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A solution in Kashmir: edit in The News, Apr 25

Former foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri’s startling disclosure that a solution to the Kashmir problem had been worked out under the Musharraf government and that all that was required was a signature on the relevant documents is rather unexpected and opens up all kinds of new possibilities. While there had been talks on the issue that contributes most to continued tensions between India and Pakistan, we had not known a solution was so tantalisingly close. The information offered up by Kasuri, at a seminar organised as part of the Jang Group-Times of India Aman ki Asha initiative is most encouraging. It suggests that in the first place it is possible for both countries to work towards a lasting solution. The entrenched positions taken in the past have left doubts open on this score. It is also significant that in both capitals there is awareness of the need to settle the matter as one that holds the key to easing the relationship between the two nations. The formula for peace that Kasuri outlined, involving autonomy that stopped short of complete independence and a demilitarisation of the Kashmir territory, also appears – on paper at least – to be feasible. While almost all Pakistanis would favour the accession of Kashmir to their country, 63 years after Partition, this dream has remained elusive. It is said the terms worked out had been opposed only by a single, hard-line leader in Kashmir, while the ex-foreign minister stated the solution worked out had deliberately not been publicised to avoid an outcry in either country. In fact, Kasuri’s revelations show how both sides had reached a level of understanding where they were mindful of public reaction in both countries and were willing to show flexibility in order to ’sell’ the deal to their respective people. As we all know, hawks dominate the debate in many ways both in India and Pakistan and have in the past campaigned ferociously against efforts aimed at peace. Their influence within the structure of the establishment in both countries makes them especially powerful. It is also a fact that much of the justification for maintaining immense armies would evaporate if a solution was indeed worked out in Kashmir.

As far as people go, one must, however, hope the papers Kasuri spoke of are indeed signed in the not-too-distant future. This act could change the fate of the subcontinent and go a long way towards creating security and an escape from abject poverty for a sea of people. While there has been a longstanding debate on whether Kashmir should be tackled first or Confidence-Building Measures put in place to create the right environment for the issue to be taken up, the revelations made by the former minister indicate that a great deal of ground had already been covered. This should motivate the leaders in both Islamabad and New Delhi to move more rapidly towards sealing the deal. It would also encourage those championing people-to-people initiatives on both sides of the border to exert pressure on their governments in order to create a more conducive atmosphere. It is clear that many of the major players in both India and Pakistan are mentally prepared to resolve this long-festering problem. What they require is the backing of public opinion and moral courage and statesmanship. The stakes are extremely high. By moving towards peace they would play a part in the making of history and the settlement of a dispute that has through the decades since 1948 taken a huge toll on both countries, eating into resources, claiming hundreds of lives and keeping the people of Kashmir apart from each other while it is unity they yearn for. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=235924

April 25, 2010   No Comments

SJC recommendations binding on Gilani: AJK premier

By Tariq Naqash  in The Dawn, Apr 25
MUZAFFARABAD, April 24: Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider said on Saturday that recommendations of the Supreme Judicial Council calling for removal of non-functional chief justice Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry were binding on the AJK Council chairman — the prime minister of Pakistan.

“Some elements are conspiring to get the SJC recommendations held in abeyance to create unrest in AJK, but I hope that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will not let their nefarious designs succeed,” he said while talking to delegations of lawyers from Hattian Bala and Neelum valley. “Even if the SJC report is held in abeyance for one year, ultimately the decision will have to be made on the basis of its recommendations,” Mr Haider said and warned that any unconstitutional action could trigger strong reaction in AJK.

Raja Farooq said he had made it clear to all concerned that constitutional issues could not be settled through jirgas, but only through the process laid down in the Constitution.

“Any jirga could have been held prior to the filing of reference to the SJC, but once the recommendations have been submitted to the AJK Council chairman he is left with no option but to implement the same,” he added.

The AJK premier reiterated that the reference was purely a constitutional matter and the points therein involved subversion and transgression of constitution by justice Reaz.

Referring to the contention of President Raja Zulqarnain Khan that his office was ‘misused’, he pointed out that the AJK constitution provided same powers to the acting president. “AJK has a parliamentary form of government where the president is bound to act upon the advice of the prime minister.”

About media reports that the deposed CJ had filed recommendations against Justice Manzoor Hussain Gilani and Justice Ghulam Mustafa Mughal to the AJK Council chairman, Raja Farooq said it carried no legal sanctity.

