Delivered in Plenary - 25th October 2007
Last week’s suicide bomb blast in Karachi reminded us of just how perilously close Pakistan has come to anarchy. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Pakistan becoming a rogue state controlled by Islamist fanatics is, quite frankly, terrifying.
I am not especially a fan of Benazir Bhutto, whose period in office as Prime Minister was marked by widespread corruption, but, ultimately, a democratic and secular-leaning government under civilian control is always preferable to a military dictatorship, compromised in this case by its links to Islamist parties and the Afghan Taliban. President Musharraf is supposed to be our ally in the war on terror; sometimes I wonder how committed he is to rooting out terrorism in his own country.
Hopefully, Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan may be a fillip for human rights now. One major concern is the ongoing repression of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus and Ahmadi Muslims. If she is to be taken seriously as a progressive leader of a more modern Pakistan, she must make sure that Pakistan respects its international obligations under human rights conventions.
But, while Pakistan faces many challenges, we should recognise that some progress is being made in some areas. The economy continues to grow, and Pakistan has also engaged in confidence-building measures with India with regard to the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.
One question which remains totally unanswered is how, legally, the Pakistani Government, in spite of a Supreme Court judgment permitting former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return from exile to Pakistan, deported him immediately to Saudi Arabia. How, in international law, can a government deport one of its own citizens? Nawaz Sharif may yet have a vital role to play in re-establishing multiparty civilian democratic politics in Pakistan.