Insufficient inquiry

Published April 19, 2024

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies. And when these mistakes concern national security and law and order issues, blame must be apportioned accordingly, and those responsible for negligence need to answer for their omissions. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court-mandated commission probing the violent 2017 TLP dharna in Islamabad has fallen short on many counts, and its findings are being pilloried by political observers. Instead of assigning responsibility in clear terms for the debacle, the report offers a milquetoast view of the dharna and its associated controversies. As Defence Minister Khawaja Asif claimed, the findings have “no authenticity or credibility”. Mr Asif had particular issues with the fact that the “main characters” in the drama did not appear before the commission, referring to then army chief Qamar Bajwa and Faiz Hameed, the retired general who was then serving as the ISI’s DG-C. Meanwhile, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani observed that the report shifts blame to the Punjab government for the incident. There is much substance in this criticism. For example, then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal told the commission that Gen Faiz practically went over prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s head, as the deal with the TLP had apparently been sealed by the military before it was brought to the PM’s knowledge. Mr Abbasi was apparently not pleased with this development.

Instead of tiptoeing around such prickly matters, it is exactly these issues that the commission should have investigated, particularly the fact that the authority of the highest elected official of the land was overruled by a senior intelligence officer. The military has recently initiated a probe against Gen Faiz in a separate case of abuse of power concerning a housing scheme. Therefore, there is no reason why high-ranking former officers cannot answer queries regarding their role in the Faizabad debacle. This paper has always argued that all institutions need to operate within their constitutional limits, and probes such as these offer opportunities where those limits can be clearly defined. No institution should consider it a matter of ego; rather, answering questions and cooperating in such investigations should be looked upon as a matter of duty, for the betterment of the nation. To prevent a repeat of events like the Faizabad fiasco, a wider, more transparent probe is required.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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