AN unmistakably forceful message has been sent out that puts to rest any notion of a house divided. The military top brass appears to be of one mind: that the time has come to tighten the noose around the “planners and masterminds” of the violent protests that broke out across the country after PTI chairman Imran Khan was arrested. The ISPR statement issued on the occasion of the Formation Commanders’ Conference presided over by COAS Gen Asim Munir on Wednesday, was dismissive of complaints about alleged rights abuses, maintaining that those arrested in connection with the rioting were proceeded against on the basis of “irrefutable evidence”. The press release read that the “desecrators … and attackers … would certainly be brought to justice speedily under the Pakistan Army Act and Official Secrets Act…”. Some trials under these laws were already underway, it said, and attempts “by any quarter to create obstructions and stymie” the legal process that has been set in motion will be dealt with an “iron hand”. The PDM government is clearly not expected to assert its authority in the current landscape.
Certainly, if Mr Khan and others are suspected of involvement in the May 9 riots and other crimes, they must be held accountable. But that does not mean the civilians should pour fuel on the fire and discard the basic legal principles that underpin any criminal justice system. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah during a TV talk show later on Wednesday accused Mr Khan of “masterminding” the events of May 9 and described him as the “architect” of the mayhem, claiming there were audio clips directly implicating the PTI chairman in the violent protests that took place. Mr Sanaullah, who was law minister in the PML-N’s previous government, may want to consider that unless he is convicted, Mr Khan remains a suspect. To pronounce his ‘guilt’ in the matter is premature, not to mention unseemly for a government functionary sworn to uphold the Constitution. Underscoring the importance of due process, the Pakistan Bar Council has passed a resolution that, where applicable, civilians should be tried in Anti Terrorism Courts — considered competent enough to try even violent extremists. The Sindh Bar Council, too, recently also expressed valid concerns at Pakistan violating its international human rights obligations that guarantees the right to trial by a “competent, independent and impartial court”.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2023