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?
Yesterday I mentioned the curious fact that NAB has submitted a report to the Supreme Court including cases for which the agency admits it has “no details regarding to the dates of filing complaint, enquiry and investigation”. These are corruption cases for which complaints have been allowed to continue over the accused for decades with no resolution despite the fact that even agencies admit a lack of hard evidence.
Now I would like to compare to another case that we are told lacks evidence: Allegations against Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. Sartaj Aziz has once again asked for more evidence to against Lakhvi in order to conclude the case. This is important because government is not saying there is no evidence. Actually, the fact is that Lakhvi has been arrested and detained multiple times on orders of the Court. This alone suggests that there was sufficient evidence to frame specific charges arrest him.
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.
The state’s hypocrisy is on bright display once again this week following two seemingly unrelated incidents that actually have important factors in common. The first is the cancellation of a discussion on Balochistan at LUMS, allegedly under orders of ISI. The demand that LUMS cancel the discussion was believed to be based on the inclusion of Mama Qadeer, a Baloch activist and founder of a group working on the issue of missing persons believed to have been abducted or killed by intelligence agencies. Cases of missing persons have been languishing in courts as ISI often refuses to comply with court orders.
The complaint about the LUMS lecture is that it was promoting separatists. Leaving aside questions about academic freedom, free speech, and whether or not engaging the separatists and listening to their concerns is a more realistic way of solving the crisis than trying to silence and intimidate them, there is another problem with the decision to ban speeches by separatists: We have a state policy of supporting separatists.
The failure of judiciary to successfully try and convict terrorists resulted in the creation of military courts. This has gained widespread approval, but it faces serious questions both about the constitutionality and also the wisdom of handing more responsibility to the military at a time when it is busy carrying out operations to root out terrorist groups. However there is another issue which has not been widely discussed which is that military courts will eventually be faced with cases that could call into question the military’s credibility.
Civilian courts may have proven that they are not up to the task of convicting terrorists due to threats and intimidations. Military courts may be free of this burden, but they carry other burdens besides. Take the missing persons cases. Civilian courts have been almost completely blocked from moving forward with these cases due to the resistance of military and intelligence agencies. If these cases are taken up by military courts, can anyone expect the outcome to be unbiased? The problem is, even if the military court is completely objective, its decisions will always be under suspicion because the military has a vested interest in the outcome. Same can be true of cases against alleged terrorists like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi who are members of groups that are widely believed to have or have had support from national agencies. Whether or not it is true is actually besides the point. What matters is that even if someone like Lakhvi is innocent, by acquitting him a military court will look like it is biased, and its credibility will be unnecessarily tarnished.
Supposedly the US has called for turning over suspects like Lakhvi to India, but this is obviously ridiculous. No Pakistani suspect could ever receive a fair trial in India. However, there is another option which is to refer the cases to the International Criminal Court. This is what Ukraine has done, turning over evidences against alleged terrorists to the ICC and allowing the independent judiciary to give a fair and unbiased judgment. By following suit, Pakistan would not only be able to successfully prosecute terrorists, but convictions – and acquittals – would be above reproach because there could be no claim of favoritism or bias by the international tribunal. Civilian courts would be able to return their attention to decided cases required by the common man, and Army would be able to devote its energy and resources to fighting terrorists.
Despite supporting the aims of the International Criminal Court, Pakistan is one of few remaining countries that has not signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and refuses to cooperate with the Court. It’s time to change that.