by: Saad Rasool.
Over the past several years, a vast fraction of our population seems to have become convinced that the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan shies away from placing conclusive responsibility upon individuals occupying the highest echelons of political power in our country. In fact – as is apparent from the ongoing partisan bickering over the Panama Leaks issue – there is a growing consensus that “Commissions”, constituted by the superior Courts, lead to nothing substantial. Quoting examples such as the Memogate Commission, Suddle Commission, Saleem Shehzad Commission, and even the Model Town Commission, a reasonable commentator observes that ‘Commissions’ are the black-holes of our legal dispensation: nothing ever comes of them.
This idea has been fundamentally altered by the publication of the Quetta Commission Report, concerning August 2016 attack on lawyers in Quetta, authored by the dauntless honorable Mr. Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
Mr. Justice Isa’s independence, intellect, resolve and audacity as a judge – penned through judgments such as his dissent in the Houbara Bustards case – has earned him an impeccable reputation. However, in the Quetta Commission Report, he has outdone his past heroics.
The Report starts with a recounting of the facts resulting in the constitution of the Commission. As it happened, the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan constituted the said Commission through its order dated October 6th, 2016, passed in Suo Motu Case No.16 of 2016. In the following days, the said Commission issued public notices to “anyone having any information” with regards to the said terrorist events, and thus embarked on the endeavor of conducting a comprehensive inquiry.
Thereafter, the Commission categorized and inquired into the occurrence of two separate terrorist events that took place on the fateful morning of August 8th, 2016; 1) the killing of Mr. Bilal Anwar Kasi (the then President of Balochistan Bra Association); and 2) suicide bombing at the Sandeman Provincial Hospital, which claimed the lives of 75 innocent people, including a child and a woman, while injuring 105 others.
After a thorough inquiry into the available evidence, and after recording and examining the statements of the concerned officials and private individuals, the Commission proceeded to make damning observations about, inter alia, the inability of relevant governmental authorities to secure the crime scenes and conduct forensic examinations. In fact, as the Commission observes, it was not until the Commission intervened to get the requisite CCTV images enhanced and publicized (with the help of specialized forensic teams) that the police was able to trace the identity and origins of the suicide attacker as well as his accomplices. Report of the Commission, which must form mandatory reading for anyone interested in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, or in our approach to fighting terrorism, also makes poignant observations about the functioning of NACTA, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the provincial Police forces, as well as entrenched culture of ‘passing the buck’ that plagues our bureaucratic enterprise.
All this, in itself, is commendable; but Justice Isa does not stop here. Perhaps most admirably, the Commission’s Report, without mincing any words, proceeds to deliberate on the inability (complicity?) of our Interior Minister to take action against proscribed organizations and their leaders. And in so doing, Justice Isa, unlike many others who have donned the robes, fearlessly proceeds to call the enemy by its name.
In this regard, the Report makes five important disclosures: 1) there is no comprehensive list of proscribed organizations, available to public, which provides details about the activities of the said organizations, or why these have been proscribed; 2) outfits that have repeatedly claimed responsibility for terrorist acts across Pakistan, including Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), have not been included in the list of proscribed organizations, under section 11B of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; 3) even when certain factions within the bureaucracy (in this case the Chief Secretary of Balochistan) have recommended that the concerned organizations be included in the list of banned outfits, the incumbent Federal Government has resisted doing so, hiding behind needless red-tape of ‘consultation’ between different agencies and departments; 4) the Federal Minister for Interior, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, has repeatedly and consistently resisted banning militant organizations of a specific sectarian bent; and 5) unforgivably, even after the occurrence of repeated terrorist events, the Federal Minister for Interior has met with Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, leader of several banned militant outfits (including SSP, Millat-e-Islamia and ASWJ), at the plush premises of Punjab House, Islamabad, “heard his demands and conceded to them”!
How the people of Pakistan elect such leaders to power, in the midst of the ongoing ‘war on terror’, is a question for another time!
The Commission’s Report concludes with 26 finding and 18 recommendations. And some of them relate directly to the Minister of Interior. In particular, the Report observes that that the Interior Minister (as the official primarily responsible for internal security in Pakistan) has, inter alia, “displayed little sense of ministerial responsibility”, “called only one meeting of the Executive Committee of NACTA in over three and a half years”, “violated the decisions of the Executive Committee of NACTA”, “met the head of a proscribed organization, widely reported in the media with his photograph, but still denied doing so”, “accepted the demands of the proscribed organization regarding CNICs”, “inexplicably delayed in proscribing terrorist organizations”, and “not proscribed a well known terrorist organization”.
In another country, in another time, even a small fraction of such damning condemnation against high officials of the government, and specifically the Interior Minister, would have resulted in the rolling of heads. But not so, at least for now, in PML(N)’s Pakistan. For a party that has been repeatedly caught with its pants down, such reports are perhaps meaningless. Who cares if a judge of the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan has authored it? “It is just the judge’s opinion”, as Khawaja Asif has reportedly said.
The Commission’s Report correctly concludes that “things cannot go on as they have been. Without top-tier accountability, it is unlikely systemic change will be possible.” In Pakistan, for now, there seems to be no real move towards a culture of “top-tier accountability” – be it the Quetta Commission Report, the Model Town massacre, or Panama Leaks.
But we certainly cannot go on this way. And in the face of unabashed refusal of the political elite to feel any pinch of moral or legal responsibility, the right-minded people must have their voice heard and counted. Let us be reminded, as Dante Alighieri once said, “the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected], or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool
This article first published on The Nation