The Day of the Endangered Lawyer

A few days before the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the Islamabad Bar Association issued a notification that made it mandatory for lawyers to submit affidavits regarding their faith. The notification was clearly targeted towards members of the Ahmadi sect. Facing backlash in the public and also a pushback from the Pakistan Bar Council, the notification was suspended.

However, as noted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a roundtable they held “it was critical to discuss the threats faced by lawyers who defend human rights. HRCP Honorary Spokesperson I. A. Rehman underscored the need to document all such instances of threats to lawyers. Participants shared a range of experiences, from lawyers who said that they had been threatened openly by their own colleagues for representing clients from the Ahmadiyya community, to those who had faced intimidation from state agency officials in cases related to torture or death in custody. Politically sensitive cases, such as those pertaining to enforced disappearances, also put lawyers at risk. Lawyer and digital rights activist Nighat Dad pointed out that ensuring lawyers’ security extended to their digital security: if this became compromised, it would immediately put clients at risk.”

Further, “An important consensus was that women lawyers and lawyers from religious minorities were subjected to greater harassment, not only from male colleagues, but also from judges. Advocates Jalila Haider and Alia Malik recounted the number of instances in which they had been harassed in court or been threatened with physical violence. Vice-chair of the Pakistan Bar Council Abid Saqi pointed to the structural discrimination existing in the Constitution and laws. He recommended that a permanent body be constituted to develop strategies for countering threats to lawyers handling sensitive cases, such as those related to blasphemy and forced conversion. He also agreed, among other things, to a proposal for establishing committees to counter the harassment of women in the legal profession. HRCP Council member and senior lawyer Hina Jilani said that lawyers must engage with the state, and especially the judiciary, to sensitise them to such threats and the need to perform their due role.”

Conflict of Interest: Imran Khan, Davos, & Businessman Ikram Sehgal

While attending World Economic Forum (WEF), at Davos in January 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that his stay had been sponsored by a Pakistani businessman, Ikram Sehgal, and did not involve expenses to the exchequer. Anywhere else, a businessman paying for a head of government’s foreign junket would raise at least some question. But not in Pakistan. Retired Major Ikram Sehgal seems to be able to be a businessman, a newspaper columnist, and a facilitator of Prime Minister Imran Khan without Pakistan’s establishment and its many defenders even wondering if a ‘conflict of interest’ is involved.

Ikram Sehgal is a retired Pakistan army officer. He is the Chairman of Pathfinder G4S, a company that owns defence and logistics businesses across Pakistan. He was previously also associated with Pakistan Security & Management Services (Private) Ltd and Wackenhut Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd, SMS Couriers (Private) Ltd, Pathfinder (Private) Ltd (Trade and Countertrade).

Sehgal regularly appears on Pakistani tv, writes for The News, The Daily Times, Pakistan Today and even travels the world claiming to be a strategic affairs and defense analyst. However, the reality is that Sehgal is first and foremost a businessman who makes his money from defence and security contracts, including contracts with foreign governments.

In 2009, Sehgal wrote pieces in The News titled ‘Just Say No’ and ‘The Ultimate Defining Moment’, praising Hilary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan. What he didn’t disclose while writing those pieces was that he was head of SMS Security Company which is tied up with Wackenhut Services, a US-based private security services provider. Wackenhut-SMS was one of the contractors who provided security to the American embassy and to Americans in Pakistan.

In 2011, Sehgal wrote a piece for The News arguing that the Supreme Court of Pakistan should give up trying to enforce rule of law and that it should instead accept that military intervention may be necessary. One year later in 2012 he wrote another piece in The News calling on the Chief Justice of Pakistan once again to give military dictatorship a chance.

Every year since 2002, Ikram Sehgal’s Pathfinder Group has organized the Pakistan Breakfast at Davos. For the past 6 years the Martin Dow Group has been a co-host as well.

Ever since 2011, Sehgal has been promoting Imran Khan in the international media and at fora like Davos. While in previous years, either Pakistan’s then President or Prime Minister would be the chief guest, between 2011- 2013, the Chief guest was Imran Khan, even before Khan became Prime Minister.

At WEF Davos in 2013, Sehgal told Bloomberg that “Imran represents the hope for the future of Pakistan.”

In 2011, Sehgal told Los Angeles Times that “Khan is speaking the language of the streets.” Over the last few years, Sehgal has mentioned Khan often in his writings and analysis.