“There cannot be a parallel SJC. Courts cannot be established in residences or in markets. There is only one Supreme Court headed by Justice Gilani (acting CJ), one high court headed by Justice Mughal and one SJC,” he said.

The AJK premier welcomed the 18th Amendment and expressed the hope that much-needed amendments to the AJK interim constitution would also be effected at the earliest. http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/national/sjc-recommendations-binding-on-gilani-ajk-premier-540

April 25, 2010   No Comments

The recurring nightmare: op-ed by Ardeshir Cowasjee in the Dawn, Apr 25

THE irrepressible, inimitable, 90-plus, Khushwant Singh, who has few peers in the subcontinental journalist community, is much taken with young Fatima Bhutto — mind you, he always has had and is renowned for his roving eye. He also has much to say about Fatima’s book Songs of Blood and Sword which he has reviewed twice.

Firstly, in the Hindustan Times on April 17 and then in the April 20 issue of Outlook, the latter under the somewhat gory title of ‘The burnt inside of Pakistan’s house of Atreus’. The House of Atreus is famed for the curse put upon it for murder, betrayal and sheer horror, one of the most enduring of Greek legends.

Atreus of Argos was the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus who respectively married Clytaemnestra and Helen of Troy, and heaven knows there is abundant tragedy and gore in their stories. But the most repellent part of it all concerns the quarrel between Atreus and his brother Thyestes over the affair the latter had with Atreus’s wife which resulted in his banishment from Argos.

Thyestes wished for reconciliation and after some time was allowed to return. Atreus prepared a huge banquet in celebration at which he served up to Thyestes the cooked flesh of his two slaughtered sons. The unknowing father ate and was then informed by his brother of what he had just done — the origin of the term ‘Thyestian Banquet’. Thyestes, horror-stricken, put a curse upon the family of Atreus and fled. The curse, as legend records, worked to perfection.

According to Khushwant the story of the House of Bhutto, written by Fatima in “impeccably beautiful prose would have been a joy to read if it had not been a gruesome tale of intrigue, treachery, treason, violence and cold-blooded murder. It is one long nightmare ….”. Strong stuff, and with justification as we who have followed the Bhutto saga down the years well know, and the betrayal continues with the man we now have in the presidential palace in Islamabad, accompanied by his resident soothsayer.

Fatima is “beautiful, highly gifted and gutsy”. When she called on Khushwant, after launching her book in Delhi earlier this month, he wrote “I could not take my eyes off her. I kept gazing at the pinhead of a diamond sparkling on the left side of her nose and her long jet-black curly hair falling on her shoulders. I hope I see her at least once more before my time is up.”

He is not so enamoured with other member of the family and has harsh words for Zulfikar for “indirectly helping East Pakistan become an independent Bangladesh” because he found it unacceptable that if unity was maintained the East Pakistanis would far outnumber the western lot. So much for democracy! Khushwant also slams him for pandering to the archaic laws of the clergy merely to hang on to power.

He is scathing of Bhutto’s betrayal of Manzur Qadir, Ayub Khan’s foreign minister. As a fellow cabinet minister, Bhutto denounced Qadir as being a free-thinker and not a good Muslim. He was consequently dropped from the cabinet and ultimately Zulfikar moved into his slot. Khushwant also touches upon the J.A. Rahim incident, and his beating up by PPP goons merely because Rahim left a dinner after waiting for two hours for Bhutto to turn up.

As for Zulfikar’s son-in-law, he shares Fatima’s “low opinion” of him, refers to his indulgence in shady deals and terms him “uncouth and foul-mouthed”. He blames Benazir for doing little in her two terms to improve the lot of the common people. His closing lines in the Hindustan Times: “Incidentally, I also added a new word to my vocabulary which fits both Pakistan and India. It is ‘saprophytic’, which means feeding on decaying organic matter. Both nations rely on all that is rotten in their past.”

The book was also reviewed in London’s Sunday Times on April 4, by Max Hastings, who likens it to a Jacobean drama rather than a Greek tragedy, cataloguing the list of hanging, poisoning, terrorism, murder and assassination — “hate and blood” he terms it.

The content to him is “emotional, partial, naïve and wholly unreliable about who really did what to whom. But it possesses readability from those with a taste for family horror stories”. He is totally unsympathetic to all the characters, and spells out his factual reasons citing acts of omission and commission perpetrated by Fatima’s grandfather, her father, her uncle and her aunt, all of whom in ways most discernible were flawed characters.

