Friday, 20 January 2017

Pakistani establishment has a right to be happy, Dr Shabir Choudhry

Pakistani establishment has a right to be happy
Dr Shabir Choudhry     20 January 2017

Yes, the Pakistani establishment has a right to be happy. Yesterday, 19 January 2017, the Backbenchers in the British Parliament advanced the Pakistani agenda on Kashmir. Pakistani High Commission in Britain, the Pakistani people and pro Pakistan Kashmiris can also rejoice that their efforts proved to be fruitful.

However, I fail to understand why some people with a hat of Kashmiri nationalism are over the moon because the Backbench MPs in the British Parliament have passed a motion that suits Islamabad’s agenda.

Before going any further, let us look at the Motion that was debated in the British Parliament. The Kashmir debate in the British Parliament was determined by the Backbench Business Committee following an application from David Nuttall MP. The Motion was:
"That this House notes the escalation in violence and breaches of international human rights on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir; calls on the Government to raise the matter at the United Nations; and further calls on the Government to encourage Pakistan and India to commence peace negotiations to establish a long term solution on the future governance of Kashmir based on the right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own future in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions."

If one reads the above motion which was passed yesterday, no loyal citizen of Jammu and Kashmir who wants unification and independence of the former Princely State, find anything to celebrate. It only talks about the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir; and it asks India and Pakistan to find a solution on the future governance of Kashmir based on the right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own future in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions’.

Does it mean they want the issue of ‘governance’ resolved just for the Kashmir Valley or it also includes Jammu and Ladakh? More importantly what are they offering – people can either become a Pakistani or an Indian.

As we know they have not talked about Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Does it mean these backbenchers and all those who have sponsored or helped to put forward this motion believe that Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Occupied Jammu and Kashmir are not disputed and there are no rights abuses in these two regions of Jammu and Kashmir State?

A day before the motion was debated, 12 people were abducted from Gilgit Baltistan, and they will face terrorism and sedition charges. Also one man suffered a custodial death in Muzaffarabad. Perhaps for some, these are not human rights abuses because the culprit is a Muslim country. Or may be to them, life, liberty and fundamental rights of people of other regions are not that important.

It looks date 19th is auspicious for Pakistanis who have always fooled people of Jammu and Kashmir in name of religion; and advanced their own agenda. Choudhry Hameedullah Khan as the acting President of the Muslim Conference, while addressing a press Conference in a leading hotel in Jammu on 28th May 1947 declared:

‘Accession to Pakistan would be unpleasant to Hindus while accession to India will disturb Muslims. Therefore, we have decided not to enter into any controversy either with India or Pakistan. The second thing we have decided is that we should try to acquire independence for the State. The third question now before us is, what would be the position of the Maharaja? We have never been lacking in showing loyalty and respects for him and it is because of this attachment that we did not support the Quit Kashmir Movement; although in one way it was a natural movement. We, therefore, felt that we should try to find out a solution which will maintain the position of the Maharaja Bahadur, while at the same time; it should also satisfy the praja. The best solution that we have found is that the Maharaja should become a constitutional King, as is the position in many other countries... 1

Muslim Conference Working Committee in its meeting held in Srinagar on 18th July 1947 endorsed the statement of the Acting President and passed a resolution to support it. This was strongly disliked by the leadership of Muslim League which had won the case for a separate homeland for Muslims in the form of Pakistan.

They activated their proxies in Srinagar; who hurriedly called a meeting of religious followers of Mir Waiz Yousaf Shah, among them present were some Muslim Conference leaders. They named this gathering of around hundred people a ‘Convention’ and passed a Resolution supporting accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan on 19 July 1947.

That Resolution of so called ‘Convention’ created many problems for the Jammu and Kashmir struggle; and continues to do so because it injected religious hatred in the polity of Jammu and Kashmir.

True, the motion of the British Parliament, and more appropriately, a motion of Backbench MPs will not hand over the Kashmir Valley to Islamabad; however, it can help Islamabad to advance their agenda on Kashmir and keep Kashmir pot boiling.
My fear is that motions and resolutions like this can only strengthen those forces which want to divide Jammu and Kashmir on religious lines; and further complicate the dispute. Also they give wrong perception about the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. To all true sons and daughters of Jammu and Kashmir the entire State is disputed and not only the Kashmir Valley.  

