Daily Times editorial on CJP’s Strange, ominous, unconstitutional pronouncement on emergency & martial law

EDITORIAL: Strange pronouncement

The Supreme Court (SC) three-member bench hearing the missing persons case in the Quetta Registry headed by Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has been scathing in its remarks during the proceedings about the seriousness of the situation in Balochistan and the obvious lack of the federal and provincial government’s seriousness in addressing the issue. The bench has been putting civil servants, junior government officials and police personnel on the mat regarding their failure to produce the missing persons. At the last hearing, the Deputy Attorney General got so much stick from the bench that he tendered his resignation. The CJ quoted former Balochistan advocate general Salauddin Mengal to portray a situation where no Pakistani flag could fly without the protection of the guns of the security forces more than 10 miles from Quetta. In the same vein of castigating the political, administrative and law enforcement leadership at the Centre and in the province, the CJ remarked that if the prime minister was not interested in acting to salvage the situation, the constitution envisaged other means, including the declaration of an emergency. Further, the CJ warned something must be done before another martial law is imposed.

These remarks have set off a new controversy in the media. While legal luminaries expressed surprise at the CJ’s comments, saying the declaration of an emergency was solely the prerogative of the executive and the judiciary had no power in this regard, similar arguments were marshalled by Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. The latter though was ‘softer’ in his explanation that the CJ had only pointed out the possibility of an extreme outcome if the crisis in Balochistan persisted, and did not actually advocate any such step. Be that as it may, the SC bench is motivated by concern at the ground realities in the province. However, well intentioned as their criticism of the political, administrative and security regime may be, it is tilted in the wrong direction. Who does not by know (sometimes from the horse’s mouth) that the civilian political and administrative set up, not to mention the police, have little or no say in how the affairs of the province are being managed. The policy of kidnapping, torturing and dumping bodies of nationalists, intellectuals and others is solely the handiwork of the Frontier Corps (FC), ISI and MI. These agencies are so cloaked in a cocoon of immunity handed down over the years that they fear nothing and no one, not even the apex court. Take for example the blatant manner in which the DG FC cocked a snook at the SC bench by denying that the persons seen in FC uniforms kidnapping a missing person on video were part of his force. They were imposters, the DG claimed, without batting an eyelid. When powerful heads of agencies beyond the pale of any law or restraint can produce such denials so blatantly in the face of the SC, what is there left to say?

The SC’s umbrage during these hearings can be explained by the frustration travelling to the honourable judges from the helplessness expressed by all and sundry from the civilian side who have appeared before them. This, my honourable lords, is the real and undeniable truth. The FC, commanded by army officers, the ISI and MI, all arguably answering to and being guided by GHQ, are solely responsible for taking over the ‘running’ of the province, by which they mean the elimination through a slow genocide of all dissenters amongst the Baloch. Since they are ensconced behind an impenetrable wall of impunity, there is little the SC can do to demolish this barrier. Neither the prime minister, chief minister of Balochistan, federal or provincial secretaries, police can do anything. They have nothing on their plate. Unless the SC turns its attention to the real culprits, powerful as they are, there is little hope of redress on the question of the missing persons, let alone the plethora of other issues afflicting the province, some rooted in history. The likely failure of the SC to produce more than a token dent in the wall of impunity of the repressive agencies in Balochistan is likely to embitter the victim populace even more, thereby stoking separatist sentiment further. With due respect to the SC’s valiant efforts, which should not of course be abandoned, rather widened to call to account the real perpetrators of the repressive policies in the province, it seems an all but impossible task. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Unjust ‘reward’

Instead of being rewarded for helping the world get rid of the most wanted terrorist, Dr Shakil Afridi has been awarded a 33 year jail sentence and fine of Rs 320,000 by the political administration of the tribal Khyber Agency for allegedly committing high treason in assisting the CIA reach the compound of Osama bin Laden (OBL) in the garrison city of Abbottabad where he had been hiding for five years. Dr Afridi had provided intelligence about OBL’s presence in the compound by collecting DNA samples of his family through launching a fake polio vaccination campaign in the area. After the US SEALs’ covert raid on OBL’s compound on May 2, 2011, Pakistani intelligence agencies arrested Dr Afridi on the charge of high treason. Since then, the high level officials of the US have been trying to persuade Pakistan to release Dr Afridi as he helped both the US and Pakistan to achieve their common goal of eliminating OBL. Now after a year, he was handed down severe punishment under the century-old colonial regime of the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).

Being a coalition partner in the war on terror, it was one of the responsibilities of Pakistan under international law and the UNSC’s mandate to find bin Laden. However, instead of feeling pleased that one of its citizens has helped reach the target, it has been treating Dr Afridi’s effort as treasonous. This is not only appalling but also unjustified. It reinforces the suspicion that OBL’s presence in Abbottabad was not a secret for the Pakistani intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, as per the FCR, Dr Afridi cannot appeal against the sentence. Indeed it turned out to be so easy for the authorities to find a convenient way of punishing him as no due legal process is followed under the FCR. As expected, the US Departments of State and Defence have registered protests with Pakistan against Dr Afridi’s punishment. However, the Pakistan Foreign Office has asked the US to respect its court’s decision. There is a likelihood that this development would once again increase tensions between the two countries after a deadlock over the Salala check post incident last November.

According to many analysts, the Pakistan government has been lenient towards Dr Afridi as it, under international pressure, did not hold his trial in a court following the state’s normal laws, which may have led to the death penalty being handed down to him if the charges of alleged treason had been proved. His sentence is barely short of the death penalty though. Dr Afridi has actually facilitated the common cause of the two countries committed to fighting against terrorism. Justice can only be served in his case by revisiting the sentence and setting Dr Afridi free.

Courtesy: Daily Times


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