Hastings is unforgiving to Fatima for her “blind rejection of any pretension to insight or judgment”. This may be unkind, for it would take an extraordinarily strong character to be objective about a hanged grandfather, a murdered father and uncle, and an assassinated aunt. She must be given leeway for having had a childhood and youth so tainted by tragedy and violence as to make the admittance of hard historical fact difficult indeed.

As admits Hastings, the “book’s virtues derive from the author’s passion and some vivid pen portraits”. Hastings’s own vivid pen portrait of Asif Zardari, Benazir’s husband, is that he is “considered by some to be the most notoriously corrupt figure in the subcontinent” and that he “climbed over her corpse to become Pakistan’s president….”

As strong a stuff as that of Khushwant! And his ending must make us all, including those who sit atop us, pause and think: “But she conveys a terrifying sense of the ungovernability of Pakistan and its 180m people, exposed to the competing violence of rulers and rebels. Another army coup must be due some day soon.” http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/ardeshir-cowasjee-the-recurring-nightmare-540

April 25, 2010   No Comments

Unlike Pakistan’s, Courts in US, India, Germany and Hungary overrule parliaments

By Sabir Shah in The News, Apr 25

LAHORE: As the 18th Amendment has apparently pitched the Pakistani parliament against judiciary, besides having divided the lawyers’ fraternity on the issue of separation of powers among the three branches of the government, a study of the American Judicial Review system shows that since the last 207 years, the US Supreme Court continues to constitutionally determine the validity and application of the laws passed by its country’s legislators.

According to Article III (Section 2) of the 1787 US Constitution, the Supreme Court enjoys both original and appellate jurisdiction on any law framed by the legislators sitting in the Congress and Senate.

While the judicial power of the US apex court extends to all cases, it even has the authority to decide how the Congress may actually mean or want the application of law otherwise made by it.

A history of Judicial Review in the US reveals that between 1803 and 1804, the Supreme Court had established its supremacy over both Executive and Legislative branches of the government by striking down their orders.

While the first US Supreme Court decision to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional came in the oft-quoted Marbury versus Madison case of 1803 during the reign of President Thomas Jefferson, the Court’s first decision to declare an Executive Branch action as unconstitutional was announced in the Flying Fish case of 1804.

In the Marbury versus Madison case, Chief Justice John Marshall struck down the unconstitutional acts of the US legislators, hence setting up a precedent that the arbiters had distinct judicial review powers to determine which laws the Congress actually intended to apply to any given case.

Meanwhile, the Flying Fish Case had involved an order issued by President John Adams in 1799 during America’s war with France, whereby the Navy was authorized to seize ships bound for French ports.

After a Navy Captain in December 1799 seized a Danish vessel called “Flying Fish,” pursuant to Adams’s order, the owners of the ship sued the captain for trespass in US Maritime court.

On appeal, Chief Justice Marshall rejected the captain’s argument that he could not be sued because he was just following presidential orders. The Court noted that commanders “act at their own peril” when they obey invalid orders, ruling that the US President’s order was outside his powers.

Within a couple of years, John Marshall again infuriated Jefferson by exonerating former Vice President Aaron Burr in a treason case framed against him at the behest of the Jefferson regime.

After passing these orders in quick succession, Chief Justice Marshall thus had to encounter an extremely harsh criticism from President Jefferson and the incumbent Congress legislators, compelling the most respected top judge in history to observe,” If Congress were to make a law not warranted by any of the powers enumerated, it would be considered by the judges as an infringement of the Constitution which they are to guard. Hence, the judges would declare it void. To what quarter will you look for protection from an infringement on the Constitution?”

The US Supreme Court then never looked back after issuing these two afore-mentioned historic verdicts.

For example, in the Sheldon versus Sill Case (1850) surfacing during President Andrew Jackson’s era, Chief Justice Roger Taney had taken the Congress head-on by holding that the legislators could not limit the subjects the Supreme Court may hear.

In the 20th Century, the US Supreme Court even dared the strongest regimes of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George Bush Junior.

After the US, the country where Judicial Review powers are most extensively exercised is India.

The Indian Constitution seeks to ensure the independence of judges in various ways. Supreme Court Judges are generally appointed by a Collegium of sitting arbiters on the basis of seniority and not on political preferences.

