THE country`s main human rights watchdog has confirmed what was widely believed to be the case – that Pakistan had a dismal track record in terms of rights violations in 2010.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan`s latest annual report paints a bleak picture. It does point to some positive developments last year, such as the passage of sexual harassment laws, the weakened hold of the Taliban in Swat and the fact the Supreme Court issued notices to intelligence agencies` heads regarding missing persons. But among its detailed reporting on rights violations that Pakistanis have lived with for many years, two particularly disturbing conclusions could be drawn: first, that militancy and political violence took thousands of lives. And second, that last year was an especially dangerous one for religious minorities.
According to the HRCP, over 2,500 people were killed in terrorist attacks, including almost 1,160 in suicide attacks, and nearly 960 were killed in US drone strikes. Add to this the targeted killings – according to the organisation, they claimed over 500 lives in Karachi and almost 120 in Balochistan. Even if these numbers are based on newspaper reports and can be disputed, especially given the difficulty of counting casualties in conflict-ridden areas, they are alarming on an order-of-magnitude basis. Without including routine murders or the lethal use of force by police, the toll from political violence alone is deeply disturbing. Pakistan was a truly lawless state in 2010, where terrorists wreaked havoc and political parties and security and intelligence agencies appeared to back, or at least turned a blind eye to, the killings of political rivals.
Another particularly alarming claim of the report is that the year marked worsening conditions for religious minorities in Pakistan, who suffered at the hands of a culture of faith-based discrimination. Ninety-nine Ahmadis, for example, lost their lives, including 86 on a single day in Lahore. Nor was violence limited to non-Muslims; over 400 appeared to have died in sectarian attacks, including some on Sufi shrines. The blasphemy laws became a flashpoint but remained untouched by the government: three accused were killed in police custody, and even disagreeing with the law became reason to murder politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. The rise in religious intolerance is a development that should give serious pause to those tasked with protecting Pakistani lives. But governments have for too long ignored reports by credible organisations such as the HRCP, and one fears that this one will meet the same fate. If the government of the day truly wishes to leave a mark, it should begin by treating this report as the wake-up call that it is.