Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
PAKISTANPakistan is an Islamic republic with a democratic political system. A popularly-elected parliament and a government headed by a Prime Minister have wide constitutional power, shared to a limited extent with the President and, informally, the Chief of the Army Staff who wields considerable influence on many major policy decisions. The Pakistan Muslim League government of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, which came to power in February with a massive parliamentary majority, passed a constitutional amendment in April that removed the President's power to dismiss the Government and dissolve parliament in his discretion. As a result, the popularly-elected government has greater power than any of its predecessors since the return of formal democracy in 1988. The Government's power was further enhanced by the constitutional confrontation between the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice over the selection of five new justices for the Supreme Court. As a result of this struggle over judicial versus executive authority, President Leghari resigned in early December, and the Prime Minister's own candidate was elected to the presidency on December 31. Also in December, a ten-judge Supreme Court panel deprived the Chief Justice of his position and a new Chief Justice was sworn in. Some observers fear that this confrontation damaged the prestige and independence of the judiciary. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it is subject to executive branch influence. Responsibility for internal security rests primarily with the police, although paramilitary forces, such as the Rangers and Frontier Constabulary, are called in to provide additional support in areas where law and order problems are especially acute, such as Karachi and the frontier areas. Provincial governments control the police and paramilitary forces when they are assisting in law and order operations. The army is also occasionally deployed to assist in maintaining public order in sensitive areas during certain religious holidays. Members of the security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Pakistan is a poor country, with great extremes in the distribution of wealth between social classes. Its per capita annual income is $470, and its rate of illiteracy is extremely high, especially among women. The economy includes both state-run and private industries and financial institutions. The Constitution provides for the right of private businesses to operate freely in most sectors of the economy. The Government has taken some steps in pursuit of economic reforms, emphasizing the privatization of government-owned financial institutions, industrial units, and utilities. Cotton, textiles and apparel, rice, and leather products are the principal exports. The Government's human rights record remained poor, with serious problems regarding police abuse, religious discrimination, and child labor. Police committed numerous extrajudicial killings and tortured, abused, and raped citizens and in many cases were not brought to justice. Prison conditions remained poor, and police arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens. Since the dismissal of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government of Benazir Bhutto by President Leghari in November 1996, both the caretaker government and later the elected Nawaz Sharif government took some steps to end human rights abuses by police and paramilitary forces. However, in general, police continued to commit serious abuses with impunity. In Karachi, for example, there have been few verified reports of extrajudicial killing by security forces, though representatives of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) charge that their party continues to be targeted by the security forces. The Government has sometimes used the accountability process--by which the present Government hopes to expose previous wrongdoing, recoup ill-gotten gains, and restore public confidence in government institutions--for political purposes by arresting a number of prominent politicians and bureaucrats connected with the main opposition party. Few of those arrested and questioned have been put on trial. Case backlogs lead to long delays in trials, and lengthy pretrial detention is common. The judiciary is subject to executive influence, and suffers from inadequate resources, inefficiency, and corruption. Sectarian strife in Punjab province and politically-motivated violence in Karachi prompted the Government in August to pass a law creating a system of Special Courts to try persons accused of terrorism and other heinous crimes. Human rights advocates, opposition leaders, and others criticized the law, charging that it violates the Constitution by setting up a parallel judicial system charged with deciding cases in truncated time periods (7 days) and by granting the police extraordinary powers that threaten individual liberties. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. Although the press largely publishes freely, journalists practice self-censorship and the broadcast media remain a closely-controlled government monopoly. The Government imposes limits on the freedom of assembly, movement, and--for the Ahmadis in particular--religion. Political groups, including rival Sunni and Shi'a sectarian extremists and the MQM and their opponents, were responsible for killings, while religious zealots continued to discriminate against and persecute religious minorities, particularly Ahmadis and Christians, basing their activities in part on legislation that discriminates against non-Muslims. Government-imposed procedural changes have made the registration of blasphemy charges more difficult. Nonetheless, three Ahmadis were convicted under the blasphemy law during the year and a number of people are still facing trial. Religious and ethnic-based rivalries resulted in numerous murders and civil disturbances. Traditional social and legal constraints kept women in a subordinate position in society. They continued to be subjected to violence, abuse, rape, trafficking, and other forms of degradation by their spouses and members of society at large. Violence against children, as well as child abuse and prostitution, remained problems. Female children still lag far behind boys in education, health care, and other social benefits. The Government and employers continued to restrict worker rights significantly. Bonded labor by both adults and children remained a problem. The use of child labor remained widespread, although it is now generally recognized as a serious problem and industrial exporters have adopted a number of measures to eliminate child labor from specific sectors.