Pakistan: Intimidating the Judiciary

Eliminating political and bureaucratic interference in the work of the law enforcement agencies aside, judicial activism must not cross the fail-safe line to US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ concept of “clear and present danger”.

Posted on 07/4/16
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
The Supreme Court of Pakistan's building in Islamabad. (Photo by ImposterVT, Creative Commons License)
The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s building in Islamabad. (Photo by ImposterVT, Creative Commons License)

With Karachi relatively safer than it was two years ago, we must not be lulled into thinking that terrorists and political target killers have been eliminated, their deep roots still remain very strong.  Starting with drying up of sources of funding, it will still take years to root them out completely. Two recent “high profile” incidents have highlighted this despite an outstanding performance by the Sindh Rangers, viz (1) the kidnapping of Owais Shah, son of the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Sindh High Court, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, and (2) the targeted assassination of the famous Qawwal Amjad Sabri.  Sabri’s murder could be a terrorist act, the CJ’s son’s unsolved kidnapping could possibly have been disguised as a terrorist act to camouflage possible political motives and ramifications thereof.


To quote my article entitled “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, written after the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar incident in Dec 2014, “The terrorists achieve their objectives by instilling fear in the psyche of the population, misinterpreting religion to romanticize and legitimize their existence. The media is used an inadvertent but important tool for disseminating both their warped message and to spread pervasive fear among the masses. We should be prepared to bear recurring pain over the short-term rather than allowing these brutal monsters to influence and dictate our destiny over an extended period.” unquote.


Among other tactics to subvert the course of justice, intimidating the judiciary (killing, kidnapping of judges, their family members etc) is nothing unusual. Members of the M-19 guerrilla group took over the “Palace of Justice” in Bogotá, Colombia in 1985 and held 25 Supreme Court (SC) Justices hostage. A ham-handed military assault caused the deaths of 12 judges and 31 others.  Criminal evidence against Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s biggest drug traffickers at the time, were burnt. The television anchorwoman romantically involved with EscobarVirginia Vallejo, testified much later that Escobar had paid US$ 1 million to the rebels to steal the files stored in the SC before the Justices could decide on his extradition and that of the leading members of the cocaine cartels to the US.


PM Mian Nawaz Sharif appeared before the SC proceedings on Nov 30, 1997 pertaining to the establishment of Anti-Terrorist Courts and the 14thAmendment. Senior party workers, including some Provincial Chief Ministers, Federal and Provincial Ministers, etc accompanied him as a “show of force”. Hundreds of PML-N workers stormed thereafter into the Court, forcing CJ SC Sajjad Ali Shah to remove the finding of contempt against Nawaz Sharif.  With defense lawyer S.M. Zafar on his feet arguing Sharif’s case, the police barrier around the courthouse was breached, the CJ quickly adjourned the hearing and left the courtroom along with other Justices.  Led by senior ruling party members, PML (N) workers doing “Bhangra” entered the main courtroom itself shouting slogans and damaged furniture.  PTV anchor Tariq Aziz broke Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait.  Police used batons and tear gas both inside and outside the courthouse to restore normalcy.  Our rulers (then and thereafter) have persevered with an important lesson, other than outright bribery the judiciary can be intimidated.  This has been practiced (in various modes sometimes successfully sometimes unsuccessfully) over the years, e.g. the removal of CJ SC Sajjad Ali Shah in Dec 1997 by inciting a revolt of the Justices, the sacking of CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry by Musharraf in 2007, etc.  About the CJ Sindh High Court’s son’s kidnapping, with the political stakes so high in Sindh, guess who desperately requires favorable rulings from the Sindh High Court?


The terrorist’s mindset is that of a murderer, both callous and brutal. How far is this removed from those who use “terrorism” to cover their acts of intimidation for political purposes?  The commitment, will and determination of the “great silent majority” to combat this murderous criminal mindset stems from their participation with power at the grassroots level. Unfortunately the Local Govts have deliberately been made non-functional. The civilised world still has illusions that it is possible to enforce the rule of law in a totally lawless environment. No country has a law against cannibals eating citizens because such an act would be unthinkable, it is time we evaluated options of bringing the unthinkable into the statute books.


CJ SC Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali says that our abundance of laws lacks practical manifestation because of weak governance, evident from the shortage of civil judges, the  small number of courts, weak prosecution of cases and delays in dispensation of justice, etc. On his first day in office Chief Justice Lahore High Court Syed Mansoor Ali Shah made 30 judges OSD in an attempt at self-accountability, one can only pray he succeeds in his reform campaign. Following the wording rather than the spirit of the law has freed many terrorists and associated criminals from organized crime and political parties. Many arrested militants cannot be tried because of political patronage, witnesses are unwilling given the lack of credible guarantees for their safety.  Putting the safety of judges and their kith and kin into doubt is a cold-blooded move to derail justice.  Military courts convened in secure locations and without fanfare takes the pressure of the judiciary to render justice swiftly while giving protection to the judges, the prosecutors and witnesses thereof.


In being deliberate about dispensing justice and giving relief to outright criminals, the Honourable Judiciary have inadvertently allowed hard-core terrorists to strike at a time and place of their choosing with relative impunity.  With political luminaries and bureaucrats involved in many cases under investigation vast amounts of money are used to obtain favourable media attention and influence the judiciary. A parallel society having its nexus between illegal underworld and the economics of parallel illegal markets exists both inside and outside the control of the government. The Sindh’s Chief Minister (CM) Qaim Ali Shah has repeatedly intervened in Dr Asim Hussain’s case, symbolizing in graphic detail the remote control of his puppet CM by Asif Zardari from relative safety in Dubai.


To understand how criminals function using the cover of the law, our esteemed judges must read up on US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Eliminating political and bureaucratic interference in the work of the LEAs aside, judicial activism must not cross the fail-safe line to Holmes’ concept of “clear and present danger”.  High profile terrorist acts temporarily wake up the nation, draconian measures must be constant in combating terrorism.  Photo-ops of high-powered “briefings” are great, the real question is, when will our rulers, civil and military included, ever wake up?


The writer is a defense and security analyst

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