The Supreme Court has special advisory jurisdiction in matters which may specifically be referred to it by the President of India under Article 143 of the Constitution.

The Indian Constitution vests in judiciary, the power to adjudicate upon the validity of all the laws. If the laws made by parliament violate any provision of the constitution, the court has power to declare such a law invalid or ultra vires of the Constitution.

The Indian Supreme Court judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973 established the “Doctrine of Basic Structure.” According to this verdict, the Indian Constitution has certain basic features which hold a transcendental position and which cannot be altered either by the parliament or Supreme Court.

The judgment stated that although these amendments were constitutional, the court still reserved for itself the discretion to reject any changes made by the Parliament, through which the Constitution’s basic structure was altered.

Despite the fact that the Indian Supreme Court enjoys original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction, questions have been raised since 1951 about the scope of the constitutional amending process contained in Article 368 of the Indian Constitution.

After the courts had overturned state laws redistributing land from landlords on the grounds that the laws violated the land owners’ fundamental Rights, the Parliament passed the first Amendment in 1951, fourth in 1955 and 17th amendment in 1964 to protect its authority to implement land redistribution.

The Supreme Court countered these amendments in 1967 in the Golaknath versus State of Punjab case when it ruled that the Parliament did not have the power to abrogate fundamental rights, including the provisions on private property.

To counteract against the Golaknath case decision, former Premier Indira Gandhi then made a series of attempts through various constitutional amendments to establish Supremacy of Parliament over judiciary.

The Indian Supreme Court again declared that the Parliament could not use its amending powers to damage, emasculate, destroy, abrogate or alter the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.

This decision is not just a landmark in the evolution of constitutional law, but proved a turning point in constitutional history.

In 1970, the Indian Supreme Court invalidated the government-sponsored Bank Nationalization Bill that had been passed by parliament, besides rejecting the presidential order of September 1970 which abolished the titles, privileges and privy purses of the former rulers of India’s old princely states.

In reaction to Supreme Court decisions, the Parliament empowered itself to amend any provision of the constitution, including the Fundamental Rights.

In Indira Gandhi versus Raj Narayan case of 1975, the Supreme Court applied the theory of basic structure and observed that the amending power of the parliament only destroyed the ‘basic feature’ of the constitution.

But despite being bogged down during the Indian Emergency period of 1975-77, in which Indira Gandhi had even tried to dishearten the highest judiciary by appointing a junior judge as the chief justice superseding senior judges like Justice Khanna, the Apex Indian Court did not cease to exercise its power of Judicial Review.

For example, in the Minerva Mills case of 1980, the Indian Supreme Court again struck down an amendment on the ground that destroyed the basic structure of the Constitution.

In Sawhney versus Union of India case, popularly known as the Mandal Commission case, the Supreme Court ruled that the parliament had amended the constitution beyond his scope.

In its 2007 judgment in the Coelho versus Tamil Nadu case, the Indian Supreme Court reaffirmed the basic structure doctrine by ruling that a constitutional amendment entailing the violation of any fundamental rights can be struck down depending upon its impact and consequences.

The judgment clearly imposed further limitations on the constituent power of parliament with respect to the principles underlying certain fundamental rights.

In Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court is empowered with reviewing acts of the Federal Republic Congress (the Bundestag) for their constitutionality. The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany can even review and reject constitutional amendments on the grounds that they are contradictory to the rest of the Federal Republic Constitution. This even goes beyond the powers of the US Supreme Court and the Indian Supreme Court.

In Hungary, where the Supreme Court Chief justice is elected by qualified two-third majority of the parliament, there is no government oversight and arbiters elected for eight years have complete authority to nullify laws without any objection from the Legislative or Executive branches. http://www.thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=28484

April 25, 2010   No Comments

BB’s murder: the pyre must burn: op-ed in The Nation, Apr 25

By Samson Simon Sharaf

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.

