APS carnage: SC grills PM Imran on talks with the TTP, questions govt's inaction against perpetrators
The Supreme Court on Wednesday grilled Prime Minister Imran Khan over the government's inaction against those responsible for the Army Public School (APS) attack in 2014 and the ongoing talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
A three-judge bench — headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed, and comprising Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan — summoned the prime minister in connection with the case around 10am. He arrived at the court roughly two hours later, just before noon.
A total of 147 people, 132 of them children, were martyred when TTP militants stormed the APS-Warsak School, in Peshawar, in 2014. The government is in talks with the TTP over a "reconciliation process", with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry having announced on Monday that a "complete ceasefire" had been reached with the banned outfit.
During the hearing, Justice Amin reminded the premier that Pakistan is not a small country. "We have the sixth largest army in the world," he said.
With regards to media reports regarding negotiations with the TTP, Justice Amin questioned whether "we are bringing them [TTP] back to the negotiating table instead of taking action against them?"
"Are we going to surrender once again?" Justice Amin asked the premier.
As the three-member bench continued to grill the premier, at one point the latter asked for a chance to speak, given that he had been summoned for the hearing.
But the judges continued to fire questions at him.
CJP Gulzar said, "You are in power. The government is also yours. What did you do? You brought those guilty to the negotiating table."
"The satisfaction of the parents [who lost their children in the APS attack] is necessary," said Justice Ahsan addressing the premier.
A day earlier, the information minister said that the government will give a chance to those factions of the TTP that are not directly involved in terrorism and are ready to honour Pakistan's Constitution and law, whereas the hardcore TTP terrorists involved in the killing of innocent people and still wanting to continue their nefarious activities will be dealt with an iron hand.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the federal cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Imran on Tuesday.
Speaking at a post-cabinet meeting press conference, Chaudhry said: "If all of them or some of them or part of them want to come back and express their allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan and undertake to respect the law of the country, obviously, we will give them a chance."
Court directs govt to submit report
During the hearing today, the bench asked the federal government to listen to the stance of the victims' parents, saying action should be taken against anyone whose negligence was proven.
Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan said it would have been "very easy" to register a case against then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and then-interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
The apex court directed the government to submit its report within two weeks, but AG Khan requested the court to grant additional time. Accepting the plea, the court granted four weeks to the government.
The court inquired from Prime Minister Imran what action had been taken in the case.
Chief Justice Gulzar then picked up the Constitution book and said it guaranteed security to every citizen.
Prime Minister Imran said he had opposed Pakistan's involvement in the US war on terror during former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf's rule.
He noted that Pakistan had lost 80,000 lives to terrorism, while the National Action Plan was drafted after the APS attack. "The people were in deep trauma, they were standing behind the army in the war against terrorism."
Imran said Pakistan would have to contend with security issues until the Afghanistan situation settled down.
He said since the Taliban took over power in Afghanistan in August, elements from the militant Islamic State group, TTP and Baloch separatists had arrived in Pakistan. Such elements had also gone underground during the Afghanistan evacuation via Pakistan, he added.
"All of our security agencies are taking steps to deal with the possible threats," the premier told the court.
Prime Minister Imran said the APS attack had been "very painful". "Our party was in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when the attack took place in 2014. On the night of the tragedy, we called a meeting of our party," he added.
He further said there were no "holy cows" among the names provided by the parents of the APS attack victims, seeking action against them. "You issue orders and we will take action," he told the bench.
"I want to make it clear that we have done whatever compensation we could have."
At this, the chief justice remarked that the parents wanted their children, not compensation.
Justice Ahsan then informed the prime minister that the victims' parents desired that action be taken against the officials in high-level positions at the time of the attack.
'PM respected supremacy of law'
Talking to media later, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the Supreme Court had given four weeks' time to the government to finalise its report about the case. He said the premier had assured the top court of exposing everyone — "whether it is the interior minister or people of higher agencies" — found responsible for the APS attack.
He further said if the apex court sought the appearance of then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, "the interior ministry will issue a permit and passport in 24 hours for the ex-premier to return to the country."
Meanwhile, Information Minister Chaudhry said Prime Minister Imran had once again respected the supremacy of the law by appearing before the court. He said the government would finalise its report in four weeks and submit it to the Supreme Court.
"We could have simply said the PML-N was in power at that time and accused then-PM Nawaz Sharif and the former interior minister of failure. But we realise this war is beyond individuals," he emphasised.
Crediting the National Action Plan for peace in the country, the minister said the Pakistan Army and security agencies also deserved appreciation for rendering sacrifices to protect the country.
