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Way out of a broken system

February 09, 2019


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE Supreme Court verdict in the Faizabad dharna case was a vivid portrayal of a broken system where no state institution seems to be doing its defined job properly and yet involved in so much else. The dharna was carried out by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in November 2017.

Of all that I have heard and read on the verdict of the two-judge bench comprising Justice Musheer Alam and Justice Qazi Faez Isa, and penned by the latter, the most definitive and comprehensive was the leader in this newspaper’s Friday edition. Do go back to it if you missed it.

The judgement laments that from the political class to the military’s security services and the media all seem to have abdicated their defined responsibilities and overstepped the line to make a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law.

“The duties of the armed forces were clearly spelt out in the Constitution to defend Pakistan, under the direction of the federal government, against external aggression or threat of war or act in aid of civil power when called upon,” it said.

“We must not allow the honour and esteem due to those who lay down their lives for others to be undermined by the illegal actions of a few,” the Supreme Court verdict emphasised.

The verdict also said, and I quote from the Dawn report, that the armed forces must never strengthen the perception about their support to a particular political party, faction or politician. Justice Isa observed that if any personnel of the armed forces indulged in any form of politicking or tried to manipulate the media, they undermined the integrity and professionalism of the armed forces.

There has been little exchange between those who represent the security apparatus and those who blame it for bloodshed.

While the verdict expressed concern that Dawn newspaper’s circulation was impeded and unwarranted pressure mounted on it to curtail its coverage, the TV regulator allowed some TV channels to virtually serve as a mouthpiece of the lawbreakers. The court firmly stood by the principle of free speech but its concern was directed towards hate speech.

Another part of the judgement spells out: “Those who resort to abuse, hate and violence should never be pampered, instead they should fear the state, its police and intelligence agencies.” It also pointed out the failings of the Election Commission in registering the TLP to contest the polls without crucial due diligence.

It also took up the complete lack of transparency in the role of the intelligence agencies, including those belonging to the armed services and called for clear laws that laid down the do’s and don’ts for the security services.

Justice Isa was unequivocal in saying when institutions stayed within their designated constitutional boundaries and there was an effective system of checks and balances, citizens remained safe and the state prospered. The judgement also expressed discomfort at the public stance taken by ISPR.

The Dawn report said the judgement concluded with the quotes of Quaid-i-Azam who said he considered it his duty “to call upon the Muslims to temper their resentment with reason and to beware of the dangers which may well overwhelm our own state. It is of utmost importance that Pakistan should be kept free from disorder, because the outbreak of lawlessness … is bound to shake … its foundation and cause irreparable damage to its future”.

These words were profound as they were poignant but when viewed against the backdrop of the current state of affairs it was also clear how far the country and the various power players at the helm have drifted away from the Quaid’s vision.

If you ask me, there is only one way forward — something modelled after South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, even if not as elaborate, as only that would lead to healing of wounds that continue to fester in our midst and poison our thinking and attitudes.

It would also take away confusion in state policy. A trickle, no matter how small, of the disappeared, or the Baloch who had gone missing, has started to reappear and, in recent weeks, there is evidence that a number of them have been reunited with their families.

This can only be a heartening and positive development and the Prime Minister Imran Khan must be given credit for engaging with the security leadership to make this possible. At the same time, the high-handedness in dealing with Pakhtun dissidents is, in my view, unnecessarily creating a crisis.

The recent Islamabad arrest of peaceful protesters is a case in point as was a missing woman activist’s release that took 40 hours and finally came after hectic efforts to trace her were reportedly made by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari. The prime minister too was said to be concerned.

Pakistan has suffered many, many years of strife with thousands losing their lives, limbs, loved ones and property in terrorism. Many have blamed the security state’s policies for this and yet there has been little exchange between those who represent the security apparatus and those who blame it for the bloodshed.

Similarly, the role of the intelligence agencies has been criticised and backed with equal gusto depending on which side of the fence you find yourself on at any given point in time. Frankly, in the world we inhabit today, intelligence gathering and acting professionally on dangers it identifies is vital for our safety.

But the most compelling of argument won’t withstand the most perfunctory scrutiny that justifies any role in domestic political engineering or media management. When Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto first took office she tasked a well-respected former air chief to examine the role of the agencies.

The Zulfikar Ali Khan report has been sitting on a shelf somewhere for some 30 years. It is time to dust it off and see what measures it suggests so that this ‘us and them’ with the agencies can be replaced by mutual trust. That will form a crucial first step towards national reconciliation.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019