New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 April 2016
Cyber Crime Bill: An Assault on Rights
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Balochistan Discourse: The Tale of Dominant Narratives
By Noor Ahmed Baloch
By Huma Yusuf
The Culture Cure
By Hajrah Mumtaz
The Saga of Christians In Pakistan
By Kaleem Dean
By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Cyber Crime Bill: An Assault on Rights
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2016 was passed in the National Assembly without quorum — at that time — with 30 members in attendance. The opposition parties present in the 30 members did not object to a lack of quorum because, according to one legislator, “we did not want to harm democracy.” Unknown to these defenders of democracy, the PECB is the greatest threat to democracy and free speech in Pakistan, and the harm it will do to democracy in the country will be felt for years to come, not to mention that it will completely stifle the Internet as a medium of exchange of views.
The PECB is a draconian law that might as well have been promulgated as an ordinance by General Zia-ul-Haq. It seems that after decades of struggle, the government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has not learnt its lesson and is still wedded to the worldview of the late dictator. The said piece of legislation, a sinister attempt at controlling the Internet and stamping upon it outdated and outmoded ideas of morality, decency and ideology, is fundamentally bad. What is worse are the defences put up by the government.
The government’s defence of proposed Section 34 of the PECB sadly is that they have taken the language as is from Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan when empowering the Authority, and in its lieu the Federal Government with the power to censor and block content online. Crucially, however, government has omitted that part of Article 19 that speaks of “reasonable restrictions” imposed by “law.” In doing so the draftsmen of this odious piece of legislation have defeated the very purpose of Article 19 and its claw-backs i.e. glory of Islam, national sovereignty, decency, morality etc. The Article 19 envisages specific and reasonable restrictions in different circumstances through a law that is passed by the legislature. It is unlikely that those who put Article 19 in our Constitution imagined that someday someone would empower the federal government to arbitrarily block whatever content they please.
It does not stop at censorship. There is the question of legitimisation of surveillance as well as search and seizure. It seems that the implications that the law would have for Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan that promises privacy as an inviolable right have completely escaped the government. In Pakistan’s particular conditions, to provide a legal cover for abuse of power and authority by law enforcement agencies (LEA) means that once this law passes, there would always be surveillance, both real time and through search warrants. The proposed law empowers LEAs to even resort to surveillance and search and seizure of information systems without a warrant, in the event that it is feared that the integrity of the information system cannot be secured. Everything has been left to the individual judgment of the agency official. Any official who may have a grudge against someone is likely to abuse these provisions to settle scores. Your data will never be private after this bill. Everything you do online will be recorded in a database. We would all be like cyber-prisoners in an Internet panopticon.
There are criminal provisions introduced in this bill for hate speech, revenge porn and damage to reputation. There are no two opinions that these are issues that need to be dealt with, but experience tells us that hate speech laws even in the most developed societies viz. rule of law have resulted in the persecution of weakest sections of society. In Pakistan the situation is actually worse. In Punjab, for example, government’s efforts to stamp out hate speech have only resulted in banning of religious literature of Shias and Ahmadis. Inevitably, the majorities are able to game the system, through threat of violence and by sheer numbers. Other criminal provisions deal with critical infrastructure information systems. Government is free to designate anything as critical infrastructure, which basically means that almost anything that the government deems fit can become the holy cow.
To begin with, there is no tradition of whistle blowing in the country when it comes to accountability. This will, for all purposes, stifle any attempt to keep government accountable. To give you an example, had Panama Leaks happened in Pakistan, and the PECB was in force, both those responsible for the leak and those journalists using the information so leaked would be behind bars for a very long time.
The real problem here is the mindset behind this proposed law. It is a mindset that wants to stifle free speech and freedom of choice for Pakistanis. It is an attempt to create what I had described as the ‘nanny state’ in the YouTube case three years ago. Both through the writ petition before the High Court in Lahore, and in a column for this newspaper, I warned against the pitfalls of going down that route i.e. the state assuming the role of a nanny to its citizens. Since then countless websites have been blocked as being immoral and against the cultural values of Pakistanis. It is ironic that the state needs to determine what the cultural values of Pakistanis are. It is really a totalitarian worldview that our state seeks to impose on the people of Pakistan. What if a Pakistani disagrees with your ‘cultural values’? Where in the Constitution of Pakistan does it say that the cultural values, as determined by the state, will be imposed on individual citizens? The most the state can do under the Constitution is to enable — not enforce — Muslims to live their lives according to their faith as well as to enable minorities of other faiths develop cultures freely. The Constitution of Pakistan, whatever its flaws, and there are many, does not seek to force people to live a certain way. Indeed, it gives ample freedom for the naysayers and refuseniks to live according to their lights but those parts of the Constitution are very conveniently sidestepped. Perhaps when the time is right, lawmakers and jurists of the future will finally respond to the grave assault on personal liberties and constitutional rights that successive governments have been guilty of, unconstitutionally and arbitrarily.