We should promote justice and equality for all citizens of Jammu and Kashmir State, and not for some chosen people.

Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

1/ Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, Justice Yusaf Saraf Vol. 1, p.679.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Resolutions passed in the Round Table Conference of Jammu and Kashmir Diaspora.

London            15 January 2017
The participants of this Conference belonging to different ethnic and religious backgrounds; and various parts of forcibly divided State of Jammu and Kashmir unanimously:
1.    Assert that the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir is multi religious and multi ethnic state; and religion is a personal matter of citizens, nevertheless, State of Jammu and Kashmir belongs to all of us;

2.    Declare that the State of Jammu Kashmir is one political entity; and division of the State in any form or shape will not be accepted;

3.    Clarify that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is not religious in nature; and any attempts to make it a religious dispute will further divide people of the State, and will embitter polity of Jammu and  Kashmir, and may lead to permanent division of the State;

4.    Express serious concern on growing extremism, violence and intolerance in various parts of the State; and urge the controlling authorities to ensure safety of all citizens of the State;

5.    Recommend that Jammu and Kashmir dispute should be resolved through a process of dialogue, and by adopting all peaceful means and in accordance with aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir State.  

6.    Remind the controlling authorities that it is their prime responsibility to ensure safety of all citizens; and that they are treated equally and no one is denied civil, political and social rights;

7.    Recognise that terrorism, extremism and hatred are alien to norms and traditions of our motherland; and these evil trends must be combated and rooted out by stiff action;

8.    Affirm our commitment to work as a team to protect and promote interests of Jammu and Kashmir State; and strengthen the role of the Jammu and Kashmir Diaspora in building cordial relationship among the various ethnic, social and religious communities;

9.    Emphasis that State Subject Ordinance gives identity and special status to all citizens of former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir; and this must not be violated or tampered in any form or shape;

10. Pronounce that we will advance the cause of unification of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and organise meetings, seminars and social and cultural events to educate people and build bridges of friendship, tolerance, mutual respect and coexistence;

11. Demand that all Citizens of the State who hold State Subject Certificates should be allowed to freely interact with each other; and for this purpose some area along the LOC should be reserved where people can meet and socialise with their friends and relatives;

12. Request authorities in India and Pakistan to allow people of the divided State to visit religious places which will enhance tourism and will promote goodwill and better understanding among different communities;

13. Urge the government of India to take appropriate measures to rehabilitate all the people uprooted because of violence, terrorism and religious intolerance, especially the Pundits; and ensure safety of all the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir;

14. Condemn authorities in Pakistan for not renewing ID card of Dr Shabir Choudhry, a renowned author, TV anchor and political and human rights activist. Passport and ID card is a fundamental right of all citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, by denying this Pakistan is violating its obligations assumed under the UNCIP Resolutions and the UN Charter. This Conference is seriously concerned about this situation and demands that ID card of Dr Shabir Choudhry and his daughter, who is non political house wife must be issued. END

Jammu and Kashmir State belongs to us, Dr Shabir Choudhry

Jammu and Kashmir State belongs to us, Dr Shabir Choudhry
London 15 January 2017
Mr Chairman, friends and colleagues Aslamo alaikam and good afternoon to all of you.

I want to thank Kashmir National Party for organising this Round Table Conference of Jammu and Kashmiri Diaspora of concerned citizens of the State belonging to different cultures, different religions and different areas of our motherland.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Conference of its kind where so many wise and sincere people representing various cultures, religions, political parties and views are assembled under one roof. This pluralism is part of our national heritage; and we must be proud of it and must work hard to promote it.

However, while we want to promote a culture of peace, tolerance and fraternity, there are those forces which are actively promoting a culture of extremism, violence, intolerance and hatred. It is sad to note that over the past decades discourse on Jammu and Kashmir dispute is largely defined by those who promote extremism, violence and intolerance. Those who aspire to advance pluralism, democratic values and equality for all either have been silenced or marginalised.