The assassin displayed remarkable cool. At least once, he chose to delay his fire and then moved in very close to an advantageous position with the bomber following him. The man who grappled and brought him down deserves a citation.
Benazir Bhutto, the Daughter of the East is dead, buried and treacherously abandoned by her party leadership. Some prime witnesses including the assassin himself, the suicide bomber, Khalid Shanshah, Baitullah Mehsud and God knows who else are silenced forever.
Someone needs to explain why that hyperactive Benazir, the Princess of the day, infused with vigour like an elixir had to die. The Bhutto legacy will endure treacherous times. Quoting Hussain Pawar, The pyre will burn.
At a time when the country is struggling to fight its civil war in the backdrop of a sinking economy and growing parochialism, the Bhutto Legacy provides the cohesion needed to offset threats. It is the duty of every Pakistani to keep this pyre burning till such time the planners of Benazir’s murder are identified and punished.
In the same stride, the nation must also know who murdered national leaders like Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his sister, Liaquat Ali, Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Murtaza Bhutto.
Much before the UN investigation, every Pakistani was convinced that all investigations into the tragedy are deliberately misleading. Scotland Yard appears as much an accomplice in the cover-up as the Handle Theory. It appears that even the most incriminating video released by Channel Four through CNN and a Pakistan television network was deliberately blurred and edited to create confusion. This fact alone warrants expanding the ambit of inquiry to handlers outside Pakistan.
There is no doubt that Benazir was abandoned and left vulnerable by the state security apparatus and by her very own stalwarts.
Her chief of security merits inquest solely on the basis of his changing statements in the hours following her murder. As it turns out, he and Babar Awan were the ‘get away men’ who fled the scene in Benazir’s reserve vehicle. The most loyal Khalid Shahanshah who had probably lost that element during his visits abroad was the first to jump into Benazir’s vehicle and also to jump out and bolt to Zardari house, only to be gunned down in Karachi.
After Benazir’s rally security was stand-down. There were no senior police officers befitting the presence of a two-time prime minister and VVIP. The much touted Elite Force instructed to make a box bolted well before the murder. Stays behind parties were either blocking the turning to the left or mere spectators; some at their own peril rubbing shoulders with the suicide bomber and the shooter. There was no chivalry in their death.
The news broadcast by channels within the first two hours of the incident need to be replayed. There were eyewitness accounts by doctors of RGH that Benazir had received one to two fatal gunshot injuries. Suddenly everything changed and the doctors were made helpless by police and district administration. Even Sherry Rehman sings no more.
Cell phone communication through towers close to RGH will also reveal conversations of doctors and paramedics eagerly disclosing to friends and families the extent and type of Benazir’s injuries. By morning everyone including cell phones was quite and shift doctors quarantined. http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Opinions/Columns/25-Apr-2010/BBs-murder-the-pyre-must-burn

April 25, 2010   No Comments

Murder will out: op-ed by Roedad Khan in The News, Apr 25

The  author is a former federal secretary in Pakistan
Political crimes are far worse than common crimes because, in the former case, only individuals are wounded, whereas in the latter, the existence of free society itself is threatened. I was frightened for my country the day Benazir was assassinated and horror of horror, the scariest moment of all, when Zardari was elected as the president of Pakistan.

Who killed Benazir? Who cut short her life so full of promise? The UN commission assigned to enquire into the facts and circumstances of her death does not answer this question. For some inexplicable reason, its hands seemed to be tied. It was appointed, it seems, not to unmask the killer, but only to determine the facts and circumstances of the assassination! The duty of carrying out a serious, credible, criminal investigation to determine who conceived, ordered, and executed this heinous crime remains with the PPP government. Isn’t it tragic that even after 28 months of her assassination nobody knows who killed her?

“Men may lie. Circumstances never lie,” is a guiding principle of the law of evidence. Some facts and circumstances determined by the UN commission of inquiry speak for themselves and are worth quoting:

* “The Commission is persuaded that the Rawalpindi Police Chief, CPO Saud Aziz, did not act independently of higher authorities, either in the decision to hose down the crime scene or to impede the Post-Mortem examination.” -Section 259 (x)

* “The rapid departure of the only back-up vehicle in which Mr Malik and other senior PPP leaders rode, was a serious security lapse.” -Section 236. (It allowed Ms Bhutto’s damaged vehicle to become isolated?)

* “There was not an effective criminal investigation of either the Karachi or the Rawalpindi attacks. This is inexplicable.” -Section 238

* “Ms Bhutto was killed more than two years ago. A government headed by her party, the PPP, has been in office for most of that time, and it only began the further investigation, a renewal of the stalled official investigation in October 2009. This is surprising to the Commission.” -Section 247

* “The Commission’s effort to determine the facts and circumstances of Ms Bhutto’s assassination is not a substitute for an effective, official criminal investigation. These activities should have been carried out simultaneously.” -Section 247

Many questions arise in one’s mind that remain unanswered:

* Mr Zardari is on record having said – not once but a number of times – that he knew who the killers of his wife are. If so, why hasn’t he brought this vital piece of information to the notice of the police?