Balochistan Discourse: The Tale of Dominant Narratives
By Noor Ahmed Baloch
These days Balochistan is in news for two reasons. One, for theChina Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Gwader, which gets a great deal of coverage in mainstream media; two, a combination of multiple problems, including the ongoing insurgency, which is a point of little discussion in media. Nonetheless, the historical background of Balochistan reveals much, and its current state of affairs is beyond how it is viewed. The other day in a discussion regarding Balochistan, a friend raised a very valid point saying that as much as Balochistan is rich in terms of natural resources, it is also rich in manpower and talent. There is much truth to that. But what really counts a great deal is how that is being utilised, facilitated and given the due space.
When it comes to the Balochistan discourse, there is always a built-in and dominant narrative that represents the ‘selected’ side of the matter — be it political, social or economic — that the region witnesses. For instance, the word ‘Naraaz’ (angry) Baloch is used to describe the insurgents. This may have been used to spread misconceptions, or to put the real issues under the carpet. Recently, in a conference on the CPEC, in a university in Islamabad, a Pakistani PhD scholar from a university of France lectured, “Balochistan faces a civil war, which is a challenge.” Closely looking into this narrative of that academician one can come to a conclusion that either he knew very little about Balochistan or that there was a set agenda behind such a presentation. The latter reason is the most probable.
Much political misunderstanding exists, and it will only intensify if political affairs are intentionally presented in a certain way. Like all others, the education section too comes under a dominant narration. ‘The most backward’, for instance, is the phrase mostly used in educational reports regarding Balochistan. Here, I do not undermine the statistics about out-of-school children and ghost teachers, the unfortunate reality about many schools in Balochistan. In creating this abysmal condition of the education sector, local political elites and government policies have played a collective role. The phenomenon of ghost teachers has the patronage of politicians, and it does not stop there. A huge number of headmasters are appointed because of their political associations, and the ultimate victims are the masses.
On the other hand, private sector has been doing well in many parts of the province, although its presence is limited in Balochistan on the whole. Notwithstanding that disadvantage, the efforts of the private sector have not been acknowledged either by media or by government.
It is essential to illustrate the example of the noted institution, the Delta Academy, which was established in 2001 in the district Kech. Introduction of English language teaching has been a great initiative, as it motivated students and teachers to pursue higher studies. A great number of students are in various universities across Pakistan. Many Delta alumni have opened their own institutes in different, far-flung, areas of the province, and the educational services are truly commendable. The truth is Balochistan is in dire need of good educational institutions.
Under these circumstances it is safe to say that Balochistan has been isolated from the mainstream media discourse. There is very little critical discussion, and only a narrow space is given to it. The presence of independent media outlets in the vast region of Balochistan, which stands for none except Vsh news (Balochi news channel), often goes off on account of lack of advertisements. The condition of journalists working in Balochistan is abysmal. The past record of killing journalists with impunity marks the region as one of the most dangerous zones for journalists in the world. Performing journalistic activities truthfully and dutifully means battling with life and death, as journalists face pressure tactics from many powerful quarters. The national news channels have limited the number of their reporters in Balochistan, and have offices only in the capital city of Quetta.
Therefore, that is how political, educational and media affairs take place in an environment of enforced silence. Hiding the true face of issues and setting a dominant narrative that is untrue, biased and agenda-driven is never the solution. With a view to dealing with grappling crises, it is necessary that there should be room for intellectual discourse, fair media participation, and a fully functional government. Distancing the people from their rights and truth will never bear any long-term benefit. And that is the simple truth the state of Pakistan must acknowledge to mitigate the deep-seated sense of isolation, discrimination, and persecution of the people of one of its provinces: Balochistan.