Mr Chairman
We the concerned citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir have to decide, are we going to allow a bunch of extremists to call the shots and impose their will on the society, just because it suits their agenda; or are we going to organise ourselves and fight back and establish a society where we can all live in peace and harmony?

I believe religion is a personal matter of citizens. People can decide what religion to follow and how to practise it; and the State must not have a role in this. The only role the state should have is that of a neutral umpire. No one should have a right to impose his/ her religious or political views on others.

While religion is a personal matter; love and loyalty to our motherland - the State of Jammu and Kashmir is obligatory on all of us because the State belongs to all of us. It is this State that has given us an identity and a sense of belonging.

We must endeavour to preserve this identity, and regain unification and independence which was available to us after 15 August 1947. The struggle of all true sons and daughters of the soil is to unite all the areas of the State that were once ruled the Maharaja Hari Singh.
If we fail to rise to the challenge we face, then I am afraid we can lose our identity and sense of belonging; and our future generations might say that our forefathers belonged to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Role of Diaspora

If we are sincere to ourselves and our motherland, then we have to sincerely analyse our roles. We have to see if what we are doing is helping to promote the cause of Jammu and Kashmir State; or is it helping those who want to keep us divided and occupied. Is it promoting the cause of peace and stability, and strengthen our identity and sense of belonging or is it supporting those who are advancing extremism, intolerance, hatred and instability.

At present the State of Jammu and Kashmir is divided and occupied by Pakistan, India and China. All three countries have interests in State of Jammu and Kashmir; however, our interest and sentiments must prevail as we are the principal party to the dispute, and we are also the party which has suffered most since 1947.

Those who like us to remain divided, oppressed and occupied have established proxies who help them to advance their agenda; and keep matters under control. It is sad that when these proxies, presented as leaders visit England or other countries we citizens of Jammu and Kashmir go out of our way to welcome them and arrange dinners and seminars for them. These people, on one hand pocket money from development schemes and receive rewards from the occupiers; and on the other hand they are sent abroad to confuse people and the world community on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

We need to revisit wisdom of this approach. Think carefully; are these proxies sincere with the unification and independence of the Jammu and Kashmir State? Do they want peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir? Do they want tolerance, freedom, justice and equality for all? If the reply is in negative; and they are loyal to those who occupy us, exploit us and deprive us of our fundamental rights, then why should we respect them and arrange dinners and seminars for them?

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, I want to say that this august gathering should set up a Committee which can plan activities to promote the cause of unification and independence of Jammu and Kashmir State; and which can help us to fight those who support extremism, terrorism, intolerance and hatred.

