Contributing to a think tank discussion on the future of Pakistan in December 2011, Stephen Cohen articulated two main sets of projections for Pakistan. He named the first set of scenarios ‘muddling through the crises’, and the second, a ‘serial transformation’ (of the political-economic systems and governance).
According to Cohen, the first scenario can have two different manifestations. The ‘muddling through’ might involve more passive dealing with negative and violent expressions which Ahmad Rashid warned of in his book ‘Descent into Chaos’ (2009). On the other hand, the ‘muddling through’ can be more about maximizing the positive energies as aspired and projected by Maleeha Lodhi in her work in ‘Pakistan: Beyond the Crises State’ (2011). As painful or helpful, accurate or fuzzy, as they might be, the projections are meant to invite thoughtful attention to the choices at hand.
The ‘serial transformation’ would be a sane choice, but it also means taking charge and responsibility of the state of affairs by the people and the government of Pakistan. The choice for transformation must also accompany another set of choices in the area of governance and policy. This choice must help reduce risk of violence and overhead expenditures in the given context. Normatively speaking, the country will have to refine and reaffirm the choices of the broader principles of equality, non-discrimination, justice, non-violence and adopting austerity. These ideals are also widely articulated and practiced in the “human rights approach” in the contemporary world.
Thanks to Pakistan’s vibrant civil society, the elements for reforms have been spelt out by various individuals and organizations, though in pieces. In some respect, it might be good to continue and build on the reforms in process, such as the institutionalization of political system. While still in difficult phase of the democratic transitions, we have inched towards some important structural reforms such as recognizing rights of Gilgit-Baltistan, and provincial autonomy. These reforms were primarily in the area of civil and political rights with an expected trickle-down effect in the area of economic rights.
The reforms through 18th constitutional amendment did not fully deliver because the implementation of devolution of power to the provinces did not take effect in full form. Operating in an environment of lack of trust and lack of civil society input, the constitutional review process was marred by bottlenecks and the government failed to appoint a body to supervise the devolution of ministries from the federal to the provincial level. This left a serious gap. The federal government should lose no time in coming to a consensus with the provinces for appointing a robust implementing body for the devolution of power.
There is no doubt that Pakistan needs broad based reforms in major areas, but the reforms concerning human rights need minimal resources but would yield far reaching results in the form of national cohesion, confidence in the system and overhauling of governance practices. Therefore, reforms in this respect will have transformational value and effect. I have the following suggestions in this regard.
[quote]The federal government does not have ministries for human rights, women’s development and minority affairs[/quote]
The 18th amendment scaled down the number of federal ministries, and now the federal government does not have the important ministries for human rights, women’s development and minority affairs. A fissure has been created because the federal government is still responsible for implementation and reporting of commitments made under international human rights treaties. Consequently, our international reporting is dependent on Foreign Office officials or the contract consultants. This may not be the best arrangement considering their areas of competence, but it can be considered a lack of commitment on the part of the government.
If we had a federal ministry designated and empowered to interact internally and externally on the above mentioned areas of major importance, it would not only create a good impression but also help improved governance and delivery on issues of human rights. While provincial autonomy is necessary, a meaningful policy input on human rights at federal level cannot be ignored.
In order to bridge this fissure, the federal government together with the Council of Common Interests should develop a mechanism of interagency coordination with a role not less than an advisor to the prime minister. This will also require empowerment of and adding dynamism to the ministries for human rights, women’s development and minority affairs at the provincial level.
Also, together with Council of Common Interests, the federal government should make a human rights policy as early as possible. It is not only necessary for global relations and maintaining economic opportunities such as GSP plus trade facility with the European Union, but also essential for moving in the right direction in internal affairs.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission envisioned in the famous Charter of Democracy (2006) also needs attention. The whole truth might be disturbing in this phase of transition, but the importance of transitional justice (reconciliation) cannot be ignored in dealing with the issues of targeted killings, disappearances, victims of terror attacks, etc. A wide range of issues can be tackled using the remedy reparation approach however, and the nation would be able reconcile only when they know the causes of the historical and systematic injustice. Its traumas can be healed through a trustworthy institutional mechanism of reparations and brining the culprits to justice, though according to the standards of transitional justice, and not a revengeful justice.
Finally, the parliament has passed a law for constituting a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) since 2013. The government will do itself and the country a huge service by establishing a credible and impartial NHRC. It must understand that a mere cell in the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs is no substitute to a functional system for human rights protection. If the conventional system were sufficient, the world would not need expansive human rights protection and delivery institutions. That is why around 100 countries have made transformations of their societies possible either through truth and reconciliation commissions, or national human rights commissions, or other institutions such as equal opportunity commissions.
Steps like further devolution of power through local body elections and holding a credible and accurate census are also overdue. Every citizen of Pakistan needs to be empowered to overcome the immediate challenges of extremism, violation of law, and economic hardships. Their confidence in the system will be a means of support to the government.
The world may be watching us from various perspectives and interests, and the perceptions about Pakistan may be right or wrong, but the question is, are we watching our own steps and moving in the direction of building a solid, rights-based democracy?
Peter Jacob is a human rights activist and studies International Human Rights Law and Public Policy at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana