Nobody calls him just
“Sheikh”, or “Rasheed”, or even “Ahmed”. It has to be “Sheikh
Rasheed”. But that’s just on TV programmes. In real life, and sometimes
in newspapers, he is more often than not referred to as “Sheeda Tully”
— “the Rasheed who rang the bell.” The nom de guerre sits well on him
for he is the bad boy of politics who many right-of-centre types like because
when he is in power he styles himself as one from the lower social ranks who
braved the odds to seat himself in the cabinet where irrespective of their
religious leanings usually only the super rich sit on decisions. Or when in
the opposition, he is the politico who is always prophesying the doom of the
left-of-centre types that represents more a wish than a transformation.
But he is even better known
as the politician who is always badmouthing democracy in the style of an
above-reproach elder who knows best. Except that he doesn’t know best. His
predictions of doom for both the governments of Asif Zardari’s Pakistan
People’s Party at the centre and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N
in Punjab have proven wrong despite the four years in which he has the chance
to come right. Nor did Husain Haqqani turn an approver as he had predicted
famously. Once the beloved of his electorate, between 1985 and 2002 he was
elected, usually by big margins, as a member of the National Assembly each
time a general election was held, which was six times.
The beginning of the end of
his political career was the 2008 elections where he was routed by his
erstwhile PML-N of Nawaz Sharif when constituency outsider Javed Hashmi —
who himself has recently ditched the party to join Imran Khan’s tsunami
politics — beat him by a massive margin. His defeat was complete in
by-elections the same year when Hashmi, who also ran from Multan and chose to
retain his seat from his home constituency and vacate the Pindi seat.
Two successive losses on
home ground was a stigma so big to Sheikh Rasheed that he had announced ahead
of the by-polls he would take the hint and quit politics if his electorates
didn’t want him. No luck for his electorates. Of course he went back on his
words. Which is not too surprising after his big lie in the 2002 general
election — the last one he won.
Many now believe he won
because he had promised during the campaign trail as an independent candidate
that he would ‘offer his win’ to Nawaz Sharif and PML-N both of whom he
betrayed by supporting their ouster — the military led by General Musharraf.
After winning, he not only did not keep his word, he joined Musharraf’s
cabinet first as information minister and then as railways minister. Many now
believe that his defeats in 2008 are his punishment from his electorate who
handed PML-N both victories from his constituencies.
Sheikh Rasheed has always
been a colourful character mixing populist rhetoric with the idiom of the
street, which borders on the crass. He is famous for his tongue-in-cheek
political one-liners that aim to demean opponents in the style of folk
jesters — indeed his most infamous poisonous one-liners about Benazir
Bhutto, which he repeatedly uttered in the 1990 elections campaign trail are
unprintable here. This kind of forked syntax has helped keep him in the
public consciousness with a big helping hand by the expanding television
current affairs sector of the past five years.
Indeed such is the
“value” of his style of growly opinion that takes below-the-belt digs at
opponents that he actually gets talk shows audiences. He is one of three
people who guarantee instant ratings high on TV talk shows — the other
being Imran Khan and Marvi Memon. It suits both parties — the talk show
becomes hit with him on show and he gets to stay in public limelight thanks
to the channels.
Without the channels to
give him the ‘oxygen of publicity’, as they call it, Sheikh Rasheed would
have faded in 2008 along with his Awami Muslim League party which is a
one-man army. Which is ironic because all his life he has reserved special
scorn for “tanga parties”, as he called them — political groups that
are or have been essentially one-man shows. But in the “one man army”
that his personal political philosophy represents the key word is not
“one” or even “man”, it’s “army”. For he is an unabashed
defender of “mulk ki afwaj”, “Pak army” and “hassas idaray”.
Whether he is a conscientious believer in these tainted institutions is
debatable, but what is not is that his electoral constituency is where the
military headquarter (or “GHQ”, another ‘holy’ word that his diction
is peppered with) is based. He is therefore “technically”, if not
politically, beholden to be voice of the army.
The other link that weds
him mortally to “Pak afwaj” and their worldview and to his politics is
his Kashmiri origin and the military’s Kashmir projects. He has his roots
in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir and is known for his
unabashed support to the anti-India uprising in the Himalayan valley that is
disputed between New Delhi and Islamabad. While many residents of his
hometown Rawalpindi are openly aware of his patronage and facilitation of
groups linked to armed resistance in Kashmir, it really came to media
limelight when the Indian government denied him permission to visit New Delhi
in 2004 after pro-independence Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik said that Sheikh
Rasheed’s residence and farm house has been used by militant organisations.
He is also on record as saying his dream is to visit Srinagar to offer
prayers at the graves of his forefathers once Kashmir is free (from Indian
He has also tried his hand
at being a writer. He is the author of Farzand-e-Pakistan, the self-styled
“son of Pakistan”, a nod to his other self-styled nom de guerre
Farzand-e-Pindi, or the “Son of Pindi”. A more apt title would be “son
of a gun” for the jihadi worldview he espouses. He is reportedly now
working on a second book tentatively titled, Sub Achha Hai, or “All is
Well”, an acerbic take, no doubt, that all is not well in Pakistan. No
doubt because he thinks he is not in the parliament, Pakistan is paying for
being thus amiss.
Sheikh Rasheed also thrives
in the macho nature of his electoral constituency — it is after all a
martial milieu being the seat of military power and being the conservative
capital of a conservative north Punjab. That he has never married also lends
him another rarity in politics putting in a stark contrast with his former
close aide and leader Shahbaz Sharif. He also matches his theatrical
personality with a grand fireworks show come every August 14, the
Independence Day, at probably Rawalpindi’s most recognized historical
landmark (other than the drab and inaccessible GHQ), the Lal Haveli — his
beautiful ancestral mansion, that glistens in the heart of Rawalpindi as the
other landmarks in the locality crumble in slow motion. His principal source
of income is stated to be silk business, which probably is one of the reasons
that make him a smooth operator.
These days he merely comes
across as someone so dejected with Pakistan’s future that he curses the
intelligence of Pakistanis who vote for “looters and plunderers” again
and again. Along with Imran Khan, he is one of those few politicians who
actively campaign against an elected parliament, a democratic coalition
dispensation and how the “conspiracies” against the country and the armed
forces are bringing us close to doom.
Sheikh Rasheed conveniently
forgets that he is one of the few politicians in active politics that served
not one but two military dictators, so his sermons on “true democracy”
are redundant. His sorry Awami Muslim League is making him sorrier since in a
one-man party you can only talk to yourself. The cure, much as he would like
to think is not carrying on with his ageing vitriolic rhetoric whose
exoticism wore off 15 years ago but maybe joining Imran Khan’s tsunami
project. That way at least he would represent the fig leaf of convoluted
“change” that he thinks he represents.
Constitution of a country
is a social contract between citizens and the state. For people of Pakistan,
a legitimate party to this contract, it is highly difficult to get an updated
copy of the Constitution.
The president authenticated
the 18th Constitutional Amendment on April 19, 2010 and the 19th Amendment on
January 1, 2011, to make them operational part of the Constitution after
their passage from both houses of the Parliament. Since then, many terms of
the contract have changed and one party — the citizens — have little
possibility to know about that.
The Ministry of Law and
Justice and the National Assembly have printed a limited number of copies of
the amended Constitution, but it is not possible for ordinary people to get
hold of one. Private publishers have printed the post-18th Amendment version.
After eight months, it changed as the 19th Amendment was passed in the light
of observations made by the Supreme Court while entertaining over a dozen
petitions against the 18th Amendment. Now again if the 20th Amendment is
passed to provide legal cover to by-elections held under the incomplete
Election Commission, then again an amended version of the Constitution would
have to be printed.
However, it is easy to
offer an electronic-version of the Constitution in the age of the much
eulogised E-Government and cyber possibilities. Pakistani taxpayer foots the
bill for E-Government Directorate housed in the Ministry of Information
Technology. But unfortunately, majority of the official websites offer either
pre or post-18th Amendment version of the Constitution. Surprisingly, the
Official Gateway of the Government of Pakistan www.pakistan.gov.pk does not
offer any version of this important national document.
The Gateway provides link
to 37 federal ministries and 43 divisions. Out of these only three have full
version of the Constitution. Shockingly, all the three are factually
incorrect. The worst joke is that the website of Ministry of Law, Justice and
Parliamentary Affairs (www.molaw.gov.pk), that is supposed to print an
accurate version of the Constitution, offers only the post-18th Amendment
version and that too has not acknowledged the new name of NWFP i.e. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Similar mistake is repeated in the Constitution available at the website of
Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination, (http://www.ipc.gov.pk). This
ministry served as the secretariat for the Implementation Commission that
facilitated democratic devolution under the 18th Amendment.
The website of Ministry of
Information and Broadcasting (www.infopak. gov.pk), which is supposed to
serve as information outreach body, offers the post-18th Amendment version.
Here the job has been done so haphazardly that the sequence of initial pages
has been disturbed while scanning.
At least the websites of
two ministries have partial information about the Constitution. Out of these,
the website of Ministry of Human Rights (http://www.mohr.gov.pk) fails to
accommodate four new fundamental rights — Due Process, Fair Trial, Right to
Education and Right to Information — in its list of human rights. These new
rights were acknowledged through the 18th Amendment. The website of Cabinet
Division (http://www.cabinet .gov.pk), headed by the prime minister, carries
the outdated rules of Council of Common Interests (CCI). After the 18th
Amendment, instead of the Cabinet Division, the Ministry of Inter-Provincial
Coordination serves as the secretariat of reformed CCI and it has the updated
rules adopted in July 2010. The website of the President of Pakistan (www.president.gov.pk)
only offers the text of his speech delivered on the signing ceremony of the
18th Amendment Bill 2010 on April 19, 2010, and a press note about the 19th
Story of the legislative
branch is equally disturbing. The website of the National Assembly (www.na.gov.
pk) offers post-19th Amendment Constitution in English. But the Urdu version
available there is that of 2004. The Senate of Pakistan (www.senate.gov.pk)
links to another private website (http://pakistanconstitution-law.org) where
the new version of the Constitution is available. Both Houses of the
Parliament have failed to update their handbooks and guides for the
parliamentarians. These publications carry explanations and procedures
according to the pre-18th Amendment constitutional mechanisms.
The National Assembly
amended its Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business on December 24, 2010.
The reformers of these rules failed to grasp Article 215 that deleted an
option of one year extension to the Chief Election Commissioner. The Rule 171
of the National Assembly retains this aspect. Similarly, the new rules missed
the spirit of Articles (153 (4), 156 (5) and 160 (3B) that, respectively,
make it mandatory to lay before the assembly annual report of Council of
Common Interests, National Economic Council and bi-annual report of National
Finance Commission. The Senate of Pakistan has yet to embark on reforming its
rules in the light of changes introduced by the amendment. None of these
reports have been laid before either House.
Story of the Judicial
Branch is amazing. The website of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (www.supremecourt.
gov.pk) does not offer the full text of the Constitution. However, under a
link about the Judicature it has the older version of Article 175 and other
articles pertaining to the judiciary. But a new link about Judicial
Commission of Pakistan offers information about the post-18th and 19th
Amendment mechanism about the judicial appointments. The website of Law and
Justice Commission of Pakistan (www.ljcp.gov.pk) mandated to conduct legal
public awareness campaigns does not offer any version of the Constitution.
The website of Election
Commission of Pakistan (www.ecp.gov.pk) also offers the pre-18th Amendment
functions of the Chief Election Commissioner. It fails to grasp that now many
of these powers rest with the commission instead of an individual. Secondly,
after the amendment, prerogative to call for a referendum is that of the
prime minister and the question has to be phrased and finalised at a joint
sitting of the Parliament. However, the website has failed to capture these
After browsing the websites
of all the three branches of the state, one fails to understand whether it is
sheer contempt of the Constitution or widespread intellectual poverty that
has failed everybody to internalise the spirit of the 18th and 19th
Constitutional Amendment. If these websites are offering only the outdated
versions of the Constitution and confusing the readers and researchers, then
why should the government waste taxpayers’ money on the so-called
Similarly, the Pakistan
Television and Radio Pakistan have failed to conduct any constitutional
literacy campaign to highlight the dividends of constitutionalism in
Pakistan. Textbooks taught in classrooms only talk about the Islamic
provisions of the 1956, 1962 and 1973 constitutions. We can leave this
comparative analysis to researchers. And instead of teaching these provisions
of the two dead constitutions (1956 & 1962), it will be prudent to
include first 40 articles in Social and Pakistan Study textbooks to highlight
the relevance of the Constitution, fundamental rights and principles of
Presently, there appears to
be a highly non-serious attitude towards the Constitution. It is precisely
due to this approach that widespread cynicism among the masses and lack of
their emotional attachment with this vital national document remain logical
outcomes in the public sphere.
An absolute series victory, that too against the top team in the business, tends to hide blemishes and make strengths appear larger than life. A reality check is therefore in order ahead of the limited overs contests starting next week.
Pakistani cricket survived a concerted onslaught against its professionalism, integrity, popularity, and the dignity of individual players during the reins of Nasim Ashraf and Ijaz Butt, the two PCB chairmen who had little cricket in them – Butt played 8 tests and Ashraf 3 first class matches – even less management experience, but loads of politics and intrigue. It lived through scandals both on and off field, and put up with officials who couldn’t manage a club team. It was made to face the cricketing world with a bunch of street urchins who picked fights in the dressing room, abused and trafficked drugs, took dirty money from bookies, gave the world the most embarrassing displays of on-field cheating right under the gaze of millions of viewers … but couldn’t bat, ball or field.
It is a measure of the talent and tenacity of the players, and the love of Pakistanis for the sport, that through it all, the national team has emerged stronger and more dependable. Treating England to a rare whitewash in the three-test series is proof of that. This despite the fact that Pakistan remained below par in batting and fielding. The team has definitely improved its fielding skills but three dropped catches and several fumbles in ground fielding during the last innings of the series, pointed to a serious flaw the team management will have to work on. In the event, the bowlers were so fired up that they kept taking wickets despite the missed chances, but the team won’t be lucky enough to get away with this every time.
Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman led the spin attack that dismantled England in each of the six innings, with Umer Gul providing useful support in the pace department. But the second pacer in each of the three matches remained ineffective, and therefore largely unused. In the second test for instance, Junaid Khan bowled 8 overs and scored zero runs in both the innings. His only contribution to the game was a dropped catch in the field. Compare this with the England’s two pacers, particularly Broad who bowled superbly, especially with the new ball, batted confidently, and was simply inspirational in the field, even when he remained wicketless. This means Pakistani pace attack starts and ends with Gul, which is going to be a liability in the limited overs matches.
Pakistan made the biggest investment in batting department — from the experienced Yunus, to the dependable Misbah, to new talent in the persons of Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali and Adnan Akmal — but none of them fired in more than one innings. The tail never wagged either, with the last four wickets in every innings falling in a heap. On occasions when batsmen did stay on, they did it at the cost of scoring runs. The captain’s philosophy of slow and steady seems to have found acceptance among all the players, with emphasis on ‘slow’. It worked for them in the test series, but would it deliver in shorter versions? This philosophy was in action in the semi finals of last World Cup where Pakistan batted test-style and lost to India by 29 runs.
The ODI and T20 squads announced by PCB bank heavily on the test players who found it difficult to score a run an over on the same pitches where they’ll be required to score five or more runs an over, against the same bowlers. The lack of ODI experience will also make it hard for some one like Azhar Ali or Hammad Azam to switch gears.
What we have on our hands for the remaining part of the series is a team that could humble the number one side in a test match situation, but one that offers little batting and bowling talent for the limited overs edition. Particularly in batting, the issue is not being overly cautious at times; the problem is, a majority of them don’t know any other style of batting.
Perhaps it’s time to rebuild an ODI squad from scratch, just like we built a formidable test team. But after the phenomenal victory in the test series, the selectors seem unwilling to take chances.
This is the week of Charles Dickens’ birthday and courtesy demands that one quotes him. The lines that seem most appropriate today are from Bleak House, “The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings.” If one disregards the limited connotation of business in the commercial sense, the law in Pakistan does manage to create an extraordinary amount of activity. The most recent and perhaps the most intense manifestation of this business is the ongoing episode of the Supreme Court’s service of a contempt notice on the prime minister and a visible intention to proceed with the indictment. The latest development is the filing of an intra court appeal by the prime minister to have the case heard by a larger bench.
The factual situation is simple. The Court had asked the federal government to write a letter to the Swiss government to reopen criminal proceedings against the president in furtherance of the NRO judgment. The federal government had been maintaining a pretense of taking a step back, clearing the throat and giving the matter profound consideration etc. The federal government’s experience with another dubious authenticity piece of written communication has not been confidence inspiring recently and hence in the case of the NRO letter they seem to realise the full import of littera scripta manet (the written word shall remain).Well, for better or worse that is over now, it would be fair to assume that the Supreme Court has no intention of letting this matter fizzle out. Hence the contest now has transformed from exchange of empty, clever word games communicated through the media into a more formal legal arena.
The argument for indictment and even a subsequent conviction is that the prime minister has wilfully and knowingly refused to implement an order of the Court. The defense of the prime minister is essentially that the president has sovereign immunity clearly and unequivocally guaranteed in Article 248 of the Constitution and in the event of writing the said letter he will be in contravention of this particular article. In the extreme, though unfortunately not completely unforeseeable, event of the prime minister being convicted, the process of the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Election Commission de-notifying his membership of the Parliament and hence terminating his premiership will be set in motion. It is clearly unfair to term it a contest or a confrontation now, since one of the parties to the dispute also has the power to adjudicate and decide the winner.
The primary legal caveat here is: can or, more precisely, should the Court continue to insist on the writing of the letter without a frontal and decisive determination on the matter of presidential immunity. Simply put, the letter can only be written if it has been settled that the immunity of the president is not absolute. The bare reading of the Article 248 shows that there is very little wiggle room in the formulation. Hence it would be fairly tedious for the Court to make any such conclusive determination. The prime minister’s defense at a basic level is that the direction of the Supreme Court is compelling him to do something which is unconstitutional. This is a rather serious objection. The Court can disagree; however in that case it will have to give reasons and create a precedent, in any event it cannot choose to ignore it. Any such determination would be firstly unprecedented and secondly and more significantly is not easy to make in view of plain language of the Constitution to the contrary. All the talk of Islamic values and anecdotes about Hazrat Omar’s (RA) willingness to appear before qazis etc is at best idle having no bearing on the matter, and probably merely diversionary rhetoric.
As is common place with most seminal battles, the real conflict lays on the fringes of the battlefield. The prime minister has a strong, completely defensible legal case and the Supreme Court has the theoretical power to rule as it chooses. Yet it would be reductionist if not impossible to ignore the surrounding context. The Supreme Court’s mistrust, some may go so far as saying contempt, of the elected government was unmistakable in the “memo” case. The use of the term “Sipahi-Salaar” for the Chief of Army Staff by the Chief Justice does make one slightly nervous. The Court has admitted a petition and previously asked the Attorney General to submit a written assurance in court that the Army and the Intelligence Chiefs will not be removed. Take a moment and roll this around your tongue a little; at least to me it leaves a very familiar but unpleasant taste. One of the most temperate judges of the bench recently made a remark in open court, which of course made it to the media saying that it looks prima facie that the prime minister is dishonest. It is a fantastically large claim to make and to do so casually, especially regarding the holder of the highest office in the country has to be something.
We wait with bated breath for the Asghar Khan petition to be pursued with a similar zeal. If one were to abandon euphemism and still be cautious enough not to join Mr Prime Minister in his present ordeal, it seems reasonable to say that the Supreme Court does not like this elected government and has particularly no fondness for the president. The sentiment though thoroughly undesirable in terms of institutional harmony is not illegal up to the point that they do not let it interfere with fair and constitutional adjudication. That point has arrived, and this may be the stiffest challenge that the Court has yet faced. Primarily because the conflict is internal, it will be a test of their ability to momentarily put aside their revulsion of the “corrupt” politicians and do precisely and only what they signed and fought to do i.e. applying and interpreting law.
The prime minister’s counsel made an oblique reference to how is it that it is always elected representatives even prime ministers who are summoned and indicted for contempt and why no military general overthrowing an elected government has ever had to suffer this irritation. The senior learned counsel certainly was posing it as rhetorical question, yet the point being made cannot be brushed aside lightly.
The courts derive their legitimacy quite substantially from the perception of objectivity and even handedness; once that is lost, the possibility of a total breakdown and mayhem is just around the corner. To be compelled to ask the question if the Court’s perception of neutrality has been compromised, enough times, is at some level to answer it. The error is glaringly fundamental from both sides in viewing democracy and the independence of judiciary as competing, almost mutually exclusive ideals, again demonstrating how fickle and short lived lessons from history tend to be. If one may take the liberty of articulating a fear and be excused for having a feverish imagination; the Supreme Court and democracy will either have to stand together or fall swiftly one after the other.
writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore.
Abdul Shakoor’s three bothers, Abdul Majid, Abdul Basit and Abdul Saboor, were doing the business of publishing the Holy Quran in Urdu Bazar Lahore. They used to market their products in different parts of the country. “Abdul Basit dealt with Islamabad and used to come regularly to a book store situated outside Lal Masjid, Islamabad, for his business. He was spotted there by intelligence agencies and two months after the Lal Masjid operation, he was picked up by them. We went to the Supreme Court and succeeded in getting him back from their custody after a few months,” Abdul Shakoor tells TNS. But that was not the end of the story. Abul Basit, who was kept at some unidentified centre of intelligence agencies, met several people who had been kept there for years.
