ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday bitterly criticised the intelligence agencies and warned that threatening any pillars of the state, such as parliament, judiciary or armed forces, was tantamount to an attack on Pakistan.

The two-judge bench, which had taken suo motu notice over the use of abusive language during the over 20-day sit-in by religious parties at the Faizabad Interchange and the untold misery caused to residents of the capital by roadblocks, observed that were no two ways about it when it came to the security of Pakistan.

Today, hate, extremism and violence has become a way of life, but those who smile or speak softly will always get bullied, Justice Qazi Faez Isa observed while expressing dissatisfaction over the reports furnished by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

In its order, the court also regretted that both agencies were not able to answer the queries raised by the court, and even Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali was not satisfied with their responses.

In the future, an officer not below the rank of secretary will assist the court, the bench directed, adding in view of the sensitivity of the matter, the AG would receive a proper briefing from the intelligence agencies, and if he feels that the matter is of an especially delicate nature, he can request the Supreme Court for an in-camera hearing.

Court not satisfied by responses submitted by ISI, IB, interior ministry or Pemra

The court regretted that the intelligence agencies had failed to inform the court about the source of funding for the protesters, the sources of income of the leaders of the dharna and their places of employment, and observed that if the premier intelligence agency had no idea what was happening in the country, how could they justify the budget they received from the national kitty.

“Why were our earlier orders not complied with?” Justice Isa point-blank asked the representative of the defence ministry, who was appearing on behalf of the ISI. “We have learnt more from media reports than the reports furnished by the intelligence agencies,” the bench deplored.

Justice Isa also asked about the ISI cell set up to monitor activities such as the Faizabad dharna, and when the representative failed to come up with a clear answer, the judge observed that the agency was the final bastion of Pakistan’s defence, and should not be considered a joke.

Should not we summon the head of the agency so that the court can find out what the ISI does, the judge asked.

Justice Isa observed that Pakistan was formed, not through by an army raised to fight wars, but through the peaceful political struggle of freedom fighters, which paved the way for independence and proved that the pen was mightier than the sword.

There are two kinds of people — those who have sacrificed a lot for their country, and those who are sucking the country dry, Justice Isa regretted.

However, the AG asked the court not to call the entire institution into question merely because an individual had failed to make an adequate representation before the court, noting that the bench’s observations would also be reported by the media.

The AG was also asked which authority controls social media, as it had come to the court’s attention that unchecked content circulates freely on social media, even content that threatens the security of Pakistan.

The court also expressed dismay over the assistance rendered by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), and asked it to submit another comprehensive reply within 10 days, highlighting what punitive actions the regulator took against television channels that violated Pemra laws during the sit-in.

The court also rejected a plea by Pemra Director General Sardar Irfan, who contended that the regulator was handicapped by the absence of a chairman. The bench held that the absence of one member of the authority does not render it dysfunctional.

Referring to the Faizabad sit-in, Justice Isa regretted that this was not the first time the state of Pakistan had to surrender itself after being completely paralysed.

“But the court cannot allow this to happen again. We have taken oath to protect the state,” the judge observed.

He noted that it was right of every citizen to vent his/her sentiments, but “resorting to violence, or saying that one does not believe in parliament, the courts or the Constitution, or even in Islam; this is not the way,” Justice Isa observed.

The court also regretted that the interior ministry had still not disclosed how many people had lost their lives, even failing to mention the child who had died because his ambulance was stopped, or how many policemen were beaten up.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2018