Ali Dayan Hasan: “… the rule of law is non-negotiable.”

Ali Dayan Hasan polices the shaky, wavy line of free speech and civil rights in Pakistan with iron conviction, a booming parliamentary baritone, and not much else. He was the first to sound the alarm last May at the abduction of the journalist Saleem Shahzad, and then to charge the Army’s dreaded ISI (for Inter-Services-Intelligence) with Shahzad’s murder. But he’s reminding us in conversation that the ISI — “the principal human rights abuser in this country” — has never been held to account for scores of such disappearances and deaths, and probably won’t be nailed in the Shahzad case either. As Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan is the man who gets away somehow with asking persistently how the ISI gets away with it. He is speaking of a mutually abusive marriage of American and Pakistani secret agencies and political elites — a marriage from which there may be no way out. The even longer history — the “multi-generational fight for the soul of the country” — is “this ongoing standoff” between the “praetorian” politics of military intervention and an apparently unsinkable tradition of law and rights. In all the uncertainties of 2011, he is not discouraged: “We’re going through another one of those phases where it seems there is space for civilian rule.”

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  • Meera Ghani

    Excellent interview!

  • Potter

    Wikipedia says that Human Rights Watch (supported them for years) began as a private American NGO in 1978.. It was inspired by (I like to think) what is best in the American spirit. All the better that it has become global.

    Hasan is admirable. He made a point that reminds me always (when such a point is made) of an essay I read years ago by Simone Weil ( the French philosopher) , “Analysis of Oppression” where she speaks of how the oppressed become the oppressors. And I think of this always in connection with the Israeli -Palestinian situation. I still have my bookmark there in that dusty copy of her work. So it is true, Hasan is saying, of the Taliban and Al Qaeda posing as anti-colonialists and we ( the US, the West) play the colonialists part unwittingly(?) selfishly(?) with unintended consequences and quagmire.

    When Hasan says that we cannot or should not disengage; we should be a force for good, he reminds me of the Niall Ferguson piece I read in the NYTimes when we were arguing about whether we should invade Iraq on “American Empire”.

    The problem is we are not so wise in our actions. Nor can we, if we had such an underlying wise policy that would actually work over time , which we might, sustain that over 30 years as Hasan suggests what with our swings in governance ( our democracy).

    The thought is provocative and obviously tempting