Baby Steps

Protest against Assassination Salman Taseer

29th February is an uncommon date. Perhaps that makes it symbolic that it was on such date that Mumtaz Qadri was hanged till death for the murder of Salmaan Taseer Shaheed.

This is a landmark case for many reasons. The convicted killer received support from sections present in society. His execution was announced from mosque loudspeakers and reports of cries being heard were not uncommon. Religious parties termed him as a martyr (a spit in the face of the families of our soldiers martyred while defending our country from terrorists), and protesters blocked streets. This was all expected. Actually, for many the fear was even greater. This should be noted: Even though extremists and misguided people are outraged, the country is not engulfed in flames. Tomorrow the sun will rise and life will move on. Eventually, Salmaan Taseer’s killer will be forgotten in the rubbish bin of history.

The Courts, too, deserve credit. Judges and lawyers were under intense pressure from powerful religous groups. It should not be forgotten that Lahore High Court Judge Pervez Ali Shah who handed the death sentence left Pakistan under life threats. Religious parties threatened ‘dire consequences‘ if anyone dared carry out the Court’s sentence. However the Court stood firm and justice was meted according to the law. No last minute appeal overturned the verdict. No encounter killing required to do the needful. The state declared that it holds the monopoly on power, and it showed it. There are debates about the death penalty, but even this gives hope that we are becoming a society where debate is possible without turning to threats and violence.

I am not celebrating the death penalty. Neither I am celebrating a death. But I do feel some hope that I haven’t felt since long that maybe a crack of light is beginning to shine through. I know we are not there yet, but I think Zarrar Khuhro said it very well…”baby steps”…

UPDATE: Saeed Baloch Reappeared In Rangers Custody

Pakistan Rangers

After disappearing without a trace, General Secretary Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Saeed Baloch has suddenly been discovered. With no surprise, the disappeared human rights worker was missing in the hands of Pakistan Rangers who have now admitted that they have detained him.

According to agencies, Saeed Baloch was arrested with three others, Saleem Deedag, Mahar Bux and Dil Murad who have all confessed to providing funds to Peoples Amn Committee and Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

This will be an open and shut case for many people. If Rangers spokesman says there has been a confession, many people will blindly accept it. However this incident should raise questions for the judiciary if there is to be any hint of law and order in this country. Sadly, it appears that the judiciary is once again relegated to ‘meekly observing‘.

Surprisingly, the administrative judge of the Anti-Terrorism court, who is also a High Court judge, granted 90 days physical custody to the Rangers of the four suspects. It is no secret to the Sindh provincial judiciary that Saeed Baloch was illegally kept in Rangers’ custody after he was asked to come for an interview at the Rangers’ Kemari station on January 16. In fact, after Saeed’s disappearance, numerous national and international human rights organisations strongly condemned the paramilitary force’s actions, and called for his release. All sections of local media, together with some international media, gave tremendous coverage of his disappearance. Civil society held a huge protest against his disappearance on January 26, which was shown live by all media. Under these circumstances, how can a High Court judge believe the concocted story of the Rangers, without even referring to the petition pending at the Court?

Judicial ineptness and long undermining the judicial role of guaranteeing the fundamental rights of individuals has led to an acceptance of the primacy of law enforcement agencies. Keeping persons incommunicado is seen as their legal right, and their investigations and statements are the sole basis upon which judicial decisions are made. Pakistan’s judiciary thus plays a silent spectator to the human rights abuse meted out to citizens under the various guises of security, morality and national interest.

In a functioning democracy, the Supreme Court would take notice of this clear abuse of power by law enforcement agencies. If there really is authentic evidence against the accused, agencies should not need to kidnap and force confessions. Sadly, this case like many others not only hurts the image of the judiciary as being a toothless creature, but it defames the reputation of security agencies who are seen as taking actions above and beyond the bounds of the law with no accountability to anyone. The Supreme Court needs to step in to save the reputations of both institutions before it is too late.

Only as good as our word

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa

“A man is only as good as his word.” My father told me this in all seriousness one day when I was trying to back out of a commitment I had made to a neighbor. It was a bit of drudgery that I had agreed to help out with, and since then my classmate had managed to get tickets to something much more enjoyable. I tried explaining to my father that when I agreed to help, I didn’t know the tickets were going to appear. Circumstances had changed. Circumstances were extenuating. And it wasn’t really that important, anyway, I argued. My father stared at me in stony silence, then spoke: “If you cannot be trusted with something unimportant, how can anyone ever trust you with something that is?” I rode my bike to meet my friend and give him the bad news. He’d have to give my ticket to someone else. I fulfilled my promise, but I did so under silent protest. My friends were having fun and I was tired and dirty. Time works a funny kind of magic, though. If I had backed out of my commitment, I would look back on that day with shame. Actually, I hadn’t thought about this moment in a long time. It came back to me unexpectedly, though, when I read a report about, of all things, military courts.

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If Shafqat Hussain hangs, whole system may be found guilty along side him

shafqat hussain

Shafqat Hussain’s case took on international attention when the question of his age was raised. This has caused some confusion in Pakistan where people have posted pictures of the accused with a beard asking how this can be a teenager. This misses the point completely which is not that he is a teenager now but that he was a teenager over a decade ago when he was convicted for his alleged crime. Global human rights groups including those that have previously been highly favoured for speaking against drones have demanded the execution be stopped and termed his trial as “farce”. In Pakistan, that farce continues today and the state appears to be completely dysfunctional in its handling of the case.

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What Would It Mean If Mumtaz Qadri’s Terrorism Conviction Were Upheld

Supporters of convicted target killer Mumtaz Qadri

Though it has been overshadowed by Wednesday’s raid on Nine Zero, Islamabad High Court’s decision to drop terrorism charges against convicted target killer Mumtaz Qadri has important implications for society.

Many were shocked by the seemingly inexplicable court decision. As Dawn noted in their editorial on the decision:

Qadri’s killing of then governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer is the very definition of terrorism. It was an undisguised political act meant to send an unambiguous message of fear and intimidation to the public.

The Nation agrees:

It is rather disappointing that a man being shot 32 times in broad daylight by a lunatic in the name of religion doesn’t qualify as terrorism in the infinite wisdom of the honourable judges.

Questions are beginning to arise whether the decision was a foregone conclusion, and whether prosecutors actually conspired to bring it about, but let us ask the question which no one wants to ask: What would it say about our society if the Court would have let the terrorism conviction stand?

Remember, this is a convicted target killer who at least one MNA said should be released. Lawyers showered him with roses. Religious groups applauded his crime. Social media groups supporting the confessed killer sprout up like weeds across the internet, and offline a mosque has been named after the killer. As depressing as it is, a confessed murderer is seen as a hero in much of the country.

We can dismiss the antics of Abdul Aziz as representative of a small minority of extremists, but support for Mumtaz Qadri is widespread, possibly even considered as mainstream in some places.  If our own Court had termed him as a terrorist…what would that make a society that praises him…?