KARACHI - At a meeting with a Human Rights Watch team, PPP Patron-in Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reaffirmed his commitment to human rights’ protection across Pakistan, especially in Sindh where the PPP controls the provincial government.

HRW’s Pakistan Director Ali Dayan Hassan appreciated the PPP patron-in-chief’s commitment to human rights on behalf of its executive director Ken Roth and Asia director Brad Adams. Hassan informed the PPP chief patron of HRW’s recent fact-finding mission to Sindh. Matters of mutual interest, including ghost schools in the province, the drought in Thar and militancy in Karachi came under discussion.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed concern over the situation of education in the province and reiterated his party’s resolve to improve the system, to address cases of local mismanagement and corruption in the sector and provide free education to every child.

The PPP chief hoped the recently approved Sindh Education Sector Plan (SESP) 2014-2018 would play a major part in pushing the reforms needed for mitigating the education emergency.

“I am committed on behalf of my party that we will deal with the issues of education in the province on priority basis,” he said. He asked the HRW team to provide its detailed findings on the issue of ghost schools and share recommendations on the matter with the provincial authorities and asked the Sindh government authorities to report progress in the light of the input on the issue from HRW and others.

On the Thar drought, the patron-in-chief informed HRW of the efforts of the Sindh government to deal with the emergency and his personal efforts to improve the situation and the plight of ordinary people. He said compensation had been announced for the victims and medical and food supplies had been despatched to the area. He added both the bureaucrats and the ruling politicians from the PPP who were found guilty of negligence had faced disciplinary action.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari spoke of his visit to Thar to oversee relief efforts and assured the HRW delegation that he would continue to monitor the situation.

“Of course, we regret the sufferings of our people and feel their pain and helping them is and should always be our priority. That is why I rushed to Thar despite Taliban’s threats to target me,” the PPP patron-in-chief said.

 “However, the drought cycle in Thar has been 30-40 years in the making and requires long-term measures and the input of experts to address issues of environmental degradation and resource mismanagement,” he clarified. “We will undoubtedly address these issues and ensure that vulnerable people are protected in Thar, but short-sighted condemnation alone is not a solution to a serious long-term problem,” he added.

The PPP patron-in-chief reaffirmed his resolve to fight extremism and militancy in all its forms. He told HRW that a rights-respecting society which was his ambition for Pakistan could only be achieved by holding extremists accountable for the atrocities that had resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis. Bilawal requested the HRW to take further steps to highlight the sufferings of Pakistanis, its law-enforcement agencies and its army in the fight against terrorism.

Ali Dayan Hasan said HRW would continue to highlight all rights abuses, including those by extremists internationally and also engage with the federal government, all provincial governments and other stake-holders for improving human rights’ situation in Pakistan.