MEPs and NGOs on Monday criticised the imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan last Saturday by President Pervez Musharraf.
They voiced their views at an already scheduled hearing on Bangladesh and Pakistan by the EP Human Rights Subcommittee, which gave MEPs and the invited NGOs their first opportunity to respond to the weekend’s events. Opening the hearing, the chair of the subcommittee, Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR), described the situation in both countries as „worrying”. She recalled that on 25 October, the European Parliament had adopted a resolution on Pakistan warning amongst other things against „the imposition of emergency rule”.
The first NGO speaker, Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch, argued that Musharraf had „traded on the notion that he was the single person” able to hold the Taleban at bay. In fact he was now „destabilising Pakistan”. A statement read out on behalf of Mohammed Tahseen of the Pakistan Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, who was unable to attend the hearing, criticised Musharraf’s actions, notably „pre-election rigging” and attacks on the judiciary and media. By contrast, Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU, Saeed Khalid, argued that human rights in his country had not deteriorated but in many ways improved over the last 7-8 years, since Musharraf took office. Moreover, he assured the hearing, the emergency was intended as „a short term measure”. In addition, the president has now „decided to take off his uniform”.
With regard to Bangladesh - also currently under a state of emergency - Brad Adams made some positive remarks about the caretaker government’s achievement but believed it had little restraining influence over the military, which was the real power in the land. In her summary of her country’s situation, Rosaline Costa of Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh referred to violations of minority rights and the extra-judicial „crossfire” killings by the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anti-crime squad.
The EU, she argued, could help by pressing for the lifting of the state of emergency and the holding of free and fair elections. The ambassador of Bangladesh, A. H. M. Moniruzzaman, said the caretaker government was „non-party” and that its purpose was to create stability with a view to holding free and fair elections. He argued that the government should not be on trial and that the EU in fact supported it. He also stressed that the press was „completely free”.
What should the EU do?
Of the MEPs who spoke, Hélène Flautre praised Costa for her courage in speaking out, given the fate of other human rights defenders in her country. Jo Leinen (PES, DE) described the weekend’s events in Pakistan as „unacceptable” and asked „how can free and fair elections take place in an emergency situation?”, a point underscored by Laima Andrikiene (EPP-ED, LT).
A key issue, raised by several speakers, was whether the EU should cut off aid to Pakistan, the difficulty being - as the Commission representative pointed out - that much EU aid is directed towards education and alleviating poverty. Adams believed „the EU should assess all programs with Pakistan from top to bottom” so as to send a political signal. Leinen also wanted all avenues to be explored. The Commission representative indicated that her institution would be reflecting on the new situation. (EP Press)