By Huma Yusuf
April 25th, 2016
BEHOLD Pakistan’s latest sporting craze: the game of accountability one-upmanship. One Sharif called for ‘across-the-board accountability’ and was reported to have removed a number of military officers on corruption charges; the other Sharif vowed to resign from his prime ministerial post if investigations into the leaked Panama Papers prove wrongdoing on the part of his family.
Opposition parties are gradually coordinating calls for the Supreme Court to establish a credible inquiry commission. If one is set up as the PM has suggested, one can expect the courts to take the lead in summoning politicians from across the spectrum to account for their sins. Multidirectional corruption allegations used to be a sign in Pakistan of coups to come. There’s a throwback to this in Jamaat-i-Islami leader Sirajul Haq’s decision to label corruption as ‘economic terrorism’. The word choice may appear to imply that the solution lies in military intervention.
The military set the stage of the JI chief’s coinage by linking the fight against corruption with winning the battle against terrorism, shifting the focus away from the violent ideologies of extremist groups to the venality of the political class.
This shift has already materialised in Sindh where paramilitary operations aimed at rooting out terrorist groups instead targeted PPP and MQM members suspected of engaging in corrupt activities, including involvement in organised crime and terrorism.
Moves against corruption must go beyond targeting individuals.
But Pakistan is meant to have outgrown its coup phase. Why would the military need to move in that direction when it has already consolidated power over the government and judiciary under the auspices of the National Action Plan and the Protection of Pakistan Act? Military courts and apex committees provide the security establishment with covert sway over the civilian sphere, saving it the trouble of overt rule. So why the renewed interest in accountability? Some of it may have to do with the evolving internal and regional security situation. While fending off corruption allegations, politicians have little time left to push back against establishment strategies in the region or mobilise civilian law-enforcement agencies to carry out counter-terrorism operations, thereby winning back some oversight over domestic security.
As the fighting stage of Zarb-i-Azb draws to a close, the natural and sensible progression would be for the military to cede control to civilian authorities and empower the government to implement anti-terrorism regulation and deradicalisation initiatives.
A spotlight on the corruption of government institutions and the police in particular would boost an argument in favour of indefinite involvement by the security establishment. It would also prevent disagreements such as the recent one over counterterrorism operations in Punjab from gaining traction.
More broadly, the country is preparing to reap the benefits of the improved security situation through economic revival, starting with foreign investment under the auspices of CPEC. Increased accountability pressure at this juncture will help ensure that planned mega projects are not delayed or sullied by concerns about kickbacks or other corruption.
But all players in this game must remain cautious. The taint of corruption is indiscriminate and hard to wipe off. The military is already facing questions about its reticence regarding the removal of some officers allegedly involved in corrupt activities as well as reports that they continue to receive pensions and other benefits. Mounting corruption allegations are known to be a deterrent for effective governance and project implementation. The fear of being retroactively investigated on corruption charges makes officials tasked with implementing projects reluctant to sign off on any decision. Ironically, political games aimed at taking control of projects may ultimately lead to slower implementation as corruption allegations fly in all directions.
This does not mean that Pakistan’s institutions — civilian and military alike — should not be pushed to increase transparency and accountability. Genuine anti-corruption efforts are urgently required, not least to end the vicious political cycle of accusations and counter-accusations so that everyone can get on with good governance. But to truly effect change, anti-corruption initiatives will have to move beyond targeting individuals to improving institutions. Judicial inquiries may help weed out a few individuals who have engaged in heinous corruption. But they will not fix the system that enshrines a lack of transparency.
The time has come to talk about policies and institutional reforms that would genuinely lead to greater accountability — financial disclosure systems; transparency around budget allocations and spending for all institutions, including the military; opening the accounts of all government-linked corporate entities for scrutiny; improving corporate governance requirements; better regulating asset declarations; and more.
Without a systemic approach, an anti-corruption drive will be little more than a game with no winners.
Huma Yusuf is a freelance journalist.
The Culture Cure
By Hajrah Mumtaz
April 25th, 2016
IT may be the start of a long, hot summer but in terms of activities that bring hope, Pakistan hasn’t done too badly this year. Just this weekend past, despite the rapidly rising mercury, people thronged to the Creative Karachi Festival. Islamabad just hosted another edition of the literature festival, and Hyderabad organised a rock concert of significant size. Speaking of music, Grease, The Musical played to packed audiences in Karachi.
