The recent statement of Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has created ripples in political, legal and civil society circles.
While General Kayani has not named any of the institutions in his address to a group of officers at GHQ on Nov 5, several observers believe that his statement carried veiled challenges to the superior judiciary as well as media.
The same day Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry addressed a delegation of the National Management Course, National School of Public Policy and National Management College, Lahore at the Supreme Court building.
While the address of the CJ is not an unusual thing, especially after the lawyers’ movement that began in Mar 2007, as he had often been addressing delegations and conventions of lawyers, the statement of the COAS is an unusual thing, which gave birth to different assumptions.
In his address, General Kayani put forward several things and observed: “All systems in Pakistan appear to be in a haste to achieve something, which can have both positive and negative implications. Let us take a pause and examine the two fundamental questions; One, are we promoting the rule of law and the Constitution? Two, are we strengthening or weakening the institutions? In the ultimate analysis, all of us would have served Pakistan better if history and our future generations judge us positively.”
Since the statement of the army’s chief was made public by ISPR, the guessing game is going on in the media as well as in other circles about the events, which compelled General Kayani to give that statement. Several programmes have so far been conducted on different private TV channels wherein analysts continued to cite several reasons, which they believed, led to the address. Some of them believed that the hearing of several cases related to the armed forces and intelligence agencies and subsequent talk shows annoyed the security forces.
Some analysts believed that everything was not well between the two powerful institutions, the judiciary and the Pakistan Army, while some tried to convince the people that Gen Kayani had only pointed towards the media and not the judiciary.
During last couple of years, the superior courts have been hearing several high-profile cases related to the security forces and intelligence agencies, especially Inter-Services Intelligence. Scores of ‘enforced disappearances’ cases from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Balochistan are pending with different courts.
The famous Asghar Khan case, which had been pending since 1996, was finally decided by the Supreme Court and the government was directed to take action against former COAS General Mirza Aslam Beg and ex-chief of Military Intelligence and ISI Asad Durrani for their role in sponsoring the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in the 1990 general elections.“The army chief seems disturbed with the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case, which proved that the chief of army staff and director general of ISI had bribed politicians by providing them funds,” said Abdul Lateef Afridi, the president of Peshawar High Court Bar Association.
He categorically said in case, there was any conflict between the judiciary and the army, lawyers would stand by CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry as in his view, the court had done nothing wrong by delivering the said judgment.
Mr Afridi pointed out that the history of Pakistan was replete with stories of judiciary supporting military coups and illegal activities of the intelligence agencies. He added that when the judiciary had been asserting itself it had created unrest in the ranks of the security apparatus.
On Nov 6, a day after the statement of Gen Kayani, an old man, Qazi Fazal Ahmad, appeared along with his son, Qazi Fazle Khaliq, before a bench of the Peshawar High Court.
He informed Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan that he had field a habeas corpus petition against alleged illegal detention of his son, Qazi Baseer Ahmad.
The old man said on Sept 25, the court had ordered the defence ministry that the detainee should either be set free or should be shifted to notified internment centre. He added that on Oct 9, he was informed that somebody had dumped his son’s body at a deserted place in Lasan Nawab area of Mansehra district.
He alleged that his son was picked up by the Elite Force of police on July 15, 2011 from his house in Speen Khak area of Nowshera, and another boy, Shahid Afridi, was also taken away from a nearby seminary.
Later on, he said Shahid Afridi was set free and he had also recorded his statement before the high court, but his brother remained missing.
Legal experts believed in scores of cases, detainees were initially picked up by police and then handed over to intelligence agencies, but before the courts, they both always denied the act.
They said while the army chief stated that several systems in Pakistan appeared to be in haste to achieve something, the judiciary had been observing utmost restraint in dealing with cases related to the armed forces, especially in cases of missing persons.
In PHC, over 350 habeas corpus petitions have been pending related to ‘enforced disappearances’.
The chief justice has been regularly conducting proceedings in these cases. On several occasions, he gave warnings to the defence and interior ministries, intelligence agencies and the provincial government but still it has not taken any extreme step.The chief justice had also observed that the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments had lost its constitutional right to rule as they had failed to safeguard the life and liberty of individuals, but the court continued to show restraint.