Junaid Qaiser

It is a sad fact that a human rights culture has not developed in Pakistan. Pakistan’s human rights record is generally regarded as poor by domestic and international organizations. These organizations’ reports accuse the Pakistani state of continuing to turn a blind eye to the spread of a culture of gross human rights violations, cruelty and vigilantism.

Following the UN Universal Periodic Review in October 2013, Amnesty International has appealed to the Pakistan government to end the almost complete climate of impunity enjoyed by state and non-state perpetrators of human rights abuses.

Amnesty International  has called on Pakistan to act on recommendations to ensure the protection of religious minorities, to bring to justice those who commit acts of violence in the name of religion and to continue to consider reform or repeal of the blasphemy laws, which are a profound threat to the rule of law and communal harmony. It also urged to take immediate steps regarding a range of human rights issues including reform of the blasphemy laws, progress towards abolishing the death penalty, and ending enforced disappearances. It has also urged the Pakistani government to demonstrate that it is now making a greater effort, to meet its obligations to protect the human rights of all people within its borders, regardless of their ethnic, religious, political opinion, or other status. Pakistan has by and large failed to offer what modern nation states and democracies offer regarding human rights. Here, the non-democratic system bred religious extremism, societal discrimination, anarchy, lawlessness, and lack of respect for human rights.

This article attempts to define and discuss the reasons behind such vulnerable and dented condition and less respect for human rights in Pakistan and extends few recommendations to develop better human rights culture here.

The following factors have impeded development of culture of human rights.

Security and ideological based state narrative:

In the 21st century, Pakistan is still an ideological and security narrative based state and could not become a nation state and a functional democratic country.

From the very begining, Pakistani policy and decision makers had preferred an ideological and security based narrative over the modern democratic philosophy.

Ian Talbot, in his book “Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation” mentions a quote from Gen. Zia ul Haq, saying, “The preservation of Pakistan Ideology and the Islamic character is as important as the security of the country’s geographical boundaries”.

Pakistan’s India-centric approach and dominance of the security establishment over civilian representative institutions resulted in a militarised security state. Three Indo-Pak wars (1948, 1965, and 1971) also strengthened this theory that India is our eternal enemy and we need to focus more on state security rather than human security.

Due to security and ideological based narrative Pakistan’s policy makers invested heavily in Arms and Jihad industry to strengthen national security, but ignored the development of human security which is the core of human rights. Today, human security forms an important part of citizens’ human rights, well-being, and is therefore a main source of national development.

Fragile constitutional and democratic history:

Deep rooted constitutionalism and democratic polity are essential for nurturing a strong human right culture. Pakistan has had a chequered constitutional and political history. After nine years of efforts, Pakistan was successful in framing a first indigenous constitution . The country’s constitutions have been abrogated twice (1958 and 1969) and suspended thrice (1977, 1999 and 2007).

Pakistan is a country which faced martial law several times and the Army generals ruled directly or indirectly through martial laws and for more than half of the age of the country. Military dictatorship fueled religious extremism and terrorism is the by-products of non-democratic governments. The Islamization policies of Generals have really strengthened the Islamist forces and the more puritanical sects. Due to the religious extremism and terrorism the situation of human rights in Pakistan is abysmally alarming.

Here, elected governments have been removed, elected prime ministers and political leaders have been assassinated, overthrown, or exiled. The last government of the Pakistan Peoples Party was the first which complete its given constitutional tenure of five years.

The years of military rule were characterised by gross human rights abuse and repression of political dissent, ban on political activities, no respect for rule of law and civil liberties, censorship on media, dissolution of assemblies and abrogation or suspension of constitutions.

The Islamic State: An Alternative to Democracy:

Here, governments, political parties and other groups always tend to use religion for political purposes. The ruling elite has used religion as a tool to promote their interests. Islamist parties, which originally opposed partition on religious grounds, began to campaign for legislation in line with Islamic law. Pakistan is a diverse Muslim-majority country with a number of distinct ethnicities, religions and Muslim sects, but the ruling elite especially the establishment emphasized only one identity to create national harmony.

As civilian and military leaders have used Islam to gain legitimacy and prolong their rule resulting in creating a theocracy and strengthening the role of non-democratic religious parties and militant groups. Thus setting limits on the scope of parliament also undermine the rights of Non-Muslims and other minority sectarian groups. The policies of Zia’s military regime aggravated Pakistan’s slide into sectarian conflict and confrontation, thousands of innocent citizens especially Shias killed in sectarian violance.

The religious parties and militant groups believed in supra-state identity and are now dreaming of the Global Muslim Umma, which they believe has the right to correct the errant Pakistani state on the basis of their superior Muslim identity. They also believe that all those opposing is against Islam, so they are “Wajib-UL-Qatal” “liable for death”. This dangerous trend limits the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians remained at serious risk of violence and intimidation on the basis of their religious beliefs. There were at least 79 attacks on Shi’a Muslims – the most for any religious group in the country. Religious minorities were disproportionately represented in incidents where private individuals sought to invoke Pakistan’s vaguely formulated blasphemy laws.


