Archive | November, 2013

Missing Persons: The Mess

6 Nov

I did an internship with the Attorney General of Pakistan’s Office just a few months ago (July-August). Part of that internship involved spending time in the Chief Justice’s court room understanding how the system works, what reasoning he gives for each judgment and so forth. Having been part of the movement to restore the Chief Justice, I was excited to sit in Bench Number One, from nine am to five pm. This excitement lasted for all of two days – after a while, the reasoning stopped making any sense to me. Initially I thought it was because of my own failure to keep up as I was out of practice with Urdu. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I saw reporters in court every day and had the opportunity to interact with all sorts of people (an opportunity I am grateful to have been given). But with each passing day, sitting in Bench Number One, I felt more and more like I was watching a TV show: it was all a drama. The Chief Justice would use what can only be described as slogans stressing the importance of the will of the people. That’s all well and good, I thought to myself, but as a law student, I failed to understand how he was in the same position as an elected representative to make claims regarding the will of the people being best preserved by the Court system in Pakistan. Don’t get me wrong, the primary role of the courts is the dispensation of justice, particularly where the poor (in a society like Pakistan) are concerned as they have nowhere else to turn. However, the Chief Justice seemed to think of himself as an elected representative – in fact, anything said as a slight criticism of him results in a contempt of court notice. An inflated ego would hardly be expected from someone in a position as his.

The missing persons cases were a hot issue then, as they remain currently (and as they will remain until a concrete solution is reached). Unsurprisingly, the police were mocked by the judges, in the same manner they are mocked and humiliated by the elite, and those that target them every opportunity they get. I previously wrote an article on how the police is unjustly blamed for all our problems – how we choose to jump down their throats because it is convenient rather than addressing the institutional failure as a whole. We, as a nation, are so moved by emotional sloganeering that we forget real issues.

Reverting back to the subject of this piece: the Chief Justice of Pakistan. I’m in the same boat as hundreds of other people who expected a lot – and to be fair, the superior courts in Pakistan have taken many positive steps in the dispensation of justice. Here’s my problem with their approach regarding the missing persons issue: the Chief Justice, like several other judges, comes down hard on the police for abducting people when it isn’t the police that picks people up and takes them to internment camps. We all know the Intelligence Agencies are responsible for what the common man misunderstands as illegal actions. What people fail to understand is that Pakistan is a country where we have internment laws – these laws allow for such random kidnapping by the agencies (we may all disagree with such abhorrent laws but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valid laws). They, strictly speaking, are not acting out with power granted to them under our internment statutes. The Chief Justice is well aware of this fact – and yet the slogans continue “if police does not cooperate then all the responsible police personnel be arrested. Nothing can be done without the help of police. Everything is known to police in every case. But it is not known as to why they remain silent and don’t allow the matters to move ahead.” [Refer to:]. Why give these statements? Why torture and humiliate the poor policemen who have nothing to do with missing persons? The police can hardly be expected to tell an ISI officer that he will not comply with his orders. If the CJP really wishes to hold an institution accountable, that institution should be the ISI. Simply because the ISI doesn’t fear the CJP is not a good enough reason to call in the police and target them. The ISI refuses to send their officials to court because they believe they are not answerable to the courts. This issue cannot be resolved by arresting police officers (if that doesn’t sound strange to the CJP, there is another serious problem here). The issue can only be resolved when the institutions that are stakeholders in this situation cooperate, in good faith, in drafting a national security policy which ensures cooperation between the courts, the intelligence agencies, the executive and the law enforcement agencies. One cannot assume that by arresting police officers, missing persons will suddenly be produced before the court.

The problem with the missing persons issue is complex and will take time and effort to resolve. It can only be resolved if all parties to the conflict are on board. The Intelligence Agencies operate from the angle where they are merely preserving national security. They do not look towards the concerns of the families that they deprive of a breadwinner or a beloved brother/father/etc. They cannot, or at least choose not to, understand the other side of the picture. The families of the missing persons demand their family member be returned, without understanding that there truly is a national security concern. The courts demand the missing persons be produced without recognizing that it is their responsibility to ensure that a balance be maintained between civil rights and freedoms, and national security. None of these one-sided approaches is beneficial to Pakistan or it’s populous. I cannot even begin to imagine how I would feel if someone I loved was picked up by the ISI and I had no idea whether he/she was dead or alive, let alone knowledge regarding his/her whereabouts. Simultaneously, I cannot imagine how I would deal with a worsening terrorism situation in Pakistan, where I intend to live and work for the rest of my life. Without a comprehensive national security policy which maintains a balance between civil rights and national security concerns, this situation of endless pain and misery is expected to persist. If the Courts truly wish to make a difference, they must work with the Executive to place pressure on the ISI to come to the table to draft such a policy. It may sound idealistic, but it’s definitely worth a shot considering we’re going nowhere in the status quo. Moreover, altering and removing laws is one of the fundamental powers belonging to the Parliament of Pakistan. If we wish to hold these actions accountable, we must re-evaluate our internment laws. The enforcement of fundamental rights is part and parcel of the Pakistani Constitution and yet there is confusion as to whether these rights can be enforced by even the superior courts in a place like FATA. These technicalities must be worked out before we can even begin to think we are moving towards a solution on the issue of missing persons.