Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE:Launching a human rights corridor, The Daily Times, June 20, 2015  

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Development needs to be seen in a broader human perspective and not merely as per capita income or GDP growth figures

 Dr Haider Shah

Of late, our national media has been teeming with the coverage of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For the government,the CPEC is a game changer, a harbinger of a prosperous and developed Pakistan. For the critics, it is a fairy tale, loaded with farfetched daydreaming. As all political parties have now expressed confidence in the economic corridor, one can find little justification in criticising the project.

Economic progress is projected by the PML-N government as the hallmark of its strategic priorities. One cannot underemphasise the importance of economic development for the welfare of ordinary Pakistanis, but development needs to be seen in a broader human perspective and not merely as per capita income or GDP growth figures. By starting a human development index forsocial sectors like education and health, the notion of development can be extended to the provision of fundamental human rights to the people, as Nobel laureateAmartya Sen writes in his book, Development as Freedom.

The government’s rhetoric is centred on infrastructure development, such as metro bus projects and road links. Without disputing the importance of this aspect of development, what worries me most is the complete lack of importance of the protection and promotion of human rights in the scheme of things of the current rulers. Everything is secondary to Operation Zarb-e-Azb these days. If the previous PPP-led government was marked by judicial activism under Justice Iftikhar Choudhry, we are now witnessing military activism under Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. Consequently, the country is becoming more of a security state than ever.
If the government is interested in developing Pakistan, then it must come up with a comprehensive plan to ensure the freedom of ordinary Pakistanis. There are three essential elements of promoting development in terms of the provision of basic human rights. Firstly, progress can be made through legislation based on social policy. Although laws alone cannot guarantee social change, legislation is still important. The law is the declaration of the general will of society and the intent of the state. The second element is facilitating change by promoting positive public opinion in favour of the desired change. These days, the media is playing an important role and the state can use the media to champion social change. The third element is developing the machinery toeffectively implement the law by prosecuting wilful offenders. If all of these three elements work in tandem, it is not impossible to implement positive changes in the social life of our people.

The state has made some legislative progress regarding domestic violence in the last few years, after not paying attention to the issue for a long time.The legislation in this area of basic human rights has often been led by private member bills and the leading role of the state has mostly been found conspicuously missing. After the 18thAmendment was passed, the issue of framing laws to prevent domestic violence fell within the jurisdiction of the provincial Assemblies. The Sindh Assembly passed a domesticviolence protection law in 2013. The Punjab Assembly has been considering a similar law for the last few years. In the rank and file of the PML-N, there is an apparent lack of enthusiasm for becoming the custodians of such causes. The establishment of laws to prevent human rights violations has not made significant progress during the current regime, but the implementation of these laws and the fostering of public opinion has lagged even more. According to statistics, Punjab continues to be the worst place for crimes against women. Given this context, the PML-N government’s lacklustre performance in the area of social change is even more distressing.

Children also continue to be deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the universally recognised charter of fundamental rights. In almost every household, of traders,bureaucrats, jurists and journalists alike, one can see children working as underpaid servants. In many factories, child labour is still rampant. The state is struggling to make meaningful progress towards the six “education for all” millennium development goals of the United Nations.

Let us be blunt about some unpleasant truths. Militants are a problem, but not all problems are because of them. The fact that almost 5.5 million children do not attend schools has nothing to do with militancy. If Pakistan ranks as number 180 in the literacy rankings, despite boasting about nukes, the militants cannot be held responsible for this either. Militants do not hinder the state from eradicating child labour, which is prevalent in many forms all over the country. Domestic violence against women and children is not caused by militants. Therefore we should not treat Zarb-e-Azb as a panacea for all ills. In fact, cultural norms and taboos can often prove to be the most formidable terrorists.While the government must pursue CPEC, a decades-long project, with full vigour, there is a pressing need for launching a human rights corridor project as well, which should aim at expanding the freedoms of the people by passing and implementing legislation.


Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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