Freedom in the World 2004


Having consolidated his hold on power through a dubious referendum that extended his term as president, as well as a series of constitutional amendments that cemented the future role of the military in governance, General Pervez Musharraf held flawed elections in October 2002, and a new parliament and prime minister were in place by the end of the year. Nevertheless, despite the return to nominal civilian rule, the military continued to wield control over Pakistan's government. The new parliament did not effectively function for much of 2003 because of a protracted standoff between the general and the political opposition over the legality of his amendments, and the judiciary remained subservient to the executive. Facing continued pressure from Islamist groups as well as the secular political opposition, the regime appeared to grow less tolerant of criticism from journalists and human rights activists as the year progressed. The increased influence of Islamist parties in government, coupled with their stated aim of "Islamizing" society, remains a concern and will prevent meaningful progress on human rights issues, particularly legalized discrimination against women and religious minorities.

Pakistan came into existence as a Muslim homeland with the partition of British India in 1947. Following a nine-month civil war, East Pakistan achieved independence in 1971 as the new state of Bangladesh. Deposing civilian governments at will, the army has directly or indirectly ruled Pakistan for 29 of its 56 years of independence. As part of his efforts to consolidate power, the military dictator General Zia ul-Haq amended the constitution in 1985 to allow the president to dismiss elected governments. After Zia's death in 1988, successive presidents cited corruption and abuse of power in sacking elected governments headed by Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in 1990 and 1996, and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in 1993.

After the PML and its allies decisively won the 1997 elections, Sharif largely ignored Pakistan's pressing economic and social problems while undermining every institution capable of challenging him. This included repealing the president's constitutional power to dismiss governments, forcing the resignations of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and of an army chief, and cracking down on the press. After Indian troops bested Pakistani forces that had made incursions into Indian-held Kashmir, Sharif was blamed by the army for agreeing to a hasty withdrawal. When he attempted to reshuffle the army's leadership, he was deposed in October 1999 in a bloodless coup. Army chief Musharraf then appointed himself "chief executive," declared a state of emergency, and issued a Provisional Constitution Order suspending parliament, the provincial assemblies, and the constitution. In December 2000, 18 of Pakistan's political parties, including archrivals PML and PPP, joined to form the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), an umbrella group calling for an end to military rule. However, Musharraf was able to successfully neutralize Sharif and Bhutto, his primary political opponents, through a combination of court convictions and exile.

While successfully managing to curtail the activities of the political opposition, Musharraf has been less willing to rein in Islamic fundamentalist groups. Although several groups have been banned since September 2001, when Musharraf pledged to support the United States in its war on terrorism, and hundreds of activists have been periodically arrested, the groups continue to function under new names and their leaders have not been prosecuted. Heightened tensions with neighboring India over the disputed territory of Kashmir during 2002 led to growing international pressure on Musharraf to crack down on the militant groups responsible for incursions into Kashmir and suicide attacks within India. However, the increased political presence in the new parliament of religious parties with ties to radical madrasas (religious schools) and militant groups suggests that the influence of the Islamists will continue to be strong. In June 2003, the provincial assembly in the North-West Frontier Province passed a bill that declared Sharia (Islamic law) the supreme law of the province and empowered the government to Islamize the economy, the legal system, and education.

Musharraf's primary aim since gaining power has been to ensure a dominant role for the military after Pakistan made the nominal transition back to democratic rule. Constitutional amendments proposed in mid-2002 gave him in his role as president effective control over parliament and restricted the ability of opposition parties to contest the elections. The regime also openly promoted pro-government political parties, such as the newly formed Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q). In elections held in October 2002, no single party won a majority of seats; the PML-Q won 126 seats, while the PPP won 81 and the PML, 19. A coalition of five religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), performed unexpectedly strongly, winning 63 seats in the national parliament and a majority of seats in two provinces. After over a month of wrangling among the three largest parties, the PML-Q was able to muster enough support from independents and deserters from the other main parties to form a government, and Musharraf's nominee, Mir Zafrullah Jamali, became prime minister in November. The PML-Q consolidated its position by winning a majority of seats in elections to the Senate held in February 2003.

Parliament remained deadlocked throughout most of 2003, with the main opposition parties insisting that Musharraf rescind his amendments and relinquish his position as army chief if he wished to continue as president. Both the MMA and the ARD opposed Musharraf's power grab and vociferously criticized his policies. However, while Musharraf remained unwilling to confront the religious parties, the secular opposition faced continued pressure from intelligence agencies. In October, Javed Hashmi, the leader of the ARD alliance, was arrested and charged with treason after he publicly criticized the army.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Despite the election of a civilian National Assembly in October 2002, the Pakistani military, headed by General Pervez Musharraf, continues to wield effective control over the structures of government. The 1973 constitution provided for a lower National Assembly, which is directly elected for a five-year term, and a Senate, whose members are appointed by the four provincial assemblies for six-year terms. The constitution also vested executive power in a prime minister, who must be Muslim, and authorized an electoral college to choose a largely ceremonial president. Shortly after the coup, Musharraf suspended the provincial and national assemblies. In 2001, he declared himself president, and in April 2002 extended his term as president by five years with a rigged referendum. In preparation for national elections (the Supreme Court had mandated that they be held by October 2002), Musharraf further strengthened the powers of the presidency and formalized the military's role in governance. The Legal Framework Order (LFO) gives him the right to unilaterally dismiss the national and provincial parliaments, as well as establishes a National Security Council dominated by military figures that would supervise the work of the civilian cabinet.

