As the chorus against the Syrian government grows louder, Pakistan remains silent on the issue of human rights abuses in Syria.
According to Amnesty International, over 1,500 people have been killed since March in the protests against Syrian President Bashar alAssad’s regime. Pressure against Syria appeared to grow over the weekend from Arab states, as the Gulf Cooperation Council asked for an immediate end to bloodshed.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah issued a written statement on the situation. “What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia. Syria should think wisely before it is too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms. Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.” Soon enough, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain had recalled their ambassadors from Damascus for ‘consultations’.
In April, Pakistan joined China and Russia in voting against a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council condemning the violence in Syria. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Zamir Akram was quoted as saying, “My country has always believed that ‘naming and shaming’ is an approach which is counterproductive.”
Three months and over a thousand dead bodies later, no public statement has yet to be made on the situation in Syria. The Foreign Office spokesperson did not respond to a query till the filing of this report.
According to former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Pakistan’s silence is a product of “historical links between the Bhutto and alAssad families”.
President Bashar’s father, the late president Hafez alAssad, was believed to be a close ally of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto travelled to Syria in 1979 to seek support for their campaign to save Bhutto and were offered asylum by the elder alAssad. Murtaza spent several years in Syria before returning to Pakistan in 1993. In 1981, a Pakistan International Airlines flight was hijacked and forced to land in Kabul, and then Damascus. The hijacking is widely believed to be the work of the Al Zulfikar Organisation.
Kasuri said that given the high death toll, “the government of Pakistan needs to make its position clear [and say] that it stands with the people of Syria.”
Pakistan’s silence, according to former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad, shows lack of a foreign policy.
“Foreign policy is a reflection of a country’s internal state of affairs. If the state is in disorder, it has no foreign policy. Forget Syria or any other Arab country – Pakistan has enough problems at home and has no time to focus on international issues. No one is going to pay any attention to what Pakistan says because it has no credibility. No country is looking to Pakistan for support.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2011.