‘Greater rights’ abuses will ensue unless Pakistan’s elected institutions assert themselves’

An interview of – Ali Dayan Hasan (Director, Human Rights Watch) taken by me, published in TFT December 30 – January 05, 2012 – Vol. XXIII, No. 46
Q. HRW has consistently commented on civil-military relations in Pakistan. Why is this aspect of Pakistan’s politics so important for human rights?
Since 2008, Pakistan has made yet another attempt at a transition from direct military rule to rights-respecting constitutional governance. But history teaches us that this moment is as fleeting as it is special. It would be naïve to assume that the 2008 general election has transformed power relations in the country. Pakistan remains a praetorian state structured and geared to service, above all, the needs of a military that remains every bit as convinced as ever that Pakistan’s national interest is synonymous with its institutional priorities and the preservation of its position as the final arbiter of political power and patronage. Indeed, Pakistan’s foreign and national security policies are primarily controlled by the military. In the absence of civilian oversight, and given the military’s history, greater abuses will ensue unless Pakistan’s elected institutions assert themselves.
Q. What are the worrying flashpoints in HRW’s view?
It is hardly a secret that the government and the military are engaged in both a legal and political confrontation over the so-called “Memogate” affair. HRW finds it reassuring that both the Supreme Court Chief Justice and Army chief General Kiyani have ruled out military intervention. Indeed all arms of the state must act within the constitutionally determined ambit and in aid of legitimate civilian rule. In this context, justice must both be done and be seen to be done. Pakistan desperately needs a full democratic cycle and a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian administration to another. Should this process be derailed, the constitutional safeguards and legal rights protections created since 2008 may suffer irreparable damage. […]