Archive | February, 2013

Fair Trial Bill: Separating truth from fiction

20 Feb

I’ve been hearing a lot of people complaining about the Fair Trial Bill that is hopefully going to come into effect very soon. The only sort of criticism I hear leveled against the bill is “it’s taking away my right to privacy.” Anyone who knows the first thing about me knows that privacy is a right I have consistently advocated. However, what we must understand is that the Fair Trial Bill does not deprive us of any ‘freedom’ or ‘privacy’ that we are entitled to. It simply provides a rather comprehensive framework of how to deal with the terrorism problem that Pakistan (along with the rest of the world) is faced with. The Bill provides an effective legal mechanism through which communications can be intercepted (as they are in most parts of the world for security reasons). We take a look at the developed world and see that this Bill is not trying to create a police state as is being misleadingly propagated. We turn towards the United Kingdom, one of the best examples of a democracy, and we see the Interceptions of Communications Act 1985, which allows the relevant authorities to listen in on our phone calls (to put it in its most basic terms). This piece of legislation exists despite the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 which incorporated parts of the European Convention on Human Rights into the domestic law of the UK. Though this Act provides citizens rights to privacy, private family life and correspondence (in addition to several other rights and freedoms), it allows for derogation from these rights in the circumstances listed within the Act itself, for instance, public safety. This is reaffirmed by a bundle of case law.

It is important to bear in mind that we live in a world that is unfortunately a very dangerous one. We do not have many of the same freedoms that existed pre-9/11. We cannot travel without ‘inconvenience’ because every little item in our luggage is searched. We cannot carry certain items on a plane because they are a security threat. Similarly, we cannot expect to have our telephone conversations free from all interception when we live in a society where innocent lives are put on the line on a daily basis. Such are the costs associated with an exacerbated terrorism problem. But we’re not alone – this Bill is not being implemented for the first time ever. Yes, for Pakistan, it is an entirely new concept, but one of utmost necessity.

Moreover, people seem to forget that we live in a society where the intelligence agencies have, time and time again, acted in an extra-judicial manner. They have listened in on our phone conversations without having the legal right to do so. Due to the fact that there is little to no proof we can accumulate to hold them accountable, we have no legal remedies. If this bill is passed, Pakistan will, for the first time in its history, be able to hold the intelligence agencies accountable through a legal channel. With the passage of the Fair Trial Bill, the system will be subject to a cohesive legal framework which grants citizens the means to protect their rights, and appeal decisions and orders. Similarly, the intelligence agencies can be held accountable through judicial review which not only strengthens the judiciary but enhances transparency and accountability, which are in dire need of improvement.

Lastly, there is one aspect of criticism that I do agree with regarding this bill, and that is the exclusion of parliamentarians and elected representatives from being subjected to this bill. If we want to work together for a Pakistan that develops and eradicates the menace of terrorism, we need to work on equal ground. All citizens must be subjected to such a law that is in society’s best interest.

Why Peace Talks are Necessary

12 Feb

“Terrorism is an extreme form of criminality and one doesn’t talk to criminals. But some political leaders are shamelessly calling on the state to surrender to the very criminals who have killed thousands of Pakistanis in suicide bombings, beheaded soldiers and bombed schools.” These are Zahid Hussain’s words in a recent article published in Dawn (http://dawn.com/2013/02/12/no-point-in-talking/). With no disrespect intended, the entire article echoed a mindset I cannot relate to. It stated that the government would be legitimising violence and selling the blood of the victims of terrorist activities if they went through with these talks. All I could think of was, “isn’t that exactly what he’s encouraging by writing such an article?” It makes my blood boil to think that people actually think there is a military and heavy-handed solution to the problem of terrorism in Pakistan. We seem to learn nothing from our history and a society like that can never move forwards to a more prosperous future. Considering the dismal state of affairs in Pakistan, one would hope to see a sensible reaction to the option of holding talks with the Pakistani Taliban. From 2004, Pakistan launched a series of military operations against its own citizens, on the pretext that they needed to ‘eliminate’ terrorists. It is now 2013 and the situation has only worsened, courtesy of failed military operations, drone attacks and the loss of innocent lives being termed ‘collateral damage.’ Guns and drones cannot and will never win over the hearts and minds of the general populous. The vicious cycle exacerbating the terrorism problem in Pakistan must come to an end. The talks being proposed are the only means forward.

There was a brilliant attempt in the article to try and claim that parallels between negotiations with the IRA by Britain and the Afghan Taliban by the US could not be drawn. The reasons given by Mr. Hussain seemed more a statement of obvious historical facts than solid grounds establishing why these parallels cannot be drawn. Yes, there was a struggle for sharing political power in the case of Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t mean that the IRA constituted a group of non-state actors who had taken up arms and engaged in violence to achieve their ends. Similarly, even the United States recognized the need to hold talks with the Afghan Taliban, as they realize their war in Afghanistan has been a complete and utter disaster, much like our military operations and tacit government support of drone attacks.

What doesn’t surprise me, however, is the US reaction to the Pakistani government considering going through with these talks. On a first level, the duality of standards the US proposes for Pakistan and the one it has set for itself raises serious question marks over US-intent in Pakistan, which should finally be crystal clear to any US-apologist. Anyone still advocating the delusion that the US and Pakistan have the same strategic interests is way off base. The US has and always will continue to use Pakistan as a strategic route to Afghanistan and a port of access to destabilize Iran. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s best interests (particularly on issues of strategic and economic cooperation) can only be fulfilled when we disallow the US from using our territory to fund organisations such as ‘Jundullah.’ When the Pakistani state itself allows the US to engage in state-sponsored terrorism from bases within its borders, we have a bigger problem than just dealing with the Pakistani Taliban. The fact that the US discourages Pakistan from pursuing these talks is typical. Why certain segments within our society don’t see their motives is odd. Throughout history, we have seen the developed world ‘negotiate’ with terrorists and yet the US continues to hold an opposing position to the peace process that Pakistan is in desperate need of moving towards.

In any case, there is a very clear distinction between holding peace talks with any organization and caving into its demands. Nobody could oppose the Taliban more than youth like me who have worked with victims of their activities. Similarly, nobody can turn a blind eye to the destruction and loss of lives that resulted from the military operations conducted by the Pakistani Army. Not only were these destructive in terms of loss of lives, property and livelihoods, but they widely discredited the Pakistani Army for killing innocent civilians. Our army is one of our strongest institutions and cannot afford to hold such a reputation.

Lastly, though least importantly, Mr. Hussain criticized PML-N for all the wrong reasons in his article. Supporting these talks is the first responsible step the Punjab government has even thought of taking with regards to law enforcement in the province. The PML-N has always thought of Lahore as the be all and end all of Punjab. Belonging to Southern Punjab, I’ve seen the neglect and backwardness that area has suffered at the hands of the provincial government (which to be honest should just be renamed government of Lahore). As a result of this approach, they have been unable to guarantee safety and security to the people that are their responsibility. The fact that they have finally realized that their current approach has failed is a move in the right direction.