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From the desk of Chief Editor

Dear Readers,

A vast majority of people believe that Bhutto’s hanging was ‘judicial murder’, something that few would disagree with because of the controversial circumstances under which he was tried. The Supreme Court (SC) Bench that had heard the appeal gave a split verdict, yet Bhutto was executed. There are many who believe that Zardaris Presidential Reference to the SC is an attempt to distract attention from the Benazir Bhutto assassination case on which almost no progress has been made despite periodic promises made of impending arrests and breakthroughs being achieved. Critics also lament that the ZAB case was ironically was not revisited even by Ms Bhutto during her two tenures in governance. The nation wants that those responsible for the murder of their leader, Benazir Bhutto, be brought to book. The best tribute that the PPP can pay to the memory of its Founder would be to uphold the principles that he followed so faithfully and his philosophy; he lives in everyone’s memory as Pakistan’s most charismatic leader and as a martyr. A highly critical report was recently submitted by the US Administration to the US Congress about governance (the lack of it) in Pakistan and how it fights extremism; the report says our leaders are so engaged in political wrangling that they are unable to even address core issues such as the economy. While some points in the US report might be valid, Pakistan has a point - instead of putting all blame on Pakistan the US must also ask why its strategy and that of its allies has failed, not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan as well. Pakistan has good reason to be miffed at the report especially after it has lost more than 3500 soldiers in the war against terror with thousands more wounded and more than 40000 innocent civilians being killed as a consequence of post 9/11 terrorist action. The key point to remember is that the US needs Pakistan as much as Pakistan needs the US, this has to be a partnership between two nations that are equally committed to eradicating the roots of terrror.

US-Pakistani ties become especially tense after a string of diplomatic disputes this year, including a massive drone strike on March 17, 2011 that killed 43 innocent local tribesmen in North Waziristan in a gathering of tribal elders that had assembled to sort out differences over a local issue. The insensitivity of the attack was so shocking that even the usually stoic Army Chief Gen Pervez Kayani publicly condemned the loss of civilian lives. The Raymond Davis also affair served to further fuel people’s anger. One must never forget all the good that Washington has done for Pakistan in times of great need, it has always been the first to come to our help and at such times it has been more than generous. While we remain grateful, the US must take care to ensure that its image in Pakistan remains that of a good friend therefore it must be prepared to act more prudently. There is no shortage of conservative and right-wing politicians in Pakistan who will jump at the chance to exploit any perceived slight; they must not be given the fodder they thrive on, inflammatory statements will never help the cause of either side. For the benefit of readers I am re-producing my article “ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL”.

Speaking at the National School of Public Policy in Lahore, Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court (SC) Iftikhar Chaudhry said, that “bureaucrats were not obliged to follow illegal orders of their superiors. They must have to take all decisions according to their conscience and in accordance with the rules and the law, knowing well that they might have to suffer in the process”, unquote. The Manual of Pakistan Military Law (MPML) about not obeying “unlawful commands” is more explicit, unfortunately the bottom line is the operative phrase in the CJ’s admonition about disobeying, “knowing well that they might have to suffer in the process”.

There are many instances of civil bureaucrats and army officers whose careers have been cut short because they refused to act on an “unlawful command”. Yahya Khan was declared an usurper, yet everyone slavishly followed his orders till the very moment he left power. In the circumstances availing today our civil servants and uniformed officers can hardly be censured for erring on the side of personal caution. Discretion being the better part of valour, nobody dares become a “conscientious objector”. The CJ has raised an issue considered heretical by the Establishment, while we have no doubt that his compatriot Judges in the Superior Courts will take up cudgels on the behalf of those who not only have a conscience but the will and commitment to go with it, what is the guarantee that this golden era of justice will persist in the future?

