When former Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal
became the leader of her
Pakistan People’s Party,
following her assassination, he
told the crowds that ‘My mother
always said democracy is the
best revenge’. Yet, despite the
fact parliamentary elections are
now scheduled for February 18,
Amnesty International sensed a
general mood of hopelessness
during a recent visit to the
country. ‘Pakistan is lost’ was a
refrain heard in many places.
INDEPENDENT THINKING ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
PAKISTAN AND THE RULE OF LAW
SECRETARY GENERAL, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
EOPLE FEEL DEJECTED ABOUT THE CURRENT
political landscape. On the one hand, even
Benazir Bhutto’s die-hard critics, including
those in the human rights community, came
to see her as the country’s best chance for
positive change. True, they recognise her
many ﬂaws, including an unimpressive human rights record
during her previous terms in of±ce, but believed she was older
and wiser and things would have been different.
On the other hand, there is a fear that the government will
resort to harassment, intimidation and vote-rigging to remain
in power. Not that ±xing election results is anything new in
Pakistan. But this time around, any aggrieved parties will be
able to do little about it, given that elections are supervised by
judicial of±cers accountable to the Election Commission – ‘in
cahoots with the executive’ – and ultimately to the superior
judiciary hand-picked by General Pervez Musharraf.
Even if the elections are free and fair, people believe that
there is not much a new parliament can do as long as the
independent judiciary is not restored, the changes Musharraf
made to the constitution are not reversed, and the west
‘continues to meddle’.
Although the present situation is grim, there is a clear
path out of it – if only the Pakistani establishment
displayed the will and courage to do what is right for the
country rather than think only of its narrow interests and
permanence in power.
Almost a year ago, there were signs that some were
indeed moving in that direction. Chief Justice Iftikhar
Chaudhry departed from the Pakistani tradition of
judicial compliance with the executive and challenged the
disappearances linked to the ‘war’ on terror.
When Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice – in
breach of the United Nations Principles for the Independence
of the Judiciary – thousands of people, led by judges and
senior lawyers, went onto the streets in protest. The Supreme
Court ruled in favour of his reinstatement and Musharraf
had to back down.