Pakistan’s ‘Untouchables’

Pakistan's untouchables

Anti-Terrorism Court in Quetta has acquitted Gen Musharraf in Akbar Bugti murder case. The outcome is not a surprise. Convicting any military officer, even those of lesser rank than General is nearly impossible. To convict a former Chief of Army Staff? Unthinkable. The fix was in since long, too, as police and other officials conveniently ‘lost’ most of the evidence.

With this acquittal, Gen Musharraf joins a long list of Pakistan’s “untouchables” – individuals who no court can convict and no amount of evidences can satisfactorily condemn. Others include Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Amir Jamaat-ud-Dawa Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar, and former head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq.

This inability to convict certain people has been a disaster. Diplomatically, it has cast doubt among foreign nations about whether we are honest in our efforts to fight terrorism, feeding those who accuse the state of playing double games and using militancy as a strategic asset. At home, it has deteriorated law and order by causing doubt about the willingness or the ability of security agencies to go after certain groups. This only encourages others to commit the same acts.

In the case of Akbar Bugti murder, it is a doubly dangerous outcome because it sends the message to Baloch that the estimated 21,000 missing and 6,000 killed and mutilated are worth less than one General. Anger erupted in Balochistan after Bugti was killed. Do we expect our Baloch brothers to celebrate when his killer walks scot free?

The Death Penalty Delusion

public hanging

Nawaz Sharif has lifted the ban on death penalty, and Gen Raheel has signed the death warrants for six convicted terrorists. The reaction has been fairly predictable, with right-wing hypernationalists beating their drum to hang someone, anyone, in the streets and left-wing human rights activists worrying about whether death penalty makes us no better than the killers we are killing. I have a different opinion than either of these. I’m not going to lose any sleep over whether a terrorist loses his life. Hang him if it makes you feel better. Hang him from a lamp post if something about that makes you feel more like a man. But don’t expect me to be there cheering it on, either, because it won’t matter. It won’t make one bit of difference.

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Why Can’t We Keep Terrorists In Jail?

Get out of jail free

A new report in a British newspaper terms Pakistan ‘incapable’ of prosecuting terrorists. The report makes this claim based on a new US State Department report, so it is sure to be dismissed as evidence of American anti-Pakistan propaganda. But we should take this claim seriously, not because the Americans are saying it, but because of who else is.

I wrote last year about our topsy-turvy justice system in which terrorists have more rights than honest citizens. I wrote this piece after a report in Daily Times found that 75 per cent of anti-terrorism cases were acquitted.

Whenever there’s an acquittal, like the revolving door that Hafiz Saeed uses to get in and out of jail, militant sympathisers say, ‘if there was evidence, they would have convicted so he must be innocent’. In a properly functioning judiciary, this would be true. But anyone who believes that Pakistan has a properly functioning judiciary probably lives in UK or Dubai and has never actually had to deal with Pakistani courts.

Just to play the ‘devils advocate’, let’s assume they are right. The fact that there are 75 per cent acquittals means that one of two institutions is failing badly – either the courts or the police. If the courts are properly functioning and all these innocents are being brought up on terrorism charges with no evidence, why are the police arresting the wrong people? And what can we do to improve the police competencies so that they start arresting the right ones?

But let’s also consider the possibility that the police are arresting the right people, and that revolving doors for terrorists are built into the courts. I suggest that we consider this not because the US State Department says it’s a problem, but because China does. As I noted before, Chinese media reports that militants are getting acquittals by threatening witnesses, the police and courts themselves.

Militants groups in Pakistan are being proven so strong that they manage the acquittal of their colleagues from cases and proceedings against them in courts by threatening the families of judges, witnesses and police officers, local media reported on Tuesday.

and

“This is a common practice in Pakistan, not only Taliban even small criminal groups use these tricks to get their friends free from the courts, when there is no proof or witness, the court will have to free them,” said Khalid Mahmood, a former police office in Punjab Province.

“Now in some cases, judges’ names are kept secret and they hear the case proceeding in jail with covered faces to avoid any recognition by the accused,” Khalid told Xinhua.

Xinhua is China’s official state media which represents the official line of the Chinese government.

I said last year that for honest citizens who only want to get some small amount of justice in their lives, the wait can be forever. For militants, though, it is always a speedy trial and ‘get out of jail free’. What kind of a topsy-turvy legal system is it that gives more rights to terrorists than to honest citizens?

It’s time to stop the revolving doors that spin terrorists in and out of the courts. Not because America says so or China says so, but because our inability or unwillingness to prosecute terrorists results in the deaths of innocent people. Seal the revolving door. No more excuses.

Why Do Terrorists Have More Legal Rights Than Honest Citizens?

Why do terrorists have more legal rights than honest citizens?

As often as the police arrest some miscreants involved in bombing attacks and militancy, the courts continue to release the suspects citing lack of evidence and the need for a speedy trial. But honest citizens who follow the laws are not granted this same privilege. Why are militants given more rights than honest citizens?