“After his release, he started contacting the families of those who were kept inside the detention centre of agencies unlawfully and also appeared before the SC as a witness in at least two such cases which resulted in the release of two people. But, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was deposed by Gen Musharraf during the same time and agencies picked up all three of them,” adds Shakoor. He says the SC did not even hear their case as long as the CJ remained deposed and their case was reopened only after his restoration.
“Agencies produced them in the court after eight months of their arrests and implicated them in scores of cases of terrorism, including the killing of an army surgeon in Rawalpindi, attacks on GHQ, ISI Hamza Camp and other defence installations. After two years of continuous struggle, my brothers and 8 others were acquitted in all cases on April 8, 2010 by AT Court, Rawalpindi. But DCO and Home Secretary Punjab issued their detention orders first for 30 and then for 90 days.” Shakoor says they went to the court which ordered their release, but on May 29, 2010, the day they were supposed to get released from Adiala Jail, they were picked up by intelligence agencies from the jail. He says that in December 2010, intelligence agencies admitted before the court that they were in their custody and would be tried under the Army Act.
The aggrieved family is shuttling between the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Court — when moved in October 2011. The former refused to entertain the petition on the ground that the issue has already been decided by the latter. Helpless and traumatised that her three sons would be killed in custody, Shakoor’s widowed mother, Rohaifa, knocked at the door of Supreme Court on January 6. The mother prayed to the court in a stoical resignation to fate that “the respondents (agencies) may be directed to kill them immediately and hand over her sons’ bodies so that she may be able to bury them in her lifetime as she is also very sick.”
The Supreme Court returned the petition objecting that the matter is of individual grievances, according to the family lawyer, Tariq Asad. “Two days later, the family received an anonymous call that they would hear ‘good news’ soon. Instead, they received the body of Abdul Saboor on January 14, a day after the petition was rejected,” Asad says, adding that last week some family members were allowed to meet Abdul Majid and Abdul Basit at a hospital in Peshawar. “The prisoners were in very poor health.”
Shakoor’s family is among hundreds of other such families in Pakistan who have been suffering the pain of forced disappearances of their near and dear ones. Amina Masood Janjua, whose husband disappeared in July 2005, has been running an organisation called Defense of Human Rights since September 2006, helping families who share her experience. She says her organisation had registered 1030 cases of disappearances in the last five years. “Most of the missing persons were picked by police in plain clothes or intelligence agencies. So far, around 400 have returned to their families,” she says, adding that performance of the Commission of Inquiry on enforced disappearances, formed on directions of the SC with the sole purpose to find facts about the missing persons, is not satisfactory. “The commission is yet to visit Sindh and Balochistan. The Commission’s interim report in the SC has revealed that out of the 445 registered cases, 273 are still pending.” Janjua says she is going to set up a protest camp in front of the SC again from February 15.
Raja Irshad Ahmed, lawyer for agencies in case of abduction of 11 prisoners, admits that the abductees have not been tried under the Army Act, as he promised on behalf of the ISI before the court. “You better ask the concerned brigadier of Judge Adjutant General (JAG) Branch that why they were not tried under the Army Act,” says Ahmed, adding the agencies have no role in the killings of four abductees, including Abdul Saboor. “They died in Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar which falls under the jurisdiction of provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.”
A police official from KP province, dealing with cases of missing persons, tells TNS on condition of anonymity that the police is not responsible for such disappearances. “It is true that some police officials in plain clothes help intelligence agencies pick up a person, but they do not keep them in their custody,” the official says, maintaining that forced disappearances are unlawful, but motive behind such actions is very important. “Majority of those missing persons have links with militant organisations. They are picked up because our present criminal justice system has no answer how to tackle them. They cannot not be convicted under the present justice system, but it is important to stop them,” he says. The official thinks that the commission formed to recover missing persons is a toothless body. “Its responsibility is to only recover people, it cannot award punishment or even fix responsibility.”
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has started a helpline for the families of missing persons. “We have around 300 cases of missing persons with us right now,” Najam-ud-Din, research officer for HRCP, tells TNS. “Different organisations have different numbers. Even the government of Balochistan admits having 900 cases, but we try to verify all details before registering a case.”
