Pak’s 1st Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari Has an Uphill Task

Pakistan’s first Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari must learn to contend with minorities & dissent.

Updated31 Aug 2018, 01:59 PM IST
4 min read

One of the most stunning surprises of the Imran Khan Cabinet was the appointment and swearing in on 20 August of Dr Shireen Mehrunissa Mazari, as the first minister in the Ministry of Human Rights. This ministry is probably the only one in Asia, and is certainly not there in India.

This is surprising because all the Indian ‘Pakistan experts’ – of which there are a dime a dozen – had forecast she would become either the defence or the information minister, a portfolio Mazari held in the party.

Mazari Advocated Nuclear Strikes Against India

The Mazari name rings a bell in India as she advocated nuclear strikes against India’s population centres in the event of war. Before joining Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), she was the editor of The Nation English newspaper for nearly five years, after which she headed the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. She was prematurely removed at the behest of America, a country she loathes almost as much as her pet peeve, India.

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In 1996, when I met Shireen Mazari, she was billed as Pakistan’s top defence analyst, and an India baiter.

I also met Brigadier Abid Rao who, like me, was associated with the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, and also a member of HRC Pakistan. Just around that time, the Indian Army had established human rights cells in Corps Headquarters and published papers, especially Army Chief Gen Bipin Joshi’s Ten Commandments, whose carriage in the breast pocket of every soldier was mandatory in Jammu and Kashmir and India’s northeast. Mazari was present as I recall, when I promised to send those documents to Rao, as the Pakistan Army had none at the time.

Mazari Must Allow Space for Minorities

Mazari is well-read, and has a degree from the London School of Economics, and a PhD from Columbia University. In a press statement after taking oath, Mazari condemned the decision of the Dutch government for allowing space to its anti-Islamist Dutch Freedom Party to hold a competition on cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. The consequences of cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2005, and the horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo in 2015, will not be forgotten easily.

As an MP, Mazari has taken oath twice to remain committed to the beliefs of Prophet Mohammad – on the finality of prophethood.

The election bill 2017 contained what was claimed to be a clerical error in the oath, but the Tehreek Labbaiq Pakistan, which won two seats in Sind and one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, created an uproar and blocked the historic Faizabad crossing, linking Islamabad with Rawalpindi.

It cost the Law Minister his job, as a Major General got the issue resolved. But as Minister for Human rights, Mazari has to contend with the views of minorities like Ahmediyas, Shias and other Muslim communities who espouse the view that there could be other prophets, and are targeted by sectarian and ultra-religious extremists. There is also a blasphemy law to punish those who believe this. Mumtaz Qadri became a martyr after he killed Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 who opposed this law. The TLP founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi owes his success to Qadri.

Mazari’s Anti-India Stance

Mazari has also put her government in a spot by asking it to clarify whether it will follow US or UN on sanctions on Iran.

She had called the UK’s Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond ‘foolish’ for suggesting that Pakistan should not make ‘dialogue on Kashmir’ a precondition for talks with India.

Her book, Pakistan’s Lesson from Kargil War: an Analysis is provocative for its criticism of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Mazari’s true talent was manifest in her presentation just before the elections on the 20th anniversary of the Chagai nuclear tests of 1998, at a workshop at ISS. She was scathing in her attack on Pakistan’s feeble diplomacy in not engaging with the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, and putting all its eggs in China’s basket. She feared that if India became a member of the NSG (which is being blocked by Pakistan’s all-weather friend China) it will permanently disadvantage Pakistan’s entry.

She commended Pakistan on her first-strike capability in response to India’s Cold Start doctrine, and lauded the second-strike option via sea-launched missile and Cruise missiles.

She criticised US for favouring India through a country-specific and not a criteria-based selection process for enabling New Delhi to secure the Civil Nuclear deal in 2005. She said that if Pakistan had not carried out its ‘tit-for-tat’ nuclear tests, India would have been recognised as a nuclear weapons state, (not as is, a state with nuclear weapons), and Islamabad would have been forced to roll back its nuclear weapons programme. Carrying out nuclear tests later would have been impossible, she said.

Mazari Will Open a Can of Worms While Defending Human Rights

In the run-up to the elections, she was on the Nadia Mirza TV talk show, when she had a brush with JUI F’s Hafiz Hamidullah who lost his cool, and called another woman activist, Marvi Sirmed (who is part of an India-Pakistan Track 2 which I convene), a wh**e. Mazari is all too familiar with controversy.

In 2016, the then Defence Minister Khawaja Asif ridiculed Mazari – her appearance and voice – by comparing her with a tractor trolley. She had attacked the Sharif sarkar for allowing the US Diplomat Col Joseph Hall to escape from Pakistan under the guise of diplomatic immunity, after being charged with criminal activity. Last week, TLP supporters ransacked an Ahmediya mosque in Faisalabad, injuring and shooting six people. How will Mazari defend their human rights ? She will certainly try – and in the process, open a can of worms.

(Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 28 Aug 2018, 08:15 AM IST
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