Military courts

By Gul Bukhari

The agencies are not interested in convictions of extremist guys.” Every week, the prosecutors would get a visit from ISI and military intelligence officers to discuss the terrorism cases, to find out how many were being tried, how many pending. “And always they’d say, ‘Why are you going after good Muslims?’ or ‘What is the case against [Lashkar-e-Janghvi leader] Akram Lahori? He is working for Islam. Why are you working against him?’” – Buriro, prosecutor of Sindh ATC to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on prosecuting terrorists.

The agencies are not interested in convictions of extremist guys.” Every week, the prosecutors would get a visit from ISI and military intelligence officers to discuss the terrorism cases, to find out how many were being tried, how many pending. “And always they’d say, ‘Why are you going after good Muslims?’ or ‘What is the case against [Lashkar-e-Janghvi leader] Akram Lahori? He is working for Islam. Why are you working against him?’” – Buriro, prosecutor of Sindh ATC to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on prosecuting terrorists.

“Buriro produced the video in open court. He cross-examined the defendants’ witness, an ISI colonel. The prosecutors withstood anonymous phone threats; they turned down bribes to let the case return to the regular courts, where it would fade away. The security apparatus was especially furious that uniformed men were being tried in the anti-terrorism court. ‘During the process of the case I was threatened by the naval agencies. I was threatened by the ISI,’ Buriro said. The prosecutors were excoriated for not damaging evidence in the case as instructed.” – Buriro to CPJ on his prosecution of Rangers men for shooting to death unarmed Sarfaraz Shah in a park in Karachi in 2011. They were caught on camera and the case became a publicized one.

Buriro produced the video in open court. He cross-examined the defendants’ witness, an ISI colonel. The prosecutors withstood anonymous phone threats; they turned down bribes to let the case return to the regular courts, where it would fade away. The security apparatus was especially furious that uniformed men were being tried in the anti-terrorism court. ‘During the process of the case I was threatened by the naval agencies. I was threatened by the ISI,’ Buriro said. The prosecutors were excoriated for not damaging evidence in the case as instructed.” – Buriro to CPJ on his prosecution of Rangers men for shooting to death unarmed Sarfaraz Shah in a park in Karachi in 2011. They were caught on camera and the case became a publicized one.

CPJ’s full report on the roots of impunity in Pakistan is a horrifying, heart-stopping indictment of primarily the military and its intelligence agencies. Political parties and governments, in particular the MQM, are not spared either, but the clear illustration of how intelligence agencies perpetrate atrocities and prevent justice through civilian law enforcement and courts is petrifying. The blood runs cold reading how journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif reporting on a Taliban hideout being only two kilometers from the Salala Checkpost on the Pak-Afghan border was murdered. Mukarram’s reports on Deewa Radio were pointing to the possible reason the Americans attacked the Salala checkpost killing 24 Pakistan Army soldiers. His reports came too close to exposing the military-militant nexus, and the military’s double games. The people of the country were rightly angry the Americans had killed innocent soldiers of the Pakistan Army, unprovoked. However, the people of Pakistan were to be prevented from understanding what actually led to the accident.

The blood runs cold reading how journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif reporting on a Taliban hideout being only two kilometers from the Salala Checkpost on the Pak-Afghan border was murdered. Mukarram’s reports on Deewa Radio were pointing to the possible reason the Americans attacked the Salala checkpost killing 24 Pakistan Army soldiers. His reports came too close to exposing the military-militant nexus, and the military’s double games. The people of the country were rightly angry the Americans had killed innocent soldiers of the Pakistan Army, unprovoked. However, the people of Pakistan were to be prevented from understanding what actually led to the accident.

Yet, in response to the massacre of 140 children in the APC Peshawar attack, the most significant anti-terror measures announced by the Prime Minister, and acquiesced to by the rest of the parliamentary parties, is to cede ‘justice’ to the military and to lift the moratorium on death penalty for terrorists. Both were dictated by the military.

‘All day on Wednesday, according to a participant of the meeting held at the PM House, the military leadership stressed the need to set up military courts as the “(civilian) justice system had failed to deliver.” – front page of Dawn, December 25th. In light of the CPJ report, which merely acts to confirm what many of us have known, are military courts then the solution? Is the military the solution or part of the problem? The narrative being built for the justification of military courts is wrong: that the civilian judges and law enforcement agencies are too weak, inept, and cowardly to convict terrorists. All, I repeat all, terror groups, be they of the Taliban ilk (whom the military has for sometime turned against) or sectarian in nature like the SSP and LeJ, were formed by the military for its various domestic and foreign security policies. And the police’s and courts’ intimidation by the military intelligence agencies is in no small part responsible for the broken civilian justice system. One cannot exonerate the political elite for not trying to strengthen the policing and courts systems, but in the face of the powerful army, and with having to watch over their shoulders’ every moment for the next coup, one cannot blame them entirely either.

The decision to lift the moratorium on death penalty also reeks of vengeance and of being seen to be tough on terrorists. However, the manner in which non-terror related crimes or ordinary civilians are being charged and tried in anti-terror courts, bodes ill for the cause of justice. People like Imran Khan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman have been charged under the Anti Terrorism Act, so vaguely is terrorism defined in the act. How then, is lifting the moratorium a wise step? The case of Shafqat Hussain perhaps is the ideal example of the flaws existing in the system, due to which such knee jerk measures really only serve to right one wrong with another. He was sentenced to death when he was 14 years old. An extract from Reprieve’s report reads, ‘(Hussain) is set to be among the first executed as Pakistan lifts its moratorium on the death penalty.… although Pakistan’s Prime Minister has said those to be executed will be “terrorists,” Shafqat was convicted of involuntary manslaughter (by an ATC), what the courts described as an accidental death in the course of a kidnapping. The conviction was based on a forced ‘confession’ extracted from him after nine days of police torture – he was beaten, and the scars are still visible where he was burned with cigarettes. The case has nothing to do with terrorism.”

How does killing an innocent person, already a terrible victim of the broken justice system of this country, serve the purpose of fighting terrorism? What is really required is to provide training to police in forensics, evidence preservation, framing of charges etc.; provision of foolproof protection to judges, lawyers, prosecutors and witnesses; depoliticizing and making independent the police service. Yes, these are long term measures, but the Prime Minister’s plan does not even mention this as a long-term goal. Instead, it delegitimizes and disenfranchises the civilian setup further by ceding all control to the military.
The important issue here is that even if the decision is now done, the parliament must debate very carefully and at length the issue of military courts and civilian oversight and ultimate authority over these courts. Even more importantly, the government and all political parties must at the same time work on a war footing to fix the justice system and lay the groundwork for bringing back terror cases under their own purview. The military must also acknowledge its own role in this terrible tragedy that Pakistan is today, and begin to make amends and support the civilian democratic project as at least one act of penance.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. She can be contacted at gulnbukhari@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter 

Courtesy: The Nation
Read more » http://nation.com.pk/columns/28-Dec-2014/military-courts

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