Najam says Balochistan is top on the list of such cases while Sindh is on second place. “The phenomenon started after 9/11. For the first two years, most of the people with background of religious extremism were picked up. From 2002 to 2005, several Sindhi nationalists were abducted while after Balochistan operation in 2005, the focus of such abductions shifted towards the political activists of Balochistan.”
Najam says the state has failed to fairly try these persons and failed to frame a witness protection programme that discourages people from cooperating with state departments even against terrorists.
Pakistan of late has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons including getting a lot of flak for our human rights situation. Politicians, in spite of all their internal bickering and squabbles, seem to have developed a consensus on the upholding of democratic norms of governance and principles. The judiciary has become independent and the press has become very robust. But in spite of these positive developments, human rights in our cities, in our towns, in our villages, in our work places, in our streets, and in our homes, continue to be exploited and abused. Needless to say that Pakistan does not rank very high on a number of human rights abuse indices.
In this background, it is a welcome step that the National Assembly has passed the National Human Rights Commission Bill. The bill addresses a range of issues, including the functions, composition, structure and powers of the proposed commission. The bill proposes to give the Human Rights Commission a range of powers, including; taking of suo moto notice, investigating a petition, or violation of human rights or abetment thereof, or negligence in prevention of such a violation, by a public servant. The commission can also become a party to any case dealing with alleged violation of human rights pending before a court.
An important aspect of its proposed power is the mandate to visit any jail for inspection with regard to application of provisions of the jail manual, and related laws. In addition, the commission has been given another kind of mandate as well, which includes recommending adoption of new laws, or making amendments to the existing laws to bring them in consonance with human rights standards and any needed administrative measures, to go through all international human rights treaties and any reports submitted by the government, where it is obligated to do so, and make recommendations for their implementation.
In addition to these functions, the commission has been given power to conduct and promote research in the field of human rights, and maintain data base on complaints on violence and development of human rights norms. The commission has been mandated to work for the knowledge-based dissemination of human rights and create awareness through media and publications, etc. The commission may investigate any incident of violation of human rights. Finally, the commission would develop a National Plan of Action.
This is a tall order indeed. We must take note of the fact that the commission would not be a supra governmental body. Such commissions have a specified and limited role; they are neither replacements of the courts, nor of the executive or the legislature. It is, therefore, important to understand the limitations of and expectations from such bodies. The commission should be expected to deal with a sampling of human rights violations, to assess the overall human rights situation in the country through compiling periodic reports, to review the law of the land, and suggest changes there in, to suggest ratifying any international legal instrument that Pakistan needs to become a party to. And to act as a catalyst in bringing about an attitudinal shift in the society, which would create the enabling environment for the promotion and protection of human rights, mass awareness exercises should be conducted.
The commission, however, may not be best suited to develop a National Plan of Action, or develop human rights norms, as this is more appropriately the job of the executive, the legislature and the society at large.
Currently, we have a Ministry of Human Rights, but a commission is clearly an improvement on a ministry or government department. There are many reasons for this; a commission will have statutory backing and independence. The commission would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, lending credibility and stature to the body. In addition, the members shall be appointed through a transparent and vigorous process and the members would have tenure protection. In this regard, there is a need to move beyond traditional geographical representation from each federating unit, as well as Gilgit Baltistan, to ensure that competent and qualified people get appointed.
The members should amongst themselves have expertise, and be representative of various bodies, such as bar councils, NGOs, press organisations, etc. So far one area is factored in and that is the representation of women. A lot will depend on the pro-activeness and interest of the members. The chairperson should be someone who is not just a retired judge of the Supreme Court, but preferably someone who has shown special interest in the protection of fundamental rights. An important requirement should be that members shall have to be conversant with the relevant human rights provisions of the international instruments that Pakistan is a member. At least one of the members should be an expert in international law.
The bill has outlined the selection process which requires consultation with the opposition leader of the House, as well as final approval by the Parliamentary Committee that shall constitute fifty per cent members from the treasury and fifty per cent from the opposition.
In addition to the members, the commission needs to be staffed with qualified people having the necessary expertise and commitment to the cause of human rights and civil liberties. The mandate of the commission with regard to conducting inquiries, reviewing national laws, and international treaties, preparing reports, etc, would require the commission to have experts, and may also require it to outsource such work which would require it to have sufficient funds at its disposal. Therefore, staff selection would also be crucial.
All efforts must be made to ensure that the commission is able to perform its functions independently for the promotion and protection of our rights.
writer is a Lahore-based lawyer and political analyst