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?

Justice Delayed, Justice Denied

NAB

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.

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Military Courts Offer Little Hope

Debate over the decision to set up new military courts highlights the failures of both the government and the military in tackling terrorism. Recent orders to release hardened terrorists like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Malik Ishaq and Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are only the latest examples of civilian judiciary’s long record of failing to convict even the most brazen terrorists.

It is with this view that many are supporting the establishment of military courts that should be able to not only protect the judges and lawyers involved, but also use critical evidence without exposing sensitive intelligence methods and sources. But military courts have their own problems.

The drawback being discussed most often is the harm that will be done to credibility of the civilian judiciary if the military takes over this function of government. However, the civilian judiciary has already destroyed most of its own credibility as noted above. The bigger question should be whether a military court will be any more likely to tackle the complex problem of jihadi extremism or whether it will be another weapon against the Army’s existing enemies.

There is no doubt that military courts will be busy and that convictions will be swiftly delivered, but other doubts remain. Will military trials include groups friendly to Army like Jamaat-ud-Dawa? Or will the courts be another weapon against those considered enemies like BLA? Will military courts be used to silence those who project pro-Taliban ideology like Abdul Aziz? Or will they be used to silence those who ask embarrassing questions like Saleem Shahzad? Will military courts expose the jihadi networks, or will they perpetuate the narrative that every terrorist is part of RAW-CIA-Mossad conspiracies?

There is little doubt that civilian courts are not up to the task of trying and convicting hardened terrorists. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that military courts will be much better.

Update: This post originally included a photograph that claimed to show a judge kissing convicted terrorist Mumtaz Qadri. The authenticity of this photograph has been disputed and the image has been removed.

Jihad Uninterrupted

Jamaat-ud-Dawa rally 22nd December

Zero tolerance? Zero change. That is the real result of last week’s massacre. Punjab government has given up on trying to detain terrorist leader Malik Ishaq, and Lahore High Court has order him to be unleashed upon the public again. Meanwhile, the same Court has given a last chance to the Foreign Affairs Ministry to submit their reply to the US bounty on Hafiz Saeed, who the Ministry had replied was the head of a charity and was being persecuted by the US under pressure from India. Hafiz Saeed has already given his own reply, calling for jihad against America.

Hafiz Saeed’s calls for global jihad continue, even after the so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards terrorism. Following the Peshawar attack, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa emir renewed his call for jihad against India, and organised a ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind Conference’ this week.

Most Pakistanis having been steeped in the anti-India ideology promoted by hypernationlists continue to see Hafiz Saeed as anything but a threat to Pakistan, but he is projecting exactly the type of anti-Pakistan ideology that is at the core of TTP.

At the national level, they would like to impose their ideology on Pakistan. There is no place for politics and nationalism in their ideology. For them, the international borders are not Islamic. Therefore, they would go beyond national borders. The JuD leaders publicly condemn nationalism and politics.

Hafiz Saeed has publicly called the Pakistani Constitution “batil”, which is a very strong word in Islamic literature. The Mujallah Ad-Dawa published his statement in December 1999, and many other such speeches. He has repeatedly said he and his party did not believe in the Pakistani Constitution and will not follow it. His speeches and writings are available in the JuD library.

Generals and politicians continue to make strong statements about ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism, but the facts say otherwise. In the few short days after the 16th December attack, 26/11 commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is granted bail, Malik Ishaq is ordered released, and Hafiz Saeed holds pro-jihad conference. We are being told Peshawar attack was a ‘game changer’, but it is familiar players who are returning to the pitch.

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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