Meanwhile, in different cities in recent months, the KopyKats production Siachen broke several sorts of new ground, not the least of them being the extreme challenge of presenting consecutive performances on the same night. The National Academy of Performing Arts held its international theatre festival. Gwadar hosted a literature festival that was attended by hundreds (though unfortunately this did not receive the coverage it deserved in the national press). There are new films coming out, local musicians are booked solid … in short, encouraging events are happening.
And yet, there are too many people asking how these drops of hope in the ocean of despair that is Pakistan could possibly make any tangible difference in the long term?
How Pakistan could frame an answer to this question can be discussed endlessly. But of the many groups and individuals working in these sorts of fields in hostile terrains, perhaps the ones who must most frequently have reason to ask themselves this question might be the members of the Zohra orchestra. This is an ensemble of 35 women at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which plays both Afghan and Western musical instruments.
The group is led and conducted by the young Negin Ikhpolwak, who learned to play the piano in secret. While she was fortunate enough to be supported by her father when she revealed her interest in music, she was threatened and harassed by other men of her family and tribe to the extent that she now lives in an orphanage in Kabul.
The change culture brings can put society on a new trajectory.
The playing of music is no longer banned in Afghanistan as it was when the Afghan Taliban held sway there, but many still consider it to be indecent and immoral, especially for women. All her fellow musicians have similar tales to tell, and yet soldier on in the face of daunting odds.
The stories of the National Institute of Music, and the musicologist who runs it, are in themselves rather miraculous given the circumstances that prevail over the eastern border. The academy was set up in 2010, part of the bid to reclaim public and societal space and free up Afghanistan from the stranglehold of the Taliban.
The person leading the project was Ahmad Naser Sarmast, a musicology professor who returned from Australia and created a symphony orchestra which was soon playing at some of the world’s most prestigious centres, including the Royal Festival Hall in London and the Kennedy Centre in Washington. At his institute, he reserved slots for orphans, street children, and — a point of controversy for Afghanistan — girls.
In December 2014, he was in the front row watching his orchestra perform with a drama troupe at the French cultural centre in Kabul when a suicide bomber struck. He very nearly lost his hearing, but he’s still there, still working.
Stories such as those recounted here appear disparate on the face of it, but they are underpinned by the common experience of culture practitioners who work in hostile climes. The reason they do it is because they are aware of the fact that cultural change translates to societal change — and not in any nebulous, ephemeral sort of way but in quantifiable, solid ways.
Often, the change culture can bring about is so significant that it ends in society itself being re-imagined, set on a different trajectory altogether. If that sounds fanciful, consider two culture icons (amongst many of their colleagues) that achieved precisely this, and are for this reason being mourned across the globe and across cultures.
Both Prince and David Bowie entered their industry when it looked nothing like what it does today, and both played remarkable roles in not just music (the boundless depths of their talents are obvious and well documented) but in changing societies: most significantly, gender constructs and identities, but also the roles that men and women are forced to fit into, and how they can be transcended.
That sort of iconoclasm is out of reach, sadly, of most of those who live and work in the spheres of culture, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere. But it would be a mistake to discount their efforts, for what they are achieving — bit by bit, incrementally — adds up to a lot. Consider how much poorer Lahore is, for example, from having lost the RPTW festivals. Part of the solution to Pakistan’s travails lies in exploring and mapping out identities and experiences; and the only way to that is books and poetry, theatre and music, song and dance and film.
Hajrah Mumtaz is a member of staff.
The saga of Christians in Pakistan
By Kaleem Dean
Minorities in Pakistan make up almost three percent of the total population. Among them are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Bahais, Parsis and Kalash. Hindus are the biggest group with two percent of the population, and Christians comprise 1.6 percent.
The beloved country, Pakistan, was just two months away from existence, when in the united Punjab all parliamentarians were seriously thinking about the assembly session on the 23rd of June 1947 for the final decision whether the Punjab would be part of Pakistan or India. Likewise, Christian leaders were also worried because most of the Christian population was living in the Punjab. Also, they had a deep affiliation to the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Therefore, on the 21st of June 1947, all the four Christian members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly met at the residence of Dewan Bahadur Sittia Parkash Singha (S P Singha) and decided unanimously to go with Pakistan. The historic day came, motion moved, voting started and the result was a tie. It was a glorious moment in the history of Pakistan when the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, S P Singha used his ‘costing’ vote in the favour of Pakistan and brought ‘golden victory’ for the upcoming, independent, sovereign state.
