Divisions in the Muslim world are “unfortunate” and countries like Pakistan and Turkey can push for a united stance against oppression of Muslims across the world, said Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari.
“We need to have stronger voices coming from the Muslim world on these [human rights] issues,” said Mazari, calling on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to do more in this regard.
She said the government was “moving towards a welfare state” by reforming the justice system and ensuring basic rights of the people.
On war-torn Afghanistan where Taliban are now leading an interim government, the human rights minister urged the international community to step forward and help avert the evolving humanitarian crisis.
She added Pakistan will gear up its policy on Kashmir.
“In coming months, you will see a more offensive diplomacy on Kashmir,” Mazari said. “In illegally occupied Kashmir, India is committing war crimes and doing a slow genocide,” she added.
‘Dialogue makes Taliban flexible’
Urging support from the international community on war-torn Afghanistan, she said: “We want the Taliban government to live up to the commitments that they made when they came into Kabul. And we think that it’s better to cooperate with the Taliban and have dialogue with them, rather than to take punitive measures.”
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Taliban regained power in August after complete withdrawal of foreign forces and breakdown of the US-backed government.
“Because if you talk and negotiate, you make them more flexible. If you push them in a corner, they will take a much harder position,” Mazari argued.
“And the most important thing right now is for the international community to provide humanitarian aid because there is a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” she said.
She said the 20 years of foreign invasion in Afghanistan had left behind “nothing.”
“When the US suddenly left, what happened, the infrastructure was not there… it just collapsed. The Afghan National Army melted away. Ashraf Ghani ran away, I believe, newspapers say with money. And there was no government structure, there was no social welfare structure, nothing,” she added.
The Taliban-led interim government is facing a financial crunch as the US has frozen Afghanistan’s foreign reserves worth $9 billion.
Ensuring human rights Pakistani state’s responsibility
Mazari, an alumna of the London School of Economics and Columbia University, said Pakistan is committed to ensuring human rights because they are enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
“And because it’s our responsibility to see the commitments we have made under the seven human rights conventions that Pakistan has signed, that we live up to them,” she said.
She said the government has brought various bills to criminalise enforced disappearances and ensure protection of journalists, besides reducing the number of crimes for which the death penalty is applicable.
“Because of those commitments, we have moved forward. We are moving because we believe in those issues. And our commitments are in our party manifesto also,” she said, referring to election promises made by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
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“Now for the first time, in fact, the Cabinet has approved in principle, a complete overhaul of revamping of the criminal justice law,” she said.
She said by the end of this year Pakistan “should have completely revamped the criminal justice system.”
Mazari said the country now also has minorities commission which is “headed by a minority person, and the majority of the members are from the minority communities.”
“We’re the first country in South Asia and third in Asia where our government has approved business and human rights National Action Plan. It’s a big development which has now business in human rights as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s agenda.”
Pakistan’s social net, Ehsaas programme
Mazari said during the pandemic, Pakistan started the Ehsaas programme which provides financial assistance to people who are living below the poverty line.
“We are basically committed to our manifesto that aims to create a welfare state. So, we are moving in that direction of creating that welfare state, and providing a social net,” she said.
The PTI government, she said, has also started a programme under which “children from very poor families are given nourishment.”
“We opened what is known as Panahgah (Shelter homes) and langers (free meals) where workers, daily wage earners and people who come from far off places to big cities for work, can have shelter for the night… that they can have two free meals,” she said.
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“We have moved a lot in the last three years to altering the social dynamics and moving towards creating a proper welfare state,” the minister said.
She added that child domestic labour has been outlawed for the first time in the country.
“We approved for the first time implementing the Child Protection Units where we have established Child Protection centres, where children are often taken off the street or they come to us. We focus especially on gender-based violence besides, we have got a law for senior citizens’ welfare,” she added.
“It is now illegal in Pakistan not to have proper ramps or structures, toilets, for people with special needs,” she said.
Fake news is a challenge
On the allegation of suppressing voices of dissent, the human rights minister said: “If we were choking the voices of dissent, you wouldn’t be hearing about it. The fact that you’re hearing about dissent means that dissent is allowed.”
“Pakistan has massive, free electronic media, 40, 50 plus channels now. And they all do what they want,” she claimed.
She, however, said the country was facing the challenge of fake news.
“Our issue is with fake news. The EU DisInfo Lab revealed how the Indians were using fake news. That is the problem,” she said, referring to a massive network of websites, NGOs, think tanks working for past 15 years hurting Pakistan’s interests at the UN, EU parliament and Geneva.
The expose was made by the Brussels-based digital lab in late 2019.
Referring to the failed coup of 2016 in Turkey, Mazari said Turkey was itself a victim of this fake news.
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“Turkish government has seen that happen also with the supporters of the failed military coup in 2016, and how the US supported them. The so-called leader of the coup is in America. This is the problem that yes, some dissenters, if their agenda is that of the powers who give them money, give them shelter, then they will,” she added.
Need for people-to-people contact
Mazari, who was in the Turkish metropolis to attend the 7th Istanbul Security Summit, said Pakistan and Turkey are in constant touch on key issues.
