US report says civil liberties under threat in Pakistan. By Khalid Hasan. Daily Times.


WASHINGTON: A new report issued last week says that an alliance of major religious parties threatens to undermine civil liberties, freedom of expression, legal reforms and religious tolerance in Pakistan.

The report - Pakistan, the mullahs and the military - issued by the International Crisis Group, which is based in Brussels and maintains an office in Islamabad, expressed special concern for the plight of women and religious minorities in the country. It regrets that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)'s vow to Islamise state and society, contrary to President Pervez Musharraf's pledge to end religious extremism, is not being confronted by the president or the military, while the president's recent constitutional amendments have undermined the domestic standing of moderate secular parties to the benefit of the religious lobby. According to ICG's South Asia project director Samina Ahmed, "Since the military takeover in 1999, the government has demonstrated neither the will nor intent to pursue domestic policies opposed by the mullahs such as madrasa regulation or changes in discriminatory Islamic laws. The perpetual threat of war with India over Kashmir also brings the mullahs and the military close together."

The report notes that while moderate sections of Pakistani society are being marginalized, religious parties and their causes are flourishing. The religious right, jihad and Islamisation are again acceptable currencies in political life. The report urges donors to channel funding through the federal government to women and minorities in NWFP and Baluchistan and to link funding to the state of fundamental freedoms in MMA-run provinces.

The dangers of inaction are evident, according to ICG. The MMA leaders have deferred to the military in setting foreign and security policy but may in the end be unable to curb the anti-American sentiments of their followers. Pakistan could then find itself isolated regionally and a target, as opposed to a partner, in the US-led war against terrorism.

The report says the resurgence of the religious parties in the October 2002 elections portends ill for Pakistan's political, cultural and social stability.

The MMA's zeal might encourage the supporters of its component parties to take up arms against US forces in Afghanistan or their Afghan allies. The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the largest parties in the MMA, have maintained close ties with the military for decades, the report points out. Musharraf's aversion to the mainstream political parties and the military's declared intent to keep their leaders

It remains to be seen how much room the MMA will be given to apply its version of Sharia law in the two provinces.

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