Attacks and amnesia

Published April 26, 2014

THE faith we Pakistanis repose in judicial commissions would have been funny had it not been so pathetic. It’s almost like an adult announcing his belief in djinns and fairies.

Consider: the universal reaction across the country after the recent murderous attack on Hamid Mir in Karachi was to demand — you guessed it — a judicial commission. The government promptly complied, and the chief justice nominated three judges for the task of investigating the shooting.

I have no doubt that all three judges are fine, upstanding members of their respective benches. But to expect them to actually determine who was behind the attack is a bit like waiting for Inspector Clouseau to morph into Sherlock Holmes.

Just to put things into perspective, when Saleem Shahzad, a brave investigative reporter, was kidnapped, tortured and killed in 2011, allegations about the ISI’s involvement had surfaced. Following an uproar in the media, a judicial commission was set up under Justice Saqib Nisar.

After weeks of deliberations, the commission submitted its report on Jan 10, 2012. In the conclusion, it blamed “various belligerents in the war on terror which included the Pakistani state and non-state actors such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda and foreign actors”.

There the matter has rested ever since to the best of my knowledge. Obviously, these vague findings hardly lend themselves to arrests and prosecution. And so it has always been. From Liaquat Ali Khan to Benazir Bhutto, many politicians have been assassinated without the nation being any wiser about who was behind these killings. We still don’t know who to honour for ridding us of Gen Zia.

If a PPP government couldn’t find out who orchestrated Benazir Bhutto’s murder during its five-year term, can we really expect a judicial commission to identify those behind the attack on Hamid Mir? But actually, Zardari’s government didn’t ever look as if this was a priority.

Umar Cheema, another Islamabad-based journalist, recounted the chilling story of his abduction and torture by a group of men who allegedly said that he was being punished for his stories. He, like Saleem Shahzad, was picked up in broad daylight in the capital.

While obviously, there are few facts to tie an intelligence agency to the attack on Mir, there is some circumstantial evidence. Clearly, somebody knew about his trip to Karachi from Islamabad, and was able to have an assassination squad waiting for him at his destination. Not too many organisations with the resources needed for this operation spring to mind.

But to muddy the waters, the Taliban had tried to murder Hamid Mir in Islamabad a couple of years ago, and had claimed the attempt publicly. The problem is that these shadowy organisations seldom leave any evidence of their involvement.

In high-profile attacks that bear the fingerprints of our powerful intelligence agencies, the police are understandably wary of investigating too vigorously. On the contrary, they have been known to conceal the truth as they famously did by hosing down the site of Benazir Bhutto’s killing to wash away all forensic evidence.

So understandably, the public has no faith in police investigations. But our blind trust in judicial inquiry commissions is misplaced, given the track record of these august bodies. I cannot recall a single commission identifying those guilty of high-profile attacks.

But then why should we expect our judges to be super-sleuths who will succeed where our cops don’t? Just look at the state of our judiciary: tens of thousands of cases have piled up as active ones drag on for years. Witnesses, litigants and lawyers are summoned scores of times as hearings are repeatedly postponed.

And we expect such paragons of efficiency to suddenly transform themselves into master detectives capable of solving any murder, and cracking any criminal mystery? True, they have the powers to summon anybody to answer questions, but some are perceived as going easy on officials from our intelligence agencies.

If our police and our judges cannot deliver, who’s left? The world over, it is law enforcement agencies that are tasked with investigating crime. Occasionally, judges ex­amine matters with a political dimension that might result in criminal prosecution. But nowhere do judges investigate straightforward crimes because that just isn’t their job.

One reason these judicial commissions are set up is that they give an impression of neutrality, and that lets the government off the hook. This ploy also has the effect of kicking the ball into the tall grass. Purposeful activity appears to be going on, lulling us into a state of amnesia.

So those who expect any results from the Hamid Mir inquiry are welcome to dream on.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

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