I thank you Mr Chairman.
Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

With impunity, Afrasiab Khattak

With impunity, Afrasiab Khattak
The Nation       January 14, 2017
Enforced disappearances have remained a serious problem in terms of violation of human rights in Pakistan for a long time. But the scale and magnitude that this problem has acquired over the last one decade is frightening. The fourth military operation that started in Balochistan against Baloch nationalists in 2005 saw a growing number of Baloch political activists getting disappeared. Unfortunately, the parliament, political parties and the media didn’t focus on the Baloch disappeared persons. That’s why the problem has not only persisted but has acquired more serious dimensions.
The so called war on terror after 9/11 had its own share in intensifying the problem of enforced disappearances in Pakistan. At that stage, Pakistan was seen as the epicentre of international terrorism due to the presence of top leaders of the most dangerous international terror outfits here. But since the country lived in denial of the existence of extremism/terrorism for quite some time under General Musharraf, she could not develop an effective system of anti-terror laws and procedures to prosecute terrorists. The security agencies, meanwhile, started dealing with the problem in extra-judicial ways. The problem came to national and international limelight when the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took up the cases of missing persons. The apex court did provide some relief to a few individuals, but it could not resolve the problem as such. Ultimately a special commission under a retired judge of the Supreme Court was created to address the issue of missing persons, but not much progress has been made as the relevant authorities have failed to cooperate with the judicial commission.
About ten days ago, a new chapter in the history of enforced disappearances in Pakistan started, when some bloggers and social media activists started disappearing from Islamabad and different places in the Punjab. So far, there is confirmation of five missing persons who were active on social media. There have been widespread protests against these abductions in the Parliament and outside it by civil society activists. So far, there is no authentic/formal information about the missing bloggers.
But social media accounts supposedly run by the proxies of intelligence agencies have launched a vicious campaign against some of these bloggers for allegedly posting blasphemous material on their accounts. They are even recklessly hurling similar accusations towards political leaders, parliamentarians and civil society activists who are protesting against enforced disappearances. Knowing that levelling of such accusations is invitation to extremist violence, these elements are indulging in this practice with complete impunity. Is this a fascist tactic to silence the opposition? The other important question is that if any one of these bloggers have committed any offence, why are they not being properly arrested and produced in the court of law? Obviously no one will have any problem with that. But kidnapping and unjustified confinement is illegal and it can’t be justified under any pretext.
The abduction of social media activists is a serious issue in itself because when those who are supposed to provide security allegedly start abductions, what recourse will be left for ordinary citizens? But it is definitely not as simple as that. These abductions are connected with the larger questions of freedom of expression on social media and state policy about extremism and terrorism. As we know, print and electronic media have already been brought “under control” of the deep state through various modes of pressure. Self-censorship has become a feature of our mainstream journalism. Now is the turn of social media, although, a quite stringent or even draconian law was passed by the Parliament some time ago for curbing cybercrime. Many had expected action against hate speech on social media or legal action against the accounts of the proscribed organisations suspected of involvement in terrorism.
But so far, no such action is visible. On the contrary, accounts known for their vehement opposition to extremism, sectarianism and terrorism have been targeted. As mentioned earlier, if there is anything objectionable or any material that violates the law of the land in these accounts, the law must take its course. But impunity for the proscribed organisations creates serious questions about the role of state institutions. It’s particularly so when the honourable Interior Minister justifies his interaction with banned organisations on shaky ground, not strong enough to stand logic.
If past experience is anything to go by, the policy of appeasement towards extremism and terrorism has been counterproductive and we have a long history of it. It rather encourages these elements. The despicable move of such evil minds to use the sectarian card against the top general of the country at the time of his appointment is the most recent example. This abhorrent move should have been investigated and those responsible should have been brought to justice because what can be more criminal than sowing sectarian discord in the most important security institution of the country?
There is yet another technical aspect of the issue of enforced disappearances. Intelligence agencies of the country don’t have the power to arrest anyone under the law. Under CrPC, only police or those working with police powers can make arrests.  But it is common knowledge that in practice, intelligence agencies do arrest people on regular basis and go into denial when asked by the courts. This is a ridiculous situation that can’t go on indefinitely. We have to have an honest debate about it. The Parliament in consultation with all stakeholders and the civil society must come out with a workable solution for the problem. This shouldn’t be taken by any side as a zero sum game. It is after all, a joint effort for creating a democratic and civilised state and society in Pakistan.
The country’s constitution has a full chapter consisting of fundamental rights and there are numerous laws and institutions for the protection of human rights. Pakistan is also a signatory to numerous international conventions/covenants on human rights. But in practice, the country is faced with a crisis in human rights of all kinds due to non-implementation. To overcome this crisis, we need a human rights charter jointly prepared by all political parties and the civil society so that there is no immunity for violators. We also need a commission of truth and reconciliation so that the matter could be brought to a closure.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Abducting social activists, PERVEZ HOODBHOY

Abducting social activists, PERVEZ HOODBHOY

HAD last week’s kidnappings of bloggers and social media activists happened in Balochistan, it would have been a non-event. But all five abductions happened in Punjab — and now the authorities are feeling some heat.

Salman Haider — a lecturer at the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University in Rawalpindi — was intercepted while driving on Islamabad Expressway on his way home. Others were picked up from Lahore and near about. They include social activist Samar Abbas, social media bloggers Aasim Saeed, Ahmad Waqas Goraya, and Ahmed Raza Naseer — who suffers from polio. Their whereabouts are unknown as of the time of this writing. Still others are said to be missing with families too fearful to register formal complaints.

