Buttressed by the deep rooted anger of the people of Pakistan and the seething fury of the Pakistan Army, visibly on display after the Peshawar Army Public School attack by the body language of General Raheel Sharif, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif moved quickly to harness the mass popular will for taking concerted action against terrorism. He symbolized the political consensus of the All Parties Conference (APC) by immediately lifting Asif Zardari’s ill-considered moratorium on hanging.
Even before the National Action Plan (NAP) formulated by a committee of wise persons could be annunciated, the hiccups started. Of the hundreds of terrorists on death row, all tried by military court martial, only a handful met their fate before the hangings were brought almost to a dead stop. The legal lacunaes notwithstanding, the continued incarceration of the condemned terrorists on death row has become a major security headache. Terrifying both the jail wardens and the convicts out of their wits by threats against them and their families, some of them practically run the jails. Vacillation about carrying out capital punishment, prescribed punishment under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), has undermined the morale of the police. Suicide bombers may go willingly to their deaths, the cowards who send them to die are not ready to die themselves.
Respected columnist Farrukh Saleem has it right when he describes a committee “to be a group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide nothing can be done.” Can the group of sub-committees as presently composed really deliver on a limited timeframe without clearly defining the TORs? One would like to believe that the government’s intentions are sincere, the NAP Committee inspired confidence because Ch Nisar Ali Khan reached out to persons of integrity. What message is Khawaja Asif’s inclusion in the PM’s Cabinet Committee sending to the Army? The Federal Defense Minister commands no respect or confidence among the khaki rank and file, he should be replaced in the six-member core committee by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
Once broad consensus was reached why re-open the debate? The government must exercise its mandate for executive action. Including politicians of opposing parties into the sub-committees will evoke motivated filibuster, that will ensure that all the effusive rhetoric of about drastic action comes to nothing. This was confirmed by the vociferous opposition to military courts in the Senate last Monday.
Some law experts frequently quote the Blackstone principle (Sir William Blackstone 1765), “it is better that ten guilty persons escape then one suffer,” to justify that the perception of military courts rendering arbitrary justice would violate human rights and that the Courts must err on the side of the innocent. What do you do with those who brutally murder over 145 innocent people, 132 of them schoolchildren? Adopted by the British legal system and becoming a maxim by the 19th century, the formulation was also absorbed into American common law. There were (and are) many contrary views, to quote Bismarck “it is better that ten innocent men suffer than one guilty one escape”. Former German Finance (and later Interior) Minister Wolfgang Schäuble vehemently maintained this principle is not applicable in the context of preventing terrorist attacks.
The setting up if military courts has now become a subject of controversy. The govt may have to amend Article 8 (1) of the Constitution to pave the way for legislation for special military courts. Reviewing the progress of NAP 2014, the PM said that the anti-terrorism consensus must not be lost, “we cannot betray our martyrs by showing disunity”. Notwithstanding that a vocal minority led by PPP statements (and legal eagles) Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani sincerely believe the military’s arbitrary nature of carrying out trials violates the basic human rights guaranteed under the Constitution, the likes of Asif Zardari fear for themselves if real accountability about links to terrorism across the board is carried out. The “great silent majority” of Pakistanis are quite convinced that without swift exemplary justice delivered and punishments awarded being implemented, innocents will continue to suffer at the hands of terrorists of all ilk. The acid test of the govt’s commitment will be seen in how it deals with Lal Masjid‘s Abdul Aziz who continues to defiantly spout support for terrorism from the very heart of the capital.
Like Al Capone, Asif Zardari excels in escaping accountability mainly because witnesses are criminally intimidated (and coincidentally in some cases also killed). The wanted gangster Uzair Baloch directly connected to Zulfikar Ali Mirza, Zardari’s close friend and PPP Colleague, has been held in Dubai on behalf of Interpol. Zulfikar Mirza set up the Peoples’ Amn Committee (PAC) in Lyari under his patronage to counter MQM activism. What will come out if this direct link to Asif Zardari is prosecuted in a military court? Not surprising that to pre-empt what could be potentially a dangerous “smoking gun”, Zardari has started voicing a ridiculous canard about viz (1) military courts ultimately imprisoning Mian Nawaz Sharif and himself and (2) blaming the incarcerated Gen Pervez Musharraf for “conspiring” to destabilize the Sindh Govt!
No one from Pakistan of any note has ever raised the issue of 3 million Afghan refugees on our soul with any seriousness at any international forum for decades, its inclusion in the NAP 2014 agenda is alarming. Our enemies are desperate to spoil this developing relationship with Afghanistan, we have to be very careful that they do not succeed with their “Dirty Tricks” (DTs) to destroy the present environment of cooperation.
While the PM seems genuinely sincere about tackling the terrorism problem head on, a faction in his party despises the Army and resents the additional powers they need for eradicating terrorism. The opposition is happy to do their dirty job of destroying the consensus garnered by the PM. There is a nexus between corruption, organized crime and terrorism, guess why some politicians are anxious about the men in uniform getting arbitrary powers? All politicians with connections to corruption have reason to derail the military courts idea.
The Army finds itself in familiar territory of a twilight zone, being asked by the politicians to make sacrifices while the politicians themselves simultaneously badmouth them, the Army’s patience is visibly wearing thin. Terrorism is an existential threat, our politicians excel in doublespeak, they cannot go scotfree while the national fabric is being destroyed. They have to be held accountable to their commitment to eliminate terrorism, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s sincerity is on test for doing something concrete, he must deliver on his promises despite the recalcitrants, both within and outside his own party.
Rhetoric is cheap, the blood of our innocent children and that of our soldiers is not. We must stay the course!
The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org