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US urged to persuade Pakistan to respect human rights
By Khalid Hassan
WASHINGTON: Several experts have urged the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to maintain pressure on Pakistan on human rights issues.
The Commission monitors the observance of freedom of conscience and belief in other countries and makes recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State and Congress. During a hearing - ‘The United States and Pakistan: navigating a complex relationship’ — on June 30, the Commission heard testimony from former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Karl Inderfurth; Husain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the University of Boston, Christine Fair of the United States Institute of Peace and Daniele Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.
The four witnesses agreed on the need for greater US pressure over human rights and democratisation issues but did not support any sanctions, saying sanctions would be counter-productive. “The Bush administration should temper its praise of General Musharraf for cooperating in the war against terrorism with criticism of his conduct in domestic politics,” one witness told the Commission.
The Commission chairperson, Preeta D Bansal, said that Commission members were not satisfied with Pakistan’s human rights record and had recommended the naming of Pakistan as a “country of particular concern (CPC)” for violations of religious freedom. To date, the US State Department has not designated Pakistan a CPC, obviously to avoid friction with a critical US ally.
Inderfurth praised Pakistan’s improved economic performance and the peace process with India, while stressing the need for progress in the area of Pakistan’s adherence to the universal principles of human rights. He said that it is in America’s interest to stay engaged with Pakistan and that US-Pakistan relations are better now than they have been in many years. According to Inderfurth, US criticism of the Musharraf government should be in private conversations with Pakistani officials as public criticism would hurt Pakistan’s national pride.
Ms Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute told the Commission that the US needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the global war against terrorism, which limits the State Department’s options in dealing with General Musharraf. However, she added that Pakistan should not be “allowed to have it both ways” and claimed that Pakistan had continuously sided with violators of human rights in the United Nations instead of supporting the United States.
Haqqani presented a 30-page written statement outlining the history of religious tolerance and moderation in Pakistan. His recent book ‘Pakistan between Mosque and Military’ was also cited by the Commission’s chairperson as an important new research source about developments in Pakistan. The Pakistani academic and journalist told the Commission that Pakistan was created as “a non-sectarian state that would protect religious freedoms and provide the Muslims of South Asia an opportunity to live in a country where they constituted a majority.” He said, “Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a Shia Muslim. Its first law minister was a Hindu. Its foreign minister belonged to the Ahmadiyya community.” He blaming the lack of adherence to constitutionalism for Pakistan’s descent into sectarian violence, militarism and religious fanaticism. He said the United States had provided Pakistan with $339 million for each year Pakistan had been under military rule since 1954, whereas US aid had totalled only $156 million for every year of civilian ascendancy. “US aid should not bolster the Pakistani military’s control over civilian institutions,” Haqqani argued, calling for US engagement with Pakistan to reflect a relationship with Pakistan’s people and their representatives instead of encouraging militarism, which he described as the main instigator of religious intolerance.
Haqqani said that ideally Pakistan’s political issues should be settled within Pakistan but if US assistance strengthens a regime violating citizens’ rights, then countervailing influence on behalf of Pakistani civil society was also needed. He cited the recent Mukhtaran Mai case and said that General Musharraf had reversed his decision banning Mukhtaran Mai’s travel outside of Pakistan after a call by US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. “The US Secretary of State would never have called on behalf of Mukhtaran Mai if New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof had not drawn attention to her case in the influential American newspaper,” he observed.
He also proposed “more public US engagement with opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif” to indicate America’s concern about democracy in Pakistan because the civilian façade introduced by General Musharraf had failed so far to generate a popular political leadership.