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Pakistan This Week


Photo Source: Al Jazeera

Pakistan Reader# 124, 26 July 2020

Pakistan This Week



Judiciary's Week Out: Courts on the functioning of the NAB, abduction of a journalist, and 'those we don't speak of'

D. Suba Chandran

During the week, there were two major decisions by the judiciary – the first one by the Supreme Court and the second one by the Islamabad High Court – on the functioning of the NAB and the abduction of a journalist in the capital. Both were highly critical of the functioning of the State – the elected government and the institutions – directly, and the Deep State – indirectly.

Supreme Court on the functioning of the National Accountably Bureau (NAB)
The first one was on the NAB (National Accountability Bureau). During the recent months, the NAB has been under heavy criticisms for the way it has been functioning on a partisan manner. And the verdict of Justice Maqbool Baqar highlighted it exactly. According to Dawn, the verdict stated: "The bureau (NAB) seems reluctant in proceeding against people on one side of the political divide even in respect of financial scams of massive proportion while those on the other side are being arrested and incarcerated for months and years without providing any sufficient cause even when the law mandates investigations to be concluded expeditiously and trial to be concluded within 30 days."

The verdict does not only talk about the partisan approach of the NAB but also underlines how the functioning of the Bureau undermines the rights enshrined by the Constitution to the individuals. According to the verdict, "The present case is a classic example of trampling of fundamental rights, unlawful deprivation of freedom, and liberty and the complete disregard for human dignity as guaranteed by the Constitution."

One of the leading newspaper – the News International of the Jang group has repeatedly been emphasising about the above issue in general, and especially after the arrest of its owner. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the owner of the influential Jang group, that has dailies and TV channels, was arrested in March 2020 and has been under the NAB custody. If the NAB could accuse and arrest a person like Mir Rahman, ordinary citizen has no chance against the Bureau, if it wants to pursue a case.

According to Dawn, "Justice Baqar regretted that it was frequently alleged that NAB was being flagrantly used for political engineering and that the bureau's discriminatory approach was also affecting its image and had shaken the faith of people in its credibility and impartiality."

The above is the larger fear over the NAB's functioning on three counts. First, whether the NAB is being used for political engineering. Second, how impartial is the NAB. And third, whether the functioning of the NAB would undermine the public faith in the accountability process.

The two leading opposition parties – PPP and PML-N have repeatedly been talking about the above three issues. So is the national media; editorials have been repeatedly written on the need for the NAB to function beyond partisan manner and also not be used by other institutions to undermine the political process.

The last point above is related to the role of the Deep State in influencing the functioning of the NAB. Does the Supreme Court's harsh statement target only the NAB? Or, is there a veiled threat to the Deep State as well?

Major Points of the Verdict:

  • "The NAB Ordinance from its very inception became increasingly controversial, its image has come under cloud and there is a widespread perception of it being employed as a tool for oppression and victimisation of political opponents by those in power."
  • "Nonetheless, investigation is often not concluded for months and cases remain pending for years and it is because of lack of professionalism, expertise and sincerity of cause that the conviction rate in NAB cases is abysmally low."
  • "It is in the context of such highhandedness and brazen disregard for human dignity that the Bureau has attracted ignominy and notoriety beyond our frontiers too."
  • "There is only one fundamental right in the Constitution, which is unconditional, inviolable and cannot be circumscribed under any circumstances. This is the dignity of man and one of the grave consequences of pre-arrest confinement, is the humiliation and disgrace resulting from such arrest, for not only the accused but also his family and persons attached to him. Arrest causes irreparable harm to a person's reputation and standing in society, often subjecting him to hate, vitriol, and infamy."
  • "Unfortunately, even after 72 years since the creation of our country, and despite 47 years since the adoption of the Constitution, we have not been able to realise the spirit and essence of the ideals set out therein. The people of this country are frequently denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights and the principles of equality, fairness, tolerance and respect for democratic norms are flouted with impunity."

Islamabad High Court on the abduction of a senior journalist in broad daylight in the national capital
The second major development relating to the role of the judiciary this week was related to the Islamabad High Court's demining question following the brazen abduction of a senior journalist in front of an educational institution by a group of men, suspected to be from the intelligence and a veritable arm of the Deep State in Pakistan.

One day before the abduction, the Supreme Court in a different case (explained above) in its verdict stated: "Unfortunately, even after 72 years since the creation of our country, and despite 47 years since the adoption of the Constitution, we have not been able to realise the spirit and essence of the ideals set out therein. The people of this country are frequently denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights and the principles of equality, fairness, tolerance and respect for democratic norms are flouted with impunity."

And that is precisely what happened when the following day, Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist was abducted by the men without uniform but assisted by a few men in police uniform.

On Tuesday (21 July 2020), Matiullah Jan came to drop his wife in her School at G-6 sector in Islamabad. G-6 is in the heart of Islamabad, not far away from the Diplomatic Enclave in the national capital. What happened after that has been captured by a School CCTV camera, that the abductors were not aware of. Had it not been for the CCTV camera, Maitullah Jan could not have been easily released by the abductors. The camera captured the abduction by men in plainclothes, but in the presence of policemen.

Fortunately for Matiullah, his abduction was captured and went viral in social media. When Brig (retd) Ijaz Shah, the Interior Minister of Pakistan made a statement first, that he had no clue about the abduction, there was enough evidence. Matiullah's brother approached the Islamabad High Court immediately.

The Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, made scathing remarks about the State and its institutions, the same day. He was quoted to have stated: "The way a journalist was picked up in broad daylight, have all institutions been destroyed?... How did anyone, wearing a police uniform, dare to abduct a person?"

The Chief Justice was also angry because it took place in the national capital. He asked: "Where was Islamabad Police? How could this happen in the federal capital?" and continued "what perception does this send to the common person, that people here are walking about in police uniforms."

Thanks to the CCTV and the circulation of the abduction in social media, the abductors realised the folly and released Matiullah the same day. Perhaps, next time, they would be careful and ensure a better abduction process. For the abductors, more than being brazen, it is one of those things that could go wrong.

So who is behind the abduction and the political engineering though the NAB?
While the statements from the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Court during the week was on two different issues, there is one underlying point. Who is it targeted against – whether the political engineering or the abduction of journalists in day broad light?

It is like the Night Shyamalan's movie – The Village. Everyone in Pakistan know about them: "Those We Don't Speak Of."
 

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