Can we please think of an answer other than death?

Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani

Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Maulana Mohammad Khan Sheerani issued a statement on Wednesday that condemned religious violence, terrorism, and sectarianism. Unfortunately, the solution proposed by the respected clerics was…death.

“It is an un-Islamic and condemnable act to declare any Muslim sect a disbeliever and deserving of death.”

There is no question that sectarianism and hate speech are diseases that are crippling this country, but why does the answer to everything have to be to kill someone? Life is already too cheap. Yes, we need to discourage sectarianism and hate speech. We need to discourage violence. And, yes, there are certain crimes for which death is a fitting punishment. But we need to think of a better way of discouraging people from declaring someone as kafir and condemning them to death than declaring them as kafir and condemning them to death.

 

What Justice System Says About Our Society

Only 4% terrorism suspects convicted

The reality about how so-called justice operates in Pakistan was put in stark relief this week. Courts gave decisions in three different cases, and the decisions speak volumes not only about law and order, but our society more generally as well.

Thursday, the Lahore High Court granted bail to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq who is facing charges of fanning sectarianism through giving hate speeches. Malik Ishaq must be quickly approaching the world’s record for being charged and released in terrorism cases. Actually, though, it’s not just Malik Ishaq but most terrorists never get convicted.

While Malik Ishaq is repeatedly given the benefit of presumption of innocence, another Pakistani is facing a very different judiciary. An appellate forum under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) has ordered a new case against Shakil Afridi, the doctor accused of helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden, for alleged involvement in anti-state activities and collusion with foreign intelligence. This is not an excuse for Shakil Afridi or a plea for innocence, only an observation that it accusations of cooperating with Americans against terrorism seem to be treated much more seriously than accusations of cooperating with terrorists against Pakistanis.

And then there is the third group in this trio of justice systems. According to media reports, as SC was prepared to close the 35 missing persons case, it was revealed that no FIR has even been filed against the accused Army men.

To the Court’s credit, it is taking the case seriously and is making what appear to be good faith efforts to see justice prevail. However, the Court also has to work within the boundaries of law, which means that it relies on other officials to carry out their own duties, who in this case appear to dragging their feet.

And let us not forget that which some would certainly like us to quickly forget, which is the much rubbished New York Times report that ISI had a secret, unaccountable desk dedicated to Osama bin Laden during his stay here. This is a serious allegation made in one of the most prominent of the world’s newspapers. The last time such unsourced allegations were made, judicial commissions were constituted, officials were placed under house arrest and their movements restricted, and the nation found itself in an uproar. In this case, though, the article was dismissed almost unanimously within hours. Gen Pasha will not be called home from Dubai. No judicial commission or investigation necessary.

But even if the ISI is completely innocent, which is, of course, a possibility that must be given all due consideration, the article does name others and mentions specific evidence against them:

The haul of handwritten notes, letters, computer files and other information collected from Bin Laden’s house during the raid suggested otherwise, however. It revealed regular correspondence between Bin Laden and a string of militant leaders who must have known he was living in Pakistan, including Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a pro-Kashmiri group that has also been active in Afghanistan, and Mullah Omar of the Taliban.

Will the DG-ISI secretly meet with the author in a London hotel room to view the evidence against Hafiz Saeed and Mullah Omar? Will the alleged correspondence be ‘leaked’ to the national media so that the public can decide for itself about the facts of the case?

So here we have one system of justice with at least three different types of justice: The jihadi terrorist who cannot be convicted, the accused foreign agent who can never be acquitted, and the Army men who can never be properly brought to book due in the first place. We can place the blame on the judiciary, but isn’t what we’re seeing actually a reflection of something much more familiar?

 

Devil’s Advocates

broken scales of justiceI lost count of how many times someone emailed me a link to a news report about Sharifuddin Pirzada, the lawyer who is leading Gen Musharraf’s defence team. The report was originally written by AFP, a French media group, but  it has spread like fire since, appearing in countless newspapers both in Pakistan and internationally. The explanation that Pirzada is ‘just doing his job’ is perfectly valid – that is not my issue. My issue is why this explanation is only given for lawyers who defend dictators?

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Musharraf Trial: A Case of Selective Justice

Iftikhar Chaudhry and Gen Musharraf

Missing his second court date in two days, former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf has termed the accusations against him as ‘politically motivated‘. In a certain way, they are – and should be – politically motivated: A demonstration that politically ambitious officers cannot undermine democratic rule, abrogate the constitution, and usurp power. Gen Musharraf is accused of doing each of these, and with the preponderance of evidence behind these accusations, a trial is certainly warranted. In another way, Musharraf’s insinuation is correct – Of everyone who was involved in these crimes, why is he being singled out for trial? The question we should be asking is not whether or not it is fair to try Musharraf. There can be no doubt that the answer to that question is yes. The question we should be asking is why there aren’t more people being tried with him.

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New problems for the Chief Justice

Mahmood Adeel in his piece last week made an interesting observation about our Chief Justice regarding his son’s case. He pointed out that it seemed CJ had already made up his mind regarding the outcome of the case and it sounded as if he was leading the witnesses to “provide the testimony needed to give the decision already made”. This made me think that other controversial cases are also facing problems of credibility due to lack of transparency and questions of undue influence at the outset of the case.

A similar incident that can be linked to the idea of whether the CJP is influencing a trial outcome already decided is the neverending memogate case. While there have been many questions regarding the special treatment granted to Mansur Ejaz and his secret meetings with top agency officials, the Chief Justice has also found himself at the center of controversy about the contents of a secret letter Mansur Ejaz sent to the CJP and the Supreme court during the memogate saga. As reported by various newspapers earlier this year, Ejaz sent a letter to the CJ the contents of which Chief Justice wanted to remain sealed. Next thing, Masur Ejaz was permitted to give his testimony via video link from London and Husain Haqqani was permitted to leave Pakistan. Many are now asking about the contents of this top secret letter known only to Mansur Ejaz and the CJP which appears to have changed the course of the case.

Today, this question becomes even more alarming with media reporting that the Chief Justice is forming a bench for hearings on memogate charges based on a sealed probe report by the memo commission. First a secret letter influences the Court, now a secret report constitutes a larger bench. If justice is truly being served why is it being done in the dark behind closed doors?

The higher judiciary which has been considered as the institution devoted to impartial justice has found itself facing criticism for the CJP’s hesitancy to remove himself from hearing a case against his own son, and even then only after giving remarks that could influence the outcome of the case. This combined with the noted lack of dissent on the bench and the lack of transparency in memogate casew have created doubts about whether the Supreme Court is following the constitution or whether it has become the private tribunal of one man.