 These near-simultaneous abductions required complex operations, suggesting involvement of some secret state agency. Apparently, there were no prior direct threats, no demand for ransom, and no evidence of the grisly violence used by jihadist groups. And, as the phone calls made to the families showed, the abductors were dismissive of their identities being traced.
Just a little thought shows the level of resources and planning that such actions demand.
First, tracking mobile internet users is not for novices. Only specialised cyber tools can uncover the identities of those anonymously operating a Facebook page or website. This requires skills, equipment, and persistence. Since IP numbers — which identify a particular device — are alterable and wireless networks can be accessed from anywhere, tracking records are needed. Only the authorities have such data acquisition facilities.

The kidnappings are designed to eliminate the tiny sliver of cyberspace activists currently have.

Second, anticipating that certain materials could be deleted, selective screen shots of the pre-takeover content of Facebook pages were taken. These were later released for circulation with the goal of arousing public anger. Tellingly, after the user accounts were hacked into and taken over, the earlier content was deleted and replaced with pro-military and pro-extremist rants.
Third, extensive tracking of individual movements was needed. In addition to physical shadowing, this requires tapping of telephones and email. The case of Goraya, a former Quaid-e-Azam University student currently studying in the Netherlands, is particularly significant. He had briefly returned to attend his sister’s wedding and was nabbed shortly thereafter. The deep state had bided its time, watching and waiting for him to return to Pakistan.
Suspicions of official involvement were not allayed when Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan declared that he had been in touch with the intelligence agencies. Subsequently he was “hopeful that Dr Salman Haider would soon be recovered safe and sound”, but made no mention of the others.
How bad are the materials which right-wing and pro-establishment sites are deeming blasphemous and anti-Pakistan? Having glanced at a few pages from FB accounts under the names of ‘Roshni’ and ‘Mochi’, in my opinion some remarks by their visitors placed here and there were clearly stupid and irresponsible. Another called ‘Bhensa’ was outrageous and offensive. Nevertheless, to abduct its alleged operators is a travesty of justice.
Intemperate and irresponsible web behaviour of young people is induced by the apparent security provided by cyber anonymity. But, disagree as one might with parts of the web content, the fact is that none call for violence — or even hint at its desirability. I could not see any demand for mosques to be closed down, mullahs to be hanged, or calls for violence. An overwhelming majority of posts call for peace, tolerance, freedom of worship, rule of law, an end to repression in Balochistan, action against corruption, etc.
While I have never met Goraya — one of the abductees — I discovered a single email from him addressed to me from four years ago. Writing in his capacity as the international coordinator of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan, his email reads, “We are a group of people who are striving to bring rational thought into Pakistani society. We, like you, do not like the current Talibanisation of our country and are trying to combat that in our own way on the social media by running a forum that is 10,000 strong.”
Salman Haider, a poet of considerable merit, has a large following on social media networks. He writes passionately in Urdu about the need to reclaim space lost to extremism, the brutal targeting of ethnic Hazaras, and the missing persons in Balochistan. Ironically, he too has now joined the ranks of the missing.
Demonised, persecuted, denied space on TV channels and in the Urdu print media, the voices asking for a modern Pakistan and peace with neighboring countries are being increasingly stifled. The recent kidnappings are designed to eliminate the tiny sliver of cyberspace they currently have.
On the other side of the spectrum, full internet freedom is enjoyed by sectarian religious organisations, militant jihadist outfits, and even so-called officially banned organisations. Those representing such mindsets also fill TV channels on political talk shows, and their Urdu newspaper columns accuse all and sundry of being foreign agents and blasphemers. Even those arguing for the release of the abducted activists are being called blasphemers.
Although intelligence agencies are empowered to act where national security is jeopardised, no one has alleged that the abducted activists are dangerous people. Nevertheless, there is a strong feeling that elements within Pakistan’s deep state felt sufficiently outraged to take the law into their own hands and order the disappearances.
But why this anger? Do Pakistanis not know who their true enemy is? Liberal fascists — as they are called in the Urdu media — did not orchestrate the suicide truck bombings that levelled ISI headquarters in Peshawar and Sukkur, the attacks against police academies in Lahore and Quetta, the grisly games played by the Pakistani Taliban with the severed heads of Pakistan Army soldiers, or the horrific massacre of APS students.
The army, police, and Pakistan’s security agencies have paid a terrible price in lives and material at the hands of religious fanatics. Extremist organisations and individuals have declared bloody war upon the state. Against the culture of intolerance, corruption, and militancy that is ruining Pakistan, only a few brave souls have dared to speak out. It is insane to crack down on them.
The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
Published in Dawn January 14th, 2017