Think about the hardships faced by any honest citizen who tries to get some justice from the courts. First, it is nearly impossible to even have your case heard before a judge. Even if you finally do get a hearing, it is likely years or decades too late. This inefficient and corrupt system of ‘justice’ is part of the reason that many in the tribal areas tolerated Taliban originally – they were able to provide swifter resolution to legal claims.

Waiting for the local court to open for the day, defence lawyer Noor Alamkhan shuffled a stack of cases and recalled one former client who filed for divorce from her husband when she was 28.

By the time her family finally won the case, she was 55.

“What good is that?” he asked, exasperated. “She’s too old by that time to marry.”

The expensive and snail-like pace of justice in Pakistan is seen as a key reason why a huge northwestern swath of the country fell under the rule of the Taliban earlier this year.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry even complained of the rampant problems with the judicial system when he was reinstated by President Zardari.

‘In my opinion, lawyers will have to continue their struggle for dignity of this institution and make it more respectable,’ the chief justice said. Chaudhry is correct; the restoration of the deposed judges is only the first step in a long struggle for an independent, responsive and effective judiciary. The task ahead is nothing short of gargantuan.

From providing speedy justice in ordinary civil or criminal cases to putting in place a transparent mechanism for the selection of superior court judges, from making sense of the constitutional mess to shoring up a failing judicial infrastructure — there is no shortage of areas where change is needed.

But this problem of slow and unresponsive judiciary does not seem to effect everyone the same way. Actually, the courts are very quick to release suspects with ties to terrorism. Actually, it may be that there are two completely separate legal systems: A ‘quickly out of jail free’ system for militant extremists, and a ‘please come back tomorrow’ system for honest citizens. Daily Times reported that 75 percent of terrorism suspects were set free in Punjab.

As many as 629 terrorism cases were decided by anti-terrorism courts in 2009, of which suspects in 471 cases were acquitted, sources in the Punjab Public Prosecution Department and Punjab Police told Daily Times on Thursday.

Taking stock of the situation, CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has nominated Supreme Court Justice Shakirullah Jan as an administrative judge for all anti-terrorism courts (ATC) and Lahore High Court Judge Ijaz Chaudhry to monitor ATCs and examine exonerations in Punjab.

On April 24, a meeting presided over by Justice Shakirullah Jan would be held at the Supreme Court Registry in Lahore to examine the overall performance of ATCs, acquittals in terrorism cases, pending cases and the standard of investigation and prosecution.

As a follow up, Punjab Public Prosecution Department officials and the inspector general of Punjab police would meet today (Friday) to examine the current status of terrorism cases registered between January 1, 2005, and February 15, 2010, and some other pending cases registered before this period, sources in the IGP office told Daily Times.

Punjab Prosecutor General Syed Zahid Hussain Bokhari told Daily Times that special attention was paid to terrorism cases, which could spike the ratio of convictions in these cases. Punjab Police DIG (Crimes) Ayub Qureshi said the chief justice was focussing on terrorism cases. He said the Punjab IG had directed all regional police officers, city police officers and district police officers to improve the standard of investigation in terrorism cases, include concrete and solid evidence in case files and arrest proclaimed offenders as soon as possible.

Even the main suspect in the attack on Manawan police training academy has been released. Perhaps this should not be a surprise, though. The China news website People’s Daily Online has found that that militant groups are directing the courts to do their will.

Militants groups in Pakistan are being proven so strong that they manage the acquittal of their colleagues from cases and proceedings against them in courts by threatening the families of judges, witnesses and police officers, local media reported on Tuesday.

According to reports, hundreds of militants have been successfully released from jails due to non-availability of witnesses and proofs enough to sentence them according to law.

Recently Pakistan’s Lahore High Court took a strict notice about the acquittal of a criminal from a lower court who was arrested red-handed with a grenade during a terrorism attack on a police training academy in March 2009.

In another case family of anti-terrorism judge Mohammad Asim Imam performing duty in Pakistan’s northwestern Malakand Division, received threats from the armed Taliban, who visited their residence few days back.

The judge is currently dealing with terrorism cases of Sufi Mohammad, Pakistani Taliban’s spiritually whip, arrested last year during the military operation in the area.

Taliban visited their place, left a message for the family and the judge to fall in line or be ready for the consequences. They also ordered the family cook to tell the judge that they were after him and would soon sort him out.

For honest citizens who only want to get some small amount of justice in their lives, the wait can be forever. For militants, though, it is always a speedy trial and ‘get out of jail free’. What kind of a topsy-turvy legal system is it that gives more rights to terrorists than to honest citizens?

Defence lawyer Suhil Aziz told The Star, “When you have to wait years for your case to even begin, that is not justice”. This may be the case for honest citizens, but Hafiz Saeed has no complaints

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