PAKISTAN: Government allows anarchy and chaos created by fundamentalists to continue in order to divert attention from judicial crisis

A radical mosque and its affiliated seminaries have greatly increased their influence in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan after the mass protests throughout the country against President Musharraf’s action against the chief justice, Justice Iftekhar Choudry.

The male and female students and leaders of Lal mosque and its affiliated seminaries, Hafsa and Fridia, are roaming in the streets of the capital with sticks, threatening people to observe Shariah laws in their day to day business. On April 6 after Friday prayers, a group of students and clerics burned audio and video cassettes at a market place and threatened the shopkeepers to close down their businesses or face having their shops burnt down. Before that, on March 27 female students of Hafsa seminary abducted three women and a five month-old-baby on the charge of running a brothel and kept them in captivity for three days during which time the women were severely beaten. The administration of the mosque and seminaries also held two police officers demanding the release of two teachers who had been arrested. The military government had to concede, accept the demands of the seminary officials and release the teachers in exchange for the release of the policemen.

The leader of the Red mosque announced that if the government does not implement Islamic law within thirty days then the mosque will implement Shariah Law (Islamic Laws) on its own. Mosque officials also announced that they have constituted an Islamic court and will announce punishments. They have also threatened that they will instigate suicide squads to enforce Shariah Law in the capital. The fact that these Islamic leaders have issued a fatwa against a female minister calling for her death for having hugged a paragliding instructor in public, has been conspicuously ignored by the government and the law enforcement agencies.

On the other hand sectarian violence erupted in the Northern areas of Pakistan, particularly in Parachinar city of Kurram Agency, close to Afghanistan, which has a good number of both Sunni and Shi’tes sects. During nine days of bloody fighting and a further six days under continuous curfew more than 50 persons have been killed and the violence has spread to other parts of Kurram Agency.

The situation has lead to a sense of insecurity amongst the citizens throughout the country. The extremist elements are controlling and implementing laws on their own. The writ of the government has visibly failed and there is no rule of law.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned by this situation where extremist elements are allowed to enforce their own laws and neither the government nor the law enforcement agencies are taking any steps to prevent them from taking over control of the capital city Islamabad. Apparently the government has a friendly relationship with the officials of the Red mosque and its affiliated seminaries and is allowing them a free hand to challenge the very basis of a civil society.

Even one federal minister for religious affairs made a written agreement with the female students of Hafsa seminary who took over the children’s library of Islamabad in January 2007 in protest against the demolition of illegally constructed mosques. The mosques were built on land illegally grabbed by leaders of the seminary. According to the agreement reached between students and Mr. Aijaz-ul-Haq, Minister of Religious Affairs the government will stop demolishing illegally constructed mosques.

The president General Musharraf has been taking military action against the people of Balochistan province since 2001 due to their resistance to the construction of cantonments. However, in complete contrast to this hard line stand he has announced that his government is willing to negotiate with fundamentalist militants who are demanding Islamic laws in the capital city rather than taking any action against them.

As the judicial crisis spiraled out of control it became necessary for the government in power to divert the attention of the public away from the problem by allowing the extreme religious elements to do as they wish so that sufficient levels of anarchy and chaos can be maintained in order to justify military rule. The AHRC expresses serious concern about the military government of Pakistan using the Islamic Shariah movement in Islamabad and sectarian violence in northern parts of the country and Karachi to divert the attention of the people from the judicial crisis. This crisis was the result of an attempt by the government to suppress the justice system in the country. The move by the government to make the Chief Justice dysfunctional and to appoint a person of its choice to the highest position in the judiciary brought in an unprecedented retaliation from the lawyers in the country as well as civil society. The attack on the Chief Justice became an occasion for people who are deeply frustrated by the attacks on democratic freedoms and the rule of law by the military government to come forward actively and express resistance against its rigid control. The very legitimacy of the regime was lost in the eyes of the people both in the country and internationally. It is under these circumstances that the military government has welcomed the intervention of the extremist religious groups to play havoc in the capital.

Shariah law taking the place of civil law and Shariah courts taking the place of country’s common law courts is an even greater attack on the judiciary than the initial attack on Chief Justice Choudry. This displacement of the law and its courts by Shariah law and its courts will have far deeper implications for the future of the country than the military regime may have intended. The whole issue of the civil liberties of the people in Pakistan, as well as the problems of property have been risked by this move. The most affected sections would be the women of Pakistan against whom Shariah law has been misapplied to the detriment of their rights. The present crisis is of tremendous importance from the point of view of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the country.

The AHRC urges the people of Pakistan, the United Nations and the international community to understand the magnitude of the problem that has arisen in the very heart of Islamabad and to respond appropriately.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-079-2007
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Judicial system,