At the 2012, launch of Sehgal’s book, ‘Escape from Oblivion: The Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India,’ Imran Khan was the chief guest and other speakers were Javed Jabbar, Lt Gen. Ali Kuli Khan, Brig. Muhammad Taj, and Brig. A.R. Siddiqi.

 In 2018, when Imran took over, Sehgal said in a quote to the New York Times “Mr. Khan needs to sit down with the military and figure out what are the national security objectives. Everyone should be on the same page.” He also wrote an OpEd titled “Imran Khan begins the task by speaking for the long-ignored people” in which he said “Imran Khan won over the hearts of the masses by his very candid and honest manner in his address to the nation as PM. Delivered from the heart in plain words, his talking points scribbled in his own handwriting he meant what he said. The nation has been waiting to hear from their leaders for the last 71 years about the poor-rich divide and the vital issues haunting the masses on the poverty line or barely above it.”

Sehgal’s OpEds on Imran Khan appear to simply fawn over Khan, instead of providing any analysis.

Imran Khan at the UN,’ Daily Times, October 5, 2019

“In Imran Khan Pakistan has for the first time a Prime Minister who has an entirely different background than all previous ones. Not belonging to a feudal family like the Bhuttos and Sharifs with all the restrictions that come with that. Western educated and well connected in the understanding of the western world and its rules and sentiments, he is a middle class person with no assets ‘beyond known sources of income’ which makes him able to really feel the pain of the poor. And he has charisma and is emotional that makes him resound with Pakistanis and – as we have seen – even with the representatives present at UNGA.”

Proud of you, Imran,’ Daily Times, July 23, 2019

“All of Imran Khan’s trips abroad as PM has been of great importance to Pakistan. The most anticipated (and more important than others) was his 3-day trip of the United States (US). Primarily Pakistan badly needed to mend fences with the US on a number of thorny issues, secondarily we had to attract very much needed investment. Travelling with a small delegation to Washington DC on a Qatar Airways commercial flight to save money, this trip has cost the national exchequer about US$ 50,000 cost of former PM Nawaz Sharif’s last trip to the US was reportedly US$ 470,000. Imran Khan opted to stay at the Pakistani Ambassador’s residence instead of a hotel in order to further cut costs.”

It is all too apparent what Imran Khan gets from Ikram Sehgal: lots of praise and the opportunity to attend the Davos forum at Sehgal’s expense. The questions is, what, if any, interest of Ikram Sehgal is served by this relationship?

The Pakistani newspapers who publish his articles as if these are written by an uninterested party also need to answer why allow a promoter of Khan such access to their columns. Sehgal might claim he only does what he does out of a patriotic duty. But the reason why conflict of interest rules and procedures exist in most governments and most countries is precisely to make sure that someone other than the parties involved determines whether a relationship is above board.

HRCP: Where is the sovereignty of Pakistan’s citizens?

If Pakistan seeks to make progress towards becoming a democracy, one of the key issues that need to be tackled are its human rights record. At a recent seminar, held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a high-profile panel of human rights defenders discussed constitutionalism and human rights.

The panel “included HRCP Honorary Spokesperson I. A. Rehman; HRCP Secretary-General Harris Khalique; HRCP Council member and Supreme Court advocate Hina Jilani; Secretary-General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Nasir Zaidi; former director of the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services, Zafarullah Khan; former Senators Afrasiab Khattak, Farhatullah Babar and Taj Haider; Justice Shakeel Baloch; senior journalists Muhammad Ziauddin, Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi; Secretary-General of the Supreme Court Bar Association Shamim Malik; and political activist Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar. The seminar was attended by a cross section of society.”

The HRCP “resolution adopted by the panel urged the political leadership to ensure the supremacy of parliament, rule of law, and the people’s fundamental freedoms and rights. It stated that elected representatives should ensure that the system of governance rests on established laws and constitutional norms, instead of ordinances. The resolution also noted how political engineering by undemocratic forces had damaged the democratic process and encouraged selective accountability. The actions of law enforcement agencies, primarily intelligence agencies, should be brought within the ambit of the law through a strong, independent parliamentary oversight mechanism. As per the resolution, the policing duties in the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa must be handed over to civilian law enforcement institutions. The insidious practice of running internment centres in KP must also cease.”

