ISLAMABAD, Sept 29: In the wake of Thursday’s high drama at the Supreme Court, the country’s top military leaders rushed to vindicate themselves over the Balochistan problem on Friday, stoutly denying that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) had any involvement in enforced disappearances.
The statement came in response to the six recommendations that former provincial chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal presented before the apex court a day before as a precondition for talks. The former chief minister did not mince his words – the conditions include what he referred to as a suspension of covert and overt military operations in Balochistan, recovery of missing persons, and disbanding ‘death squads’ operating under the supervision of secret agencies.
Friday’s statement was submitted by Balochistan Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad. It was prepared at a meeting attended by top military and executive authority officials in compliance with SC orders.
The high-level meeting was chaired by Defence Minister Naveed Qamar and attended by army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI Director General (DG) Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, ministers for information, law and postal services, the defence secretary, the attorney general, the principal secretary to the prime minister and the Balochistan chief secretary. The prime minister could not attend the meeting, because he was not present in the capital.
The joint statement addressed the other accusations hurled at the armed forces besides missing persons: “No covert and overt military operation is being carried out in Balochistan by the armed forces. Second, no person alleged to be missing is in the custody of or under detention of any law enforcing authorities or any other agency of Pakistan. Despite this all out efforts are being made to find out whereabouts of the persons who are alleged to be missing. Third, no proxy death squads are operating under the supervision of ISI and MI.” The statement added that the government has always believed that all political parties in Balochistan should participate in political activities without any interference from any quarter.
The statement, however, repeated information that is already available – Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) have been constituted and recently, the Balochistan government has approved a compensation policy for legal heirs of deceased persons. The government has also made a commitment to settle displaced persons.
The chief justice, on the other hand, remained unconvinced. “People have been missing for three years and hearing their [relatives’] accounts brings tears to one’s eyes,” he stated. He also cut short the chief secretary’s attempt at discussing other issues, including the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said there was no obligation to believe the affidavits submitted by intelligence agencies in which they claimed their innocence. We will see the grounds realities too, the court warned.
The chief justice also asked the leaders of all political parties, including Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, on Friday’s hearing, to partake in finding a solution to the Balochistan crisis, saying that it was not just the government’s responsibility.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry issued these directives while penning down a short order pertaining to the Balochistan security case.
Uncomfortable army, govt
Sources said that military officials were ‘very much perturbed’ over Thursday’s proceedings of the apex court. Meanwhile, Raja Irshad, counsel for ISI and MI, expressed similar concerns: While talking to The Express Tribune, Irshad said Mengal was glorified by the court and that “We (army and secret agencies) will take action on such allegations. It was a totally wrong claim that secret agencies are involved in the killing of thousands of Baloch.”
Attorney General Irfan Qadir, whom the court passed a restraining order against on Thursday for ‘interfering in the hearing’, wasn’t very happy with Mengal’s demands either – and asked the chief justice to keep the disgruntled Baloch leader’s statements off record. He also asked the chief justice to direct Mengal to re-submit a more ‘moderately-worded’ statement.
Sources added, however, that executive authorities have decided to gear up political activities in the troubled province as the upcoming parliamentary elections draw closer, and hence did not take too harsh a stance against Mengal’s recommendations.
The court will hear the case from October 8 at the Quetta registry. It also told the provincial chief secretary that judges could pay a ‘surprise visit’ to areas in the province, particularly Dera Bugti, to examine ground realities.