Weak political parties and institutions:

The Muslim League, which spearheaded the movement for the emergence of Pakistan, was a weak political party. It had its origin in the provinces where the Muslim minority resided as they faced social and political marginalization. The Muslim League had not completely established itself in the provinces where the Muslims were in the majority, most of the Muslim League leaders became migrants to what was to become Pakistan. As they had no electoral constituency here, so they were reluctant to make constitutional framework and hold free and fair elections.

Dr Maya Tudor, in “The Promise of Power”, has noted that, “The All-India League leadership was not drawn from among its lower ranks in a representative fashion, but simply at the behest of its single charismatic leader. The League also created no second or third tier of party leadership whose career success would be defined by advancement within the party organisation. Indeed, there was no incentive to do so because the Muslim landed aristocracy dominating the League possessed little interest in establishing institutions that shared power with the subordinate social classes that constituted the popular majority.”

Among the major forces which ensure human rights are genuine political parties with mass based support. They represent citizens and play an indispensable role in strengthening human rights culture. But unfortunately Pakistan has been lacking strong, and true grass root level political parties that can can translate various traditions, values and aspects of democracy into a human right culture.

Weak civilian institutions and political parties have generated a huge space for security establishment and religious militant groups to dominate over the political arena.

Imbalance in state institutions:

Since its inception, Pakistan has had weak political and civilian structures, and a strong security establishment.

Due to its checkered political history, frequent changes of government and long military regimes, Pakistan’s people have never fully enjoyed the benefits of democracy and fruits of human rights. Sadly, undemocratic institutions in Pakistan are more powerful than the elected representatives of the people.

Colonial framework and mindset:

Pakistan inherited the Government of India Act of 1935 as its constitutional model–a framework designed by a colonial power to govern a colony that provided for a strong central government, a bureaucracy dominated executive unanswerable to the legislature, and very limited representation with continuation of feudal domination over politics.

Following the colonial constitutional framework and mindset Pakistan’s policy makers reluctant to evolve strong, dynamic and representative political institutions which could ensure human rights.

Feudalism and medieval life style:

Lawrence Friedman writes in his book “the recent rise of human rights discourse around the globe is the product of modernity—in particular the spread of the cultural belief that people are unique individuals entitled to respect and the opportunity to flourish. It is evident that innovation and technology can increase our access to information that improves human rights.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s Social structure is by and large feudal and old fashioned conservative. Here ruling elite has always supported consolidation of feudal structure and medieval life style, so very little space left for contemporary human rights culture.

Human Rights abuses in smaller provinces:

Pakistan is an over centralized modal which is reluctant in transferring most powers to the federating units and still trying to retain all important powers at the central level. Bureaucratic institutions, political parties and security intelligence establishment still have put the emphasis on strengthening the centralized modal.

The smaller provinces’ parties and their leaders have been insisting that the present Constitution of Pakistan is inadequate in meeting the aspirations and to accommodate  fundamental rights. They been accused of arresting and kidnapping political leaders who have demanded more autonomy. Many human-rights activists in Pakistan have protested against force disappearances and kidnappings.

War on Terror:

Pakistan is confronting politico-religious terrorism on a daily basis, besides the issues related to security. The situation is much worse in conflict areas like Khyber Pakhtonkhwa province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where the war on terror is at its peak and Balochistan province where insurgency is going on. Today, it is facing the worst sort of terrorism and extremism threat, as religious extremism, sectarian violence, banned terrorist groups like the Taliban and radical Islamic parties are continually undermining the democratic reforms on which Pakistan’s human rights condition depends.

Discrimination and Misuse of the blasphemy law:

The Objectives Resolution of 1949, has made the religious minorities as second class citizens of the country. The blasphemy laws were legislated and subsequently made stricter to ensure protection to the minorities. But their blatant abuse have shown that even Muslims were becoming victim of these laws. In Pakistan the blasphemy law has often been used for settling personal scores. Many innocent citizens and prominent figures, including Governor Salmaan Taseer, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and lawyer Rashid Rehman, have lost lives because of this issue.


Unfortunately the minorities have not been given full political and civil rights in Pakistan. Under the law no non-Muslim, no matter how intelligent and capable be, can’t become the President and Prime Minister .


Crimes against women:


As many as 500 women and girls are killed for ‘honour’ in Pakistan each year, making Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for women. Human rights groups documented thousands of cases of violence against women and girls across the country with a majority from the most populous province of Punjab. Cases included murders, rapes and incidents of domestic violence. This was likely only a fraction of all incidents given limited reporting of these abuses.

Media under climate of fear and populism:

Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous places to work as a journalist. In recent weeks there was an assassination attempt in Karachi on Hamid Mir, one of the country’s best-known TV anchor. Journalists remained under serious threat from state security forces, armed opposition and other groups, particularly in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, and the north-west tribal areas. At least eight journalists were killed during the year.

Pakistani mainstream media usually provide information on the basis of popular opinion and avoid un-popular point of view as well as ignore citizen centric or human rights issues.

As the the constitution lays down the principles and the procedures through which the role of the state defined. It also lays down the principles that make society and polity democratic and ensure fundamental human rights. So strong constitutionalism and democratic practices are essential for creating a human rights culture. The civil government and the civil society in Pakistan have to be strengthened within by changing discriminatory laws in the Pakistani constitution.

Chapters regarding human rights should be incorporated in the text books at all levels of education to promote and create better human rights culture.