Fragile Democracy and Abuse of Human Rights in Pakistan

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Dr. Zeeshan Haider

Since the unfortunate events that began with the tabling of the vote of no confidence on March 8, 2022, and culminated on May 9 with a confrontation between protestors and security forces, Pakistan has witnessed a significant increase in the curtailment of fundamental human rights. Despite superior courts granting bail, the majority of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) top leadership have defected, while thousands of party supporters have been arrested. Disturbing allegations have also emerged regarding the violation of the sanctity of households and of violence against women. The ruling government of Shahbaz Sharif is openly mulling banning the party. Mr. Imran Khan, who faces dozens of charges including corruption and blasphemy, could be tried by a military court and perhaps accept a long political exile at best.
The state has coerced virtually the entire electronic media into aligning with the official line, effectively stifling any expression of opposing views. In a disconcerting development, two prominent journalists was taken into custody and one of them remains missing despite several production orders issued by the Lahore High Court. Even the orders of the Supreme Court are being disregarded with near impunity, rendering the judiciary increasingly helpless in the face of non-compliance by the executive branch. For the last 25 days, he is at an unknown place. Sadly, another big name Jabran Nasir, a lawyer and an activist, has been kidnapped by unknown persons in Karachi.
The erosion of the rule of law, fundamental human rights, and democracy are occurring at an alarming pace, with dire long-term consequences for Pakistani society and detrimental effects on the economy. As the state suppresses political dissent among the middle class and youth, there is a heightened likelihood of exacerbating a profound sense of injustice and disempowerment. This, in turn, may sow the seeds for a more radical response from underground movements, leading to disastrous consequences for all sections of society, including those who currently benefit from power and privilege. History has repeatedly demonstrated that when political struggles are not accommodated through democratic processes and are forcefully suppressed, militancy rises, and underground leadership emerges. This, in turn, gives birth to multiple sub-conflicts, creating an environment where “conflict” becomes an industry that consumes scarce resources.
The Encyclopedia Britannica on historical dialectics in its entry ‘History as a process of dialectical change: Hegel and Marx’ states: “It was in this sense that Hegel claimed that spirit was at war with itself—it has to overcome itself as its most formidable obstacle.’ In concrete terms, this meant that historical advances did not proceed through a series of smooth transitions. Once the potentialities of a particular society had been realized in the creation of a certain mode of life, its historical role was over; its members became aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly were now experienced as fetters, inhibiting further development and no longer reflecting their deepest aspirations. Thus, each phase of the historical process could be said to contain the seeds of its own destruction and to “negate” itself; the consequence was the emergence of a fresh society, representing another stage in a progression whose final outcome was the formation of a rationally ordered community with which each citizen could consciously identify himself and in which there would therefore no longer exist any sense of alienation or constraint.’”
The quote encapsulates the current condition in Pakistan, where the country stands on the precipice of a historical dialectical transition from an extractive and elite-driven society to one that aspires to governance based on human dignity, equity, and people-centric development. Although those currently facing the full force of the state’s coercive powers may think otherwise, this situation is not unprecedented in Pakistan. One could argue that similar historical processes and a sense of alienation led to the violent birth of Bangladesh. Closer to home, both temporally and geographically, the rise of regional militancy is rooted in the feeling among local populations that their aspirations for political rights and equitable resource distribution are being denied. Notably, these sentiments are now manifesting among the large emerging aspirant class in the heartland of Punjab.
The increasing arbitrariness in governance is now posing a direct challenge to the very foundation of the Constitution, particularly the trichotomy of powers. As a half-empty parliament asserts itself over the judiciary, the foundational protection against authoritarianism through the checks and balances embedded in the constitution is being eroded. Such moves to concentrate power are not only likely to further diminish public confidence in the rule of law but, more worryingly, may undermine the overall social contract in a federation of sub-nationalities. The danger of reverting to ethnic loyalties at the expense of a rule-based order raises the risk of protracted civil strife. A prospect further fueled by an imploding economy.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has become a global menace. It is abysmally governed, violent, unstable, and nuclear-armed. Its undemocratic authorities must, once and for all get out of politics for the stability of the economy and democracy. Undemocratic forces are playing some type of unconstitutional foul game.
However, the nightmare scenario may be averted by achieving consensus on the urgent need for institutionalized stability of a government elected through free and fair elections. No human rights and constitutional rights can be granted to citizens without stable democracy and stable democracy is not possible without free and fair elections. Therefore, on an urgent basis, it is a dire need to drive the country constitutionally by holding elections in Punjab and KP. In the absence of a mandated government, human rights would not be provided to the common masses.