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A long wait for democracy

Parul Sharma

Something to cheer about in Pakistan



Asma Jahangir

New Delhi: As a crusader of human rights in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir had something to cheer about this past week when the electorate turned up to exercise its vote in the most keenly contested and globally watched general elections in the country.

Even so, she understands that the country has a long way to go and has to “sort out a number of things” before it can emerge out of violence and bloodshed.

“Everything is just so urgent and immediate. There are so many things that the new Government can’t ignore.

“There are some difficult tasks ahead of them,” she says when asked about the most important issue facing the new Government.

During an interaction at Jamia Millia Islamia, Ms. Jahangir said a huge responsibility was on the new Government.

“A number of issues worsened during President Pervez Musharraf’s rule. There is terrorism to deal with, there are issues such as isolation of Balochistan, price hike, inflation… We are biding our time so that the situation doesn’t worsen. This election would be a stepping stone to the future.”

Charging that the human rights’ situation had worsened during President Musharraf’s reign, Ms. Jahangir says, “There are several disturbing reports of human rights’ violation and in new forms such as disappearance of thousands of people. Musharraf had built a society where there was a lot of cronyism. People could get away with crimes and there was an active mafia. A lot of resentment was there against the President in cities as well as the rural areas.”

“Many interesting issues were raised during these elections. Apart from people complaining of price-rise and electricity and gas shortage, women were most upset with Musharraf for having taken Geo TV off air. Women who came to cast their votes asked us, ‘Why did he take off Geo TV. We would at least be able to know what’s happening around. Now what do we do sitting at home.’

In the days ahead, Ms. Jahangir envisages a different role for civil society in Pakistan.

“There has been this attitude of being obstructionist. Civil society now has to be far more constructive. We should not just be critical of the Government, but the relationship should be that of cooperation,” she says.

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