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Attacks and amnesia


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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.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (14) Closed

Tariq K Sami Apr 26, 2014 07:31am

A new book recently came up on the Kennedy assasination. There will always be conspiracy theories. My theory is the guy who designed the moon roof or the open hatch knew that she will sooner or later stick her head out and present herself as a target (more over this is after she survived a bomb attack in Karachi a few weeks ago where scores of people were killed).

BRR Apr 26, 2014 09:11am

Judicial commissions in a country where reports are seldom released, seldom conclusive and seldom of consequence becomes a joke, a form of kicking the can down the road, a way of deflecting blame.

AZMAISH Apr 26, 2014 09:51am

What the government needs to do is get to the bottom of Mir's concerns and separate the wheat from the chaff. This needs to be done ASAP.

Rafiq Apr 26, 2014 09:56am

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

This invitation, unfortunately, extends to way too many areas of life in the Land of the Pure.

So those who expect any improvement in education for future generations are welcome to dream on. So those who expect any sense of personal peace and security in the next twenty years are welcome to dream on. So those who expect any improvement in the provision of basic services are welcome to dream on. So those who expect any reduction in corruption and nepotism in government are welcome to dream on.

I could go on. Ad nauseum.

Khaled Apr 26, 2014 11:37am

Very aptly analysed , "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".

Feroz Apr 26, 2014 12:32pm

That Hamid Mir believed that personnel from a certain Institution was threatening him is the first clue. Obviously this revelation did not come to him in his dreams but due to events and happenings, all of which can be investigated. What is overlooked in Pakistan is the role played by non State actors at whose door the onus of every crime is placed. Now, let us accept that the TTP provided the last mile connectivity and personnel for every sordid crime. The million Dollar question is who are the people or Institutions availing of the services rendered by these proxies -- the Mastermind. Mastermind can be singular or plural but definitely there is a puppeteer behind each crime. Citizens must demand accountability and if TTP is involved in all crimes, what is there to negotiate -- how many crimes they will be allowed to commit ?

Guest64 Apr 26, 2014 01:16pm

When Nothing is Needed to be done , Two Options are always on the cards .1- Appoint a Committee of High profile people with No power at all , to investigate and report , Even with the high powered PAC committee in the national assembly , Nothing has been accomplished except Big noises . 2- Appoint a judicial commission of Superior Judiciary and task it to investigate and report , here again No viable PSI ( problem source identification ) and Fixing it has ever been accomplished , Only high pitches Noises , Highlighted areas where It was Every body's responsibility , No Body did any thing and then every body started to blame somebody where it was any body's job to do it but nobody did it thinking somebody will do it . OBL killing comes to forefront of the recent such judicial probe .......... NOTHING WILL BE DONE On This new episode of Hamid Mir attack rest assured

Parvez Apr 26, 2014 04:41pm

You show your brilliance when you things like.............We still don't know who the hounour for ridding of Gen. Zia. AND.... Zardari's government didn't even look as this were a priority ( on the task of finding out who killed Benazir Bhutto ) Its common knowledge that if you don't want results then give the matter over to a committee.......and a judicial committee kills two birds with one stone.

Agha Ata Apr 26, 2014 06:28pm

All investigation and probes of most of the murders that took place in the history of Pakistan came to the same conclusion, NOTHING. It must be a very powerful killer who has the required skill to maneuver through hundreds of detectives and laws to achieve the required result, NOTHING.

Capt:Javed Muzaffer(PIA ret.) Apr 26, 2014 06:31pm

Irfan Sahib......"We still don't know who to HONOUR for ridding us of Gen Zia." Brilliant!

Aftab Alam Khan Apr 26, 2014 09:06pm

Two points are very clear. Firstly formation of a number of judicial Commission to investigate such type of attack /killing failed to produce any result and making their reports public to who have been behind said killings and with wat motto. Secondly Police could not play his role effectively in such high profile case of killing etc as they sadly pointed towards our intelligence agencies. If this has had been the case the role of intelligence agencies requires to be revisited to avoid an unwarranted battle with our vibrant media which is highly essential for strengthening the infant democracy in Pakistan. However Media is also advised not to make a hurried jump for concluding such a sensitive issue where interest of our defense institution is at high stake. Look before you leap, is the phrase which should be noted by all our learned people who add fuel to fire landing Pakistan in a very akward position before the outside world.

amd Apr 26, 2014 10:56pm

Irfan Sahib, Absolutely brilliant,absolutely hard hitting,absolute truth !! So nicely explained in simple straightforward & free flowing words, at the same time so effective,reading through your article is terrific but at the same time the truth that you explain leaves us aghast and shell shocked and too much to bear !! Very few writers can achieve that. Sir,I suggest that instead of writing the horrific,bitter reality,please write on something else which we can at least enjoy and then ponder over with pleasure

Parvez Apr 26, 2014 11:14pm

In my first comment I quoted from your written article and praised it........and got shot down. So now I'll just say brilliant article........and hope this gets through.

sri1 Apr 27, 2014 05:46am

When Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated within Indian borders, the culprits, planners, executors were ferreted out and found in 24 hours. Ditto with many reporters (eg. Jyotirmoy Dey), social activists (eg. Narendra Dabholkar), whistle blowers (eg. Satyendra Dubey), riot instigators (eg. Maya Kodnani). Of course, there are many murders that are as yet unsolved (eg. Shazia Masood), but wherever there is Government will and public outbursts, many a time independent police forces have been able to pool information and net the culprits. This is primarily attributable to the absence of shadowy agencies that want to keep things under wraps. With the advent of Forensic universities in Gujarat under Narendra Modi, it is expected that Indian policing will reach much better rates of detection and crime solving.