Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away
Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away
AFP PHOTO/ARIF ALI
Pakistani human rights activists hold candles as they shout slogans during a rally in Lahore on 7 March 2011 on the eve of International Women's Day. AFP/Arif Ali
Report 265 / Asia

Women, Violence and Conflict in Pakistan

In Pakistan, women’s security and political, social and economic status are under attack by religious extremists, undermined by discriminatory legislation and unprotected by the state. The government must stand by its pledge to end gender inequity and violence against women, especially in the conflict zones of north-western Pakistan and the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

Executive Summary

Eight years into its democratic transition, violence against women is still endemic in Pakistan, amid a climate of impunity and state inaction. Discriminatory legislation and a dysfunctional criminal justice system have put women at grave risk. Targeted by violent extremists with an overt agenda of gender repression, women’s security is especially threatened in the conflict zones in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). On 8 March, International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that his government would take all necessary legislative and administrative steps to protect and empower women. If this pledge was in earnest, his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government should end institutionalised violence and discrimination against women, including by repealing unjust laws, countering extremist threats, particularly in KPK and FATA, and involving women and their specially relevant perspectives in design of state policies directly affecting their security, including strategies to deal with violent extremist groups.

Women in the past were the principal victims of state policies to appease violent extremists. After democracy’s return, there has been some progress, particularly through progressive legislation, much of it authored by committed women’s rights activists in the federal and provincial legislatures, facilitated by their increased numbers in parliament. Yet, the best of laws will provide little protection so long as social attitudes toward women remain biased, police officers are not held accountable for failing to investigate gender-based crimes, the superior judiciary does not hold the subordinate judiciary accountable for failing to give justice to women survivors of violence, and discriminatory laws remain on the books.

Laws, many remnants of General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation in the 1970s and 1980s, continue to deny women their constitutional right to gender equality and fuel religious intolerance and violence against them. Their access to justice and security will remain elusive so long as legal and administrative barriers to political and economic empowerment remain, particularly the Hudood Ordinances (1979), FATA’s Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) (1901) and the Nizam-e-Adl (2009) in KPK’s Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA).

The government has a constitutional obligation and international commitments, including under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to combat gender inequality and remove such barriers to women’s empowerment. Repealing discriminatory legislation and enforcing laws that protect women, including by ensuring that they have access to a gender-responsive police and courts, are essential to ending the impunity that promotes violence against women.

The extent to which rights violations go unpunished is particularly alarming in FATA and KPK, where women are subjected to state-sanctioned discrimination, militant violence, religious extremism and sexual violence. Militants target women’s rights activists, political leaders and development workers without consequences. The prevalence of informal justice mechanisms in many parts of Pakistan, particularly in Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, are also highly discriminatory toward women; and the government’s indiscriminate military operations, which have displaced millions, have further aggravated the challenges they face in the conflict zones.

In KPK and FATA, and indeed countrywide, women’s enhanced meaningful presence in decision-making, including political participation as voters and in public office, will be central to sustainable reform. Pakistan should invest in their empowerment and reflect their priorities in all government policies, including counter-insurgency and peacebuilding efforts. All too often, women comprise a majority of both the intended victims of the insurgency and the unintended victims of the counter-insurgency response.

National and provincial legislation to enhance protections for women is a step in the right direction, but much more is needed to safeguard them against violence and injustice and ultimately to consolidate Pakistan’s democratic transition.

Podcast / Asia

Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Crisis Group trustee and leading South Asia expert Ahmed Rashid talk about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ouster, and the domestic and foreign policy challenges facing his successor, Shahbaz Sharif. 

On 10 April, Pakistani legislators passed a no-confidence vote that ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The vote capped weeks of political turbulence, as a coalition of rival parties accused Khan’s government of chronic mismanagement amidst an intense economic crisis fuelled by soaring inflation. Khan has not gone quietly. Parliamentarians from his party walked out of the National Assembly in protest at the vote and thousands of furious supporters have taken to the streets. Khan accuses his successor Shahbaz Sharif of abetting a foreign conspiracy aimed at toppling him. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined from Lahore by acclaimed author, journalist and Crisis Group trustee Ahmed Rashid to talk about Pakistan’s political crisis, what it might mean for the country's stability and challenges for the Sharif government. They discuss Khan’s response to his ouster and how disruptive a force his movement might be in the months ahead. They look at his apparent fall from grace with the chiefs of Pakistan’s powerful military. They discuss the dilemmas facing Sharif, particularly, reviving a floundering economy, navigating relations with the military and containing rising Islamist militancy, all the while managing coalition politics. They also talk about the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine and its impact on a difficult foreign policy agenda: repairing relations with Western capitals, keeping China on board and managing what appeared to be warming ties to Moscow, alongside the traditionally bitter rivalry with India and complicated relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Pakistan country page and make sure to read our recent Q&A, “Imran Khan’s Fall: Political and Security Implications for Pakistan” , and our report, “Pakistan’s Hard Policy Choices in Afghanistan”.