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ISLAMABAD: The Islama­bad High Court (IHC) has restored a First Information Report (FIR) filed against a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief, and struck down a federal government order transferring the case to Fata Secretariat.

In June 2014, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had ordered the Secretariat police to register an FIR against former CIA station chief Jonathan Banks, and his legal adviser John A. Rizzo.

The order was issued on a petition, filed by anti-drone activist Karim Khan. A resident of North Waziristan, Mr Khan lost his son Zahinullah and brother Asif Iqbal in a US drone strike on Dec 31, 2009.

He approached the Islamabad police on Dec 14, 2010 and asked that an FIR be registered against the CIA station chief, but his request was ignored. He tried again the next year, but remained unsuccessful. Even a sessions court did not entertain his application, filed under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The petition sought directions for the police to register a criminal case against officials of the US intelligence agency.

SHO who erroneously attributed case transfer orders to Justice Siddiqui apologises

Finally, Mr Khan filed an application before the IHC, which the court admitted for regular hearing in 2014 and asked the Secretariat police station house officer for a report on the matter.

During a hearing back in June 2014, the SHO admitted that a drone strike was a cognisable offence, and consequently, the court passed an order in the petitioner’s favour.

Justice Siddiqui, in his order of June 5, 2014, wrote, “Police Station Secretariat, Islamabad has put appearance and frankly conceded that from contents of complaint cognisable offences are made out. In this view of the matter, he is directed to proceed in accordance with law.”

The government and police disagreed with the ruling, and then-inspector general Tahir Alam Khan told the court that if an FIR was registered, Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with the US may suffer. How­ever, after the court repeatedly ordered the registration of an FIR, one was filed at the Secretariat police station.

However, the case was later quashed and transferred to the Fata Secretariat on the grounds that the offence was committed within the tribal areas.

The petitioner then approached the IHC again, and after several hearings spread over two years, the court directed the Islamabad Police to initiate investigations against Mr Banks and Mr Rizzo.

The matter remained pending in the interim, since the Islamabad advocate general desired to argue the case at length. However, he skipped several hearings from time to time, and when he did appear in the court, he adopted the same stance as the Islamabad police, i.e. the FIR could only be registered within the jurisdiction of the police station where the drone attack was carried out Arguing before the court, the petitioner’s counsel Mirza Shahzad Akbar said that transferring the FIR and the investigation to Fata was of no use, as there was no police force or investigative agency in the tribal areas.

He also alleged that the impugned order of the Islamabad police and the district magistrate, who ordered the transfer of the case, was based on mala fide intentions and reflected the government’s unwillingness to pursue the case.

On Monday, Justice Siddiqui asked Islamabad DIG Mirvais Niaz whether it should not be the responsibility of the state to protect the rights of citizens against foreign aggression.

Contrary to the police’s claims, he stressed, the matter does not concern the norms of diplomacy, but is primarily an issue concerning the right of life of Pakistani citizens. He asserted that the case should have been investigated in Islamabad and transferring it frustrated the court’s orders. The IHC also summoned SHO Secretariat Nawaz Bhatti, who had submitted in writing that he was transferring the FIR on the orders of Justice Siddiqui.

Appearing in court on Monday, SHO Bhatti tendered an unconditional apology and admitted he had made a mistake. The court warned the SHO against such dereliction of duty in the future.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2018