The LFO also restricts the right of individuals to stand for elected office, by introducing provisions that disqualify criminal convicts, defaulters on loans and utility bills, and candidates without a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. Other rules restrict political parties in their choice of leadership. Some of these measures were explicitly aimed at preventing former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from contesting the 2002 elections. Although the government lifted the long-standing ban on political rallies shortly before the elections, significant restrictions remained in place, and the ability of opposition parties to mount effective campaigns was circumscribed. In its statement on the elections, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that governmental machinery had been used to intimidate opposition candidates. The European Union Election Observation Mission expressed concern about the degree of impartiality of the Election Commission, the ability of political parties and candidates to campaign effectively, the partisan misuse of state resources by public authorities, equality of access to the state media, the accuracy of voter lists, and last-minute alterations in the electoral system. Their report concluded that there had been "serious flaws" in the electoral process.

Pakistan's government operates with limited transparency and accountability. Over the past four years, military officers have assumed an increasing role in governance through "army monitoring teams" that oversee the functioning of many civilian administrative departments. The army now has a stake in continuing to influence both commercial and political decision-making processes, as well as maintaining its traditional dominance over foreign policy and security issues. During 2003, because of the continuing standoff between Musharraf and opposition parties who refused to accept the provisions of the LFO, the parliament effectively did not function and the government continued to rule by decree.

On the positive side, women and minorities now have enhanced representation in the parliament. After repeated complaints by religious minorities, the government abolished the system of separate electorates in January 2002, enabling them to vote alongside Muslims and thus participate more fully in the political system. In addition, 10 seats in the reconstituted National Assembly were reserved for minorities and 60 were reserved for women.

Corruption is pervasive at almost all levels of politics and government; Transparency International's 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Pakistan in a tie for 92nd place out of a total of 133 countries. Although Musharraf has publicly stated that eliminating official corruption is a priority, the National Anti-Corruption Strategy approved in October 2002 focuses on politicians, civil servants, and businessmen, while virtually ignoring the military and security personnel.

The constitution and other laws authorize the government to curb freedom of speech on subjects including the constitution, the armed forces, the judiciary, and religion. Blasphemy laws have also been used to suppress the media; in July, a subeditor at the Frontier Post was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to life in prison. Islamic fundamentalists and thugs hired by feudal landlords continue to harass journalists and attack newspaper offices, and unidentified assailants murdered one Sindhi journalist in October. On several occasions, police or security forces also subjected journalists to physical attacks or arbitrary arrest. While journalists practice some self-censorship, Pakistan continues to have some of the most outspoken newspapers in South Asia. However, military authorities used increasingly aggressive tactics in 2003 to silence critical journalists, according to Human Rights Watch, which documented several cases of independent journalists being pressured to resign from prominent publications or being arrested on charges of sedition and tortured while in custody. The Web site of an online newspaper established by editor Shaheen Sehbai, who remains in exile, was blocked by Pakistani telecommunications authorities in May. Although restrictions on the ownership of broadcast media were eased in late 2002, most electronic media are state owned and follow the government line.

Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and there are numerous restrictions on religious freedom. Section 295-C of the penal code mandates the death sentence for defiling the name of the prophet Muhammad. Human rights groups say that instances of Muslims bribing low-ranking police officials to file false blasphemy charges against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and occasionally other Muslims have been increasing sharply in recent years. Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims, but the constitution classifies them as a non-Muslim minority and the penal code prohibits Ahmadi religious practice. According to the U.S. State Department, as of October 2003, there were 67 blasphemy cases pending in the courts. To date, appeals courts have overturned all blasphemy convictions, but suspects are generally forced to spend lengthy periods in prison, where they are subject to ill-treatment, and they continue to be targeted by religious extremists after they are released. Religious minorities also face unofficial economic and societal discrimination and are occasionally subjected to violence and harassment. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom designated Pakistan as a country of particular concern for the first time in 2002, citing the failure of the government to protect minorities from sectarian violence as well as discriminatory legislation, which created a climate of "religious intolerance."

The government generally does not restrict academic freedom. However, student groups, some of whom have ties to radical Islamist organizations, violently attack or otherwise intimidate students, teachers, and administrators at some universities, which contributes to a climate of intolerance.

