Over 1,000 US State Department and embassy cables related to Pakistan were published by WikiLeaks this week.
The cables – which deal extensively with political developments, the state of the economy, human rights and security crises – provide an insight into the past two decades of the US-Pakistan relationship and Pakistan’s progress, or lack thereof, on critical issues.
UNICEF suspended programme over PML-N – PML-Q tussle
Tensions between the PML factions in 2009 caused Unicef to temporarily suspend a programme to rehabilitate child jockeys. A cable from the US Consulate in Lahore quoted a Unicef officer as saying that its relationship with the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) had “fallen victim” to a political battle between the PML-Q and PML-N. In January, Unicef realised that the CPWB was not returning Unicef’s phone calls or engaging with it.
“On investigation, it (Unicef) discovered the home secretary, a PML-N member, had prohibited CPWB interaction with international organisations. It appeared that he did this because the CPWB was headed by PML-Q member Dr Faiza Asghar, and preventing the bureau from functioning effectively would give the home secretary a pretext to replace her.”
The district officer of the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) in Rahim Yar Khan told the consulate that the Punjab government had closed programmes to rehabilitate child jockeys. Unicef said that the programme was temporarily stopped because the CPWB could not effectively perform field activities and distribute funds, and that Unicef would select a new partner within the Social Welfare Department to continue the programme.
A Unicef officer also predicted the CPWB would be relocated to the Social Welfare Department, and then it could renew its relationship with it.
The Home Secretary also initially refused to let a political officer meet with PML-Q’s Asghar or CPWB officials. Asghar told the consulate in October that “while the PML-N government provided a budget for the CPWB, she was unable to expand her programmes or fill vacant positions. The current PML-N government used the excuse that the Home Department did not have proper documentation to support her role as Chairperson of the CPWB and was using this to stall CPWB’s work”.
The child jockey rehabilitation programme was funded by the United Arab Emirates and overseen by Unicef.
Even though the PML-N has opposed any amendments in the blasphemy laws, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal held different views.
A cable recording a May 2008 meeting between Iqbal and the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour states: “He (Iqbal) was extremely cautious about possible repeal of blasphemy laws. At first he said the government (the PML-N was then part of the federal government) is too busy working on constitutional legislative issues that will determine the future of the state. He spoke in favour of ensuring that the laws are not misapplied to punish particular people, but said totally striking the law would be too controversial for any government to accomplish.”
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif believed the PPP could not accomplish reforms. In a 2009 cable sent by the US Consulate in Lahore, which detailed the case of a blasphemy accused dying in police custody, Sharif is quoted as telling a political officer that the “PPP was too weak on religious issues to repeal the blasphemy law. Only a change in administration, from PPP to PML-N, would result in a party with enough support from the religious community to institute a real change to the law.”
The cable also highlights that Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was called a blasphemer by religious parties for saying that the law should be repealed. Taseer was assassinated this January for his opposition to the blasphemy law.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.