Chaudhry said the last three years of the PTI were the "most peaceful years of Pakistan's history".
"Civil agencies, army, ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) must be given plaudits for implementing far-sighted decisions of the country's political leadership."
He said "intelligence failures do occur" around the world, saying in one such example, five bombers living in front of the White House in the US had gone unnoticed.
Court summons PM
During the last hearing, the Supreme Court bench had directed the attorney general to inform the court about the steps taken by the government to redress the grievances of the parents of children martyred in the attack on APS on Dec 16, 2014.
He had assured the parents of the victims of the court's assistance in their efforts for acceptance of their demands.
"The AG has been put on notice on the complaints and asked to take action, as required by the law, and if those who have been named are found guilty of negligence in the performance of their duties, necessary measures should be taken," an order dictated by the chief justice said.
The court emphasised that unless some drastic efforts were made, the petitioners would not be satisfied.
In its Oct 20 order, the court had noted that the mothers of the victims had complained that then-army chief General Raheel Sharif, then-interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, then-chief minister Pervez Khattak, then-corps commander Peshawar Hidayatur Rehman, then-DG ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, then-secretary interior Islamabad Akhtar Ali Shah were the people "who were at the helm of affairs [and] ought to have known about the happening of the incident but they neglected in performance of their duty to the extent that schoolchildren has happened".
In today's hearing, the chief justice asked AG Khan whether the prime minister had read the court's order in which he had directed the AG to take action on the complaints of the victims' parents.
The AG informed the court that the order had not been sent to the premier, adding that he would inform PM Imran about it.
"Is this the level of seriousness?" CJP Ahmed asked. "Call the prime minister, we will talk to him ourselves. This cannot go on."
The AG, on behalf of the government, said that "we accept all our mistakes".
The parents had demanded the registration of a first information report (FIR) against those civilian and military officials who, they believe, were responsible for security measures at the school, at the last hearing.
During the proceedings today, the AG said, "FIR could not be registered against higher-ups."
'Where does the intelligence go?'
"Where do the intelligence [agencies] disappear when it comes to the protection of their own citizens?" the chief justice asked. "Was a case registered against the former army chief and others responsible?"
The attorney general replied that the inquiry report did not find anything related to the former army chief and former director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
At this, CJP Gulzar remarked, "There is such a huge intelligence system in the country. Billions of rupees are spent on it. There is also a claim that we are the best intelligence agency in the world. So much is being spent on intelligence but the results are zero."
Justice Ahsan said the institutions "should have known there would be a reaction to the operation in tribal areas".
"The easiest and most sensitive target were children," he added.
Talks with TTP
Justice Amin observed that there were reports the government is negotiating with some group — an apparent reference to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
"Is it not the state's job to go after and catch the true culprits?" he questioned.
Chief Justice Ahmed remarked that the court "could not leave children to die in schools".
Action had been taken against the school's guards and soldiers, however, the accountability process should have started from the top, he added.
"The higher-ups took salaries and benefits and left."
Justice Ahsan said it was "not possible that the terrorists did not have inside support" and termed the attack a "failure of security".
Judicial commission report
On Oct 5, 2018, former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had appointed a judicial commission to probe the massacre, asking the late Peshawar High Court chief justice Waqar Ahmed Seth to nominate a PHC judge for the task.
Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan of the Peshawar High Court conducted the proceedings and presented the commission's report, which the Supreme Court ordered to be made public.
The commission observed in its 525-page report it was regrettable that the APS episode had tarnished the image of the armed forces. It took to task the Askari Guards, as well as the other guards on duty, for "inertia in the face of initial heavy firing by the terrorists".
The commission's report consisted of statements by the bereaved families, evidence given by the bureaucracy, the police and the military. It made a special mention of “the belated response” to the assault by the security detail and highlighted the grievances shared by parents of the Shuhada (martyred students).
"Had the force shown a little more response and could engage the militants in the very beginning of the attack, the impact of the incident might have been lesser," the report observed.
It praised the MVT-2 and the Quick Response Force for blunting the terrorists' advance towards a student block through their prompt action.
"Our country was at war with an enemy which carried out occult activities and let loose terrorism which hit the highest point in 2013-14," the report recalled. But it does not mean that our "sensitive installations and soft targets could be forsaken as a prey to terrorist attack", the commission stressed.
The report was submitted to the SC on July 9, 2020, and in August 2020, the apex court had ordered the AG to get instructions from the federal government on the report.
In September 2020, the SC had ordered the government to make the report public.
Additional reporting by Nadir Guramani.