In Pakistan, justice is often thought of as something elusive. Anyone who has experienced the labyrinthine, often unpredictable Kafka-esque process knows this all to well. Cases drag on, seemingly for eternity. For politicians, the process can literally be eternal. Cases registered, hearings held, then postponed – only to pop back up again years, sometimes decades later. However, justice is not always delayed, sometimes it is simply denied. And in these cases, the system can move fairly quickly.
Chaudhry Nisar has requested the British government to stop Altaf Hussain from criticising Pakistan Army. Even setting aside how insecure this makes Pakistan Army look, it is a ridiculous request that will be laughed out of Whitehall. UK government will not force Altaf from criticising Pakistan Army any more than our government will force Imran from criticising NATO. However there is another matter that more properly follows legal protocol: The registration of a FIR against the MQM chief under the section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and 506 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). This move may not be as entertaining to British Ministers, but it will meet the same success as the Interior Minister’s request for a simple reason: Our ‘justice’ system lacks any credibility.
Two incidents this week indicate that justice in Pakistan continues to be elusive. First was the promulgation of Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (Amended) which quietly dismissed all missing persons cases and gave agencies a blank check to maintain secret prisons for anyone who they decide has done as little as ‘issued threats’.
The ordinance denotes that the persons under detention of security forces will be considered detained from the day of promulgation of the ordinance. Those facing charges will be tried in courts and the security forces will have ‘indemnity’ on their detention.
The second incident involved the controversial case against a mentally ill British man accused of blasphemy. On Thursday, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Sentencing a mentally ill man to death for blasphemy is questionable enough, but the case became even more disturbing when the court proceeded to carry out proceedings in secret and without the accused man’s attorney present.
His lawyer told the BBC’s Saba Eitizaz that she was forcibly removed from the case by the judge and that proceedings were carried out behind closed doors.
Justice cannot be carried out with blank checks and secret proceedings. There is no doubt that agencies are facing a difficult mission to protect the nation from terrorists, but use of secret prisons and lack of oversight for agencies gives fuel to the terrorists anti-state narrative. Similarly, supporters of blasphemy laws like Tahir Ashrafi always say that the problem is not with the law but with the application. Convicting and sentencing to death a mentally ill man without allowing his lawyer to be present is a casebook miscarriage of justice in any case, but in the case of blasphemy laws it only provides more evidence that fair application of these laws is only a fantasy.
Dr Shakil Afridi was sentenced to 33 years on Wednesday for helping the CIA locate Osama bin Laden. Dr Afridi was convicted by a tribal court on anti-state activities charges, and some are saying that his being charged under FCR instead of the Pakistan Criminal Code (CPRC) saved his life from a death penalty for treason. There is a debate to be had about whether the conviction was fair – Osama bin Laden was not an agent of Pakistan, so how can helping to find him be considered “anti-state activity”? But today I want to discuss a different question that is raised by the conviction.
While Dr Afridi was charged with “anti-state activities”, and routinely described as guilty of treason against Pakistan, another court handed down another set of convictions. In the case of the terrorist attack on PNS Mehran which martyred 12 Pakistani soldiers and destroyed critical national security assets in what officers suspected was an inside job, the punishments were a one-year demotion and two six-months demotions. In one of the most devastating attacks against our national security, the worst punishment is a one-year demotion?
For the next 33 years, Dr Afridi will suffer in prison for his part in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. While the doctor languishes in prison, people responsible for PNS Mehran attack are free. What does this tell about our national security priorities? What does it tell about our system of justice? What does it tell about our chances of ending terrorism in the country?
Former Minister for Law, Justice, Parliamentary Affairs & Human Rights Iqbal Haider observed that “The Mehran Base destruction was not just a loss of our Pak Navy. It was a national loss and it is in our national interest to ensure that none goes unpunished and such dastardly incidents do not occur in the future”.
Courts harass politicians with never ending hearings and trumped up charges, while militants come and go, even collecting taxpayer money while they wait. If we continue to treat terrorists with leniency, giving terrorists more rights than honest citizens. The question lingers…when will our patience run out?
If you have not read Babar Sattar’s column in Saturday’s The News, ‘Asking the right questions’, I recommend you do. The esteemed lawyer makes the most well reasoned arguments about Raymond Davis that I have read to this date.
After carefully reviewing the pertinent laws, Babar comes to a wise conclusion:
Most of us want to see Raymond Davis prosecuted and punished for the murder of Pakistani citizens. But let us not forget that it is not the award of harsh punishment but fair administration and enforcement of laws that remains a gauge of how just a legal system is. We must not allow anger, resentment, bravado or street opinion to affect the quality of justice produced by our courts. An adverse ruling creatively interpreting the law to deny Davis the benefit of Pakistan’s Diplomatic and Counsellor Privileges Act might bring instant gratification for many but will put in jeopardy the neutrality and credibility of our justice system. And that will do us more harm than good.