* The FIR is a very important document as it sets the process of criminal justice in motion. The success or failure of the prosecution in a murder case depends to a large extent on the contents of the FIR and when it was lodged. Why didn’t Zardari lodge an FIR in the police station at the earliest opportunity?

* The post-mortem, the examination of a body after death, is a legal requirement and is carried out by pathologists in order to identify the cause of death. Why did Zardari refuse to have post-mortem performed on BB’s body? Why was it refused by the police? Why were they not interested in identifying the cause of BB’s death?

* Why was General Musharraf, a known suspect in the murder of BB, allowed to leave the country by the PPP government which was firmly in position at the time of his exit from the country? Was it all part of some deal?

The assassination of Benazir, a stain on the nation’s conscience, still haunts me. Tragically, her death is fast becoming a non-event. It seems no one is interested in unraveling the mystery surrounding her assassination or unmasking the perpetrator or perpetrators of this dastardly crime. Should the high and mighty, with blood on their hands, get off so easily when ordinary people committing petty crimes are sent to jail?

“It is essential,” the UN report says, “that the perpetrators of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto be brought to justice. The government of Pakistan should ensure that the further investigation into the assassination of Ms Bhutto is fully empowered, and resourced and is conducted expeditiously with no hindrance.”

Is the PPP government prepared to do that? Even though it’s already very late, will the PPP government set up a high-powered judicial commission headed by a judge of the Supreme Court?

The blood of Benazir calls for justice, not revenge. The PPP government owes it to its martyred leader to unmask her killer, whoever he may be, and bring him to justice. Let an enquiry be held in broad daylight. We will not be able to live with ourselves if we do not see to it that the truth is unveiled. The interests involved are too great and the men who wish to stifle the truth are too powerful, and the truth will not be known for sometime. But there is no doubt that ultimately every bit of it, without exception, will be divulged.

Truth carries a power within it that sweeps away all obstacles. And whenever its way is barred, whenever someone does succeed in burying it for any time at all, it builds up underground, gathering such explosive force that the day it bursts out at last, it blows up everything with it. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=235928

April 25, 2010   No Comments

After the UN commission report: op-ed by Haider Nizamani in the Daily Times, apr 25

Ordinary Pakistanis, especially those who cannot read English, should be given the opportunity to access the report in its entirety, instead of leaving them at the mercy of spin-doctors and prejudiced television anchors trashing the report

Some forces in Pakistan have already gone into overdrive to discredit the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. The 65-page report’s focus is on the circumstances surrounding Ms Bhutto’s assassination and the subsequent criminal investigation, or lack of it thereof, but it offers insights into questionable practices that pass as statecraft in present day Pakistan. The legitimacy of the state is already quite low among significant sections of the Pakistani population, and if these deeply entrenched practices continue unabated, it will further corrode those shaky foundations.

The report has done Pakistanis a favour by defining what is known as the ‘establishment’ of the country. Here is how the report defines it: “The Establishment is generally used in Pakistan to refer to those who exercise de facto power; it includes the military high command and the intelligence agencies, together with the top leadership of certain political parties, high-level members of the bureaucracy and business persons that work in alliance with them. The military high command and intelligence agencies form the core of the Establishment and are its most permanent and influential components” (page 50). It states further, “The capability of the Establishment to exercise power in Pakistan is based in large part on the central role played by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies in the country’s political life” (page 6).

The commission was understandably “mystified” by “the efforts of certain high-ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources”. This attitude speaks volumes about the arbitrary power of the establishment in viewing itself as above the ordinary procedures of law and its ability to get away with it. Although the US and the British governments acknowledge their role in paving the way for Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan in 2008, the US authorities frustrated the commission by not permitting it to meet US intelligence officials.

The report castigates the federal government led by Pervez Musharraf for not providing adequate security to Benazir Bhutto, and finds the manner in which the post-assassination criminal investigation was conducted “inexcusable”. Thus, Ms Bhutto joins scores of Pakistani political activists whose deaths were “avoidable” and where the law enforcement and justice institutions did little to bring to justice the perpetrators of those crimes.

