May 29, 2023

Where does the opposition stand on human rights?

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led opposition alliance might feel they are on the verge of dislodging the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government through the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, but those invested in the state of human rights in the country aren’t exactly optimistic about the potential turn of events. And here’s why.

There are three major parties in the opposition alliance, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). And like most of the political parties in Pakistan, be it on the traditional right or left, this alliance stands nowhere on human rights. 

Let’s discuss PPP first; the party which has been at the forefront of left and liberal faction of the society, and has claimed to be the leading proponent of democracy in the country. The party’s stronghold is Sindh, rather interior Sindh, from where it has been winning the majority of seats for years. 

Interior Sindh hosts the majority of the local Hindu population and their plight remains unaddressed for decades. There have been forced conversions, abductions, and killings of Hindu girls going on years. And critics argue that PPP hasn’t done much about it. 

A recent incident is the brutal killing of 18-year-old, Pooja Kumari, in Rohri, Sindh. She was killed after a failed abduction attempt by some ‘influential people’. Commenting on the incident, Hindu MNA of Pakistani parliament, Lal Chand said: “Yet another teenage girl Pooja Kumari has been brutally murdered as she resisted an abduction and forced conversion attempt in Rohri, Sindh. [Pooja] hats off to your courage and strength. Sindh government is continuously failing to protect minorities. “

According to one report by Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), which quoted former Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Amarnath Motumal, “20 or more Hindu girls are abducted every month in Pakistan, especially in Sindh.” 

Meanwhile, another report by Gandhara Radio, estimates that “as many as 1,000 girls and young women may be forcibly converted each year, primarily from Pakistan’s Hindu community.” 

And then critics point to the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsood by the hands of SSP Rao Anwar, whom PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari called a “brave kid” after the killing of Mehsud in an alleged police encounter. That murder led to establishment of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which is still fighting for the rights and plight of the Pashtuns nationwide.

If we come to the PML-N, critics point to the Model Town killings by Punjab police. 14 men and women, two of whom were pregnant, were killed by police after a clash between protestors and police outside Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chairman Tahirul Qadri’s home. Justice is still awaited. 

And then there is JUI-F, and analysts point to two rather recent incidents. First, the party clearly opposed domestic violence bill and its head Fazlur Rehman stated: “We are in favour of ending domestic violence, but that bill is aimed at destroying family life and promoting Western culture and values rather than Islamic ones.” 

The second, more recent one, is when the JUI-F threated to stop Aurat March with batons and sticks. “If any attempts are made for obscenity on March 8 in Islamabad, we will condemn it,” said Abdul Majeed Hazarvi, the chief of JUI-F’s Islamabad wing, adding that “obscenity has spread in name of women’s rights.”

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