HRCP also urged “the government to criminalise enforced disappearances in accordance with the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances, and let the public know the outcome of the proceedings at the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Various speeches reiterated that Pakistan’s youth, which has been kept alienated for decades and taken to the streets to claim their rights, must be heeded, not vilified in the form of criminal cases. Human rights defenders and journalists must be allowed to do their jobs and to criticise where criticism is called for. If Pakistan is to progress as a democratic country, the state must form empowered, autonomous local bodies in all federating units of the country. It must restore people’s faith in the judiciary by making it clear that those who abrogate the Constitution will be held accountable. Indeed, HRCP hopes the apex court will overturn the recent regressive judgment of the Lahore High Court. The state must also protect provincial autonomy under the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award. Provincial autonomy is a democratic right of Pakistan’s federating units.”

Pakistan’s Politicians Vote to Recognize ‘Divine Right’ of Army Chiefs

On Tuesday, January 7, 2020, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved a bill granting legal cover to a three-year extension in service to current Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, ending what some have referred to as “stand-off between the nation’s strong military and the judiciary.” The bill will become a law once it is approved by the Senate, the upper house. What was predictable was how the two main opposition parties, both Pakistan People’s Party, co-headed by former president Asif Ali Zardari, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, supported this move by Imran Khan’s led government.

Two days earlier, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had expressed deep concern “at Parliament’s attempt to hastily introduce legislation that will affect the organisation of the military through the recently tabled Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2020, the Pakistan Navy (Amendment) Act and the Pakistan Airforce (Amendment) Act. In the interest of preserving the sanctity of democratic rule, decisions concerning the rules and regulations that govern the tenure and appointment of military chiefs must not be made rashly. The undue haste in which this has occurred has worrying implications for the way in which democratic decisions are made in the future. Building institutions that outlast individuals is paramount to strengthening Pakistan’s ability to protect citizens’ fundamental rights. The recently tabled laws are a matter of public interest and the people’s elected representatives have a duty to legislate with responsibility and not on an ad hoc basis. This is critical to the spirit of the Constitution.”

However, even the Senate Standing committee on Defense approved the legislations and the bills will be approved by the Senate tomorrow.

The only parliamentarians who opposed the bills were those from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami and representatives from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). In a tweet, a North Waziristan MNA Mohsin Dawar said prior to walking out of the National Assembly, they had voted against the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020. “This parliament acted like a rubber stamp. Speaker didn’t even allow the few dissenting voices to make their case. This is one of the darkest days in Pakistan’s parliamentary history. It will take a long time to recover from this.”

General Bajwa’s Extension Drama Continues

In the midst of economic crises and international turmoil, Army Chief General Bajwa’s extension continues to occupy primetime on Pakistani media and in a predictable development the government and the opposition will work together to ensure that the COAS gets his extension.

In August 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan had extended Gen Bajwa’s tenure for three years through a notification, but on November 26, 2019 – three days before Gen Bajwa was due to retire – the Supreme Court under then Chief Justice Khosa suspended the order. Two days later the apex court announced that Bajwa would remain the COAS for another six months during which the parliament would legislate on the army chief’s extension/reappointment.

In the wake of this order, the PTI government decided to introduce an amendment bill in parliament after building a consensus with major opposition parties – PMLN and PPP – on the matter.

As Dawn reports “The government needs the support of opposition parties to make

the amendments as any amendment to the Constitution needs to be approved by at least two-thirds of the membership of each House — the National Assembly and Senate. “We are hopeful that the bill seeking amendments in the army act, which requires a simple majority, will be passed from both houses unanimously on Friday,” said PTI MNA Malik Amir Dogar. He said that under a provision, the maximum age limit of the army, navy and air force chiefs and joint chief of staff committee will be 64 years in case they are given an extension in their tenures.”

The new laws“will fix 64 years as the maximum age limit of the three services chiefs — chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff — and the chairman of the joint chief of staff committee, with the prime minister having the prerogative to give an extension to any of them in future after completion of their normal tenure at the age of 60 years and the president having the power to give the final nod.”

Interestingly, “speaking to reporters after the NA session, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said his party will support the legislation if it is done through the parliamentary rules and regulations. He said the bills will first be sent to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence and the matter will be discussed in the House, adding that PML-N had not taken the opposition into confidence before offering the government their unconditional support on the legislation. “I think this should have not happened in this way. It is the responsibility of the leader of the opposition to unite the opposition and maintain consensus among ranks.”

However, “However, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq tweeted on Friday evening

that his party “will not support” the Army Act amendment bill. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, while talking to media in Islamabad, also said his party will “thoroughly resist” the amendment bill because it cannot give the right to legislate to a National Assembly “that was formed after stealing the people’s mandate”.”