We do not have to agree with every sentence of this report, but summarily and prematurely dismissing it is tantamount to accepting “hosing down” the crime scene, allowing higher ups in the police to subvert investigations, letting intelligence agencies hunt and hound individuals without any judicial mandate or political oversight.

Intelligence agencies are part and parcel of modern states. In Pakistan, they have gone a tad too far in subverting the state they are supposed to serve. The commission is correct in observing that “pervasive involvement of intelligence agencies in diverse spheres, which is an open secret, has undermined the rule of law, distorted civilian-military relations and weakened some political and law enforcement institutions. At the same time, it has contributed to widespread public distrust in those institutions and fed a generalised political culture that thrives on competing conspiracy theories” (page 60).

What can the current government do? It should take two of the following three steps without any delay. Taking of the third step is vital, but partly contingent upon the power of the PPP government relative to other forces of the establishment.

Ordinary Pakistanis, especially those who cannot read English, should be given the opportunity to access the report in its entirety, instead of leaving them at the mercy of spin-doctors and prejudiced television anchors trashing the report. The government can, and should, commission speedy and authentic translation of the report in Urdu and regional languages and use the Ministry of Information and other methods to ensure wide distribution of the report.

Secondly, the resourceful forces directly and indirectly named in the report would ensure that the television talk shows put excessive focus on the fact of the passengers of Benazir Bhutto’s backup vehicle leaving the crime scene instead of coming to meaningful help of their fatally injured leader. Moral propriety and political sagacity makes it imperative for all passengers of that car currently holding ministerial berths to resign without any delay and cooperate fully in any future criminal investigation to ascertain the truth behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Their timely resignation will significantly deflate the efforts to distract the public’s attention from the main findings of the report. However, if these passengers refuse to part with their ministries for the time being, and are allowed to retain their portfolios by the prime minister and the president, this act will cast its shadow over the sincerity of the current government in carrying out “credible criminal investigation that determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions”.

Carrying out a credible criminal investigation should be the ultimate and long-term goal of the government. And it is necessary not just to answer many unanswered questions surrounding Benazir’s assassination, but doing so, as the report puts it, “would constitute a major step toward ending impunity for political crimes in this country”. This will not be an easy feat to accomplish. The forces that frustrated the UN commission will inevitably hamper a transparent and vigorous criminal investigation.

The current government has partly redeemed Benazir Bhutto’s political legacy by ensuring the passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution. Initiating a credible and rigorous investigation into Ms Bhutto’s assassination will go a long way in restoring people’s trust in Pakistan’s political system. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\04\25\story_25-4-2010_pg3_5

April 25, 2010   1 Comment

The noose tightens: edit in The Daily Times, Apr 25

The revelations by Mark Siegel, a close friend and adviser to the late Benazir Bhutto, on the heels of the UN commission’s report on Benazir’s death and the filing of a petition seeking the registration of a case of high treason, are another couple of nails in the coffin of former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. Apparently, Musharraf was not too happy about Benazir Bhutto’s decision to come back to Pakistan in 2007. According to Mark Siegel, after the 2002 general elections, Musharraf offered to drop all charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, release him from prison and give him any ministry of his liking, in return for a 10-year hiatus from Pakistani politics by Benazir. Benazir in consultation with Zardari declined Musharraf’s overtures, which did not go down well with him.

However, history does not halt its forward progression and following the UN report, the present democratic government has — rightly — decided to let the law take its course. Everyone mentioned in the UN report should be brought to justice, even a former dictator in the shape of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. The PPP government was not able to bring Ziaul Haq to court over the judicial killing of the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto because Zia was backed by the then judiciary and he passed away before relinquishing power. However, this time around, Pervez Musharraf, especially after the sacking of the chief justice of Pakistan and the consequent lawyers’ movement, finds himself isolated. In bringing Musharraf to justice, the present government will also help control the intelligence agencies, who have over the course of time become politicised and at times a major threat to the basic fibre of the democratic system. Such moves will not only emphasise the fact that no one is above the law, it will also ensure a safer democratic playing field to the political parties.

Unfortunately, due to o’ervaulting ambition and vested interest, Pakistan from the very beginning has fallen prey to military dictatorships, with the help and collaboration of the judiciary and the intelligence apparatus. Now, finally, a democratic government and comparatively freer judiciary have the opportunity to correct the mistakes of our past. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake they do not squander this golden chance. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\04\25\story_25-4-2010_pg3_1

April 25, 2010   No Comments