Pakistan: Will The Judiciary Prevail Over The Army? – OpEd


In Pakistan, being critical of the country’s omnipotent army is indeed a very dangerous thing as it can invite serious repercussions ranging from being mercilessly belaboured to being abducted and in some cases even losing one’s life. Rawalpindi’s acute intolerance to criticism, even when it’s constructive in nature, is no secret and the military is particularly offended when someone exposes its cavalier ways and abuse of power without any accountability. So, incidents of people who have dared to antagonise those in khakis being roughed up or abducted by unknown persons aren’t uncommon.

However, despite being well-aware about the law and having a fair idea of who the assailants are, seldom do the victims who dared to criticise the Pakistan army disclose the identity of their attackers/ kidnappers and very rarely file police complaints. And leave alone preventing such incidents the police are not even able to  apprehend those brazenly carrying out these illegal acts, even when they take place in the heart of major cities and that too in broad daylight.

Islamabad claims to be having an exceptionally efficient intelligence  and investigative setup with exceptional professional skills. After every major terrorist attack, these agencies come up with a blow by blow account of how these were planned behind closed doors in its neighbouring countries, by not only Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [RAW] but also the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] terrorist group.

Yet, Pakistan’s premier intelligence and investigating agencies inexplicably make no headway when it comes to tracking down those who brutalise or abduct critics of the Pakistan army. This is even in cases wherein courageous victims give enough indications that clearly reveals who had whisked them away, and when irrefutable evidence in terms of video recordings of the incident exists. A few incidents that prove this observation:

·  On September 4, 2010, journalist Umar Cheema who had written several articles that were critical of the Pakistan army in The News was abducted in Islamabad. Taken to an undisclosed location in the outskirts, he was physically abused and warned not to write articles that were critical of the government. After being released, Cheema reported this incident and even went on record to say that “I have suspicions, and every journalist has suspicions, that all fingers point to the ISI.” [Emphasis added]. With  Dawn in its editorial of September 7, 2010, maintaining that “This paper’s stand is clear: the government and its intelligence agencies will be considered guilty until they can prove their innocence,” [Emphasis added], there’s no room for any doubts as to who was behind this abduction. Regrettably, despite the journalist’s revelation as well as the then Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani personal assurance to him that this incident would be thoroughly investigated, it remains unsolved till date.

·  On June 5, 2018, Gul Bhukari who is critical of the Pakistan army was abducted when the car in which she was travelling was intercepted by “unknown persons.” As this incident took place on Sherpao Bridge inside Lahore Cantonment, which is a virtual fortress with strictly controlled access and exit points. This incident raises two questions-one, how could the abductors enter the well secured Lahore Cantonment in the first place, and two, how could they manage to get past the security check-post and escape with a kidnapped lady journalist in tow? Though Bhukari was subsequently released by her abductors, this case still remains unsolved.

·  On July 21, 2020, senior Pakistani journalist and YouTuber Matiullah Jan was abducted in broad daylight from a women’s college in Islamabad just after he had dropped his wife. The college CCTV showed around a dozen men, some dressed in uniforms worn by Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorist Squad [ATS] blocking Jan’s car and ordering him to come out. When he resists, they manhandle him and after forcing him into another vehicle drive away. Despite the fact that at least five of his abductors weren’t wearing masks the police have failed to identify the assailants.  Even the National Database & Registration Authority [NADRA] expressed inability to identify the abductors whose faces are clearly visible, giving the feeble excuse that the images weren’t clear enough. The Pakistan army and police outrightly denied any involvement and this makes things even scarier. Needless to say that the very thought of three vehicles filled with men disguised as ATS commandos moving around unchecked in the national capital and abducting a journalist in broad daylight is indeed very disquieting. In fact, Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah’s pointed query that “What impression will the public get that people are roaming around freely in police uniforms,” endorses this matter-of-fact apprehension. Furthermore, Jan’s unconditional release just 12 hours later doesn’t make sense-unless its aim was to “scare others” as mentioned by the IHC chief Justice.

Despite so many incidents of those critical of the Pakistan army being abducted, investigating agencies have failed to identify a single culprit and this in itself gives a clear indication as to who are the perpetrators. This issue has come up before the Islamabad High Court [IHC] in the ongoing case of Kashmiri poet Ahmed Farhad Shah who was abducted soon after he criticised the Pakistan army’s harsh dealing in the recent Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir [PoJK] unrest on social media.

IHC senior puisne judge Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani hearing this case outrightly rejected ISI’s claim that it had no information regarding the abduction of Farhad and made it clear that the claim made by Pakistan army’s spy agency was “not believable.” He has accordingly summoned the sector commanders of both ISI and Military Intelligence [MI] alongwith others and directed that “Now, the ISI sector commander’s statement will be recorded in the missing person’s case,” adding that “A police officer will record his statement and write it.” 

The puisne judge also highlighted the fact that “In general, IB [Intelligence Bureau], MI and ISI are accused of missing persons and enforced disappearances, which has affected their reputation and governance and created a negative perception of these institutions in the eyes of the public,” and asked “What steps has the state taken so far to eliminate institutional antagonism and the negative public perception of key state institutions and their reputation?” As expected, the Attorney General had no answer!

Most importantly, Justice Kayani has decreed that “Whichever case on missing persons is fixed before this court, its hearing will be live-streamed.” This will draw public attention to the widespread malaise of abductions and enforced disappearances orchestrated by the Pakistan army, and thus act as a deterrent. However, despite being censured on this issue several times, Rawalpindi has shown scant regards for the judiciary.

The reason for such shocking indifference can be best described in the words of senior IHC judge Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui who in 2018 admitted that  “Today the judiciary and media have come in the control of ‘Bandookwala’ [literal translation ‘gunmen’; here a reference to the army],” and that the  “Judiciary is not independent.” He went on to elaborate by revealing how “In different cases, the ISI forms benches of its choice to get desired results”, adding that the army’s spy agency blatantly indulges in “manipulating judicial proceedings as its officials manage to constitute benches at its will and mark cases to selected judges.” 

Justice Kayani has asked ISI- “Are you going to run the country or follow the law?” While this blunt poser exposes ISI’s complete lack of accountability, but what needs to be seen is how Rawalpindi reacts. Will Pakistan army meekly accept this frontal assault on its extra-constitutional powers and supremacy over other state organs, or as is its wont, will decide to brazen it out. While logic suggests that it would be puerile for Rawalpindi to take-on the judiciary, but then, Pakistan army’s dogged determination to defend its turf at all costs should not be underestimated!   

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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