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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

In October 1999, the elected civilian Government of former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf. In consultation with senior military commanders, General Musharraf designated himself Chief Executive, and suspended the Constitution, the Parliament, and the national and provincial assemblies. The office of the President, which mainly is ceremonial, was retained. In 1999 General Musharraf appointed an advisory National Security Council, which included military and civilian advisers, a civilian cabinet, and new governors to all four provinces. The government bureaucracy continued to function; however, at all levels the functioning of the Government after the coup was "monitored" by military commanders. On June 20, 2001, General Musharraf was sworn in as the country's President, after the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) was amended (the PCO functions in place of the country's suspended Constitution). In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that the Musharraf Government was constitutional and imposed a 3-year deadline--starting from October 12, 1999--to complete a transition to democratic, civilian rule.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

The suspended Constitution of Pakistan provided for an independent judiciary; however, in practice, the judiciary remains subject to executive branch and other outside influences, and despite the Musharraf Government's pledge to respect the independence of the judicial system, it has taken steps to control the judiciary and to remove the Government from judicial oversight. Provisional Constitution Order Number 1, issued in October 1999, provided that all courts functioning at the time of the coup would continue to operate, but that no court would have the power to issue orders against General Musharraf or any person exercising powers or jurisdiction under his authority. The decree effectively removed the actions of the Musharraf Government from judicial oversight. President Musharraf further undermined the independence of the judiciary when he ordered that all Supreme Court, Shari'a Court, and Provincial High Court justices take an oath to uphold the PCO that brought the military into power.

In January 2000, days before the Supreme Court was due to begin hearings on the legitimacy of the 1999 coup, President Musharraf ordered all Supreme Court, Shari'at court, and provincial High Court justices to take an oath committing themselves to uphold the PCO, which suspended the Constitution and legislative bodies and prohibited the superior courts from making any decision against the Chief Executive "or any person exercising powers or jurisdiction under his authority." Six Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice, and nine provincial High Court justices resigned in protest; however, 85 percent of the affected justices agreed to swear allegiance to the PCO. As a result of this decree, government directives and ordinances under the PCO no longer are subject to judicial review. Some government officials claimed that President Musharraf issued this decree due to concerns that judges were being bribed to rule against the Government in the court challenges to the military takeover. Many persons criticized this requirement, stating that it effectively ended the role of the judiciary as an independent body.

The judicial system involves several court systems with overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdictions. There are civil and criminal systems with special courts for banking, antinarcotics, and antiterrorist cases, as well as the federal Shariat court for certain Hudood offenses. The appeals process in the civil system is: Civil court, district court, High Court, and the Supreme Court. In the criminal system, the progression is magistrate, sessions court, High Court, and the Supreme Court.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Human Rights

The Pakistan Government's human rights record remained poor in 2001; although there were some improvements in a few areas, particularly with regard to protection of religious minorities from intimidation from extremists, serious problems remained. Citizens continued to be denied the right to change their national and provincial governments peacefully but participated in local government elections during the year that provided increased power to district mayors and councils. Police committed numerous extrajudicial killings; however, the total number of such killings has declined in recent years. In Karachi there were fewer killings between rival political factions during the year; however, there was an increase in violence and killings between rival religious sects. Police abused and raped citizens. While the officers responsible for such abuses sometimes were transferred or suspended for their actions, no officer has been convicted and very few have been arrested. The Government conducted a series of trainings for police officers in provincial capitals; in these trainings, human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials were acknowledged openly. In Karachi there were signs of progress in redressing police excesses; however, in general police continued to commit serious abuses with impunity. Prison conditions remained extremely poor and life threatening, and police arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens. In midyear the Government undertook a major effort to curb religious extremism. Two organizations responsible for sectarian killings were banned on August 14, and by year's end, the Government had accelerated a crackdown on members of several extremist religious groups.

Provincial and local governments occasionally arrested journalists and closed newspapers accused of printing offensive material. The broadcast media remain a closely controlled government monopoly. Journalists often were targets of harassment and violence by individuals and groups. The Government restricted freedom of assembly. During the year, the Government sporadically permitted several large antigovernment demonstrations; however, it prevented other protests and arrested organizers, including for security reasons. In March 2000, the Government instituted a country-wide ban on strikes, processions, and outdoor political demonstrations. The Government maintained some limits on freedom of association. The Government continued to impose limits on freedom of religion, particularly for Ahmadis. The Government also imposed limits on freedom of movement. President Musharraf has spoken out against some of the human rights abuses of the previous government; however, the Government only made minimal progress toward achieving the goals set at an April 2000 human rights conference and subsequent conferences devoted to human rights themes that were held during the year.

Significant numbers of women were subjected to violence, abuse, rape, and other forms of degradation by spouses and members of society. The Government publicly has criticized the practice of "honor killings" but failed to take corrective steps, and such killings continued throughout the country. Discrimination against women was widespread, and traditional social and legal constraints kept women in a subordinate position in society. Violence against children, as well as child abuse, and prostitution, remained serious problems. Female children still lag far behind boys in education, health care, and other social indices. Governmental and societal discrimination against religious minorities, particularly Ahmadis and Christians, remained a problem, and the Government failed to take effective measures to counter prevalent public prejudices against religious minorities.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Tipu Salman Makhdoom, Advocate of the High Court; partner, Jus & Laye, Lahore