On the road to nowhere

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's killer acclaimed (Credit: demotix.com)
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s killer acclaimed (Credit: demotix.com)

While the media is brimming with tall claims of no relaxation to terrorists, three big fish managed to wriggle out of the clamped jaws of law during recent weeks. Simpletons are told that their lawyers were consummate enough to outshine the official mavericks in the court so the jury was constrained to let them walk free.

The case of Mumtaz Qadri is even more intriguing. In a baffling verdict while his death penalty has been maintained, the judges were convinced that the act of killing a sitting governor is not terrorism.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) verdict says that is amazing to note that appellant (Mumtaz Qadri) took protection and rights guaranteed by the constitution, but deprived the deceased (Salman Taseer) of all constitutional guarantees. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that the murder of Salman Taseer at the hands of appellant Mumtaz Qadri was pre-planned, cold blooded and gruesome.” However about the charges of terrorism, the court observed that “it was not applicable because the incident did not create panic among the public.”

It is baffling that if a failed attempt on Gen. Musharraf can lead to hanging of the convicts, how the “pre-planned, cold blooded and gruesome” murder of the governor of a province is less than terrorism? Article 6 (2-n) of The Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 defines terrorism as an action that involves serious violence against a member of the police force, armed forces, civil armed forces, or a public servant. Also it is hard to comprehend how the grisly act did not create panic among the public? If the prosecutor was too naïve to prove these explicit facts, one even with a severest flu would still smell a rat.

More flabbergasting was the performance of two counsels for the felon. Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court while arguing before the court showered his profound eulogy for the gunmen who attacked French weekly Charlie Hebdo and pronounced them “heroes”. He also pleaded before the court that the shooting of Salman Taseer was not an act of terrorism. Another lawyer of the convict, a retired judge from Punjab Mian Nazir Akhtar expressed his vehemence by saying that “I am sure Salman Rushdie would also be killed if he were to come here”.

When the IHC remarked that even a judge cannot touch an accused after awarding him punishment, yet the defence counsel insisted that a person can kill another person under unusual circumstances. These observations leave one dumbfounded as both the lawyers adorned the seat of justice for several years with such ethos. How accused of blasphemy or heresy would have been treated by an adjudicator who ardently justifies killing by the lunatic fringe. Both lawyers must also be aware that in September 2014, a prisoner guard at Adiala Jail shot a septuagenarian British-Pakistani accused over blasphemy charges. An internal inquiry revealed that the shooter was incited by Mumtaz Qadri while he was deployed outside his cell. He became a disciple of Qadri and used to seek religious lessons from him.

Incompetence and connivance of a matching magnitude was evident in the case of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Punjab government’s slouchy demeanour was too unveiled that eventually set free Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, an alleged architect of November 2008 Mumbai carnage. Not much different is the case of Malik Ishaq, leader of a proscribed outfit who was put at ease by the Punjab government when it withdrew an appeal for extension of his confinement. The government opted to plead a weak case and facilitate his acquittal.

The list does not end here. There are even more privileged names to count who receive a VIP treatment in official corridors. An astounding news report revealed that website of TTP could not be blocked because of lack of legal mechanism. The concerned authorities have expressed their inability to this effect under the pretext of absence of requisite legal instruments. One wonders why such legal tools are not required to block word press and other sites where public opinion is aired.

According to a newspaper report, a survey carried out by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has made a startling revelation about illegally constructed mosques in Islamabad. The report disclosed that out of 492 mosques in the city, 233 are illegally erected on state land encroaching non-perennial streams, right of way of major roads and other such expropriated public and private locations. The CDA mentioned the number of such mosques 83 in 2011. In other words, such mosques have grown threefold during past four years.

According to another survey jointly conducted by the CDA and police, the city has 160 unregistered madrassas and 72 day scholar Quranic institutes. Deobandi madrassas take the larger share of 193 out of total 329 seminaries in the city. Interestingly only one month ago, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, while replying to a question in National Assembly, claimed that Islamabad has only 30 unregistered madrassas. This indicates the lack of credible information at high level decision making forums.

A newspaper reported that in line with the recommendations of the National Action Plan, provincial Auqaf departments have gathered data of madrassas from all provinces. The survey revealed that there are 8,135 unregistered seminaries in the four provinces with an enrollment of 0.3 million students. Punjab tops the list with 4,125, followed by KP with 2,411 such seminaries. Sindh and Balochistan are not immune either and are home to 1,406 and 266 such institutions respectively.

Another report puts the number of unregistered seminaries in Punjab at 6,550.
Intelligence reports have been indicating that foreboding signs are ripe in the capital city and cannot be just dismissed with flippancy. All these facts corroborate the assertion of an Interior Ministry official that the federal capital is an “extremely dangerous” city. A senior official of the Interior Ministry made this ominous disclosure while making a presentation before the National Assembly standing committee in February 2014. The official claimed that the capital city had been at high risk and has become a sleeper cell of banned organisation members, including al-Qaeda, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). In a bid to quell the horror feelings, the Interior Minister dismissed the report and termed Islamabad a safe and secure city.

Not just Islamabad but much of the Punjab is also infested with militants. Leadership and administration of Punjab has been eschewing any confrontation and always attempted reconciliation with militants. This approach has provided safe bastions to militancy. Recently, the Interior Minister told a top level meeting that the number of proscribed organisations engaged in terrorism and extremism in Pun jab had reached 95.

Several newspaper reports indicate that intelligence agencies have been warning the Punjab government about spiraling militancy in the province but the cavalier Punjab government remained unfazed and conveniently ignored all such red alerts and slept over sprawling sleeper cells. This lax attitude of the Punjab government is not mere inaction or apathy of the PML-N government but it represents a segment within civil-military establishment that continues to believe in the fallacy of considering militants as strategic assets.

These intransigent elements always see foreign hand in every macabre incident occurring in Pakistan. This self-deceiving contentment is far from reality on ground where copious of evidences indicate internal hands as the real cause of prevalent malaise. It would be pertinent to mention that in 2013 a new chapter was added in the army doctrine that describes homegrown militancy as the biggest threat to national security. The army doctrine deals with operational preparedness and inclusion of this fact marked a major shift in the security paradigm. It is, however, yet to see how this cardinal doctrine is mainstreamed and policies and practices are fully synchronized across the board.

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