Is US Congress Losing Patience with Pakistan over Human Rights Violations?

Will American politicians take a chance by looking the other way to the complaints of human rights violations, elections delay, political victimization and suppression of media in Pakistan from their Pakistani-American voters in an election year? The chances are really low. 

By A Correspondent
(Photo courtesy @drjalil247)
Aleast nine members of the US Congress have expressed grave concern over the state of human rights, civil liberties and press freedom in Pakistan. They spoke at a conversation organized by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) in partnership with a noted human rights activist and California-based Democrat of Pakistan origin, Dr. Asif Mahmood.

Dr. Mahmood is one Pakistani American, who has stood for the democratic forces and human rights in Pakistan. He has been the most vocal Pakistani American who has been raising his voice over increasing incidence of human rights violations, shrinking civil liberties and freedom of association, press and expression in his country of origin.

Mahmood narrowly lost his own run for the US Congress in 2022 elections and remains the most promising Pakistani American politician who could win US Congressional election from CA-40 next year, if he decides to run again. Mahmood, using his extensive contacts in the mainstream political arena, has been lobbying members of the US Congress to press the Biden Administration to use its leverage stop Islamabad from allegedly launching war on its citizens.

Among those who addressed the event – which was titled “Discuss the Status of Human Rights in Pakistan” and held on the US Capitol – included ranking Democratic member of US House of Representatives Adam Schiff, Congressman Ted Lieu, Congressman Mike Levin, Congressman Kweisi Mfume, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Congressman Lou Correa.

We witnessed a compelling video of a detained journalist’s family pleading for his release.   I reiterate my call for respect for human rights and rule of law in #Pakistan,” said Rep. Sherman in a series of tweets on July 28.

The speakers told a sizable gathering of Pakistani Americans, journalists, researchers and officials from the State Department that while they do not support any political party in Pakistan, they want fair, transparent and monitored elections in the South Asian country that has been politically unstable since the unceremonious ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan through a controversial parliamentary no-confidence vote last April.

“The State Department needs to say diplomatically, perhaps undiplomatically, first (that) the relationship between United States and Pakistan depends on fair, free, monitored transparent elections and second any assassination of a journalist on American soil is an attack on America and our sovereignty. And I can’t imagine that will be tolerated,” said Congressman Sherman, in response to a comment and question from Dr Moeed Pirzada, who is one of a handful of journalists who has escaped Pakistan fearing for his life. Pirzada says he is receiving threats to his life because of his views.

A representative of Amnesty International also presented a detailed report on the suppression of media in Pakistan. He especially mentioned senior journalist Imran Riaz Khan who was arrested in May and remains untraceable ever since despite repeated court orders. There was also repeated mention of Khadija Shah, who is also a US citizen and a known supporter of Khan’s PTI, and has also been jailed in Pakistan because of her political affiliation. Shah’s family and supporters says she is being victimized by the government because of her affiliation with PTI. Shah faces charges of being involved in attacks on military properties on May 9. “Forced disappearances are well documented and long standing practice used by government in Pakistan to suppress dissent and to target their political opponents,” the Amnesty representative added.

Several supporters of PTI were also in the room one of whom, Sajjad Burki, questioned the congressmen as to why the Biden Administration continued to support the government in Pakistan despite its gross human rights violations. He also asked as to why the US did not block the release of $3 billion dollar IMF package over Islamabad’s suppression of political opponents and media.

Burki’s statement invited strong reaction from sections of pro-government commentators who called it an effort to prepare ground for sanctions against Pakistan. Such criticism may have consequences in Pakistan but not in the US. Here on the US Capitol, the mood is changing as a growing number of Pakistani-Americans and their supporters remind members of Congress to stand up to the American ideals of spreading democracy, freedom of speech and press by pressing Islamabad on its very public gross human rights violations.

If Pakistan delays the constitutionally-mandated elections, due this October and which the Biden Administration wants on time, Islamabad may not escape consequences. While the administration may resist tougher line against Pakistan for now, the politicians running for public offices in 2024 elections may not in an election season which is about to start in the US. Minority voters, like Pakistani-Americans can play the tie-breaker’s role in swing states and both Democrats and Republicans are aware of such possibilities. Will they take a chance by looking the other way to the complaints of human rights violations, elections delay, political victimization and suppression of media in Pakistan from their Pakistani-American voters? The chances are really low.

In fact such complaints from Pakistani Americans, especially from the supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan, could grow louder in the coming months if nothing changes in Pakistan — human rights continued to be violated and elections delayed. The country’s military-installed government is hugely unpopular among overseas Pakistanis, especially after a recent offensive statement from defense minister Khwaja Asif, a known political bad mouth, who called overseas Pakistanis the people “who just come home to bury their dead and sell their properties.”

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