When it comes to institutionalising expediency or overdoing things, perhaps few countries can match Pakistan’s ingenuity. Infact, credit for resurrecting thirteenth century renowned English cleric and jurist Henry de Bracton’s famous maxim- “that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity” goes to erstwhile Chief Justice of Pakistan [CJP] Muhammad Munir.
CJP Munir used this ‘mother of all expedients’ way back in 1954 to enable the Supreme Court of Pakistan in legitimising the extra-constitutional use of emergency powers by Pakistan’s Governor General Ghulam Mohammad to unlawfully dismiss the Constituent Assembly. So, the world needs to thank Pakistan for providing an expedientprinciple whereby a normally criminal act is justified by the necessity of preserving something of greater utilitarian value than that lost or sacrificed.
As far as overdoing things is concerned, a classical example is the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2020 passed by Pakistan’s National Assembly [NA] passed last year. Section 500 of Pakistan Penal Code [PPC] states: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both,” which unambiguously provides every Pakistani citizen protection against slander. Yet, the NA still added unwarranted redundancy in PPC by inserting Section 500-A, which is an exclusive provision providing protection to the armed forces of Pakistan against ridicule, being brought to disrepute or being defamed.
However, isn’t it ironical that while slamming the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2020 by terming it an “Absolutely ridiculous idea to criminalise criticism; respect is earned, cannot be imposed on people,” didn’t Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry himself ridicule, bring to disrepute as well as defame the armed forces of Pakistan? Chaudhary was indeed lucky that the military didn’t notice his indiscretion.
That the Pakistan army is extremely sensitive to criticism is no secret. Readers would recall Dawn reporter Cyril Almeida’s 2016 exclusive report [“Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”]. Dubbed ‘Dawn Leaks’ this exposé led to the removal of Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Pervaiz Rasheed and Special Assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi. Almeida was placed on ‘exit control list’- which is usually reserved for economic offenders, hardened criminals involved in acts of terrorism and conspiracy.
Pakistan army’s intense anger after ‘Dawn Leaks’ is apparent from the fact that it even disregarded basic military courtesy by allowing [or directing?] Director General [DG] of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] holding the rank of Maj Gen, to humiliate the Prime Minister of Pakistan and establish Rawalpindi’s writ by tweeting, “Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected.”
However, this incident wasn’t an aberration.
Two years later, while addressing a press conference, DGISPR spoke about the increasing number of Pakistani social media users who were indulging in “anti-state, anti-Pakistan, anti-army, anti-forces” activities. He also issued a not so veiled threat that “We have the capability to monitor social media as to who is doing what.” While public admission of monitoring social media by Rawalpindi, which brazenly violates the constitutional right to privacy of Pakistanis indicates that Pakistan army is a law unto itself, no one complaining against this unlawful act or seeking legal redressal only goes to show that Pakistanis know very well that ‘taking on’ the army is fraught with danger and futile!
This is precisely why a computer engineer named Hassan Askari writing a letter in which [according to BBC Urdu] he not only criticised Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s controversial extension, but even sought his resignation, is indeed bewildering. Since Hassan is the son of retired Maj Gen Mehdi Askari, he would have known the grave consequences of crossing swords with the mighty Pakistan army and thus, many opine that his letter criticising the army chief was tantamount to a ‘self-inflicted’ injury.
One had expected that the ‘delinquent’ computer engineer would be tried by a civil court under the newly promulgated Section 500 A of PPC since his letter being critical of the Pakistan army chief could be interpreted as an act that “intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan or a member thereof.” However, to everyone’s shock and horror, Askari was charged under Section 131 of PPC, which relates to abetting mutiny by seducing members of armed forces from “his allegiance or his duty.”
Even more intriguing is that despite being a civilian, Askari was even tried by an army Field General Court Martial. Though surprising, it wasn’t completely unexpected as the stakes for the army were very high and an issue on which the Pakistan army doesn’t believe in taking any chances- it was all about saving Gen Bajwa. That’s why there are no prizes for those who had prognosed beforehand that Askari would ultimately be found ‘guilty’ and handed down a five-year prison term.