The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a federal republic. Pervez Musharraf governed as both head of state and chief of army staff until November 2007, when he retook the presidential oath as a civilian. In October 2007 parliament reelected Musharraf to a second five-year term as president. Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November 2007 that lasted 42 days prior to the Supreme Court's expected decision on whether or not he was eligible for re-election as President. He suspended the constitution; deposed the Supreme and provincial High Court judges; and arrested or detained approximately 6,000 lawyers, judges, political party members, and civil society activists. Confrontations between the judicial and executive branches of government and public reaction to the dismissal of senior judges demonstrated both the power of the executive and the growing strength of civil society. After a delay due to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the country held national and provincial parliamentary elections in February 2008. Despite serious irregularities, especially during the pre-election period, the opposition parties came to power, and both the public and the political parties accepted the results, which appeared to reflect the will of the voters. In March 2008 the country returned to democratic rule when Yousef Raza Gillani was sworn in as prime minister. Legislatures at all levels debated freely and took action on issues, at times in opposition to the stated policies of the executive. The media, however, was subject to regulatory restrictions, including a requirement to sign a code of conduct that discouraged criticism of the government. The country's human rights record worsened in 2007, particularly under President Musharraf's state of emergency. Other serious problems included abuses by security forces, violence against women, trafficking in persons, child labor, religious freedom violations, arbitrary arrest, lengthy pretrial detention, and corruption.
With the March 2008 change in government, there is renewed opportunity for the United States to assist the country's return to civilian democracy by strengthening its institutions. The U.S. strategy focuses on promoting free, fair, and transparent elections and political processes; strengthening the capacity of national and provincial legislatures and local government; supporting civil society, including the media; strengthening democratization and representation of political parties through political party reform; and both supporting an independent judiciary and enhancing respect for the rule of law. The United States continues to work with the government, civil society institutions, and international organizations to strengthen the media, build an independent judiciary, increase transparency within political parties, strengthen an independent Election Commission, combat violence and discrimination against women and religious minorities, and reduce trafficking and child labor.
The United States mounted a major diplomatic and assistance effort to support the democratic process leading up to the February 2008 elections. In particular, senior U.S. officials advocated a level playing field for all political parties and called for a free, fair, and transparent vote. Senior U.S. officials voiced their opposition to the state of emergency, criticized media restrictions and harassment of journalists, and repeatedly called for the release of those detained. U.S.-funded organizations worked with the Election Commission to computerize and improve the quality and appearance of the electoral list and polling station information, as well as to pioneer a Web-based complaint system for reporting election-related abuses. Through coordination with multiple donors, the United States provided translucent ballot boxes and security seals, trained political party poll watchers, funded domestic election monitors, and provided voter education training and materials. The United States funded an international election monitoring mission and also deployed a U.S. diplomatic observer mission on election day. These activities were buttressed with diplomatic efforts to make the elections process more transparent.
The United States continues to implement a multiyear strategy to increase the capacity of the country's political parties and democratic institutions. A U.S.-funded political party strengthening program helped parties' efforts to become more responsive to their constituents' interests through internal reform and democratization of their governing structures and processes. Other programs supported the leadership of all major parties to train leaders in issue-based campaigning, grassroots party development, and democratic mechanisms for platform development and candidate selection. The United States worked with female party leaders and provided training and assistance to improve their capacity to campaign for elected office and serve the public as elected officials. To help young political party activists create a more permanent role for young leaders in their parties, the United States provided training, facilitated roundtable discussions between youth and senior party members, and developed action plans to expand youth participation. Through a legislative strengthening program, the United States provides training to national and provincial parliaments on rules of procedure, law drafting, and budget review. As part of this program, the United States helps to strengthen their oversight capacity, develop a functioning committee system, and promote regular dialogue between constituents and NGOs. Through a local government program, the United States supports efforts to improve the quality of grassroots service delivery and increase citizen involvement in budgeting and local decision making. Also in 2007 the United States continued efforts to develop competent, professional security forces in the country to help curtail human rights violations and contribute to greater respect for the rule of law.
The United States continues to promote independent media and professional journalism through advocacy and training programs, and senior U.S. officials regularly voice opposition to continued curbs on the media. The United States funds training for radio and print journalists and supports community radio stations in key areas such as in rural parts of the Northwest Frontier Province and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The project helps create radio programs and a television program focused on the rule of law, human rights, and legal education. It also trains journalists in legal and political reporting to improve coverage of elections, human rights, and the rule of law. In 2007 the United States supported the participation of 15 journalists in International Visitor Leadership Programs.
The United States supports both women's rights and refugees. To help survivors of domestic abuse and honor crimes, the United States works with a resource center to train its staff on gender-based violence and strategic planning and to support its public outreach efforts on gender-sensitization and human rights. For the approximately two million remaining Afghan refugees in the country, the United States funded programs to provide health, education, and legal assistance and supported efforts to alleviate gender-based violence in refugee and host communities.
The United States works to promote religious freedom and to combat religious discrimination and victimization of religious minorities. The United States maintains close ties with Christian, Ahmadi, Shi'a, and other minority religious communities and continues a dialogue with government and religious representatives from all religious communities to encourage religious freedom and discuss discriminatory legislation, sectarian violence, and mistreatment of minorities. As part of its education program, the United States works with its counterparts to improve the quality and availability of public education to provide a viable alternative to religious schools preaching extremism.
The United States continues to support several programs to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. These projects identify and remove children from the workplace and place them in informal education centers to learn basic reading and mathematics with the goal of mainstreaming them into government schools. U.S. officials also advocate the resumption of nationwide labor inspections and support the government's ongoing revision of national labor laws to make them consistent with international labor standards. The United States assists the government to combat trafficking in persons, emphasizing prevention, prosecution, and protection of victims. The United States funds a series of trafficking in persons awareness-raising activities in collaboration with the government.