After the session was over, in a friendly talk, the Quaid-e-Azam asked a personal question to Singha why he voted for Pakistan. And Singha answered, “Sir, your nation remained the minority in India for ages, and bore the oppression of Hindus. And who can know better than you the pain they passed through. Now, we, the Christians, will be the minority in Pakistan, and we hope to have a good future.”
After 14th of August 1947, the migration started from both sides, and most of the Sikh community living in the Punjab was moving to India, leaving their lands, properties, and their ‘servants’. At the time, around 60,000 Christian families were working for Sikhs, assisting them in land farming. Now they were all ‘unemployed’. From the opposite side of the border, Muslim migrants were entering into the Punjab with their limited households and utensils. They were being welcomed in different areas of Lahore, Sialkot, Kasur, Sheikhupura etc. The newly formed government of Pakistan started allotting them lands previously owned by Sikhs; in a couple of months all lands were distributed among new arrivals, but the poor Christians were kept waiting to get their share but it did not happen. In spite of the efforts of the Christian Members of Parliaments those Christians were never given any compensation for leaving their homeland for Pakistan.
Christians started moving to other villages and cities for survival. Because of their illiteracy, they were forced to find employment doing menial jobs, like sweeping and cleaning, to feed their families. This was the first organised discrimination Christians faced in Pakistan.
In 1972, the people-elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in the name of socio-economic reforms, nationalised all private educational institutions. Many institutions were owned, managed and controlled by Christians. As a result of nationalisation, they lost their properties and their peace of mind. Many were so frustrated that they left the country and never came back. During the military era of General Zia-ul-Haq, the severe clauses of the blasphemy law were introduced. Bringing any new law is not an issue, but its application/implementation is a serious concern. Blasphemy laws were made but there was no abuse-check on this law. Minorities living in the country clearly felt those laws as a ‘sword’ on their neck. More than 1,300 individuals have been accused under this law, more than 60 people have been killed during trials, and hundreds of victims of blasphemy laws have miniscule chances of survival in society. It is not the law that is bad, but its abuse that is rampant and atrocious.
Persecution of minorities has remained very high during the last 69 years. In February 1997, Shanti Nagar, a Christian village, was torched by thousands of people from the nearby localities. In 2002, a church in Taxila was attacked, where four Christians were killed and 25 wounded. In September 2002, unidentified gunmen shot dead six people at a Christian charity foundation in Karachi. November 2005 has the story of the burning of several churches in Sangla Hill. In August 2006, a church and many houses of Christians were attacked outside Lahore in a land dispute. In July 2008, an angry mob stormed a church in Karachi during service, and denouncing Christians as ‘infidels’ attacked them, leaving several injured. The year 2009 is the sorrowful story of the Gojra riots. A federal minister of minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered in 2011. In September 2012, a mob set on fire a church, St Paul High School, a library, a computer lab, and houses of four clergymen. March 2013 saw the horror of the Joseph Colony, Lahore, where hundreds of houses of Christians were torched. The same year brought another misery when the All Saints Church, Peshawar, was targeted by a suicide bomber, killing 75 people and wounding hundreds. Christians have sad memories of March 2015 when suicide bombers blew themselves up in two churches of Youhanabad, Lahore. And March 2016 had the carnage of the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Lahore, on Easter Sunday, where 73 people were killed, many of them children.
The successive governments of Pakistan during the last seven decades could not demonstrate that they had any concrete plan for the security, safety and development of the marginalised Christian community. In 1951, the Punjab assembly passed a resolution to allot land to Christians, but it never reached fruition. There have been many decisions for the good of the community, but they remained only in files, and were never executed. Lip service and hoodwinking minorities appears to be the agenda of all governments. The Christian community is a victim of oppression, injustice, inequality and discrimination. For the last several decades they are being persecuted but no one has paid attention to them. Christians have all rights to live a peaceful life in their homeland, Pakistan. Christians are patriots like all other Pakistanis of different faiths or sects. Christians are in search of a protector, someone like the Quaid-e-Azam who was considered a ‘protector’ by S P Singha and other Christian leaders of the Pakistan movement. But the protector died only after a year of independence, leaving a fertile land for those who had different agendas.
Once again the Christian community in Pakistan is crying for a protector. Perhaps one exists or not, but we must not lose hope. Trust in God with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.
By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
April 25th, 2016
SINCE the Panama Papers there has been an avalanche of comments, reports and statements. These have expressed righteous indignation, outraged innocence, demands for proof, demands for inquiry, demands for investigation, demands for everyone named in the revelations to be included, demands that the immediate focus should concentrate on the prime minister and his family, etc.