‘Pak should neutralise terror groups operating on its soil’

‘Pak should neutralise terror groups operating on its soil’
January 13, 2017

WASHINGTON: In a tough message to Pakistan, James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for US defense secretary, has said that if confirmed, he would tell Islamabad the need to “expel or neutralise” externally-focused militant groups operating with impunity within the country.
In his written submission to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing yesterday, Mattis noted that “conditioning our security assistance” to Pakistan has a mixed history, “but I will review all option.”
“If confirmed, I will work with the State Department and the Congress to incentivise Pakistan’s co-operation on issues critical to our national interests and the region’s security, with focus on Pakistan’s need to expel or neutralise externally-focused militant groups that operate within its borders,” said Mattis.
The 66-year-old Marine general, who retired in 2013 after serving as commander of US Central Command, was responding to a question if he supports conditioning US aid to Pakistan.
Nick-named as “Mad Dog” Mattis, the retired general told lawmakers that Pakistan has “learned some hard lessons” because of its dealings with the Afghan Taliban, as violence in that country reflects.
“I believe they should do more to collaborate with their neighbour. We should urge Pakistan to take further actions against the Taliban and the Haqqani network,” Mattis said.
Haqqani network, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for several deadly attacks against Western and Indian interests in Afghanistan, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul.
“Sanctuaries and freedom of movement for the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks inside Pakistani territory is a key operational issue faced by the Afghan security forces. If confirmed, I will examine efforts to deny sanctuary to the extremist forces undermining the stability and security of Afghanistan,” he said, responding to a query.
Arguing that countries in the region “have the responsibility to support the reconciliation process” in Afghanistan, Mattis said the countries in the region “should increase pressure on the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks” to stop their campaigns of violence.
He said US’ ties with Pakistan have had highs and lows.
“We have long faced a lack of trust within the Pakistani military and government about our goals in the region, If confirmed, I will work to build the trust that we need for an effective partnership,” he said.
For years Pakistan has battled internally-focused extremist organisations within its border and with US help, he said.
“In a sign of its commitment, its military has suffered significant casualties in this counterinsurgency effort,” Mattis said, adding that the US has conducted military exercises with Pakistan in an effort to increase thrust and interoperability.

Survival in the Jungle, By Babar Sattar

Survival in the Jungle, By Babar Sattar
January 14, 2017       The News

What is common in social media activists being abducted and then attacked in absentia for being unpatriotic and anti-Islam and the government’s bull-headed belief that military courts are a great innovation that must be preserved? The message that Pakistan’s allegiance to rule of law and our right to liberty are contingent upon the whims of powerful individuals and institutions who claim exclusive right to determine the state’s narrative.