“There are constant consultations especially on issues like Islamophobia, and even on Afghanistan due to the humanitarian aspect,” she said.
Referring to cultural and religious ties between the two countries, the minister said “more consultation between the civil society organisations of the countries.”
Mazari also advocated for “more cooperative ventures between the media houses in Pakistan and in Turkey.”
Mazari urged for better understanding of China.
“The Muslim world has, by and large, unfortunately tended to ignore China, because it was so focused on the West. It’s time for them to have a better understanding with China,” she said.
There’s a way that you deal with different countries, she said when asked about alleged oppression of the Uyghur community in China.
“If you look at the US, and Turkey has experienced this, they will make public their criticism even that diplomats as you know recently made totally wrong statements and had to backtrack and rightly so,” Mazari said.
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A group of envoys posted in Ankara had last month issued a statement on the trial of Osman Kavala who is facing charges over the 2013 Gezi Park protests, a small number of demonstrations in Istanbul that later transformed into nationwide protests which left eight protesters and a police officer dead. He was acquitted of all charges in February 2020, however, an appeal court overturned this verdict in January.
Mazari said a diplomat under Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations “cannot even make a statement on the internal matters of the country where they are serving, so every country has a different way that you deal with them.”After Turkey warned against declaring them persona non grata, the diplomats posted in Ankara later in a statement expressed their commitment to Article 41.
“With the Chinese we have very close strategic cooperation. Issues that we raise, we raise privately with them. Because the Chinese also don’t critique Pakistan openly, we have a relationship where we discuss all issues including the Uyghur issue and other issues, but we feel it’s best to influence them privately,” she added.
“And we also think that some of the noise coming from the West on the Uyghur issue is exaggerated and we want to believe what the Chinese tell us because we trust them,” Mazari said.
Calling out what she said was “hypocrisy”, Mazari said: “The EU and the Americans keep giving us lectures on human rights and personal freedoms and religious freedom. So, we have every right to make the same comments. We have a right to raise issues because these, what the Europeans specially are doing is they’re not targeting Muslims in other countries by their policies.”
“Being secular doesn’t mean you derive people who have religious beliefs, their right to practice their religion,” she said, adding that Europe is “not secular at all.”
“They have a very Christian ethos; they can deny it. But if you look at their laws, if you look at the way their societies function, […] so I think that we need to talk about Islamophobia,” she said.
Redefining Kashmir policy
Mazari said Prime Minister Khan had “redefined the whole narrative on Kashmir when he went to the UN.”
“Imran Khan challenged the Indian narrative and showed the link between BJP and fascism, and how they were exterminating Kashmiris and then after the 5th August 2019 move, Pakistan is active at different forums, I myself have been raising the Kashmir issue and writing to UN Human Rights rapporteurs and so on, on different aspects of the Kashmir issue,” she said.
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“And in the next few months, you will see more developments on Kashmir… you will see a much more multi-layered diplomatic offensive on Kashmir.
“Because for us, Kashmir is extremely critical. And our prime minister has constantly said: ‘there can be no dialogue with India unless there is first dialogue on resolution of the Kashmir issue’,” said Mazari.
“Pakistan’s commitment to Kashmir has never wavered and whatever solutions that we would want would be in keeping with the UN Security Council resolutions because the country’s position as a party to the dispute rests on the UN Security Council resolutions,” she said.
Mazari said she raised the Kashmir issue with a EU delegation that recently visited Pakistan.
“We’ll be writing letters to them. The EU itself has now a policy where they put sanctions on countries that illegally annex a territory. And they’ve put sanctions on Russia, for what is illegal annexation of Crimea. So, I told the Europeans, why are you discriminating? If you don’t implement policies that you yourselves have declared, then they lose credibility,” she said.Mazari said her government will also take up Kashmir issue with the EU. “Because after 5th August 2019, India tried to annex, illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” the minister added.
Division against Muslim nations unfortunate
She stressed the need for Muslim nations to bury differences and “be more active diplomatically.”
“This is unfortunate. It should not be like this. Of course, India is a big economy, sometime economic interests come. But if the Muslim Ummah says they are to protect right of Muslims, so they must protect the rights of Muslims citizens in countries where they are being victimised,” she said, calling for “stronger voices” coming from the Muslim world on these issues.
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“It is unfortunate that the OIC does nothing [for issues] that affect the Muslim world so deeply. The Muslims across the world do feel and are affected but it is the governments that need to be activated,” Mazari said.
The minister said it was countries like Pakistan, Turkey and others which “can push for a greater one voice for opposing the oppression and denial of citizenship of Muslims in India.”
On plight of Kashmiri political prisoners, she said: “Lot of changes are happening including on Kashmiri prisoners who are in Tihar jail. This is a war crime under the 4th Geneva Convention. You cannot take people who live in occupied territories to the occupier’s state. That is what India is committing.”
“Now, we have to challenge these war crimes in different jurisdictions. We are not members of the International Criminal Court but individuals… Kashmiris can take the case to ICC against ICC. They should start doing so,” she added.