in sheer violation to the ICCPR. These include 295 B, 295 C, 298 B and 298 C of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 as well as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016. These laws are irreconcilable with Pakistan’s commitments under the ICCPR. Sooner or later the European Union will also conclude this. Then we will lose our GSP Plus status, which will be a major loss for the Pakistani businessmen who were thriving under it.
Economic interest, though paramount, is not the only thing at stake here. Do we really want to be seen by the world as a narrowminded and fanatical nation that executes people for having an opinion different from the majority, because that is precisely what we are charged with. And to imagine that this country calls Jinnah its founding father, Jinnah who always stood for civil liberties and the freedom of speech above all else. Perhaps one day Pakistanis would discover his great contributions as a legislator and a lawyer to the causes such as that of Horniman and Tilak which made him truly great and, as one of Gandhi’s grandsons called him recently in an article, bhoyshunno (fearless in Bengali) advocate of freedom of speech and liberty. To think that we call this man our founding father and yet trample upon the very civil liberties he fought for during British Raj is to me the greatest disservice to his memory. No wonder on his deathbed Jinnah had the gravest doubts about Pakistan. He had called it the greatest blunder of his life. We realise his doubts every day by persecuting minorities and women in this country.
The legal fraternity, supposedly champions of these rights, prove themselves to be the most dogged opponents of the very fundamental rights and Pakistan’s international commitments to uphold human rights. Need I remind the reader of what happened a couple of months ago, when members of Ahmadi community filed a complaint with PEMRA against hate speech spewed against them by a certain TV anchor. A mob of lawyers under the leadership of the High Court Bar Association in Lahore attacked the PEMRA office in Cantonment area no less and forced PEMRA to dismiss the complaints. The complainants, as much Pakistani citizens as you or I, had to be escorted out by the police. No legal or constitutional arguments were put forth as self styled senior advocates started abusing respected figures like Dr. Mehdi Hassan. What could PEMRA do except what it did? So how wrong is the European Parliament in characterizing Pakistan as a place where minorities are persecuted by both state and society? After all it is not India, which is making Pakistanis act the way they do?
At some point we have to decide — very soon — whether we want to be a nation of humane and sophisticated laws which promote public interest, the kind of nation Jinnah would have been proud of, or do we wish to be a nation known for crazed fanatics, angry mobs, violence and persecution of minorities? And if we cannot do it because it is the right thing to do, then at least do it for economics. The world will not tolerate or do business with a nation that tramples upon humanity on a daily basis. Time to wake up.
The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at hhtp://globallegalforum.blogspot.com and his twitter handle is @therealylh