Now comes whirlwind Hina
In November 2006 Asma Jehangir came to Washington. ‘Hurricane Asma hits Washington’ was the only headline I could think of for that week’s Postcard USA in my effort to convey something of her storming of this world-weary capital. Less volatile but equally hard hitting has been the visit this week of her sister Hina Jilani.
Whereas Asma is flamboyant, Hina is solidity itself. Never straying from the point she is making, she does so calmly, convincingly and without taking her eye off the ball. Their father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, who let no unconstitutional development go past him without a court challenge would be proud of his two daughters because they have carried forward his legacy as he would have wished.
Hina Jilani was on Capitol Hill at the invitation of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to speak about the struggle of the legal community to bring back constitutional government to Pakistan. She was joined by three members of the house, who while expressing support for human rights in Pakistan, delivered themselves of the standard tribute to President Pervez Musharraf for his contribution to the US effort in fighting global terrorism.
Congressman Trent Franks said that while President Musharraf had been given “leeway” because of his role in the US-led war, “I thank him for the good he has done”. Hina shoots straight and wastes neither time nor words. She wondered where the good really lay and who had benefited from that good. She pointed out that the action taken on November 3, when the constitution was suspended and a state of emergency was imposed, would have grave long-term consequences.
Hina, speaking about the state of things as obtaining in Pakistan, said, “Freedom of assembly is totally curtailed, freedom of expression is curtailed. Under these conditions the election that is going to take place on January 8 has very little credibility. Under Pakistan’s constitution and the law, the judiciary oversees the elections. A judiciary that lacks the confidence of the people and has no credibility, how do you think the elections are going to be credible?”
She said time and again, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had given legitimacy to illegitimate governments. But one day, finally, the judges’ conscience had caught up with them. The first blow struck against the executive’s high-handedness had been the Court’s blocking of the sale of the Pakistan Steel Mills at a bargain basement price. What the regime was not prepared to countenance was the Court demanding that 600 “disappeared” citizens be produced or their whereabouts disclosed. In a country, where certain arms of the government had grown used to making their own laws and doing what they pleased, that was clearly unacceptable.
The Human Rights Commission handed the government a list of 188 citizens who had disappeared. Some days later, 44 of them were produced. The Court, she said, contradicting what the President had once asserted, had never ordered the release of anyone who was charged with a terrorist offence.
Hina asked Congressman Franks, who had now been joined by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and Congressman Jim Moran, what “good” had been done on the terrorism front during the last eight years. The country had never known such violence as was being witnessed today. Pakistan’s sovereign territory had been surrendered to terrorists, who hanged and beheaded their victims in the name of some barbaric tribal code. There were areas of Pakistan where nobody could any longer go. She recalled that she used to make regular trips to the tribal agencies in connection with her human rights and legal work. That was no longer possible. The entire region had been destabilised and plunged into a never-ending, borderless war.
Congressman Moran paid tribute to both sisters for their “courage and character” and their “sacrifices and bravery” in pursuit of their great cause of the defence of human rights. Hina replied that what the United States needs to do first and foremost, is to get its facts right. The long-term effects of what was done on November 3 would be devastating.
She pointed out that 70 percent of the judges had refused to take the new oath under the provisional constitution order. “Pakistan’s courts today are non-functional. Their judges have been discredited and there no longer exists what can be called an independent judiciary. The blow struck on November 3 was a blow against civil society.” She said to this day, the government had failed to provide a list of those who were arrested and those who had been released.
Hina scoffed at the much-trumpeted idea here that the January polls would be monitored, which would ensure their fairness. She declared, “There is no point in monitoring the polls. The rigging has already taken place. I am not here to ask the United States to do something. I am here to inform you that although terrorism is an important issue, it is not the only issue.”
She pointed out that the military has been carrying out operations against terrorists without a political strategy. Unless such actions are grounded in civilian authority, they cannot bear fruit. She said the people of Pakistan need a military that is backed by a civilian government.
“We go to court to strengthen the rule of law and the people of Pakistan support us. All we ask the international community to do is to support us and further our objectives rather than stand in our way,” she told the congressmen and more than a hundred people who had come to listen to her and who gave her resounding applause.
Congressman Moran caused a bit of amusement among at least some of his listeners when he said that he had recently met a former head of the ISI — Gen. Ehsanul Haq, I later found out — who had told him that the unrest in Pakistan was mainly a Shia-Sunni thing. The military, he had said next was Pakistan’s “best hope”.
Moran asked Hina, “Whom should we trust?” She replied, “Don’t trust anyone.” She was doubtful if the January elections would calm things down. She explained that the politicians opted for them because they were afraid of being left out for the next five years, but the people did not want them.
“His presence in itself is destabilising,” she said, referring to the President. The judiciary, she said, must be reinstated. “That is the key,” she stressed. “The same standards apply to us, the citizens of Pakistan, that apply to people here in America. We have a right to be governed under the rule of law,” she said.
Fond hope while that may be, it was a good note to end the meeting on.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent