Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Congressional Human Rights Caucus holds briefing on Pakistan

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) held a briefing Friday on the human rights situation in Pakistan. Expert witnesses included T. Kumar, from Amnesty International; Tom Malinowski, from Human Rights Watch; Mohammad Akram Sheikh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan; and Jennifer Leonard, from the International Crisis Group.

Convening the discussion, CHRC Director Hans Hogrefe emphasized the importance of holding the briefing in order to examine the current developments within the larger context of the situation regarding Pakistan. He said that “all these things are extremely, extremely troubling,” and it is necessary to urge Pakistan to return to a democratic process that respects the rule of law.

The United States’s relationship with Pakistan was discussed by all of the witnesses, and many suggestions were made regarding what the U.S. should do next. Pakistan, one of the United States allies, is “The only country that can make a difference at this point,” according to Kumar. He added that the U.S. should send a clear message that the actions of suspending the judiciary and constitution will not be accepted.

The development of a relationship with the people of Pakistan was suggested as an important change needed in American foreign policy. Malinowski said that the U.S. has been too preoccupied with who was ruling in Pakistan rather than developing the democratic institutions in the government. He suggested that the U.S. push for a restoration of the country’s governmental institutions, such as the judiciary and constitution, which are necessary for establishing a legitimate government and protecting Pakistan’s citizens.

U.S. interests were also a focus of the discussion. The United States’s relationship with Pakistan has been based on fighting terrorism, however, according to Malinowski, “Musharraf has done more to destabilize Pakistan than al-Qaeda could ever dream of.” Leonard also mentioned that while lawyers and human rights activists were being jailed, approximately 20 militants were released. She said that this shows a contrast in priorities, and a fear of secular groups rather than extremist ones. Malinowski added that while lawyers, judges, and human rights activists were being detained, Pakistan was not going after members of al-Qaeda. Episodes like these cause the people of Pakistan to become more cynical, making it harder for the U.S. to do what it needs to do, he said.

The recent statement by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte that Musharraf is an “indispensable” ally was decried as a mistake by the witnesses. According to Sheikh, Washington’s allegiance to Musharraf makes it harder to work with the Pakistani people, and strengthens Musharraf’s power. Sheikh said that in this way, Musharraf was holding Pakistani society hostage. Malinowski expanded on this statement, saying the U.S. has been unable to push Pakistan due to the fact the U.S. needs Musharraf for a problem Pakistan “helped sustain and create.” Sheikh suggested that the solution was to isolate Musharraf from his country’s institutions, thereby stripping him of his power.

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