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Pakistan continued its slide into economic chaos in 1998. The decision in May to answer India’s five nuclear tests with six of Pakistan’s own was widely condemned and triggered sanctions from the U.S., Japan and a number of European countries that helped push the economy into a near-collapse. The announcement in September that Pakistan would sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was expected to lead to a lifting of those sanctions. In the aftermath of the tests, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared a state of emergency and attempted to suspend all fundamental rights but was checked by the Supreme Court. Human rights were otherwise completely absent from the government’s agenda; instead, as sectarian clashes worsened in the course of the year and renewed violence threatened to break out between the ethnically based opposition parties and the government in Karachi, Prime Minister Sharif proposed legislation to further strengthen the powers of the executive in the name of bringing Pakistan’s constitution into conformity with Islamic law. The bill passed the National Assembly on October 9 but was expected to face major opposition in the Senate.

Despite the economic crisis, Pakistan continued to intervene in two conflicts on its borders, in Afghanistan and Kashmir. In Afghanistan, Pakistan provided substantial financial and military support for the Taliban movement, backing an August offensive that consolidated the militia’s hold on much of northern Afghanistan. In Kashmir, an escalation in cross-border exchanges between Indian and Pakistani troops along the territory’s cease-fire line led to more than one hundred civilian deaths on both sides in July and August.

Human Rights Developments
As the Pakistan government focused on security concerns from outside, little effort was expended to prevent the human rights violations stemming from threats within its borders. In May the Supreme Court struck down a number of provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), a controversial law granting police expanded powers of arrest that was introduced in 1997. However, little action was taken to stem custodial violence by the police, while threats against judges and members of the press further eroded the independence of Pakistan’s few democratic institutions. The country’s “blasphemy laws,” which have strengthened criminal penalties for offenses against Islam, continued to serve as tools of religious persecution. In May, a prominent human rights activist committed suicide as an act of protest against the laws.

The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met for talks at the annual meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) but failed to lay the groundwork for progress on issues of bilateral concern. In September, a government spokesman acknowledged for the first time that Kashmiri militants frequently crossed the cease-fire line seeking refuge in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities claimed that an April 26 attack on a village in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir was carried out by Indian commandos in retaliation for massacres of Hindu civilians on the Indian side. There was no independent confirmation of the charge.

In Karachi, an upsurge in fighting between the Immigrants’ National Movement (Mohajir Qaumi Movement, or MQM), a group representing Urdu-speaking migrants who left India in 1947, and the United National Movement (Muttahida Qaumi Movement), a group that split from the MQM, left more than 700 dead, 300 in the months of June and July alone. It was the highest number of killings since 1995. On August 12, unidentified gunmen shot four Mohajir men, including one sixteen-year-old, who was the only one to survive. Later that evening nine Muttahida activists, ranging in age from fifteen to twenty-two, were killed and five were injured by unknown gunmen. In apparent retaliation, the next day two Mohajir activists were forced off a public bus before being shot, and two vehicles were burned on the streets. Despite the fact that until September the Muttahida formed part of the governing national coalition headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML), some of the attacks were believed to have been perpetrated either with official participation or at least the acquiescence of various government agencies. In September, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement quit Sharif’s coalition. After four of its activists were killed on October 5, the group called a strike that sparked widespread rioting in Karachi.

On July 17, unidentified gunmen in Karachi shot dead Salim Reza, vice-president of the militant Sunni Tehrik Pakistan (STP). Two days later, Abdul Wahid Qadri, leader of a breakaway faction of the STP, was assassinated. On September 26 a prominent Shi’aleader, Safar Ali Bangash, and his son were assassinated. But sectarian violence was by no means restricted to Karachi during the year, as the conflict between extremist Sunni and Shi’a groups continued in Punjab. The killing of twenty-two Sunnis in Mominpura graveyard in Lahore in January set the stage for the continuing hostilities between the two factions and began a chain of attacks and counterattacks that left 300 dead by the end of May. No one was arrested for any of the killings. On August 11, Shi’i militant Mehram Ali, convicted under the ATA of a January 1997 Lahore court bombing, was executed. In the face of other government inaction, the execution served to confirm fears among the Shi’a minority that it would be singled out for punishment.

