May 25

Chew on this

Posted on Friday, May 25, 2012 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

The Friday Times; Najam Sethi’s Editorial

Three developments last week have cast a shadow on the civil-military establishment in Pakistan. The first is a remark attributed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, that if Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani doesn’t heed the writing on the wall about the dismal human rights situation in Balochistan, the constitution can prevail and a state of Emergency can be declared in the province. The second is the sentencing of Dr Shahid Afridi to 33 years imprisonment for treason for helping the US try and obtain a DNA sample of the members of Osama bin Laden’s family in Abbottabad. The third is the court martial of three Pakistan Navy officers for “negligence” in the Mehran Navy Base terrorist attack last year in which 10 Pak soldiers were martyred and 2 PC3 Orion aircraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars were destroyed.

The remarks of the CJP were addressed to the “prime minister”. This means that the prime minister is “de jure” still prime minister and hasn’t been disqualified from being a member of parliament by the Supreme Court that sentenced him to 30 seconds imprisonment in court for contempt a month ago. Under the circumstances, Mr Nawaz Sharif & Co are not justified in rejecting him as a legitimate prime minister and making such a ruckus about it in parliament. Indeed, the position taken by Imran Khan is more legitimate: he has petitioned the Sindh High Court to declare Mr Gillani disqualified to be a member of parliament.

More significantly, the CJP has castigated the federal government for its inability or unwillingness to help the court in the “missing persons” cases. This is not fair. The federal and provincial governments are in no position to defy the writ of the powerful military in commanding the province. The Frontier Corps (FC) may, in theory, be led by an IG reporting to the CM, but in practice the IGFC is appointed by GHQ, takes input from MI and ISI, and reports to the Corps Commander of Quetta – in short, to the military high command. The SC has also been told by the Balochistan Police Department that the FC is directly involved in 95% of all “missing persons” cases in Balochistan. Therefore, instead of flogging a weak and opportunist government mortally in fear of the military, the SC should directly ask GHQ to explain its position as it did in the Memogate case. Surely, an in-camera briefing about how the military perceives the “national interest” in the face of an armed secessionist insurgency in the province should enable the SC to explore legitimate ways of resolving the problem. The imposition of a state of Emergency will deny citizens their constitutional right to petition the courts for help. But it is for the executive to impose such a state of Emergency, not the SC, under the constitution. Only the President of Pakistan can impose it either on the asking of the Balochistan provincial assembly or with the approval of both houses of the national Parliament.

The handling of Dr Afridi’s case is equally problematic. How can a citizen be hauled up for “treason” for cooperating with a foreign power that is acknowledged to be a strategic ally of Pakistan in pursuit of the common goal of combating Al-Qaeda terrorism? The Pakistani Intel agencies, in cooperation with the US, have nabbed and extradited Pakistani citizens without due process of law since the 1990s – Ramzi Yousaf, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Afia Siddiqui, and a dozen others. Indeed, as former President General Pervez Mushharaf boasted in his memoirs, various Pakistani governments went so far as to claim head money from the US on such terrorists. Worse, both the ISI and Defense Ministry have claimed they helped track down OBL for the US. What is sauce for the goose is surely sauce for the gander. At the least, Dr Afridi should have been subjected to the due process of the law of the land and not the arbitrary and summary law of the tribal areas at the hands of an assistant political agent.

The court martial of the three Navy officers also leaves much to be desired. Nothing has been revealed about the nature of the charges against them, nor indeed of the punishment meted out to them. This is unbelievable. The terrorist incident pointed to insider sources in the Navy sympathetic to the Ilyas Kashmiri terrorist group, which at least one journalist, Saleem Shahzad, had pointed out and for which he was probably tortured and killed. Instead, the then Navy Chief who had exalted the terrorists as some “Starwar” characters and was absolved of any wrong doing or negligence, was decorated before retirement by the President on the advice of the military establishment!

Something is terribly rotten in the state of Pakistan. There is neither any accountability of the high and mighty civil-military establishment, nor is there any due process for the hapless citizens of the country. The honourable courts should chew on this.