These can be generally divided in two categories: demands for immediate and credible action on the one hand, and demands for delay and obfuscation on the other. The familiar pattern of one scandal being drowned out by a subsequent one is either condemned or relied upon. The average Pakistani will either become a participant or remain an angry, cheated and helpless spectator.
Will the Panama Papers become a watershed for change? The COAS has made a statement linking corruption with terrorism and promising support for rooting out corruption on a non-discriminatory basis. This statement was made after the prime minister’s first TV address to the nation admitting his wealth, asserting his innocence and calling for a ‘judicial’ commission to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court. This was followed by reports that several senior military officers had been dismissed on charges of corruption and incompetence which was seen by many as proof of the COAS’ determination to implement his declared policy.
This was followed by a second TV address by the prime minister who seemed more agitated than previously, accusing his critics of hypocrisy, undertaking to write to the chief justice of the Supreme Court to head a judicial commission of inquiry, and demanding that his critics either present proof of their allegations before such a panel or apologise to the nation for their irresponsible political behaviour.
The prime minister appears to have overlooked the fact that the burden of proof does not lie on his critics.
The prime minister ignored the question of what the terms of reference of a judicial commission would be including an independent and competent ‘investigative audit’ to look into transfers of money, layered ownerships, and deliberate tax evasion, if any. His critics are concentrating on these very aspects. This is a straight clash between the existing culture of impunity and the emergence of an essential culture of accountability. The prime minister appears to have overlooked the fact that the burden of proof does not lie on his critics. It lies on him to explain the facts as already established by the Panama leaks even if only his ‘politically exposed’ children are specifically named. It should, accordingly, be the bounden duty of any investigative audit to probe these facts to establish whether or not they and the explanations offered are consistent with the laws of Pakistan.
There is an additional obligation that in particular devolves upon the prime minister. Even if he is able to explain that the facts established by the Panama Papers — and other possible revelations — do not violate the relevant laws, he will still need to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the highest judicial panel and to Pakistani public opinion that the moral norms that attach to the highest executive office of public trust were not violated. These norms are mentioned in the Constitution of Pakistan. It will also be the panel’s responsibility to decide, in the light of an investigative audit’s findings, whether any violations of law or moral norms were minor or egregious, and whether or not they render the person concerned disqualified from holding any office of public trust.
The prime minister has graciously offered to ‘go home’ if the judicial commission finds against him. In such an event, specific charges could be preferred against him which may or may not afford him the option of retiring in peace and luxury. Even if the prime minister ‘negotiates’ a deal (and as of now there is no reason to believe he has any intention of doing so) whereby he offers to resign in return for being able to ‘go home’ that would not address the problem since it would set a precedent.
There has been comment about the appropriateness of the military publicly affirming a link between corruption and terror, and calling for a comprehensive and non-discriminatory accountability process. This is fair comment as it is not normal practice for a military to arrogate to itself such responsibility. Nevertheless, some would justify the COAS’ initiative in view of the apparent reluctance of the Supreme Court to take up the case as it is not an investigating body, and normal and proper investigative and judicial procedures should be availed of.
Accordingly, the prime minister’s decision to request the Supreme Court to take up the matter would appear to some as irrelevant, diversionary and dilatory. As such, it would open the way to the normal political wrangling that has ensured that no dereliction of duty is ever properly investigated and prosecuted. Those of this view would argue that in these circumstances the military’s intervention is not inappropriate given the political mess in Pakistan and the ‘existential’ costs of not addressing it.
Civil society and its institutions should normally be able to generate sufficient political pressure to compel appropriate political, judicial and investigative responses without the military having to take an active role beyond its legal remit and responsibility. Is this the case in Pakistan? If not, what is to be done? Is greater judicial activism the answer in such a situation? What about the responsibility of political parties?
There are a few of them whose bases of support are national in extent. Only one of them — along with some smaller parties — seems sincere in calling for an effective and objective accountability process. This should certainly take up specific allegations against the prime minister and his immediate family on a priority basis. But it must also extend to the menace of endemic high-level corruption which involves a general denial of justice and in the absence of redress, significantly raises the prospect of extremism and terror. Should a credible judicial/investigative process find against the prime minister an early general election would be warranted. We are at a fateful crossroads.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.