This is ‘Mr Justice’

Published July 17, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WHAT is common to Amina Janjua, Tayyaba Gul and an unnamed Pakhtun woman who ended her quest to find her ‘missing husband’ when a powerful man allegedly asked her at a public forum why she was ‘looking’ for her husband when she was so beautiful that she could have any man she wanted?

The common denominator between these three women was the Commission of Inquiry into Enforced Disappearances. All three of them and countless others took the cases of their ‘missing’ loved ones to the Commission, headed by retired Justice Javed Iqbal since its inception in 2011.

The other factor common to all three women and millions of others like them in Pakistan and further afield is that men in positions of power often act appallingly and even criminally as they believe their role offers them immunity from the law, when interacting with women.

Each one of the three approached the Commission, and even where no improper conduct or sexual harassment was reported, no relief was forthcoming; no missing family member was recovered, despite tall claims by the chairman about how many hundreds secured their freedom thanks to him.

A woman, no matter how much evidence she may have, has a tough time being believed.

Tayyaba Gul alleges her travails started when she and her husband took the case of their missing aunt to the commission. She alleges commission chairman Justice Javed Iqbal, whose National Accountability Bureau chairman’s concurrent tenure ended recently, took an ‘extraordinary’ interest in her.

Ms Gul’s first encounter with the retired justice happened with the latter in his commission role, she alleges, and soon her reticence to play along earned his wrath and, according to her, he resorted to improper conduct, abused his authority, and started to twist her arm with his NAB hat on.

Her husband was arrested and detained on false NAB charges (later she was too; both have now been cleared) to pressure her to be amenable to the chairman’s amorous advances. She secretly filmed one such meeting where the chairman was outrageously inappropriate.

That video, nobody knew then how, made it to a television channel owned by a special assistant to the then prime minister Imran Khan and was aired. It resulted in a strongly worded rebuttal from the NAB chairman, casting aspersions on Ms Gul and her husband and claiming they were criminals. A little later, we were told Ms Gul had also been arrested.

Before the video became public, the NAB chairman had given an interview to journalist Javed Chaudhry which sent shockwaves through the then PTI government. He talked of his ‘resolve’ to pursue cases against some leading lights of the PTI, saying his inquiries could bring down the government.

Not much was heard of the inquiries against the PTI ministers once the video surfaced. In fact, considerable energy was added to the NAB’s hounding of the government’s political opponents, many of whom spent several months in its custody without being charged or tried.

It was too much of a coincidence to be ignored and commentators started referring to the ‘video-compromised’ NAB chief who was carrying out the ‘accountability of others’ when he had to answer serious allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of office, his denial notwithstanding.

After the change of government, Ms Gul went public about how the video was aired and what followed. She said she uploaded the video and some other ‘proof’ to the Prime Minister’s Portal in order to get justice and was soon contacted by the PM’s principal secretary, Azam Khan.

She was assured that she would get justice and asked to hand over all the evidence she claims she had to substantiate her allegations, but she held back. Once the video had been aired and, instead of her promised interview the channel ran the NAB rebuttal, she realised she had been used.

Tayyaba Gul also claimed that among those assuring her of justice was the prime minister himself. A woman, no matter how much evidence she may have, has a tough time being believed. This case was no different.

But then the human rights campaigner Amina Janjua made a statement which amounted to establishing a pattern of behaviour for the powerful commission and NAB chair. Ms Janjua’s own husband has been ‘missing’ since the ‘war on terror’.

She has knocked at every door in hope and is seen at every protest against enforced disappearances but to no avail. Her empathy for those in similar circumstances is well-known. After watching Ms Gul’s televised interview, Ms Janjua shared the experience of another victim.

Ms Janjua persuaded the wife of a ‘missing Pakhtun’ to approach the commission to help trace her husband. When later asked for an update, the woman said she expected nothing from the body as the chairman had made wholly inappropriate and suggestive remarks to her, saying why was she bothering to ‘look for her husband’ when she was ‘so beautiful’ that she could have any man she wanted.

These allegations have now been taken up by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly and the retired justice was summoned to give his side of the story before Eid. The commission chairman wrote back saying he would appear after Eid. Let’s see when.

Prime ministerial aide Salman Sufi says the cabinet has also approved the formation of a commission to probe sexual harassment allegations against the former NAB chairman, and the law minister will make the terms of reference and place them before the cabinet for approval. The prime minister will select someone to head the ‘time-bound’ probe.

So far, the commission chair has neither stepped down voluntarily nor has he been asked to while the matter is being investigated. Will watch to see if the matter goes much further in a country where so many people are outraged by ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ (my body, my choice) slogans by women and so very few at the sexual harassment, sexual/physical assaults and denial of basic freedoms that women face daily.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2022

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