Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pakistan: Going round and round in circles

Upholding the decision of a Sessions Court, Lahore, the Lahore High Court’s (LHC’s) Justice Mahmood Maqbool Bajwa has instructed the police to register a murder case against the prime minister, Punjab’s chief minister and 19 other officials in connection with the June 17 Model Town incident. Four ministers of Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) had filed a petition in the LHC against the August 16 judgment of an Additional District and Sessions Judge that directed the police to lodge an FIR and arrest the above-mentioned ministers. Delineating the purpose of a FIR — to set the criminal law machinery in motion and to obtain firsthand information of the occurrence, the court ruled that no immediate arrest of the accused is required unless investigation reveals sufficient evidence to justify it. In its short order, Justice Bajwa observed that the petitioners have failed to establish their case. The petitioners have alleged that the Sessions Court issued its order in haste without viewing the investigation reports of the joint investigation team and police. Terming the application filed by Minhajul Quran as politically motivated and based on misconceptions, the petitioners had wanted the constitution of a larger bench to determine the legality of the Sessions Court’s order for the registration of a murder case against them. The joint investigation report that surfaced on Tuesday set a tone of confusion and distrust as according to the dissenting note to the report, the chain of command has not been properly interrogated while discrepancies and inconsistencies were found in the statements of the officials concerned. The affidavit submitted by the chief minister Punjab, and the facts collected on ground about disengaging the police had no relevance to one another. The report has laid the entire blame of the Model Town bloodshed on the police. The former law minister Punjab, Rana Sanaullah has come out as the leading character giving orders to the police and initially deciding on removing the barricades from the Minhajul Quran secretariat. The Punjab government has thus far refused to endorse the report, terming it incomplete and inconclusive.
Whatever be the reservations of the Punjab government, the fact is that the Model Town incident happened, killing 14 innocent people, including two women. The fact is that someone was responsible for ordering the slaughter and bringing the country to a virtual political impasse. Those who had planned this incident perhaps had thought that the language of force and coercion would prevail. They seem to have been unaware of the changed times and the presence of the media to pick up every single sound bite and footage, all of which has tripped them up badly. Unfortunately, the people of this country generally, and its leaders particularly, have a penchant of not learning either from history or from the experiences of themselves or others. The leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PTA) are now repeating the same mistake made by the government in the first place. The choice of words of both the leaders and their threatening tone towards the state and its institutions cannot get them justice. Tahirul Qadri is making a legitimate demand that the FIR of the Model Town incident should be registered, but indulging in frivolous talk and rigidly sticking to a do-or-die stance against the government might eventually put Dr Qadri in the dock. We have virtually made a mockery of the constitution, state institutions and democracy. It will be a setback if the political forces could not break this deadlock and the military had to intervene. The resumption of talks between the government and the PTI and PAT is said to be the result of the military’s intervention. The squabbling parties have been given the ultimatum to sort out things in a week’s time. Though the government played it wise and did not allow tempers to run high, the fact that it could not budge Imran or Qadri in spite of making many concession reveals that the PML-N is still playing on a weak wicket. Any attempt by the military to strengthen Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s present position will go a long way in making him a weak prime minister for the rest of his tenure. In the meantime, if the prime minister and the chief minister Punjab think going abroad at this crucial time will give them some relief, they need to think again.

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