In May the Supreme Court ordered the government to amend the ATA to bring it into conformity with constitutionally guaranteed protections by granting higher courts the power to hear appeals from the anti-terrorism courts and by eliminating provisions granting police special powers to search private residences, obtain confessions by duress, and shoot without first being fired upon. At this writing, the government was preparing to introduce a revised version of the ATA. While acknowledging the constitutional infirmities of the ATA as originally drafted, however, the court’s ruling did not apply retroactively to cases already decided under the ATA, including many that have resulted in death sentences.

Hours after May’s nuclear tests, the Sharif government imposed a state of emergency and sweepingly suspended fundamental rights. However, in response to petitions challenging the legality of the move, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the constitution did not permit the government to suspend all fundamental rights and noted that certain rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom from slavery, could never be suspended. The government then responded with a modified order that permitted the government to make preventive arrests without providing cause and suspended the rights to property and equal protection.

Police torture continued and, with rare exceptions, few official steps were taken to curb it.Violent protests following the custodial killing of a fourteen-year-old boy in Mansehra, in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and the police crackdown that followed drew attention to the pervasive problem of torture in police custody. The boy, Ghulam Jilani, was pronounced dead on May 12 in a Mansehra hospital, where police had taken him hours after arresting him on theft charges. In a first information report filed immediately after Jilani’s hospitalization, the police alleged that Jilani had tried to hang himself. According to the autopsy report, however, he died of head injuries. In the riots that followed, mobs attacked the local office of the PML, other government offices, and private businesses. On May 13, police and paramilitary rangers exchanged fire with armed demonstrators, resulting in two official casualties (five by unofficial accounts), as well as over one hundred injuries. A heavy deployment of police, rangers, and the Frontier Constabulary quelled the protests by May 15. In the riots’ immediate aftermath, Muhammad Nawaz, the head constable of the Mansehra police station, was arrested on murder charges. At the same time, the NWFP government established a tribunal of inquiry into Jilani’s death, headed by District and Sessions Judge Syed Yahya Zahid Gilani. As of August, the tribunal’s findings had not been made public.

In Punjab, the summary execution of a suspect in an alleged “encounter” with police came to light after a local doctor refused to take the victims’ bodies into the morgue, in part because the doctor doubted the officers’story. Shortly after the facts became known, the fourteen officers were promoted by the Punjab chief minister.

Ahmadis and Christians continued to be persecuted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In April a Christian man, Ayub Masih, was sentenced to death for speaking favorably of author Salman Rushdie during a dispute with a Muslim villager. During Masih’s hearing, one of the complainants, Mohammad Akram, shot and wounded Masih in the courtroom; despite eyewitness testimony by family members, the police refused to register their complaint against Akram. Based solely on the statements of the complainants, the court handed down a death sentence against Masih on April 27. Protesting the sentence, Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, a longtime activist for religious minorities, shot himself on May 6. It was widely believed that Masih’s accusers hoped to drive the Christian family from their village and gain control over the family’s land. Although Pakistan’s Minister for Law and Justice Khalid Anwar acknowledged the possibility, noting that “there is no doubt that people, for personal reasons, file false cases [...] and judges are under great pressure not to acquit the accused,” no progress was made toward reforming the laws.

The abusive nature of Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances, which prescribe punishments for certain offenses, was highlighted in the context of conflicts over intertribal marriages. In February, Riffat Afridi, a Pashtun woman in Karachi, eloped with Kanwar Ahsan, a member of the Mohajir community. In response, the Pashtun community called a strike in Karachi; two people were killed and dozens injured in the violent clashes that followed. Afridi’s family and other Pashtuns filed charges that Afridi had been kidnapped by Ahsan and claimed that she was already married to one of her cousins. The police detained Ahsan, but when they attempted to bring him to court for a hearing, a group of Pashtuns, allegedly including some of Afridi’s male relatives, opened fire in the courthouse. Ahsan survived, and the court acquitted him of the charges. Fearing further retaliation by the Pashtun community, the couple sought asylum abroad.

The Pakistan Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR), the body responsible for security in Afghan refugee camps, has also been responsible for abuses. On April 6, two Afghan women were reportedly raped after being abducted from a bus traveling from Nasir Bagh refugee camp to Peshawar. The driver was arrested but was released after he apparently paid a bribe to the police. Complaints from the refugees prompted CAR to investigate the case, and the driver was reportedly rearrested. Refugees also reported routine harassment by the Pakistan police, who demanded to see the refugees’ “papers” and threatened to arrest them or demanded bribes.





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