September 2001 News

Pakistan: The terror within

27 September 2001
Asian Age
Ardeshir Cowasjee

Karachi: The recent pronouncements of Sheriff George W Bush, formerly of Texas, have benefited the Karachiites. A largely attended MQM rally held in this city on September 26 was addressed by Altaf Hussain, now safely ensconced in peaceful London. He abhors terrorism in all its manifestations, or so he announced over the loud speakers to his ardent followers, and agreed that it must be eliminated wherever it may raise its ugly head. The British with, of course, our good at heart, have given him British nationality and he is now the proud holder of a British passport and a loyal subject of the Queen. Over the ocean, Langley has a file on him. He and his partymen are suspected of having been the organisers and perpetrators of the murder of the four Union Texas Americans in Karachi in November 1997. Altaf might care to start reading up on the Don Pacifico affair (1850), but he should be warned that President General Pervez Musharraf is hardly likely to send a naval squadron to blockade Britain, nor is Tony Blair a latter-day Palmerston who will speak up in the House on his behalf. To quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “During his speech before the vote, he made his famous comparison between the British and Roman empires, saying that, just as a Roman could claim his rights anywhere in the world with the words civis romanus sum so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.” Now to more serious matters. This country now suffers from the disapproval of the powerful democrats of the world, all ignorant of the type of democracy adopted by the democrats of Pakistan, of not having a democratic government in place and we are isolated, alone and friendless. But, with the peculiar circumstances that now prevail in the world, and with Pakistan being very much in demand at the moment, we the citizens of Pakistan might take advantage of and benefit from this military rule. The Pakistan Armed Forces (acting in aid of the civil power) Ordinance, 1998 (Ordinance XII of 1998), specified in Section 3: “That the chiefs of staff of the armed forces may convene as many courts as may be necessary to hear cases triable under this ordinance.” The cases covered by the ordinance were mainly of a terrorist nature. Under the new law the investigation of all offences were to be supervised by the armed forces. The great advantage of this was that it abolished the widespread complaints emanating from both the public and the judiciary that the police investigations were defective by reason of inefficiency and corruption. Credibility was thus lent to the investigation process by the induction of the armed forces in a supervisory role. Appeals lay with appellate courts, also set up by the armed forces, which were ideally suited to try offences in cases of terrorism. Unlike civilian judges, the military judges were not identifiable in advance by terrorists or their patrons and hence were not susceptible either to inducements or to threats. These courts had no arrears of work and were able to dispose of cases promptly. And, unlike the civil anti-terrorist courts they consisted of not one judge but a panel of judges who, although not well-versed in the technicalities of criminal law, were strongly imbued with a desire to do substantial justice. Their approach was that the innocent should be acquitted and the guilty punished without their being bogged down in a quagmire of legal technicalities. In one sense, the Anglo-Saxon system in which lay jurors, innocent of any knowledge of law, decide questions of guilt and innocence, was partially introduced. The result was a series of convictions, and in many cases the innocent were acquitted either at the trial stage or at the appellate stage by the military courts. Two convicts were sentenced to death and hanged and for many months thereafter peace descended on Karachi. Then the Supreme Court stepped in. In the case of Liaquat Hussain vs the Federation of Pakistan a nine-member bench of the Supreme Court struck down the law as being unconstitutional. The opinion of the Supreme Court was that military courts amounted to a parallel judicial system and hence this invasion of the SC’s authority could not be tolerated. However, the SC laid down a set of guidelines which, in its own words, “were intended to deal with the fact” and to ensure that the cases relating to terrorism should be decided within days. Paragraph 2 of the order reads: “However, we are not oblivious to the fact that terrorism in Karachi and in other parts of Pakistan has not only taken toll of thousands of innocent lives but has also affected the economy of the entire country and it is a matter of paramount importance that this menace is eliminated effectively in the shortest possible time, for which a solution be found within the framework of the Constitution.” Guidelines 3 and 4 provided that the civil anti-terrorist courts should decide cases within seven days and the HC in appeal should decide the matter within a further seven days. Although not specifically mentioned it was clearly implied that the SC would also show celerity in disposing of appeals. The judgment was announced on February 17 1999. Sadly, these time periods have been honoured more in the breach than in observance. Rather than days, appeals have lingered on for months and in many cases for years. One month ago, after the chief executive publicly announced that these delays were seriously deleterious to the administration of justice and the maintenance of peace, the chief justice of Pakistan constituted a number of benches so as to try to expedite the appellate procedure. So far, the judiciary has not shown much success. Things have not moved. The old delays continue. American President Harry Truman famously said: “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen; if you can’t do the job, let others who can do so.” The military courts are the ones that can do the job and that did do the job before they were rudely disbanded out of pique. The residents of Karachi lead a beleaguered existence, assailed by fear of violence, terrified that acts of killing invariably go unpunished. Some 70 doctors and other professionals have been assassinated with brutal and cold-blooded efficiency. Murderers convicted so far: nil. The crime of those murdered? They were Shias. Similarly, Sunnis have been assassinated. All are agreed on two critical points: firstly, both Shias and Sunnis are Muslims; secondly, the assassins in all cases are invariably Muslims. Numerous killings have been carried out in mosques. Why do the police not act? They are busy pursuing the different avenues which lead to personal enrichment or public harassment. Public pronouncements that the guilty must be arrested within the week are ridiculed. Firm and decisive action is needed. An excellent beginning would be for the government to announce that the SHOs will be held responsible in case arrest and prosecution are not made within a predetermined period. In the event of failure to meet the deadline, those concerned should at the very least be transferred forthwith (to Chachro), or preferably suspended. There should be a public announcement every month listing the heinous crimes committed and the remedial action, if any, taken. The statement should be precise and detailed and should not be treated merely as the offering of a vague reassurance. Why is it that repeated assurances given to the public that the assassins of Shaukat Mirza were about to be apprehended have been found to be completely baseless? Why is it that a notable philanthropist was assassinated last week to the accompaniment of a yawning indifference by the local administration? Musharraf owes it to us, the people of Karachi, to restore the military courts and give us justice. Though an emergency may not have been declared, does it not exist?


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