After initially permitting some demonstrations, the military government banned all public political meetings, strikes, and rallies in March 2000. Following the ban, authorities have forcibly dispersed some protests and arrested activists to prevent other demonstrations. Some Islamist leaders have been held under house arrest or in preventative detention under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance, which allows for three months' detention without trial. Laws governing sedition, public order, and terrorism have been used to raid party offices and detain political activists and leaders in Punjab and Sindh. The military regime generally tolerates the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). However, government officials detained a regional coordinator for the independent HRCP in March. In recent years, Islamic fundamentalists have issued death threats against prominent human rights defenders and against female NGO activists who work in rural areas.

Despite legislation outlawing bonded labor and canceling enslaving debts, illegal bonded labor continues to be widespread. Trade unions are independent. The law restricts the right to strike, and workers in certain essential industries face restrictions on bargaining collectively and generally cannot hold strikes. The enforcement of child labor laws continues to be inadequate.

The judiciary consists of civil and criminal courts and a special Sharia (Islamic law) court for certain offenses. Lower courts remain plagued by corruption; intimidation by local officials, powerful individuals, and Islamic extremists; and heavy backlogs that lead to lengthy pretrial detentions. The military regime undermined the Supreme Court's reputation for independence in January 2000, when it ordered all high-ranking judges to swear to uphold the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf. When the chief justice and a number of other judges refused, they were replaced. Since then, the courts have rejected subsequent challenges to the legality of military rule. During 2003, the courts' refusal to overturn the LFO led to a showdown between the judiciary and members of the legal profession, who boycotted court proceedings and released a white paper to the media that criticized the judiciary's lack of independence.

Other parts of the judicial system, such as the antiterrorism courts, operate with limited due process rights. A November 1999 ordinance vested broad powers of arrest, investigation, and prosecution in a new National Accountability Bureau and established special courts to try corruption cases. Musharraf has used both to prosecute rival politicians and officials from previous civilian governments. The Sharia court enforces the 1979 Hudood Ordinances, which criminalize nonmarital rape, extramarital sex, and several alcohol, gambling, and property offenses, and provide for Koranic punishments, including death by stoning for adultery, as well as jail terms and fines. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 210,000 cases are currently being processed under the ordinances. In part because of strict evidentiary standards, authorities have never carried out the Koranic punishments. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are under a separate legal system, the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which authorizes tribal leaders to administer justice according to Sharia and tribal custom. Feudal landlords and tribal elders throughout Pakistan continue to adjudicate some disputes and impose punishment in unsanctioned parallel courts called jirgas. A 2002 report issued by Amnesty International raised concerns that the jirgas abuse a range of human rights and are particularly discriminatory toward women.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that police continue to routinely engage in crime; use excessive force in ordinary situations; arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens; extort money from prisoners and their families; accept money to register cases on false charges; rape female detainees and prisoners; commit extrajudicial killings; and torture detainees, often to extract confessions. Political opponents, former government officials, and other critics of the regime are particularly at risk of arbitrary arrest or abduction, torture, and denial of basic due process rights at the hands of military authorities, according to Human Rights Watch. Prison conditions continue to be extremely poor. A report issued in November by Amnesty International noted that the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of 2000 remains largely unimplemented and several thousand children continue to be jailed alongside adults.

Violence among rival factions of the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which represents Urdu-speaking migrants from India, and between the police and the MQM, killed several thousand people in the 1990s, but has abated in recent years, although harassment of their activists continues. Press reports indicate that there may be as many as 200,000 armed militants currently active in Pakistan. Sunni and Shia fundamentalist groups continue to engage in tit-for-tat killings, mainly in Punjab and Karachi. An attack on a Shia mosque in Baluchistan in July 2003 left 54 worshippers dead and dozens wounded, and Shia professionals in Karachi, including a large number of doctors, continue to be targeted. Perhaps in retaliation, Azam Tariq, a member of parliament and leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni extremist group, was murdered by unknown assailants in October. The South Asia Terrorism Portal has estimated that just over 100 people were killed in sectarian violence in 2003, a slight decrease from the previous year.

A combination of traditional norms and weak law enforcement continue to contribute to rape, domestic violence, acid attacks, and other forms of abuse against women. Although less frequently than in the past, women are still charged under the Hudood Ordinances with adultery or other sexual misconduct arising from rape cases or alleged extramarital affairs, and 20,000 are currently estimated to be in prison as a result of being wrongfully charged. The threat of being charged with adultery may prevent some women from reporting rape. The government-appointed National Commission on the Status of Women recommended in August that the ordinances be repealed, but because of the influence of Islamist parties in parliament, the suggestion is unlikely to be acted on. According to the HRCP, at least 450 women were killed by family members in so-called honor killings in 2003. Usually committed by a male relative of the victim, honor killings punish women who supposedly bring dishonor to the family. Authorities generally do not aggressively prosecute and convict the perpetrators of violence against women. Pakistani women face unofficial discrimination in educational and employment opportunities.

2004 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)