HRCP sees risk to basic rights and constitution

Press Release, February 18

Lahore: Commenting on the Peshawar announcement of February 17, regarding the enforcement of the Shariah law in the Malakand Division, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern at the absence of any guarantees against transgression of the constitution and the people’s basic rights. “Both of these – the basic law and the fundamental rights – have apparently been exposed to a grave risk”, the commission has said in the following statement issued here today.

Even after making due allowance for the need for peace and appreciating the problems faced by the Frontier government and the security forces, it is not possible to overlook the threat the Peshawar accord on the enforcement of Shariah in the Malakand Division poses to the constitution and the people’s fundamental rights. HRCP is convinced that the country’s basic law and the rights of the people both have been placed at a grave risk. The plan to enforce what is described as Shariah without any assurance that all the local judges charged with enforcing it will be equal to the task or capable of arriving at a single interpretation of the scriptures could condemn the people, especially women, non-Muslims and smaller Muslim sects, to irremediable excesses.

Since the Malakand Division consists of five districts besides Swat, the population involved is by no means small and there is no guarantee that other territories in the Frontier province and beyond its boundaries will not be affected.

HRCP acknowledges the principle and value of a dialogue but it is essential to be sure of the other party’s bona fides, credibility and capacity to honour its commitments. No dialogue is possible with a party that seeks to impose its fiat at gunpoint.

The ordinary citizens’ desire for speedy and inexpensive justice is understandable but it is the state’s duty to save them from falling for a regime that may save them some time and a few pennies but all this at the cost of justice, particularly in an area where feudal / tribal norms are often equated with divine injunctions.

HRCP shares the grief and anxieties of the people of Swat and other parts of the Malakand division over their losses in life and property and the hardships caused to poor wage-earners and students. It should like to hope that under the proposed arrangement they will not be made to suffer more than what they have already undergone. The nation must find ways of demonstrating better solidarity with them than has so far been evident.

Without doubting at the moment the motives of the Frontier government it seems necessary to point out the huge responsibility to protect democracy, the constitution and fundamental rights it has assumed and that its success or failure will determine the future of not only its own province but the whole of Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir


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