JUDGES, prosecutors, investigators, witnesses, lawyers: no one is safe in a criminal justice system pitted against militants and their patrons in the deep state of Pakistan.
The judges’ detention case took yet another curious turn when a judge in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) excused himself from hearing the post-arrest bail application of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. “A malicious campaign has been launched in the electronic, print and social media against me after I rejected the pre-arrest bail in April,” lamented the recusing judge, who had also directed the police to insert a section of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in the first information report registered against the former army chief.
Earlier, in a surprising development, the lawyer who had filed a petition in the judges’ detention case withdrew his complaint “in the larger national interest.” Advocate Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam Ghumman, who had the case registered on Aug 11, 2009, decided not to appear before the court nor press for the prosecution of Gen Musharraf. He left it to the court to decide the fate of the case.
A number of other lawyers associated with this case were picked up and tortured. Advocate Basharatullah was kidnapped and brutally tortured on April 21 this year. Two other lawyers, Mujeebur Rehman and Sardar Manzar Bashir were abducted and badly beaten on April 27 and May 9 respectively. The Supreme Court was constrained to direct the police authorities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi to check rising cases of attacks on members of the legal fraternity and also directed the secret agencies to trace the culprits. The courts can only do so much to exercise their moral authority. The guns are in the hands of the state and non-state actors.
The fate of the special prosecutor in the Benazir assassination case was deadlier. Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali was gunned down on May 2 as he was scheduled to submit additional evidence in connection with the murder case. Four armed persons lying in wait opened fire, targeting him, and not his armed guard, with 9mm and 30 bore pistols. A pamphlet with misleading contents was found at the scene of the attack carrying the name of the hitherto unknown Mujahedeen-i-Islami.
Chaudhry Zulfiqar was one of the finest prosecutors of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). He retired as assistant director of the legal branch on Feb 10, 2009, but on account of his professionalism and commitment, his services were initially hired to pursue the Mumbai terror attacks case. The Benazir Bhutto assassination case was entrusted to the FIA on Aug 6, 2009. The services of special prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar were hired on Aug 15, 2009, as no case was more important for the agency than the gruesome murder of a former prime minister. Its professionalism and competence was being put to a severe test, especially when the UN probe team, while being critical of every other organ of the state, had reposed confidence in the criminal investigation by a select FIA team.
The risks of undertaking the investigation were known to the agency’s command. The investigators were pitted against militants and their possible patrons in the deep state armed with a vast armoury of devious methods and deadly weapons, including coercion, deceptive leads, blackmail, slander, kidnapping and even elimination.
Special prosecutor Zulfiqar Ali was obviously working under threat from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan since five of its members were arrested by the Punjab police shortly after Benazir’s assassination. For more than two years, the prosecutor boldly pursued the cases and employed a guard only in the last few months which were devoted to the collection of circumstantial, documentary and technical evidence of an extremely sensitive nature. This meant trouble for him and the agency. Fearless that he was, he reportedly resisted internal and external pressures while pursuing high-profile cases and paid a heavy price for the courage of his convictions. His supreme sacrifice is the latest in the history of many secrets steeped in blood.
Against this background of a state-within-the-state culture, the new democratic government and all its federal and provincial executive authorities have a responsibility to rid this nation of the culture of impunity, unlawful detentions, coercion, intimidation and targeted killings. The following suggestions merit urgent attention.
There are no pro-state or anti-state militants. They all pursue a violent agenda. The formation of private militias and the creation of violent organisations, with or without covert political objectives, is patently illegal and unconstitutional. Take heed: the monsters you create today will come to haunt and hunt you tomorrow. Please restrain, restrict, detain, arrest and prosecute the leaders of proscribed militant organisations. Cleanse the swamp that breeds the mosquitoes. The deep state helps create the non-state actors. These militants are likely to unravel the state of Pakistan.
The legislature’s oversight of the intelligence agencies is crucial for public accountability. At present, there is no parliamentary committee on intelligence matters. The defence and interior parliamentary committees have no mandate to question or assess the strategic and operational framework of the intelligence services. Such sensitive policies and practices are too important to be left to the security establishment. Transparency and accountability parameters need to be established now by both the political and military leadership.
Intelligence services such as the Intelligence Bureau and the ISI are operating without a legal or constitutional framework. All law-enforcement agencies and even civil armed forces such as the FIA, the Frontier Corps, Rangers and the Coast Guards have laws and statutes. Why are the intelligence agencies beyond the ambit of the law?
The protection of judges, investigators, prosecutors, witnesses and lawyers is the responsibility of the state — and it has failed badly. The weakness of the state has resulted in unprecedented acts of terror, killings and kidnappings. Will all the stakeholders put their act together and stop playing games with hapless citizens?
Otherwise, anarchy stares back if we look collectively into the mirror.
The writer is former DG, FIA.