The truth about us
WE have this young girl, still in her teens, who has shown the courage to stand up for high ideals that this country must honour to survive and prosper. And we have this young lady who represents the political elite and the ruling class of this country. One is living the human rights situation and the other is articulating it for the benefit of the outside world.
So, who do you think would better project an image of Pakistan that inspires hope, Malala Yousafzai or Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar? This, perhaps, is a rhetorical question. We know where Malala is, struggling bravely to regain her health and resume her mission. As for Hina Rabbani Khar, she was in Geneva on Tuesday to make a presentation on the human rights situation in Pakistan at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (HRC).
The idea is not to denigrate Hina in any manner. She was doing her job, representing the government of Pakistan. Her assignment, surely, is to paint a pretty portrait of Pakistan. Perhaps she did the best she could. In some ways, her presence in itself would make a statement. After all, she had scored high points simply with her appearance when she first went to India in July last year, with her Hermes Birken bag and Roberto Cavalli shades. One Indian newspaper called her “a weapon of mass distraction”.
It worked with India but hawking official perceptions about the human rights situation around the world is something else. The problem here is that the world is likely to be already well aware of the ground realities in Pakistan. In fact, when someone like Hina becomes Pakistan’s face, there is bound to be more confusion and bewilderment about a country that is manifestly in great distress.
Be that as it may, it should be worthwhile to take a serious look at the human rights situation in Pakistan at a time when impending elections should oblige our political parties to offer their prescriptions to set things right and protect the honour and the aspirations of the people. Any pragmatic plan to empower the powerless and to improve social order and justice would have to contend with the present reality of our existence.
A very pertinent reference in this regard would be the annual State of Human Rights reports compiled, with professional expertise, by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). By and large, the world looks at these reports as the mirror of Pakistan’s human rights situation. Hence, it would have been prudent on the part of the government, for the sake of making its perceptions more credible, to remain somewhat in sync with these and other reports prepared by national and international defenders of human rights.
Did this happen? One detailed report on Hina’s presentation in an English daily had this headline: “Khar paints rosy picture of human rights in Pakistan”. One explanation for this stratagem would be that Pakistan is a candidate for the November 12 election to HRC. That is why the foreign minister herself led the delegation to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held in Geneva. Incidentally, the HRCP had arranged a live screening of Pakistan’s UPR proceedings at its secretariat in Lahore. It was otherwise available online on the UN website. Still, the Pakistani media, not unexpectedly, did not seem very interested in covering an event that was surely more newsworthy than much of the political gib- berish that daily figures in headlines. This, actually, is something that has undermined the evolution of democratic values in Pakistan. Not enough attention is paid to studying and analysing a society that is visibly in a state of ferment.
One measure of the impression that Hina’s presentation may have made can be judged from the Reuters report that said: “Pakistan, plagued by Islamist militancy, sectarian violence and frequent disasters that push its people deeper into poverty, told the United Nations it is a democratic and progressive state working to protect human rights”. The international news agency noted that some western countries countered Hina’s assertions by saying that in Pakistan religious minorities were persecuted, that dissent was often brutally suppressed by the army, and that little was done to tackle human trafficking. However, while some western countries do not see Pakistan as a suitable candidate for the HRC, there is little they can do “to head off a clear majority vote for it in the UN General Assembly on Nov 12”.It is good that Hina highlighted the Malala incident and praised the young social activist’s courage and passion for promoting education. This was projected as a reflection of Pakistan’s resolve to combat militancy and terrorism. There is no doubt that Malala’s is the face that Pakistan should be proud of and she has touched the conscience of the world.
Unfortunately, the government has not been able to take advantage of a decisive incentive for a shift in its policy towards the Taliban and religious militancy. Somehow, the religious lobbies have succeeded in diluting the outrage that had swelled against religious militancy and in obfuscating the entire issue.