Rule of law is the idea that no one in a polity is omnipotent and that citizens are to be governed in accordance with declared laws and not arbitrary impulses of individuals and institutions running the state in the name of citizens. Implicit in this is the notion that state officials have limited powers that are subject to checks and balances to prevent their abuse. The constitution is the contract between the citizen and the state, and through it citizens delegate their collective power to state officials to exercise it within limits prescribed by law.
Whether it is imposition of martial law or enforced disappearances (the polite name for abduction of citizens), both are motivated by an amorphous definition of national security and national interest. And the underlying sense of entitlement is also the same ie that some institutions are holy cows and folks within them ought not to be questioned when they claim to act in the larger national interest, even when their actions flagrantly breach the constitution and the fundamental rights of citizens that it seeks to guarantee.
As the missing persons’ phenomenon snowballed we were told that it is born out of necessity. Vile enemies of Pakistan are getting away with terror and treason because our courts are timid and our legal regime doesn’t authorise agencies to collect intelligence or recognise evidence gathered by them. That intelligence and law-enforcement agencies (and the army acting in aid of civil power) wish to work within the criminal justice system but the system needs tweaking to adjust to the ‘ground realities’ so that our enemies can be apprehended and punished.
After much mulling our civil and military institutions came to the precious conclusion that adulterating our legal regime to eliminate as much as possible the distinction between the accused and the guilty was the way to go. As a consequence, the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations for Fata and Pata was born, and subsequently we saw the Anti-Terror Act, Fair Trial Act and Protection of Pakistan Act (now lapsed). With these instruments the state created all possible flexibility within the law to allow its functionaries to act on their whims.
This was the learning-to-work-within-the-criminal-justice-system phase of our recent history. It was brief. While it was evolving, the tools to deal with ‘ground realities’ didn’t exist. As national interest couldn’t be jeopardised, so people kept going missing. Just when we thought we had finally empowered our institutions and agencies to catch our enemies and have them punished within the confines of the law, APS happened. In that state of shock and anger we were told that this criminal justice business doesn’t work. In wartime we need military courts.
In the two years that military courts were functioning and handing out death sentences, we didn’t get a sense that terrorists were now so scared of being hanged that they were refusing to blow themselves up. But more importantly, despite all power vested in intelligence and law-enforcement agencies by the new and revised laws, and the absolute power vested in military courts, people still kept going missing. What explains this conundrum? Was the original diagnosis wrong? Was it never about inadequate laws?
What is the real appeal of military courts? That they are effective and efficient? That military officers working as judges and prosecutors are not exposed and so not afraid? That cases are decided on time and the decisions are executed on time? Forget the structural problems with these courts with the military acting as police, investigator, judge and executioner. Does anyone know what kind of evidence is presented that leads to convictions? Are any witnesses presented? Are they cross-examined? Are the accused advised and defended by counsel?
The real appeal of military courts is that they don’t have to give reasons for what they do. The trials are not public and the rulings are not subject to scrutiny. No one hears the stories of the accused or why they did what they did. The decisions lead to no debate about right or wrong or whether these courts are striking the right balance between safety and efficiency while awarding death to citizens. They allow everyone not to address thorny moral and policy issues: undisturbed sources of extremism within society that support the supply-chain of terror.
While military courts are wrapped in a shroud of legality, being creatures of law, the arguments in favour of these courts and those in defence of abductions (presenting them as a necessity) are very similar. Both sets of arguments stem from the belief that the fundamental rights of citizens are not inalienable and can be disregarded in the face of challenges such as the terror we are confronted with. Both are rooted in a moral code that justifies usurping the right to life and liberty of a citizen declared to be anti-state without due process in the ‘larger public interest’.
Both rely on the assumption that the state functionaries who are making life and death decisions about fellow citizens in the name of the state are endowed with divine attributes and need not be subjected to any checks and balances while they play God. Both are backed by the firm conviction that human liberty is not a fundamental right, but an entitlement or luxury that can be taken away if you say or do something that pushes you to the wrong side of incumbent state officials who believe themselves to be the state.
In the jungle there is no legal or moral code. The rule is: ‘survival of the fittest’. And to survive you make the right alliances and try not to fall on the wrong side of anyone more powerful. You don’t take unnecessary chances and risks and you don’t fight others’ fights to establish principles. How does an animal know whom to fight and whom not to in a jungle? Recognition of the pecking order is part of socialisation. And if you don’t respect the order, you become the example that helps the socialisation of others.
We are not a rule of law society. We are living in the jungle and have made our peace with it. Salman Haider wasn’t a household name last week. Most of us hadn’t heard of the other social media activists now missing. But we know about them now as examples we don’t want to be. We don’t know what they did, but we know they probably did something to upset those who determine what is in our interest as a nation and what isn’t. As our national interest monitors can’t falter, many are already attacking the abductees without any knowledge of the underlying facts.
What message has the abduction of social media activists sent, other than reinforcing the pecking order? Those of us who thought we could think and express ourselves freely within the digital world from the privacy of our homes were wrong. This was a public service announcement that the digital world is part of the jungle too. So don’t be a rabble-rouser on social media. The state retains monopoly over narratives and if social media is the new forum where narratives are being shaped, it will be controlled no less ruthlessly than other forums.
The abductions look like coercion for now. But they will lead to a conformist consensus in favour of keeping freedom of expression and dissent under self-censorship even on social media. Who says that isn’t essential service to the larger national interest?
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.