The common citizen obtains justice on a day-to-day basis by those “elected” by the people and those “selected” to run the civil service and the law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Let us put a basic question to the Honourable CJ, are those elected on bogus votes entitled by law to give any command, lawful or unlawful? Are they entitled to decide the promotion and postings of bureaucrats? With all due respects to CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fellow Justices, by prevaricating on implementing their judgments over the past year, they have allowed criminals to function in the name of justice, justice has become a crime. When anyone whose credibility of office is in doubt gives any command, the very fact of illegality in office every makes command unlawful. Imran Khan has petitioned the SC about the massive fraud in the electoral rolls. Entering Parliament on the strength of bogus vote, does this fraud allow “elected” MNA or MPA’s legality in office? Indeed why is the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in danger of being dissembled except for the fact that the seats of many Parliamentarians legislating the destiny of Pakistan with fake degrees is in doubt? In fact every institution in the State is being targetted, including the SC. What about the appointment from one office to another of those disqualified by the SC? Turning the other cheek ad nauseam, is the SC going to opt for continuance of the status quo under the “doctrine of necessity”? The major changes in the electoral process required are (1) eliminating the “first past the post” system and substituting it with a “run-off” election if anyone does not get an absolute majority of the vote, without the candidate obtaining 50% plus one vote there should be a direct contest between the two getting the most votes and (2) by bringing in “Proportional Representation” to engage the “great silent majority” of the populace contemptuously ignored in the present democratic system.

The Presidential Reference about Z A Bhutto’s unfortunate execution must be commended. Asif Ali Zardari’s political and personal reasons notwithstanding, the legal wrong done against his children’s grandfather and the Party that he now controls by default must be put right in our history. Murder was committed by a hit squad of the Federal Security Force (FSF), all of them except the one person who directly ordered the atrocity went to the gallows. Whether Z A Bhutto gave orders to Masood Mahmood, or the FSF Chief invented such orders to turn Approver and escape the gallows is a moot point. The split verdict 4-3 made the SC judgment controversial, Bhutto’s execution thus became a travesty of justice. On Feb 21, 1952, Masood Mahmood was the Superintendent of Police (SP) in Dhaka. Students from across the city gathered outside Dhaka Medical College Hospital in the Dhaka University campus determined to violate Section 144 in support of their demand for Bengali as one of the national languages. When the students came out of the gate, four young men Rafiquddin Ahmad, Abdul Jabbar, Abdul Barkat and Abdus Salam were killed by police firing on Masood Mahmood’s direct orders. There is strong evidence to suggest that this atrocity was deliberately meant to “teach the Bengalis a lesson”, this blood cycle ultimately had severe repercussions, “Ekushay” (as Feb 21 is known in Bangladesh) led directly to Dec 16, 1971, a day that will remain in infamy for the remaining part of a truncated Pakistan, the finest experiment in nationhood in its time. Is it coincidence that this unscrupulous and immoral person tried to be “more loyal than the king” in Lahore in the same manner as he had done in Dhaka? When caught out and facing extreme punishment, “Jesus Christ the Second” conveniently passed the blame onto Bhutto to escape the gallows. And the Honourable Judges allowed the actual perpetuator of the crime to become an Approver!

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fellow judges on the SC have a unique chance to correct this egregious legal wrong, the removal of this blot from our legal history will certainly not only endear them to diehard PPP rank and file and a great majority of Pakistanis but restore our judiciary’s credibility in international circles. The SC will than have credible authority for eliminating the blackest of black laws, the NRO, from the statute books of Pakistan, and settle many other legal issues in contention without having to contend with the political bogey of the “Sindh Card”. President Zardari must also be commended for his tremendous courage in himself resolving another controversial issue in one voluntary stroke of consequence, the question of immunity for the President. In his affidavit before the SC, he has unequivocally stated “everyone is accountable before the law”. As any other individual muslim he can now boldly face the many charges of corruption and misuse of authority that were off limits because of Presidential immunity.

As one of the pillars of democracy, the media holds the organs of the State accountable on behalf of pubic interest. The guerilla campaign going on against Geo TV’s various channels must be unequivocally condemned. One must however appeal to the JangGroup management to show more propriety broadcasting IPL matches, after all Pakistani players are unofficially “blacklisted” from the IPL. As an effective instrument for ensuring justice, Geo TV is leading an immense fight for true emancipation of the citizens of Pakistan, controversy on the issue of patriotism can compromise the pedestal that Geo stands for. A long litany of our woes need to be addressed, the SC can make a start by ensuring that justice about the freedom of speech is not delayed, justice delayed will be justice denied.

M. Ikram Sehgal

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